Friday, 31 December 2010

First Footers

On some of the first few New Years Eve's I wound up at Ray and Norma's party.  There wasn't a lot went on in the lead up to midnight, but it was an excuse to get 'gussied up' and I knew several of the other guests, so it was pretty comfortable.  There were loads of snack-y foods and the odd drink, but alcohol wasn't the point.

The point seemed to be for everyone to gather in a circle at midnight to sing Auld Lang Syne and then to admit a First Footer.  This was something I'd not heard of before and I thought I ought to mention it to you in case you've not heard it either.  Ray would seek the tallest dark haired male amongst the company and send him out before midnight, only to answer the door when he knocked and to invite him back in soon after!  The idea was that if a tall, dark man was the first person to step across your threshold in the New Year and this person carried with him a lump of coal, a loaf of bread or a bottle of whiskey - this is a Scottish tradition, remember - then one could reasonably expect to have good fortune in the coming year.  

Geordies often seem to pick up Scottish ideas, but according to Wikipedia, other parts of England have picked up their own versions of this tradition and another website talks about this tradition in the 19th century in Kansas and Minnesota.  Bill said as a youth he and his friends would visit all the houses in the street, serving as first footers and being invited in for a drink.  It was good for a laugh and a neighbourly thing to do. 

I expect we'll be in the street singing at midnight as we were last year and, if Elsie feels up to it, visiting at George and Elsie's afterwards.  All the neighbours I know, mind, are bald and/or grey so they'll need to find someone further afield for their good luck.  Not that I pay much attention to First Footing.  However, I have my black-eyed peas soaking and they'll be in the crock pot with some onion and ham, ready to eat on New Year's Day for our 2011 luck!

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Creature Comforts

Essays in this chapter, the last post about Simple Pleasures, include:

Grooming the dog
In pursuit of the purple emperor (watching butterflies)
Porcine pleasures (pigs, apparently, make good pets?)
Lambing at Wimpole
Walking the dog
Collecting the eggs
In praise of zoos
Owls at night

Other posts about this book can be found here:
I can tell you that Brits really love their dogs; I think that every time I see someone huddled up in a raincoat, shoulders hunched against the cold and wet, walking their dog, morning and evening.  It's a common sight.

Strangely enough, allotments 'gardens' aren't always given over to growing food or flowers, some allow poultry and some folks love their fowls.  Pigs are also said to make marvelous pets and lambs bouncing around in the spring are adorable, but I don't want to own any or be responsible for them.  Still, I know that whether grooming a pet or observing an unusual creature, there is a lot of pleasure to be had from animals.  I only have to think about warm, furry puppies and I feel better.

I love dogs and would love to have one again.  I'm just not certain we're in a position to be completely responsible dog owners just now.  We enjoy talking about the possibilities, though.  Bill favours Jack Russells because they are clever and small.  I think Golden or Labrador Retrievers are the best friends in the world, they are so good natured.  We recently read that the retired greyhound/ whippet/ lurcher charity near us need help finding homes or fostering dogs, because of the cold weather.  Once I took a dog, though, I'm certain I wouldn't wish to give it back.

I would have to learn to walk it, mind.  For all my years in the States, the dog was just let outside in the back yard to its business.  Now that ours is all brickwork or vegetable garden, that wouldn't work here.   The neighbours have a King Charles Spaniel who is so fat and lazy they have to drag it down the street.  I worried that he was too old and tired until I saw him springing up the street on the return.  He's just a homebody, I suppose.  Other neighbours have a grand-dog that their Audi-driving daughter drops off each morning.  It's a huge short-haired black ball of muscle, some sort of bull dog, named 'Lulu'.  With a name like that I think it should be required to sport a pink tutu, or at least a pink collar.  Lulu drags Sarah down the street twice a day.  Sarah says it's great exercise. 

I've had three dogs that were mine.  One was Pepe, a toy poodle that I got for Christmas when I was 7 or 8.   (His registered name was Mon Ami Petite Pepe - nauseating, isn't it?) He didn't last long.  That summer I was hit by a car and spent a couple of weeks in hospital recovering from a ruptured kidney.  Upon returning home - to my Grandmother's as it happened - I contracted scarlet fever.  Things coming in threes, Mom had the sad chore of telling me Pepe had died from leptospirosis, a disease for which there was no vaccine back then. 

It was another couple of years before Mom's old friend, Jack, had me come out for a visit to see the puppies his Border Collie, Princess, had birthed.  Their father was a standard-sized silver poodle that lived nearby.  I remember riding home from his house in Shawnee, in the front seat of his van with a lap full of drooling puppies, three or four there must have been.  It was all I could do to keep them in my lap and me on the seat (this was long before the days of seat belts).  We kept the one that came out from under Mom's couch to play when I got down on the floor and called.  Being the daughter of a Princess, she was named Duchess.  Of course, Dutch and I were inseparable for many years.  She was without question the smartest dog I ever had.  I left her at Mom's when I moved away from home, barely being able to look after myself, fledgling bird that I was.  She died of old age in Mom's lap, one summer day in the back yard.  

My Golden Retriever was a gift from husband #1. Sunny was short for 'Shelley's Golden Sunrise', only he ate his registration papers before they got filed.  He was beautiful and just as good natured as Dutch, but not terribly smart.  Maybe the problem was that I worked full time by then and didn't train him soon enough.  He just didn't seem able to catch on initially and by the time he had sufficient attention span, he was so large that he was difficult to control.  I managed to teach him basic manners and left it at that.  Sunny was a homing dog, and when I divorced and moved to another house, he kept jumping the fence and going back to the old house.  I'd drive over looking for him and always found him on the front porch.  Eventually, he got the idea that I'd got custody of him.  

Unfortunately, this homing instinct struck again when we moved to Salt Lake City.  He disappeared only a couple of weeks after I'd started a new job, with no leave and 17 animal shelters in the vicinity to visit, I never did find him again.  I hope someone recognized what a great dog he was and took him for their own.  Once I got a new husband, a surprise 20-month step son to raise, was finishing my master's degree and learning a new professional job, not to mention keep up with the laundry, Sunny didn't get much attention, not nearly as much has he'd been accustomed to.  I never blamed him for leaving, and this is why I've never got another dog.

I've only ever had one cat, Mom's last cat.  He never really had a name.  She considered 'Sammy' as her last cat, a female, was 'Samantha', but Mom never really settled on a name for this lovely white cat.  He didn't seem to need one, somehow.  He was the most affectionate cat I've ever encountered - more like a dog, really.  He would be waiting for me in the front yard when I pulled into the drive after work.  He would sit in my lap with one paw either side of my face and rub his cheek against mine, purring.  He also liked to wake me up by chewing on my hair, which was more painful than cute, but still was somehow endearing. I had to find him a new home to come to England, as I wasn't prepared to put him in quarantine for 6-months, the observation period for rabies, about which Britain is quite paranoid.  Giving up Mom's cat was probably the hardest thing I did to embark on this adventure.
Mom's cat
I won't have another pet until I know I can be a better owner.  I've always believed that children should grow up thinking they were desperately loved, just as I did.  I think exactly the same about dogs and cats.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Xmas that Almost Wasn't

We've had a strange holiday season this year.  Seems like weather isn't the only thing that can shatter your plans - illness descended upon us as well.  Mind, Bill and I are both mostly OK.  He had a terrible cold and I've not caught it as bad, but my asthma is rather stirred up.  What disrupted our Christmas - which we celebrate with Bill's kids on Boxing Day - was some sort of tummy bug that was going around their mother's house.  Martin, Bill's son-in-law, wasn't able to join us, which meant even more leftovers:  Martin's appetite putting him in the Olympic class and us having catered for it.

Still we enjoyed seeing Sarah and Helen and doing our gift exchange.  The paper didn't quite fly as much with two people short, but we still had a good time. 


I'd finished off decorating that morning, putting the out the sequined table runner Mom made years ago.  

Rita had also made a red table runner with 4 matching napkins, but (I thought) we needed 5 napkins and the runner was too thick to allow the board place mats commonly used here in Britain.  I put Rita's runner on the bottom shelf of the serving table and then stitched the napkins together at the corners.  They just reached the length of the table and were thin enough to provide a sufficiently flat surface.  


While I was doing that, Bill was cooking.  We had ham, Brussels sprouts, peas and carrots, roasted potatoes and parsnips, cornbread stuffing, gravy, pumpkin pie and Christmas pudding.   Makes my tummy ache just typing all that.

It was a quiet visit and they stayed until it was getting dark and then made their way back to Woolsingham.   Sarah was fast developing a sore throat and they planned to put on their jammies just as soon as they got back home.  


Big flannel pants with elastic waists are just the ticket this time of year, aren't they?

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

With love from Shelley

Friday, 24 December 2010

Oat Crackers

With Bill's impending retirement, we've been talking about what shape our days might take.  For one thing, we need to figure out lunch.  He's used to having a cook at work trying to bribe him for a raise by tempting him with chicken pot pies, Cornish pasties or, of late, Jamaican delicacies, the last cook being a young man from that part of the world.  

I'm used to stopping around 2 or 3 or even later for a piece of fruit or a pot of yoghurt, just enough to keep me going til dinner.  At the weekend I might make an omelette or some soup, but wasn't planning to do this on a daily basis.  I don't mind the cooking, it's the calories I'd like to avoid.  

Bill's happy with the idea of a snack, but mine don't appeal.  I can keep him in spice cake or homemade flapjack and offered to add whatever he wished to my pantry list, hoping it would be something that didn't appeal to me.  (If I don't want to eat it, I try not to buy it.  It just saves a lot of problems.)  We were still considering all this when he accidently made a discovery:  I'm not fond of Scottish oat crackers. 

So, having finally discovered a cracker I won't gobble down and a cheese I really don't like (it has onions in it), he's all set.  Only, in keeping with the homemade idea, he's decided to make his own oat crackers.  I came home the other day to find a cookie sheet on the stove with what looked like chocolate crinkle cookies, but without the right aroma.   I tried half of one, but wasn't very excited.  He said they were too thick and so set about finding another recipe that didn't use so much baking soda.

I'm thinking Bill's retirement may find him doing more cooking experiments.  I know Vivien's husband is enjoying working his way through a Nigella cookbook (has she made it to the States?), so it's not that unusual.  The only other man in my family who baked, however, was Grandpa.  

The one at the bottom is the store bought version.

When Bill gets his oat cracker recipe perfected, I'll be sure to share it with you.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Winding Down

It's been a strange week or two around here.  I've been ticking through my Christmas list (surely everyone has one of those) as well as going through the usual routine.  


One by one, things have wound down:  the sewing group doesn't meet until the 4th of January, the bookbinding group the week after, the sport centre where the running club meets is shut, Bill went to work for his last day this year, just to do some odd jobs, so I went with him.  

He has worked the last few years as the manager of a residential care home for people with mental health problems.  The company that owns the home has been re-organised and is now privately owned.  

The Board has decided that homes providing care at this level aren't sufficiently profitable to keep and so the home is now closed.  


Bill has had a fraught time, making sure his residents all have new accommodation and supporting his staff in finding new jobs, but everyone is more or less taken care of.  


It had been Bill's own plan to finish work this next summer, so all they've done is move his plans forward a few months.  

It's a lovely old manor house that housed seventeen to nineteen residents, most with their own en suite bathrooms.  


One room had a small kitchen and laundry facilities for residents who were practicing their independent living skills before moving into a flat of their own, with some occasional supervision.   


I don't know any one's names or details and though I've met a few of them once on a previous visit I wouldn't be able to come up with names or recognise faces.  


The only reason I know the names of some of the staff is because they tended to ring here at all hours to hand Bill some of the most perplexing problems and get his advice.  

Heaven knows what would happen to his residents if they were in the US; I haven't any knowledge of this area of work in there, other than perhaps the few shorts years I spent working as a file clerk for the welfare department.  


I expect I typed some of their American counterparts' names on index cards and cross referenced their and their family members' welfare case numbers, writing the list on the inside of a brown folder that would hold the their welfare case papers.

I know from Bill's work that even living in what many would call a welfare state, bad things can happen.  


You can have a heart attack at a really young age, like in your 30s or 40s, so severe that your brain is deprived of oxygen for long enough that you are mentally handicapped from there on.  


You can have a mental illness, the cause of which isn't really known, that requires the use of strong medication so that you can even begin to pass for normal.  Some of the side-effects of the meds can be such that you could be forgiven for being unsure which state was preferable.  


You could come from parents so incompetent that the state took you into 'care' as a child and you grew up in 'care', which for the age of these residents, meant in an institution.  A few stories I've read in the newspapers about those sorts of places are chilling, particularly when one considers the vulnerability of the residents; some of them never managed to become competent adults and are still sorely vulnerable.   I gather the average age of Bill's punters was about 50-60.

One of Bill's last jobs with the NHS dealt with serious cases, many of them angry, testosterone-fueled young men admitted with psychoses resulting from drug-abuse.  Some of them conveniently admitted to a place where the police could not hold them accountable.   Bill decided eventually that he was too old for that malarky and gave it up for work in the private sector; it paid a bit less, but the quality of life at work was infinitely better.

That said, some of the residents were difficult, spilling things, leaking fluids, resistant to bathing.  Stains on the bare floors spoke of soaked carpets and some of the rooms had a peculiar smell overlaid with disinfectant.  


Bill always explained to the staff that residents must be made to bathe and wear clean clothes, because to not do so would invite trouble to them when they went into the community, as they routinely did, to the convenience store or the chip shop or over to visit a relative.  If they were smelly and unkempt, it would be considered that no one cared about them and they could more easily be the target of bullying.  


Residents were made to get up and be dressed before a certain time in the late morning, else they didn't get their spending money.  They had to participate in keeping their rooms picked up and their belongings put away, as the cleaner couldn't clean otherwise.   Bill kept an open door policy that applied to residents as well as staff, so they could always air their complaints with the management, so to speak.

Bill also mentored his staff, encouraging all of them to pursue qualifications that would let them apply for better paid jobs.  He pushed them to take more decisions and have more confidence, but then as manager the final responsibility was always his, thus the phone calls at 2 or 3 am when a resident went missing, the heating or electrics stopped or they found a major leak in a pipe in the basement.  One of the problems with lovely old manor houses is they require upkeep and until Bill, a former buildings surveyor, came along, the house got patched instead of mended. 


The likely fate of the place, sadly, is to be torn down and replaced by a block of flats.  That said, a similar plight befell a house not far down the road and it still has 'For Sale' signs up a couple of years on, so perhaps this is not a given.  As Bill went from room to room, checking and locking before we left, he outlined ideas for how the present structure could be turned into a block of six flats.  If I had a choice between a modern box and a place of character with grounds and walled garden, I know which way I'd go - assuming of course that it smelled nice.

How about you?

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Just Swish and Flick

I finally finished off the Christmas tree this afternoon.  Putting up an 8 foot tree with 65 years' worth of decorations (Mom started collecting in 1945) and enough lights to satisfy Vegas is never a one-day job, but more a work in progress over several.  

Simon was disappointed that I hadn't yet put on the icicles when he was here, but that is the very last step.  All the kids seem quite fascinated with the icicles and seem to think they are what 'make' the tree.  I have to agree.  

I always remember how particular Mom was about how they went on and I found myself thinking that there is a very specific hand and wrist movement I only ever use for this purpose.  Now, if I could just learn to levitate the things onto the tree, I'd be dead chuffed.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Swanning About

I was finishing my coffee and reading an entry about Diana Vreeland on Little Augury when a link took me to an article that says only the Queen can own swans in Britain.  


This is the first I've heard about that, not that I'm an expert on these things, mind.

So I did a bit of reading about this, including why we don't eat swans (well, it would be impressive to present to dinner guests, wouldn't it?).   I've always been quite drawn to photographing swans, they are so striking, not to mention graceful.  And big!


The article in the Daily Mail is more about Charlotte Townshend than swans, really, and it's not exactly a paper I would call a 'reference'.  


So, I went to the Royal Website:

Today, the Crown retains the right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but The Queen only exercises her ownership on certain stretches of the Thames and its surrounding tributaries.
Turns out there is even a ceremony about it all.   Well, of course there would be...

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Don't Read This Now!

Possibly the worst time in the world to discover a new time-consuming obsession is in the days with the longest to-do lists in the year, those leading up to Christmas.  So perhaps you'd best just note this for reading on Boxing Day.  I'm being silly here, I know.  It reminds me of a joke that was at Grandmother's house, a couple of wood blocks hinged together like a greeting card.  On the front it said 

Open in Case of Fire

When one, in curiosity, naturally opened it one found

Not Now, Dummy!  In Case of Fire!!!

I don't know how many times I opened the stupid thing and laughed.  My excuse for then was that I was a child.  That it still amuses me, well, there is no excuse, is there?

Anyhow, I've recently discovered three new blogs, the first, Little Augury, because of A Femme d'Un Certain Age.    Then two more, An Aesthete's Lament, and Frence Essence, via Little Augury.  Never mind the objects they hold up that one might think about buying (I don't even go there, it's just not my thing), these blogs are full of visual wealth, introductions to people from the (inter-war) period of my dreams - and others, sprinkled with words I almost know, but need to look up to learn more.  It will take me months to make my way through the back catalog of their posts and to peruse all the ideas they so lavishly present.

I suspect there are many more blogs on their respective lists equally as seductive, but I refuse to look until I've done some tidying up of my blog list, removing the ones that didn't prove that interesting to make room for new time-wasters sources of my fine arts education.

After Boxing Day... not before...

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Lost the Frugal Plot

It's a small thing, but I'm meeting a friend for lunch and I can't give her her Christmas card because I've just put it in the post.  It tells me I'm down to doing the next thing on the list instead of thinking.  

Do you get that way this time of year?

Monday, 13 December 2010

Company: Having, Being

We had company this weekend!  Simon came for a visit, in part because he wasn't able to make Thanksgiving and also because he'll not be joining us on Boxing Day as usual.  He's going snowboarding instead.  He swears this is a one-off and not the thin edge of the wedge, but we'll see.  He's even planning to come back one weekend in January to make up for missing our Christmas, and to do the gift exchange, no doubt.

So, what do we do when we have company?  We go out and leave them at home alone with the TV, their computer and some leftovers!  Honestly, we'd been invited to go to Svetlana and Alexei's house since October and the leftovers were some of the frozen Thanksgiving food he missed out on, so he was happy enough.  We had a little time with him when we got home, about 10:30 and spent the next day at the Fleamarket and lunch before he set off back home.  His work takes him to Boston this week (business class, no less) and fun takes him to Andorra for snowboarding.  It's a tough life, no? 

I forgot (again) my camera, but Alexei kindly brought out his camera and then sent the results.  I wouldn't have believed it was possible to eat and talk for four hours, but apparently it is.  The food just kept coming and there was so much to talk about.  Alexei has been writing a book.  I read some of the early chapters and they were fascinating.  He's made some changes since and wants my comments.  You may roll in the floor laughing.  I can't get it across to him that my opinion is irrelevant, but hey, I'll enjoy reading whatever he sends and do my best to make useful suggestions.  I do hope he gets it published so I can share it with you.

As you might guess, they are Russian émigrés, first to Germany, then to England.  Funny enough, they came to England the same year I did and bought their house the same year I did.  I used to work with Svetlana and we've managed to keep in touch.  I've been to their house for dinner once before.  Bill was in bed with the flu, but I abandoned him just as quick as I ditched Simon.  I still remember the lamb roast, marinated in wine for 24 hours after having onion quarters and garlic cloves stuffed in small cuts in the meat.  I'm not a fan of lamb as a rule, but I'd eat their lamb anytime they wished.  


When we first arrived at their house, Svetlana anxiously asked if we liked duck.  I replied, "We like food" which is close enough to the mark.  I love duck; I just don't ever try to cook it.  Oh, but we didn't just have duck, we sat down to a table with hors d'œuvres:  radishes, cherry tomatoes, pickles and sun dried tomatoes in olive oil.  Also, tomatoes stuffed with feta cheese and dill weed.  Ratatouille.  Large green olives.  A plate of dill weed stalks.  A tray of nuts.  Smoked salmon and a basket of sour dough and rye bread slices (I adore rye bread, the smell reminds me of Grandma and Grandpa.  They only ever had 'brown' bread there.)

We made a start.  Then came out the duck, stuffed with prunes and apples.  Alexei said they would normally have duck with buckwheat, a traditional Russian food, but they didn't think we'd like it.  We'll just have to go back for the buckwheat another time.  Vegetable salad, very much like I would make, dressed with dill weed, which we also learned was a very Russian thing.  Roasted potatoes.  Did I mention three kinds of red wine and Japanese single malt whiskey?  (Because we Russians like that sort of thing).  When Svetlana removed the plate of dill weed I realised we'd neglected it.  I didn't know what one did with it.  She said, just eat it, so I did.  It was lovely and minty.  We need to grow some.

For dessert we had cherry strudel, German chocolates and German Jaffa cakes.  I think Bill called them German because they came from a German owned shop.  I could only manage the cherry strudel; well, I managed two helpings.

Honestly, there are no meals better than this.  Not only was the food amazing, but we were having a great time talking about everything from genealogy to raising chickens.  One of the most astonishing things for Bill was when Svetlana mentioned she was born and lived her very early life in Tashkent, though I believe their remaining family now are mostly in or near Moscow.  I'd no idea where Tashkent was, but Bill did.  He hasn't yet stopped saying, "I know someone from Tashkent!"  He showed it to me on the map.  Then I was impressed, too.

We're hard at work trying to figure out how to return their hospitality.  We only live three Metro stops - a scant 2 miles - apart, so we'd be daft not to continue exchanging meals and ideas.    I know entertaining is not about impressing people, so we won't be presenting a pig with an apple in its mouth or anything, but we definitely need to raise our game.

Any suggestions?

Friday, 10 December 2010

Every 8-14 Years is Probably OK

I think I mentioned not long ago that the last film I went to see in a theatre was Chicago.  If you never saw it, I can recommend it.  I went with Bill's sister, Jane when she was visiting from Australia.

The last film Bill went to see was with me was Twister back in 1996.  It was our first date.  For that alone, it should be my favourite movie ever.  After all, tornadoes are part and parcel of the first 30 years of my life, I really like Helen Hunt, my Uncle Pat worked on the film, it was made at least partly in my home state...but no.  Let's just say they lost me either at the flying cow or the part where they hung on under a bridge in spite of being blown horizontal. 

However, I thought it worth reporting that Bill and I went to our 2nd film at the theatre just today.  We saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I.  We watched all the videos at home to lead up to this point.  We did the full whack at the theatre, cokes (actually, disgusting Pepsi) and popcorn included.  I managed to hold off on the drink a bit so as not to have to have any comfort breaks.  I didn't want to miss one single expensive moment.  

The link above is to the trailer for the film.  I had to laugh when I saw the words  "The Motion Picture Event of a Generation".  Which generation would that be?  I saw no one under 50 in the movie theatre this afternoon.  Mind, we deliberately went on a week day to avoid the children.  We would have gone last Friday, but then schools were let out because of the snow, so we stayed home.  It was worth the wait.

Bill even said he would go back and watch Part 2.  So maybe it's the Motion Picture Event of his Generation, eh?

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Talking and Ruminating

This is still another chapter topic from Simple Pleasures.  

Apparently, there is a difference between conversation and discussion.  One is for  fun, the other for business.  I think I may still have more business discussions than conversations, in spite of being retired, which is a little strange.  Perhaps it's due to a somewhat solitary life, part of which is filled with committee-related e-mails (but then I think they are also fun).  Bill and I tend to 'discuss' the 'business' of running the house, having guests, Christmas plans, activities at weekends; I've no complaints about this whatsoever.  We have 'conversations', too,  generally when one of us comes across a new idea to share.  This is a good reason to have some separateness, if only to have something interesting to say to one another.  Otherwise we companionably read our books.

Another author writes about gossips vs. people of rigidly upstanding character (she calls them 'prigs') and is very clear that she votes for gossip.  It bonds friendships, has a element of trust, is a form of generous sharing and is just more fun.  She does set the boundary that it cannot be used for self-advancement, but I'm not sure what she means by this.  Personally, I divide gossip into 'malicious' and 'news about people who interest me.'  I have occasionally met a person who practically salivates when relating ugly stories about people they envy or hate.  I think these characters  are a bit scary and I cross the road to avoid meeting them, so to speak.  Then there is my question about 'How are John and Mary doing?' put to a common friend.  Last I heard their marriage was on rocky ground, for example.  I'm not looking for bad news to enjoy, I'd be thrilled to know they had patched things up.  I care about these people and I'm out of touch; I want information.  I will admit there are people in the world about whom bad news gives me no pain.  I just hope that I manage to mask my satisfaction sufficiently that folks won't cross the road.

If one has an excellent grasp of grammar, one can take pleasure in correcting others.  Spelling mistakes are another similar entertainment of one of the writers in this book.  I can only hope he has found his calling as a teacher or a proofreader and hasn't time to read this blog.  Why the editor chose to insert his essay into this chapter, I'm not quite certain; perhaps he was too intimidated to omit it altogether.

Then the authors seem to change the subject from talking to chewing thinking.  One writer told how excited she was anytime a business colleague cancelled a working lunch at short notice. It gave her time to think her own thoughts.  I did plenty of working lunches, though usually because of a day-long meeting ... .  Can I tell you how wonderful it is to be retired?

Note: she's not pregant, it was the fashion.  Can we have that fashion back, please, only without the head gear?
Another writer's piece is titled 'Portrait of a Marriage', which if Googled takes you to an altogether different, though fascinating, topic.  She's referring instead to the Arnolfini Portrait, on which many people seem to chew, and drawing comparisons with her own recent marriage.  [Note to self: read more about 'dagging'.]  The real point of her piece seems to be how pleasurable a place is The National Gallery, where she visits this painting like an old friend.  I can understand this, though the most permanant exhibit I've discovered at the Laing is the stained glass window; perhaps I should make friends with more of the pieces there.  My favourite place to ruminate is either right here at my computer or sitting with coffee in front of the fire with pen and a notebook.

'Wandering Lonely as a Cloud' clarifies that this is a pleasant occupation:  solitude is good.  No one ever needed to explain that to this only child.  Then someone talks about Meditation.  He approaches it in a very serious way, going to a School of Meditation and taking up yoga in India.  I like to think of meditation as 'sustained application of the mind to the contemplation of a spiritual truth' which can take place whilst sitting in an ordinary chair in your ordinary clothes, but each to his own.

The last author, of the Gratitude Diaries, tells how in a time of trouble a friend gave her a diary and set her the task of finding five things for which she was grateful, on a daily basis.  She's done this for many years now and her children will inherit the accumulation.  She noted that some of her previous entries would provoke curiosity, as she'd made single sentence entries, and that whilst it would make clear what in life brought her the most satisfaction, the journals weren't likely to be that interesting.  She clearly kept the diaries for her own benefit.  Sort of like this blog, then.  

Reminding myself of my blessings when I'm unhappy doesn't necessarily remove the unhappiness, in my experience.  Rather the blessings make my unhappiness seem less important and pull me above the present circumstance, if I'll just apply myself.   I hope her children appreciate their inheritance.

On the whole this chapter struck me as outlining some of the pleasures of company and some of the pleasures of solitude.  I revel in my solitude and will no doubt have to make some adjustments when Bill finishes work, but we have contentedly occupied different parts of the house in the past and I expect that will continue to some extent.  I'm particular about whose company I keep, so when I do meet up with friends, I really enjoy myself and we have lots to talk about.

Do you find simple pleasure in talking and in ruminating?

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

90 is the New 40!?

If I'm going to be 90, this is how I'd love to do it.  I mean, she's the absolute essence of Jenny Joseph's poem.  Except, of course, that instead of purple and red, Ilona's chosen orange, chartreuse and turquoise.  Bill even agreed that 'eyelash cabaret' should become part of my lifestyle (how about we start out with 'skill set') between now and then.

I pointed out the bottom picture to him and he said, "Yes, that's you!"  I can just see me downsizing one day, piling all my possessions into one room.

Doesn't she look fabulous!?

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Not So Christmas Fayre

We went to the Christmas Market at the Metro station yesterday, and of course I forgot to take my camera (I make and break habits more frequently than anyone I know).  It was strangely dark in spite of having the overhead lights on.  I worked out it was because the glass ceiling was covered with snow that shut out the daylight.  This created an interesting cave-like atmosphere.  

Mind, I'd say only about a third of the tables were at all Christmas-y.  There were a few sellers we'd not seen before and quite a few empty tables, probably because of the weather.  I went with French food in mind, on Bill's Christmas wishlist, but no Frenchmen were to be found.  Instead, we spotted wreaths.  For years I've wanted a wreath for the front door, and half intended to make one, but never got aroundtuit.  So when we saw these for a very reasonable price, re-useable year after year, I pounced.

Also, having been inspired by Madame's table (click on the picture for a better view) and thinking we might drink more water if it were presented more elegantly, we looked for crystal decanters.  There were dozens to be had, from £4 to £15.  Bill selected this one 

and we filled our largest gold-fish bowl wine glasses, a recent gift, with water from our new decanter at dinner last night.  (No, this isn't a linen and lace tablecloth, it's the tie-dye tablecloth bought under duress from large, smiling African women in The Gambia, but that's another post).

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Happy Birthday Grandmother!

I recognize this might be a bit confusing, so let me explain.  This isn't actually a picture of a three-year-old opening one of his birthday presents.  Instead, this is one of my favourite pictures of Grandmother, who got such a lot of pleasure from small children.  She didn't let you take her picture if she could help it, but she was so absorbed watching Johnny, I got away with it.