Saturday, 17 January 2015

Change

Sorry for the radio silence, life has been rather hectic (for someone with ME anyhow!) as I am preparing to move out into my own place! It's all very exciting and we picked up the keys yesterday.  In a lovely piece of timing today I turn 30, so it is a lot of change at once.  To be clear about how bad I can be with change, I have come close to having a panic attack when Waitrose moved its fruit and vegetable section around before, so this whole process has been challenging.  God has been good throughout though, without Him I would never have coped thusfar.  Here is to a new decade, in a new place (about a mile and a half away from here and closer to church), with the same God and no doubt a lot of knitting!

P1040101
I'm going to miss this chap, hopefully I'll meet a new robin in my new garden.

Last year I read this poem by Dylan Thomas, written about his 30th birthday and loved it so much I decided I would post it here to mark my 30th:

Poem in October

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
     Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
        And the mussel pooled and the heron
                Priested shore
           The morning beckon
     With water praying and call of seagull and rook
     And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
           Myself to set foot
                That second
        In the still sleeping town and set forth.

        My birthday began with the water-
     Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
        Above the farms and the white horses
                And I rose
            In a rainy autumn
     And walked abroad in shower of all my days
     High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
            Over the border
                And the gates
        Of the town closed as the town awoke.

        A springful of larks in a rolling
     Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
        Blackbirds and the sun of October
                Summery
            On the hill's shoulder,
     Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
     Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
            To the rain wringing
                Wind blow cold
        In the wood faraway under me.

        Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
     And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
        With its horns through mist and the castle
                Brown as owls
             But all the gardens
     Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
     Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
             There could I marvel
                My birthday
        Away but the weather turned around.

        It turned away from the blithe country
     And down the other air and the blue altered sky
        Streamed again a wonder of summer
                With apples
             Pears and red currants
     And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
     Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
             Through the parables
                Of sunlight
        And the legends of the green chapels

        And the twice told fields of infancy
     That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
        These were the woods the river and the sea
                Where a boy
             In the listening
     Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
     To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
             And the mystery
                Sang alive
        Still in the water and singing birds.

        And there could I marvel my birthday
     Away but the weather turned around. And the true
        Joy of the long dead child sang burning
                In the sun.
             It was my thirtieth
        Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
        Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
             O may my heart's truth
                Still be sung
        On this high hill in a year's turning.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas full of hope and joy.  I feel this poem sums up some of the majesty and mystery of Christmas and forms a counterpoint to the delights of turkey, tinsel and trimmings; it reminds us why we are celebrating.  I love the last lines, they are a reminder that God has intervened and brought His kingdom into our world, the curtain between the two has been torn and the new time has already begun.  Rejoice!

BC:AD

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future's
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect.
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

U A Fanthorpe

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Fourth Sunday in Advent

December has been flying by, as it always does, so here is the fourth poem, another serious one, but shorter.  This poem brought me up short, it has overtones of Sleeping Beauty, but a better happy ending.  As Joseph says to his brothers at the end of Genesis, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good", I find God's ability to bring good out of bad a great comfort.

The Wicked Fairy at the Manger
by U A Fanthorpe

My gift for the child:
No wife, kids, home;
No money sense. Unemployable.
Friends, yes. But the wrong sort –
The workshy, women, wimps,
Petty infringers of the law, persons
With notifiable diseases,
Poll tax collectors, tarts;
The bottom rung.
His end?
I think we’ll make it
Public, prolonged, painful.

Right, said the baby. That was roughly
What we had in mind.

P1040383

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Year in Books December

Naturally my book for this month is Christmassy, how could it not be?  I am not sure how I stumbled across Christmas with the Savages by Mary Clive, but it is exactly the sort of book I would have adored as a child, gentle, funny and giving a window on the past.  It is an account of a child's Christmas in a big country house at the turn of the twentieth century, observed with a quiet humour and that rare ability to remember how things feel and look to a child.

Mary Clive photographed by Cecil Beaton at around the time Christmas with the Savages was published. Image National Portrait Gallery Collection
Mary Clive was one of the sisters of the social campaigner Lord Longford and was recalling her own childhood Christmases in the book.  Her life seems to have been heavily overshadowed by the two world wars, in the first her father was killed, devastating her mother and her husband died in the second.  Despite this she seems to have been a woman of great spirit and I would love to read her account of life as a debutante and her autobiography.  The illustrations are lovely and truly deserve printing on better paper to make the most of them.  Definitely a book worth reading.



I also thought, as it was Christmas, that I would share a few of my favourite Christmas books, first those for children and then those for adults.  However, there is no reason why the adults should not read the children's books, why should they get all the fun?

Picture books
The Snowman, Raymond Briggs - I read and watch this every Christmas, essential, see also his Father Christmas
Mog's Christmas, Judith Kerr - Mog gets scared of the walking, talking Christmas tree
Lucy and Tom's Christmas, Shirley Hughes - a gentle, London Christmas, I also want to read Alfie's Christmas and The Christmas Ghost
A Christmas Story, Brian Wildsmith - lovely retelling of the nativity story with pictures reminiscent of medieval manuscripts
The Jolly Christmas Postman, by Allan and Janet Ahlberg - packed with little surprises and wonderful illustrations

For older children
I love Noel Streatfield's descriptions of Christmas in books like Ballet Shoes* and Gemma, if you can get hold of it second hand she did an anthology, The Christmas Holiday Book, which is well worth looking for.
Likewise the Christmas in Little Women by L M Alcott is very special.
Just William At Christmas, Richmal Crompton - hilarious, I dip into this every year.



Adults
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens - I'm not particularly a Dickens fan, but this is a gem and even if you feel you know the book from the numerous versions of it, it's well worth reading the original.  The descriptions of Victorian London at Christmas are wonderful.
Christmas Pudding, Nancy Mitford - very funny as she always is
The Everyman Book of Christmas Stories - a lovely collection and beautifully produced book
The Virago Christmas Book - a mix of writing about Christmas, not all soft and fluffy
Treasure on Earth, Phyllis Sandeman - out of print, but still available, autobiographical account of  an Edwardian Christmas at Lyme Park in Cheshire.  It is a delight and makes a nice companion to the Mary Clive book.

Finally, I would love to read Michael Morpurgo's Christmas stories, am hoping for P L Travers' recently re-released Aunt Sass and this year also plan to read Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales, as well as re-acquainting myself with the Paddington Christmas stories in the free copy of More About Paddington that came with the Radio Times.  While researching this I did find that Penguin have released a lovely looking collection of Christmas classics including Anthony Trollope's Christmas stories.

You have probably realised by now that I love Christmas books, what are your favourites?


I have thoroughly enjoyed The Year in Books series by Circle of Pine Trees, you can see the other December entries here.  I look forward to seeing what she suggests for 2015, certainly I shall continue to write about books, I do enjoy it.

*Try to get an edition with the original illustrations by Noel Streatfeild's older sister Ruth Gervis, which Streatfeild apparently felt had captured the book perfectly.  With such a perfect partnership between author and illustrator it seems a pity to me ever to change them, it would be like publishing Roald Dahl without Quentin Blake's illustrations.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Third Sunday in Advent

This Sunday I have chosen T S Eliot's Journey of the Magi, a vivid imaging of the long journey from the east.  To me there seems to be a reminder of the Exodus story, leaving one place to follow God and entering that trustful discomfort, looking back with longing, but knowing you have to go on.  There is a spiritual journey taking place alongside the physical journey and the poem leaves us in the "now but not yet" time in which we still live today, with God's kingdom being here, but not fully yet.

There is a recording of Eliot reading his own poem, which is magnificent and well worth a listen, I hope you enjoy it and that your Christmas preparations are going well.

Journey of the Magi
T.S. Eliot

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Than at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different: this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Monday, 8 December 2014

A lovely day

P1040359
The Greyhound Inn

This last Saturday was my dad's birthday and one of those crisp, cold, bright, sunny days that make winter so much more bearable.  We went to Carshalton, a former village, now swallowed up into south London, for lunch at the pub in the picture above and a walk.  It was busy with a frost fair going on but the crowds were relaxed and there was a good atmosphere.  I am still very tired from it but all in all it was a lovely day.

P1040366
Tufted duck

P1040379


P1040384

The other event of the weekend was reviving my Locke St Cardigan, which had been languishing for some weeks with only the left front left to complete.  Hoping to finish it before Christmas, certainly it is the weather for it at present!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Second Sunday in Advent

I discovered this poem last Christmas, in an Advent book called Haphazard by Starlight, which has a poem for every day of Advent and loved it.  It is another poem that connects the Christmas of long ago with now, but in a very different way, focusing instead on the hope that Christmas gives us.  Hope for the future, that Jesus will return and the hope we have in us now, a hope that cannot be counted in a census or understood by the powers of this world.

In the days of Caesar
By Waldo Williams, translated Rowan Williams

In the days of Caesar, when his subjects went to be reckoned,
there was a poem mad, too dark for him (naive with power)
      to read
It was a bunch of shepherds who discovered
in Bethlehem of Judah, the great music beyond reason and
      reckoning:
shepherds, the sort of folk who leave the ninety-nine behind
so as to bring the stray back home, dawning toward cock-crow,
the birthday of the Lamb of God, shepherd of mortals.

Well, little people, and my nation, can you see
The secret buried in you, that no Caesar ever captures in his lists?
Will not the shepherd come to fetch us in our desert,
Gathering us in to give us birth again, weaving us into one
In a song heard in the sky over Bethlehem?
He seeks us out as wordhoard for his workmanship, the laureate
     of heaven

P1030188