24 December 2009

day 24:: peace

STIK is a graffitti artist and you could find his work at the Mile End Park Arts Pavilion down the road recently. Somehow he manages to convey a whole range of expressions with just a few lines. He told me he liked this one, and so do I.

Thanks for opening the doors of this year's Advent Calendar with me, and for your kind, funny, thoughtful comments. Whatever Christmas means and holds for you, I wish you peace and happiness.

23 December 2009

day 23:: candles

I mentioned last year our Christmas Eve candle tradition. This year my mum decided that she would like a red candle. So off we went to the Candle Factory next to the Greek Orthodox church of St John the Theologian in Mare Street to see if we could find one. The factory is simply a large shed in a yard at the side of the church. Inside there are candles of all sorts, sizes and colours for sale, loaded up hugger mugger. In the room at the back, the candle maker dips rows of wicks in a bath of beeswax and its honeyscent wafts through. At the side of the beeswax bath his jug stands covered in melted wax like some surreal sculpture.

Oh I enjoyed my visit. As we were leaving the candlemaker gave me a handful of candles to take home - "they'll smell sweet" he said. It just about made my day.

22 December 2009

day 22:: snow

Late yesterday afternoon, while we were in here playing with trees and greenery, it started to snow. It had been raining earlier and, as the temperature dropped, big flakes started to fall and settle. It's quite hypnotic watching snow fall, the light changing gradually and the sounds becoming muffled as it thickens. Snow - just what I wanted to put behind the door of the advent calendar.

I looked out of the upstairs window before I went to bed. Because the snowfall had been fairly short lived - no more than an hour maybe - we only had about an inch of snow, possibly less. Outside the house, the snow had already been criss-crossed by busy foot prints, people coming home from work, taking a short cut from the Tube station, hurrying to get somewhere quickly.

Only to be expected really, for this isn't any old snow. It's London snow, in such a rush that today all that's left is slushy roads, perilously icy pavements and a mere dusting of white in the park.

21 December 2009

day 21:: lustre

The tree was brought home yesterday from the market and decorated today. I was thinking about not buying one this year. Just not really in the swing of things, a bit lacklustre. But once the tree is in place and the boxes come up from the cellar, my notions of restrained decoration disappear. I begin with a bit of pearliness, then some glittering glass, think about stopping there - briefly - then add a touch of deep red, find some silver to fill the gaps, then a few more pearly baubles. By the time I get to the bottom of the boxes there is not much left. Just the five "gold" rings.

20 December 2009

day 20:: carolling

On the Sunday before Christmas or thereabouts people from the neighbourhood collect in the local square and sing carols. We have a cup of mulled wine and a mince pie, catch up with people we have not seen for a while. This year it was freezing cold, but there were crowds of people and the singing was better than ever.

In the bleak midwinter, a public sing-song, a glass of sherry and a warm by the fire can only be a good thing.

19 December 2009

day 19:: christmas pullovers

Behind the door today we have a little something for knitters - a tale of the Christmas pullover - prompted by a flick through Modern Knitting Illustrated by Jane Koster and Margaret Murray, and some winter re-reading of Barbara Pym's "Some Tame Gazelle". This is the story of two middle-aged spinster sisters, respectable and steady Belinda and the slightly more racy Harriet. Poor Belinda still harbours inappropriate longing from her undergraduate days for Henry, (now Archdeacon) Hoccleve. This is what happens in the run up to Christmas.

"She entered the wool shop, kept by Miss Jenner, who was also a Sunday School teacher. She always liked going to Miss Jenner's as the attractive display of different wools fired her imagination. Harriet would look splendid in a jumper of that coral pink. It would be a good idea for for a Christmas present, although it was impossible to keep anything secret from Harriet owing to her insatiable curiosity. And here was an admirable clerical grey. Such nice soft wool too... would she ever dare to knit a pullover for the Archdeacon? It would have to be done surreptitiously and before Agatha [the Archdeacon's wife] came back. She might send it anonymously, or give it to him casually , as if it had been left over from the Christmas charity parcel. Surely that would be quite seemly, unless of course it might appear rather ill-mannered?"

When Miss Jenner tells her that "eight ounces was the amount of wool that ladies usually bought", Belinda senses the need not to expose her ambitions:

" 'It will go very well with my Harris tweed costume' said Belinda firmly, 'I think that I will have nine ounces, in case I decide to make long sleeves.' After all, she might make a jumper for herself, now that she came to think of it she was certain that she would, either that or something else equally safe and dull. When we grow older we lack the fine courage of youth, and even an ordinary task like making a pullover for somebody we love or used to love seems too dangerous to be undertaken."

The vexed question of whether to knit Christmas presents or not. Love and loss and longing . All part of life's rich pattern.

PS Also pleased that my calendar has included at least one lamb.

18 December 2009

day 18:: pickles

There is no middle way with pickles, so you may want to skip this page which I am dedicating to my brother. I've never pickled onions before but when I saw them for sale at 3lb a £1 at Globe Town Market I was tempted. Then I got talking to Jenny the Cook in the queue and she gave me a recipe which involved brining and sweetening and storing. I was hooked.

This is all good practice for some new year jam making and preserving I'll be doing with the East End WI for the Imperial War Museum as part of their Ministry of Food exhibition which opens in February 2010.

By the way, the dedication has to do with my brother's addiction when he was a toddler, so much so that he learnt to open the fridge and steal pickles. It took a while for my mum to cotton on, which does not say much for her sense of smell. Even now I bet he'd like some in his Christmas stocking. His daughter does not appear to have inherited his tastes. She looked at the onions and wanted to know why we had eyes in a big jar. Mmm.

17 December 2009

day 17:: christmas cactus

This is how my Christmas Cactus looked on the first of December. I thought I might wait to see what happened but never really hoped for much.

And look. The first time it has flowered at Christmastime. this without any fussing with darkened rooms, other than the normal crepuscular light in my kitchen that is.

I also won three twenty five pound prizes on my Premium Bonds. And spent the evening by the fire - which lit first time - drinking Winter Pimms and talking jam recipes.

It's been a good day.

16 December 2009

day 16:: doves

Doves of a material kind.

I've got some sewing to do and not much time to do it.

15 December 2009

day 15:: bumpkins

I know that Whitechapel Haymarket is probably an odd thing to find in an advent calendar, so let me explain. I got it into my head that I should include some shepherds and I remembered that there used to be a tiled picture in the lobby of Whitechapel Library with some besmocked country lads. I associated those smocks with the hiring fairs that shepherds would attend and assumed that they were shepherds - I think I had in mind the scene in Far From The Madding Crowd where Gabriel Oak goes to a hiring fair.

Thus started a quest to find the picture and my bumpkins. The very helpful archivist at Whitechapel Art Gallery, which now incorporates the old library, told me that the tiles has been stored away when building work started, but I could find a picture at the Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archive. So off I went on a damp. grey afternoon last week to the comforting fug of the archives where the charming staff unearthed a box of photos for me. And there it was - carts, horses, hay and my bumpkins. Probably not shepherds after all now I've seen it again. But I do like them. The dreamy looking chap in the middle of the picture, a slip of greenery tucked into his hat, always caught my eye.

So I give you today a fanciful glimpse at rus in urbe - bumpkins in Whitechapel.

14 December 2009

day 14: a visit to santa

From Mrs B's archives, a first visit to Santa at Wickhams of Whitechapel, a small department store with grand aspirations. My mum tells me the matching coat and bonnet were dark turquoise - amazing how she can remember every detail. I love those zip up suede boots, such sensible footwear for such sturdy legs.

I suspect the somewhat grumpy look set the tone for the run up to Christmas for years to come.

13 December 2009

day 13:: yule log

When we walked through the cemetery this afternoon, we came across several logs scattered around the place. A couple of smaller chumps of wood just about fitted in the string bag I happened to have with me. Just right for keeping out the cold this weekend.

12 December 2009

day 12:: star

I stuck this shooting star on the mirror above the fireplace the first year we moved into this house twenty seven years ago. It seemed a shame to take it off when Christmas was over.

I think there is a meteor shower due tomorrow too.

11 December 2009

day 11:: christmas ale

I have been waiting all week to pour this, tantalised by Felix's description of the sound of pouring beer in her sonic advent calendar. I can confirm, as evidenced this evening, that it is a very good description. If your preference is for something cooler, then listen to the sound of this icy highland stream in Kate's captivating passage through December. I am so enjoying both of these calendars, and look forward to my daily visits with the anticipation of a child. Except I'm allowed beer, of course.

(PS Yes, Christmas Ale was in my advent calendar last year too. I offer no apologies.)

10 December 2009

day 10:: angel wings

I didn't expect to come across angel wings on the Regent's Canal towpath this week. Or the gargoyle come to that. But then I didn't expect to be given a bunch of hollyhock flowers in December. Or hear blackbirds singing just before midnight.

09 December 2009

day 9:: stilton

I cycled to Southwark today, taking a route I used to follow when I worked there a while back. It took me over Tower Bridge, down Tooley Street then round the back streets by Southwark Cathedral, past Borough Market and through Park Street. And that's where I caught the scent of cheese from Neal's Yard Dairy.

There was a time I used to treat myself to a bit of Colston Basset Stilton for Christmas. Laziness and crowd avoidance have kept me away since I stopped working in the area. Today I was lured by the scent of cheese coming from the shop and the lovely young cheese monger and I engaged in some mutual schmoozing. She gave me a sliver of stilton, explaining that the taste of cheese will change daily depending on the grass, the mood of the cows, whether the delivery lorry had got stuck in a traffic jam. It was delicious and I bought a small piece to take home to eat with my (best Fenland) celery, leek and apple soup. It was good, very good, a perfect match. I've put it on ration so we can have some tomorrow too.

I keep thinking of the cool, damp, scent of that cheese shop now.

08 December 2009

day 8:: swans swimming

I took a walk in the park today and there were more swans on the lake than I have ever seen before, including lots of cygnets losing the last of their brown plumage. Certainly more than seven swans a swimming, but that's how many I captured here.

07 December 2009

day 7:: not three french hens

Here he is, by popular request, the rooster tea-pot, with a few of his farmyard mates. Funny how the cat has to nose in.

I can't believe that there weren't chickens and cats in that Christmas stable.

06 December 2009

day 6:: fizz

I came across this empty bottle of Prosecco today on the wall of St Leonard's churchyard in Shoreditch. I like the wall, and the moss and cut buddleia.

The party season is with us.

05 December 2009

day 5:: sherbet lemons

I spotted these as I was leaving the old Shoreditch Town Hall yesterday and took one. About 25 yards down the road, I turned round and went back for more. It is not a good move to follow up three roof-of-the-mouth scorching sherbet lemons with chilli dressing on your supper.

I dreamed last night of proper lemon shaped sherbet lemons, the ones that stick together in the paper bag but when I saw some in a shop in Cambridge today, the queue was too long for me to wait. Probably just as well.

04 December 2009

day 4:: hats and headwear

Getting a new hat was an important part of getting ready for Christmas when I was a child. Hats knitted around an alice band for everyday, and more elegant affairs for church and special occasions. There's a picture somewhere of a me in a lovely little angora boater on a winter trip to the circus, sitting on a plaster zebra. And I still love a hat. So today when I came across Janie Lawson at the East London Design Show I indulged myself and bought a flighty little kit and sat down for an hour with Janie making some fancy headgear to wear while I made the Christmas dinner. She was patient and charming and we sat and chatted about how she had become a milliner while she showed me how to make a milliner's knot and sew beads onto sinemay. I was spoilt by her attention. And very pleased with my pretty headwear. Janie will be at ELDS for the next two days if you would like to go along and meet her and make or buy something yourself.

There's only one problem. I didn't have my headwear when I arrived home, which explains why there is no picture of the finished object. I may have left it in the cafe when I had a cup of tea before I headed home.

I'm really needled about it.

03 December 2009

day 3:: board games

I've mentioned before that we are awash with Bishops where I live - well, two actually. One of them moved yesterday and this was the removals company he chose. It made me laugh.

Later I read in the paper a summary of how people spend Christmas day. It think it went something like this: the first argument happens quite early, followed by the first drink. Board games appear late in the afternoon. We don't engage in anything as cerebral as chess, which probably does not count as a board game anyway. Sometimes we manage a hectic game of Taboo. And my brother and I have a Scrabble play off.

I lost my crown to him last year.

( I should have added that it was only a paper crown.)

02 December 2009

day 2:: bell

Every Advent calendar needs a bell so here is my bicycle bell. It was a Christmas present that was put to one side as surplus and found its way onto my new bike this year so it's is still bright and shiny. It is a most satisfying bell, with a lovely sound and it's been echoing round the borough over the last couple of months when I've been out on jaunts. With practice and a light touch, it will oblige with a gentle, polite tinkle, just enough to warn walkers on the Regent's Canal towpath that you are coming up behind them without demanding right of way. It can ring more imperiously when necessary to warn inattentive pedestrians not to step out onto the road. I like it, I like it.

The humble bike bell will do very well for the calendar until I find some bigger bells.

01 December 2009

day1:: amaryllis

I thought I might have a go again at an Advent Calendar again this year. I envisaged something with more "doing" in it, to avoid going over the same ground again, though that seems somewhat inevitable given the season. So really I should be proudly displaying the amaryllis that I had the foresight to plant a while back. No such luck, I'm afraid. These were bought at the weekend at Columbia Road. The first amaryllis arriving is one of those touchstones events that indicate a shift in the temporal season, a gearing up for Christmas. I do love the richness of the colour, almost velvety red. I suspect that these are extravagant in more ways than one though, probably imported from the Netherlands, and possibly grown in heated glasshouses.

Oh dear, oh dear, now I'm feeling guilty. And it's only the first day of December.