I made myself laugh yesterday on another wet and windy dog walk. I caught a glimpse of myself in the full- length glass doors of a closed cafe. I was completely dressed like the dogs.
The weather was dire so I couldn’t get a photo, but this bathroom shot gives you an idea. Even the architecture of the walk seemed to have got the ‘salted caramel’ dress code.
Then my task for the day was to create gift packs from a Photo Shoot * that my family were involved in at the height of summer.
The evening light and our choice of clothes was also Caramel coloured. Once again the dogs were perfectly colour co-ordinated.
Although Hugo could not be trusted to pose. As regular readers will know he is on a one dog mission to rescue every frond of seaweed from the sea. Sorting these pictures was like playing snap with my family. Six packs of selected images were the reward for a couple of hours of checking and checking serial numbers.
It was a Salted Caramel kind of day!
* we are not really a photo shoot kind of family. However meeting Rachel at Ruby Light was a very relaxed experience. I can happily recommend her.
In the spirit of Advent +2022 I thought this image of the Rope Bridge at Heligan was a good visual metaphor for this period between Christmas and New Year. The anticipation of stepping into an unkown 2023, which is represented here by sun bleached rope, from the slightly wobbly but verdant certainty that is our lived experience of 2023. Last night I experienced a little bit of my 2023. We were forced into a bar by bad weather during the evening dog walk. It was my third drenching of the day. My drink order rumbled up, from deep within my Christmas archive of things to enjoy over the festive period. Inexplicably I ordered a port and lemon.
The cosiness of my grandparents country pub was the inspiration. Ordinarily the pub was filled with farmers, American servicemen and the passing trade of a not-too-busy road between a market town, a few villages, and an airbase. At Christmas time the pub took on a more glamourous feel, women who were dressed up came into the pub on the arms of the same men or sometimes in large work groups. At this time of year customers became very generous and brought my grandparents a drink when they bought a round of drinks for their companions. My grandmother always chose a Port and Lemon in winter. In summer her tipple was a Booth’s Gin and Tonic. I wonder now if they were buying her silence and discretion. In a small country community all sorts went on, much of it in the pub.
I really have no idea why the words, port and lemon came out of my mouth yesterday evening, perhaps prolonged rainfall has softened my mind. Regardless of the cause the effect was very pleasing, a simple refreshing drink, hopelessly old fashioned and probably rarely requested. I may order one, more often in 2023.
As our guests slip away, fully charged with Christmas love, the house falls silent after a week of gentle feasting and serial socialising. We are left with the colours and shapes and flavours that are left behind. In the top picture we have Korean Tea. The subtlest flavour of our festive season but one that will drive us to Exmouth Market next time we are in London. The company tag line. The harmony of emptying cup and mind together. 2023 goals.
Belatedly I created a tropical Christmas decoration. I love it so much it may become permanent.
We have spent a couple of years pondering exactly which sort of blue and white china we should buy to replace our servicable white. The lightbulb moment of this Christmas was to ask for bits from three different manufacturers.Genius!
I am usually quite poor at being on- the-ball for Christmas Cards, my international friends get the best deal as I can get those done in November. Once December hits I am like a rabbit in the headlights, this year was my most startled year ever. The postal strike in the UK compounded my own innate festive failure. Foreign parcels went out on schedule. Cards not at all.
So for all my friends and family, my apologies for this year, but you know I am a ‘skin of my teeth’ kind of card sender, and this year I was down to my dentine. The postal strike was one reason but the other was Post Office Fury!
I spent a good bit of money on posting a tracked parcel to Hong Kong. 19 days later it was still tracking to the excellent Post Office in Stonehouse. By coincidence I knew it had left that building, because my parcel went straight into the sack that left the building before I did. Every day I attempted to track it, and every day it was still tracked to Stonehouse. Every day that happened I resolved not to give the Post Office any more of my business. 19 days later we were on the cusp of the last posting day for cards to arrive for Christmas. I drove to the local Post Office HQ and made a mild complaint that I had paid for tracking. No problem said the person on reception. Her answer though was so far from acceptable I lost my mind slightly.
“Oooooh” she said with wonder in her voice.
“It’s up country”
Up Country or Up the line is a far South West England statement that covers anywhere beyond Plymouth and loosely extends to any international border in the UK. In Cornwall it means anywhere beyond the Tamar Bridge.
There is always a slight sense that, Up Country or Up the Line is in every sense inferior in every way to Devon or Cornwall.
And that my friends is why no Christmas cards have been sent from @theoldmortuary this year. I am having a postal huff.
As luck would have it I was sent this lovely card featuring British Military personnel. Which brings me rather nicely to my charitable donation in lieu of sending Christmas Cards.
This gentleman broke the world speed record for swimming a mile with only one arm in our own favourite Tranquility Bay, on Christmas Eve. He fund raises for Reorg. We watched him break the record and donated to the charity that supports ex- servicemen for which Mark Ormrod is an ambassador.
This humble little pot has been in my family for longer than I have. Denby Manor Green was first made in 1939 but production was paused during the war and started again in 1953 which is probably when my mum first got hers for her 21st Birthday. For her ‘bottom drawer’. Domestic items given to women to prepare their lives as homemakers once they were ‘inevitably’ married. In Essex, where I grew up this curious tradition was called Bottom Drawer it may have had different names elsewhere. Without knowing it is hard to look phrases up. Google suggests that this was a nationwide term, but that household linen was the focus.
My mum did marry but actually chose to have her household china in a different colourway.
The green pot was definitely not her favourite item. It was used for low grade Christmas jobs like pressing an Ox Tongue or as a mould for home made brawn. To my mind grizzly tasks but in the sixties Essex essential Boxing Day food. As a small person both required prep that horrified me.
Ox tongue is self explanatory but the prep required was horrific. A large ox tongue was purchased from the butcher who also ran the local slaughter house. It was taken home and boiled with chopped onions, carrots and celery. Soffrito as we know it. After what seemed like hours of boiling it was removed from the pan and while still hot the tongue had to be peeled by hand and the placed in the green pot with a little of the strained boiling fluid. Then a saucer was put on top with a huge weight and the tongue was pressed as it cooled and then for a couple of days. To be revealed on Boxing day evening as a great culinary triumph. The sign that my mother was an accomplished cook who knew her way around controlling the chattering part of a cow. Brawn was an even worse delicacy. I will share the first part of the recipe and a link if you wish for further information.
The fact that this dish was wonderfully tasty shows just how good a cook my mum was even if I recoil from these foods now. Because on Boxing Day day the green pot was the star of her show people started giving her their unwanted Denby Manor Green. She didn’t really want it either for most of the rest of the other 364 days of the year. She bought and loved using the brown version. The brown version did not survive the daily toil of family life. The unloved Denby Manor Green has passed into my kitchen and is used much more frequently by me than it ever was by her. Although not at all so skillfully.*
*One year something went wrong, the tongue for whatever reason had not become one solid slab of cold meat. As the big reveal occurred the tongue flopped out of the casserole line a giant, pink, sloppy slug. Quickly returned to the kitchen it was reshaped using a scaffolding of cocktail sticks and carved in such a way that most people did not get too much wood.
May your Boxing Day be free of any Offal related incidents. Link below for the the History of Boxing Day.
Advent +2022. Peace on Earth. An old industrial building on the morning dog walk. There was a lot of weather going on, on all four sides of this building. For just a moment the wind dropped, the rain stopped and the clouds parted to allow daylight through. Allowing just a moment of quiet reflection. Merry Christmas one and all.
Coffee this morning in a local coffee shop and gallery. There were some amazing prints on the walls by local Primary School children. I’m not someone who loves the naivete of children’s’ art, much of it is unremarkable and some could only be appreciated by parents and grandparents but this stuff was gorgeous. Each little creation printed on a square of paper about 14 cms square.
There is magic in the air when teachers can conjure such interesting images from the hands of small people, simply by teaching them a new technique.
Wouldn’t it be fabulous if in the world of work instead of team building with physical or mental challenges. Colleagues could be set loose in a print room, given some instructions and then allowed to let their imaginations run wild with colour and shape.
So sad that the end of Primary School is the beginning of the end of most peoples regular engagement with creative processes. Art and music slip from the grasp of most people by the time they are 14.
That is a sombre old thought for Advent+ 2022 but if children under 11 can produce such lovely work what would happen if everyone remained creative in some way throughout life. The world might be a better place .
Bring out the Christmas Gourds. As a lover of all things pumpkin and an absolute Grinch of all things Halloween I have never really decorated our home with Pumpkinalia. Until a cold snap frosted these Gourds in a friends garden. Being somewhat cheeky I asked her if I could have some of her gorgeous gourds to use as models for a watercolour. Then fate took a hand and gave her Covid for fifteen days. We no longer met at the museum where we both work, until this week when four fat gourds landed in my locker. Just in time for Christmas!
Frost on this wonderfully warty gourd inspired me to create an unusual but personally pleasing Christmas centrepiece for the table.
Gilding on Gourds may become a new Christmas tradition. Advent 2022+ Twas the night before, the night before.
I really loved gilding the warty gourds and then pondered on the pleasure that could be gained from gilding a warty toad. Obviously that would be entirely wrong but a little digital magic and I have created my own Golden Toad, I am a happy woman.
When I was a child our annual holiday was always taken in Devon. Getting there, or here as it is now for me,involved setting off from Essex in the dead of night in order to be at Glastonbury by sunrise. We did this every year without fail. Not to mark a solstice but simply to experience the stones at dawn. We were nearly always the only people there. Our car the only one in a chalky stoned car park with minimal fencing not too far from the site itself. We had foil-wrapped bacon sandwiches which emerged from a towel filled cardboard box, in my memory they are vaguely warm with the bread damp from softened butter. We sat on a blanket with our backs against the chosen stone and my dad made tea with a primus stove surrounded by whatever new contraption he had invented to make the process more slick. We ate our sandwiches, drank our tea, watched the dawn, packed up and went on our way. Dawn was at about 5:45, we were usually at our destination of choice, in Devon,by about eight in the morning and would park the car somewhere, usually by the sea, and sleep until lunchtime when the holiday properly began. This all seems mildly eccentric with hindsight. Although this was the sixties my parents displayed no other outward appearances or attitudes of being in any way New Age. The last time we did this my dad had filled the Primus Stove with fertiliser instead of fuel. There was no tea that year and never again was the strange holiday ritual enacted. The Primus Stove did not survive the fertiliser incident and with the loss of this one item, the spell, whatever it was, was broken. No photographs have survived of these events. I suspect there weren’t any, there were only ever three people in our little family and a photograph could only ever have shown two.
I drive past Stonehenge many times a year and am never tempted to stop. Now the ancient monument is protected from human touch for most of the year. Commercialised and controlled in the name of heritage preservation. I feel the urge to be with those stones but not in any way that is possible now. A mass experience would not be the same at all, but perhaps I could tolerate it with a warm bacon sandwich in my pocket.
Winter Solstice, the sun rises on the shortest day of the year and in Stonehouse there is no scaffolding on the prettiest terrace of houses. Some of these old houses have needed a little facelift this year. The sound of scaffolders, plasterers and painters has been the background noise of morning walks for most of 2022. The other morning constant is a trip to the tidal pool, as a treat to mark the Solstice a golden cloud has been, briefly, trapped in the still water of the early morning. Small pleasures.
Tomorrow morning thousands of people will celebrate the end of the longest night at Stonehenge, a live stream event will be broadcast from 7 am tomorrow. Available on Youtube from English Heritage.
The sunrise at Stonehenge has been celebrated by gatherings of people for thousands of years.The rock monument at Stonehenge is a man-made structure. The sun has been rising over Drakes Island, Stonehouse for considerably longer. Less fuss, fewer people.