25 December 2010

christmas eve:: the stable

I found my donkeys.   I'd taken the precaution of wearing a donkey jacket just in case I needed to use that a substitute but it was only necessary to keep me warm rather than for the styling.  We tried one farm (closed) then crossed the treacherous icy paths of Mudchute Farm looking for their donkeys.  They very sensibly had decided to stay in the warm of the stable, so I had to squeeze the camera through a space to snap them.  I like the fact that they are in a stable, and the knowing, somewhat world weary looks they're wearing.

So here we are.  Time for bed.  And a Happy Christmas to all, Eeyores included.

24 December 2010

day 23:: light

This is a day late. The cat must have been sleeping on the internet connection again.  But I wanted to include it anyway as the turn of the light after the solstice is such a relief after the greyness of the last few days.  Yes, at last, the nights are drawing out.  Inside,  the white hyacinths mimic candles and bring enough extra light to see us through the darkest days.

I'm off to see if I can find that donkey.

22 December 2010

day 22::dance

Like lots of little girls I was enchanted by pictures and books about ballerinas and Rattling On's reminiscences today about Christmas presents reminded me of a music box I was given as a child which opened to reveal a little dancer dancing on a mirror.  I never got to go to the ballet until I was very much older, by which time my interests lay elsewhere.  So, taking refuge with a friend at the V&A today from even the idea of shopping, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the somewhat theatrical  Diaghilev/ Ballets Russes exhibition  - amazing costumes, paintings, sketches, artefacts, video, music.  And colour, so much colour, swathes of red but also those rich colours drawn from traditional Russian peasant costumes - pink, orange, yellow, cobalt blue, teal. Towards the end there was a shadow performance of  an extract from The Firebird that was so captivating it gave me goosebumps.

So very much more inspiring than queuing at a till.

21 December 2010

day 21:: ox

Just when you are beginning to wonder whether you might  have to make a trip to the farm to make sure there is an ox - or even a cow - in the Advent calendar, one turns up on the table of the pop-up cafe at the Royal Academy when you sit down for a coffee.  I guess it's a cow really, but we don't have that many oxen around in London.  The search is now on for an ass - could be a little easier to find.

20 December 2010

day 20:: carols

So yesterday we had our carols in the square, like last year, only with snow this time round and mulled wine to warm us before we started, which helped the singing no end and left us all jolly.  But today, after no more than an hour out shopping, I felt like my soul had been sucked out.  So, if you need a restorative and have not found them already, there are more carols here, courtesy of our Poet Laureate (and others).  Read them out loud, listen to Carol's bee carol.  Get enough of a buzz to raise the spirits again.

19 December 2010

day 19:: cat

My niece told me last week that she had a cat in her advent calendar and, as someone mentioned last year, it makes sense to have a cat in a nativity scene if only to keep the rats away.

More napping than ratting goes on here in the run up to the 25th.

18 December 2010

day 18:: christmas present

So here we are, the weekend before Christmas, time to put up the tree and the decorations.  John was despatched to cut greenery just as the snow started to settle, and then sent out again later for more.  We spent about 8 hours clearing the room, rearranging the furniture, polishing, swabbing and hoovering.  I had to have a cup of hot chocolate before the appointed hour to sustain myself.  By tea time, the snow was a few inches deep, the street was quiet, the recycled "tree" was re-positioned after its last appearance, the decorations hung, the lights switched on, and all was right with the world.

day 17:: christmas past

I spent yesterday morning at the Geffrye Museum.  It's become a bit of a tradition to go there to see their annual exhibition when the rooms are decorated for Christmas in the style of the period.  My favourite is the room from the mid 17th century with its oak walls and furniture,  decorations of green box and bay cuttings, and plaster sweetmeats on the table like the ones in that Beatrix Potter story where the mouse gets in a rage when she finds the delicious looking ham in the doll's house is fake (was it the Tale of Two bad Mice?).  It is all so restrained.  When I got home I thought it might be an idea to see what Samuel Pepys did for Christmas.  And what do I find? That he is feeling remorseful for having given his wife a black eye the Monday before, that's the day before he had it away on the quick with his friend's reluctant wife.  Charming, eh?

16 December 2010

day 16::camel

It strikes me that we could probably create an advent pub crawl, starting with The Camel in Globe Road, then the Crown in Grove Road, the Palm Tree in Mile End Park, and the Star of the East on East India Dock Road (probably only for the very hardy).  I'm sure there are lots more that could be named, if only I got out more.

15 December 2010

day 15::silent night

When the shutters are locked and everyone is out, except for a cat or two, it's good to turn off the radio,  sit by the fire, ignore everything that needs to be done and tune into a bit of silence for a few hours, notwithstanding the occasional helicopter, passer-by and gentle hum of the city, of course.  And the occasional tinkle of crocheted bells that for some reason you've decided must be tried out.

14 December 2010

day 14: mince pies

I always try to hold off the mince pies as long as possible so I don't die of a surfeit before Boxing Day.  I had my first one last Friday, a gift from a friend.  This evening I sampled many more (WI Mince Pie Bake Off).  Mine, which I forgot to snap, were entirely unexceptional, though they did not look so very different from this one, in particular the similar deployment of icing sugar to mask imperfections.

Looking through the rest of the photos from the evening, I was struck by these mince pies of a rather different kind.   Ever so slightly alarming

13 December 2010

day 13:: the sound of music

Not the Von Trapps, but a little band of musicians practicing in Mile End Park under the trees.  I was cycling home from the market on the other side of the railway when I heard music and could not figure out where it was coming from.  I followed the sound, under the railway bridge and into another entrance when I spotted them.  As I was taking a snap, a young woman, reminiscent of the White Rabbit, rushed by with a box towards the band.  What was in the box?  And who were the mystery band?

Later that day, having a cup of coffee outside a cafe in Blackheath,  I heard the unmistakable sound of  a Salvation Army Band playing carols, a sound which for some unfathomable reason always makes me a bit weepy.  Christmas can do that to you, I find.

12 December 2010

day 12:: yule log

Another tree, a cherry, was being decimated, this one in the garden of a house at the end of the street.  I asked the men if I could have some logs and they gave me the whole tree trunk, sawn into manageable chunks, pleased to get it off their hands.  John spent some time chopping them up this afternoon like a mad axe man, while I sat by the fire listening to the thwacking.  Now we have a great pile of logs seasoning in the cellar.  Most satisfying.

day 11:: trees

East end WI was invited this year to join in a Christmas Tree Festival and after a few exchanges on the merits or otherwise of a tree made of a sack - otherwise was the answer - we opted for a somewhat simpler solution.  There was some tree pruning going on in our street and I asked the men whether I could have their lopped branches.  I managed to salvage enough to assemble a tree of sorts after my son's enthusiastic chain sawing of the branches while I was out shopping ( "Oh! I thought they were meant for firewood").  Decorated with Swedish hearts, salt dough decorations and icing sugar as mock snow it looked rather pretty.  The tree was in good hand-made company - lots of imaginative recycling including a tree made from bike wheels and cogs, hand crafted decorations and the most amazing sculpture made from painted electric flex.  The lady serving cake told me that her family made their own tree every year, and her kids keep asking for a "proper" green tree but I'm thinking maybe a change of tack is due in this house.  Let's wait and see,

10 December 2010

day 10::chocolate

When I was growing up, Advent Calendars were very straightforward - it was rewarding enough to find out what was behind each randomly placed door.  By the time I was buying them for my son - no time for home-made creations -  they came with little chocolates behind each door.  I thought I ought to be moving a little more with the times, so today we have chocolate in our calendar.

I have been craving chocolate more than anything else in the last couple of weeks and Charbonnel and Walker is my chocolate of choice - no sugary powder, just gratings of chocolate to melt into your hot milk.  It's so good that I've decided to keep it in the cellar rather than the kitchen because otherwise I would want a cup every time I had to get the porridge or olive oil or whatever out of the cupboard.  I mean, I know it's not Lent, but a little bit of self control is necessary here otherwise things might get completely out of hand.

09 December 2010

day 9::christmas pudding

To celebrate her birthday, my friend organised an event-filled day,  kicking off with the recording of a live TV show and ending up in the cellars of Gordon's Wine Bar.  In between there was a full English,  cocktails and a trip to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Taylor Wessing Photographic portraits (some fabulous photos of defiant looking women this year), all against the background of the distant chants of students protesting, helicopters buzzing constantly overhead and a deserted Embankment, blocked off to traffic. One of the more intoxicating elements was the Christmas Pudding cocktail, a mixture of drambuie (which I can't even think about without wanting to laugh) cherry brandy, and Guiness.  As Christmas Puddings go, it wasn't bad.

At home, I've stuck to a more traditional  recipe.

day 8:: holly

I realise that I have been somewhat unadventurous with my calendar this year, so much so that - apart from my outing to Bath -  I have hardly gone beyond the bounds of the neighbourhood.  I wondered where I might get my holly from this year -  local cemeteries (again), the tree in the square that the foxes play under, or the lovely avenue of hollies in Victoria Park I discovered last year.  Then I had a doh moment and realised that perhaps I could stay even closer to home and use the holly in my own garden.  It's a lovely lollipop shape and this year, surprisingly, there are still berries on it.  If we're lucky there may be enough to put on the Christmas pudding.

I'll try to be a little more adventurous in the next few days, but don't hold your breath.

07 December 2010

day 7:: postbox


In the snow last week, now melted, the postbox on the corner looked like something from a Victorian greetings card and it is, I'll admit, a rather fetching little postbox with its decorated top and finial.  It is something of a fraud though.  There was no postbox there at all when we moved in many years ago and when local residents lobbied for one, they demanded that the one provided should be in keeping with the local architecture.  Royal Mail must have been feeling flush at the time as so we got our pretty little postbox.

Our first Christmas card arrived today.  Which reminds me...

06 December 2010

day 6:: sheep

I like to have a sheep in my advent calendar and the last couple of years I managed to track down live woolly ones.  This year, we have something a little different - a tee-shirt sheep print. You see, I've just finished a term of a  fabric printing course and have been trying out all sorts of silk screen printing, direct painting, using pastels, paper stencils and so on.  Apart from a couple of life drawing nights at the WI, I have not been in an art room since I was about 14, so this has been quite an adventure of a messy kind.  What's more, because we only have a couple of hours once a week, half of which seem to be spent  preparing a silk screen and then scrubbing it clean, I have generally forgotten how to do things by the time I get back the following week.  In a nut shell, it has been challenging.

One of the things that has been really hard to get right is a good photo emulsioned silk screen and I had a few disasters - emulsion not right, under-exposed,  blown away by the pressure washer, you name it.  After a lot of mishaps, I finally got my silk screen using one of my own photos - a cement road on the marshes imprinted with sheep hooves.  I printed it onto a tee-shirt and it looked pretty good, to me at least.  I then overlaid it with a paper stencil of a sheep.   I was rather pleased with my sheep stencil (based on this sheep).   The problem was that it didn't really make much of an impression on top of the sheep's hooves - too delicate, wrong choice of colour, a mere ghost of a sheep.  Not that my son seemed to mind - he's been wearing the tee-shirt since it arrived home.

I shall be practicing over the Christmas break to try and improve my stencilling, watched over by my sheep-wraith. Benevolently, I hope.

05 December 2010

day 5::hearts

On the train down to Bath, Lizzie showed me how to make Swedish hearts (another link here).  Without much by way of equipment, we decided to use some discarded newspapers.  When I looked at the photo I'd taken, I noticed we'd used a snippet from the financial pages that said Women Mean Business.

Heart it.

04 December 2010

days 3 & 4:: bells and stars

I need to make up for a lost day - my internet was not connecting yesterday not, as I had originally thought, because of a flaky service provider, but because one of the cats likes to sit on the Belkin thingy, thus severing the connection.  So here we have a double offering - a (chicken) pie with both bells and stars.  I make my pie by cooking a couple of leeks in a generous tablespoon of butter, adding plain flour when they are nearly cooked to make a messy roux, then stirring, stirring, stirring in milk to make a smooth sauce seasoned with black pepper and a pinch of salt.  Add chicken leftovers, put in a pie dish, cover with ready-made pastry and cook until golden.

Never fails to make everyone happy.

02 December 2010

day 2::angels

Angels are making an early appearance in the Advent calendar this year, courtesy of a trip to Bath this week with my friend Elizabeth.  It was only the second time I'd been back since I was at university there and it was good to see some of the things that I'd had a minor love affair with when I was eighteen - the goldenness of the city, some lovely rusticated stonework on the bridges over the canal, the river running under the shops on Pulteney Bridge.  I'd always been especially fond of Jacob's Ladder on Bath Abbey, those angels climbing their way heavenward, and sometimes coming a cropper.  Too much sherry perhaps while mixing the celestial christmas pudding.

01 December 2010

day 1:: robin

He turned up on the railings round the corner one day and disappeared the next. I'd much rather it was a robin with feathers, but sometimes you have to compromise.