Sunday, 31 December 2017

splutter, wheeze, cough

Christmas day passes.
We relax and move into the nowhere zone between Christmas and New Year.
Then the lurgy strikes!
Just when I have a week off work to relax!
The lurgy's unwelcome arrival is heralded by the very unwelcome Serrating Sore Throat.
Twenty four hours later Sickly Stomach Pains make their presence felt,
followed quickly by Nasty Nausea.


The next day Sadistic Sniffles. and close ally, Rampant Runny Nose, arrive.
One moment they are not there,
the next they are,
tormenting me with their treacherous trickery.
Cacophonous Cough and Sleazy Splutter join the party.
Last, but not least, Whistling Wheeze rolls up, with his own particular style of music.

I love sitting at the table in the kitchen.  It doesn't matter whether I am reading or using some form of technology, I only need to lift my eyes to feast on the view across to the woodland at the edge of the county, framed by ancient oaks.  In the evenings, when the blinds are still open, I can see the streetlights in the distance, reminding me of the world beyond.  The view changes constantly with the seasons, weather and the time of day. However, we are cat sitting.
cat sat
Every time I sneeze, the cat leaves.
It degenerates to the point that every time I reach for a tissue, the cat leaves.
It is raining.
I undergo voluntary exile to the living room, so the cat can enjoy the sanctuary of the kitchen in peace.
Tiddles does not trust the sneezing human, so she only demands food from the non-sneezing human.

Twenty-four hours in and the sneeze becomes a wheeze
I am sat in her preferred chair.
She looks at me, weighing up my state of health like a feline GP.
Am I past the sneezing stage?
Is it safe to sit on my lap?
It is a hard decision for a cat...

Friday, 29 December 2017

Piddle Puddles and the Swollen Severn

Tuesday night snow was forecast - heavy snow for hours and hours. We looked out at the rain, and doubted. Then the snow began - fast, frantic and very, very wet. It struggled to settle on the already rain-soaked ground. The KHT sent me a couple of texts.

After a couple of hours of continuous snowfall, a light white coating was just discernable on the plants and lawn.  Next morning, after several more hours of snowfall, the covering was the same -  the only difference was that the snow had frozen.
Snow in Ambridge - tell 'The Archers' fans!

On Wednesday we headed over to Worcester in search of a place to walk on tarmac, not mud. There would be cyclists sharing the path, but the risk of getting run off the path by a flotilla of wobbly rugrats, keen to spin rubber on their new wheels, was far less.

Snow was restricted to the higher ground, decorating roofs with a seasonal sprinkling that would have gladdened Dicken's heart

Piddle Puddle

Piddle Brook had overflowed, spreading out over the adjacent water meadows, in a sullen, murky flood.  In this shot, the sky is reflected in the water, disguising the mud content of the floodwater.

Worcester was mainly snow and ice free, but we began our walk in a mini blizzard, which made us doubt our sanity.  We pressed on, keen to have some exercise. We are English. As an indication of how cold it was, not a photo was taken, or a Pokemon caught.  Gloves were on and remaining firmly in pockets.

"Let us go somewhere warm for lunch."  All the best-laid plans... We ended up in a cafe, next to french doors with a visible gap around the edge... OK, the french doors did go out into an arcade, but as the arcade has no doors at either end, the draught still felt pretty icy!  However, the food was good, and they know how to serve a flat white, so on balance, we will forgive them.

Keeping watch for icebergs...
The Severn was swollen, but had yet to breach its banks. We drove past the viewpoint at The Ketch just to make sure, passing a couple looking like they were on the bow of a large ship.

In the evening the KHT and I watched the first part of Titanic on her new portable dvd player.  I would have preferred a sunnier happier tale, but like the Titanic arriving at its destination, it was not to be.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

It's A Wrap

The day after Christmas contrasts sharply with the day before.  The hustle and bustle of a family gathering has been replaced by the normal peaceful rhythm of our household.
We look out on to morning sunshine, which peeps cheekily into the kitchen. The yellow splash of colour, from the winter flowering jasmine, contrasts brightly with the plain wood fence. I detest with passion the suburban blight of painted fences, much preferring to see the colour and texture of the natural product.

The laundry backlog is tackled, I bravely hang one load out on the line. The wind incites shirts, tights and socks and underwear to join in a random and poorly choreographed dance. An hour or so later clouds advance from the west. The washing is retrieved. Due to the cold temperatures the clothing feels wetter than when it went outside. Surely that cannot be the case! The KHT and I go out for a quick walk before the rain arrives.  A few drops issue warning splashes as we leave. We press on, the cloud passes. We walk a mile or so. After the entertaining yesterday, the KHT is weary and grumpy, but the fresh air soon cheers her up. We return home as a few warning splashed are felt.  Seconds after we walk through the door the heavens open. Precipitation continues for the rest of the day.

The small pile of presents under the tree is now limited to those destined for people who will be seen shortly. I suddenly recall that there is a present that I have not seen unwrapped. The KHT unsuccessfully searches the tree, but the present is miniscule and well camouflagged amongs the tinsel, decorations and lights. Having placed it within the tree, I have the advantage. My husband unwraps his last present. A tiny torch that can clip on to a keyring. There is a light beside the front door, but it has been designed for looks, not practicality. Inconveniently it does not shine anywhere near the lock. In the dark DH can find it difficult to insert his key. I saw this petite, but perfectly proportioned torch when buying cracker contents, and thought it would help. Despite being the ideal size it never made it into a cracker, as I decided it might not survive being dropped on the floor!

I was just celebrating stashing away the wrapping paper and gift tags, when a parcel landed with a thud on the doormat.  Rejoice! Doris' Christmas present has finally arrived.  Rejoice! Doris' present needs wrapping.  I dig out the paper.  It's a wrap!

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

The Unexpected

Christmas Eve began with the children's nativity - a service led by the young people in the church and their leaders. We always gain a lot from seeing the familiar Christmas story retold from their perspective. At the beginning of the service, the Children's Leader observed that the service title had been amended in the name of grammar, and in so doing had removed the pun from the title! How quick we are to decide things are wrong, even when they are not!

Mary keeps a close eye on Jesus
Due to the snow earlier in December, the group had lost valuable rehearsal time. All credit to them for pulling together such a great service in such a short time.

Initially 'Mary' was reluctant to take part, requiring a bit of encouragement from 'Gabriel', before getting into the swing of things.  Once in role, 'Mary' kept a keen eye on baby Jesus (played by a doll), who obediently stayed asleep during 'Mary's' watch. Joseph was played by Mary's older sister.  One of the Wise Men was not happy that his sisters were centre stage and he wasn't. He decided to rectify matters by making an unscheduled visit to the stable somewhat earlier in the story than is custom. In fact, this particular Wise Man beat the shepherds to their destination by a good 15 minutes or so. Meanwhile Mary got bored and wandered off... Did it matter? Not in the slightest. We all knew the story and it did not detract from the accompanying message in the slightest!  Before I move on I must mention 'Herod', he was the star of the show. The story progressed through the alphabet, and Herod kept appearing, suggesting how each letter could refer to him. A great role, well played :)

Frazzled foliage
We rang the bells at the parish church for the Midnight Communion - which entailed ringing from 10:15 - 11:15pm, and getting the bells down after the service, and in doing so ticked the box for ringing on Christmas Day.  One ringer was promoted downstairs to help with the service. Fortunately we were joined by another irregular, regular ringer visiting from the north, enabling all six bells to be rung.  One of our regular ringers toddled off early, as he was definitely under the weather, but hadn't wanted to let us down. Towards the end of the service, the advent wreath made a somewhat sharper exit, after the foliage caught fire. Fortunately, it was spotted and speedily extinguished, even before the acrid aroma reached the back corner of the building where we were located.

On Christmas Day the KHT appeared looking shattered after a late night, having climbed over her presents without noticing them...  Unusually we had no new clothing to wear this year.

Another family member cooked most of the dinner, our responsibility was the turkey and the pudding.  The bird was nicely browned off by the time we returned from church. Nine of us sat down for dinner, fiften for tea.  The grandchildren are lovely individually but collectively have the power of a volcano, producing eruptions of noise and emotion.  No's 1, 2 and 3 have yet to acquire the ability to engage in polite conversation, preferring to bellow over each other with an alarmingly high levels of decibels that well and truly fry my brain, and remind me of my advancing years.

Grandchildren 4 and 5 have yet to grasp that presents do not come in a never-ending supply. No. 4's insistent
"I need some more presents" and No. 5's optimistic but heartfelt request for
"More presents?" were a recurring refrain.

Christmas is a very confusing time for both children and adults. I know presents will not bring happiness, yet I still delight in giving gifts.
As a family we love to gather, yet the very gathering makes us weary.
We eat too much, knowing we will regret it tomorrow.

Christmas is our justification for our seasonal excesses. Yet this was not the justification that Christ came to bring. Instead He offered the gift of redemption, given freely, but a gift that we have to chose to accept. The unexpected, overlooked and forgotten gift. Free, but given with love at great cost. Surely this unexpected gift is the best.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Romanticism wins

The much-heralded snow has now mostly melted away. Odd grey mounds linger, where snow was piled up, the whiteness replaced by dull grey sludge, with black highlights. DH drove over the remnant in front of our house a few times, in the hope of speeding up its demise.  The garden, divested off its cloak of whiteness, now just looks like it has been sat upon.

The third Sunday in Advent was catch up Sunday. The congregation arrived bearing cards.  The season of communal cards has passed,  people have reverted to personal Christmas greetings.  No-one remembers everyone, everyone remembers someone. Like most things in the Anglican church, it ain't perfect, but it works.

On Sunday evening we rang the bells for the carol service at the parish church. In a pragmatic change to tradition, the old oil lamps were not used for the first time in living memory, as they had become increasingly unpredictable. Instead, fairy lights had been woven around them, giving the illusion of Christmas trees, suspended in the air. The fairy lights created a suitable safe seasonal smoke-free solution and were such a delight, that romanticism triumphed after all. God works in a mysterious way...

Monday saw us heading off to Herefordshire in the fog, on the trail of last-minute purchases. Skeletal structures were shrouded in mystery until the sun triumphed.

We took the scenic route, crossing the Severn at Holt Fleet and meandering on through Herefordshire.

The Cathedral watched on as the waters of the Wye washed past on their journey to the sea.

Inside red and gold decorated trees, complemented the golden crown at the chancel crossing. The miles of gold lamenta strewn on every tree are not really visible in these photos. There were at least four on display, and one more was being taken away. Mind you they still have some way to go to catch up with Worcester's glorious exhibition in the cloisters...

Lunch was at No.10 - Church Lane, not Downing Street. We explored the old town centre before returning home, laden with purchases. We returned via Worcester, on the shorter route. Miles of road had been recently been resurfaced, making it much the better route, despite the delays in Worcester.

Soon after we recrossed the Severn the fog reappeared, hiding the world behind a swathe of whiteness once more. Romanticism wins again.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Long John Angel

My plans for a lazy Saturday were thrown into disarray, when I received a text from J with the astounding news that she purchased long johns and a pair of feathery wings. J went on to tell me that she was planning to wear this outfit to the Churches Together in Redditch Christmas event in the town shopping centre. Well, that just HAD to be seen! The KHT also awoke remembering the afore mentioned Christmas event, and she too quite fancied the idea of riding the escalators dressed as an angel, whilst singing carols. She is rather fond of Christmas, you know...

Until a couple of years ago we lived just a short walk from the town centre. As a consequence DH had not been into one of the multi story car parks since sometime last century!  In the mean time cars have got bigger... and the spaces haven't.  The first spot we considered was rejected on the grounds that it was a little too tight. This should have been a hint about things to come. To make thing easier, the KHT and I extricated ourseves from the car before it was parked. DH duly placed the car in the space, opened the door only to discover that he was trapped. DH was not a happy bunny (understatement).  He moved to a different space and managed to sqeeze out of the car. DH usually prefers to park close to the town centre, and walk in.  Lateness and icy pavements combined to rule out that possibility today.

Four of the five angels
Angels we have heard on high
DH rescued the car park token from me, before it could get lost in the murkey depths of my bag. We set of in search of the rest of the nativity, who we had been advised, would be lurking on the mezzanine adjacent to Primark. Illness and other events had depleted the heavenly host, so they greeted the KHT with open wings. I flung my surplice over her head and added a flourish of tinsel. A set of battery powered lights completed her costume, and she was good to go. DH and I would have joined in but we only had one outfit, and we figured the KHT would get the most enjoyment out of the event. We were right.

During the retelling of the Christmas story, the angels regally rode up and down the escalators, while we sang carols, the gospel choir sang carols and there were readings from scripture and poems.  As we were outside Primark, it would have been fitting to have had a reading from the second gospel, but the readings came from Luke and Matthew.

I lost count of how many times they descended and ascended.
It was a pity the KHT didn't have her phone on her. It would be quite amusing to see how many flights of stairs it calculated that she had climbed....

What did the shoppers make of it?  Did they notice that they had live singing, and that angels, shepherds and kings were wandering about amongst them? Who knows!

After our carrolling we headed off for a coffee and then it was time to go home.  Just one problem. No-one had any cash!  DH prefers to use an app to pay for parking, but the machines in town only take cash.  DH was not impressed. We had to return to The Works and buy some double sided sticky tape, to get sufficient change to extracate us from this sticky situation...

I do not think we will be using the multi-storey car parks again in a hurry, well at least until DH has forgotten today's irritations...

Peace on earth, goodwill to carpark managers...

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Five out of Five

My fav
After a week when so much was cancelled, it was a relief to escape to Worcester and actually walk around outside now much of the snow and ice have melted away.
Our plans were:-
1. To visit the Christmas Tree Exhibition in the Cloisters at Worcester Cathedral.
2. To admire the stained glass exhibition in Worcester Cathedral.
3. To enjoy the riverside walk - ice permitting.
4. Lunch.
5. Christmas shopping.

We found a space in our usual car park - woohoo! The KHT was very taken with the Christmas tree exhibition in the cathedral cloisters and spent ages admiring them. My favourite was the tree made of glass bottles and shelves.
KHT's fav

The KHT's favourite was the Rambling Society's tree, as it refers to The Malverns. Spotting these hills is always a highlight of any trip out, so a tree referring to them was always going to be a winner in her eyes. Unfortunately I didn't take a photo of that part of the tree, but admittedly the little hats were amusing....  The KHT also voted, which is more than I did.

'In search of light'  stained glass exhibition was a tad disappointing.  There were 9 sections joined together, and 2 or three larger pieces. And that was it.  More of a display than an exhibition, methinks. Having said that, using chunks and shards of glass to produce pieces of beauty, was interesting, and a demonstration of an ability far beyond my own. I think I would have prefered to have seen them in a simpler setting.  They just felt a bit lost against the majestic backdrop of the cathedral. Having said that, I do like the way those who run the cathedral allow the space to be used to display a wide range of art.

Ice breaker in action

Next we headed outdoors, to peer over the Cathedral garden wall, to discern if it was safe enough for the riverside walk.  Fortunately due to the recent sunshine and use by cyclists, much of the ice had been broken up, and dispersed.  The KHT still found the odd section worthy of a battle.  We had wondered how high the river would be, but it was still about a foot short of flooding the footpath.

We ate in an art deco cafe, the name of which escapes me, serenaded by some very good buskers performing in the street below.

A further supply of card blanks were required, so we googled directions to the nearest branch of The Works. Eventually discerning that the shop required was indeed close by, located inside an adjacent shopping centre.We browsed a few more shops, making the odd purchase.  The KHT purchased two hats, one more and she would have acheived a hat trick...

We returned home via the country route, the sun setting behind us with glorious shades of marmalade, that would have gladened the heart of a wellington booted bear, having achieved five out of five of our objectives. Not bad for a day off :)

Monday, 11 December 2017

Memory Lane

Saturday's sprinkling of snow was the dress rehearsal for Sunday's generous blessing. Both were quiet days, but for different reasons.

On Saturday the sun shone, flooding the kitchen with warmth and brightness. We pottered and prepared for Sunday, which would be one of the busiest days in the church year, and just enjoyed the sunlit peace.

Most of the leaves have now fallen from the mighty oaks just beyond our boundary. We have lost the canopy of leaves that shelter the garden during the autumn. Light reflecting off the snow further enhanced the brightness, even during hours of relative darkness.

Three o'clock in the morning seems to be a pivotal time in weather predictions. I wonder if the reasoning is that we will all be tucked up in bed and no-one will be awake to assess the accuracy of the forecasts. Who knows what time the snow actually began, but we awoke to the most significant snowfall for several years.

Access to the church is up a hill,
or a long steep hill.
Alternatively there is a very steep hill.

Many of those who live close enough to walk, would not want to risk hip and wrist. For the first time that I can recall we cancelled our services, as did the majority of the other churches in town. We all stayed home, and watched the flakes falling relentlessly from the sky. I felt like I was trapped in a computer-generated graphics file with no escape from the visual confetti.

Snow often triggers nostalgia, as we recall snowball fights and other snowy exploits from our youth. In 1964 my town was selected to be a 'new town'. I am always amazed when I go elsewhere and see factories adjacent to houses - in Redditch this doesn't happen. Development was planned and zoned. We had one of the first shopping centres, miles of footpaths with underpasses, lots of trees and an excellent road system that bewilders visitors. However, there was a price for all this investment. The town centre of my childhood was bulldozed - covered over by concrete, steel stuctures and slippery floor tiles (which have since been replaced).

A facebook page has recently appeared, sharing old photographs of the town - places I never knew and some I had forgotten. One photo that impacted me showed the rear entrance from Woollies onto Walford Street.  I had completely forgotten that these doors had ever existed, or that they came out close to the market. Seeing the photograph reminded me of the time I got left behind in Woolworth's when my mother, distracted by my younger brother, accidentally left the shop without me. I remember standing inside these doors, sobbing at my abandonment. My Mother soon reappeared, retrieved and admonished me for not paying attention! The building remains, but the rear now has an elevated goods access to the first floor of the building, the doors presumably bricked up. Walford Street has long gone, but the name lives on in Walford Walk in the Kingfisher shopping centre.

I cannot deny that there are advantages to having an indoor shopping centre, especially during the winter months, but I wish they had just provided roofing above the streets and let the town gently age, instead of inflicting such an abrasive facelift, and in the process, eradicating the past so abruptly.

Back in the 60's, new towns were needed to provide replacement homes for those living in slums. New schools were built, some of which only lasted a couple of generations before being declared surplus to requirements. It is over 50 years since the first new houses were built by the Development Corporation. Ideas on town planning have continued to evolve. The brutalist architecture, that replaced the Victorian streets, feels strangely appropriate for a change imposed by an unelected and unaccountable organisation. Change would have happened anyway, just not at such a pace, and without such apparent disregard for the past. The planner's legacy is a town with good facilities. We have much to be grateful for, but those who knew the town before, have memories of places that were indescriminately wiped off the map.

We hanker for the past, appreciate the present, and look forward to the future.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Songs For A Snowy Day

Thursday we went to bed expecting snow. I woke up around 7am, and there was nothing of note, just a few faithful flakes had settled.  Then, in the next hour or so, a myriad of celestial crystals came cascading from the clouds, covered the ground and half the schools in town suddenly shut up shop for the day!  Tough call for the schools involved, as more snow was forecast.  Being in the landlocked Midlands it is not often that we get significant amounts of snow.  It is important to keep the schools open for those who need somewhere to go, but I am all in favour of giving children the opportunity to experience playing in the snow, when possible!

Tesco is not far away as the crow flies, but we went by car to discover how bad the roads were.  Radiant sunshine meant the white stuff was swiftly melting away.  Entering the store we passed a mother with two school age children. As they passed us their faces lit up with great joy
"It's snowing!", they cried excitedly.  Their mother was not sharing their joy...

We too walked out the store to find the snow was falling once more and were very glad that we had not been seduced by blue-sky thinking, and walked...

Community Carols were scheduled for 4pm, but as the Library - who were hosting the event, didn't open till just before midday, no rushed decisions could be made.  As it was all set up, it was agreed we would go ahead, and cut the event short if the weather deteriorated.

This year we had changed the format - less technology, a mixture of the sacred and secular and moved from the wind tunnel outside the Meeting Rooms, to the relative shelter of the canopy outside the library.  As the allotted time approached, folks started arriving in dribs and drabs, gathering beyond the cordoned area, which replaced the staging used in previous years. Five cones and a bit of tape was far quicker and easier to set up than staging! Less chance of anything going wrong too, as the whole construction was held together by faith and numerous plastic ties! Song sheets were passed around, deep and crisp and even, and off we went. Santa got stuck up the chimney, but Jesus Christ still triumphed!

As we sang it snowed, magic flakes spiralling to the ground - the perfect backdrop.  Fortunately we were sheltered by the canopy. The mikes and speakers of the PA were was shrouded in plastic to protect them from the elements, but still worked. I have no idea how or why, but they did. It was freezing, but fun. We sang our way through the songsheet. How the keyboard & clarinet kept going, no-one knows!  Afterwards,  we all piled into the library for hot chocolate and mince pies. The Guides offered biscuit decorating, to raise money for their forthcoming trip - always a popular attraction and much more tempting than a mince pie!

The very thing that we feared would be offputting, was the icing on the cake! Serenading snowflakes with seasonal songs - superb!

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Snow or No Snow?

The week has rushed by in a flurry of preparations. Music had to be chosen by midweek in preparation for the services on Sunday, which include the main carol service. Meanwhile, we continue to watch the weather forecast with a mixture of anticipation and dread.

Anticipation, because it has been a couple of years since we last had any proper snow. In fact, we have lived in our current house for well over two years, and have yet to see the garden with more than a sprinkling of snowflakes.

Dread, because quite frankly we do not want the inconvenience. Snow is magical, but jolly inconvenient.  It is the run-up to Christmas. We all have plans and much still to do. After all the preparation we do not want to be disappointed.

The forecast currently predicts snow from 3am to 7pm, but it is only a possibility of 30-40%. It could miss us entirely. We would all get on with our plans, relieved, but feeling slightly cheated, as beautiful snow scenes fill our news feed on social media.

Often we do not get the extremes of weather forecast. Is that because they predict the worst case scenario, or have we just been very fortunate? Who knows!

So I go to bed, to dream of magical snowflakes drifting down....who needs to count sheep!

Monday, 4 December 2017

Winter's Tale

Advent Sunday
In the morning the first candle was lit on the Advent wreath, always a sign that the countdown to Christmas has just got serious. In the afternoon we had our Christingle service and it was lovely to see new faces, as well as those support this service each year. One visitor was a girl who grew up in the church and had brought her children back so they could share the experience she had when she was their age.  It was really lovely to catch up after many years.

For many years the Christingle service has been an opportunity for the younger members to take part and it was great to continue the tradition this year.

Monday morning was beautifully sunlit - a great day for photography!  We had considered going to Hereford, but we were late starting out and need an early return, as I am working this evening. Leamington was our chosen destination.  The sat nav was set and we departed.  Then we changed our minds, and decided to go to Stratford instead. Our journey was further complicated by the fact that 'Voice Command' appeared not to have heard of Stratford. Maybe if we had addressed it in Shakespearean English, it might have been more forthcoming.  Maybe not.  Well, we knew which roads to take, so the satnav became the sackednav.

Halfway there the sun disappeared and the interesting clouds won. However, we were not going to be deterred. We selected Stratford because we wanted to do the walk by the river, clouds or no clouds!

We parked, then crossed the river towards the theatre. Workmen were dredging the canal basin. We were advised that the spoil was being taken to help construct the new Marina, scheduled to open in 5 years time.

On our wanderings we discovered the site of the new marina. Locals observing the work down river were verbal in their opinion of the local council, and it wasn't complimentary.

When we were back by the theatre we noticed filming was underway. No idea what for... If you recognise anyone let me know.

Lunch was at a branch of a chain of eateries.  The waiter was very enthusiastic and greeted each of our orders as if it was the best decision he could possibly have made. My companion ordered a toastie
"Great choice!"  
I ordered tomato quiche
"Ah Tomato!" he declared, as if had made the very quiche himself.
After he departed I expressed the opinion that he may well have been an out of work actor.

Well, it was all downhill from there.  My request for a 'Flat White' was interpreted as 'tap water' It was delivered by different member of staff, who checked who the tea was for, dumped the water in front of me and legged it. I then caught the original waiters attention
"Excuse me, I asked for a Flat White, and I seem to have tap water. " 
My companion reckons that 'tap water' and 'flat white' sound the same.  My thought was that he was so busy affirming us in our choices, that he didn't actually listen.  The next problem was our food. We were adjacent to the food hatch. The chef rang the bell when food was ready to be taken to tables. Everyone was so busy clearing, welcoming and taking orders that no-one was delivering the food. The bell rang once, twice, three times. Still, it sat there.  My companion accosted a passing waiter.
"Excuse me, I think that is our food waiting and it has been there a while!"  Our food arrived with apologies. Now salad and heated lamps do not mix....  Basically what should have been hot, wasn't and what should have been cold wasn't. I also had the coleslaw that I had requested not to have....
Did I want to add a service charge? My response was lukewarm to say the least.

There were a couple of shops we wanted to visit, and a few purchases were made.

Confession time.
I nearly overran with the candle yesterday, and today it didn't get lit, as it was a chaotic teatime, with people going here and there. Tomorrow is another day...

Saturday, 2 December 2017


No sooner is December here, than the Christingle service is imminent! This triggered the recruitment of a top team of church decorators, recruited at short notice, to ensure the place looked suitably seasonal for our Christmas visitors.

Our star decorators soon made a discovery, that I am sure they made last year - real trees are spikey! They prefer it if you respect their personal space - get too close and you will find out exactly why they are called pine 'needles'!

 We also discovered that:-

  • It is probably easier to start fitting the lights from the bottom of the tree, not the top.
  • The top shoot could not possibly bear the weight of a star.  
  • Lights may be trodden on multiple times but by some miracle, still work.  Do not rely on this to be so.... 
  • Decorations shatter when knelt on....

The finished tree is a joy to behold. It has not been dressed, rather it has been festooned with a cascade of snowflakes. lights, tinsel and baubles.  A delightful expression of joy, and will be much admired by many over the next couple of weeks.  Well done guys! I LOVE IT!

Meanwhile, stars have been hung - including the 'Lynda special', which is suspended from a hook in the ceiling at the centre of the church and gently winched into position. It rotates gently in the air currents, as if monitoring the presence of the Holy Spirit. Lights brighten the Foyer, which is often quite gloomy.  Random angels are dotted around the church. Shelves have been fitted into the window alcoves, lanterns and candle holders have been installed. Meanwhile, Dawn has constructed two boxes of Christingles for the service tomorrow afternoon at 4pm - plug...

In the afternoon the KHT and I visited the Christmas Fayre in the church hall, while DH was off playing his bassoon at Coughton Court. The KHT does not currently have a membership card. Instead, if she joins she can have a free ticket for her carer.  As anyone who is likely to be her carer is already a member and at times want to visit NT properties without her, then this is actually completely useless for families like ours. I asked if she could have the free membership instead, but they would not allow it, which was very disappointing.

Pick your own...
In the evening I started the annual grand double sided sticky tape project. Yes, it is time to start making Christmas Cards. I hate the point when you are about to start and are apprehensive that the results of your labours will look like something produced by a child in Reception Class. I am never that happy with the first few, then I start to see how the colours can work to enhance each other.

I starting making my own a few years back, when I failed to find any I liked on sale in the shops. This year's colour is blue - so far.  Yes, I am still obsessed with tree/star combinations, as I do wonder if the star passed over the tree(s) that were used for Jesus' cross.

Meanwhile, we have finished the second day of December and are still on track.

Unheard of.

Maybe tracking my candle burning progress is actually helping me remember to be a responsible Advent Candle user...

Friday, 1 December 2017

The Advent of Advent

Not the green door...
For the wages of nuts, seeds and drinking water, we can admire the antics of three squirrels and a variety of birds - robins, thrushes, tits, nuthatches, starlings, jays, blackbirds, goldfinches, wrens, dunnocks, sparrows, pigeons, magpies, even the odd woodpecker, plus others I have forgotten.  DH put the last of the nuts out earlier in the week, so this morning we headed off to Webbs Winter Wonderland in search of further supplies. The entrance was not looking as inviting as usual - encased in wood, as if renovations were taking place. Apparently, they had been visited by ram raiders. At least they left the trio of singing reindeer behind...

Our visit to Webbs also gave the KHT the opportunity to explore their Christmas section, of which she thoroughly approves.
She gazed in wonder at the cute snow scenes.
We gaze in disbelief at the prices - £200 for that tat???
Having just liberated a dozen boxes of decorations from the loft - we know that we already have more decorations than we need, so we were well able to resist the temptation to buy yet more. However, I do have to confess to buying a new smaller Father Christmas earlier this week, which will look great on the mantlepiece. The four-foot tall version, purchased at the Gift Fair at the NEC a few years back, will probably go to the local charity shop this year, and make someone very happy.  Sorry mate, you are so last Christmas!

Then DH left us in town, so we could gaze in wonder at the decorations in the shopping centre, and do a bit of shopping. A lovely small present purchased for the youngest granddaughter, a pressy for the oldest granddaughter, and gifts for two of our favourite mature citizens...

The KHT has once more vowed to never go clothes shopping with me again, after she accidentally purchased a much needed item of clothing...  Her consolation prize was a trio of Christmas CD's, one of which definitely has potential, and I bought an Advent Candle....  Now the Advent Candle is usually the point at which I realise my magazine-perfect Christmas is not going to go to materialise, as I either mislay the blessed thing, and we spend all of December playing catch up - and failling, or forget it is lit, and burn down past day five on the first day of December...

Phew! So far, so good!

At the allotted time DH collected us up from town, before departing for a music rehearsal.  I assembled the Christmas Tree whilst the KHT reminisced about the good old days.
"Remember the old tree, it could stand on the floor... "
I say nothing. I just remember that the old house had higher ceilings, and quite often we didn't use the bottom part so it could stand on the end of the dining table in the bay window.
"Our old tree didn't come with lights already on it, we could choose our own lights..."
I remember how often the lights failed.... and remind her that it is all progress.

The KHT opens the first door on her advent calendar, the candle is lit.  Advent is under way.

Thursday, 30 November 2017


Tuesday I was delivering angels to local houses, in the form of an invitation to our Christmas services. Our church is a modern six-sided building, based on the plan of a Swedish cinema. It lacks bells, smells and stained glass. It has no tower or steeple, just a stainless steel spire with a cross on top. It looks like a church if you know what a church can look like.  However, if your expectation of church is a Norman or Gothic pile, then you could easily drive past and just see a red-brick building...  If we want visitors to our Christmas services, then we have to remind the local community that we exist, and so we deliver invitations to our Christmas services.

If I am honest I have to admit that walking up to strangers homes is a bit scary, but I have had some lovely conversations with people I have met. I always tell the people what I am doing and ask if they know where the church is.  To date, I have not encountered any negativity.  If people are not interested they can just put the cards in the bin, but we always get visitors to our church as a result of delivering these invitations.

Wednesday morning saw us in school for Open the Book - acting out Bible stories for First school children - great fun.  This week the story was the Lost Sheep.  The KHT was trying to get her head around the implications of this story
KHT - So, if Jesus was the Good Shepherd, who was the bad shepherd?
Me - It's not really a story about a Shepherd, it is a story about us, and how no matter how far we have wandered off and done our own things, God never gives up on us.
KHT - What if the sheep don't want to be found?  What if they are quite happy doing their own thing, and do not want to be rescued?"
The KHT doesn't have a problem with Jesus. Her problem is that she wants freedom, but only if it is safe.  Like the sheep, she lacks the ability to adequately assess danger, and resents the limitations that have to be placed on her to keep her safe.  At the same time, she wants to be safe.

Thursday, more leaflet delivering. Despite the sunshine, it is bitterly cold, much colder than Tuesday! I am wearing gloves, but my hands still ache with the cold - triggering memories of soggy woolly gloves and snowball fights from my childhood. We pop in to Tesco to warm up. Actually we pop in to Tesco because we have no bread, not a lot of milk and I fancy some sausage rolls... We leave with three bags of shopping.  There is snow to the east of us, but none here.

The KHT is making plans for tomorrow, when the decorations come out of purdah and the loft.

Barry is also going down with a cold.  Three days in and I am bored of having a blocked nose , and long to be able to breathe normally.  Hibernation feels like an attractive option...

Monday, 27 November 2017

Christmas - Shopping and Planning

Less than four weeks and it will all be over... so I thought I better get started!  Off to Solihull we went, in search of suitable seasonal purchases.  I did find a present for the youngest grandson, and a gift we hope will interest the oldest one.  Something I hope will be to my husband's taste, was also purchased - but I cannot divulge details at this stage in the proceedings....I have also begun sneezing :(

A rather cute Christmas decoration was bought, which may be revealed on Friday morning, and not before! In our house Christmas is banned until December. This becomes a bit tricky when Advent Sunday falls in November, but that is only the start of Advent. According to the church calendar, Christmas does not begin until Christmas Eve, staggering to a conclusion at Candlemas on February 2nd.  Meanwhile, the world has rushed madly on, into the next few seasons. The only Christmas folks may consider, is the next, and not even that if they can help it!

A diversion to Hobbycraft enabled the purchase Christmas Card making supplies. Long live double-sided sticky tape...

After an unusually early tea, we headed out to a meeting to make arrangements for Community Carols on Friday 8th December - less than two weeks away!  It doesn't seem a year since we rolled up in the shopping centre, only to discover as the darkness fell, that the lights were not working.  After ten months of chipping away at officialdom, they have finally been fixed. Many thanks to the electricians who sorted out that nightmare!

We had planned to attempt a Quarter Peal this evening - which is a set length of ringing.  After weeks of juggling diaries, we had finally got six ringers committed to being in the same place at the same time, and the tower was available. Then news broke of the Royal Engagement, between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, so there was a consensus that our ringing should be in celebration of this happy event.  After a couple of rocky starts, the ringing settled down, and we were able to claim our Quarter Peal. Whatever my views on the Royal Family, I wish the couple a long and happy marriage.

In the last days of November, we look forward to the hope of Advent, of counting down the days of December, and the gaudy brightness of Christmas decorations.  Maybe this year there will be peace on earth.

Sunday, 26 November 2017


Home after an amazing weekend at Holland House, for part of the Mission-shaped Ministry course.
We covered so many topics in 23 hours:-

  • Spirituality
  • Gospel & culture
  • Engaging with your community
  • What is church 
  • Handling setbacks
  • Small groups
  • Worship
  • Prayer. 
If it sounds exhausting, it probably was!  However, the material was so well written that we were constantly being challenged, inspired and encouraged. Time limits did not allow us to cover all the material in each module, which leaves us with plenty to work on before we meet again.

One session included chocolate & theology. I think most of us loved the concept, but as it was sandwiched between cake and dinner, I was grateful that twirl bites were on offer. You can always manage one (or two) of those!

Holland House is a familiar venue, as for the last four years I have attended the Readers Weekend held there. This was the first time I had stayed in the older part of the house. The staff kindly left a large Pooh Bear in our room to keep us company. The KHT was disappointed that I did not plan to bring it home.

Don't look down Pooh...!

Opposite our room is a Winnie the Pooh themed toilet, and I am now starting to regard the Bear in a completely new light...

It was strange being at Holland House with a group of people the majority of whom I didn't know, but we were all in the same boat, so that made it easy to chat.

The food, as usual, was excellent. Despite being conservative with my portions, I still ate far more than I normally do! Three cooked meals a day, is two more than I am accustomed to consuming!

We did get a few hours free time on Saturday afternoon, to allow all the information to percolate. My husband had never seen the river, so we duly clambered down to the landing stage, but no boats passed by.

We wandered on, up the main street of the village, crossing the road according to the vagaries of the footpath, before heading back to the sanctuary of our room, and I had a sneaky nap, while my husband read the course notes. We are very different...

On Sunday morning we were divided into eight groups and given a few minutes to put together elements that would combine to create a short service of Holy Communion within our context. DH & I were given 'senses', and borrowed the large basket of fircones from beside the fireplace in the lounge. We felt they would link in well to the intercessions - world-shaped - many parts the body of Christ - unique - imperfect like us - contains seeds...  
We put on our coats and went outside. For the confession/absolution element, we poured water over our hands and dried them. I was glad the water was warm! We repeated scripture, listened to music, prayed for those in need whilst holding a fir cone in the palm of our hand. We shared the Eucharist. We felt the wind, were grateful for the sun, looked up at the trees circled around us and returned to the warmth of the building.

After a final session, it was time to head home as the light was fading from the sky. Strangers transformed into fellow travellers, both physically and spiritually.

At tea time on the first day, I discovered I was sat next to a lady whose son had autism.  Later my husband and I were chatting with two other ladies, both of whom had experience of having autism in their households.  The next morning, autism came up in conversation at the breakfast table, and one of the speakers had a son who was autistic... I may not have physically taken my daughter with me, but autism accompanied me in a way I did not anticipate. Life is full of surprises!

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Follow That!

The travellers departed on the next leg of their vacation, and we got on with our Wednesday.  The only evidence of their sojourn is a jar of apple butter jam and trail of Hershey's kisses wrappers, which despite our best intentions, seem to have been trodden all around the house. One lies accusingly on the landing. Only the hoover can buy their silence...

Starring the clothes horse and moi...
Next up is 'Open the Book' and the story of Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well.  A typical Wednesday - except it isn't, as their Ofsted inspection has only just begun.  A long and stressful couple of days lie ahead. The staff are doing their best to make everything feel normal, but there is an air of palpable tension, mixed with optimism. We pray that the inspection will be fair and reflect the school which has welcomed us so warmly every week, for the last five years or so.

under there is mud, but where?

I wander home, through the woodland, the landscape changed by fallen leaves that obscure the pathway.  I find myself walking on the mud beside the path, unable to discern exactly where the tarmac lies beneath the swath of golden brown.

Above me, the canopy has been stripped away, and a window opened up to the skies above, revealing the fine tracery of the arboreal architecture.

In the evening a group of us from church went to see Sister Act at the local theatre.  A harmless story of some nuns thought I, who has only seen Sister Act 2... Every time there was any expletives, I took a sneaky peak down the row to see if anyone was suffering from outraged sensibilities....

As for my husband, he was just waiting for them all to sing" I will follow him..." mainly I suspect because I have sung it rather a lot over the last few days. Look on the bright side dear, we didn't arrive before 7pm, so the car park was free - even if the tickets weren't... Well worth the money though, a great evening!