Sunday, 28 November 2021

First Sunday in Advent 2021

Friends, bloggies, countrywomen, I am curled up on the green sofa here feeling deeply deeply grateful for the grace of our year that turns and turns again time after time, bringing us back to the same gentle points of pause. The places where, no matter what that year has brought or wrought or wrangled, you can start again. Happy First Sunday in Advent.

I love November. I say this every year! I love November. It has no agenda for us in our house - no birthdays, no big events, no demands. It has become my time to marvel at the big, bare, bleak skies and just breathe. However - this year I have noticed with awe the colour of it all.

We have had spectacular sunrises and sunsets in this northern part of our northern Ireland. Mind you, maybe we always did and I didn't notice because I wasn't spending as much time down on the shore and beyond. So, here is my rather fanciful idea for the start of my Advent...

I wonder if the vibrant, glowing, sky-illuminating colours of this November's skies could paint all the emotions of the last year - all the joys and all the pain and all the hope and all the persecution. It could all be written on the clouds, laid out, inspected, recognised, declared. And even if some of the beauty was a terrible beauty, too much of a beauty to take in, it was still beautiful.

And haven't the skies been recognised as declarations for so many generations of thinkers? A young man who achieved great things after years tormented and chased and abused could still say, " The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands." (Psalm 19)

The week after Jolly was here I spent a lot of time wondering why I had used the word "command" when I was describing our dusk walk down at the shore. At the time I hesitated over it and couldn't explain to myself why it was nonetheless the only word that I knew I needed to choose. I decided eventually that the closest I could get came from a passage that our assistant minister had talked about earlier in the Autumn. "But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. "

I think that the command for me recently has come from my November skies and I'm taking it as my Advent word this year. I'm going to try to let all those colours of the year settle as I make some attempt to take stock. I'm going to heed the instruction to take "a long thoughtful look" at what is over my head, and in it. I'll declare all those emotions as the skies declare their Creator God, and we'll finish another year together, He and I.

Happy First Sunday in Advent x

(Apologies for my generally depressed and depressing thoughts! It's been a tough old time here, and I do know that I really need to get over it all! And you know that the Bible bits are from Psalm 19 and the Message version of the first chapter of the letter that Paul wrote to early Christians in Rome. And I'm also still sorry for the rubbish pictures from my phone which is still all cracked and still held together with sticky tape!!)

Saturday, 6 November 2021

A last Jolly

We went swimming this morning. We have been living above, walking along the Lough all week, so Jolly decided he'd get into the Lough with my swimming friends and me this morning. It was more stormy than cold, so lots of hard swimming without getting very far at all! Jolly has a cosy new scarf to help him warm up, but tea always helps too. I've been keeping a tight hold of Jolly today for fear that he would get carried away by wind or excitement.
Since the area around St Anne's Cathedral in the city has been developped into a bustling restaurant district - the Cathedral Quarter, would you believe - someone must have decided that we needed three other quarters to be mathematically correct. I don't even know what the fourth one is. Jolly has seen the Titanic Quarter, so we decided to have a stroll round the University Quarter on our way to the airport. This is the beautiful Lanyon building of Queen's University. I studied French and English here, in the little street to the left of the Quad, and after this gap year Mattman will be studying Chemical Engineering just up the hill past the Ulster Museum. We didn't get to the Seamus Heaney Library round the back, but it is very lovely too.
The Museum sits at the top end of our Botanic Gardens, which are all bedecked and ready for this year's nocturnal festive delight, Botanic Bright Lights. During the day you can just dander through for free and enjoy the vibrant colours and gorgeous displays. This year you follow the journey of Bobo the garden gnome as he takes off on a whirlwind world tour on his way to a new job at the North Pole. Jolly could relate.

He got talking to a Scot gnome. They were swapping kilt stories. I had to reach in and extricate him in case he missed his flight. It was very hard saying goodbye. We wished him good luck with the many deliveries ahead, a Merry Christmas, and good luck for his retirement. He took his now bulging diary as hand luggage to read on the plane. He said he wanted to look back on all his travels, and on all his new friends, and try to come to some sort of a decision about his future. We wish him every blessing.

Pom Pom, I really hope that he'll be with you by Christmas, if not by Thanksgiving. It's a wide old sea, and borders have always been problematic for us here, but if he was a character in A Midsummer's Dream (instead of a nearly Midwinter one) he'd be singing, "I go, I go; look how I go, swifter than arrow from the Tartare's bow."

Friday, 5 November 2021

We read to know we are not alone

 Did C. S. Lewis really say this? I think it's a line in Shadowlands, but you know how it is with all those quotes you read on social media. I'm never sure if they were in fact uttered by the folk to whom they are attributed! Well, Jolly and I are reading quietly tonight together. I didn't see much of him earlier because I was running many many errands after school. He did say that he caught the train into town at lunchtime. So here we are, lying around the house tonight, chatting about all our favourite winter reads.

I brought out this book for Jolly to see. He hasn't put it down! He spent ages poring over the pictures of the postman on his bike. Pom Pom reminded me of how much Jolly loves to cycle. Greta would be very pleased with him. I'm sorry that she's so disappointed with COP26. We all need to have some hope that we can be better stewards of our world and of each other. Jo also loves to cycle but has a flat tyre just now, otherwise he would have taken Jolly off along the cycle path.

The book is full of cards and letters and games and puzzles that you can take out of the envelopes and read or play with. We had fun timing ourselves at putting poor Humpty together again. Who needs all the king's men?
I thought Jolly was going to fall into the last beautiful scene. I think he is properly ready to go home now. He has just nipped upstairs to finish his packing. Although I'm sure I just heard him on the phone under the stairs.
So, tomorrow Jolly will be taking to the high, dark skies over that wide Atlantic Ocean. I'm glad that he's flying back in November. If he stays awake I'm sure he'll see a wonderful sunset and sunrise. Hopefully he might even be home in time for Thanksgiving, which is just not a thing here all - us not having any Pilgrim Fathers. (Because my phone is currently held together with Sellotape and hilarity, you'll not make out that the sign on the tree points 'Home' due to blurriness of the photos to which you are subjected this evening...)
We were in the Highlands of Scotland last week for half-term. Maybe I'll tell you about that next week after Jolly goes, since he has dragged me back into the blogosphere. We met a friend of the friends with whom we were staying who posts absolutely gorgeous sixty second sermons from his virtual platform. (Look for Fullarton Connexions on Farcebook.) A lot of the time he stops and chats from one of his many cycle rides through the Scottish hills. Jolly loves them. Ryan is also in this Tearfund Scotland video about COP26 which you might be able to see if you're a Farcebook user yourself!

Last day with Jolly tomorrow. I have to say, it's lovely being back with you all, reading to know I am not alone x

Thursday, 4 November 2021

In which Jolly learns how to pronounce some Irish names

Jolly met Niamh (pronounced N-Eve) at The Lamppost Cafe in East Belfast yesterday morning. Sandra and I had brunch there a few years ago. It is a wonderfully magical place - themed around the Narnia works of C. S. Lewis it sits across the road from C. S. Lewis Square, another wonderfully magical place filled with sculptures of Narnian characters.

Jolly and Niamh sat in the tiny little conservatory at the back and had a lovely hour's chat over tea and caramel shortcake. Niamh told Jolly all about her travels, living and working in Finland and Japan and Iceland and the States, and about how she is making her living now as a writer of Celtic and Norse fairytales re-imagined in our modern times. 

She wanted to know if Jolly was familiar with A. S. Byatt's 'Little Black Book of Stories'. It is, apparently, Niamh's favourite read at this dark time of the year. Jolly didn't feel it sounded intellectual enough to admit that he likes nothing more than settling down with a beautifully illustrated children's book, so he made the right noises and listened on. Niamh spoke for quite some time, Jolly recounted, on the subliminal menopausal messages in 'A Stone Woman', and Jolly did wonder if this 30 year-old woman was reading perhaps too much into something she might not fully understand.

He certainly found Niamh very interesting, very intense, and would undoubtedly have wanted to hear more about her campaign to re-introduce Hedge Schools to the Northern Irish education system, but he needed to get the bus back into town for his next rendez-vous. He thanked Niamh very much, accepted her friend request on Farcebook, and went to find the bus-stop, via the sculpture park.

Aoife (pronounced Eefa) works in Belfast's Central Library, a beautiful Victorian building that was one of Ireland's first major public library buildings when it opened in 1888. Aoife and Jolly had lunch in the cafe there, and shared a sausage roll stack with a delicious tomato salad. Jolly ate lots and lots, which would prove to be fortuitous. 

Aoife is 37 and absolutely loves her job, she told Jolly who then told me. She works on the top floor under the wide skylights that make the most of Belfast's sometimes rare sunlight. She looks after the specialist literature collections, which is obviously in and of itself extremely interesting. However, she shared with our chum, it is also quite exciting when the BBC is filming their 'Line of Duty' series in the city. Central Library is used as Police HQ, and Aoife has often passed Adrian Dunbar not coming up the Lagan in a bubble in the main foyer.

Jolly was very taken with Aoife. He thought that her cataloguing skills would come in very handy when sorting mail back at the Post Office, and he was sure that her gentle, friendly ways would go down very well in the village. She also always has a book with her, she had confessed, and Jolly thought that she would be resourceful enough to keep herself amused during his postman's long shifts. But would she want to leave her beloved library? They exchanged phone numbers and addresses, as Aoife said that she loves to write letters: old-fashioned, on paper, sealed with a loving kiss letters. Jolly approved very much.
With quite a few hours to fill before his last engagement, Jolly actually ended up spending the rest of the afternoon in the library. Aoife left him on the first floor in the newspaper archives and Jolly researched the history of Royal Mail in the city. Afterwards he wandered up the winding staircase to Aoife's floor where she showed him collections of letters from all sorts of Northern Irish writers. He waited around until closing time and, on their way out, Aoife showed Jolly a lovely little exhibition of children's books currently on display on the ground floor. The she walked him through the town to his next port of call. They both promised to stay in touch.
Jolly was nearly about to phone me to come and get him when Grainne (pronounced Gron-ya) finally appeared. She was, he conceded, extremely apologetic. Something had come up at work that she really needed to deal with there and then. Human Resources Manager for a large business in the city centre, Grainne, aged 35, is responsible for the well-being of the 200 staff under her care. Jolly was very glad that he only has to worry about one dispatch driver.

They headed into the shiny new Grand Central Hotel and Jolly gazed with awe at the view of the city appearing as the glass lift flew up to the twenty-third floor. Aoife had told Jolly that the hotel's penthouse bar was used in the BBC's filming of the crime series 'Bloodlands'. James Nesbitt had met his fictional daughter there in the opening scenes. This was when Jolly was very glad that he had eaten so well at lunchtime. Grainne, it seemed, didn't need any food because she had a gym session booked with her personal trainer at 10pm. They found two spectacular seats in the Observatory bar, high over the cityscape and ordered one bramble cocktail between them. Jolly said he felt a bit embarrassed confessing that he isn't much of a drinker. We have a question here that we often ask religious folk, 'Are you good-living?' and I am beginning to wonder if Jolly is good-living. I suppose it means that you don't drink or smoke or swear or kick your cat. People of faith get a bit frustrated because they know that a belief in and a love for God is about much more than these things. Although I'm sure that Jolly would not be at all impressed with anyone kicking anything. On the other hand he does struggle sometimes with a few very nasty dogs on his round.

Jolly said he realised that this was what he was thinking about as Grainne told him all about her joy at being back in her office after the Lockdowns, and her new car, and the trip to the Maldives that she had to cancel because of Covid, and the skiing trip too, and the yacht tour of the Greek islands. He's not sure quite how many Brambles they got through by the time Grainne said how lovely it had been to meet someone who really knew how to listen, told the waiter to charge their drinks to her expense account, and ran elegantly off to be on time at the gym. 
So, in fact, perhaps Jolly was not at all overawed by Titanic Belfast when I picked him up. Perhaps he just had too much to think about. He's been very quiet today, but has been a great pal helping in the kitchen. He's upstairs now helping Jo revise for a Geography test. They have been having detailed conversations about meanders and oxbows. Jolly says he sees a lot of rivers on his daily route. And then I think he said he was going to give Aoife a ring...

He just has two more sleeps here and will then be packing up his bags for the return leg of his odyssey. We're going to miss him!

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

In which a postman delivers post

Well, it's been a very exciting day in and around the Meadowplace today. I know you're all waiting with bated breath to meet Jolly's three new lady friends. But you'll have to wait until tomorrow when Jolly will have uploaded his photos from today's coffee/lunch/dinner dates. He told me all about it when I got back from school. He came with me to deliver a birthday present and we had a great talk as we walked.
He was quite emotional when we got to our local postbox. He says he's starting to worry a bit about how close we're getting to the festive period with its increased pressure on postal deliveries. He's such a lovely bloke - just wants to make sure that everyone can be as jolly as him.
We were delivering our present by hand, so we walked on across the main road, down the street where we used to live (The Land of the Tearful Strawberries, where this little blog sprouted first), and over the hidden bridge to D's house. He was very pleased to meet Jolly. So pleased that he bravely stood on the cold, November ground in his bare feet. Jolly couldn't believe it.
Neither of us could believe the vertical rainbow we saw when we got back to our corner. We might have gone off in search of the crock of gold at its end, which was probably more or less where we had our loughshore walk yesterday, but Jolly had to get ready for his meal out with Grainne.
I picked him up in town afterwards and we took the long way home, past the Titanic Centre. I thought that Jolly was speechless at its impressive scale. The four wings of the building are designed to be exactly the size of Titanic's prow but also to look like an iceberg. Then I wondered was he speechless at my lack of tact. You probably don't want to be reminded of that horrendous night when you're about to cross the Atlantic yourself. Sorry, Jolly.

We promise to introduce you to Niamh, Aoife and Grainne tomorrow...


Tuesday, 2 November 2021



Jolly and I have had a blissful day today discussing how much we both love, adore and cherish the stunningly beautiful month of November. It turns out that we both take great comfort from the bare blue skies at this time of the year. It's a stark month, with falling temperatures and darkening days, but it has a purity and a command that is spectacular, we think!

We went for a slow short walk along the shores of Belfast Lough when I finished school and errands. Dusk was creeping across the water, itself glowing with all the colours of the day. We were very happy, but also glad to get back to a wee cup of tea. Quite a big cup of tea in fact, and look at the mug that Jolly chose... Do you get the feeling that he might be getting homesick?

He is curled up in that big armchair now with the blanket round him, reading a book while I finalise his plans for tomorrow. He has decided to get all his meetings done in a day, so he'll have coffee with Niamh before lunch with Aoife before dinner with Grainne. I asked if he wanted to pace himself, but he said that there was no point hanging about. 

"It's like when I have lot and lots of heavy parcels to deliver," he said. "I could spread them out over a few days but then people would be cross at having to wait, and I'd wake up knowing that there was still work left-over. I much prefer to keep everyone, including myself, jolly," said Jolly!

He also said that he will be wearing his kilt. It is apparently keeping him warm in these chilly Irish climes. Annie, did you tell him what he's (not) supposed to be wearing underneath?

So, a busy day tomorrow! We wish you all a beautiful bare sky above you, a blanket around you, and a wee cup of tea in both hands x

Monday, 1 November 2021

In which a Postman encounters the Northern Ireland Protocol

Well, you too might fancy a little glass of something had you been packaged up and posted all over everywhere - Jolly the Postman has been on a Grand Tour of the Western World, much in the style of that wonderful Wind in the Willows adventure. All from the creative genius loving and lovely mind of Pom Pom, naturally. He arrived a while ago here in the North of Ireland/Northern Ireland (depending on your political ideology) after being in

Scotland with Anne after being in

Norfolk, England with Angela after being in

North Carolina with MK after being in

Indiana with Heather after being in

Minnesota  with Lisa after being

sent off on his jolly Jolly way by Pom Pom in Denver.

Poor Jolly thought he was on an exciting adventure to see a bit more of the world than he usually experiences on his daily delivery route. And yes, on the way he has been rather hoping to meet a One True Love, someone with whom he can share his jolly life, someone to whom he can come home after a long day trudging up lanes and down avenues and carrying his postbag under sun, shine, snow and storm.

Then he tried to travel to Northern Ireland!

You will all have heard of Brexit, and may well be aware that its consequences have led to all sorts of complications and calamities, including at the minute, a centuries old return to hostilities between England and France. (Officially Britain and France, and this time to do with fishing rights.) Jolly has been following the news with great insight, as only someone who delivers hundreds of newspapers and journals a year could do. Here in the north of my island we have the added difficulties of The Protocol. Everything is being blamed on The Protocol: food shortages in shops, refusals to deliver things across the Irish Sea (poo to John Lewis and Marks and Spencer). You can imagine how cross our Jolly Postman has been at such rudeness. Thankfully he fought his way through all sorts of red tape and forms and delays at ports and made it through!

Then he hit a second delay! Having survived the complexities of Northern Irish politics, he realised with barely concealed horror that he has come to a home without any prowess in opening letters. With great grace and patience he has been sifting his way through mounds of paperwork. Phew! By the time that was all sorted, it was Hallowe'en - although Jolly has enjoyed reading all about Irish traditions of Samhain.

'While the history of Halloween may be shrouded in the mists of time, at its heart it is a move to the dark half of the year. As the leaves are lost and land becomes covered in glimmering frosts, there's a pleasant melancholy to be found in making the most of shorter days, like walking through sunset before the evening chill creeps in. Halloween is essentially a celebration of nature, and how coast and countryside can sustain us. Its Celtic origins harp back to a time when people were dependent on the land. To protect the bounty of the harvest season, they carved jack-o'-lanterns and dressed in costume to ward off evil spirits, which they believed roamed more freely at the start of the dark half of the year. The PĂșca was one such feared spirit. the mischievous shape shifter apparently often took the form of a goat.' National Trust NI

Now, we don't really go for a spooky, ghoulish 31st October here, and Jolly seemed happy enough with that. He seems a wholesome bloke. We try to be a household of God-fearing folk so it's always just about the pumpkins in my home, my favourite US import! (Although I do also have covetous thoughts of US porches too, as Pom Pom and MK can well confirm.) We gather here to celebrate Autumn and harvest and God's great provision and love. So we've been a bit too busy for wife hunting just yet. I have a few candidates in mind though - and Jolly will be meeting them this week. I do wonder if his head is swirling a bit with all the memories of lovely ladies encountered thus far. Which is actually what I have been telling him. Thus far, Jolly, thus far has the Lord helped us. 

First Sunday in Advent 2021

Friends, bloggies, countrywomen, I am curled up on the green sofa here feeling deeply deeply grateful for the grace of our year that turns a...