Monday, 26 November 2007

On the second day of Christmas....

I got all my craft stuff together and made presents for the family.

(This years box; snowmen & women)
For years now I have always made a little something for the closest members of the family. I made quilted cushions one year, embroidered picture frames another and very often produce painted boxes. This year everything about Christmas has run away from me, and I just don't seem to have got as far ahead as I would prefer to be, given that Advent starts on Saturday and I like (usually) to be nearly finished. Perhaps it's the nebulous quality of supply that prevents me from saying to myself "This I will do today" and doing it. I wait for the call, and am either racing out the door, or ready for disappointment. Either way, I haven't got myself up to the point that I have usually achieved at this time and hence, this year, am now beginning to panic that the event will arrive in 4 weeks time with me holding no presents and feeling a right chump.

But, wait! Salvation arrives in the form of a sick kid (number 2 is ill; ill for two days at least. I can comfortably plan to sew today and tomorrow!) so while JW lounges under a hand-knitted blanket and sleeps through Star Wars 1 & 3 (2 is missing and cannot be found) I am playing Florence Nightingale (or Mary Seacole, if you want to be even more PC) and running out to my under-worked sewing machine to make bags (see picture above) and notebook covers galore! Tomorrow I plan to paint, since I have boxes to finish so that I can have a merry Christmas free from guilt. Teachers? Schmeachers! I daren't read Domesticali to see what she has done for her kids... Soulemama is out on the same basis and my bloglines notifier is looking full. My kids' teachers are getting an Amaryllis with a wish that they don't do what JW's Year 1 teacher did, and take one look before basically telling him she was no good with flowers and it probably wouldn't grow(!) (ignoring the learning potential of Amaryllis in the classroom completely and making him scared to give a plant the next year 'in case'.)

Christmas all wrapped up in two days; just little stocking fillers to go and a few pleasant evenings writing the cards (no, I bought them. Lovely black & white supporting the NSPCC from Wilkinsons) and some sessions in the kitchen with or without my sous-chef. Without is quicker and gives me the option of saving whatever I make for a later date; with is more fun, but the biscuits/cakes/pizza etc get eaten as soon as they are touchable.
And apologies for the fact that my 'puter and I have not been online much...... I'll catch up when I can!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

The 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month....

I never go to a remembrance day service. I never wear a poppy in November, although I buy several.

It's not that I don't care, but rather that I care too much. From childhood I knew what the human cost of war was. My Mum and Nan told me that, often.

Nanna, born in 1915, would tell me the tale of her brother Harry's safe return from World War I in 1918, of her mother dropping whatever she held and screaming, of this stranger entering the house and hugging everyone, of how when he hugged her, she screamed. Seventy years plus later, Nan could still remember the shock at his return.

And so Armistice day was marked every year with poppies and prayers. The war was given a name, The Great War, the War to End All Wars, and life went on.

And 21 years later, War happened again. My Nan was 24 when it started and had been married for 4 years to Grandad Leslie. (His Dad, by the way, had been injured and a POW in WWI and he had had to learn to sew left handed so as to resume his career as a master tailor)
For a little while life went on as usual, until conscription was extended to married men and fathers. I cannot remember exactly when Grandad Leslie went to war, but I do know Ma was born in 1941 and that he was either away already or away soon after. Ma has the letters, thin squares of tracing paper, close-written and impenetrable letters for Grandad wrote in copperplate and the letters were copied and shrunk to half size to make them easier to send but impossible to read. Letters which begin 'My Darling Wife,' and end 'With all my love, always your Leslie'. Unerringly cheerful letters , chatty letters, careful to avoid any unneccessary details of what he may have seen, nothing to offend a nervous wife and little child. Tales of the desert, of riding camels, hints of pyramids and always, always the wish of an end. That this year would be 'it'. That this Christmas would be one spent together.

One of his last letters said that he had had a field promotion.... this was now in Italy, near Brindisi, where they had gone in late 43. He told Nan to look out for the official notification, that a telegram would follow.

The telegram did come in June 1944. Nan squealed when she saw it- a promotion meant more pay- and ran upstairs to get Ma, a boisterous 3 year old, to read it. Ma remembers Nan opening the letter, clamping her hand to her mouth, screaming.
Grandad had died. He had been killed by injuries from a land mine. It took him three days to die, of blood poisoning after they had amputated his legs in a bid to save him. He died on 9th May 1944. His 29th birthday.

No official notification of his promotion was ever received.

My Nan and Ma experienced the hardships of war first hand. Nan had to get a job, because the widow's pension was so small. Ma went to school a full year early so that Nan could work.She says that barely a day passed when Nanna didn't cry. VE day, barely a year later, was no time of celebration for her. Nan wouldn't let her attend the street parties and kept inside, crying. Ma never had a birthday or Christmas with her father, never got to ask him could she get engaged, tell him she was married, a mother. He never saw her children or her children's children. Nan never had a better (or worse) half, never had a companion for her life. A widow at 29, she lived until she was 85. When she died, our first feeling was relief that she had finally been united with Grandad. How we hope that heaven is a spiritual realm so that they can be matched in age rather than the age they were when they died.

I was born in 1968, a full 24 years after Grandad's death. Nan talked of him often, loved the idea that Ma was a teacher as he had been, delighted in the idea that I followed on. She couldn't stand anything that glorified war. She hated remembrance day and said that what she needed was one day a year to be able to forget: for her, every day was a day of remembrance.

And so, 11th November is nothing special to our family. I watch the service, I cry my way through the music, join in the hymns and prayers and feel so in debt to those who march, representatives of the many who have fought for their country and way of life, who fought for liberty.

And I weep for what will be.

That there will be other wars seems inevitable. That other wives (and husbands) and children will live when what they love best is dead is inevitable. Conflict and its natural successor, War, are a part of Human nature. And as long as there are people who insist that their way is the only way and that their beliefs are the only beliefs, then there will be fighting.

My Grandad fought for his country. He fought for a way of life that, perhaps, has gone for good. He fought for liberty from oppression and tyranny, but most of all he fought for love, because most of all he fought for a better world for his wife and daughter. When conflict arises and war seems inevitable my prayer today and always is that those in power may remember that soldiers are humans, and not elite fighting machines. That we may only go to war as a last resort, and that war may never be entered into for monetary or political glory. And I pray that we may honour those who died for us in creating a just and honourable country, where our past is remembered and honoured and our future rests on liberty for all and that very strong sense of British justice that makes us all equal.
May I apologise for the lack of photos of Nan, Ma or Grandad Leslie in this post. I will get a couple of pictures of them onto the computer and put them in.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

November is the month to....

  • Snuggle up on the sofa to watch black and white movies.

  • Make gingerbread men and decorate them with writing icing.

  • Walk around on a cold and frosty morning with a scarf, hat and gloves on (but be prepared to take them off when it gets warmer)

  • Go to a wool shop and stroke all the mohair yarns they have.

  • Buy some tactile yarn and make a scarf.

  • Find a new book that makes you go to bed just to read it.

  • Rediscover an old book that does the same.

  • Remember to put on hand cream and face cream everyday, especially if you have some really nice lavender flavour from L'occitane.

  • Find your Christmas socks and begin to wear them under your jeans so that if anyone spots them they have to ask....

  • Find a Countdown to Christmas calendar and start it now (47 days to go)

  • Just browse the decorations at the best, even if not the biggest, garden centre nearby.

  • Keep your Christmas organiser to hand and keep ticking off things as you buy/make/acquire them.

  • Buy red candles and put them in your candlesticks. Light them every evening meal. Skin looks better by candlelight.

  • Listen to classical music as you putter. Puccini, Vivaldi or Bach. Good for the brain, too. Until the last week in November when it is obligatory to put on the Christmas CD's and enter into the spirit of the season.

  • Buy the Sunday papers and sit inside until you finish them. Or read them on a chilly Monday afternoon with a decent pot of tea.

  • Tweak the house so that it's ready to be decorated for Christmas without actually putting the decorations up. Change your cushions for red velvet or golden slub silk, clear the surfaces ready for all the decorations, put fairy lights up on your shelves or in the kitchen.

  • Actually, put fairy lights up in the kitchen anyway, and light them while washing up.

  • Collect together your favourite winter/Christmas books and put them in a basket by the fire.

  • Begin a new craft for the winter. Knit a blanket, make a tapestry cushion, embroider towels with your initials.

  • Make your childhood comfort pudding. Was it rice pudding, bread and butter pudding or the wonderful spotted dick?

  • Collect all the December magazines you love and sit reading them every evening. Anticipation......

  • Go to the Chemist and choose the most intensely red nail polish you can, either bright red or deep crimson. File your nails and apply two coats. Red nail varnish is the epitome of decadence.

  • Buy gingerbread syrup and serve it as many ways as you can think of... in coffee, on pancakes, over icecream, and especially mixed with sparkling prosecco a la Nigella (or champagne, if you are a true hedonist)

  • Make a fresh fruit salad. Pineapple, orange, apple and pear, grapes and glace cherries (rinsed) with or without whipped cream. Eat slowly and virtuously with a cool sparkling mineral water.

  • Set aside a basket or shelf for your Christmas victual shopping and begin buying ahead. Cranberry sauce (you know they should eat your homemade, but the jar will always be useful), stuffing packets for emergency Turkey butties on Boxing day, dates, figs, Turkish Delight, chocolate ginger and all the tastes that you need to make a festive season. The turkey does not keep well in this box, so leave that for December.

  • Remember to feed the birds.

I love the season we enter now. Not winter, but pre-Christmas. Lights, action, chill and all. Come January the only thing left to do is to start a blog and cheer yourself up with Alfred Hitchcock. But now.... well, anticipation is a wonderful thing, and I am good at anticipation.