SUN ON THE ALTAR
Well, after days and days of torrential rain all the rivers are full to the brim and there will still be lots more to flow in from the upland streams and brooks so I don't know what the coming days will bring. The flood water is already out in all the river meadows, and the verges of the country lanes are so muddy they almost meet in the middle of the road. But today dawned bright, sunny and very mild.
Sun on the Altar on Christmas day, Good for the Apples and Bad for the Hay
Its another old traditional saying from the Worcestershire Herefordshire borders, meaning that the weather will be mild and pleasant around apple blossom time so the fruit can be well pollinated and the blossom not spoilt by frost, but then as the fruit swells and hay making approaches at the zenith of the year the weather will turn showery, or even worse downright wet. So maybe a good spring for my travels, but not so pleasant duning the summer - perhaps the Continent may beckon sooner rather than later.
This Christmas day I am off to see my youngest brother and his lovely family.
Christmas is for me a somewhat wistful time, a time for reminiscences, and full of bitter sweet memories of Christmases long gone. As I drove past the flat and fully flooded plains of the rivers Teme and Severn it took me back to sometime in the early sixties, when we, as children, had the excitement of seeing Santa Claus taking off from the same meadows, though then lightly dusted with frosty snow, and in a helicopter! A very rare bird indeed in those days, well certainly in our rural area. Where Santa was going or what he was going to be doing we didn’t know, but it was certainly thrilling as we made our way towards the annual Christmas Present Exchange Party organised by my maternal grandmother the weekend before Christmas each and every year until my grandfather passed away.
Her own mother had died very early and my Grandmother as the eldest daughter had taken on the role of bringing up the family of nine. The parties had originally started back in the twenties and thirties when her brothers and sisters first began to marry and move away, and the format begun then was continued year on year. My first memories of The Christmas Party would have been in the early fifties, with proper coal fires roaring in the various rooms, food and chocolates on all the tables and sideboard, and the rooms heavy with cigarette smoke and loud with talk and laughter
The “spread” was identical every year - involving sliced York ham and very strong mustard, big bowls of tinned salmon in a vinegary dressing, large very red tomatoes, and a big bowl of lettuce with lots of sliced cucumber, which was followed by a Stilton rich cheeseboard with glasses full of fresh celery - the proper sort which came in big white juicy heads covered with black sandy peat, which had to be carefully scrubbed and trimmed before use, and which had a incomparable sweet flavour and crunch.
For us children afterwards there was fruit and cream with thinly sliced bread and butter, who thought of that idea I wonder, whilst the adults helped themselves from deep bowls of trifle richly laced with Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry, and topped with custard or pink blancmange and whipped cream decorated with cherries and angelic, or hundred and thousands and little silver balls. Drinks for the men were whisky or bottled beer, and the ladies had gin and tonic or maybe a snowball. Sometimes the older children were allowed a Babycham with a cherry on a stick
Afterwards some of the great-aunts would daringly smoke a cocktail cigarette – these were gold tipped and came in a selection of jewel-bright colours – and it was probably their one and only cigarette of the year.
But time has moved on so today we had a starter of smoked fish with some lovely sauces, followed by roast partridge and quail with a chicken liver and chestnut forcemeat, and for pudding crème brulee. And the drinks were champange, wines and port, though thinking of my intended journey I limited myself to a couple of sips for the toasts and otherwise stuck to water or orange juice - I didnt want any chances of losing my licence before my trip had even started.
Please excuse me whilst I have a proud aunt moment. Both my niece and nephew are very good at art, and my nephew had recently completed a lovely drawing which I would have liked to have seen but was on display at his school. Apparently his art teacher's gradings had been – Below Average, Average, Good and Very Good. Earlier in the term she introduced a Very Good+ but now this had been changed to Excellent, and a further grade of Excellent+ created. And I needn’t tell you who for :-)
But of course the best part of any Christmas gathering is not the food or the drink its the pleasure of sharing it with others.
As I write this my sixty third Christmas Day draws to a close. I wonder what my sixty fourth will bring? After a bit of exploring of the many parts of the UK I have never visited I had thought to cross over the channel and maybe spend next winter somewhere warmer. Will I be miles from home this time next year? Or will I feel that my home is with me wherever I travel ?