Friday, 24 December 2010

Happy Christmas

My family were big on the Be-good-or-Father-Christmas-won't-come theme, at least in theory. And when I was four, nearly five and just about to start school, I wanted a doll for Christmas SO MUCH, but I'd been naughty, and got myself into bother. There was no chance. I hung up my stockings like my brothers (my sister wouldn't be born for another six weeks) but I knew it wasn't happening. No doll for me.

I was always the first to wake up in our house, and I was quite surprised to find a bundle of toys at the end of my bed. I imagined books and coloured pencils and small things like that. But there, to my complete amazement, on the top of the heap was not one, but TWO dolls, a girl and a boy.

I never forget that moment when resignation and disappointment turned to joy. I know that lots of people have had a rough year this year - illness, accidents, breakups, finanacial disasters, job disappointments, they've all happened to people I hold dear. And a lot of people aren't expecting much out of next year either. But my Christmas wish is that it will deliver, not only what you were wanting, but TWICE as much as you could possibly hope for.

Pax et bene!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Christmas legends

Everyone knows the Christmas story, of course, but a lot of other legends accrued around it, many to do with the Flight into Egypt. So just for fun, here are some of my favourites.

The Kindly Spider

When Mary and Joseph took the Christ-Child into Egypt to escape from Herod, they stopped to rest in a cave overnight. In the morning Herod's soldiers came up after them and paused at the cave door to see if they were inside. But a spider had spent all night spinning so many webs all over the cave and across the entrance, that they thought nobody could possibly have gone into it for many years, and went away. Mary blessed the spider for protecting them, and as they left all the webs turned to silver and gold, and that is why we hang tinsel on our trees to this very day.

The Juniper Tree
When the Holy Family were escaping to Egypt, Herod's soldiers came up so close behind them that they asked the trees to shelter them. The only one which agreed to do it was a hollow juniper tree, which allowed them to hide inside. In gratitude, Mary promised that the juniper tree would keep its green needles all the year round. And that is why we bring evergreen trees into our homes at Christmas to this very day.

Those stories are from Germany. This is an Irish one, and it's a little different.

The Cockroach and the Beetle
When Mary and Joseph were taking the Christ-Child to Egypt, they were going past a field where the farmer was sowing wheat. Mary saw Herod's soldiers in the distance far behind them, but catching up. She blessed the field, and overnight the wheat sprouted until by morning it was ready to harvest.

When the soldiers passed they saw a beetle in the road and they asked if the beetle had seen Mary and Joseph.

"They came through here when the farmer was sowing the corn," said the beetle.

"That was yesterday!" said a cockroach.

"But you're a dirty liar," said the beetle.

"No crop could grow that quickly," said the soldiers. "We've lost them."

And they went home. But that is why you have to stand on a cockroach whenever you see one, to this very day.

It's time to wrap presents and start the big cook. I hope you are all warm and safe and that you all have a wonderful holiday this Christmas.

Monday, 13 December 2010


The title of this post is not a reference to the weather, which is once again frosty. The ice was melting fine until yesterday and now there is frost on the melted bits and ice on the snow and walking is a nightmare.It's a reference to Thoreau's Walden, which I have now finished reading, and which I found I liked much better than I thought I would. I loved the way he got to know the setting of his little hut, not only the neighbours and the wild-life, but the stones and the water - and especially the ice.

I'm having some thoughts about ice myself just now:
The sky opens blue windows
between flat grey shuttered clouds.
A white snow-mist
climbs the blck walls of the hill.
Ice curdled
with half a foot of new snow
chokes the river.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

the birds of the air

This is Airthrey Loch at the university, almost completely frozen on Sunday, and I imagine it will be even worse today. Wwe had six inches of snow yesterday morning and it froze solid last night as the temperature went down to -12 and it hasn't reached 0 yet, in spite of bright sunshine. No-one is going anywhere today, and we are busily feeding birds.

So far today we have seen
blue tits, coal tits and great tits
hedge sparrows and house sparrows
blackbirds and starlings
chaffinches and goldfinches
town pigeons and woodpigeons, who have flattened the snow where they have walked all over it, making it easier for small birds to find the seed
and three reed buntings, shy birds who only come into the garden in very cold weather.

The forecast is for another really cold night and another very cold day tomorrow before the thaw arrives. Last time we had this much snow and a fast thaw, there was a flood, as it coincided with the spring tides, but by the time the snow melts this will be over and done.

Other than that I have been reading Thoreau's Walden for the first time - a rather shameful admission I'd have thought - and, though he was an inspiration to many writers I admire very much, I'm actually finding him a bit of a grumpy old man (though he was, I believe, rather young for the position at the time) and a thumping literary and spiritual snob. It's a struggle.

But I do like the comment: "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes."

I have added a lot more to the Resources pages on the main web-site, mostly blogs, but also three new poetry books. Two of them were published this year but the other one just took me a while to discover - enjoy.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

deep and crisp and even

This was our garden on Tuesday. It's not much different now, so I guess there will be no garlic planted yetawhile. There is much bird activity at the feeders, sparrows, starlings, blackbirds, bluetits and great tits - and pigeons, of course - and the cold weather is bringing in chaffinches, goldfinches and yellowhammers. There were five there this morning - I've never seen so many.

We have mostly stayed in the house and so finally the new look website is up. It's a work in progress! There are headings for recipes, but no recipes, and I want to add blog lists to the resources pages, but they will come in time.

We did go for a walk between showers on Monday, and saw bullfinches on the hawthorns, and buzzards over the fields. We turned for home as the sky clouded over, and saw a deer cross the road, leap the fence and disappear into the trees.I wasn't quick enough to photograph it, but I did get this:

The light was fading now, as cloud built up and the sun went down. The city looked wonderful in the snow.