Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas to all and to all a Merry Christmas!

Well here we are, a few days before Christmas.
In fact it is Christmas Eve Eve.
AGA and I are out in the wilds of Burgundy for our Christmas holidays and we are loving it.

We were expecting snow but no snow has come.  In fact it has been somewhat mild.
No hats and mittens.
No woolly coats.

It gets cold at night but the days are quite pleasant (mind you, a friend tells me that in New York the other day it was 20C!)

We are eating well:

And doing a spot of sightseeing:

It just remains for me to wish you all a merry Christmas and we will see each other again in early January.
Bye for now

Monday, 16 December 2013

Advent - Week 3

Here it is the third week of Advent already!  Only one more week of work to go and then two and a bit weeks holidays.
And all is back on track at our bijou apartment.
A marzipan coat now adorns the cake:

Colds and flu have been banished.
The Christmas tree has been installed.

Mince pies and spekulatius biscuits are leading the Christmas fare charge:

. . . and all is right with the world.

And so here I sit, the evenings beginning to draw in, and fortified by a mince pie (or two) and a glass of cointreau, I begin to mull things over. . . things such as: What are my favourite Christmas Carols?

I love Christmas carols.  By this I mean real Christmas carols; not 'winter songs'.  
I like winter songs too - my favorite being 'Sleigh Ride' by Leroy Anderson - but that is not what I mean.  I mean Christmas carols: Songs that are specifically meant to be sung in the Christmas season. 
As I understand it, a "carol" was a medieval dance tune which gradually changed in meaning until we know it as a song to be sung in honour of some aspect of Christmas.  I see that carols can also be about winter and there are some for Easter although they are not generally thought of in that sense. To my mind, (and I expect yours too), when the word 'carol' is mentioned we either think of someone's name, or a song to be sung at Christmas.

Anyway, I have been thinking to myself: What are my favourite Christmas carols? I decided for the purpose of this post to choose eight.  Eight Christmas carols that cheer my heart...

It was hard to choose just eight because there are many that I like.  The list started out at six but there were two more that I just couldn't leave out!
. . . and so here they are; in no particular order (and I have included a link at the end of each carol so you can listen to them.  They may not be the best of recordings but they are the best I could find on Youtube):

This carol has received a fairly bad press over the years although I don't know why.  I like it a lot.   Written in the Victorian era, it uses as its base a medieval dance tune (an original carol) and joins it with words written to show the value of charity.
The author was John Mason Neale, a very High Church Anglican priest and hymn-writer who at one time was suspected of being an agent of the Pope.  His sister Elizabeth knew my great-grandmother's family and a so-many great aunt joined her in becoming an Anglican nun.

Some people say that it was composed by the great German early composer, Michael Praetorius but I am not sure if this is correct.  I like the gently lilting music, which are a perfect accompaniment to the Latin words.

This was written by Adolphe Adam (composer of the ballet Giselle) and often translated as 'Oh Holy Night'.  A beautiful carol.  Dignity and purity seem to exude from this work.  I find it very moving.

I thought that this carol was written by an American but I must be mixing it up with another work.  This is the first carol I learnt as a child and for that reason it is special for me.

Another carol for which the authorship is in some dispute.  Known in English as Oh Come All Ye Faithful' it is said to have been composed by John Francis Wade, an English Catholic hymn writer who fled to France in the wake of the Jacobite rebellion. I always find this to be a rousing piece.  

This one might be my all time favourite.  Written by St Alphonsus Liguori in about 1732 it translates into English as 'You Came a Star from Heaven'.   The lilting tune, the lovely words: what is there not to like in this wonderful piece.

This is French carol of unknown origin, known as 'Les Anges dans nos campagnes'.  It was translated into English by Bishop Chadwick of Hexham in the Victorian era.  Like Adeste Fideles, I find it to be a rousing carol that gets everyone singing.

I was surprised to learn that this was written by our old friend William Morris: Our very own Arts and Crafts Christmas carol!  He wrote the 'medieval' lyrics to accompany a much older piece of music, composed by the Baroque composer Marin Marais.  Like many carols this was in fact a dance tune but I guess that such tunes give a pastoral, countryside air to such works, in keeping with the subject matter.  I like this because I think that it does indeed make one think of 'Olde England'.

And finally

A carol rescued by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  A song of hope and of joy.  I often find my self singing this while cooking!

Now tell me: Do you have some favourite Christmas Carols?
What are they?

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Advent: Week 2 and a half

When Robert Burns wrote:

          'The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
          Gang oft agley…'

He might have been writing about me!

Last Friday AGA and I were invited out to dinner with some American friends of ours and as the night drew to a close I began to feel unwell. It felt as though I was coming down with some sort of sniffy cold.
The next day I could barely get out of bed!  Gone were the plans for visiting the Christmas markets, doing a spot of Christmas shopping, and making a few preliminary mince pies…

I felt dreadful: Head pounding, nose blocked, legs weak - the usual thing.
So I stayed in bed.
I thought perhaps that it might be one of 'those 24 hour things': Irritating while they are present but soon gone.
Alas no.  
It remained well entrenched on Sunday; and on Monday I dutifully trotted down to the place I dislike going to the most: "The Doctor's Surgery".  
I went early (7:30 in the morning actually) but whether one is in London, in Melbourne, in Ludlow or in Kaiserswerth, those places are all the same.  Feeling just about ready to ask for the Last Rites, One arrives to find a waiting room seemingly filled to the brim with healthy looking people who give the occasional cough.  
I cast a bleary eye over the happy throng: 
Hypochondriacs each and every one of them!!
(With the possible exception of him with the broken arm and that woman over there with the hacking cough) 
I chose a spot in the corner, settled and prepared for the long wait.

There are three doctors in the practice I go to, but the one I usually see is a very nice chap named Herr Rassmann.  He speaks English (which is a bonus) and is a very nice man as well.

Fore-warned is fore-armed and while I don't attend the Doctors' on a regular basis, I do know what it would be like in the waiting room.  That is why I arrived armed with 'The Magic Pudding' by Norman Lindsay: my favourite book to read when feeling unwell.

The one hour I waited until it was my 'turn' to see the Doctor, soon slipped by.

The diagnosis was a viral infection coupled with a bacterial infection, and for good measure an inner ear infection.  No wonder I felt so awful.

And so here it is Wednesday and I am just starting to feel better.  That's what a box of thin torpedo-like pills, coloured a rather nice shade of racing-green does for you, when combined with a box of regulation-white headache tablets, and copious cups of tea.

And as a result, my planned Blog post is somewhat late and somewhat abbreviated.

* * * * * *

These last few days have seen AGA rushing about like a mad thing; combining work and nursing duties.  He is a champ.

But my schemes (like those of Burns' mouse) have gone 'agley':
The Christmas tree is not 'up'
I have not sent Christmas cards to relatives in England.
There are no mince pies yet, and the cake has not been 'marzipanned'.

(Bad colds that occur at Christmas time, are even more of a bother than those that arrive at normal times!)

Anyway, the extremely stormy weather we have had in recent weeks blew away all the cobwebs, and all the leaves too!

I do like the trees when all you can see is there trunks, branches and twigs,  They are asleep for the Winter and there is something magical about the way they look, their branchy splendour revealed for all to gaze upon and wonder!

And the second stage of our Christmas Nativity being in place, I made a special walk down to the Basilica today; not only to see it, but to take a photograph or two for you.  We have moved forward in time to the Annunciation:

The prophet has moved to one side.  Our Lady and the Archangel Gabriel are taking centre stage:

And so to bed. . .

I hope that you enjoyed this little post!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Advent: Week One.

I was extremely busy last week: organising and overseeing the school book fair.  I always think that those two days are going to be easy but they never are.  Even though I am not involved in the buying and selling I seem to spend my entire day in advising book buyers, having chats about books with parents and children, and generally hobnobbing.

Time is passing:

The leaves are almost gone from the trees and suddenly we are in to the first week of Advent.  It is also, officially, the first week of Winter which seems like a good reason to have some non seasonal roses on display in our sitting-room:

I spent part of Saturday preparing our Advent Wreath:

This year I decided to use pine cones (instead of pine branches), autumn leaves, some gilt vine leaves and other bits and bobs to make my arrangement.  I placed it all in an antique brass tray which I think have given it a very nice look.
Here it is (the night before) with the first candle lit:

Over the next week or two I will gradually decorate the apartment for Christmas.  At this stage I decided to bring out our Candle Houses.  We have four here with us. They are made in Germany and while there are many types that can be bought, a major manufacturer is the firm 'Leyk'.  Here is one of their pieces:

And here are two more:

The fourth one that we have kept here in Germany is a different make.  It is modeled on a house in the medieval town of Quedlinburg, which we have visited a few times:

And here it is when lit with a candle:

One side of each house always contains a large opening in to which the tea light candle can be inserted. Candle houses always look so cosy and inviting...

* * * * *

Today I was fortunate to have a day off from school.  I decided to go for a short walk around the town and take some photographs for you.  Not all trees have lost their autumn splendour:

Although these ones in the old town square are completely bare now:

St Suitbertus' Basilica has recently had it's Christmas Tree installed. It was lit when I went to Mass the other night but it was also raining so no photos:

Here is an 'after' and 'before' photo of the basilica interior:
It was a lot more decorated before being hit by a stray bomb during WWII.  I like the way it looked back then, but I also like the way it looks now.
And here is the Advent Wreath, suspended above the Crossing:

They have also begun to set up the Nativity scene:
This represents the Old Testament Prophets who foresaw the Birth of Jesus.  
As the weeks of Advent progress, the Nativity scene will become more and more decorated and developed, continuing right up to Christmas and then beyond that, until the Feast of Epiphany in early February.

I hope you enjoyed this post about my first week of Advent.

Monday, 18 November 2013

One large slice of Jacobean Heaven!

When we were back in England for our summer holidays, we visited (as one does) various country houses.  
As members of the National Trust, we were eager to see some of the more 'out of the way' houses; ones that were off the beaten (tourist) track.

One such house was Chastleton: a fabulous, drop dead gorgeous, Jacobean manor.
We had tried to visit Chastleton one Christmas a few years ago but it was closed at that time.  This time we made sure it was open before motoring over to see it - only to find that we had arrived half an hour before closing time!
One week later we were back.  Chastleton was open and ready for business - and we were in Jacobean Baroque heaven!

Armed with our guide book and iPad camera we spent a very enjoyable time poking into every nook and cranny the house had to offer; and now it is your turn: So polish your shoe buckles, fix your ruffs, doff your caps and come with me as we go on on a little tour of this wonderful 17th century time capsule.

Chastleton was built between the years 1607 and 1612 by a man named Walter Jones. He had bought the site from the infamous Robert Catesby (of Gunpowder Plot fame), after that man had sold it to help pay a huge fine to the Government after having taken part in the revolt of the Earl of Essex back in 1601.  Walter had plans drawn up which resulted in the existing house being pulled down and a new "modern" house built in its place. The result is Chastleton House as we see it today.

Walter's people had been successful Welsh wool merchants while for his part, he had made a name for himself as a lawyer. The house he built remains little changed since his time and stayed in his family for the next four hundred years before being handed to the National Trust in 1991.  Little changed over the years because the family gradually became impoverished and had not the funds to do anything in the way of modernisation.  To quote from the guide book:

"Barbara Clutton-Brock, the last owner, often said that 'poverty is a great preservative'.  Lack of funds had held her Jacobean house and garden in such a suspended state that its remarkable survival was of national significance." (page 2)

The Trust decided not to renovate the house, but to conserve what was there, and what a fab job they have done!
No flash photography was allowed and so I took photos as best I might, using my iPad, but some rooms were too dark and some photos just didn't come out right at all.

Here is the White Parlour:

The plaster work is wonderful, as is the old 'turkey carpet':

I like the way the ancient tapestries are not hung necessarily for display but rather to serve their original purpose, which was to keep out the cold.  Here a Teniers tapestry hangs similar to a curtain in the great parlour, with a chair and an old wooden writing box nearby:
(Note the ever present teasels to stop anyone attempting to sit on the fragile old chairs)

The Great Chamber has a monumental fireplace emblazoned with the arms of the builder, Walter Jones.

I like the way this portrait is hung so that the light from the lamp illuminates two two porcelain vases while at the same time shining up onto the painting.  It isn't perfectly done and I guess that a proper picture lamp should have been used, however, this is how it was when the family lived there and it 'works'; giving the home a true 'lived in' look rather than a 'museum' feel...

This room is known as the 'Cavalier Room'.  It is called this because unbeknownst to the parliamentary troops were sleeping in there during the English Civil War, the owner of the house - Arthur Jones, who at that time was the local Royalist fugitive for whom they were looking - was hiding in the secret room next door.  After having had their wine drugged with laudanum by his wife, Arthur was able to slip out through this room, past the sleeping soldiers, take one of their horses, and ride swiftly away in to the night!   The bed is of the period as is the linen on the bed:
The reason that the linen remains here is that Anne Jones, wife of the then owner, was a frugal person who was widowed when relatively young.  She managed to lift the family out of debt and made these sets of linen for her daughters once they were married.  They were to receive then once they bore children.  Unfortunately her daughters never did have children and so consequently, the linen was never given away.

This is the secret room, where Arthur Jones hid from the parliamentary soldiers sleeping next door.  I like the simple oak wall panels and the way that the large paintings is set on the floor:

Here is a view down the East staircase.  It is dated 1636 but was rebuilt in 1830.  This was the staircase for important visitors so it is somewhat apt that you can see AGA's feet in the bottom left hand corner...

At the top of the house, it is possible to enjoy one of the wonders of England: the Chastleton House Long Gallery.  Running the entire 22 metres length of the house, this is the 'longest surviving barrel-vaulted ceiling of its date in England':

I couldn't get the entire length into the photograph but you get an idea of what it looks like.  That trunk on the right wall is Spanish and probably dates from around 1500.

Everywhere one looks, one see treasures.
Look at these wonderful carvings and plasterwork:

There are paintings:

Cabinets and curiosities such as this old hearing trumpet

The play of light and shadow in unexpected corners:

And more decorative plasterwork than you can poke a stick at:

(This is also in the Long Gallery)

Just look at this old long-case clock in the hall.  It has a lenticle so that one can see the pendulum swinging without opening the door:
(The clock is somewhat dusty but such things sits well in this old house)

Down in the kitchens, the original range sits just as it was when the last owners were in residence:

For some reason I don't have many photos of the gardens.  They were more of the green and bushy type rather than the colourful, floral variety:

And in the adjoining field stands the family dovecote (an important source of foods for the Jacobean household):

I hope you enjoyed this little visit to Chastleton House.  If ever you get the opportunity to visit then I would thoroughly recommend it!