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Winter Solstice


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

About Margaret Powling

Margaret Powling
Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

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  1. I’m so pleased you are finally feeling better so that you can enjoy the Christmas period. We are on our own on the day, but visiting with our daughters on Boxing Day and looking forward to that. I’m relieved not to be cooking for lots of people this year because I always get stressed (my own fault, I put the pressure on myself). I will still be cooking a traditional Christmas meal though.

    I hope you and all your readers have a very happy and healthy Christmas and New Year.

    • Margaret Powling

      I think all those who take on the challenge of cooking a Christmas Dinner for the family are stressed by it, even though it’s just a sort-of enlarged roast dinner, but it’s trying to have everything perfect on the day, as well as being social and opening presents and looking after everyone in general. Thank you for your good wishes, Alison, and have a nice restful day on y our own tomorrow, and then a super Boxing Day with your daughters.

  2. so good that you are progressing nicely with recovery Margaret. Your decorations look lovely, you do seem to have an artistic knack, & I love the illustrations from the Edwardian Christmas book – timeless. If our virtual paths do not cross before Christmas – lots of love and best wishes to you and your family.

    • Margaret Powling

      Thank you for saying I have an artistic knack. Perhaps the secret is that I don’t have many decorations! Just the garland over the mirror and the tree decorations. I’ve never gone in for buying Christmas decorations, the stand-alone kind, little reindeer, Nativity scenes, snow globes, special candles, etc. Our room has sufficient in the way of lamps, glassware, photos in frames, that it doesn’t really need Christmassy stuff, just flowers and greenery, to make it look festive, and I love to hang the cards around the archway (not shown on the photos) which look decorative and jolly.
      Very best wishes to you and your family, too, Ratnamurti.

  3. simpleliving31.blogspot.co.uk

    Hello Margaret, glad you are feeling well enough and managed to do all the Christmas preparations.
    I am not fussed about massages etc either, but it is nice having your hair done isn’t it, the tearoom looks and sounds delightful, you deserve a treat after your awful cold. Your decorations look lovely, nice wreath.

    • Margaret Powling

      Thank you, Marlene, I am feeling better although both husband and I have felt tired today, perhaps the aftermath of the cough and cold, but 99% of the preparations are done now. You’d love the tea room, but then, Totnes is awash with lovely places to eat, we’re spoilt for choice. The door wreath is such a simple one – so many now are very fancy (and command fancy prices, too!) and I like just plain greenery with a little red by way of holly berries and ribbon.

  4. I’m always glad when the winter solstice rolls around as I, too, hate the short days. I always remember you saying in an email that it’s light by 5pm by the end of January. I like to remember that at this time of year. Merry Christmas, Margaret. x

    • Margaret Powling

      Merry Christmas to you, too, Veronica, and yes, light at the end of January here in Torbay. The winter solstice certainly perks me up, I know we’re now heading towards spring, yay!

  5. Eloise (thisissixty.blog)

    What beautiful illustrations in your book. I remember having a similar one when my children were young – it made me yearn for an equally wonderful Christmas!
    My husband always says around this time of year (when I’m moaning about the early darkness) that we’re on the way to lighter nights. They certainly take their time coming around.
    Your tree is very traditional and looks marvellous. I’m so glad that you have finally found your good health (or at least are on the way to doing so) and have felt up to decorating.
    Wishing you a very Happy Christmas, Margaret and looking forward to your 2018 posts. X

    • Margaret Powling

      Yes, the book is lovely, and I have all his other, similar, books.
      I believe we’ve had three SECONDS of extra light this evening, according to the weather forecast.
      Thank you for your good wishes, Eloise, which are reciprocated. Have a wonderful Christmas!

  6. It’s surprising what a lift such a simple thing as having your hair done can give you Margaret, glad to see you have a little of your usual sparkle back.
    We celebrated the solstice in our usual way with a special meal together with a glass or two of something cold and sparkly, we also exchanged our special cards to each other as, for us, it is as important as the 25th. We have both stepsons coming for the day so tomorrow will be spent baking, I haven’t done a cake this year but there will be ginger cake and a tea loaf, together with the usual mince pies.
    Wishing you and your family a very happy and peaceful Christmas Margaret x

    • Margaret Powling

      Thank you, Elaine, for your good wishes, which are reciprocated to you and your family. How lovely that the Solstice is special to you, and you exchanged special cards. Have a lovely time with your stepsons, ginger cake and tea loaf sound ideal for this time of the year! I might even make some mince pies tomorrow, but we’ll just have to see how I am, I’m taking each day as it comes, this virus has really eaten up all my energy reserves and I have to build them up again. As I mentioned to Eloise, we’ve had 3 SECONDS extra light tonight! Yay!

  7. Your Christmas decorations are lovely. Just enough. I love the wreath on the door, did you make it? That tearoom looks wonderful. Thanks for all you’ve shared – I hope you continue with your blog for a long time to come. xoxo

    • Margaret Powling

      No, Jeannine, I bought the wreath (it wasn’t expensive) from the local garden centre where we bought our Christmas tree. I like a simple green wreath, the papers and magazines and, indeed, some blogs and Instagram photos, are full of wonderfully decorated wreaths, some now with pheasants’ feathers in them and such like, but I don’t think you can beat a simple green holly wreath.
      Yes, the tea room is lovely. It’s very ordinary inside, just stick-back chairs, plain tables, but the cakes, coffee, scones, tea, etc, are lovely. Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog, I’m so glad you, and others, enjoy it. That makes me really happy. Have a lovely Christmas, Jeannine, and a wonderful New Year.

  8. Your tree and wreath are lovely, Margaret! Glad to hear you are finally feeling better as evidenced by your getting so much accomplished!

    I love the book Winter Solstice, but have only read it once. This year I have plans to read Coming Home and the other two or three of Ms. Pilcher’s books I haven’t read; then I will begin rereading them. I have never found the book you have by Pilcher entitled April (if I remember correctly?), so I don’t include that in her books I have yet to read. I did a lot of Christmas reading this year, and enjoyed most of it. You are correct, though: it’s very light reading, but a good “escape.”

    Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

    • Margaret Powling

      Thank you, Bess, for our good wishes, and I’m glad you have enjoyed seeing our tree and holly wreath on our front door. Oh, how lovely that you have read Winter Solstice and know the book. Coming Home is also a lovely read. I would also recommend The Shell Seekers and September. Her other novels are pleasant, romantic reads, but she broke away from that writing style with The Shell Seekers, into the large, family saga-style novel, and thank goodness she did.
      No, the book April is nowhere to be seen and I only have it because I, very naughtily, kept it from the little library in my parents’ shop! It’s certainly not been re-issued as part of her back list and if I remember correctly, she didn’t allow her early books to be re-issued. This was her 2nd novel when she was a very young writer, way back in 1957, and although my copy is yellow with age, pages are loose, etc, I still treasure it. It’s a very slight story, but oh, so very well written, a growing-up tale of a young girl over one summer in Cornwall.
      Have a lovely Chirstmas, Bess, and a very Happy New Year.

  9. From Belgium : thank you for your blog dear Mrs Powling.

  10. How nice to know that you have a dedicated copy of winter solstice, Mrs Powling. I am a big fan of Rosamund Pilcher, the first book I read was a collection of short stories called The blue bedroom and other stories. I enjoyed that so much, I started reading and collecting her other books.
    Your home looks warm and inviting, with just the right touch of Christmas:)
    Wishing you all the joys of the festive season and a blessed New Year!

    • Margaret Powling

      Hello, Kavitha, and I’m delighted you are also a Rosamunde Pilcher fan. I’ve not read her romantic novels or her short stories, but I have read her larger novels, September, Coming Home, The Shell Seekers and, of course, Winter Solstice. Thank you for your kind comments about our home and I wish you a very Happy Christmas and a healthy and Happy New Year.

    • Margaret Powling

      Thank you so much for commenting, Kavitha, and I’m delighted that you are also a fan of Rosamunde Pilcher. I think she is the kind of writer who appeals to all ages and across continents – I know she is very popular in Germany. Thank you for your kind comments regarding our home, I hardly put up any decorations but with a bit of greenery, Christmas cards, a real Christmas tree and some fairy lights and flowers, I find that’s sufficient. I don’t like spending our hard earned/hard saved money on things that will only be on show once a year and I’m not over-fond of little ornamental things either and I seldom light candles as I always think of them as a fire risk. But each to his or her own, though, and I know a lot of people put out little Christmassy things all over their homes, but they’re not for me. A tree, flowers, some greenery from the garden, fruit and cards, that’s my Christmas. Happy Christmas to you, too, and Happy New Year.

  11. Hi Margaret…so glad I found your blog on your comment on How to Be Chic! Your home looks wonderfully cozy and like you, I adore Rosamunde Pilcher books, especially Winter Solstice. Love the line “Life is so extraordinary. Wonderful surprises are just around the most unexpected corners.” This has been an unexpected year for us…both my dear husband and I retired one day apart, we celebrated our anniversary with a cruise and trip to London, then out of the blue a retirement community we liked had an opening in a new building and we sold our home, moved, and LOVE it here. My husband is napping now, also had a terrible cold, bronchitis, and is on his second round of medications. But it is not stopping us from having 6 new neighbors in for Christmas Eve supper. Check out our decorations at http://www.ournewvista.com – and I look forward to checking back on your blog, too. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with health and happiness!

    • Margaret Powling

      Hello, Ann, and thank you for looking in and also for commenting. I have just seen your blog and what a wonderful array of Christmas decorations! I hardly put any decorations up, just a Christmas tree, the cards, flowers and, eventually bowls of fruit. I’m glad that you also enjoy Rosamunde Pilcher’s books. My goodness, what a busy year you have had, what with retirement, cruising, a trip to London and moving home! Oh, bronchitis is truly awful and I hope he will be well again soon. I am just getting over a severe cold and cough, and as we age these things take more time to disappear. I hope you have a lovely Christmas Eve with your six new neighbours and I wish you all the best for Christmas and the New Year.

  12. Another beautiful post.

    Your photographs are always lovely.

    I now have a much better understanding of your long winters. I’m not sure if I’ve previously told you but I once had an (almost) white Christmas when staying with family in Austria. I was there for one month and had a wonderful time – the Christmas markets, the gluwhein (?), outdoor ice skating on top of a two storey building on Christmas Eve – but the short days and constant grey skies really affected my mood. It was pitch black by 6pm. I have always been an early riser and they were not so I would be wide awake each morning for about two hours with dark outside. It was a wonderful experience and I was offered a great job whilst there but I wouldn’t have traded my Australian sunshine for all the tea in China ha ha.

    I’m glad you are feeling on the mend. It’s a shame your husband now has it but as my mum would say ‘share and share alike’ ! I have had a sore throats and swollen throats glands for several days now and am gargling regularly- which is quite uncouth but totally necessary 😉 It’s only a minor malady, all things considered, but enough to make me uncomfortable.

    My husband has been working very hard – he is self employed and our only bread winner at the moment – and long hours in this filthy heat. He changes clothes once or twice each day as his job is very physical – so I have plenty of washing to occupy my time 😉 Including half-days on Saturdays. It’s the same each year, November and December, and I should be used to it by now but I often feel like it’s just me and the cat….. My contribution to the effort is to keep the fridge and pantry well stocked with good, nourishing, home-made food and lots of fresh fruits and veggies, keep the washing machine churning and to sit with him as he shovels dinner into his gob each evening before falling into bed. He finished work yesterday (Saturday 23rd) and will continue running on adrenaline for today and tomorrow, no doubt 🙂 The Ocean is magical – clear, aqua water and the tides are quite big at this time of year so there is a lot of movement. We are both good swimmers (although he is much better than I am and he has excellent skills in the surf, which I don’t) and are looking forward to plenty of swimming over the break.

    Your treat of hot chocolate and scone in the tearoom sounded lovely and I admit to being more than a little envious. I’m not sure if it was ‘the’ scone on the bottom photo – the one which nearly filled the plate and made me salivate. The other cakes in the photo looked equally divine. I much prefer ‘homemade’ to machine-production-line made cakes, scones, biscuits, etc. In fact the more lopsided or unevenly browned the better. I once read a book by Bryce Courtney (South African born and lived in Australia for many decades) who was married to a Jewish woman and quoted her recipe for Jewish chicken soup – stating the most important ingredient was ‘a mother’s love’. I told my (now late) grandmother of the quote at the time – we probably read the same book as had many similar past times – and it became one of our ‘sayings’ and I use it regularly but have tilted it slightly to ‘made with love’.

    On that sentimental note, I wish you, your beloved family and all members of the Margaret Powling Fan Club a peaceful and joyous Christmas and a happy new year. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, take a moment to think of those less fortunate, those who are missing loved ones and those who may be in a room filled with people but still feeling lonely. This can be a hard time of year for some. Despite our small array of Christmas decorations and lack of any religion in our home, we have our own traditions and i show respect for all others’ traditions. I also long for friends and grandmothers now on the other side at this time of year and am mindful that many others do so too. Wishing good will to all xxx

    • Margaret Powling

      Oh, Lara, what a lovely comment you have left, thank you so much for all that, it has really been very much appreciated by me and I hope by others who will be reading it. To start with, I was just chatting with my husband – it’s Saturday night here in the UK as I write this – and saying how fortunate we are, we have a nice home that we own and we own everything in it, have no debts, and I mentioned that I am grateful each and every day for this and for our health (the cough and cold were just a blip) and our sons and their wife/partner, and our darling little grandson. I have been thinking of others less fortunate and that saddens me but I do put things into the food bank containers in the supermarkets, I’ve don’t the local shoe-box appeal for the homeless in our area (things for them to fit into a shoe-box). Yes, it is a hard time of the year for some, and if my contribution even though it’s small helps someone, then that pleases me.
      Yes, I agree with Bryce Courtney, that the most important ingredient was ‘a mother’s love’, and one that obviously you and your grandmother shared often.
      My goodness, your husband works long, hard hours, and in the heat, too, Lara. I hope he will get some rest over Christmas, and you also. At least the washing will dry in your climate, unlike here. I’ve had our tumble dryer (which is expensive to run) going quite a lot today as I’ve washed three machine loads of washing.
      Yes, the scone was on the plate in the central photo, just below the glass of hot chocolate. It was a very filling scone and we had it with strawberry jam. And speaking of food, I’ve iced our Christmas cake today, and it’s already to share with the family.
      I hope your throat will be better soon, and I also hope that you and your husband have a lovely Christmas Day and Boxing Day, Lara, and thank you for reading my blog and being so generous with your kind comments.

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