Posts Tagged ‘traditions’

I wonder why it is that, however carefully you pack away the Christmas lights each year, you end up wrestling with a tangled mass of wires before draping them over the tree to discover that they’ve decided not to work. They worked fine during the plug-in test in their jumbled state. This is one of life’s many little irritations and reasonably resolvable after checking the efficacy of each individual bulb but it is a seasonal time-waster.

I managed to avoid one of the stressful Christmas traditions this year – that of actually going out and buying the tree in the first place. For once, last year’s tree has been flourishing, potted up in the back garden, requiring very little maintenance other than the occasional watering. Because I have to have a real tree – and I’m very determined about this – nothing will incite me to unfold a fake tree from my attic – the task of selection and carriage falls to me. Many a year I have suffered scratches to face and arms as I force the shapeliest spruce I can find into my modest hatch-back.


So with the tree decorated, all presents wrapped and cards written, unusually I had time on my hands so, as you do, I hemmed a pair of curtains. Now, this might not sound like much but let me tell you, my sewing box and I are distant acquaintances. It sees the light of day occasionally if a button goes astray but coming out as part of some sort of enjoyable leisure activity is, frankly, risible.

I put this down to the trauma I suffered as a child in my first year at secondary school at the hands of our sewing mistress, Mrs Gorrill. She was a sour-faced little woman, always dressed in black (I think it may have been taffeta – whatever it was, it rustled) and she would rap us over our knuckles with her pinking shears if the stitching on our gingham cookery aprons wasn’t neat enough. My knuckles that term were red raw and I spent much of the time in that sewing room unpicking my sub-standard effort gazing across to the adjacent hut where the boys were doing technical drawing, wondering why girls were excluded from learning about perspective.

We were relegated to ‘domestic science’ which I reckon was only a generation away from ‘housewifery.’ I wasn’t much better in the cookery room, either. I remember my Swiss roll unravelling and ending up on the floor and being told off for pointing a saucepan handle over a hot ring when, in my defence, I’d been taught at home to angle handles away from the edge so that smaller siblings wouldn’t reach up and tip molten liquid over themselves. I think the teacher burned her hand on that handle as she was reprimanding me…hadn’t she heard of oven gloves?

These days cookery is called ‘Food Technology’ and anyone is allowed to take it as a subject, although its current status has gone the way of many of the more useful subjects on the national curriculum and has been savagely down-graded in favour of the academic subjects. While students are still required to make (in my opinion) unnecessary culinary items – fresh pasta, for instance, whoever is going to make their own pasta in halls of residence? – for some pupils, creating dishes in the kitchen is what they excel at and should be given as much kudos as an A star in English or Maths.

img_2144 Little Mai from the Moomins looks just like my old sewing teacher

But what am I thinking? This wasn’t meant to turn into an education based rant. I simply wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Have fun, enjoy yourselves – and cheers to another blogging year!



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I have a couple of items to share mid-week. The first is an addendum to last week’s post on the merits or not of Halloween. A non-blogging friend, who seems to read my ramblings on a regular basis, sent me an email describing her memories of Halloween Bonfire parties. I thought they were too good to keep to myself, so have reproduced her message here:

 As children we celebrated Halloween with a big party for all the children in our road.  My parents couldn’t afford fireworks therefore Halloween was a big bonfire with lots of games:

Courtesy Clipart

Courtesy Clipart

buns on the washing line, bobbing the apple, blindfolded tasting (disgusting!! especially tasting a spoonful of some hideous spice!!) and Dad always told us a gruesome story about Lord Nelson – we were blindfolded and I vaguely remember having to stick my finger in an eye socket (half an orange) and walking the plank (an old scaffold plank, child balanced on it, Dad made it rock a bit, child had to jump but actually you were only a couple of inches off the ground).  All very terrifying and all brilliant fun.  My Dad has always been really creative.

Always baked potatoes and sausages in rolls. So our Halloween didn’t go outside the garden, no ‘trick or treats’ and we had a sparkler to finish!

 Very fond memories and one that I continued with my own children until very recently.

 Now, doesn’t that sounds like a great family tradition in the making? My friend can have the last word on this one.

 Secondly, I am sure many of you are aware that November is NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – have a go at writing 50,000 words in thirty days and get a first draft of that ever elusive novel down in black and white.  I know that two of our blogging chums have taken up this daunting challenge and I’d like to wish them both the very best of luck. Interestingly, they are both also long distance runners. Writing a novel is like running a marathon – it requires dedication, determination and perseverance, even when the going gets tough; which it undoubtedly will. Runners have to warm up, train regularly, whatever the weather. Sustained writing requires similar strengths: do it every day – not just when the creative urge strikes. To commit to writing what amounts to just under 1700 words a day is no mean feat, as the rest of us know all too well.

So, just as if they were running a marathon, I shall be standing on the sidelines, cheering them on, delighted when they cross the finishing line.

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Many years ago, while on holidayPhoto0006 in the south of France, we discovered a delicious rosé wine: dry and crisp, and served very chilled, it was the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of lunchtime moules marinière. We bought six bottles, stowed them in the back of the car and wended our way back to Blighty, by which time the rosé had turned to vinegar and was undrinkable.  We learned a salient lesson on that trip – that some things just don’t travel well – a bit like, dare I say it : trick or treating.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Over the years I’ve ripped my fingers to shreds whittling a spooky face into an over-sized pumpkin with the best of them; I’ve even been known to make fairy cakes, cover them in luminous orange icing and pipe black spiders on top which, for someone who loathes baking, shows a certain amount of maternal resolve, I feel. When Son was small, he and his friends would make their own scary masks and paper hanging bats and get together for Halloween teas. Trick or treating for them was confined to a few pre-primed neighbours. I wasn’t going to let him miss out just because I don’t ‘get’ it.

 Trick or treating, in its current guise, is a relatively new concept here in the UK. When I was a child it didn’t exist, neither did any of the paraphernalia that goes with it. I don’t remember even seeing a pumpkin – the nearest thing we had was a swede or a turnip which, I believe, were used by the ancient Celts to fashion tiny lanterns to light the ancestral way on All Hallows Eve. We were brought up to wait until offered a sweet; never to ask for one and not to speak to anyone we didn’t know; so even now, the idea of allowing children to knock on the doors of strangers and demand confectionary makes me uncomfortable.

 The local TV news yesterday morning reported that measures had been taken to ban the sale of flour and eggs to anyone under the age of eighteen and that police cars would be patrolling the area advising marauding gangs of hooded youth how to trick or treat responsibly.

So, bearing this in mind, I armed myself with a bag of cheap sweets to ward off any evil little spirits who banged on my door last night hoping it would prevent an omelette adhering to my windscreen. When all this malarkey first started, I was never sure whether it was me that should deliver the trick or the treat and I have been known to squirt expectant visitors with a water pistol. It’s all very well having fun, but the line between fun tipping over into vandalism and intimidation is a fine one: some elderly folk are truly frightened.


A sample of merchandise available in a local store

 I’m not bothered about our shops and garden centres being stuffed full of hideous Halloween miscellanea made in the Far East. The amount and variety spreads each year, like fast growing bacteria. Even our top end supermarket (the one that prefers to be called a food store and was the last major chain to capitulate to Sunday trading), has been seduced by the Halloween potential: and why not – it’s a huge, money making business leaking nicely into the run up to Christmas. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart.

We can’t claim trick or treating as a tradition, either. To be sure, I checked the definition in my trusty Oxford English Dictionary, which confirms:

 Tradition; [Mass noun] the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.

Traditions, therefore, have to evolve – we can’t just steal a tradition from another country, from another culture and expect it to work or be accepted by all here.  On the whole, Britain is pretty hot on tradition: we are steeped in it. In a few days time we’ll be celebrating Bonfire Night, commemorating the foiling in 1605, of an early activist called Guy Fawkes, from blowing up the Houses of Parliament. (With hindsight, and beautiful iconic building aside, he might have done us all a favour had he been successful, given the current shower of ineffectual incumbents).

Several of the villages around here have been building bonfires for weeks, as they have done for years, in the way that beacons have been built and lit for centuries. Life-size models of Guy Fawkes will be prepared to sit atop each fire. The weekend skies will no doubt be full of the sights and sounds of loud, flamboyant fireworks.

I wonder if this celebration is exportable? Probably not: I can’t imagine that burning effigies of terrorists in public would go down too well anywhere else…but you never know.

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