Sunday 28 December 2014

Christmas Past

I was amused reading writer Cosmo Landesman's recent account in the Sunday Times of Christmas Day spent at his hippie parents home. His mother would invite strange people to join them all for Christmas dinner - people who had no family, no children and no friends.
It rang bells with me remembering Christmas Day when our sons were young and we would be joined by Miss Lambert-Lambert. She had tutored Latin and French to our eldest son in preparation for his entry exam to a new school. 
I discovered that this rather elderly lady would be completely alone at Christmas and invited her to join us. It wasn't a 'one off' - it became a regular date until she was too frail to join us anymore.
As H and I carried the Christmas dinner to the table Miss L-L regaled us with news that she had a tiny birdlike appetite and a very delicate constitution. During the meal youngest son's eyes grew wider and wider as he watched her eat a hearty meal and then proceed to fill up her plate yet again.
I would place silver Victorian three penny pieces in the Christmas pudding, which finders could then use to make a wish. These were carefully packed away for reuse at the next Christmas season. For some reason Miss L-L kept finding them in her portion and exclaimed "Oh! see what I have found" make a wish and pop them in her pocket. Tactfully, eldest son informed her "they are not keepers Miss Lambert-Lambert." 
Unbeknown to her the day would sometimes become strained as she would decide now was a good time to test the boys on their Latin conjugations and French conversational skills, not an ideal pursuit for young boys on Christmas Day.
She would make us all laugh telling us odd and strange stories about her life which were difficult to believe, but on investigation often had an element of truth.
One Christmas I recall showing her some photos of our walking adventures in the Austrian and Swiss Alps, she quickly remarked "did Kodak compliment you on your photos?" and assured me that they did on hers!!!  Much to our amusement, and in all seriousness, she asked if we had guides and ponies to assist us in the mountains. Much later, however, she would show me a photo of herself as a young women standing in the Alps. She was wearing jodhpurs, a couple of guides were in attendance armed with ropes slung across their chests together with ponies carrying her luggage.
When I was younger I had a habit of picking up and collecting waifs and strays big time, this would lead me into countless often strange situations. Sometimes they were highly amusing but at other times would put me in an uncomfortable place.
When we moved home and location 20 years ago I decided enough was enough, and consciously made a decision that my pick up days were at an end. There would be no more Miss L-L's, Mrs P's or for that matter anymore lost and lonely old men.
Thank you very much for your very kind comments left for me over the Christmas period. I appreciated them all and enjoyed reading them on my return

Wednesday 24 December 2014

It's Christmas Eve

Image made using an old photo taken during winter 2012 - sunset on a snowy evening in our garden.

Wishing you all a very happy time this Christmas♡
This post has been scheduled to appear automatically - I am away for a few days

Saturday 20 December 2014

The Story of the Christmas Cracker

In 1830 a young Tom Smith was working as a baker and confectioner in London. He spent his off duty hours producing designs for different cakes and sweets which eventually enabled him to open his own business. He often travelled abroad in search of inspiration and it was on a trip to Paris in 1840 that he first saw the 'bon bon' a sugared almond wrapped in a twist of tissue paper. It was a simple idea which over the course of the next seven years would evolve into the Christmas Cracker
By placing a small love motto in the tissue paper Tom created an interest in his product especially at Christmas time. One evening during a search for inspiration he casually threw a log on the fire. The crackling sound made by the burning log gave him an idea that would lead to the crackers we know today. After a great deal of experimenting he came up with a mechanism that made a 'pop' as the sweet wrapping was broken. In time this became a snap and the cracker was born
Over the next few years his ideas evolved and the business grew so much that he moved from East London to the city centre in Finsbury Square. When he died his sons Tom, Walter, and Henry took over the business 
His three sons had a water fountain erected in Finsbury Square in memory of their mother Martha and father Tom, the inventor of the Christmas Cracker 

Walter introduced paper hats into the crackers, and travelled the world seeking new and unusual little gifts to be placed inside them 
The company were very aware of current affairs and used them as a way of expanding their business. They made crackers for the Suffragettes, War Heroes, Charlie Chaplin, and many great occasions including the Coronation. Exclusive crackers were made for the Royal Family and still are to this day 

I am not promoting these crackers, I discovered this information in my cracker during Christmas lunch at Longleat House 

Thursday 18 December 2014

Longleat House

Our Decorative and Fine Arts Society had a private visit and Christmas lunch at Longleat House 
Longleat House is regarded as one of the prime examples of high Elizabeth architecture in England. It was a simple run-down priory when purchased for the princely sum of £53 by John Thynne in 1541. Thynne achieved power and wealth in court politics and warfare and was knighted only six years after purchasing Longleat. The original priory was destroyed by fire in 1567 and rebuilt by Sir John to a design by Robert Smythson. The house took 12 years to build.
The Great Hall retains its Elizabethan character and splendour. The minstrels' gallery was installed at great expense to honour a royal visit when Charles ll and his entire court stayed overnight 
A lovely Christmas lunch with all of the trimmings was much enjoyed 'below stairs' at Longleat
We were taken up to the attic and viewed some of the 7th Marquess of Bath's paintings and murals, but were not shown into the infamous Kama Sutra room!!!
He uses his own unique method and style - a mix of sawdust and oil paint
The 7th Marquess of Bath wears mult-coloured velvet kaftans, colourful waistcoats, tasselled fezes, leotards and capes, and although now in his early 80s the peer is said to have a collection of 75 'wifelets'. In 2010 he handed over stewardship of Longleat to his eldest son, Ceawlin - Viscount Weymouth
The rooms inside Longleat were heavily shuttered to show off the Christmas decorations and lights, not conducive to photographs. Outside the grounds were looking distinctly "Disneyesque" to attract families over the Christmas period
All these things light up in the dark!
even this! resembling memories I have of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing visited many, many, years ago  
Real lions are to be found in Longleat's Safari Park but crazily these things light up too!
A 230 foot dragon made entirely from blue and white china plates, bowls, cups and saucers and hundreds of red chinese lanterns everywhere!
The cautionary moral of this tale is - should your preference be to admire a Capability Brown landscape, some prime Elizabethan architecture, the exquisite paintings and interiors of a fine stately home, then Longleat is best avoided during December!!!
Subsequent to my visit I have discovered that this is the largest light show in Europe - have I been too harsh? The figures have been designed and created, principally in silk, by a team of 50 Chinese men and women from Zigong over the past six months at Longleat. Apparently for 2000 years Zigong has been considered the home of the finest chinese lanterns. Admittedly I didn't see the displays lit up, and I do concede that they look magical at night. You can see them here - I imagine that they will delight many families during the Christmas period. 

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Greys Court

The de Grey family came over from France with William the Conqueror in 1066. First mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 Greys Court lies at the head of a tranquil Chilterns valley in Oxfordshire.  
The current mansion dates from the 16th century but walking around the grounds reveals a patchwork of history going back to the 11th century
The house was given to the National Trust by Sir Felix and Lady Brunner who bought Greys Court in 1937.  The house is still full of family possessions so no photographs are allowed inside.
However, I discovered this photo on the internet. It shows the interior of the room with the large elegant bow window, image above, which was added to the Tudor wing during the Georgian period - the room has exquisite 18th century plaster work
and this photo of the delightful kitchen with its pretty pink breakfast table and chairs

The remains of the original medieval building built by the de Grey family resembles a romantic folly in the garden
Arbutus andrachnoides "Cinnamon Bark Tree"
A small walled courtyard dominated by the original Norman Great Tower
At the side of the house is an intriguing donkey wheel which dates from the 16th century and was in use right up until 1914
The 19 foot diameter wheel is the largest to survive in England 
The donkey drew water from the well for the house.  The 12th century well is 200 feet deep and would have been laboriously dug by hand.
The platform inside the wheel where the donkey walked
As the donkey walked and the wheel turned a container was pulled up from the well where it then caught on an iron hook before tipping water into the tank overhead
Greys Court is a cross country journey to Reading. The Brunner family kept a herd of Guernsey cows. H's father managed a pedigree herd of Guernsey cows which he would take to auction at Reading Market. Is it possible that some of H's father's cows could have ended up at Greys Court, they are a very rare breed of cattle?
Towers and walls overlooking the valley from the 11th century revealing a habitation and legacy that has lasted for a thousand years