Goodbye 2016!

So many ups and downs in 2016! It’s been a topsy turvy year – a year of sadness and upsets for my family and a deeply shocking year in global politics. I have travelled through the year with a pervading sense of loss.

But, in the last few days I’ve been indulging myself drawing up a #bestofnine2016 for my Instagram feed. I’ve looked through all the pictures I’ve posted online, and selected the nine pictures that most capture 2016 for me.  It has taken me quite a time to finally make a selection, but it was a good exercise because after that, I didn’t feel so bad. So many little ordinary happinesses and pleasures that I have taken for granted!  Here are my chosen nine:bestofnine2016Top left: That’s my dearest husband Stephen and our lovely cat, Poe, who passed away in her 20th year, this August. This photograph was taken on her last night of life, when we knew she was extremely ill and would have to visit the vet next day, probably to be put down. She is curled up asleep, comfy and trusting, next to Stephen, on the sofa, as she regularly did. RIP Poe, faithful friend.stephen-and-poeTop middle: Lots of little pleasures here. My knitting, my nails – and my travel knitting bag! Those of you who know me well will know I almost always have my nails painted – and doesn’t this colour match the knitting so well! The Solace bag was a generous gift from Rebecca of Needle & Spindle and symbolises to me the constant comfort of knitting, and the friendliness of the wonderful online community of knitters and makers.solace-bag-and-knittingTop right: This is our lovely local beach, just five minutes away from our home, and my very grown-up children, visiting from London, on a beautiful blustery day.  Stephen and I walk here several times a week, and watch the tides and waves and sands move, the holiday visitors with their families come and go.  To share this with my own family is the greatest of all pleasures.j-h-on-spittal-beachMiddle right: A golden GiveWrap, made with the Japanese and Indian silk scraps I was given for my birthday, and mixed up with some very treasured pieces of old clothing.  It’s been another year of GiveWrap making, sharing the ideas with my cousin Polly, and spreading the word about sustainable wraps.golden-givewrapBottom right: I wrote about the poppies that we grow here in a recent blogpost. They are the best of our gardening in this wonderful place, right up on the north Northumbrian border, exposed to all the elements.  Lots of plants won’t grow here – it’s too salty, too windy, too cold.  But poppies flourish, and best of all, they self-seed.  They grow where they will, not just where I choose.  Don’t they adorn the view so very well …poppies in laneBottom middle: In the turmoil of family events earlier this year, two little cats, Eggy and Ilsa, found themselves needing a new home – so they came to Seaview!  And look how these little smilers love it here! These little London softies have become Northumbrian toughies.  They’re good at mousing, chasing the neighbours’ cats, exploring their territory, and finding the comfiest places in the house to sleep (usually some special fabrics I have carefully laid out).eggy-and-ilsaBottom left: Nothing says Seaview to me as much as the big skies with their endlessly-changing weather stories.  Through the winter months, we are privileged to watch the sunrise as it moves over the south-eastern horizon. So often it is explosively dramatic and exciting. Perhaps best of all, the sun doesn’t rise until a decent time (8.38 as I write on 31st December), so I don’t sleep through it … You never tire of these skies.seaview-sunriseMiddle right: On the 23rd June 2016, Great Britain voted in a referendum on their European Union membership – and we all now know the result.  In the days leading up to this referendum, those of us who hoped to stay in the European Union became increasingly worried about the result – as indeed there was good cause – and I was inspired to stitch my Love letter to Europe, incorporating some lines from John Donne’s poem No man is an island.  Embroidery isn’t really my thing, so this was a textile experiment for me. It wasn’t, of course, an earth-shaking contribution – really rather feeble – but it was very comforting to stitch at the time.  Now it hangs up our stairs, and it speaks to me of our continuing membership of Europe, even if we lose the membership of the European Union.love-letter-to-europeCentre: We saw this little 18th century ladies patch box on display at Traquair House – a very happy daytrip to a most interesting place to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. So there are lots of things bound up in this picture for me: my very happy marriage to Stephen, the pleasures we have out and about exploring this beautiful part of the world, and above all else it speaks of hope.  More than anything else in these unsettled times, the message of this little box comes back to me, and I find in it great, great comfort.  At some time in its history, it must have given hope to another person.  Now again, it is holding a hand out to a dodgy future.patch-box-from-traquairGoodness knows what I will be writing at the end of 2017.  But hope isn’t a bad travelling companion.  So thank you for your company on the journey through 2016, and may you all be sustained by hope in whatever comes your way through the next year.  Happy New Year!

All change

I’ve been both a town and a country mouse. One thing that stands out for me as I revert to country mouse status is how oblivious I’ve been to natural change when living in towns and cities.

It’s been partly due to my occupations in these places, of course, that I have noticed things so differently.  When rushing to work in town or city, you may indeed notice the seasons change, but the micro changes so often pass you by.

Everything at Seaview conspires to remind us that the old Greek adage from Heraclitus πάντα ῥεῖ (everything flows) is true. Life here is constant flux.

The sun and the moon show this as well as anything.  These photographs of a wintry sunrise on the solstice last year (December 21st) were all taken in the matter of minutes as the sun rose to the west of  Bamburgh Castle. First a tiny hint that something was coming …sunrise-1-on-the-solstice-21-12-15Then a bit more …sunrise-2-on-the-solstice-21-12-15And as the sun continues to rise, it appears to swivel to the right …sunrise-3-on-the-solstice-21-12-15Now you can see clearly the orb approaching …sunrise-4-on-the-solstice-21-12-15Likewise the moon, here captured on the night of the Supermoon last month, (14th November) …supermoon-14-11-2016Through the early evening, the moon moved rapidly across the sky, in and out of the clouds.  But there were other changes afoot too – man-made changes.  In the blink of an eye, a train slipped across our line of sight, travelling down the mainline East Coast railway line …supermoon-14-11-2016-with-trainCloud banks constantlychange, sweeping across the huge Northumbrian skies in a fascinating variety of patterns …cloud-formationsRainbows shimmer for a moment (here over Holy Island) – and then pass on …rainbow-on-holy-islandSometimes the moment appears to linger. This foggy sunrise last winter seemed trapped in a cold still world …washing-line-in-the-misty-sunBut the lingering is always an illusion, usually fostered by the light on cold days, as captured in this picture of Berwick, golden in the setting sun …winter-sun-on-berwickYou’ve got to be quick to catch the birds sweeping through our skylines too.  Starlings over the neighbouring houses …cloud-of-starlings-copyCrowds of seagulls following the plough …seagulls-following-the-ploughOr this solitary bird caught in a recent sunrise …bird-at-dawnUnremarkable hungry black birds, looking extraordinary in black and white …wintry-birdsAnd our very favourites, the little sanderlings (who only visit this area in the winter), running in and out of the waterline on the Tweed …sanderlings-on-the-shoreJust occasionally we manage to capture the boats coming into the Tweed – not often.  Entry is difficult, limited by the tides, and so dodgy (because the channel is very narrow) that only the local pilots are allowed to navigate these boats to the Tweed Dock. Magical to see them rushing past Berwick’s old lighthouse …marinda-entering-the-tweedTides – ah, yes, tides. Nothing, of course, demonstrates the inevitability and variety of natural change like the tides.

“Twice daily the tides are here, sometimes 
breenging shoreward like an army
of small, mad, angry locals,
at others, creeping in on tourist feet.
They are their own beginnings & endings …”

from At Douglas Hall by Stuart  A Patterson (a Borders poet) 

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to record these changes by photographing the Tweed Estuary from our lane throughout the day.  In all these pictures, you should be able to make out the wide panorama, stretching from Berwick’s old lighthouse on the far right to Berwick’s Royal Border Bridge on the left of the picture. These pictures start at 9.21 am with very low tide, and the sands of Spittal Point stretching out almost down to the lighthouse …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-9-21-amAn hour later (10.22 am), the sun has come out, there’s a van coming down the lane, and the sands of Spittal Point are succumbing to the incoming tide …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-10-22-amBy 11.26 am, the sky is really blue, there are some gorgeous light clouds mirroring the line of the pier, and only a few islands of sand are still uncovered by the tide …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-11-26-am12.20, and the sky is far less exciting, the sun has gone in, there are still a few very small islands of sand in the Tweed – and there’s a train running up the East Coast mainline, Berwick bound, I think …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-12-20-am13.17, and rather a dull picture of high tide and no sun …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-13-17-pmAn hour later (14.20 pm), and shafts of low wintry sun are running over the picture from the left (the west) as another train is captured on the Eastcoast railway line.  It is very high tide …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-14-20-pmBy 15.17 pm the light is beginning to go, but an odd flash of blue sky is revealed in the dying light.  The tide is on the turn …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-15-17-pmAnd the last picture of daylight, taken at 16.15 pm, the sky and sea are delicately rose-pink from the rays of the setting sun in the west.  The tide is still only a very little way out …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-16-15-pmHow uplifting – in a year when the world has seen such radical and disturbing global changes – are these ephemeral sudden shafts of light …

 

Christmas

Yesterday we put up our Christmas tree.  For many years, we had a proper natural tree, and I loved the excitement of getting the tree,  but it is a relief now, in retirement, to have an easy little synthetic tree that just comes down from the attic.  And anyhow, it is the decorations that give me most pleasure.

Out come the boxes of old and new.  There are the felt stockings my mother made us when we were children, the American Thanksgiving paper turkey, sparkly decorations, the Christmas mobile, and much, much more.Christmas stockingThese are old glass balls that came from my grandmother.  These are so fragile that they could be cracked with just a squeeze of the hand.Granny's glass ballThe box (much repaired) alone is a delight.Ancient Christmas decorationsOdd little things have come into the Christmas collection – and stayed.  I love Zacyntha’s little card of wishes (including the wish that all her cats were with her from the old house …)  Not sure why we have mementos of Truro and Winchester Cathedral …  The golden Catherine Wheel (from New York) was a gift to me, of course!Old Christmas tree treasuresSome ornaments truly are treasures.  My American sister-in-law gave me this beautiful glass ball from San Jose’s Museum of Art.San Jose baubleAlas, there are always breakages.  We bought this charming couple in Krakow a couple of years ago.Christmas breakagesThere are new things to join the collection.  We already have Mary, Queen of Scots, so thought we should add Elizabeth I.  Some delightful freebies from the British Red Cross, a Mexican angel – and a happy memento of Jak and Ellie’s wedding earlier this year.New Christmas treasuresThe pièce de rèsisistance for me is my knitting angel.  How could I not find a knitting angel enchanting – especially when she was made for me by the dear, dear friend who taught me to spin in Devon a good few years ago!Eileen Seddon's Christmas fairyChristmas is often a time of looking back – memories are particularly poignant and powerful at this time of year.  Over the last few months I’ve been scanning the family photograph albums, so I’ve been looking at Christmas through family recollections.

These lovely pictures of my father with his parents in Melbourne are the oldest Christmas pictures I can find.  Here is my grandmother with her 9 month baby, Christmas 1926, taking him for his first dip on the beach at Cowes.  She looks enchanting – so happy, so proud.My father's first Christmas dip 1926, CowesIn 1928, they were again at the beach at Cowes.  It’s my grandfather on the left, she’s in front, holding their little boy’s hand.  They are clearly having such a happy time.  I do wonder what they are looking at out to sea?  My father’s holding his mother’s hand – for reassurance?  He looks a bit worried – perhaps just that deep thinking of a child who is struggling to understand what the adults are telling him?My father at Cowes Christmas 1928Sadly, my grandfather, Vin, died in 1933.  He had got amoebic dysentery in Gallipoli, and never fully recovered.   Dora, my grandmother, later married an Englishman and moved to Leicester with her two little boys.  So these are the only photos I have of the hot Australian Christmases that my father would have known as a child.

The rituals of big English Christmases that my mother’s family liked gradually took over.  Here we all are at my grandparents’ table for Christmas Lunch, 1961.  My parents are there with their four children (err – yes, that’s me the bossy one with her arms folded at the end of the table), together with all my other aunts and uncles.  There are still a few grandchildren to come …. This photo records a rare family get-together.  My father (the photographer here) and uncle were both British diplomats so spent much of their working lives abroad.  My uncle Bow (on the far right) lived in California with his family.  No wonder my grandfather looks so pleased – truly a grand-paterfamilias moment!Christmas lunch Paddock 1961Aaah – those reprehensible 1960s habits!  Here is my father smoking a pipe – and, oh dear, holding the baby at the same time!!  It’s really an archetypal Christmas picture of its era.  The paper hats, the gathered family in their Christmas best, the well-behaved children, my cousin in his short trousers …. this could well have come straight out of a Ladybird book on Christmas.Christmas Paddock 1961 - sitting in drawing roomMy mother’s family always got a visit from Father Christmas.  Here is my patient Uncle Harry wearing the family Father Christmas costume with great aplomb (my mother’s the helpful elf behind).Father Christmas visit 1961A few year’s later, my father’s work took us back to Japan.  He was Head of Chancery (sort of Embassy Personnel Officer) during this time, so he felt very much that is was his job to look after the waifs and strays at Christmas.  This meant a formal Christmas lunch in the dining room, cooked (as usual) by our Japanese cook, Mori-san.  We were waited on by our two lovely kimono-wearing Japanese servants, Hisatsuni-san and Mitsuko-san.  There were always spinster secretaries and batchelor diplomats who joined us for lunch (during which we children obeyed the old adage to the letter of being seen and not heard).  Afterwards, my father would get us all out to play football on the lawn.  The fun was to see how poor Miss X from the secretarial pool coped with the garden mud in her unsuitable suit and heels.  How I wish I could find photos of those Christmases!

One Christmas – one awful, awful Christmas, – there was the disaster of the Chancery Guard’s lunch.  All the Embassy staff enjoyed a Christmas holiday bar one person –  the Chancery Guard.  He had to be on duty in the Embassy offices in case an important telegram came in, some crisis in Whitehall etc.  In his Head of Chancery role, my father promised that we would supply lunch for the Chancery Guard as the offices were just round the corner from our house.

Alas, we forgot!  It must have been about tea-time when we realised.  My father turned black with anger and mortification – how could he forget and fail!  A deputation of children was roped in to trail round to the Embassy offices with cigars, bottles of spirit, crackers, chocolates – and I guess some cold turkey.  But my father never forgave himself – a pall of black hung over the day.  Memories of the Day we forgot the Chancery Guard’s lunch remained with my family for a long, long time.

Christmas 1966, and I was given a camera for Christmas – a very nice Japanese Minolta.  These are some of my first photographs.

Here is my father, amid the detritus of Christmas paper and presents, in our huge Department of Works furnished sitting room.  Diplomats entertained regularly and – in those days – were provided with large, elegant houses and regulation Government furniture. RHE Tokyo christmas 1966I also photographed my Christmas presents in my bedroom. I was 12 – on the cusp of the teenage years, so I’d been given a smart black patent handbag (must have been my first “proper” handbag), and there’s a sewing basket I can see there, along with quite a few books.  How arid and unexciting that would seem to today’s 12 year old! My bedroom Christmas 1966Actually, I was quite contented with my Christmas presents – but I did have a rather big paddy later on those holidays about the endless old-fashioned hand-me-down dresses I was expected to wear.  My mother finally took me to one of the fantastic Japanese department stores and bought me a couple of Mary-Quant-style dresses so I felt better equipped for the parties of the season.

There were lots of parties in the Embassy world over Christmas.  I didn’t go to this one, of course.  It’s the 1964 Imperial Court New Year party – that’s some dressing up!  My father is standing at the top right, very smart in his diplomatic uniform, and my mother is second from the right at the bottom of the picture.  She looks gorgeous.Imperial Court New Year party 1964 Tokyo EmbassyIt was also during these holidays that my parents took us Christmas shopping to the Ginza shopping street – an incredible glittering Christmas experience.  They bought each of their four children the Christmas ornament of our choice.  This snowfamily was my choice – a bit worse for wear now, but still very much treasured.Christmas snowmanBy the 1970s we were back in England, and, his Australian summer Christmases long forgotten, my father settled into comfortable paterfamilias mode.  There’s even a spinster secretary (on the far left) who has joined our family Christmas dinner.Christmas 1975 FarninghamThere were no Japanese servants working for our comfort any longer.  Here the kitchen is staffed by family: three generations (my mother, grandmother and sister) making brandy butter together.Christmas 1970 Tasting brandy butterOne year (1970) we had proper snow.  How opportune! That’s one of my Australian cousins clearing the steps (as though he had done it all his life) and my Californian aunt is standing on the left of the picture.  A really proper picture postcard English Christmas laid on just for them.Clearing snow Fanringham 1970We walked to the church through the charming snowy English village.Christmas 1970 walking to churchAnd we sang carols around the piano over the holiday (my mother playing).   It could almost be out of the same Ladybird Christmas book that I mentioned earlier.Christmas 1970 carol singing round pianoJust when you think you’ve got this Christmas thing sorted, along comes a complication.  Yes, it’s a delightful complication – but not at all what I expected.  I had a Christmas baby!   I still have the letter in which my mother wrote to me in the days before James was born, telling me that I must make sure not to give birth too close to Christmas – it just wasn’t kind!  (He was 10 days early.) James' Christmas birth in Express & EchoA Christmas birthday puts a whole new complexity on the celebration of Christmas.  There were yet more presents for James (at tea-time), – and there were special cakes.  I worked so hard to make this gingerbread cake!Gingerbread cake for Jam's 3rd birthdayIn 1981 Father Christmas started visiting us.  James is definitely very intrigued  – does he know something about the person wearing the costume that we don’t?Father Christmas visit 1981He visited again in 1985.  I think it may be my brother wearing the Father Christmas robes.  By now the children seem to be taking Father Christmas rather more for granted.Father Christmas visit 1985 FarninghamA Christmas birthday was, of course, a great excuse for a children’s fancy dress Christmas party.  Here we are in a rather cold and draughty Devon village hall.  It’s 1988.  Judging by the costumes, I think I must have asked the girls to come as Christmas fairies and the boys as Christmas decorations. Shobrooke Christmas party 1988Skip through the years quickly, and I’ve been through a divorce and embarked on a new marriage.  I have four step-daughters – we are a step-family!  Perhaps the hallmark of stepfamilies should be flexibility.  We certainly were open to change.  One year’s Christmas lunch was Shepherds’ Pie, Star-gazy Pie and Angel Delight.  Hmm … an experiment never repeated.

Of course, what really changed in recent years is the abundance of photos – digital cameras make a big difference.  For the new step-family, there were ups and downs, comings and goings, swings and roundabouts.  Lots of happy Christmases in amidst all the changes, perhaps summed up with this lovely picture of four of our children in the fancy dress costumes that I had made them for Christmas.1991 Christmas fancy dress costumes editedJust as Christmas is a time of looking back, so it is a time of looking forward.  Dawn is a metaphor for hope, for blessings, for future promise of goodness.  So I leave you with this magnificent picture Stephen took of the sunrise this December solstice morning.Sunrise past Bamburgh CastleHappy Christmas to you all!

Busy old fool, unruly Sun

Sun right behind Bamburgh castleIt’s now 18 days since the winter solstice, and although each day that passes lifts my spirits as the minutes of daylight increase, there’s an accompanying sadness.

We are losing our sunrise.

Our house looks south,  out over the North Sea coast,  so on a good day we clearly see the castles of Lindisfarne and Bamburgh.View of Lindisfarne and Bamburgh castlesNo view of sunrise, you would think.  But that’s where you’re wrong.  Until I came to live here some 4 years ago, I hadn’t realised that because of the tilt of the earth, during the winter months sunrise moves over across the eastern horizon towards the south.

Imagine our excitement the first winter we were here in 2010 to see this magnificent sunrise exploding over the snowy fields.  At this point  sunrise has moved to half way between the two castles.Sunrise over snow between Lindisfarne and Bamburgh castlesA more furious sunrise here; now the sunrise has moved right up to Bamburgh Castle and you can just make out the silhouette of the castle with the sun rising behind.more furious sunrise behind Bamburgh castleChristmas Eve last year, just a few days after the solstice, and the sunrise is far past Bamburgh Castle.  But it’s started out on its journey back.sun starting return journey to Bamburgh castleOh, busy old fool – teasing us with all that promise  ….sunrise - teasing us with all that promiseto when you make your cosy little egg yolk first appearance ……sun making first little egg yolk appearanceto playing mean and moody………mean and moody sunrise over snowto coquettish, mysterious ………Sun looking coquettish beyond Bamburghto simply gorgeous ……simply gorgeous sunriseI don’t want you to go –  I shall miss you!