Tuesday, 26 January 2021


 We finally got snow. Proper snow. Snow enough to make snowmen, throw snowballs and scrunch with satisfaction through bouncy, snowy grass. And so, there was snowswimming! I went on the first morning when the snow was still quite light, but still!

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

The Ravens

 Since March we have been tuning in to Radio 2 at lunchtimes. There is a clear need for teenage sons to be listening to upbeat music between virtual lessons, rather than my usual (and much loved, except for the dramas) Radio 4. Jeremy Vine has totally helped us get through three Lockdowns now. One of us switches the radio on, while someone else reaches for the kettle, but we all ask, "What's the nation's rant for today?" And we settle down at the kitchen table to listen with glee to all the folk phoning in about crowds in national parks, drones over pharmacy queues, and to date our still collective favourite: the woman complaining about being fined for drinking her tin of Prosecco on a bench while resting in the middle of her daily walk which was so essential to her because of her health issues. If that was you, we're sorry for your troubles.

At the end of last week, we arrived in the middle of a discussion between Mr Vine and raven breeders in England. Apparently, and I don't mean to worry you more than you already are in the middle of These Strange Times, there are only two remaining ravens at the Tower of London. We found this genuinely shocking. What was also shocking was that the iconic Mr Vine claimed never to have known the legend of the ravens. Even we Northern Irish dwellers know that should the ravens ever leave the Tower, well, dear readers, as you know too, the nation will fall.
This is why they apparently have always clipped the wings of the ravens in the Tower's hitherto healthy raven community. (What is the collective noun for ravens? Ang must know!) And I think the Beefeaters have some responsibility for their welfare, since obviously they don't have too many inmates there these days. Although Mr Vine did tell us that he had once been shown a tiny little cell in the Tower with a very lovely Armitage lavatory in the middle of the room. Churchill had the cell earmarked for Hitler, should they have been able to apprehend him. The Geneva Convention states that prisoners of war must have lavatory access, so here, in this tiny little room with bars on the window, was a lavatory fit for a genocidal dictator. The room was not used.

So right now, it seems, they are trying to boost the raven population at the Tower. We wish them every success. Obviously the last thing we need right now is for the ravens to desert us. The image of rats fleeing the sinking ship comes to mind. With Brexit, and plague, and all the worries in our heads, I think we wouldn't be surprised if both ravens flew (or passed) and the nation fell.

I've just finished reading Cymbeline, which uses Wales as a site of mystical enchantment. A place associated with faeries and spirits and also the Arthur legends. So, here's what I'm thinking. If the ravens are going to leave us, maybe the time will be now for Arthur to rise from his hill and come forth to deliver the nation in its time of greatest peril. I've always loved that legend, that Arthur is just waiting for the time when we need him most. I think that legend, going back to the Right Honourable Sir Churchill, was also discussed in the dark days of the second world war.

And surely there are indeed spiritual parallels here? A saviour rising from a hill? A nation saved? These are definitely days for putting our faith in a King.

ps I have just looked up the collective noun for ravens. "Flock" is now most commonly used, but more specifically they can be a rave, a conspiracy, or even a treachery - all of which seem very fitting words for our different approaches to this pandemic. 

pps We visited the Tower one idyllic sunny day in July 2012, just before the opening of the London Olympics. It was wonderful.

pps Guy Ritchie's Arthur: Legend of the Sword is well worth a watch.

edit: Ang's article tells us that there are more than two ravens remaining. All is not, yet, lost!

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Nollaig na mBan

I suppose that it's only over my married life that I've gradually discovered the rich tapestry of the church year in different traditions. I grew up in a very evangelical Presbyterian sub-culture at a time in Northern Ireland's Troubled history when looking out of your sub-culture was by no means the norm. So even Advent and Lent weren't part of my first spiritual language.

Epiphany is something I haven't quite known what to do with at all. For years I had already been collecting santons on many trips and holiday camp stints in France, and I adore the idea of ordinary folk in all their professions making their way to the creche alongside the shepherds and the angels and the kings.

Because Prince Charming now works for a French company, I did make a galette des rois last year and sent it in with him for his French colleagues. There was no point in making another one this year, with opportunities to share food together so much a thing of the near but still so distant past!

I think it was just last year as well that I first learned about Nollaig na mBan - celebrated in Ireland on 6th January. In her brilliant RTE article, Marion McGarry explains, "As a reward for their hard work over the Christmas season, it was a day off from all house work for women and traditional roles were supposed to be reversed in the home: men did the women’s work in the house while women rested and gathered together informally."

 "The custom was that women made social calls to the homes of their friends and neighbours and enjoyed tea and the last of the Christmas cake". Photo: George Marks/Getty Images

Epiphany obviously fell on a Wednesday this year, and we are never slow to celebrate anything at Hookery, and indeed what better way to rest and gather as women during a Pandemic than at your weekly crochet (and knitting) Zoom?! In a further stroke of serendipity there were only two small slices of my Christmas cake left, and it did feel nicely symbolic to be polishing those off on the last day of Christmas!

Now, it did turn out to be a significantly more exciting night than we had planned. We gather at 7.30pm, and this was pretty much the time at which the news from the Capitol started to filter through our virtual clouds. Two of our women are absolute news fiends and they were popping in and out with updates from Sky News and CNN. I ran down to the boys, the oldest of whom had just logged in to our church prayer meeting Zoom. 

So there we all were, some of us on this side of the Atlantic celebrating female friends and resting after turkeys and tinsel, some of us on the other side of the Atlantic no doubt even more riveted to your news channels. 

I have absolutely no right whatsoever to comment and won't. I just feel that we are all, political persuasions and all, connected intrinsically. Here in Northern Ireland it baffles me utterly that this is rejected. We are all connected in good times and Covid times and all ages. We have had a very difficult week of school announcements this week, that do not help us at all, and the one thing in my head is gratitude for a God of the ages, all ages.

So, in the "Ordinary" Time starting now after Epiphany, Twelfth Night, Women's Christmas, Little Christmas, and as we all move forward into whatever else this wide world will endure in the year ahead, here's John Donne, with his 1624 devotion on an emergent occasion.

'No Man is an Island'

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

Olde English Version
No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne 

Monday, 4 January 2021

Well done, world

Not that I have any right in the wide wonderful world to congratulate it, but I do think we should at least pat ourselves on the back. We're still here, still surviving physically, emotionally, spiritually. That may be by the skin of our teeth, like here, but thus far, fine blogging friends, thus far.

I'm spending a day of self-isolation in my bedroom so I am going to spend the afternoon reading all your Christmas adventures and perspectives. Perspective is the first casuality in many of my crises. It's a good thing to have such a range of life lenses here in Blogland. 

My view on 2020 is that we did our best, we did what we were told, and we helped where we could. The difficulties that we encountered were not directly covid-related, but the circumstances did perhaps exacerbate the situation.  I found it even harder than usual to say truthfully that the joy of the Lord was my strength, but I did try to hold on. I love it when friends remind me that none of this is news to God and that He is still on the throne. Maybe my holding on isn't the important thing in this.

I do have two "resolutions" for 2021. The first one is slightly random: I am going to stop (mostly) using biros and switch to sharpened pencils. Ages ago I saw a school in France who had banned bics, which seemed potentially treasonable given that Bic is French. They used the old plastic casings to plant seeds, and just used pencils to write, putting the sharpenings in the compost. Zero waste!

And as I read to the end of the Psalms at the end of the year, I got to this: Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. Psalm 143:10. Not really a resolution, more a prayer. Maybe that's the lesson. It's always very basic here with me.

So, well done, Blogworld. May God's good Spirit lead you on level ground in 2021, and if it does get bumpy - God go with you still.

What I'm reading: a friend from church bought me this daily devotional which I am finding challenging but timely. It takes Bible prayers and arranges them as a guide for daily prayer times. It certainly helps with the perspective question. I finished Ali Smith's Winter last night, and think I got a bit closer to understanding the head of stone. Next up is the hilarious Richard Osman's first, and so far best, novel (his words) "The Thursday Murder Club". Let me know if you'd like to read it too, and I'll send you it when I'm done. 

What I'm making: I am now just over half way through Cushla's Comfort blanket! Hooray! So all other projects are on hold. Full steam ahead.

What I'm doing: Well, I hope you'll not be disappointed when I say that the sea swimming is also on hold. Our tight Lockdown means that group exercise is out of bounds for a while. We can meet outside (not in a private garden) in groups of up to 15, but not exercise, and I'm too chicken to break the guidelines. Ah, but Mags, you might say, you could swim with PC on coastguard patrol. I could. But I haven't! Bit too scared to get in the water by myself. 

I'm sure it might be the same near you, but a quiet walk out is pretty impossible round here with all the footpaths and parks completely bunged with folk. So I don't even want to walk along to the slipway.

I am about to submit my second assignment for my course as well, which feels miraculous after the last month.

And here's a doing and reading thing: MK posted about a reading challenge for the New Year. I'm far too aware of my limitations to commit to joining in properly, but there are some really interesting suggestions in there. So, I'm going to get my hands on a copy of Cymbeline. One of MK's genres is a Shakespeare play. This one is quoted in "Winter" so it's in my head, I've never read it before, and why not?

MK also talked about having one "reading day" a week where you have no screen activity, just reading. Today is not turning out to be that day, but maybe tomorrow...

I'll leave you with what turned out to be the only occurrence of Christmas baking in our house, except for the Christmas cake back in November. I made jammy stars for New Year's Eve. Prince Charming was most delighted. We had them with jelly and ice-cream for our dinner party dessert. Prince Charming had decreed that we get all dressed up for New Year. It was all as fancy as Bridgerton and significantly more wholesome. If you're thinking of watching Netflix's new Downton, don't. It's not Downton. It starts interestingly enough and it is certainly gorgeous to the eye. But the script is just a bit too cringe-worthy as episodes progress and once you've seen Episode 5 you can't unsee. We are feeling a bit bereft on the watching front now that we've got to the end of The Crown's fourth series. And it was a bleak enough thing to relive.

The dinner party was not quite as fancy as planned because I had made an absolute howler of a mistake with my grocery delivery. All the lovely New Year's Eve fare was put into tomorrow's order. Last week's driver left three loaves of bread on the doorstep. Not even any proverbial fish. So yes, the week where I am self-isolating has been spent making do with what we had in the fridge and freezer, in true Pandemic Style, and all has been well. As mad, old Julian said, all will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. Except that sometimes they're not well at all, and in that case we'll just have to keep going anyway. 

None of this is new to God, and He is still on the throne x

Time stands still

 Hello! Sending you all lots of love from Northern Ireland, where nothing much changes just as everything changes, as usual. Time has stood ...