Sunday, 18 December 2011

Let it snow, let snow, let it snow.

This morning I had every intention getting up reasonably early, running the long way into the village to buy the paper, then returning home for to shower and read the paper over a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast. And then I looked out of the window to discover that White Christmas had come a week early. Around two and a half inches of snow lay on the pavements, the road, the shed roof, everywhere. So a radical re-think was called for. Earlier in the week I had read an article about running in the rain and snow and although it was full of good ideas somehow this did not seem like the moment to put the advice into practice.

Instead I did the indoor exercise routine, had my shower and read my book ove
r a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast. Sometime later in the morning I put on an extra pair of socks inside my boots, wrapped myself up in coat, scarf, hat and gloves (two pairs) and ventured out, camera in hand, to walk the long way into the village to buy the paper. It was well worth all the wrapping up as the sky was a wonderful clear winter blue and the views were rather fine. Here is a selection. I was particularly impressed by the group of walkers in Santa hats.

On Friday I listened to Mark Lawson on BBC Radio 4 going on at length, and in quite an interesting manner, about Christmas carols. Part of his thesis was that we should be accepting of new arrangements of old Christmas carols and he played some pleasant variations on old themes. I am all in favour of such ideas but I had to disagree with a part of Mr Lawson’s reasoning.

One of his arguments was that we should welcome these new, fresh versions because everyone knows the old traditional ones as they are taught in schools. This was where I had to part company with him. The old traditional carols are no longer automatically taught in schools.
Over the last few years I have been to a number of school Nativity Plays.

In fact I went to one on Friday morning and saw my small grandson play the part of an innkeeper who, on being asked by a small Joseph if he and the small Mary could stay the night, had to say, “No, we’re full!” He did it quite well, as well as you might expect from such a limited role, but I really felt that he would have been better cast as the shepherd who declared, as they sat around the campfire, “I’m BORED!” Now, this would have been the perfect part for our young chap as this is one of his favourite complaints. In fact, he has been banned from saying it in our house and has to resort to saying, “I’m B-word.”

Getting back to the rant in hand: traditional Christmas carols. In the various Nativity Plays I have seen over the last few years the only traditional carol I have heard is “Away in a Manger”.

In Friday’s performance, as Mary and Joseph and a small boy with an Eeyore head-dress walked to and fro across the stage, did they sing “Little Donkey”? Oh no, they sang something called “Plodding towards Bethlehem”.

While shepherds sat on the pretend hillside, the children sang a song about shepherds warming their toes and having a little doze by the campfire which went reassuringly, “Crackle, crackle, crackle”. What’s wrong with “While shepherds watched their flocks by night”? I ask you!

The reception class children were all appealingly dressed as stars. So, of course, they had to sing “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”. Now I seem to remember that “Little Donkey” has a chorus that goes something like,

Ring out those bells tonight
Bethlehem, Bethlehem
Follow that star tonight

Bethlehem, Bethlehem.

So if they had sung “Little Donkey” the stars could have had their day and the children who jingled the sleigh bells in yet another new and unknown song could have done their bit too.

No, I haven’t got anything against new Christmas songs but they didn’t even manage “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem”. And you can’t even tell me that small children can’t learn the words to the old songs. I remember being an angel (what else?) in a Nativity Play and singing “Oh. Little Town of Bethlehem”. It’s mainly that the new songs the children sang all seemed a little bland and anodyne.

Now, our grandchildren go to a Church of England primary school where they are taught a fair bit about religion. My Phil has been heard to mutter about them "ramming religion down their throats". Even as a non-believer, however, I think they should learn the Bible stories. They are part of our heritage after all. But the old traditional Christmas carols are also part of our heritage.

And besides, if they don’t know the original versions of “While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night” and “We three Kings of Orient are” how on earth are they going to appreciate these variations on old themes?

While shepherds washed their socks by night,

All seated round the tub,

The Angel of the lord came down

And gave them all a scrub.


We three kings of Orient are,

One in a taxi, one in a car,

One on a scooter,

Blowing his hooter

And smoking a fat cigar.

These too form apart of our rich heritage!!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Where DOES the time go and do you know where your liver is?

Retired ladies are supposed to have loads of time for everything. So why have I found it hard to snatch a moment to post a blog recently? Between grandchildcare, doing the ladies-who-lunch thing with various different groups, running errands for my daughter who assumes that as a retired lady I have loads of time available and knitting small garments for babies recently arrived or about to arrive – to my daughter’s friend and to my friends daughter in law respectively – there just doesn’t seem to have been a moment.

And then, the weather has continued cold and wintry. I know I should expect such
stuff in December but even so ... And yesterday I came across my Phil getting all nostalgic looking at a website which lists property available to rent in Vigo. On the list was the flat we used to rent in Vista Alegre with its beautiful view over the bay of Vigo. Very tempting! Maybe he just wanted to cheer himself up as he is suffering from his second cold in as many weeks.

Which brings me to an item featured on the BBC’s “From Our Own Correspondent”. This time it wasn’t from some war-torn part of the world but from Italy, not quite war-torn but suffering from economic stress and strain. My Italian teacher told us a friend of hers, also Italian, plans to take food parcels when she goes to visit her family for Christmas as four of the supermarkets in their small town have been forced to close recently.

Anyway, Dany Mitzman commented o
n the fact that she was cycling around Bologna in a lightweight jacket while all the Italians have got their fur coats on and about a million thick scarves and glove and mufflers. But then the Italians apparently have to protect themselves from something called “cervicale”.

She went on to explain, “ "Soffro di cervicale (I suffer from cervicale)," they tell me, making it sound particularly serious.

people over the age of 30 seem to have the condition, but I am still at a loss as to what exactly it is and how to translate it.

I have looked it
up in the dictionary and found "cervical" - an adjective referring to the cervical vertebrae, those little bones in the back of your neck - but as an ailment, there is simply no English translation. We do not have it!”

That sounds about right, not just a stiff neck from being in a draft but a full-blown malady with a fancy name.

She went on
to marvel at the way Italians have an amazing anatomical knowledge, knowing the whereabouts of parts of the body the rest of us have never heard of. I found myself nodding in agreement because in my experience the Spanish and the French are just the same. Loli, my yoga teacher in Vigo, used to refer to bits of the anatomy that I had only the vaguest idea about but everyone else in the class appeared to know exactly what she meant. This included, interestingly enough, “los cervicales” – as the BBC’s Italian correspondent discovered, some part of the neck where it joins onto the spine.

According to my Italian teacher this is not taught at school; you just kind of absorb it from your mother. (My mother never taught
me stuff like that!) But even Adalgisa, my Italian teacher, expresses surprise now when she goes back to Italy and everyone knows a whole range of medicines and tablets you should take for every ailment under the sun.

On the other hand, maybe this reference to obscure bits of the anatomy is just another ploy to confuse the foreigners, or maybe just the English. It’s another version of the fish menus (and fish counters in superma
rkets, for that matter) with species of marine life we didn’t know existed let alone have any idea of what they might taste like (or how to cook them). It’s a kind of Europe-wide conspiracy: “These English, some of them think they can speak our language but we’ll show them by talking about internal organs they’ve never heard of and serving them food which is completely strange to them.”

Or maybe the ailment thing is just part of the Europeans’ hypochondria. (We can call them just
"Europeans" now that David Cameron has effectively isolated the UK from the mainland!) I remember a French friend of mine many years ago warning me of the dangers of drinking too much tea and coffee. Apparently she did this one day and her stomach turned inside out. I didn’t know stomachs could do that!!!

Meanwhile, back here in the (non-European)
UK Christmas advances on us at a furious rate of knots and I still have no idea what buy my six year old grandson. What do you buy for a child who seems to have room full of stuff he doesn’t play with and then declares he is bored?

But am I downhearted? Not at all.

I have co
mpleted the home-made Christmas wreath and bought a very small Christmas tree (“Don’t you want a bigger one, Grandma?”) which has now been decorated.

I was
tempted to leave it at stage one of decorating when it just had the lights on. However, the oldest grandchild insisted that it needed more.

So there it is.
Christmas has officially started in my house.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Running up to Christmas.

This morning I joined the ranks of the crazy people who run in the rain and snow. This was not deliberate on my part. Oh, no! My plan was to run to Uppermill, the biggest of the Saddleworth villages, visit the excellent baker’s shop for a loaf, pick up some milk from the coop and then catch a bus home. It was a kind of “carpe diem” exercise: run while the weather is fine for tomorrow it may be snowing.

The important bit is “run while the weather is fine” for when I set off the sky was actually blue. OK, the wind was a little chilly but I planned to keep moving so staying warm was not a problem. Five minutes down the road and onto the Donkey Line, a local bridle path cum nature trail, and the clouds moved over and the hail started to come down, followed by the rain. So, as I said, I became one of the mad women who run in the rain and snow.

Fortunately most of my route goes through a lightly wooded area so I was protected from the worst of it and by the time I reached Uppermill it had largely blown over. So I made my planned purchases, got to the bus stop and was just wondering whether my bus had gone or was running late as usual when it arrived at the stop. Such a masterpiece of timing is very unusual!

The cold winds and snow and such are the result of December coming in with a blast of weather to remind us that it is in fact winter. November may have lulled us into a false sense of security by giving us some delightfully clear and sunny days but December so far is getting its own back on us. There was snow on top of the car on Monday when I got up to drive to my daughter’s in the early morning. And, yes, there were still some mad runners out and about.

But December has arrived and while everyone appears to be rushing round buying stuff, I just seem to be eating out. The various groups of people I meet occasionally for lunch are all arranging a pre-Christmas get-together. Am I complaining? Not at all.

A certain Miss Pippa Middleton has apparently had her Christmas present early. She has reportedly received a £400,000 advance on a book about party planning. Now I know that her parents are in the party planning business so she probably has festivities in her genetic make-up but even so I am a little suspicious. I really can’t help wondering if being the sister-in-law of the second in line to the throne of the United Kingdom might not have something to do with it. Or am I just getting old and cynical?