Monday, 30 December 2013


I love these in-between days slotted in between Christmas and the New Year, they are a lovely time to chill and think about how lucky we are. Time to hide inside, to lounge around in pyjama's, eat leftovers, read our Christmas books and then if the sun comes out head off on a long long walk through crisp aromatic pine forests.

We have been replete, abounding, and brimming with not only food, drink and presents but surrounded by our family and friends. It was so nice to visit all the relatives especially those that we only see maybe once or twice a year but it is so relaxing to come back home too. I was amazed at how good it was to see our wee doggy again. She was so excited to be home and has been so spoilt, E took this of her taking advantage of a lapse in law enforcement.

The weekend before Christmas we caught up with my relatives and then it was off to Mr S's clan to eat, drink and be merry. Thanks to Mr and Mrs P for their wonderful hospitality and scrumptious cooking.The children had been fizzing with excitement for weeks so they could not wait to pack their bags and jump on a plane to Grandma's where they made themselves at home immediately.
Santa managed to navigate the absence of chimneys and high winds to deliver two wonderfully lumpy stockings and a wondrous pile of presents under the tree. We were awoken at 4.15am Christmas morning by lots of squeaks and giggles until they ran into our room armed with Christmas torches to jump on the bed and blind us like two mini-dervishes.

As, I type here in my messy but homely house as the fairy lights flicker and the glitter still sparkles in dusty corners and the dying desiccated holly tumbles from the picture frames I was remembering all the plans that I made before Christmas and what a lot I didn't get around to doing. Did it matter, no indeed! Christmas was still Christmas, despite the fact that I did not:
  • Bake gingerbread men or orange and cardamom shortbread
  • or order a New Years Eve duck from the butcher
  • make paper chains
  • or a ivy and holly wreath with gold stars
  • or twig star and Christmas tree decorations for the garden
  • read 'A Christmas Carol'/Little Dorrit/Bleak House
  • or 'The Dark is Rising.'
  • buy more candles
  • or the dog a Christmas present!
  • paint the stairs
  • or varnish the back door...
I did get around to doing a bit of crochet though and now have six granny squares mastered by a combination of youtube and this nice blog, Little Tin Bird. I wonder how long it takes to finish a double blanket? I am using yarn from Bergere de France collected from that weekly magazine Knit and Stitch. To be honest I got very bored with that magazine and it seemed prohibitively expensive for a couple of patterns and a little yarn. The main project was a knitted throw but I much prefer turning that stash into a granny blanket. To crochet with acrylic is fine but some of the yarns have extra wool content and they are beautiful to hold and work, so pure natural wool must be gorgeous.

Mr S bought me the cutest little red sewing machine for Christmas which due to the crochet addiction I haven't taken out of its box yet so I have two lovely projects to take me into the New Year. I never make New Year resolutions as for me they are synonymous with failure but crafty projects usually get finished eventually!

What are your New Year plans, dreams and projects? Happy New Year and I hope 2014 will be one of Joy! xxx
EDIT:(The lovely gingerbread shop was in the window of 'Cinnamon Square' in Rickmansworth, Herts, UK. This is a gorgeous bakery and cookery school, we had a selection of the most scrumptious cupcakes and pink sparkly strawberry macaroons.)

Thursday, 19 December 2013


My little Christmas boy who was born in the breaking dawn in a rush of fear, pain and exultation.
Five years of happy-go lucky fun.
Food fussy, quick to laugh and quick to love.
Creative, loves to sing and loves to dig.
Generous, especially with his adored sister.
Independent and brave, yet still small enough to cry for his mummy.

Happy Birthday, little man! We are so proud of you and how you have settled in so well in your first term at 'big school'. x

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

He's Back!

Actually, he has been down from the attic for about three weeks now. The kids demanded that we put the decorations up ages ago. I was insisting that this year we have a real tree for the scent but there wasn't any for sale when the munchkins were decorating so back came our little plastic leaner. Mr S did buy me a teeny living one which I will try to keep alive until next year.

I blame flippin' Marks and Spenser, for M&S Christmas begins simultaneously with Halloween. Groan, how much life and hard earned cash can the marketing and advertising execs squeeze out of us this year. Although having had that whine, it has been nice here, we have sort of dandered (Northern Irish slang for a slow wander) into Christmas, doing Christmassy things when the notion takes us before popping off to complete real-life chores and taking the time to recover from prolonged seasonal maladies.

The first week in December found us visiting Santa at the lovely Tankardstown House in County Meath and even though lots of unexpected numbers of children turned up, we bought some nice gifts for some nice relations and got to see the big man in the end for as long as the children wanted and then we had a gorgeous run around the walled garden at dusk.

Even though at the moment I feel quite physically and mentally drained due to a four week long cold virus and having to write 2000 painful torturous words on the economic liberalization of India, I feel very content and inspired. I also bought some beautiful handmade gifts from Jelly Jam who has a wonderful Etsy shop, I adore the Christmas lavender cushions and had to get one for myself.

While having a read of Jelly Jam's blog, I discovered a new-to-me blog Bobo Bun, I was so inspired by Mrs Bun's take on living with vintage and am very envious of her ability to make beautiful clothes. Energised by all this loveliness off I went to trundle around the charity shops and to my delight I found four sweet little vintage desert dishes for 50 cents a piece!

These are just like the ones my Granny used to serve her desert in. Desert was quite rare in her house for some reason, she preferred a strong cup of tea and a biscuit after her dinner but occasionally she would treat you to some ice-cream topped with tinned mandarin oranges. So these dishes are both a stroll down memory lane and filled with some baubles and tea-lights give out some lovely thrifty sparkle. Christmas, for me is full of nostalgic moments and the drawing in of light is a powerful symbol at this time of year. Especially tonight as it is blowing up a tempest.

So as much as Christmas is about drawing the light around oneself in the dark days of mid-winter (oh I love that word) so it symbolises the end of one year and the birth and regrowth beginning in the next. We all went to the allotment on Sunday to plant our new baby apple trees, I got two from the brilliant Future Forests in Bantry, Co Cork. They are old heritage varieties  and I love all the names and the tasting notes, we bought a 'Lough Tree of Wexford which is a small red eating apple and a 'Ballyfatten' which is a big fat cooker. It will take around two more years before there is any apples but it is so nice to plan for the future.

(Oops, I pressed the wrong button there, writing a draft post while drinking wine is a mistake -extra photos tomorrow.!!!)

Tomorrow: the storm has passed leaving little damage here in Oriel but others were not so lucky so today I am taking it easy and concentrating on the real importance of Christmas. This is the first day in a long time when I have not had to rush off and do something or have realms of study to complete. Yes, there is too much dust and a mountain of ironing and packing to do but more important is to spend slow, luxurious time with the ones we love and read a couple of great books.

At Christmas, I usually return to some much-loved childhood favourites and one special book is Alison Uttley's 'The Country Child' . The descriptions of the chill of the landscape, the bounty achieved by hard work stored within the farm and of Susan decorating the farmhouse are enchanting.

"Holly decked every picture and ornament. Sprays hung over the bacon and twisted round the hams and herb bunches. The clock carried a crown on his head and every dish-cover had a little sprig."

What are your favourite Christmas books and traditions? Oh, only six more sleeps!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Hidden Mother: Imagining the Past.

 (Image from

This blog is supposed to be a little bit of this and a wee bit of that, books, cooking, a bit of craft nothing too taxing or controversial but I am beginning to understand that the process of writing sometimes is not that agreeable to self-bound perimeters. Sometimes subjects collide in such a way that they crowd other thoughts and will not go away almost like the residue of a half-forgotten dream that invades the rest of the day. But to begin to write it out; I have to retreat a little into digression.

I am a self-confessed vintage and antique junkie, there is nothing I like better than a dusty old junk shop, charity shop or even over-priced high end retail establishment dealing in exquisite Georgian furniture that I could never afford much less fit into my little 1930's dolls house. I love vintage French linens, 17th century glass and pottery, Victorian jewellery, hand-turned treen, mid century Danish design, 1950's kitchenalia. I get a little bit silly over vintage clothes, Victorian to Mod, it doesn't really matter just as long as it is a little bit atmospheric. Or probably as someone said (only a little disparagingly) just as long as it has belonged to a dead person.

Occasionally a new fetish befalls me, lately I am fascinated by those 1960's tourist scarfs, my favourite is this one from Panama. One day, when I learn to machine sew it is going to be a big squashy cushion on my swing seat.

Holding it in my hand I feel connected to another age, one of glamour, long long sea journeys and perhaps a brief encounter. However there is a down side of the acquisitive collector -apart from the financial-it is the story of regret of 'the one that got away' the 'if only I had bought that' piece. I have two such pieces that occasionally pop back into my head and I sigh and have to console myself with a frustratingly unsuccessful (re) search on eBay.

One was a Victorian mirror, it was framed in pewter-coloured iron and bedecked with such a perfusion of climbing cherubs, vines and flowers it was a perfect riot of over-the-top-ness. It was for sale in a little shop in South London, it was heartbreakingly inexpensive but back-creakingly heavy. My lifestyle was unfortunately peripatetic in those days for such a weighty addition. The other was also a Victorian piece, a large beautifully framed portrait of a baby, and what a gorgeous, chubby cheeked child it was. Sweetly dimpled, it smiled right out from it's smooth rose-wood and gilt frame.

I have no real idea why this piece continues to fascinate me. I was outbid which was annoying I suppose and I am attracted to the idea of living in a house with a history and filled with ordinary domestic objects with a past, not necessarily my own historical narrative. it is also fascinating to conjecture why this portrait had become detached from its own familial narrative. Then while 'searching' for a similar portrait, I happened to stumble across some 'hidden-mother' photography.

Divested of their contextualizing and literal frames, these images are strange and other worldly, alien and un-readable. Usually they are written about in connection with that other artistic anachronism, the Victorian post-mortem. However, the explanation for these images is quite mundane and common-sensorial. The obscuring of the 'mother' was down to a desire to capture only the image of the child and to hold them still for the exposure times. Nevertheless, there is some quality about these photos that really fascinate me so I am so excited about Linda Fregni Nagler's new book 'The Hidden Mother', which is reviewed in today's Guardian. Thank goodness for Christmas coming up.

Occasionally, I worry that all this desire to construct an atmosphere of nostalgia is somehow linked to my own very real and occasionally still raw disconnection from a part of the fabric of familial relationships. At the weekend my daughter was compiling a list of all her family members (we are part of a very big and blended family) and asked me if she could add at particular name, my mothers name. I have not seen her for twenty -two years.

For twenty of those years I have attempted to remain pragmatic about this situation and sought to build my own family and forge my own connections and have not really had time consider the absence of this relationship. But E is now at the age of hard to answer questions and so my mother is slowly becoming more present in our family life simply because of this absence. She is becoming like the ghostly figures in the photographs, a hidden mother, present but without an appropriate frame.