Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The last blog of the year.

Small things amuse small minds so they say... this little chap, known as Fred, is only six inches high and he amuses me no end... 'nuff said I think?
Well, it's almost upon us, Christmas that is, and once again there was a discussion on television this morning about how stressed out women are at this time of year, how EVERYTHING is left to them to sort out and so on. Well, first of all, if you aren't able to delegate, if you have no bribery methods up your sleeve, or if you have DOORMAT on your forehead, then tough! On the other hand, there are lots of women who thrive on this kind of stress, so good luck to you too. If you're someone who has no family to share it with, or who prefers to spend it quietly with your other, dearly-beloved half, then there is no stress, no rushing about. It's all perfectly lovely and quiet and calm. All I need is snow to make it complete, or a heavy frost at the very least. Please, no sunshine and mild temperatures, whoever is in charge of weather control at this time of year.
Last time I blogged I wrote about the smells of Christmas.. how about the sounds though? One of the worse sounds is piped muzak, and in Tesco last week, it was so loud, you couldn't hear yourself think, people were having to shout at each other to be heard, and you felt sorry for the staff, who must go home stressed and deafened.
More welcome sounds though are those of schoolchildren singing at their Nativity Play, the Salvation Army playing outside our village shops, carollers outside the surgery. And no matter how often I hear it, good old Roy Wood and WIZARD always brings a smile to my face, a lift to my spirits.
And whilst it may seem too early to be writing the last blog of the year, this is what I intend this one to be, for I know that whilst I bask in the luxury of a non-stressful time, there are many of you with lots to do, places to go, people to see and so on, and looking at blogs will be the last thing on your mind.
So, speaking of spirits, I raise a glass to you all, thank you to those who have taken the time to comment on my blog ... although I'd do it anyway, having feedback has led me to read other blogs and given me enormous pleasure.... except for a certain American WINDOW TREATMENT company who invaded one of my earlier blogs, so I discovered yesterday, and who have received a very strongly worded email about same. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Monday, 15 December 2008

The JOYS (?) of being a 50s Housewife!

Well, apart from the inconvenience of no dishwashers, automatic washing machines, hoovers that whizz around corners on a ball thingy (and how did we ever live without that I wonder?) and all the other labour and time-saving devices and desired objects that have come into being in the last fifty years, what was it like to be a housewife in the 1950s?
According to 'Housekeeping Monthly' from 1955, there was a whole raft of rules and regulations to follow if you wanted to be a good wife. Apart from the obvious, such as taking that extra 15 minutes before your dearly-beloved, heard-working breadwinner of a husband came home to 'touch up your makeup and put a ribbon in your hair' (that'll be after you've removed rollers and hairnet presumably!); made sure the children are clean, being seen but not heard and that their toys are not cluttering up the family home; ensured that cushions are plumped and placed regimentally in their allotted positions... apart from these, what should the 'little lady' do?
Naturally she will keep schtum because her conversation is not going to be anywhere near as interesting as her husband's is it? And it goes without saying that what He has to say is far more important as well. Nor should she question His decisions, judgement or integrity. He is the man of the house, and apparently, this elevates him to almost God-like status in his own home.
The advice goes on in similar vein ending with the words, 'A good wife knows her place.' Hmmm...
Now I don't know about you, but if I appeared 'gay' as they describe having a happy, smiley face to greet Himself with, and wore a ribbon in my hair, my husband would think I'd been at the sherry again. If I had lit a fire because it was cold and I wanted him to feel more comfortable, he'd worry I was about to set the house on fire again... this being a rarely-referred to incident involving a woodburner and an unlined chimney in our old house back in the 80s. (His workmates thought getting a phone call saying the house was on fire, fire brigade on their way, was one heck of a novel way to get a morning off work!)
And if I didn't tell him anything of my day, but kept quiet waiting for him to speak, there would be long silences since he prefers to leave work behind and that's it once he's home and he'd assume I had laryngitis since I am never quiet for long!
Oh, and the picture has nothing to do with the blog... I just thought we could do with cheering up on this cold and grismal day and remind ourselves of warmer days to come.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Christmas delights.

The first time I tried Lebkuchen, it was from a small bakery in Ruislip, on the High Street, owned by an Austrian couple. It was so yummy, the mere thought of it is making my mouth water. The offerings in the photograph aren't anywhere near as good... they have a sell-by date for next year, whereas the freshly-baked ones had to be eaten soon... Very Soon I said! They crumbled in the mouth, the taste was gorgeous.. these are a bit dry and have an artificial taste to them, but in the absence of an Austrian bakery and freshly made ones, they 'will do'.

They are part of my Christmas treats, delights that I always associate with this time of year. The gorgeous smells from the kitchen of home made whisky mincemeat and sloe gin. Of oranges starred with cloves to hang in the porch. Of fresh greenery from the garden to entwine with scarlet ribbons, lay across the mantlepiece of both our fireplaces, interspersed with fat ivory candles. Of dried apple rings and burning apple logs.

The tastes evocative of Christmas for me include roasted chestnuts, home made parsnip crisps and spiced nuts for nibbles, Christmas cake with Wensleydale cheese, violet and rose creams, a box of handmade chocolates, Bendicks mints. REAL Turkish delight... not the chocolate covered apology for the stuff. I had an aunt who could eat the real Turkish Delight by the box, stuffing one piece in after another.. so fond was she of this that she had a box for her and a box for visitors. She and I never really got on, she was a Lady Bracknell type of woman who looked down her nose at me and most other members of the family. To be honest, although I have bought a wooden box of real turkish delight for the first time this year, I am not sure if I really like it - but the box is very pretty!

Sights to delight include a real Christmas tree... we have a slow growing one in a large pot in the garden, which lives out of sight of the house for eleven months of the year, then we wheel it up to the patio, string fairy lights on it and go 'Aah' every time, even though it looks the same, just maybe a little bit bigger. I am always enchanted by houses with fairy lights around the doors, the eaves, windows and trees. And indeed I am one of those sad people who loves to go out in the car in the evening to nose at people's houses, see their decorations, act appalled at the OTT-ness, the tackiness of some houses full of dangly bits from ceilings, walls festooned with garlands, trees weighed down with baubles, every available surface covered by nativity scenes, snow globes, figurines and so on. Their gardens too, often full of lit-up reindeer, Santas, elves and snowmen.

Then we sigh with delight at the classiness of the 'less is more' brigade, with just a one-colour themed tree on display in a window, a simple wreath on the door, a few lights around a tree in the garden perhaps. We just string lights along a hedge dividing the garden in two, around a couple of holly trees and along the eaves of the summerhouse. Sometimes I make a ball of lights, by fastening together two wire hanging baskets, stuffing it with greenery from the garden, nicking bits of cut-off Christmas trees from the local garden centre, those bits they're not going to make into wreaths and charge a fiver for, and then fill it with fairy lights. I hang it by the front porch where it gets many an admiring glance, and it's the only one on the street. This year it will be a simple row of lights around the inner front door, and a country style wreath, which against the cheery red door looks very pretty and well... Christmassy!

Monday, 1 December 2008

More thoughts on writing, this time for posterity.

As those of you who follow my blog will know, writing has always been an important part of my life. From school essay writing, through teenage diaries with their 'will he, won't he' 'does he like me or not' entries amongst the notes of current fashion trends, anecdotes about my friends, snippets from my own life and so on, right through to more recent years and my success with short stories, dozens of social and local history features, my novel,and the daily journals I have been keeping for the last twenty odd years, writing has been something I have always enjoyed. I find it easier to write than talk sometimes, so important things I have wanted to say to family or friends, have often been said in the form of a handwritten letter. This gives me time to gather my thoughts, put them down in a cohesive manner, make sure they cannot be misconstrued, that there are no lines to read between for the recipient. I read them several times over, correcting a word here and there maybe, until it is just as I want it to be, and the message I want to get across is there, plain and simple.
But as well as all this, since the early Eighties, I have been a contributor to the Mass Observation Archives. Now there may be some of you who have never heard of these, so here is a potted history.
They were founded in 1937 by three young men who recruited volunteer writers and observers to study the day to day life of ordinary people in the UK. The M-O archive holds all this information at the University of Sussex and their work continues today. When I joined I was given the option of keeping a daily diary, answering questionnaires, or doing both. I chose to answer the questionnaires, and this I continue to do. They arrive about three or four times a year, and cover a wide range of subjects, from world events, events here in the UK, and less serious matters, all aimed at getting an idea of how people think, live, work and play.
Several books have been published about the M-O, and using some of their material, though I should point out, that rather like in the cult TV series, 'The Prisoner', you are known and filed as a number, not a name. There is complete privacy, and where work has been published from the material held in the archive, it has always been with the express permission of the person whose original work it was. One book which is perhaps the most well known in recent times, has been 'Nella Last's War', which was made into the television drame 'Housewife, 49' starring Victoria Wood. 'Housewife 49' refers to the occupation of Nella and her age when it was written.
If anyone is interested in writing for the M-O they are always keen to hear from people, and the best way to approach them is via their website, where you then follow the link 'Writing For Us'.