Friday, December 31, 2021

In Between Days

Season's Greetings!  Here's a short little post to tide us over until New Year.  

The days in between Christmas and New Year have a strange, otherworldly quality I always think.  Rules and routines go out of the window - I say this with snowball in hand.  Incidentally, anyone who saw the festive edition of Gone Fishing with Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse, will know that there is a correct way to drink a snowball.

There's a sense of limbo; a wrong footedness about the last days of December, a time for shedding our proverbial skin and an optimistic openness to some kind of renewal and a bigger, better and altogether brighter new year.  Whatever you're striving for, I hope 2022 comes good.

In the meantime, here's my record of the last week of 2021.

A Christmas Day greeting.  Despite having no enthusiasm for Christmas this year, we did have a really lovely, relaxing few days.  It was freeing to get together with family, safe in the knowledge that we wouldn't be passing on an unwanted viral Christmas gift.  (I have a wonderful Corkscrew Hazel moustache in this photo.  My table decoration went rogue).

Gareth and I had agreed not to buy for each other and instead plan a getaway in the New Year, but we did exchange a couple of token gifts.  Mine included books and a curious bottle of gin liqueur...more of which later.

We have enjoyed lazy, late mornings in front of old films, my particular favourite being the 1957 film Witness for the Prosecution, which had more twists and turns than a bobsleigh run.  

The rain came as predicted, but also transformed the world into a beautiful mirrored surface through which to glimpse the landscape anew.

In Comer Wood (near Bridgnorth, forming part of the National Trust's Dudmaston Estate, which dates back to the Norman Conquest), I took advantage of the dingy low light and practised some abstract and double exposure photography.

We had a leisurely walk in the dying afternoon light.  Still beautiful.  One couple stopped me and asked if there was enough light to photograph.  I said that I tend to favour dark and moody photos in any event, so they wished me a Happy Dark and Moody New Year!

We spotted honeycomb in the hollow of a fallen tree - my first sighting outside in the natural world....

....and had a meet and greet with the resident swans on one of Comer's three pools - charmingly named Wall, Seggy and Brim. 

 In fact, our encounter was so up close and personal, that I had to remain very still with my camera until the swan moved away from me, grunting its irritation at not having been fed.

So, as we bid farewell to 2021, what have we learned?  Well as if I haven't had enough Covid news this year, I've also watched the Christmas lectures by Professor Van Tam.  The good news is that Covid can't last forever.  Apparently, viruses only have so much potential to mutate and throw up surprises before they fizzle out and become entirely manageable.   Hopefully 2022 will be the year of goodbye and good riddance!

I'll leave you with a photo of the aforementioned gin liqueur.  There are a few of these illuminated gin bottles doing the rounds this year, but mine has a dance floor and people and is the closest I will get to a party this New Year's Eve.  I still haven't decided whether I am going to the lounge party this year.  I suspect it will be the same old faces.

Stay safe and see you next year!  

Thursday, December 23, 2021

The Spirit of Christmas

Our website woes stubbornly remain, but there is perhaps a chink of light at the end of the cyber tunnel.  The most recent jotting in my record of this sorry timeline, is a scribbled note of the words - verbatim - of one in a long line of customer care assistants I have spoken to this week.  It reads: "It's fixable."  For now, that's good enough for me.

I've not really been feeling in the mood for Christmas.  I'm sure I'm not alone.  The constant off, on speculation about the festive period and fun in general, has delayed any planning on my part.  Everything has been late this year; from Christmas cards to gift buying (not that we go overboard on any given year).  For me, Christmas is more about the feeling - an intangible, almost mystical thrill and optimism, but this year, I've yet to experience that December magic aka the Christmas spirit.

However, I have seen a little donkey...well two actually.  That's quite Christmassy isn't it?

...and had a Christmas revelation.  It all started with a clearout.  For way too long, I have held onto treasured possessions of dear, departed relatives.  These things are so firmly etched in the memory and entangled in emotion, that they become somewhat invisible.  But this year, whilst erecting our now carbon neutral Christmas tree - purchased because cats and real Christmas trees don't always get along - I had my revelation.  I don't need things to remember people by, particularly if those things are not particularly to our taste.  So I boxed them up, alongside a load of DVDs, thereby freeing up precious space on the bookshelf for books!  

I also donated 3 bags of clothing to a local charity shop (still by appointment) and took a trip to Bridgnorth (where they are more than happy to accept donations without prior appointment) to drop off a few bags of books at Cancer Research.  Cathartic!

Here I am, load lightened, donning a recent charity shop find - a pastel lemon beret with its original £12.00 Top Shop tag still attached (exactly the kind you find in a second hand store).  The rest of the outfit is entirely second hand; vintage suede jacket, High Street (M&S) striped soft knit top, ribbed polo neck (EBay purchase) and iconic American Frye boots. 

Remembering those no longer with us is not always easy; some unpleasant memories still linger, but they do diminish.  Whilst gathering holly and ivy from the garden, I also collected some Corkscrew Hazel twigs and a Hydrangea Lace Cap flowerhead and decided to create a simple, homespun Christmas arrangement for Gareth's Mom's grave, rather than risking an unwanted Omicron Christmas gift by heading to the shops.  She would have appreciated the frugal gesture and no doubt provided a lengthy critique of my flower arranging skills.

A few special mementoes remain; my grandmother's 1950s flocked Christmas reindeer, which makes it's annual appearance on our fireplace...

...alongside my paternal grandmother's musical Song Thrush....

..and some hand blown glass baubles from the in-laws, made just down the road in a local glass museum.

For those still reeling from the artificial Christmas tree revelation, here's one we planted earlier.  

This tree was our first Christmas tree at this house almost two decades ago and was planted out in the garden on the 12th night.  I'm starting to lose sight of the top!

On long winter walks, my Dad often accompanies me in thoughts and memories.  He was a true outdoor person.  He hated spending prolonged periods inside.  As a child I would moan for England about the long weekend walks he planned and rain soaked camping trips (I'm definitely a fair weather camper), but now I reflect on them fondly and can trace my love of nature all along an invisible thread leading directly back to him.  

For this week's winter walk, we took to the Staffordshire Worcestershire canal, a 46 mile stretch linking the River Severn at Stourport with the Trent and Mersey Canal at Haywood Junction by Great Haywood.  The towpath is a mere 15 minute walk from our house and is something I think I take for granted.  We have a choice of routes along this lovely stretch of canal, which passes through the soft undulating countryside of our region and skirts around Birmingham, without ever becoming truly urban.  

We chose a particularly cold day for our walk.  Mercifully there was no wind chill factor, but by rights, us Brits should look permanently youthful in a Botox'd kind of way, given the levels of face freezing cold, moist air regularly seeping into our skin.

For this walk, I wore another, predominantly second hand outfit comprising red Crocs wellies, Zara jeans (both Ebay finds), and a purple Monsoon jumper (charity shopped) hidden beneath a long, leg warming coat I found in a charity shop a few weeks ago.  The jury is still out on this - it's long, cosy style was the main attraction, although I did also like the houndstooth pattern and its general winter brightness.  However, when I later discovered that this Baukjen wool mix coat retails at £299, it grew on me.  The fleece lined hat was an online purchase last year and the Harris Tweed scarf was a souvenir from our 2015 trip to the Outer Hebrides, chosen for its beautiful colours which evoke the colour palette of the machair (low lying grassy plain) flanking the glittering white Hebridean beaches. 

So join me for a deliberately dark and murky stroll along some Black Country towpaths. We glimpsed the impressive Prestwood Pumping Station through the trees across Smestow Brook.

Here's a better photo (sadly I'm unable to provide a photo credit) of the building, erected in the early part of the 20th Century.

We obsessed over tree reflections (anyone else hear Dave singing "Reach out and touch faith" when looking at this?)

and symmetry

spotted a bargain to be had...

...and saw the canal dwellers desperately trying to stay warm

and embracing Christmas in their own unique style.


We elected to walk from Ashwood towards Stourbridge, 

...branching off at Stourton...

and heading towards Wordsley and the Glass Quarter, 

before leaving the canal and walking home through the woods and fields; all in all a walk of approximately 6 miles.

Back at home I indulged in a spot of home baking.  I avoid milk and butter and vegan mince pies are often void of alcohol - what is the point of a non boozy mince pie I ask you?!  So, even though I will probably only eat one or two, I subscribed to that Christmas tradition of baking mince pies.  I have to admit, when I spotted a Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Mincemeat containing clementine, winterberries and gin, my enthusiasm increased immeasurably.  

Naturally, once I was some way into my preparations, I realised that my Mom's old pastry cutters had gone AWOL, so instead, I used a cut glass brandy glass and tumbler, which perfectly served up the requisite sizes for the pastry tops and bottoms.

The verdict?  Delicious.  The zesty clementine and fragrant gin perfectly cut through the usual sickly sweetness of mincemeat.

So, with tidying and gift wrapping still to do, I'll leave you with this little ditty, which, in my humble opinion, is the best Christmas song of all time and which always makes me tear up.  

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale of New York - YouTube

Happy Christmas and here's to a bright and positive 2022!  In the words of The Pogues' Shane MacGowan (who, incidentally, shares a birthday with Jesus): "Cram as much pleasure as you can into life and rail against the pain that you have to suffer as a result."  Yes, it might sound a little as though I'm advocating too many sherries on Christmas Day and spending a night in the cells, but I do like a rebellious life motto!

See you soon. x

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Winter Solstice

It's been a pretty uninspiring week with little in the way of light.  For some unknown reason, I've been regularly putting pen to paper in recent months; jotting down words, phrases and ideas, even having a notebook and pen by my bedside for those nights when sleep doesn't come easy.  This is something I haven't done since my student days when I would scribble reminders to look at other notes!  

So with the the shortest day approaching and winter making its presence felt, I thought I might share with you some wintry photos and accompanying free verse.

Colours drain from view

Forming ice white sheets below our feet

Expanding and contracting,

Revealing long scars and tall, black shadows

Cast by silent ancient trees; gnarled and twisted

From taking bitter air into ancient lungs

Over and over and over again.

A pregnant pause before the longing starts

For that prickly pleasure

Of sunbeams and saltwater 

Dancing on porcelain skin

For the cacophony of crows and crickets

For the soothsayer's promise of summer's gentle sway

But for now, all is still

We're shuttered and buttoned down

And life exists in unforgiving, short lived light

Still, there are magical moments;

The woolly, deadened sound of footfall on virgin snow

Tanzanite skies

And moondust mornings.

Bracing walks to remind us we're alive, 

Buds breaking through from some dark abyss

As we limp towards the thaw.

Of all our constant companions,

Wintertide harbours secrets,

Delights in mystery;

Only showing its hand when we're firmly in its grip...

Only truly letting go when we learn to slide.


Wishing you a wonderful week!  I look forward to hearing your news and thank you for stopping by.

North Country Girl

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