A Village Christmas and Other Notes on The English Year
2016 - when Donald Trump became President Elect and then told Americans how he didn't mean much of what he said during his campaign, when we voted to break up the EU after a contest largely centred upon some lies written on the side of a bus, and the moment when "post-truth" was named Word of the Year by the Oxford Dictionaries. I find this latter concept especially difficult as, to my mind, putting a hyphen between the prefix and the noun makes it two words rather than one, but I've double checked online and that's definitely what they're calling it/them. I've watched enough editions of Pointless to know that Richard Osman wouldn't allow a hyphenated word in one of his "words ending in -ent" rounds, but then nothing much that has happened this year makes any sense anyway.
It is perhaps fitting, then, that having declared at the end of October that Autumn is by far my favourite month, and in the same blog post gently mocked the idea of using some of Keats's most often cited lines to illustrate this, that I should write now, at the end of December, that today I took a walk on the most, beautiful, crisp day, during undoubtably my favourite time of year. Furthermore, the title of this post is stolen from a collection of Laurie Lee's essays of the same name, contained within a book I finally began reading this afternoon. It was like taking the perfect walk, in the most perfect weather, in perfect company, before coming home to read the most beautiful prose ever written (or very nearly...)
"Today is winter as it always was, and when it wasn't it was not remembered. Forgotten, now, are the small freaks of weather, the offbeat heatwaves and wet-warm Decembers that have cropped up now and then in the past. Winter was always like this since the beginning of winters, since the first man learned to sneeze". Laurie Lee, it seems, understood about post-truths long before most of us were born. (Though I don't think he would have approved of that hyphen either).
And so it was today. Whilst our Christmas involved more than a week of older relatives who were either very sick or bad tempered - or both - this morning we woke to an empty house, no fixed agenda and a bouncy little dog. We rose early and headed off to Ham, by Richmond Park. The sun was low in the sky, and the frost had covered the ground and trees so completely that I really thought (hoped) that Tilda Swinton might come around the corner in The White Witch's sleigh, or that Mr Tumnus might pop out from behind a tree. And I finally began to feel festive. And happy.
We didn't talk much during the course of the few hours it took us to complete our circuit, we were so busy stopping to look at the light coming through the trees, or to listen to the dripping sound of the ice melting, or to take endless photos on our iPhones, but when we stopped for a congratulatory drink at the pub, we had plenty of thoughts to share.
We talked through our goals for 2017, both the big ones and the small. Most of all, we discussed our plans to move to the countryside, the move I had hoped we would have made some time ago, but events got in the way. Realistically, though, we are few months away from this, and I have been trying to decide how best to use the quietest months in the flower year which also coincide with remaining in London. The temptation to devote two or three months solely to Agatha Christie and Dorothy Whipple is very strong indeed, (and it has happened before), but this year I want to make sure that at least some of my hibernation period is productive.
Two of my New Year's Resolutions are to see more art and to read more books. Whilst in London, it makes sense to spend more time in The National Gallery, The Victoria and Albert Museum and I can't remember the last time I visited The British Museum. Having lived in the Capital all our lives, we take for granted these places on our doorstep, and so rarely visit them, partly because every day life gets in the way, also because we think there will be another time that we can go. Temporary exhibitions always take precedence over permanent collections, and so trips to galleries focus on those works only there for a finite period of time. The next three months seem like a good time to begin to remedy this.
Likewise, this is a good time to be reading books. I have made a fairly extensive list, and I doubt I shall get through them all in the next 12 weeks, but I intend to pay particular attention to the Bronte Sisters (in anticipation of a trip to Yorkshire to visit Simply by Arrangement). Other possibilities include Gilding the Lily by Amy Stewart of course The Tulip by Anna Pavord, which I hope to have read in time for the beginning of the British Tulip Season in the Spring. Other cold weather and rainy day activities include practicing my calligraphy - I own a vast array of metallic and coloured inks, and beautiful parchment like paper from Silk and Willow, and yet I have done so little with them. I am going to dig out my copy of Ink and Nib and my practice notes from Alice Gabb and I shall keep practicing the -y- in that makes my Honeysuckle look so wonky when I write it. And -k- too. I can't seem to master -k-.
I also plan to arrange a meticulous library of images, currently spread out across various memory cards, Drop Box, the hard drive of my old laptop and iCloud. But most of all, I am looking forward to taking the time to catch up with other people's blogs and hopefully discover new ones. I am a regular subscriber to the one written by Aesme, and of course Simply By Arrangement (no surprise there), and I am also a big fan of A Quiet Style. I have more recently discovered Mademoiselle Poirot - I have treated to myself to a day's workshop with her in April - and am finding more and more styling blogs really useful. I still look forward to the postings on Miss Pickering's blog, though rare and far between, her economy with words and understated humour are to blogging what the Japanese haiku is to poetry, and every one unique in its own way.
Today, however, I finally signed up to Floret Flower Farm's blog. It's a funny thing, but I so want to be able to grow my own flowers that I have been holding off doing so. I can't really explain why. It's not jealousy, per se, that has stopped me from doing so, more a deep rooted (if you'll pardon the pun) frustration and not being able to plant my own tubers any time soon. But finally, it feels like it is time. I won't be using any of my own flowers for weddings this year. I've already missed that planting slot. But if I am putting my own tubers in the ground in the Autumn of 2017 in readiness for the following year, that could be super exciting.
As we sat in the pub at the end of our walk, my husband told me that I am "much nicer" when I have been for a long walk in the fresh air and countryside. This evening I read him a passage from Laurie Lee that had made me feel a pang of longing as we negotiated our positively urban Christmas:
"Now the time had come for us to go up to the woods and collect leaves for decorating the house. Among the black and bare trees we shook the snow from the undergrowth with frost-reddened fingers, seeking the sharp-spiked holly, bunches of laurel and ivy, cold clusters of moon-pale mistletoe. With these, we transformed the familiar kitchen into a grotto of shining leaves, an enchanted bower woven from twigs and branches sprinkled with scarlet berries".
For me this is the dream. And this is what I shall be hanging onto for the next few months as I organise my photos, bite my bottom lip at the kitchen table whilst pouring over my badly shaped consonants, whilst I read up on the cut flower industry, and devote myself to flower related admin. There will be flat lays too, for sure, and foraged things in new vessel from Petersham Nurseries (a Christmas present to myself). But mainly I shall be daydreaming of the countryside and hoping that 2017 is the year I can finally make my floral aspirations a reality. And with that, Happy New Year.