Watching Lucy Worsley present a programme about Tudor Christmasses made me rethink this time of year; as did an email from Lyn Thurman and also reading Neil Oliver’s A History of Ancient Britain (not currently available on the iPlayer, sadly).
Whatever your religion, midwinter was a time of celebration and feasting, and was the ‘liminal’ time between the old year and the new (maybe not for the Romans however, for whom the new year started in March – although Janus was the two-headed god who looked both forward and back). I loved the idea of keeping a ’12 days’ diary but also it got me thinking about how we now think of the time between Christmas and New Year as rather quiet and potentially lonely; a time for contemplation, relaxation and (one hopes) restoration, before returning to the busy-ness of the New Year.
It made me think that perhaps next year I would like a big, splash-out FEAST on Christmas Day – I don’t mean just with family but with lots of people – and then to carry on partying right into January (in fact Lucy Worsley points out that day 7, New Year’s Eve, for the Tudors was actually quite quiet); to finish work on Christmas Eve, put up the decorations, and go back to work on 6th January. I also like the idea of exchanging gifts on New Year’s Day rather than Christmas Day – not so sure that will please my kids though.
The least I felt I could do this year was keep a 12 days ‘diary’, and hope there are some good omens for the New Year. Surely we can’t all be as cut off and isolated in 2021 as some people have been in 2020.
Day 1: Christmas Day, 25th December
The children were with me to start with, and pleased with their presents. At about 12 noon David came to fetch them and I started preparing the bits of lunch I was doing to take to Mark and Laura’s, feeling a little bit sad. However I had a lovely time at Mark and Laura’s and they gave me a pump for the car, which is extremely useful as my tyres are forever going flat (I have had a valve repaired and a tyre replaced now, so am feeling slightly more confident about the car at present).
Day 2: Boxing Day, 26th December
Rainy, muddy and a little hungover but ran up in Ridge Woods, as previously reported. Storm Bella approaching made the wind pick up but there was a general feeling of clearing things away.
Day 3: 27th December
Woke up feeling sad (perhaps I shouldn’t have watched two slushy films last night – A Wonderful Life and White Christmas), and with a headache again. I think I may actually do Dry January this coming year. A chat with Anne and I felt more cheerful and headed out for a longer run. There were flowers popping out in places, harbingers of spring not being that far away; and snow on the hills, reminding me that it’s still winter and that often the coldest part of winter is January and February. However it was far sunnier than it’s been for a while. As I got closer to home I bumped into Lesley, from choir, and her husband Alan and stopped for a really nice (socially distanced) chat with them.
Day 4: 28th December
Woke up feeling sad again and was in fact quite tearful as I drove down to Whinlatter. I don’t think watching a programme about Bristol and cooking last night helped; I felt quite nostalgic and ended up going to bed (and waking up) thinking how much my life has changed since I lived in Bristol. On the other hand, I can’t wish I hadn’t had my children – for all the emotional anguish they cause and the amount they cost, I think they’re amazing and turning into pretty decent human beings. I just wish I didn’t so often feel that I’m second choice parent-wise.
Whinlatter car park was heaving and I was worried I wouldn’t get a space, but fortunately as Penny works for and Tim has worked for the FC, they were able to wangle me a space. Having bought my membership only last time I was there I feel I should perhaps have my own personalised space… (no, I’m not serious).
The weather was absolutely stunning and despite a few icy patches, it was a glorious day to be out. We almost could have been in the Alps. Tim ran off ahead, his long legs making it look as if he was just ambling gracefully uphill, while Penny and I ran, chatted and took photos. When we got back Tim was having a chat with some former work colleagues, so fortunately not standing around in zero degrees getting cold.
Day 5: 29th December
Went to the Post Office and to Sainsburys, both mercifully fairly quiet. Then headed over to Stocksfield to pick up some logs from Clare and Colin and to go for a pretty walk in and around Ridley and Broomley Woods, including to one and over another ford. I wonder if Broomley Woods are related to Broomlee Lough… and as a result of wondering have found a useful website about English Place Names. Thank you to the University of Nottingham (my old University, as it happens):
brōm (Old English) Broom; a thorny bush or shrub.
lēah (Old English) A forest, wood, glade, clearing; (later) a pasture, meadow.
The moon was rising above the hills as we loaded the car up with the logs, and looked absolutely stunning, though trying to take a photo did it no justice whatsoever. I checked when the full moon was due and it’s tomorrow (30th), and is apparently called the Cold Moon or the Ice Moon.
Day 6: 30th December
Something of a mixed day. Apparently the moon was full at 3.30 a.m. this morning, but it looks great this evening too. My sister pointed out that it was also a Blue Moon as it’s the second full moon this month.
I had a fantastic – beautiful – run up at Kershope Forest with Penny – a new route which neither of us had done before, where we went from misty frost to sunshine and back again – but unfortunately Anne couldn’t make it and on the way back we heard that Cumbria is now (as of midnight) in Tier 4 lockdown. The news about the schools was slightly better – most primary schools will go back as normal and most secondary schools will have a staggered return. I was really worried that they were going to close the schools again – we’ve ruined this planet already for our kids (climate change/using up resources through our greed); I was worried we were going to wreck their education as well. I know that’s a first world problem but I’m hoping our children might grow up to be somewhat more responsible than the previous generations have been. The only hope on the horizon seems to be that the world population is due to decline quite drastically by about 2050.
BUT – we do live in a beautiful world and some of us are incredibly lucky to have some of that beauty on our doorstep, easily accessible. We are privileged.
As I’d forgotten to buy pasta at the supermarket yesterday I got home and made lasagne. Kneading is extremely good for getting rid of grumpiness when you hear about more lockdowns.
Day 7: New Year’s Eve, 31st December 2020
Phoned Edward to say ‘Happy Birthday’ to him – I was due to go down to Penrith to take his presents down but he and Alex want to come up here tomorrow, so I’ll go and fetch them tomorrow instead. I went out for an incredibly icy end-of-year run – even the Tarn was partly frozen over – and then came back and finished making smoked salmon brioche and a sauce for lasagne for tomorrow. Then it was time for a game of Trivial Pursuit over Zoom with my sister, her boyfriend, and my Mum; then time to attempt to light the firepit. Fortunately Mark and Laura (my bubble and my neighbours) knew what they were doing so they got it going, and we had mulled wine and sausages in a snow-covered garden.
I got my tax paid; my mortgage renewal sorted out; a tutor found for Edward; and it snowed. Quite a definitive end to the year. Time to watch a film and then go to bed. It’s a quieter new year than normal but I think it is for a lot of people; I think that’s how a lot of people want it. 2020 is going out with a whimper rather than with a bang.
Day 8: 1st January 2021
Lovely New Year’s Day run along the river Eamont and up on to Askham Fell. My Strava said 9.99 km when I got back to where I’d parked the car!
Picked up all three children from David’s and headed home. The usual squabbles but it’s lovely to have them in the house again. Alex is rather fed up that his return to school has been delayed by 2 weeks and that he’ll be doing online lessons; and there is now a total xbox ban at both houses so he’s also fed up that he can’t ‘see’ his friends. I used to have my nose stuck in a book; nowadays for most kids (boys especially?) their noses are glued to screens. I wonder if it’s really all that bad, or if it’s just that it’s different from how I grew up.
Day 9: 2nd January 2021
Slight dusting of snow again overnight and Edward was desperate to go sledging. I wasn’t convinced there would be enough but he managed to get down the hill on the Ridge a few times. Bella went for a walk round the wood nearby, looking very glamorous in her black wool coat and woolly hat and scarf.
Day 10: 3rd January 2021
As I was taking the kids back to David’s anyway I thought it would be good to meet up with Penny for a run down that way. We decided on Thirlmere – the path (and road) on the western side is now open again so we could officially complete the ten mile Thirlmere loop.
It was lovely: Hevellyn was still in mist but the clouds were getting blown from the east and much of the time the sun was shining; there was still a frost on the ground; the reservoir was still and calm like a mirror. The path is mostly great but there were some stretches on the western side where it was quite stony or tree-rooty, and where it was beginning to fall away. We celebrated with coffee and Maltesers at the end; and Blencathra looked absolutely stunning on the way home.
When I got home my lovely neighbours had gritted the road and my drive; also Penny has been giving me a plentiful supply of fire wood (she and Tim ordered a lorry load). People are lovely.
Day 11: 4th January 2021
Back to work today and my lovely fat tree has now been undressed and also denuded of all its branches.
Then this evening we were told of another lockdown: and this time even the schools are closing, up until at least February half term. Bloody covid. And stuff dry January. I’m off to get some tonic to go with my so-far-unopened bottle of Rose Gin tomorrow.
I wonder if people felt as fed up when the Black Death was in circulation, or whether they just resignedly thought ‘here we go again, a few more deaths’. They must have felt just as much grief as we do, but had far less knowledge to fight death.
I stayed up later than I should watching Lucy Worsley’s series about the Romanovs.
Day 12: 5th January 2021 (‘Twelfth Night)
English Heritage has apparently today been in print encouraging people to keep their decorations up until Candlemass – 2nd Feb. – as they would have done in medieval times, to try to keep some midwinter cheer alive. Bit late for my christmas tree! Also apparently Candlemass is a Swedish doom metal band…
I’m fine when I’m talking to people (thank god for friends) but otherwise I’ve felt really fed up all day; alone and kind of bored, even though I have work. But at least I do have work – a job I enjoy, which so many people don’t – and the countryside. I went for a run this afternoon after work but my heart wasn’t in it, added to which in places you couldn’t run as the ice was too slippery and on top of the Ridge the young cows started following me, so I thought it better not to run. I’m well aware that I should be counting my many blessings, but today was a day to walk into the dark tunnel and acknowledge that life sometimes just feels rubbish, however lucky you are.
But as I sat down on a makeshift bench and watched the sunset over Scotland (to the north and west), it struck me that it doesn’t matter if some days all you do is go out and get some fresh air, admire the views, and listen to the sounds of the world. I think at the weekend I might just go for a run around a lake.
And tomorrow is another day.