Winter sunshine

Today is one of those lovely sunny winter’s mornings.  The sun is low in the sky (which makes driving a nightmare!).  It is positively mild and there’s almost an early spring-like feel to the day.  I think that the real difference between winter this year and last year – apart from the absence of snow – has been the appearance of the sun.  Last year winter seemed very dark and miserable and dragged on for ever.   This year in my part of the England, we are really still waiting for winter to happen.  We have had a few very cold days but in general it has been bearable.  I have only had to wear my gloves once so far which is always a sign that it’s not too cold!  Unfortunately it has been incredibly wet and Southern England has really suffered from floods and storms but, fortunately for us, we have not been badly affected.

However, this very strange winter has left my garden slightly confused as to what time of year it is.  I have bulbs pushing their way up at a great rate which is to be expected at this time of year. The snowdrops are through which is always lovely to see and they bring me great pleasure.  But I also have a patio rose that has started to bloom.  This is possibly a foolhardy move by the rose so early in the year.  I fear for its safety should the snow and ice make an appearance but I have to admire its courage.  It’s a unexpected beacon of hope in February.


Richard III

I have recently been studying a Future Learn online course about England in the time of Richard III.  I am a total history addict so this course was perfect for me!  Interest in Richard III has increased since the discovery of his remains under a car park in Leicester.  Which is not actually as random as it sounds since the car park is built over the site of an ancient priory (Greyfriars) where his body was taken after the Battle of Bosworth. The course was led  by staff from the University of Leicester who were part of the team that found the remains.

I had studied Richard III at school over 40 years ago but the course has given me greater understanding of how people lived in medieval England.  The food they ate.  How they lived their lives.  The course gave us links to some wonderful websites including National Archives where we could access the Wills to see what they left and to whom.  The religious aspect of their lives was really interesting – concept of purgatory and the importance of prayer.  It was not actually a bad life for both the rich and the poor.  Apart that is from the Black Death, Wars of the Roses and low life expectancy ……    The Wars of the Roses was a key element of the course.  It through up some interesting facts.  The Battle of Towton lasted for 10 hours.  Can you imagine?  10 hours!  28,000 were killed.  That was about 1% of the population at the time.  Richard III was the last English king to actually die in battle.  Did you know that?  I am sure it was fact I was probably told at some time but had totally forgotten.

But what I found to be one of the most exciting aspects of the course was reliving through video the discovery of his body.  The luck in digging the trenches that found the remains of his body.  The realisation that he did actually have a crooked back and it was not just an invention of Shakespeare. He wasn’t a hunch back but there was definite curvature of the spine.   An examination of his skeleton revealed the extent of the  injuries he sustained in battle.  Then being able to locate and take DNA from two descendants of Richard’s sister to enable positive confirmation that it was indeed the remains of Richard III.   How fantastic is that?

And the story is still not over.  The argument still goes on  over where his final resting place should be –  York or Leicester.

Future Learn is a brilliant concept.  I am now doing a course on Hamlet and have signed up for several more.  Watch this space …..

Reflections on Christmas and New Year

So the Christmas and New Year excitement is over and life has returned to normal.  I always find taking down the Christmas decorations to be a slightly sad experience.  The house seems so dreary without them. Even though they are only up for a few weeks, they do make the house (and life) seem more cheerful.

How was your Christmas?  This year ours was a very quiet one spent in a traditional way which to some extent reflects my memories of childhood Christmases.  I suppose that I try to recreate for my daughter the Christmas experience that I had as a child.  We had lovely Christmases as children.  I have a twin brother and slightly older brother and it was great fun taking it in turn to open present before lunch, which we knew would be delicious!  My mother was an excellent cook so her Christmas lunch was something we eagerly looked forward to every year.  I doubt that I am such a good cook as my mother but fortunately the family do seem to enjoy the Christmas lunch that I prepare.  Now that my family is grown up, the day is spent without the arguments and tears that can develop from over excited children becoming over tired.  Christmas spent without young children is a far different affair but hopefully we will have grandchildren within the next few years to share Christmas with.

I think we all develop family traditions for Christmas.  For me growing up in a smallish house in North London,  it was church on Christmas Eve; open stocking presents with my brothers on waking on Christmas morning; open larger presents when my parents were up and about; visit neighbours to wish them Merry Christmas; wait for Gran to arrive and then tuck into lunch.  Christmas afternoon was spent playing with our presents (and normally arguing over them) whilst the adults had an after lunch doze!

My daughter has established the tradition that she opens her stocking sitting on our bed (yes, she is still indulged with a stocking even though she is in her 20s!) and then she sorts out the main presents that have been placed under the tree into piles for each family member.  Presents are then opened once everyone is washed and dressed and the turkey is safely in the oven.  We tend to light a real fire (whether we need it or not!) and proceedings are accompanied with a glass of champagne and nibbles.

These days New Year’s Eve is never my favourite time of year.  I find it to be such an anti-climax.  My birthday is on 3 January so New Year now seems even more  closely associated with becoming another year older!  When I was a teenager living in London, New Year’s Eve was a big event.  We always ended up for the countdown in Trafalgar Square which was crowded with people, most of whom had probably had too much to drink.  But it was a fun time with everyone being friendly and cheerful.    Nowadays I am content to watch Jools Holland on the telly and feel glad that I am not part of some large, bustling crowd.  I wonder when I became so boring?!

This year, however, my husband and I did go out to a restaurant for a meal and celebrated New Year with champagne but I was tucked up safely in bed by 1.00!

But now we are well and truly into 2014.  Most people are back at work and Christmas has become a distant memory.  It is probably going to be a year of great change for me but hopefully it will be a very positive year for all of us.

Poor Mylo

My very handsome cat Mylo is not looking quite so handsome today.  Although seeming perfectly fit and healthy when I left for work yesterday morning, during the day he developed circular sore patches under his chin, on his stomach and on his leg.  He has scratched at them and drawn blood. They look very deep which is a worry.   It may be related to a similar problem he had a few months ago which was never really resolved by the vet.  Fortunately he seems well in himself but he is not eating much.  However he is still sufficiently interested in the Christmas tree and the presents under it for me to feel he is not too upset by his injuries!

Luckily my husband has managed to get an appointment with our local vet for this morning.  The vet who will be looking at Mylo is called Magic.  I am not sure if this is his first name or his surname but I am really hoping that he lives up to his name and can magically cure Mylo …

The Christmas present waiting game

Oh dear.  Christmas stress is setting in.   I am waiting anxiously for Christmas presents bought on-line to be delivered.  Will they come in time?  Once they reach me, they have to be wrapped elegantly, thrust into an envelope and put in the post to family in London.  Why didn’t I get them delivered directly to their destination?  A very good question and one that I have been asking myself for the last day or two!  I wanted them delivered to me so I could personally wrap them and write a personal gift tag to attach to each present.

The last posting date is later this week and I shudder to think how long the queue at the Post Office will be.  Oh well.  Hopefully all will be fine and all the gifts will arrive on time.  But until then ….

Are Christmas cards a thing of the past?

Do you still send Christmas cards or do you prefer the speed and simplicity of sending a Christmas greetings email?  Or will you be putting a festive message on Facebook or sending a seasonal tweet to your followers on twitter?

Is it a generational thing?  My daughter sends very few cards.  She certainly doesn’t exchange them with the majority of her friends.  I wonder if this will change as she gets older …

I don’t send as many Christmas cards as I used to but I do still send a fair few.  I find that buying Christmas cards helps put me in the festive mood.  For me it’s akin to firing the Christmas starting gun.   I try to choose very carefully, keeping in mind the recipients.  Some are humourous, others are more serious, and some show a traditional Christmas scene.

I must admit I get pleasure from thinking about the recipient of the card as I add a festive sentence underneath the card’s often bland printed greetings message.   The more unluckier of my friends, who I do not see often, may find that they receive a longer rambling letter!  This is particularly the case for elderly friends and relatives.   I hope it implies that I am sending  them a personal message and that I am thinking about them at this time of year.  Obviously I think about them at other times of the year but it somehow seems more important at Christmas.

I also get a great deal of pleasure from receiving cards.  However, I am not a fan of the “round robin” letter.  I don’t really need to know everything that has happened to one particular friend and their family during the preceding year.  Particularly if it’s from someone that I see regularly so I’ve already heard many times about their exotic holiday in the summer or how wonderful they are finding their new car!

I do buy charity Christmas cards.  Possibly this may be seen as a token gesture but hopefully someone benefits.  I have friends who no longer send cards but donate the money to a good cause instead.  An admirable approach but not one I will be adopting quite yet.

As a confirmed luddite, I also write each individual envelope rather than producing printed labels.  Probably a nightmare for the postman as my writing can be pretty illegible (think drunken spider) but I try and convince myself that it adds that personal touch!

There is of course a cost involved in buying Christmas cards.  And postage is not cheap.  Fortunately I only have a few cards that need sending abroad but they are to the USA …

But are we putting undue pressure on ourselves by sending cards?  Do you find yourself sending a card to someone just because they’ve sent you one?  Do you feel shunned if you send a card to a “friend” but they do not send you one in return?  I remember as a school child finding that it almost became a popularity contest.  There was certainly a great deal of kudos in receiving a card from an older child in a class above you!

Gosh.  When Sir Henry Cole sent the first Christmas card in 1843, do you think  he could ever have imagined what he was setting in motion?

Last night we heard of the passing of Nelson Mandela.  It was no great surprise because he had been ill for so long but nevertheless it was sad news.

We all  know his history and background so I don’t intend to make any comment on his life or his achievements.

I do, however, have two personal memories involving Nelson Mandela.

I remember so very clearly  the day he was released from Victor Verster prison.  11 February 1990.  I was in hospital awaiting the birth of my daughter and watched coverage of his release on television.  It was a day to remember.  My daughter was born the next morning.  Another day to remember!

I consider  myself very fortunate enough to have seen Nelson Mandela when he came to Leeds in April 2001 to be made freeman  of the City and to officially open Millennium Square.  It was such a significant event that the Manager of the charity I worked for at the time closed the office so we could witness this historical occasion.  There were thousands and thousands of us waiting in Millennium Square for him to arrive.  There was slight confusion about when he was actually going to arrive and we seemed to be waiting for ages.  Jon Snow did a brilliant job trying to keep the crowd both informed and amused.  We were entertained by children from a local school and the wonderful Ladysmith Black Mamboza.  Then suddenly he appeared on stage.  The great man himself with a beaming smile. There was wild applause and a rising sense of excitement and expectation. On his arrival, the choir sang Nikosi Sikelel, the South African national anthem.  It was very moving and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.   We didn’t even mind when he referred to Liverpool  even though he was in Leeds!  Although in his 80s, he looked well if a little frail.

I am so glad that I was able to be there on that day and to witness that beaming smile!

RIP Nelson Mandela

One down, many more to go ….

Well, it’s happened.  I have wrapped my first Christmas present.  I am feeling a smug glow of satisfaction. I only hope it meets the criteria of being attractive and appealing to the recipient.

I was ably assisted in the wrapping process by my cat, Mylo.  Mylo is a very  curious cat.  As with most cats, he is attracted by movement.  The sight of the wrapping paper being rolled out on the floor in readiness was all too much for him.  I was treated to all the classic signs of a cat about to pounce:   that look of concentration, his chin almost on the ground and the wiggling of his rear.  Bless him!

Here he is, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt ….


Although I enjoyed wrapping my first present of the festive season,  I’m not looking forward to the inevitable queue in the post office when I go to post it ….

Advent calendars

Today is December 1st.  It’s the first day of advent.  As a child I used to love advent and would wait excitedly for my mother to put up the advent calendar.  Being one of three children, we used to have to take it in turns to open a door and my father opened the last one to avoid any arguments!  We didn’t have chocolate advent calendars.  They weren’t around when I was a child.  Instead my mother always bought us one with a religious theme. I can still remember the excitement of getting a picture of a robin or snowman but always feeling disappointment is it was something boring like a snow scene!   Even after I left home at 19 my mother sent me an advent calendar.  She kept doing it until I had a daughter then they were sent to her and not me.  This is possibly when I realised I was finally seen as a grown up by my mother!  She still sent non-chocolate ones because she felt chocolate ones were too commercialised.  When L started school, she realised that there were such things as chocolate advent calendars so I used to buy her one.  I think she secretly preferred the one sent by mother but enjoyed the chocolates.  The last advent calendar my mother sent to L was in 2004.  Unfortunately she passed away in January 2005 so there will never be any more from Grandma.

I have kept the tradition going by giving my daughter an advent calendar each year.  However, this year is the first year we will not have on in the house at all.  When L was at university, I sent her one but she always brought it home with her during the Christmas vacations and it was hung up with the other decorations.  L has now moved out of the family home but she was given her advent calendar yesterday.  She seemed pleased!

I expect I will do exactly the same as my mother did and thus a family tradition has been created!

NSRW Charles Dickens
NSRW Charles Dickens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

Charles Dickens