Having had the awful cough and cold – sorry to mention it again, I don’t want to sound like a moaning Minnie – Christmas preparations have taken something of a back seat but now I’m getting over it, things are more or less on track again.
I have called this post “Winter Solstice” as this is one of the happiest days in the year for me. OK, the actual solstice was yesterday, the 21st December, but we’re still within 24 hours of the event. When the clocks ‘go back’ in the autumn, I truly dread the long dark evenings, each day having less daylight than the day before, until we need the lights on – if we’ve not needed them before – by about three in the afternoon. But the 21st December marks a turning point, from now on – although we won’t notice it at first – the daylight hours will lengthen so that by the end of January, just a month away, it will still be light at 5pm.
Therefore, I find the winter solstice a time for celebration, for it marks a turning point. Indeed, and although I’ve read it at least twice before, I took Rosamunde Pilcher’s novel, Winter Solstice, down from the shelf and, yesterday, began to read it again. It is a lovely story, well constructed, and with great characters.
This novel was published in 2000 (my copy has been dedicated to me by Mrs Pilcher and is therefore a much-treasured book) and in a way it is a little dated, it now being 17 years old. Mention of “answerphone” instead of voicemail, and “fax” rather than email or even text, Facebook or Twitter. But these words, too, will be equally arcane in a few years time when we have all become tired of social media. But, for me, this is an ideal novel for this time of the year. However, knowing I’d read it before I was undecided about reading it again and so, had a look on Amazon at the many novels written with the Christmas book market in mind. There are scores of them (many only available for Kindle) and they all look and sound much the same: formulaic, with such titles as Christmas at the Dancing Duck, The Best Little Christmas Shop, Christmas at the Gin Shack, The Cosy Christmas Chocolate Shop, even Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at the Christmas Fair.
These, surely, are nothing more than fairy stories for women? Nothing wrong with that if that is what you enjoy. I read a few sample lines from some of them and decided they are not for me. Another one is Joe and Clara’s Christmas Countdown, and I don’t think it’s to do with the Channel 4 prorgramme! Then there’s Christmas at the Log Fire Cabin. Then there are seaside Christmases, such as Christmas at Conwenna Cove by Darcie Boleyn. No one is called that, surely? A popular ballet dancer’s name combined with an ill-fated Queen? C’mon, pull the other one, it’s got sleigh-bells on! (Forgive me, Darcie, if this is your real name!) Oh, and there’s Christmas at Carley’s Cupcakes. Surely, cupcakes are now passe? And a good thing too: grownup women eat grownup cakes, not frothy confections. Surely it can’t be long before someone writes a spoof chick-lit Christmas series, such as those about the Famous Five or the Ladybird books? Perhaps now you can see why I choose to re-read a well-written novel featuring good, strong characters in the period up to and including Christmas?
On Wednesday I had my hair done. I’ve mentioned before how I love to visit my hairdresser’s salon for a little pampering. No, I don’t go in for massages, aromatherapy, anything like that, but I do love to have my hair done, and after that, husband – who drove me to my appointment as I was still not feeling particularly well – and I had hot chocolate and scones in the lovely old-fashioned tearoom in Totnes, Anne of Cleves. Oh, their cakes are wonderful, all baked on the premises, but it was just a simple fruit scone for us that day.
It was very chilly outside but inside this little tea room, with it’s red carpeted floor and a gas fire in the fireplace, it was delightfully warm and old-fashioned-ly cosy. It is a very Miss Marple-ish sort of place, ripe for scones, tea and gossip, I always think.
As well as Rosamunde Pilcher’s Winter Solstice, I always bring out my very favourite Christmas book, and I make no apology for having mentioned this last year. It doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves how lovely this book-without-words is, suitable for children of all ages, from ten to a hundred and ten.
My mother bought this for me the year it was published (1977, so this year is its 40th anniversary of publication.) It is by the artist, the late John S Goodall, all of whose books in this series (for there are several others featuring Victorian and Edwardian life) are without words.
There is an obvious story here, even without any words, of two children, a boy and a girl, going to stay for Christmas with their country cousins. It is a delight from beginning to end and I ‘read’ it each Christmas.
As far as our own preparations are going, I’ve baked the Christmas cake and, yesterday, made the almond paste and applied that. I love to make my own almond paste, it’s delicious, containing ground almonds, icing sugar, caster sugar, an egg, vanilla essence, almond essence, and brandy. No preservatives, but it doesn’t need any as the cake will all be eaten, no doubt, by New Year.
We have also erected the tree, decorated it, put fairy lights around the banisters in the hall, bought white cyclamen for the mantelpiece, wrapped the presents, posted the cards, and done the food shopping. There are still a few jobs to do, such as deliver cards to all our neighbours in our Close, and for me to arrange flowers and bring in some greenery from the garden, and ice the cake, but much has now been done.
The fireplace which will look better once I have added flowers and greenery
The fireplace, daytime (family cards are displayed on the mantelpiece)
I hope to post again before Christmas Day, but if I don’t, I would like to wish you all, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whoever you might be with, family, friends or alone, a very happy Christmas and to say thank you so much for reading my blog and for your comments, all of which are much appreciated.
A simple green wreath on our front door
Until next time