Sunday, 11 December 2011

Gifts from the past

Travelling hopefully towards Christmas as the third Sunday in Advent arrives I feel the memories of Christmas past rising up to greet me, and this rolling out of the carpet of seasonal memories is one of those things that makes Christmas special, a time to take stock and think back and forward in both joy and sadness, as I once more pause to ponder with Floss.

Some of the memories are of things long since gone, and some are of the comforting continuities in life. And one of the continuities in our house is carpet farming - just as I think that those days are past, I find that carpet farming is once more underway and the riding school in business again - Princess Bunchy tells me that the riding school is an essential part of the celebrations for her, and that the mere sight of it makes her think of Christmas.

And the sight of my old riding school, so old that I couldn't possibly tell you how many years ago it entered my life, transports me back to the Christmas way back in history when this riding school was my special present - the Christmas when I was about five years old, one that stands out amongst many because it was one of those small tragedies of childhood that are never forgotten. This was the year that I woke up so very early and made a most tragically fatal mistake which cast a shadow over the whole day.

I awoke so early that all the family were still fast asleep, so early that it was long before the agreed time for waking my parents, and as I lay in bed in the dark I could see the mysterious lumpiness of the pillowcase overflowing with presents at the end of my bed, and the enticingly large parcel sitting alongside.

No one was stirring, the clock seemed to have stopped in its tracks, and I was consumed with desire to know what all those packages contained. And I could not contain myself but got out of bed, sat on the floor in the dim light, and started opening my presents one by one, all alone and solitary. I remember the riding stable, and the horses and riders, and fences and animals, but I don't remember one of those other presents - I opened every single one, with no one around to share my joy and excitement, and then a couple of hours later I had to sit and watch my sister open her own overflowing pillowcase of presents, very slowly it seemed, in the painful knowledge that I had burned my boats and jumped the gun, and completely taken the shine off the day.

From that year on, every Christmas eve I put my pillowcase out downstairs, safely out of temptation's way, and I resolved to open my presents as slowly  as possible, so that never again would I have to sit and watch others open theirs, but they could sit and wait for me to finish my careful unwrapping. And I have kept to that resolution ever since.

So Princess Bunchy's orderly arrangements of horses and sheep, and tractors and fences, all open up a box of memories of my childhood, my children's childhood, a long line of years marching back into the past, with faces long departed smiling out at me as my mind travels backward in time.

I hope that you have some happy memories of Christmas past, and more to be made and stored in Christmas present and Christmas yet to come.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The weight of tradition

I am running a little behind this week (It's only Monday, you say. But this is what is left over from last week, I respond, a touch plaintively.) and so I am still on the second Sunday in Advent, pausing with Floss, and only a day late (it's the thought that counts).

Festive vignette
Whether my thoughts will count, I am not sure, but I can feel that giant Tree of Tradition looming between me and the weak winter sun, and the weight of obligation swinging above my head.

Tradition can be a bit of a millstone, but don't let it shackle you by the neck - cut loose and walk on (being careful to drop it behind you, rather than straight on to your toes). The only obligation you have to others is to smile and be pleasant, and say please and thank you nicely and sincerely - the rest is optional.

Weak at the thought
If the thought of cooking for the 23 people squeezed into your very small house fills you with horror and keeps you awake at night, then think up a new tradition which will enable you to be a beaming host/ess rather than a snarling one.

A season of silly hats
Perhaps someone with a bigger house and more plates is desperate to hold the party, but thinks they can't because everyone absolutely has to squeeze into Aunty Grumpy's bijou residence whether they like it or not? Perhaps you could do two manageably small parties, or alternate years? Or maybe dig a great big hole in the garden and go and hide in it (just remember to arrange the leaves carefully on top so that no one can see your retreat) . . .

A season of thrift and recycling

Then you can concentrate on the happy traditions, the ones that transport you back down the long line of Christmases past, only pausing at the ones that are smiling to greet you. So often these happy moments come down from the attic in battered cardboard boxes (smelling slightly of mouse).

A season of recycling memories
As you pull out the decorations, one by one, the memories come flooding forth, attached to those glitter-encrusted confections of polystyrene and cardboard that your children made in the days when their needs were simple and their vocabulary limited; the bird with the broken beak which is the sole relic of your childhood dreams; the box of carefully coordinated bells and bows marked 'Good taste 15 years ago', which now possess a disappointingly tawdry air.

Beware of the mistletoe
And then there are the words: Christmas is full of words - carols, and stories, and insincere thank you letters, and heated arguments over the right way to cook a turkey. And everything has been said and done and written so many times before, and so much better, that Christmas is a work of fiction from start to finish, an imaginary narrative of bonhomie and homecoming.

Dreaming of a white Christmas
I have my own special Christmas book full of poetry and prose, carols and songs, quotations and verses, and a warm glow of pictures of the past. It was a present to me twenty years ago and (unlike so many presents) I have continued to treasure it, and get it out again every December to wallow in the words of imaginary Christmases in story and history. There is no weight of tradition to burden one here - these Christmases are long gone, and so are those who people the pictures, smiling out of the pages, frozen in time and silently acquiescent in our dreams.

A new tradition in the making
But these stories also show that Christmas can be anything you want to make of it: happy or sad, remembered or forgotten, treasured or dreaded. The important thing is to write your own story, just how you want it, choose your own colours for the pictures, and remember that if it doesn't go quite how you wanted this time, it's like gardening - there's always next year waiting to give you a chance to do it differently.

A present from a friend far away

And if you want to bask in a warm glow of festive nostalgia, my special Christmas book, although out of print, is still available on Amazon here and here - starting price only a penny (which of course sets off a whole new train of nostalgia and reminiscence about geese and old men . . . .).

And here is one that I made earlier, accompanied by a steady gaze

Sunday, 4 December 2011

An unsuspecting rustic and a couple of winners

I told you that I would find an unsuspecting rustic to pick out the lucky winners of Amy's patterns, and luckily the Ploughboy bought three home for the weekend so I was able to buttonhole the nearest one as they attempted to leave the premises en masse.

I am rather good at this sort of thing
The Little Stranger tried to move in on the deal, but I feel that the attention has gone to her head rather, and she shows signs of living up to her Scottie heritage and thinking herself Top Dog, in spite of her nearness to the ground, so unsuspecting rustic it had to be.

A strategically placed chair soon put paid to any delusions of grandeur on the part of a Scottie dog with a stripy tail (no, it's not paint so I don't think she will be heading off to Crufts any time soon, unless she finds a bootleg source of Grecian 2000).

Was that you?
Such nice boys as these agricultural types are, he cooperated most charmingly and graciously, holding out the names for the camera, although I suspect that the smiling and bemused air veiled a most uncertain understanding of the significance of 'picking winners for my blog giveaway'.

The hands of an unsuspecting rustic

And so congratulations to Mary Jane's Tearoom (or Mary Jane's teapot, as Princess Bunchy so helpfully wrote down on a piece of paper in case anyone was mislaid or took wings in the breeze) who will soon be the proud possessor of a Ruched Happy Bag pattern . . .

An agricultural encounter
 . . . congratulations to dear Frances, too, whose picture is a teacup, and thus continues the comforting theme of tea and cake from my previous post; a Hexiecase pattern is yours, my dear.

Tea and cakes all round
So if the lovely winners could please come forward to curtsey before the cheering crowd and simper fetchingly at the unsuspecting rustic, and then apprise me of their email addresses, I can forward these to the lovely Amy.

Commiserations to those who did not encounter the youthful hand of agriculture - however, I will be joining in the Sew Mama Sew Giveaway very shortly in a festive bonanza not to be missed, so pop back soon. And if you would like to buy yourself one of Amy's patterns to make a few last-minute pressies, they are available in her Etsy shop here.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Sew many reasons to be cheerful

[If you were looking for the giveaway, you will find it here.]
No reason to be crabby
I am showing my age when I say that 'Reasons to be Cheerful' by Ian Dury is part of my cultural hinterland, but when I saw the confluence of two bloggy positive thinking initiatives, Planet Penny's Reasons to be Cheerful, and Lily's Quilts Fresh Sewing Day, I felt that it was a good idea to stir my stumps and come up with my own reasons to think positive.

First of all, thank you most kindly to all of you who have enquired about my hand. Yes, it is still there on the end of my arm, and it is still encased in rather revoltingly coloured plastic, which I have embellished with orange and white Sugru (if you would like some, too, they tell me there is a discount code until 19 December, which means you get your fourth pack free - just write YAYCHRISTMAS in the box). But I am quite reconciled to it all really, if a little frustrated when I try to put my coat on, and patience is a virtue, etc.

But I did of course manage to crack in a little bit of sewing before things went awry, and so when Princess Bunchy was working out her Christmas presents I was actually quite pleased to find that we had enough little purses (from the Keyka Lou Pleated Pouch pattern) . . .

. . . and wallets (from the Keyka Lou Basic Wallet pattern) to go round, including one for the £2 Secret Santa (I think whoever gets this gets a good deal!), and moreover, I have a couple left over for emergencies (you know, that feeling you get late on Christmas Eve when you are wrapping the presents and find that you have fewer presents than names on the list [which of course doesn't happen in well-regulated households]).

So in spite of a little hurdle along the way, my sewing for November is something to feel quite cheerful about (all thanks to the discipline of the Christmas Challenge, I am sure).

Quite astonishingly we still have lettuce in the garden, and a few flowers, too, and I can even feel cheerful about the rain, the more the better in fact, or it will be hosepipe bans all round next year.

So Reasons to be Cheerful, one stitchy, two horticultural, and three meteorological - what more could a body want? Apart from tea and cake, that is . . .


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