I said in my last post An Allotment Year that things didn't go as planned but that doesn't mean that I did nothing. I just didn't do what I had planned to do. And thank you to the people who commented and encouraged me to think again.
Thank you to the kind ladies who commented on the contacts I have had with them this year. I think one thing which has been good about 2017 is my friendships. I value friendship and am prepared to put a fair bit of effort into letter writing, e mailing etc. I have met two bloggy friends "in real life" and my face to face friendships have been good too.
For family life I rely on my cousins but I organised a family picnic and I have kept very good contact with such cousins as I still have. I have deepened my friendship with some of my cousins.
I finished my "informal" vicaring of five parishes which was sad but I soon found other places which needed me!
I've been cardmaking, been to Trefoil Guild, Women's Institute, U3A. I have had lunch with friends several times and have entertained people here too, The year wasn't as planned but maybe it's been good. I feel happy with my life and maybe I don't need to achieve. I am reminded of an old meditation.
I asked for strength
that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I
might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health
that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity that
I might do better things.
I asked for riches
that I might be happy;
I was given poverty
that I might be wise.
I asked for power that
I might have the praise of men
I was given weakness
that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things
that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that
I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I
but everything that I
Almost despite myself
my unspoken prayers were answered;
I remember my Mother speaking of someone as an allotment man. She wasn't talking about vegetable gardening. She meant that there was a lot meant - but not a lot done. And 2017 has been an allotment year for me.
The trouble is that life has got in the way. This woman proposes but God disposes (to misquote Thomas a Kempis). There has been a lot of work done on the house because the house needed a lot of work to be done. Changes have been made in the garden.
And Jack hasn't been because he's still got a gammy knee! I'm not going to list all the changes in the house and garden because I'm teasing Jack by not letting him know. I've managed to find a good gardener/handyman but Jack is also my friend.
My car is assessed to be beyond economic repair through no fault of my own. I have to find some extra money to buy a new car. And the nearest suitably adapted second hand car that I have been able to find is nearly a hundred miles away.
I've decluttered quite a bit, but there's still a long way to go.
I've managed to track all my expenditure for most of the year (quite an achievement for me) so I hope I can make better financial decisions next year.
I've increased my daily step count but only very slightly and I've been swimming a few times.
I've struggled to think of many achievements. Truly an allotment year.
Having spent most of December blogging about Christmas past, today I'm right up to date - Christmas 2017.
Christmas 2017 was like most Christmases - not as planned. I started off by doing the eulogy at a friend's funeral on December 20th and then got stuck in to pre Christmas visiting. I'd done most of my food shopping well before Christmas (mostly on-line) so apart from nipping into the Co-op for bread I could stay out of the shops. I felt as though I had planned well.
23rd December the telephone line went down so no phone calls over Christmas. My apologies if I usually phone you. Broadband became iffy and as BT also supplies my TV service that was also difficult
I got the first warning of "not as planned"about ten days before Christmas. Could I take a Midnight Mass? I thought I'd given that up when I retired as these days I like my sleep so don't make myself available but a church still needing a priest that close to Christmas wasn't going to find one easily. The chap they had booked had to back out so I stepped into the breach. Not in bed until gone 1 am Christmas morning.
Christmas Day started with a nine o'clock service which was as planned but when I got home I was shattered so I thought I'd have a short snooze. Next thing I knew it was 4 pm - I'd slept over five hours! I really didn't feel well so rather than the turkey dinner I had planned I had cheese, biscuits and orange juice, The only festive bit was the cranberries in the cheese! Back to bed by 8 pm and I slept until 7 am. Definitely not as planned.
Boxing Day started off with me feeling equally woolly but by mid afternoon I perked up a little and decided to have the piece of turkey I had planned and it was delicious. I then felt well enough to open few presents before another early night.
Yesterday I felt a little better but the weather was lousy - no snow here but plenty of rain. I still haven't been to see Auntie Hettie and I won't be going today.
And yet Christmas has been good - or at least the part of it when I was awake was good! I have enjoyed my memories of Christmas past and I have had a peaceful Christmas 2017.
I've started to plan for Christmas 2018. Which won't go as planned.
By 27th December my Father was back at work. He was a manager on our local steelworks and steelmaking can't have a temporary stop or the furnaces would be damaged. Sometimes he even went in for a few hours on Christmas Day but his assistant manager was a bachelor and generously allowed Daddy to have the lion's share of time off during the two day break. It wasn't until 1974 that New Year's Day became a holiday in England with the modern "tradition" of a break from around 23rd December until 2nd January. Steelworks still don't stop but as many workers as possible get as many days off as possible.
The Christmas tree also stayed up until 5th January and we didn't go back to school until the new year either so Christmas was still with us. There was never the excessive waste of food which there is today and the post-Christmas leftovers were particularly delicious.
Several people have mentioned how sociable Christmas was and they are right but Mother would never neglect an opportunity to teach us how to behave. The dreaded task to be done before New Year was writing thank you letters and it was best to get them out of the way as quickly as possible if only to get Mummy off my back. There were toys to be played with but not while there were letters to be written. Christmas was a time of learning how to behave, whether it was sitting quietly whilst elderly people were visited, giving a farewell kiss to all and sundry, or handing around nuts or fruit before being allowed to take anything.
Compared to the excesses of today the fifties were austere but they were still magical. Just a few years earlier Britain had been at war and life had been very hard and people had learnt to make the best of everything, a skill which mothers continued to use. I hope that in fifty or sixty years time today's children will also be able to put on their rose coloured spectacles and tell their stories.
Although Christmas wasn't the long period from about 23rd December to 3rd January which it is today, Boxing Day was important when I was a child. Christmas Day was for family - Mother's family at lunchtime, Father's for tea - but Boxing Day was for visiting their friends.
It was the custom when I was a child to address our parents close friends as Auntie or Uncle. My Mother was a member of a group called The Coffee Girls or simply, Les Girls. She was a Coffee Girl until she died aged 89. This group of about eight women and their husbands formed the basis of their social life and one of them, my Auntie Marnie, had a lunchtime party every Boxing Day. She invited all Les Girls and their families and it was a wonderful party. It was an excuse for wearing newly acquired clothes but for me it was also an opportunity to top up my piggy bank. I had quite a sweet voice when I was little and I was always invited to sing a couple of carols for which I would be richly paid.
After we left this party we would visit various elderly friends, most of whom had no younger family to visit them. It is only as an adult that I have understood that we brought our childhood excitement with us and were probably a Christmas highlight for them. Even now I am planning my visits to a few older friends for later this week and as I write this I have realised that I am carrying on that childhood tradition and honouring my parents understanding that there are those for whom visits by others are one of the most important Christmas gifts they receive.
Then we would be off home to start writing thank you letters.
We always woke early on Christmas Day and checked if Santa had been. We would have left a pillowcase outside our bedroom doors and, being a tidy chap, Santa would have left our presents in there.
We always got a main present from our parents. My earliest recollection is of a till and toy money but I had a train set one year and Bayko set another year. Bayko would give elfin safety an enormous headache these days as it involved pushing steel rods into a bakelite base and then sliding bricks on to the rods. Looking back, those rods could have been lethal! There were other smaller presents as well from family and friends but the the phrase "stocking filler" had still to enter our language.
During the morning we would play with our new toys until our maternal grandparents arrived. One year though we had a truly white Christmas, with snow falling on Christmas Eve and I preferred to play outside. A bit of on-line checking suggests that this may have been 1956 when I would have been five. My grandparents would arrive with my aunt and, after she married, my aunt's family and there would be another round of gift swapping. Lunch (for ten people) was always delicious and always turkey. The selection of vegetables was much smaller than today but no-one would go hungry. Mother would then bring in the home-made pudding, always exciting as she would flame it with brandy.
After the washing up had been done we would wait for a telephone call from my Mother's younger brother who lived some distance away and was the only one of their children my grandparents would not see at Christmas. My grandparents didn't have a phone so this call from Uncle Eric was very important to them. After that we settled down to watch The Queen's Speech and then my grandparents would be off to their elder son and my parents would have a much needed snooze.
At about five o'clock the door bell would sound and that meant that my father's brothers and sisters had arrived with their families and my paternal grandparents. Tea would be served. I think there would have been about fifteen for tea and the noise was immense as my cousins and I updated each other about our new treasures.
My recollection is that alcohol flowed pretty freely all day (these is pre drink driving laws) and so the family would eventually settle down to play Newmarket, a card game which involved some mild gambling so it was great fun. Mother kept a penny jar and she supplied penny stakes all round. My grandmother seemed very jolly to us children but considering the amount of cherry brandy she would have consumed that wasn't surprising.
Christmas Day was a day for families and fun. We had plenty of both.
Christmas Eve was a time of frantic activity in our house. It had to be - food shopping and preparation had to be done as close to The Day as possible when few households had a fridge.
The most important shop to go to was the butcher and here we had to queue. Our butcher would have the whole order ready and there was a fast track for mums who had been prudent enough to order the turkey, ham, sausages and bacon in advance so that he could prepare the order but it was still a queue. Then off to the baker to collect bread. Mother usually made her own but at Christmas time became more precious and this cheat was considered acceptable.
Vegetables would be fetched in from the garden where possible. Father grew Brussels sprouts, carrots and parsnips but chestnuts would have been bought a few day earlier so they could be cooked and skinned on Christmas Eve ready to have with the sprouts.
This Christmas Eve shopping would be done by Father as Mother was busy in the kitchen. She would be baking mince pies, cakes, and cheese straws and, once the sausage-meat arrived from the butcher, she could make sausage rolls. The Christmas pudding would be brought down from the top shelf ready for the morrow and the precious new jars of chutneys and pickles brought in from the store. Milk would be infused and breadcrumbs prepared for bread sauce and once the turkey (complete with giblets) arrived, she would make giblet stock ready for the gravy. The potatoes would be peeled ready and best crockery sorted so the dinner table could be laid easily after Christmas Day breakfast.
We didn't help much in the kitchen so Father's job was to keep us busy. Shopping was a good activity and the decorations could be tweaked. We also had parcels to wrap but I doubt if our the things we gave were much of a surprise as we were much too excited to keep secrets. Pillow cases were sorted for Santa to leave parcels in and frantic final letters to the great man were written.
There was always some sort of a service for children on Christmas Eve afternoon. Few adults came and it was regarded as a method for getting children out of the way. Meals were a little basic (beans on toast, sandwiches) as cooking efforts were being concentrated on the meals for Christmas Day.
My sister was nine years older than me and she was allowed to have a party for her friends before they all went off to Midnight Mass. I think my parents must have been near-saints to have allowed this! However, each year when I found my filled pillowcase near my bed it always had a note from Santa pinned to it. Santa had writing very much like my sister's boyfriend.
All our local charities seem to make the most of Christmas.
The Lions are very important to Caistor and Christmas is the time when they are really busy. They take Senior Citizens to the local amateur panto, they have a special sleigh so Santa can visit every street here in Caistor and quite a few of the surrounding villages, they run a Victorian Fair and they create a lot of ways of parting local citizens from their money. This particular citizen doesn't mind as the Lions make generous grants to a lot of local good causes and without their help far less community events would be held.
We have a very new charity here in Caistor called The Rock Foundation. The Rock has existed in Grimsby for quite a while and provides facilities for adults with learning difficulties. In Grimsby they provide workshops for woodworking, puppetry, sewing and lifeskills and some of those activities will be provided for the residents of their new premises in Caistor. At the moment they have a wonderful cafe and a small shop selling sweets and also various hand made things including this lovely wooden nativity set. It's very clever as all the bits come apart for easy storage. And as it was only £9.99 I decided it wouldn't break the bank.
And as always in Caistor there are those who give generously of their time and skills. I mentioned the Christmas trees in church earlier in the month but here is something outside our parish church. Eat your heart out, Rudolph
I make no bones about the fact that I love Christmas. I love seeing excited children, festive lights and carol singers.
And yet I have known sad Christmases. My father died 6th December 1995, my mother died 5th December 2006 and my only sister died 30th December 2010. Those three Christmases were not joyful, just something to be endured.
On Wednesday I gave the eulogy at the funeral of a very old friend. The last few months have been grim for her and for her family as Parkinson's disease exerted its stranglehold. There was the sense of merciful release for her but there is deep bereavement for her husband, their two children and their seven grandchildren. This Christmas will be difficult for them.
And it will be difficult for many others too. Some will face a first Christmas alone after the death of someone they love. Others will be alone because of family disagreements or long distances. Some would maybe prefer to be alone rather than have to be jolly in a large family group.
Others face debt because of Christmas spending. For still more this is a time of greater temptation from drink or drugs, gambling or other excesses.
My own Christmas (after I have been to church) will be totally alone, not "just me and my hubby" or "just us and the kids" and when this first happened I had to develop strategies to cope but now I enjoy it. However, I shall be thinking of my friend's husband who doesn't really want to go to his family, and of another friend whose children live thousands of miles away and they (and anyone else who is struggling) will be in my prayers.
I feel as though I have been writing cards for England. Much better to make a few. So on Friday I went to Mandy's. As always it was a great morning and the conversation flowed along with the coffee. Four cards. Here you go,
None of us can truly remember our childish wonder at Christmas but we can look back through adult eyes with enormous gratitude for the little things which grown-ups did to give us wonderful memories.
For me the infant school party was truly magical. We each took in a cake or something similar which was whisked away from us as soon as we arrived at school in the morning. The morning of the school party was a time of barely controlled excitement. Each classroom had been decorated using the craft creations of the children. One year we made snowflakes to stick on the window, another year was cotton wool snowmen and yet another a host of angels. Crepe paper streamers would be high on the ceiling in a way which I am told would make any fire officer these days need more than an angel to soothe him. Each classroom had a tree usually hung with toilet roll lanterns and there would be a huge banner wishing everyone Merry Christmas.
Lunch was usually a little early and then we were shooed out into the playground so that teachers, school staff and a bevy of parents could set to work. The dinner ladies must have had a hard time with us that day!
Eventually we were allowed back into school for The Party. Games took place in our classrooms and always included Pass the Parcel, Musical Statues and whatever else the teacher could think of.
And finally, the party tea. This was always laid out on long tables in the dining room by the kitchen staff and those wonderful parents. It was less than two hours since lunch but I don't remember being even slightly inhibited when it came to eating my share. Sandwiches, jelly, cakes went down in rapid succession.
At last there would be a lull in the noise and then there would be a huge BANG! Santa and his sleigh had arrived on the school roof! All eyes went up to the high windows around the hall to watch Santa striding along the roof of the adjacent corridor on his way down to an ecstatic band of children.
Soon he came into the hall carrying a huge sack. Had we been good? Of course, Santa, we were always good. He asked his question of the whole school as he arrived and then of each class before he handed out presents. He checked with the teachers that we had indeed been good and we looked anxiously at Miss Higgins and Miss Gulliver as they gave their reports.
All too soon, Santa left and we had a final story before we too were sent home to tell our parents what a wonderful time we had had.
All this took place early in the final week of term. It had to be so that there would be time to eat the rest of the huge cakes our mums had sent for the party.
Throughout my grammar school career I always sang in the school choir, Fortunately enthusiasm was enough qualification, and joy in singing was considered to be more important than innate ability. There were of course a few star singers but the rest of us were there to provide volume rather than quality.
The choir formed almost as term began in September with weekly rehearsals but by early December the rehearsals were several times a week as the music master tore out his already thinning hair trying to get a decent sound out of his motley crew. My recollection was that by the time the carol service came along we sounded more than OK. Best white blouses, neatly tied school ties, and perfectly pressed skirts were required for girls and boys wore their school blazers as well. (And trousers not skirts before you ask.) We had to rehearse getting in and out of position, how to sit when we were not performing and indeed how to stand up and sit down together. I wonder if schoolchildren today would consent to being so regimented.
The carol service was always done three times: twice for parents and other guests and once as the final assembly on the last day of term for the whole school so it marked being let off the leash for Christmas.
There were perks to being in the choir. We would go out en masse (about sixty of us) and go carol singing on few streets around the school which could be great fun and I know it was appreciated by the local residents. We would collect cash for a local children's home but one or two householders would have mince pies or gingerbread ready for us as well.
The best perk however, was the party at the headmaster's house. "Sir" was normally quite a distant figure but once a year he would invite the choir to his home. We would sing for his family and neighbours, his wife would provide a nice supper, then he would provide a shuttle service in his camper van to take us back into town. A wonderful man.
Some weeks ago I told you about my pet unicorn whom I adopted at the November meeting of the WI.
He is a unicorn of style and I always knew that he would be a bit of a show-off. Right from the start he made it clear that he wouldn't be content living with me in a simple bungalow. He needed a public arena in which to prance around.
And now he has found just the place. He's settled himself on a Christmas tree in a festival at Caistor Parish Church. As is fitting, he has flashing lights and is surrounded by hearts sent by fans to tell him how wonderful he is, and pots of tea made by his admirers.
Back in the fifties Christmas Day was a day of feasting to be remembered all year. Everything was home made and it had to be well planned. These were the days before domestic freezers.
The first things which were made each year were the chutneys and pickles. We had a large garden and Daddy grew a lot of the vegetables to be used, for example cauliflower, onions and beans for the piccalilli. Mummy would make quite a range of pickles - plum and apple chutney, pickled onions, tomato chutney, pickled red cabbage among others - and the first jars would be opened around Christmas time although enough would have been made to last the year around. Spices, sugar and vinegar would need to be bought and this was a way of spreading the cost of Christmas.
Next would be the mincemeat. Mother would mix the dried fruit, apples, spices and suet along with a healthy glug of brandy well in advance of Christmas so it had plenty of time to mature. She had a good cold store in the garage (naturally cold, not refrigerated) and with the mincemeat, pickles and jam it would be filling up nicely.
The Christmas cake too had to be made in good time so that it could "have a drink". She would marzipan it herself and decorate it with royal icing. One year she forgot to put glycerine in the icing and the results were spectacularly hard.
But the best bit of food preparation was Christmas puddings. She used to make quite a few as gifts but the big one for our own table was very special. The fruit would be well soaked in brandy a day before the puddings were made and on pudding day she would mix all the ingredients and everyone had to stir it and make a wish. Before our own pud went into the steamer she would put silver thrupenny bits in it, These were precious coins which she would buy back from the lucky finders on Christmas Day.
No child was ever allowed to think that the Christmas present thing was just about getting: it was about giving too.
I had a lovely Grandad. He was quite authoritarian and his word was law but he loved his grandchildren and he was dearly loved by us. In early December Grandad always gave each of us half a crown (2/6) worth 12.5 pence in today's money so that, with a few pence saved from pocket money, we could buy our parents a small gift. I can't remember anything I bought but I do remember the excitement of that special visit to Woolworth's.
My suspicion is that the presents we made at school were much more appreciated. One amazing construction I remember was a vase made out of a jam jar. The jar was covered with many layers of small pieces of newspaper then painted and varnished. I made four bumps on mine and those bumps became four children dancing around the pot.
My first ever school make for my Mother was a simple green felt purse. She used to keep it in her evening bag and whenever she went out she would put a few coins for the cloakroom in that purse and I was always so proud that I had made it. It was only after she died that I discovered that not just coins had gone out in that purse. For over fifty years she had kept in it the note that a five year old me had written, "I love you Mummy."
Yesterday was the anniversary of her death, today is the anniversary of my Father's death. I'll extend that note just a little. I love you Mummy and Daddy.
Once December arrived I was allowed to send a letter to Santa. Best handwriting was called for as were exquisite manners.
Santa made only one visit a year so the present requested had to be carefully considered. It was always "the present" never "the presents" and I think we were guided by our parents as to what Santa would consider to be a reasonable request. I was a child of the fifties: more consumer goods were becoming available than there had been in the immediate post-war years but money was a lot tighter than today
The earliest present that I remember asking for was for a till and some pretend money so I could play shops. I remember promising Santa that I would be very careful with my sums. I have a feeling Mummy may have suggested that was a good promise to make.
It may have been that Daddy had some input another year when I asked for a train set. It was a Hornby clockwork set and came with one engine,a tender and two carriages with a simple oval track. Over the next few years I acquired more engines, rolling stock and track and I think Daddy continued to enjoy it.
After the letter was written it was looked over by Mummy "to check my spelling" before the grand ceremony of sending it up the chimney. I don't suppose many children can do that today.
Santa always left a reply to my letter when he brought the loot. But I'll tell you about that another day.
Yesterday in church it fell to me to light the first candle on the Advent Crown and my mind went back to the first time I ever saw an Advent Crown,
Like many British children of my generation I was an avid fan of Blue Peter. For non-Brits, Blue Peter is a magazine style programme and is the longest running children's TV programme in the world. Its style has changed greatly over the years and it is most famous for its "makes". Back in the day these were usually made of plastic bottles, cereal boxes and sticky back plastic but I suspect they may be a little more sophisticated these days.
Oh how I longed to be allowed to find four wire coat-hangers, four candles, a few baubles and some tinsel to make my own advent crown! It was never to be. I had to enjoy that bit of Advent/Christmas vicariously by watching John Noakes (and I think he was the best BP presenter EVER) as he twisted and shaped those hangers, struggled with greenery and tried in vain to get the candles to stand up straight. I wanted to be there in the studio, helping. I would show him!
However, that's where the great catchphrase of Blue Peter came in, "Here's one I made earlier" as I doubt if the one we saw being made would have stood up to being hung and the candles lit.
By early December rehearsals for the school play would be in full swing. I can't remember them all but there are a few highlights in the memory box.
At my first Christmas at Priory Lane Infant School I had a starring role in my class's performance at the school concert. As many of my classmates were still only four even though I had achieved the dignity of five, we didn't do a play, we just sang, "I had a little nut tree" and I was the child chosen to carry the golden pear and skip around the outside of the circle whilst the whole class sang.
A couple of years later we were all old hands at school plays and I was in some sort of crowd milling around in Bethlehem. That was until my classmate Philip proved incapable of learning his lines as the inn-keeper so I got the stunning words, "We haven't got any room." Really I wanted to be Mary.
Junior School saw me in the seven to eight year olds play as Princess April. I had two qualifications for that - very long fair hair and I could remember my words of which there were a lot.
In my final year at Junior School one of the teachers had been on a course on puppetry so we all made puppets for a performance of "The Pied Piper of Hamelin". We performed using a tape recording of the poem so there was no need to learn lines by heart and my particular skill was unneeded. Long blond hair was irrelevant. I ended my school drama career ignominiously as the controller of a rat.
There was always a very exciting Saturday in late November or early December when I was a little girl. That was the day Santa arrived in town.
I was brought up in Scunthorpe and the big retailer in our town was Scunthorpe Co-operative Society. You could get anything from the Co-op. My school uniform, and shoes, Mother's knitting wool and most of our kitchen equipment was from one of their stores. The High Street had several Co-op shops including a pharmacy, a jeweller and a department store. My sister's first "Saturday" job was selling ties in that department store.
I digress. Back to Father Christmas.
Santa had his grotto in the Co-op departmental store but he had to arrive with ceremony so on the first Saturday in December a very special passenger arrived at Scunthorpe railway station. He then had to travel to the shop in style but style in Scunny came on a co-op lorry. It was always decorated and I can remember the day that Santa arrived in a space ship (see photo) but in other years he arrived in a train, an outsized cracker or even on a sleigh, always based on a Co-op lorry.
Every child in the town would be taken to see his arrival and he would be greeted with great cheers as he made his way up the High Street and most of us knew that some time before Christmas we would be taken to see the great man. I'll tell you about one of my visits another time.