Thursday, 7 December 2017

A (characteristically belated) Pause in Advent

Dear Baby Jesus,
I know that I keep you small and baby-like in my life. Swaddled in a corner with my dusty Bible amid the novels that I do get on and read. My babies cried for attention, and they cry less now, but it's all attention anyway. Attention to meal-times and homeworks and this week's exam revision, and bathtimes and bedtimes and fall asleep on the sofa after times. Attention to school runs and hospital appointments and dentist appointments and all the things that fill a diary without even thinking about the special events of this month. Into all this attention, please be bigger than the space I give you,

O come, o come, Emmanuel.

Dear Boy Jesus,
You honoured Mary and Joseph, but kept your eye on your Father. You knew His business; you knew His place. This sandwich generation thing goes up a gear when it's a turkey sandwich generation thing, organising two houses for food and presents and cards. But more than that, wanting two homes to be filled with joy of the season, joy of lights and warmth and fun. Wanting the ones who have given everything to you at all times to have everything that makes their Christmas right. Into two homes, with all their expectations, spoken or barely acknowledged, with all your pointing to our Father,

O come, o come, Emmanuel.

Dear Man Jesus,
It was always going to involve death. It wasn't all about the death; there was the resurrection after that changes everything, but you knew there had to be a death. This Advent you know the ones who are waiting but not for Christmas Day, the ones for whom Christmas Day will never be the same again, because that's the season she left them, for an earthly time. Into the places where grief sings louder than the carols and the Pogues,

O come, o come, Emmanuel.

Dear Jesus,
I don't know how this happened, this all-consuming focus on being ready, this year round. Ready for what? I'm usually all about the making space for Advent, the taking of the time to celebrate presence, that doesn't come in an Amazon box. I haven't time for that this year, haven't thoughts for that this year. Must be ready, must write my lists. Ready for one day? Have I really fallen prey? Into this lamentable state of affairs, my Jesus,

O come, o come, Emmanuel


Sunday, 26 November 2017

An end to ordinary time

 The Ophelia tree-gauge is now well and truly bare. I see her every day through the kitchen window, and she makes me think. I was watching her today as I listened to the devotional app I use quite often. Today, as I'm sure all of you already knew, was the Feast of Christ the King. Now this immediately made me smile, as we loved and adored, and loved and adored in, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King when we were in Liverpool at half-term. So, I decided I needed to know about Christ the King, because we Presbyterians from the frozen North are not entirely renowned for our mutual understanding, and there it was.


The Feast of Christ the King- and I am going with the very rudimentary research I did this afternoon, based on the broadest interpretation I could find- marks the end of Ordinary Time. Now, my app usually talks about such and such a week of ordinary Time, but to be honest I have been hitherto just far too lazy to look it up. When I did today, I was entranced. The first period of Ordinary Time begins just after Epiphany and lasts until the start of Lent. The church then celebrates the whole of the Easter season- right up until Pentecost, when it enters the second period of Ordinary Time, which ends- well, today was the last Sunday of Ordinary Time because next week we will begin our Advent journey.


How wonderful! We live the seasons of ordinary time between Christmas and Easter. Then we live Christ's birth, the Spirit's arriving, Christ's death and His glorious resurrection. We live them every day. I know this. I live this. But today, in this strange last week before It All Begins, I found it profoundly God-full to mark the last Sunday of my year's Ordinary Time. To give thanks for all that I could think of, and to acknowledge that my year is dying as quietly and as darkly as the days. To allow the advent of Advent to stir my soul.


Jo and I studded some past their best clementines with the rest of the jar of cloves. They are hiding at the back of the hotpress now, waiting quietly and darkly to share the perfume of their thoughts when the time is right. I am very excited!

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Happy Pumpkins

Might I be honest? Could I tell you what I really think about Thanksgiving? Divulge my secret from across the wide Atlantic sea? Well, presuming your affirmative reply, I shall whisper quietly, lean in, that it's all about the pumpkin pictures. I fully understand and admire the looking back on past Ebenezers, and hasn't the Lord been good to us after all? I fully understand and admire the gatherings of family and friends without quite all the trappings of materialism and tinsel. I also fully understand and admire the recipes and the pies and the feasting and the more time off work.


However, what it does for me, here, in this little and frozen Northern land, is prolong the visual pumpkin season. We only see pumpkins for those weeks before Hallowe'en. Very few of them are grown here; indeed I imagine that only recently have any of them been grown here at all. But you, y'all, you have pumpkin fields galore; I know; I've seen one, once! In Indiana many harvest moons ago now...


All this to say- obviously Happy Thanksgiving to all you fabulous American bloggistes who make my screen shiny with love and life. But more importantly for me, thank you for all those glorious pumpkins x

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Paddington 2

 Friends invited us to come along to see Paddinton's big screen movie sequel last Saturday. Oh, it's just beautiful. It's all golden and shiny and full of wholesome ideas. We all laughed and laughed, and we all cried and cried too. Admittedly we laughed not just at the script, but also at our friend who guffawed outrageously at Phoenix Buchanon's lines. Quite soon we were guffawing in anticipation of his guffawing. It was all fantastically delightful, but would be even better if you decide to leave it until the holidays. Perfect Christmas viewing. (Certainly better Christmas viewing than any of the other Big Store Christmas mini-films this year, I would propose. Although Marks & Spencer have scored the goal of the merchandising year in this little bear!)
 I did love Mr Gruber's shop and, on the subject of merchandising, PB's hat. If M&S were selling red fedoras with a South American ribbon, I'd be right there. We have, I must confess, already bought their PB tree ornament and some of their PB wrapping paper. This from a woman who bans all discussion of Christmas until after the first of its month, and who doesn't get her children to write Christmas lists. Yes, M&S are doing a very fine job. I'm amazed they don't have PB marmalade in the food hall. Do they?
 I was concerned at PB's incarceration. I wasn't at all sure that this was a plot twist with potential. I was wrong. From the blessed pink sock, redeeming all of us who have ever dyed their manly menfolk's clothing pink, to the pink-spectacled transformation of the penal system, all was well, all was well, and all manner of Oliver Twistian reference was well.
 Speaking of Dickens, Hugh Grant was a gloriously dirty Magwitch, alongside the whole catalogue of his felons. I'm not sure how much he enjoyed the gamut of Phoenix Buchanon- on Graham Norton two weeks ago, I thought he seemed decidedly cagey about his involvement.  And actually, I enjoyed the catalogue of other actors, token or main, so much more even than him. It was a treasure trove of faces, popping up everywhere, like that gorgeous book at the centre of the plot- Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Joanna Lumley, Eileen Atkins, Ben Miller and Tom Conti. It made me think of a whole queue of darlings lining up to be allowed in to play with Hugh, Hugh and Julie.
 Here are my two top stars, though. Brendan Gleeson as Knuckles nearly broke my heart! Did you see him as the guard in The Guard? The first thing I am going to do when my boys turn 18 will be to watch The Guard with them- it is too, too rude to put before them now, but if you haven't seen it, love Ireland, and are not easily shocked by expletive, you might want to watch this. You have been warned. I missed him in Hampton with Diane Keaton. I might want to watch that.
However, Sally Hawkins: the beautiful, creative, flowing, funny Mrs Brown. Does every mum in the land want to be like Mrs Brown, and live in a house with a cherry tree mural growing up the stairs? And not minding her seventies kitchen? I was the same with Maggie Gyllenhaal in Nanny McPhee 2, after which I wanted a Shetland tank top to wear over a tea dress in my bright green living room. I was also the same when I watched Margot in Despicable Me- tweed jacket, glasses, worried expression. It's very clever what these movie people do- although I think Louisa May Alcott did it just as accurately in Jo as well.

A friend thought PB2 quite political- I found it less so than PB1. You could undoubtedly write an essay on how both movies argue against a Brexit stance, and/or any harsh immigration policy. Certainly, Mrs Brown's final adventure leaves one in no doubt about what the producers think about all that. Our guffawing friend was very much in favour of the film, and he is most vociferous when it comes to "Down with things like this". Indeed, he spotted the ten commandments in one of the songs? I was sorry I'd missed that, so if and when you do give yourself one of the greatest possible treats of this strange and not-yet Christmas time of the year, do listen out for that!

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Ubi sunt?

 We went to see a specially commissioned Game of Thrones tapestry at the Museum just before Hallowe'en. It stands in tribute to the contribution made by the series to the Northern Ireland economy! From the Stones and Thrones-like bus tours to the Dark Hedges and Giant's Causeway to Castle Ward's becloaked archers, this little country has made a serious amount of money from books and TV far too graphic for me to encounter beyond marvelling at the gory tapestry scenes! Right now though, it's not so much that winter is coming, because winter is well and truly here. Cold!
 It was on one level quite the usual autumn here in the Meadowplace. Pumpkins, berries, cosy times. Finding that someone had raised an Ebenezer long ago in their home, as I endeavour badly to do here! There have been exceptional moments too- the small matter of a little hurricane for one. On that other level of things outside the norm, I was so glad to read MK's recent post about how the reality behind Blogland can bely its pictures. It's been a tough season here in many respects. When I walk out of our friends' new house to see that old Ebenezer sign it does me good to remember that thus far God has indeed helped us. I pray that He is helping you too x

 I finished an anthology of Emily Dickinson last week. My! That is a hard read. Possibly one of my hardest. I did, however, love the idea of ubi sunt literature. Writing that voices our questions over where the values of the past are, where the things that we have lost are. This articulated for me all my approaching fifty angst- where are the things that I had/did/aspired to/achieved? Then, thankfully, I had a little Epiphany.  What if I asked not,"Where are?" but, "What now?" What if I did do not very much with my education, my thin body, my opportunities to do this, that and the other? What now? What next?
Yesterday Mattman and I climbed one of our local hills. He wanted to keep on going and walk down the other side. I think he could have walked all day. My forward-facing teenage man and a clear, cold November dusk-coming sky. Not so much ubi sunt, as ubi ergo!

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Under the Speading Chestnut Tree




Underneath the Spreading Chestnut Tree is apparently by Glenn Miller? Although Wiki people say that "Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree is a set of variations for orchestra composed in 1939 by Jaromír Weinberger. The work is based on an English popular song of the period, which Weinberger is said to have mistaken for a folk song." I thought it was just a child's nursery song, and was more than a little perturbed to find it on youtube as a horror song from Orwell's 1984!






Underneath our spreading chestnut tree yesterday stood a tearful teenager, and a wistful mum. Our tree started life as a little sapling at Lorne, a gorgeous estate which is now the Northern Ireland Headquarters of the Girl Guides (and Brownies etc etc) Association. Any group can book to stay there.


At the start of our chestnut tale a Lady Valerie was working at Lorne. New building work was about to begin on additional accommodation for residential groups. The sapling was due to be taken out, with other trees, to make way for what is now the Marion Greeves Brownie House.




Our Lady Valerie thought it was a shame that such a young tree would be lost, and brought it home to her own new-build house, where she and her husband were laying out a wonderful garden. They planted the little chestnut tree in the top corner of their upper garden, close to the fence where its branches could spread wide and shady on both their land and the farmer's field beyond. It grew and grew and grew. Lady Valerie and her husband eventually decided to move to the seaside and sold the Meadowplace to a rambunctious punnet of strawberries, whom they quite liked because they too had lived a life with boys. The strawberries instantly loved the chestnut tree, all year long for high, hidden climbing, but mostly in Autumn when a rich supply of conkers was to be had with no need to be dragged out for walks by the wistful mum.

But then, twenty-two years after moving from Lorne to the meadow, Ophelia came.

 What was the strawberries' main staircase to the blissful canopy was hauled out to whirl with the beautiful Ophelia. There must have been a mighty crack, but we were too far away to hear it over the volume of the dance. Poor chestnut must have changed its dancing mind at the last moment, or maybe its twigs and branches wouldn't carry it far enough past the smaller hedges to escape.
 It is still lying low, airing its wound, while the rustling dark comes down to remind it of home.
 Happily, underneath the still spreading chestnut tree there are yet conkers, and there can also, we have ascertained, be climbing. I hope the tree isn't too disappointed.




Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Meeting Ophelia, or Our First Hurricane

 9am Monday
 11am Monday
 1pm Monday
 3pm Monday
 5pm Monday
 7pm Monday

9am this morning


I decided that the tree right outside Mattman's window would be a good hurricane gauge- I was sure that by the end of Ophelia's dance through our country the tree would be completely bereft of leaves, and actually, out of all the trees in the garden, I thought it might be the one to topple. You'll see from the hardly dramatic results, that she shook us but spared us.

Ophelia did huff and puff and blow some houses in, but the tree fared very well all in all. The biggest casulaty was the orange man, who moved from the window to the wardrobe overnight, inexplicably to me. Teenage bedrooms. We fared well too. There has been great damage across the country- roof tiles from my parents' apartment block caused some commotion in the village at the bottom of our hill. Three people have died, and many are still without electricity. But I am sure that this is nothing on the scale of what countries are still managing across the wide Atlantic, whose distance curbs the violence for us. And certainly we stayed warm and safe all day long.





Schools were closed by our Department of Education yesterday and today, so we got the homework issue sorted in the morning, and spent the afternoon playing a most ingenious board game devised by Joshua to include most other board games in the house. We had to take comfort breaks. Then when Prince Charming finally made it home safely, an hour after the winds really hit hard, we settled down for the evening. There was Lego, and, as you can see, uninterrupted electricity.

I was so thankful for a society with an infrastructure that could cope (who needs working politicians, it would seem?), well-built houses, power, food and water. And thankful too that by lunchtime today, Ophelia had had her dervish and was gone. Driving beside the Lough this afternoon, it was hard to believe that just twenty-four hours before our hatches had all been battened down.

This piece of music captures the paradoxical quietness of the day for me- you can hear the storm recorded  beyond, but there was beauty still. Chris McCann is a local composer, music teacher, amazing drummer, and he lets Prince Charming play with him sometimes too!