All day I was itching to escape and visit the sea. Made it at about 4.15, and we sat in the car park and admired the ponderous clay-filled rollers as they took the storm beach in their stride and battered the base of the cliff. Then a squall came over, black as the inside of your hat and full of ice:
As the car rocked and rolled I felt more secure for having my companion as added ballast against the violence outside. The hail reduced itself to huge splots of rain, driven horizontally along the glass:
We did not leave our small glass and tin cubicle, watching with some horror as a couple of dog-walkers headed off towards the incoming blackness of the next onslaught. What were they thinking? A few minutes later the second squall caught us on the road home.
Mary Elizabeth Lucy lived long: seeing industrial and political and social changes, but most in her own family. The number of child deaths makes one feel sick for her losses. Not all gloomy though; some children lived to carry on her line, and she had enough wealth to take part in the society and the diversions of her time. She writes looking backward from old age, but using her own diaries and notebooks to mine details and trigger vivid memories.
In the end we dyed the Boxing Day tablecloth in a huge fish tank (no current occupants); I don’t have a bucket big enough.
The endless job of ironing out the wax between newspaper followed. Here are some of the bacteria.
We dug out what used to be a good tablecloth before it was covered with tie dyed jellyfish (story too old, long and silly), and industriously turned them into batiked bacteria. At least we hope we have; won’t know if the wax will resist the new dye successfully until we try. And even then, how in the world am I to get the wax out? Still, one problem at a time … first I have to think of how to get the dye in. It’s a very big tablecloth.
We like to think they have a certain authenticity thanks to Google.
Before any sensible reader wonders, ‘why bacteria on a tablecloth?’ the answer is that they are commensal. And to anyone who merely wonders ‘why??’ I have to say that as a family pastime it was much more fun than Monopoly.
An unexpected island in the seasonal ocean, offering a silent night (apart from the wind whoomphing in the chimney); mulled wine; and low lighting. Of which I am taking full advantage. I raise my glass to everyone.
… in passing while shopping, posting, talking, cleaning, making up the beds. Meantime, writing poems induced an altered state of consciousness and possible high blood pressure. The sea was pretty, though.
An early start re-drafting a poem for the solstice, which turned out to be more ambiguous and ironic that I would initially have expected.
Then a return to Christmas ritual: buying for others the books you would like one day to read yourself. Once home I was disconcerted to find this, which I absolutely did not notice when I was in the shop:
Penguin have obviously got my number.
Later I sustained an academic interview (good grief) about the snowflakes. Don’t ask.
Then some duteous behaviour ameliorated by Chaucer being read aloud, in which the words are retained as written but given a modern pronunciation to help non-specialists. It works quite well, certainly preferable to a ‘translation’ or modern paraphrase. The changed pronunciation occasionally wrecks the rhyme or metre, but most of Chaucer’s phrase-making survives intact (‘…the smyler with the knyf under the cloke …’ ‘In goon the speres full sadly in arrest…’ ‘… and shame it is if a preest take kepe, A shiten shepherd and a clene sheep’…). Chaucer isn’t my favourite poet but it is good to revisit him. So far I’m only three-fourths through the Knight’s Tale, struggling to find a cultural lens that will allow me to feel any sympathy with Palamon or Arcite.
And a mention for the pleasures of periodicals. The Siberian Times is offering articles about schools closing for temperatures below minus 45°C, the interpretation of criminal tattoos, and not running over tigers. Meanwhile the BMJ offers research papers on whether horror films actually curdle the blood, and detection of the Christmas spirit using fMRI, with a view to correcting deficiencies in this area. I like the BMJ’s Christmas editions (a former favourite paper was a longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons). The papers are open access (if the links work).
This evening friend and I trogged off to a nearby village church for their nine lessons and carols. Here we were: small stone church, the epitome of English villageyness; a great splurge of candlelight (I counted more than a hundred flames); evergreens, red and silver baubles, ribbons, crib; robed cleric, choir of respectable seniors. Cosy, yes?
Well, yes. But the singing, more determined than tuneful (and I definitely contributed to the untunefulness) was not a performance but an enactment, and the not very skilled flute, tenor recorder and fiddle gave an edge to the organ music. Brownie points for having no Rutter and a careful assortment of familiar and unfamiliar songs. Moreover, the lessons and carols put the government-by-an-occupying-power, the mass infanticide and some other uncomfortable elements (such as sin and crucifixion) back into Christmas.
Radio 3 is broadcasting a lavish assortment of European classical and folk Christmas music today, and I turned the programme on again when I got in. Suddenly it sounded anodyne.