Monday 31 December 2012

2012 - A mixed bag

So, 2012 is on the way out.

The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics finally arrived; and in a most un-British manner they were a resounding success. Everything was finished on time, the weather was passable (mostly), the transport worked (mostly) and we even won some medals.

Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. The weather let the side down - but a very patriotic celebration with flags and bunting (and good practice for the Summer) was had.

Around the world things weren't so good. Unrest and violence continued in the Middle East. Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc across the Eastern seaboard.

The economic climate doesn't seem to have improved much - double-dip, triple-dip; we've all lost track of the recession... is it now beyond that and do we need a new word?

Personally it's been an average year. My health has been so-so with a seemingly endless relapse that seemed to last the whole year, but with an extra special landed-me-in-bed one to finish up in November. My beloved Great-Aunt died a few months short of her 101st birthday. I have so many fond memories of her; piloting her car round North London with her sister and step-brother and sister on board taking us all to Brent Cross, visiting her flat and riding in the old fashioned caged lift whilst my brother tried to beat us running up the stairs, always being her 'pink imp', and in later years her telling me "Don't get old, darling, it's absolutely frightful". My amazing Grandmother celebrated her 91st birthday. My mother and I had some extra special days out whilst the DVLA had her licence for a year on medical grounds. The cable car, the London Sea-Life Centre and more.

So now looking forward to 2013... see you tomorrow, and Happy New Year.

Seventh Day of Christmas

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me... seven swans-a-swimming.

Beautiful gliding swans, they cut serenely through the water, as their legs do the work beneath the surface.

City Of London Cook BookThe swans in  England belong to the Queen. Well, some of them do. Actually all unmarked mute swans on stretches of the Thames and its tributaries belong to the Queen. Every year they are counted in a ceremony that goes back centuries Swan Upping. The right to ownership of swans was also granted to two of the Livery Companies, the Dyers and the Vitners - who celebrate this with 'Swan Feasts' every year (although swans are no longer eaten! You can read more about these feasts in Peter Gladwin's book (left).

Swans are another of the avian crew who inhabit St James's Park - these ones, so close to Buckingham Palace, probably do belong to the Queen.


Uploaded by nat_mach on August 27, 2011

Then again... quite often the first thing that pops into my head when I think about swans is 'Dance of the Little Swans' from Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake'.

Sunday 30 December 2012

Sunday Social (30)

Linking up with Ashley and Neely for the Sunday Social
  • What is the best New Years Eve you've ever had?I don't think that I could choose a 'best'. All my New Years (since the year 2000 spent in Bristol) have been spent having small gatherings, either with a couple of our best friends or with family.

    Every year my Better-half and I hang out with my MiL and we play board games and drink wine/champagne. We blow bubbles for the cat to play with, the Better-half sets off party-poppers. At midnight we open the front door to let the old year out, and enjoy any fireworks being set-off in the neighbourhood.

  • Are you doing anything for NYE this year and if so what?
    Hanging out with the family and the cat again. Games are primed, snacks are piled up. Much fun and laughter to be had by all.
  • Name a book we should all read come January?
    It isn't a new book, but it is an uplifting and inspiring book. If you haven't read it you should definitely read Mitch Ablom's "Five People You Meet in Heaven".

    The Five People You Meet in Heaven

  • What are your new years resolutions?
    I don't make any. I used to, but I never kept them and that frustrated me. I am always trying to live a better life.
  • Our bedroom door - words to live by
    Change your thoughts and change your world

Sixth Day of Christmas

When I think of geese I think of Canada Geese. As a child a family friend 'adopted' a Canada Goose for my brother and I at Gerald Durrell's zoo in Jersey. I think by the time we visited Jersey and the zoo seven or eight years later we no longer had the goose but anyway. As a child a battered copy of 'My Family and Other Animals' was my favourite book. I hated staying away from home, and on the rare occasions that I couldn't persuade my parents that I didn't have to go this book always came with me... gradually disintegrating until the original copy had to be replaced!

I digress. The place I most often meet geese these days in St James's Park. There are a colony of various geese there (including grey geese and Canada Geese), which honestly are as much of a menace as squirrels if you settle down to eat a picnic lunch - in as much as they march on you with then intent of 'sharing' whatever bread product you may be eating at the time! Most of the waterfowl there are pretty tame but the geese verge on aggressive!


Uploaded by nat_mach on August 27, 2011

Saturday 29 December 2012

Fifth Day of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me... five gold rings.

Gold rings now are associated with marriage bands.

I only have to look at my immediate family for inspiration when it comes to marriage. 

The most romantic is probably my father's parents. My grandfather was a Latvian/Russian Jew. His family had left Russia to avoid the pogroms and settled in Germany. Unfortunately there is nobody left from that side of the family to tell the story; but as far as I can piece together I think my grandfather was into import/export and must have met my grandmother in London. She then visited him in Berlin (in the 1930s no less) and they were married at the beginning of 1940. Sadly my grandfather was killed in a road traffic accident at the end of that year, just after my father was born. My grandmother brought my father up alone, and never re-married. Such love.

The happiest and most long lasting marriages I know are my mother's parents and my own parents. They were married on the same date in July 30 odd years apart. 

My grandparents were married during the war (my grandfather in his RAF uniform) and I think it was their 55th anniversary he replaced my grandmother's wartime wedding ring with a new one. Every photo I have of them together the love radiates between them. 

My parents were married in the 1970s on the same date. Growing up with such a loving marriage meant I had a very happy childhood. My parents celebrated just short of 40 years of marriage before my father passed away. 

Many of the happiest family memories from my childhood are big family parties celebrating wedding anniversaries. My grandparents' ruby, gold and emerald; my parents' silver and pearl; even my godparents' ruby.

It's not five gold rings; but they are the best examples of gold rings I can come up with

Friday 28 December 2012

Fourth Day of Christmas

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me... four colley birds.

I love this picture as it was only doing my research for this project that I discovered that it was colley birds (blackbirds) not calling birds!

In my younger days I used to visit an elderly lady who had once sung in our choir. She didn't have any family close, and I worried she must be lonely. She had a budgie (whose name I forget). Let's get this out of the way, I hate budgies. My grandmother had one when we were kids and he was an evil little bird who would literally bite the hand that fed him.

This budgie the old lady kept was also an evil little bird.He could perfectly imitate the telephone and the doorbell, and his owner (a little hard of hearing) would often try and answer one or the other before it became apparent that the budgie was the culprit.

At school we kept Zebra Finches. A great tribe of them in a rather large cage. They came to stay (only the one time) for the holidays... what a racket. They were exiled to the far end of the house!

Blackbirds, whose song is absolutely beautiful, are one of the most territorial garden birds. You may have a couple (Mr and Mrs) the female being a dark brown... but if another male shows up, feathers may fly. My mother had one in her garden who didn't limit himself just to other blackbirds but pretty much any other avian that showed up! Next time you hear beautiful birdsong though, look up, you'll probably see a blackbird perched somewhere high, beak to the sky, warbling.


Uploaded by nat_mach on August 5, 2011
© All rights reserved

Thursday 27 December 2012

Third Day of Christmas

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me... three French Hens.

I haven't known many hens (I am not much of a bird person!). My cousins' grandparents kept a farm and they may have had hens (although to be honest, it is more the goats and the goat milk I remember). We also had a few holidays on farms when I was a child... but again it is either the dog or the lambs or the bull in the field that I remember.

So let's move onto the French bit! My mother has a great affinity for the French language. She studied to A-level at school and (to this day) speaks it well. She wanted me to learn to speak French so when I was around 4 or 5 I started going to classes. I don't remember much (although I must have learned to count as I showed of horribly counting to 10 in French at some child assessment thing, so the story goes); I also remember a sad story about an owl (I think) who needed some water so he made himself cry by thinking about sad things... one of which was teaspoons that had fallen down the back of kitchen units.

This early start to French served me well. My third primary school had French classes, and I was already well up with the basic requirements and found it easy to learn more. This put me in good stead for Secondary School where I started learning French for the third time. When we were put into 'sets' for GCSE I ended up a long way down as I had grown bored with learning the same things over and over again.

I studied French until A-level. The requirement not only being continued study of grammar and language but also the addition of literature. We studied two books and two plays... of varying popularity.

Albert Camus: La Peste (The Plague) - a dreary story set, from memory, somewhere in North Africa, about a Plague ridden town (in fairly modern times). It was detested by all , without exception.

François Mauriac: Thérèse Desqueyroux - I found this one quite a page turner, I remember reading it on car journey's whilst on holiday in France. I can't remember much of the plot, people killed people.

Molière: Le Misanthrope. A bit more like hard work as we're now dealing with 17th Century French. A pretty good play though (from what I remember).

Jean Anouilh: Becket ou l'honneur de Dieu (Becket or the Honour of God). A play about the relationship between Henry II and Thomas Becket. Although we were reading in French we were lucky enough that the Theatre Royal Haymarket had a production at just the right time starring Robert Lindsay and Derek Jacobi. You can watch a (not so faithful) movie version starring Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton. I loved the play so much I still own a copy (somewhere). 

I tried to keep up my French. I can still read it, and after some acclimatisation understand it spoken, but writing or speaking it... well I'm too out of practice.

We spent several childhood holidays in France (Normandy and Brittany) and I went on a French Exchange to Lille and visited Dunkirk. I've been a handful of other places; but my favourite will always be Paris; I haven't finished there and I've visited three times!

Underground Paris style!

Uploaded by nat_mach on September 13, 2011
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Wednesday 26 December 2012

Second Day of Christmas

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me... two turtle doves.


Uploaded by nat_mach on August 5, 2011
© All rights reserved

They really do come in pairs. The most beautiful of all the pigeon family that I'm acquainted with. We have a couple that hang around our garden sometimes... my Mum has a pair that live in/around her garden. Last year they built a nest behind the neighbours satellite dish (precarious spot) and raised two cute little babies. They have to compete with the sparrow tribe and some blackbirds and robins for food. As you can see from this photo, not at all shy either!

Tuesday 25 December 2012

First Day of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me... a partridge in a pear tree.

I don't think I've ever met a partridge. I've met quite a lot of other wildlife. I grew up in a small village in Kent. As soon as we were old enough we all learned to drive. You had to, there was one bus and hour and they stopped at six in the evening. If you wanted to go out you needed independent transport (and understanding parents).

Although there was one main road through the village there were lots of winding little lanes; not only did I drive them (always taking the same route gets so dull) I used to cycle them to. My early photographic forays took place with a 35mm camera in the countryside surrounding that village.

A pheasant I met driving one of those roads (I had to stop to let him cross) is as near as I could come to a partridge.


Uploaded by nat_mach on August 5, 2011
Taken in West Peckham, England
© All rights reserved

Monday 24 December 2012

Poems I love (10)

Published originally anoymously in a New York paper in 1823 many of our modern ideas about Father Christmas can be found in this delightful poem.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas
(or A Visit from St. Nicholas)
by Clement Clarke Moore

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.
And Mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap.

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
gave the lustre of midday to objects below,
when, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles, his coursers they came,
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:

"Now Dasher! Now Dancer!
Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid!
On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch!
To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
so up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes--how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
and filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, 'ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Sunday 23 December 2012

Sunday Social (29)

Linking up with Ashley and Neely for the Sunday Social
  • What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
    Chocolate. Most specifically Ben & Jerry's 'Phish Food'.
  • What is your favorite smell?
    Lavender. It is so relaxing and calming.
  • What is your favorite TV commercial? (Past or present)
    The mighty Samuel L Jackson in a Barclays Bank commercial a good few years ago. Always makes me chuckle.

  • What is your favorite day of the week?
    Friday. I don't work Fridays. I get Fridays to recover from the week. It means that I can actually enjoy the weekend.

  • What is your favorite way to waste time?
    Surfing the net. I am an expert. I can spend hours accomplishing nothing with Twitter, Facebook and the like.
  • What is your favorite article of clothing?
    At the moment it is my new winter coat.

Saturday 22 December 2012

Twelve Days of Christmas

Christmas has been on the way for a whole year - seriously on the way for a few months, and now we are into the home stretch. The tree is trimmed, the presents bought and wrapped. Soon the turkey will be eaten, the gifts open and the long stretch between Christmas and back to work in January will be upon us.

As I'm not planning on going many places or doing much out of the house I was wondering what I'll be writing about.

So I'm taking as my inspiration the 12 Day of Christmas. From 25th December until Twelfth Night (5th January) a different line of the song.

Backwards the items are:-
    12 Drummers Drumming
    11 Pipers Piping
    10 Lords-a-Leaping
    9 Ladies Dancing
    8 Maids-a-Milking
    7 Swans-a-Swimming
    6 Geese-a-Laying
    5 Gold Rings
    4 Colly Birds
    3 French Hens

    2 Turtle Doves
    And a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

The inspiration will clearly be very loose - not least as I don't come across many partridges, lords or pipers! The idea is to take the line and use it as a (tenuous) link to a blog post. Fancy joining in? Let me know in the comments... it could be fun to see where it takes us!

Friday 21 December 2012


In a shameless attempt to get people to come and read this blog when it's automatically published a Twitter I used the hash-tag endoftheworld as my title.

In case you haven't noticed today is December 21. The date has become famous because (allegedly) it is the end of the world.

I spent a happy hour (and then some) being entertained (and enlightened) by the excellent Pod Delusion  pod-cast

The end of the Mayan 'Long Calendar' comes today... or maybe it doesn't. Sources are divided. From the pod-cast what I took away was something based on an ancient (really ancient) culture, some guys who took a trip (literally) and the figuratively (mushrooms were involved) and a guy who wrote a book and used the word Armageddon by his own admission to sell some books.

The Mayans don't have much to say about the end of the world, certainly nothing to do with calendars. 

So what happens when we finish a calendar? We put up a new calendar, and everything goes on as usual.

Go listen to the pod-cast, they explain it much better. And I'll see you tomorrow.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Sunday Social (28)

Linking up with Ashley and Neely for the Sunday Social
  • What is the wallpaper on your cell phone?
Pictures of Casper my kitten-cat, of course!

The wallpaper is his best 'kitten' pose, and the lock-screen is his 'Egyptian Cat God' pose.
  • What do you keep beside your bed?
    My Lumie alarm clock (gently wakes me with sunrise and windchimes in the the mornings) and a small table (well it's a stool really) where a fan lives along with a changing parade or remote controls and bits of jewellry that I forgot to take off before bed, my cellphone, the house-phone and my iPad. There is quite often a cup of tea and a jug of water and a glass (on an even smaller table).
  • What is your least favorite chore.
    I'm not much of one for chores. Ask anyone who knows me, I'm a slob! I do hate the occasional necessity to tidy up the Pink Room.
  • If you could eliminate one thing from your daily routine, what would it be?
    All the tablets I take. I have trouble remembering to take them... some of them taste bad, I'm always forgetting to renew the prescriptions... and I hate putting so many chemicals into my body!
  • What do you do to vent anger?
    I mostly don't. I use the very healthy method of bottling up inside and letting it simmer. Sometimes I'm snappish with people... but my favourite is to put Rammstein on my iPod really loud.
  • What is your favorite holiday of the year and why?
    Christmas is the far out winner. I love the decorations. I love the music. I love the two weeks (more or less) of no work and too much food. I love the movies. I love the gift giving. I love spending time with friends and family. I love the memories and I love the traditions.


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