2016? Sleep on it…

Christmas-yes it’s lovely, yes it’s festive. There is a warm, fuzzy glow everywhere-in the shops, in the pubs, in the cafes, along the streets and in the homes. We decorate, we shop, we cook. We send cards and receive them, exclaim over seldom contacted friends’ messages, speak to long-distance relatives. We deck the halls. We peel, chop and baste. We make table decorations, lay out crackers, pass things around, pour drinks, make toasts, watch the Queen/don’t watch the Queen,  play games, hand out gifts, open gifts, watch TV’s lack-lustre, festive offerings, crash out, wake, get up and begin again.

We eat too much, drink too much, feel bloated. In the mornings there is a swathe of last night’s glasses bearing dregs, demanding to be washed; and chocolate wrappers festooning the surfaces along with crumbs and pieces of nut shell. The dishwasher groans as you heave open its door, its bulging contents demanding to be dispersed.

I look forward to Christmas as much as the next person, preparing and anticipating but then when it comes all I really want is for it to be over. It belongs to children, this winter celebration with its pretence of magic and if you’ve access to a small child there is pleasure to be got from their enjoyment-otherwise there is a tendency towards anti-climax.

Nobody should wish their life away, especially when what remains is dwindling but 2016 needs to be behind us. It has been the year the world turned grim, forgetting any lessons history should have taught and returning instead to crude, emotions-led political decisions, territorial feuds and downright bestiality.

I’ve said before that I don’t do resolutions but planet earth needs to do some. There is an alarming deficiency of concern over climate change as we are about to be plunged back into over-reliance on fossil fuels. Genocide and brutality abound within and outside of conflict zones and how on earth is any of this to be tackled if we exacerbate hostility to foreigners and visitors by cutting ourselves off?

Though not a fan of cold weather I’m feeling introspective at this, the dormant part of the year. Yesterday the frost painted a stunning picture of a tree on our bedroom window, reminding me that there is still a lot to love about the world around us if we choose to preserve it. In winter nature reins in, hibernates, repairs and prepares. We should do the same, appreciate and cherish what matters the most. So I’m not going to feel guilty for spending time doing very little; for watching the garden birds or staring at a view or sitting quietly and thinking-because it’s just me doing what the season dictates and having a dormant spell until spring rushes in and stirs everything up!

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Happy New Year, Anecdotage readers-here’s to better things in 2017!

 

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Christmas Climates-what’s your preference?

In 2011, towards the middle of November, in the midst of an extended trip to New Zealand followed by Australia we found ourselves in Adelaide in temperatures of around 30 degrees. And Christmas was cranking up.

Adelaide was delightful-quaint architecture [what goes for ‘olde worlde’ in the New World], a busy, buzzing city with a vibrant night life, cheeky, fun bars and plenty of attractive, green spaces.

During most of our road trip we’d been disappointed with evening, cultural life. The vast majority of bars, devoted almost entirely to gambling-‘pokies’ and horse racing-tended to shut around 9.00pm. We’d show up just before, at a time we are accustomed to setting out in the UK to be told we could get one drink before they closed up, or that they were in fact just closing. We were mystified. Where was the fabled ‘wild west’ lifestyle, the Bohemian, carefree, party, outdoor social whirl?

Turned out I’d been watching too many ‘Wanted Down Under’ programmes. Other than for an early evening meal no one bothered with going out except hardened gamblers, who sloped off in inevitable disappointment once the books were closed.

Adelaide, though was different. The nightspots were thriving. There were throngs in abundance. The locals enjoyed life. One bar proclaimed it was ‘the worst vegetarian restaurant in the world’, in praise of its steaks. Result.

Our hotel, reserved by Trailfinders [hence not a penny-pinching hostel such as we’d have selected if left to our own devices] was magnificent; a monument to luxury and decked tastefully in the burgeoning Christmas items that were adorning the city. Christmas trees sparkled at the foot of the sweeping staircase.

Outside in the street the stores sported their own Christmas displays-Santa and his reindeer cavorting above the porch of a department store, tinsel glinting in the searing heat of the sun.

To those of us accustomed to Christmas in the Northern hemisphere the appearance of Yuletide decorations in a heatwave is a surreal experience. I responded with a driven desire to obtain Australian style tree decorations-a mission in which I failed, until my kind, Antipodean aunt, seeing my predicament mailed me a beautiful, red and white felt kangaroo to dangle from the branches of our own tree.

Still more outlandish, Hong Kong-where we stopped over on our return in late November-boasted enormous Disney-style Christmas trees constructed entirely of plastic cartoon frogs and vast ornate merry-go-rounds in glittering gold and shiny purple. All this in an atmosphere that could wilt a cactus.

I am in awe of those who celebrate the festive season in a hot climate. But despite being one of the first to complain about cold, dark, frosty mornings and bleak winter nights there is something very special about Christmas at home, here in the UK where we still retain some semblance of changing seasons. And after all, with only one week until the shortest day [in daylight hours] spring is just around the corner.

Seasonal Tales

                It feels lucky to live in a country that has four seasons; or at least, for the majority of my life there has been a spring, summer, autumn and winter. I have also been lucky enough to have lived most of my life in places where the waxing and waning of the seasons could be clearly seen and experienced.

                One of my early memories of the tiny, village school I attended is the Halloween party we’d have. There would be a tin bath of apples in water for us to try ‘bobbing’ for and iced buns on strings we’d have to eat without using hands, games like ‘Blind Man’ Buff’ and ‘Squeak Piggy Squeak’. At the end of the day our headteacher, a stern, formidable woman, would read us an abridged version of the Scottish story of Tam O’Shanter, from an epic poem by Robert Burns, which tells of a drunken man who spies on partying witches on All Hallows’ Eve and is pursued by them. Even once I knew the ending it never failed to induce a delicious terror as Tam rode furiously towards the river to attempt to shake off the witches and his poor mare got her tail pulled off.

                Nowadays Halloween has been hijacked by the American custom of ‘trick or treat’, a pursuit we knew nothing of as children. The shops are packed with elaborate costumes ranging from pumpkin to Dracula, from devil to zombie. I have even spotted a first, newborn-sized all-in-one suit decorated with a skeleton and tried to imagine who might buy such a garment.

                We live on a street with few young families and rarely get mugged on our own doorstep for ‘treats’. I do, however take a dim view of the entire operation. It is not a British tradition. It is begging. If the tots are accompanied by their parents the parents should know better. If they are not, the parents should be prosecuted for neglect. This may seem a humbug attitude to those for whom a traditional, British experience of the seasons is unknown but I am unapologetic. The year’s milestones and celebrations should be simple, grass roots affairs, not monopolized by gift shops or inundated with marketing opportunities.

                Thankfully, although fireworks have become as ubiquitous as talent shows, our very own, English November 5th revelries are as yet little known in the wide world. A few years ago I happened to be returning by plane at night from a trip away and as the plane began to make its descent over London a rash of colourful explosions spread over the sky below us, prompting fellow passengers to exclaim in surprise. Of course they know nothing of Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot and I’m sorry to say I felt a little smug, despite not having celebrated bonfire night for many years. At least this is one celebration we can still call our own!

Reasons to be Cheerful…[part 1]

January is a gloomy month. Once the gluttonous, exuberant, over-consumption of Christmas and New Year is over there is little to recommend it. TV channels have exhausted their supply of money and ideas. It is long, cold, dark, often penurious…in the aftermath of all the spending…, and frequently marked by periods of nasty weather. Many are prompted to comment, ‘We are always caught out in this country’, ‘why aren’t we prepared?’ etc when airport runways and motorways are unusable, or ‘look at Norway’, ‘look at Canada’; ‘they don’t get caught out’! They don’t. But the reason we aren’t prepared in the way that they are, is that our climate has always been unpredictable, and getting more so.

                In January we are bombarded with alluring offers: ‘Two for one on main courses for dining between 11 am and 12.30pm, choosing from the 2 for 1 menu’ [ie ponyburger and chips with garlic bread].

‘One extra night free during weekdays’ [at the Travel Inn Express, Uttoxeter motorway services…on the M6…you might be lucky and get a 2 for 1 at Little Chef [see above]].

‘Ryanair’s £8 winter seat sale’; [fly from Stansted, Luton or Manchester on a Tuesday or Thursday morning at 5.20am to an obscure airport fifty miles from eg Barcelona, Alicante or Marbella].

‘Cruise in the Med’ [I’ve made my feelings clear about cruising in the previous post], ‘from £199 [for two nights] or upgrade to an ‘exterior’ cabin for just an additional £50 each’. This extra £50 each is for a window. For two nights!

                No, I’m not tempted by any of this. When I venture out into my back garden and scrape away some of the grey slush that is covering it I can detect some new, green spikes of growth where bulbs are beginning to show. There are fat buds on the camellia bush. It is all there, waiting in the wings of winter. In a couple of weeks the snowdrops will be up. I come back in and warm up with the wood burner. I make vast pots of soup. Curl up. Read.

                At this time of year there is nowhere in Europe that is truly warm. So I prefer to wait, accept the vagaries of the weather and plan what we will do when the weather does, finally come out of hibernation. And be glad…because despite the miserable, cold, dark and wet conditions this is winter, doing what it is supposed to do. With any luck, then it will be spring. These are the seasons and we are fortunate to have them!