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Saturday, 29 December 2012

New Year For Birds

Lots of birds in the garden. Plenty of greenfinches today, plus coal, blue and great tits, a robin, a female chaffinch, a handful of goldfinches and a magpie, who clumsily balances on a thin branch to get at the sunflower seeds. One of the great tits is a giant (a giant in the world of little birds). With his long tail and body, he's the same size as a sparrow. I love watching them.

 I think I'll be listening to the Staves a lot next year. They make such a beautiful sound.(Click on the link.)

The Staves - Facing West

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The day after yesterday...

...otherwise known as Boxing Day or, if you are a Catholic or tend towards the  higher reaches of the Anglican candle, St Stephen's Day. 

The name Boxing Day derives from  the tradition of the well-to-do giving money or gifts to fill up the  Christmas boxes of tradespeople and servants. All very Downton Abbey (a bit more of that later). St Stephen  was an unfortunate chap who turned up in the 'Acts of the Apostles', attempted to preach the Word and got stoned to death for his efforts, an image that's a little at odds with turkey sandwiches and Match of the Day.

Despite my recent blogging about my personal faith, I didn't go to church, though I did listen to choirs singing on radio 3 on Sunday, whilst I warmed samosas  and made some hummus - a poor excuse but there you go.  I cooked dinner, didn't drink too much but did watch a lot of telly, tuning in to housewives specials such as 'Call the Midwife' and 'Downton Abbey'. I get laughed at work by some of my more intellectual colleagues for liking 'Call the Midwife'  but, for all its cosiness, I do like how it reminds us of what a difference the NHS made to ordinary people's lives.The part about the poor old girl who lost all her children in the workhouse may have been over-sentimentalised but such stories are not derived from fiction.

On Downton Abbey, far more of a Tory favourite, I imagine, with its nostalgic view of the hard-working, loyal lower classes who certainly knew their place and woe betide  them if they didn't, the blue-eyed-boy from the 'Line of Beauty' ended up dead in a ditch, reminding us that death is no respecter of class. Likewise, the cousins in the Glens were there to remind us that even the poshest of toffs will find their lives sad and empty if deprived of love. (That last bit sounds a bit like a Vanessa Redgrave's voice-over in 'Call the Midwife'.)

Much less preachy and a lot more fun, the 1995 film adaptation of 'Restoration' with Robert Downey Jnr. on one of the cable channels was a jolly picaresque through the ..err.. Restoration..as experienced by physician come wastrel Robert Merivale. It didn't do justice to the book but a comic cameo from Hugh Grant as an ambitious and foppish artist and a good turn as a Puritan doctor from David Thewlis lent it something, and Robert Downey Jnr. was funny and cute.

Today it's raining, so I have postponed my walk  and shall, instead, try to write a 50 words story for the book gathering on Saturday. I think that calls for a guilt free, festive, Feast of St Stephen brandy and a few chocoates.

Saturday, 1 December 2012


Cold, cold, cold. The  frost nips and the sun shines and  it's the very first day of Advent. The run up to Christmas Day; the run up to the birth of sheer goodness and innocence: the birth of very Light of the World. Sceptics and cynics may scoff but I love it. Not only Christians but Pagans celebrate the rebirth of the light each year. And, whilst the Saturnalian aspect is pretty upfront, the Christian part of the festival still calls out to those who want to listen. The birth of the baby down among the animals, the visitation of the Angels and the visit of the Shepherds, followed in Epiphany by the Wise Men with their gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh is about as precious a story as you can get.

Of course, the early Church stole the festival. We all know Jesus wasn't born on Christmas Day but, at the time the Christiansiers did  this,  it probably made perfect sense. The remnants of  paganism are never far away as we celebrate the middle of winter - for who can ignore the power of   Nature? - but  the forgiving face of the Christian God is there to be discovered should you wish to find it.

The imperfection of the Christian Church is legion and the latest debacle  over women bishops in the Anglican Church does nothing to endear it to secular folks and many within its ranks, myself included, despair at the conservative attitudes of those who fail to understand the rightness of equality. Yet, when I light a candle on cold winter's night and await the birth (symbolic or otherwise) of the child who was born to King, my heart cannot help but sing a merry tune.