Talk to you soon… 🐣💐🌈
By now, the astute reader may well have ascertained that I am very interested in history. I have grown to learn that many people are not, something I find it hard to fathom – surely we are all defined by history and where we have come from, who our ancestors were and how they lived? When I discovered the paltry smidgeon of dry history that Swiss children generally encounter in the course of their very practice-orientated schooling, I at least began to grasp something of an inkling of the reason. If it is anything like that anywhere else, well then, that explains it. History is boring, just a load of dates.
My own introduction to history began early. For most English children, history begins as entertaining stories about the kings and queens of ye olde England, whose behaviours often resulted in some great tales – Henry VIII and his Six Wives (“divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived”…!), or King Alfred and the Cakes; Henry II wailing “who will rid me of this turbulent priest?!” as his loyal servants raced to murder Thomas à Becket in Canterbury Cathedral and the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I with her cold white and gold portraits, Sir Francis Drake draping his cloak across a puddle so her feet wouldn’t get wet… My mother and grandmother told me tales like this from a very young age and soon kindled my interest in these colourful characters.
Who remembers Ladybird early reader books? I have two about the Kings and Queens of England (volumes I and II) as well as the 15th century Kingmaker, the Earl of Warwick (we lived near enough to Warwick to consider him a local hero/scoundrel, depending on your point of view!), all given to me by my mother around my 5th and 6th birthdays, according to the dedications written inside. Today I’m quite surprised at the language used and wonder if my young child self actually understood much of what was written, but anyway, I loved these books and spent hours reading them over and over again, picking up an understanding of chronology and the changes in fashion as I went along – I especially examined all the illustrations closely! – slotting all the fascinating figures into a thousand years of English history with very little idea whatsoever of the context.
The reason I am telling you this is because today I suddenly laughed aloud when I realised that all my current “reading material” is history! Although I have continued to enjoy a lot of history in my adult life, it isn’t all I read, as longtime readers will know. However, this time, I bring you three elements of reading that I hope might inspire you. So get your books out and turn to page 1…
1. Do you still have your old school books?!
As a teenager, I attended an international school. The History Department staff were required to work out a history syllabus to teach students from 85 different countries. The majority of the staff were more or less British and the school situated in central Europe, so they settled for an emphasis on the intricacies of classic European history, with a little American history thrown in when we hit the 18th century (and practically no Swiss history :o). The style was chronological, beginning in the first year of the secondary school, aged 11, with Greeks and Romans and ending at university entrance level with Second World War tactics. Seven years for 3000 years of history…
Unsurprisingly, I struggled and did not especially enjoy school history, nor did I do very well in it despite continuing to maintain that it was one of my main interests and insisting on choosing it as one of my A-levels, culminating in a most shameful final exam grade of U. Friends, I failed. This, funnily enough, surprises many who know me and my penchant for boring their socks off with bits of history trivia produced at not always appropriate moments, as well as knowing that I am extremely interested in social and cultural history. This latter, in my view more interesting part, is something which tended to be neglected in school history, which focussed on the politics of how history moved the world along, something I simply did not grasp at the time as being fundamental. Not an excuse but quite possibly the reason I wasn’t doing too well in history academically!
I found that I still have some of my history schoolwork from the “next” phase (1982) to use as a background lol!
How many of you have your school books skulking somewhere in the far reaches of the bookcase or put away in a dark and dusty part of the house?! You may not even have kept them, and for the most part, I have long since given back or given away any of the books I carried around with me for years between home and school. However, I came across one on my shelves recently that is labelled with my name and 1979/1980 and which covers the period between the 1848 European revolutions and World War I (“Compare and Contrast the Causes of the First World War” would be a typical essay title, wouldn’t it?!). I hadn’t really registered that it was still there and certainly don’t remember using it at the time, though it must have been in Mr. Knight’s class…! Of course, I pulled it down, stopped what I was doing and sat down to start reading it…
After a couple of chapters I got really annoyed with myself for not having read it properly when I was 15 and using the information to improve my exam results – but then I realised that I was no doubt completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information and lack of understanding of the background at that age. Only now, with a lot more comprehension of historical and political connections and other general history accumulated over the years can I pick up a book like this and find it utterly fascinating, concise and useful. 35 years too late! But very entertaining and I urge you to see if your old schoolbooks aren’t a lot more interesting when you go back to them now than you found them back in the day. You might be surprised!
2. Is there no time in your life for sitting reading books?
We all live busy lives and leisure time is precious. However, it seems a shame to give up books just because you feel guilty for sitting twiddling your thumbs over a book when there are a thousand and one other things that need doing. I solve this little dilemma by resorting to audiobooks for some of my reading. Originally a service for the blind, “talking books” found their way into my life over 25 years ago when I discovered through a friend that they were an ideal backdrop for knitting! These days they are easily available to download as well as on CDs (just about still to be had!) and there are even libraries where you can “borrow” them. I still like listening to them while I knit but they are also brilliant for long car journeys, as long as the story is an interesting one (or they could lull you to sleep, which wouldn’t be good!) or even just while doing the ironing or housework. Some people listen before bed or first thing in the morning or in their lunch break or while they run or walk outdoors (or indoors) and I’m sure we can all find a good slot where it would be pleasant to have someone read us a book…
My current audiobook picks up on a theme that I have followed up before – the Vikings. Probably all part of my very real interest in the North! The very excellent “A Brief History of the Vikings” by Jonathan Clements (anything but brief!) has passed through my ears many times, it’s so good and there’s so much information in it, it’s even worth having the physical book for the maps (I got round this by getting the book for my daughter, who also really enjoyed it!). So when I saw the new “Viking Britain” by Thomas Williams, I went for it – it turns out there was a big Viking exhibition in London a couple of years ago that I would love to have seen, but since I didn’t, this book offers an excellent new overview of the Vikings in Britain, just as the title says! Of course, some of the basic information is the same, but if you like reading around a subject and absorbing different ideas and theories that can alter as time goes on, these are two excellent volumes that should hold your interest. Easily as good as any thriller in my book! And all that quoting of old Norse and Anglo-Saxon makes me wish I could learn those languages, too…!
3. And the story continues…
I have mentioned Ella Maillart repeatedly on this blog. A traveller, journalist, Olympian and sportswoman from Geneva who enjoyed adventuring in the most difficult terrain. I have talked about “The Cruel Way” (a car journey to Afghanistan with Annemarie Schwarzenbach – who also wrote about the journey – in 1938) and went on to read about Ella’s trip from Moscow to the Caucasus in 1931. Next was a hard adventure travelling through Turkestan solo, but now on my reading list is “Forbidden Journey, from Peking to Cashmir”. As I was about to embark on this volume, I discovered that she had undertaken the journey with Peter Fleming, who wrote about the journey from his point of view in “News from Tartary”, which I got hold of secondhand online in a 1940s edition. Peter was the older brother of Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame), a travel journalist and adventurer in his own right, a correspondent for the The Times at the time – 1935. These two very independent-minded young people (in their late 20s/early 30s) had both been travelling in China and Japan – separately – and were embarking on the trip home to Europe, deciding that it might be “fun” (?!) to take an ancient caravan route over two mountain ranges and a couple of deserts to India…and rather reluctantly agreed to try to get through together (there was no romance going on – Peter was due to marry on his return to Britain!). There had been no news from the remote and barren area north of Tibet for two years since major clashes in 1933 and a tussle between various Chinese and Russian parties when all foreigners had been sent away – or murdered.
Ella and Peter, perhaps rashly, but certainly with a good deal of courage, set off with papers that would only take them as far as the first border into Sinkiang – if they were lucky… The whole journey took them 7 months and for 6 of those they didn’t see a European face or a motorised vehicle. They travelled by horse, pony, donkey, camel or on foot when the animals were too weak to carry them and survival was something of a miracle when there were long stretches without water and very little in the way of food. Guides varied dramatically and language was often a problem if neither pidkin Chinese nor a smattering of Russin were understood. The contrast between the jolly Englishman’s report and the thoughtful journal by the practical Swiss woman is remarkable and the books both make for fascinating reading about a time and a place of which we basically know nothing. I attempted to track their journey via maps online and found that today, their route is a Chinese highway, China National Highway G315 – though I have little idea of its condition, presumably not comparable to a European highway! 3063 miles. Spellings have altered but are traceable and the luxury we have today of plentiful photographs probably still can’t quite capture the feelings the travellers had or what they experienced on this difficult crossing through an area far more isolated in those days than today, and it’s still incredibly remote.
At this point, my husband noticed that there is a newish documentary out about Ella Maillart (“Les Voyages Extraordinaire d’Ella Maillart”, 2016), which we were able to see at an independent cinema locally. I hope it will become available online eventually, as it’s amazing to see interviews with Ella from the late 1970s and early 1980s, to hear her reminiscing and to see how a small group of intrepid adventurers follow in her footsteps on camera.
Then I came across another book, published in 1987. An American, Stuart Stevens, made the same journey over 50 years after Ella and Peter and wrote about his experiences in “Night Train to Turkestan”. I found this book secondhand online, too, and very much look forward to reading it when I have finished the others! I do know that Stevens consulted an elderly Ella in Geneva before he left and reported back to her on his return, which is a very touching detail, I find. Full circle.
So I have plenty of reading to do following a long travel book trail…
Once a week, I’m up especially early to head out to work. But I thought she was a lady of luxury, sitting in her little washhouse, knitting and reading, or off on expeditions and travels all the time, you say?! Ah well, remember I am also a granny of four, and to earn the name of “Nana”, I try to do my bit… and that means getting up early.
(My husband described me recently as “Nana Lana” – granny of the wool lol!)
I don’t even arrive at my daughter’s house in time to see my eldest grandson off to school. Here in Switzerland, primary schools often start morning lessons around 7.25 am, and the 9 year old has to be out of the house by 7 to ride his bicycle down from the house and across the main traffic axis and back up the other side, where the schoolhouse sits on top of a hill overlooking the farmsteads, just like in an American naïve painting. It’s a Swiss naïve painting!
I’m barely in the door before the next one is donning her gear ready for Kindergarten, so I’m greeted more in passing. At 6, she is already a very independent young lady and has definite ideas about what she wants to take as a snack and what else needs to go in the bag. Jacket and boots on, the doorbell goes, her friend from next door is ready to go, both of them with neon visibility waistcoats to keep them safe as they walk the same route as their big brothers, up to the schoolhouse.
Most mornings when I arrive, it’s the nearly 3 year old who comes running to greet me, full of ideas for what we’ll play today. Will we colour, read, sing, dance, cook, drink tea, play with the cat, do puzzles and build towers? All of that! Together with his little sister, 14 mths, there’ll be running, chasing, hugs, tumbles, laughs and tears. They will ride bobby cars and motorbikes, he will rescue her by towing her car with a dog lead, and make repairs using the vacuum cleaner cable before they can be on their way again, round and round the table. They will stop to make a fuss of the cat and then be off again, sneaking into the kitchen to nab some crackers or disappearing upstairs with a particular toy in mind. Littlest one will topple over and bump her head on the carpet and big brother will charge off and return with plasters for her forehead that she’ll wear proudly all morning. I will be crawling around after them, replacing fallen-off slippers and socks and wiping noses, and suddenly they will demand books and plump themselves down on my lap to read the same books for the hundredth time, seeing more and learning more each time they do so. They love cuddles and tickles and both have an infectious giggle. “Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear…” is always a big hit all round, over and over again, “Hoppe hoppe Reiter…” as they bounce up and down on my knees. Nappies are changed, pyjamas discarded, fresh clothing sought out, breakfasts distributed. Ready for round two. Up in the playroom we’ll build train tracks, rearrange the farm animals, send the fire engines to an emergency, career around the roads on the play mat. More puzzles and games, more books and stories, some “shopping” and “cooking”, a tea party, the bed as a boat, a castle, a fort or a house, the clock striking the hours in animal voices – a lion’s roar at 9, an elephant’s trumpet at 10 and so on…
Perhaps the baby will take a morning nap if she was up early and little boy and I might have a short window of Fireman Sam, the Moomins or Teletubbies for a few moments of downtime, cuddled under a blanket, a breather between games. Though we might be too busy doing jobs in the kitchen or he might be absorbed in being an elephant with some tubing he’s found, or we could just be occupied blowing bubbles…
Anyway, at some point we have to start thinking about lunch for everyone. Hungry children will be home at 12! Little helpers can do lots of things, empty the dishwasher, put things away, set the table, make salad dressing, fetch ingredients from the fridge, or just bang a wooden spoon on the pots and pans! We’re clockwatching now, timing everyone’s needs to be ready on the hour… and trying to prevent more sneaked snacks when lunch is nearly ready.
12 o’clock. High noon! First one child in from school, rosy and sweating, then the other from Kindergarten, full of chat. What’s for lunch, Nana?? Now I get to gauge if it’s going to be a success! They are too polite to whine, as a rule, but I will see how successful my cooking is (compared to their mother’s!) by the leftovers…or none. Get the toddler into the high chair, bib on, avoiding any tantrums from the nearly 3 year old – where does he want to sit, which plate does he want, is he happy with a fork today or does he want a spoon and knife, too? What colour beaker will they each have without complaint – woe betide I offer pink plastic to a 9 year old boy or a Cars motif to a 6 year old girl!! Squabbles and tales, food everywhere, who likes ketchup, who prefers mayonnaise, who likes to mix them, who needs meat cutting, who feels their food is too hot and demands I blow on it…?? The two smallest generally eating with great gusto, oops, lets get their sleeves up, and we’ll ignore ketchup behind their left ear until we’re clearing up! The eldest impatient to push his plate aside and tackle his homework, his sister impatient to have lunchtime over and make playdates, the younger ones tired and beginning to flag.
Clear the table, fill the dishwasher, help with homework, prevent the phone being used in the lunch hour, make up a bottle of milk, get the toddler down for a nap, where’s the dummy gone?! find a quiet activity for the 3 year old if he won’t sleep, keep the 6 year old out of the 9 year old’s hair, give permission for screentime, replace some batteries, check hands have been washed, change more nappies, admire crafts brought from school, make sure parents will see any paperwork, let the dog out (especially when the postman comes to leave a parcel!), let the dog in, answer the phone, wash the pots and pans, let the cat in or out (or both), fold some laundry, admire the latest train or racing car set-up, do more difficult puzzles, more intricate colouring… eventually, each child is off for their own quiet time.
Make a cup of tea! Let the dog in to clear up after the toddler (aren’t dogs great at recognising a high chair and toddler and all they offer?!), run the vacuum cleaner, and finally, sit down and actually drink the tea…
My daughter comes in, looking fresh as a daisy after a morning in the office, ready for her own afternoon shift with all four children, plans for activities and appointments. I finish my tea, exchange news and notices and then it’s time for me to wrap up warm and start for home. If I can, I’ll take one of the kids to an appointment if it will save my daughter a journey, otherwise I will just make my way back down the valley, a warm feeling of contentment lingering that I’ve not only done my daughter a favour (hopefully!) by being there for the brood for a few hours, but also happy that I have a relationship with all four of my grandchildren. I know their likes and dislikes, favourite toys and activities, and they know me, too, and look forward in turn to coming to see me in my home and doing the activities they associate with us. Yes; this is what family is all about!!
Here’s taking a flying leap into the new year and January 2018!
By now, I think my readers will have gathered that I always have something on the needles and anyone who knows and/or understands knitters will also know that the vast majority have UFOs (unfinished objects), WIPs (works in progress) and hopefully, at some point, FOs (finished objects)!! A new year is a new start and a very good opportunity to get a touch of castonitis – the condition where a number of projects appeal and are cast on and work is intense as long as the project is shiny and new. Some projects move on quickly or have a deadline, and others, well, others can linger by the wayside a little (or more). Let us hope that most will reach completion at some point or else be unravelled (frogged, in knitspeak) and the yarn re-used. But I digress.
For once, I had little Christmas knitting in 2017. A few pairs of socks made good and fairly mindless knitting, partly because the Nutkin pattern I introduced a few posts ago, which is lovely, kept turning out too big for me. That is, I kept getting distracted and making the whole thing too long so I had to watch my step (literally!) and manage a pair that are more suited to my short, broad feet. Finally, success!
And of course, the Fireside cowl (Ysolda Teague’s Fraxinus) was finished, too – I love this wool-silk blend of fiery colours which suits the pattern so well. Gorgeous to wear with my turquoise wool-cashmere coat! (The hat is also an Ysolda Teague pattern from a few years ago, Rose Red, a great favourite in a blend that has cashmere in it, too.)
My January got off to a busy start. I had two gifts to complete this month, neither of which I can yet show you, as the recipients haven’t had them, yet… sorry! I would just like to say they were both delightful projects that knitted up beautifully and blocked (washed and shaped) even more beautifully into accessories I am decidedly pleased with, in absolutely gorgeous yarns – let that be a teaser. And I really hope they find loving homes!
On reviewing what I have on the needles at the moment to write about, I was slightly embarrassed that there are at least six projects on the go, some are more, some less complex, but all have their merits…
Firstly, I have been working on another Quill shawl/small blanket (pattern by Jared Flood, yarn is Drops Flora, a great alpaca-wool blend), as I have mentioned previously. It’s the one that will need a tea bath when it’s finished to tone down the colour, as the yellow is rather brighter than I had intended. I’m on the last leg of this, the lace edging, so it’s a matter of picking it up and actually doing a repeat here and there until it’s finished, though the 700+ stitches on the needle right now make me twitch a little (and yet another KnitPro wooden needle broke, grrr). I had got a start on it and found, with much facepalming, that although I made two of these in 2017 and showed them off proudly, the lace was in fact incorrect (done in stocking stitch instead of garter…). I started this last one in the correct fashion but then after about 20cm found I actually preferred my “wrong” version, so ripped it out and recommenced… On the needles, it looks like a limp bag, but believe me, it will unfold from its chrysalis-like form into all the same glory as the two predecessors. Promise!
The point at which the needles broke and I had to reconstruct lace stitches 😮
As if I didn’t have enough blankets, I suddenly had a rare urge to crochet. This does not happen very frequently in my world, my mother is the crocheter. However, I came across a rather large box of superwash DK-weight merino in a pleasing range of colours and as I don’t use this type of yarn much any more, the idea of a simple granny-stripe blanket to “use them up” came to mind. Crochet eats up yarn at an alarming rate, so surely this would be perfect…. Friends, I have already had to go out and buy more yarn (and try and match up colours, not always successfully!) in order to actually get a blanket of useful dimensions. At the moment, it’s about 120cm wide and 60 cm high, so only about 1/3 done, and a lot of work to be done, yet. The colours are still lovely and go with my home, so it’s worth keeping up with it. There will be a million ends to sew in and it will be even larger than intended by the time it has an edging and I may well hate it by the time it’s finished and have to put it into hibernation until I can look at it again. But it will be a wondrous thing!! And as I chose a 3.5mm hook, the fabric is quite dense; it will be warm. A 4 or even 4.5mm hook would have been perfectly adequate (but it would have been even wider :o).
As a keen Skeindeer podcast fan, and with a daughter who seems to be churning out fabulous colourwork mittens in sensational rare breed yarns at an alarming rate, I felt I wanted to join the party. I have done colourwork mittens before, so it shouldn’t be an issue. However, much as I love the Julebukk pattern by Skeindeer, and I really adore the John Arbor yarns I bought in Oxford a couple of years ago (Exmoor Bluefaced Leicester/Alpaca), too, but after a promising start, I just don’t seem to be getting anywhere fast. I have just transferred the first mitten from DPNs (double pointed needles) to a circular to use the magic loop method, so maybe that will help. It requires a fair amount of concentration to follow this kind of chart so no reading or watching Netflix or podcasts, or even audiobooks, while working on these :o. I do truly love the yarns and hope to get my hands on more in the future, they are pure luxury. But possibly not ideal for the type of project, it has to be said. I mean to persevere and then to delve more into the world of Norwegian mittens, but for now, I need to concentrate on these!
The beginnings of the very pretty cuff…
While on the subject of luxury yarn, I have embarked on another Mandarines pattern (Melody Hoffman), Skogur. This looks to be a very simple knit, for a change, with a lot of very mindless garter stitch – it also looks as if the first section could take forever, as I have already invested countless hours and don’t feel I’m getting anywhere!! However, the yarn is another very worthwhile one, from the Faroe islands this time, a blend of Faroe island and Falkland wool, I believe. Or are the Falkland sheep on the Faroes?! I’m not entirely sure (how much farther apart could the Faroes and Falkland be?!). Still, for a so-called “rustic” yarn, it’s very smooth and soft and I’m definitely curious to see how it will come up when washed and blocked. I have chosen the same colour as in the original pattern, a silver grey, and am really enjoying working with the yarn, which I got from Laines des Iles in Brittany last summer. It’s supposed to become a fairly large crescent-shaped shawl…
The next items are FOs! My dear Canadian friend, who is not a knitter, has for several years running sent me a knitting calendar, with a lot of great little projects that take anything up to a week each to complete. What a fab idea to keep a knitter on her toes! Last weekend these Cindersmoke mittens popped up, in fairly thick yarn (I had some Drops Nepal to use up!) and needles, so I dived straight in and made them pretty much in the time frame suggested. As I made a sweater in this colour recently and I have a Shetland hat with this mustard yellow in it, too, I liked this choice… Now I come to think of it, my slippers are this colour, as well, and looking around, it seems I’m really fond of this shade… lol!!
This week, back to the mustard yet again for some socks called the Thankyou Socks, with a simple cable… This seemed a good option for plain-coloured sock wool I had picked up at the general store where my youngest daughter works and wanted to put to good use. Looks like these are going to be warm and squishy – and go with most of my wardrobe :O Just goes to show that even bargain yarns from non-specialist stores are worth looking at.
As if that wasn’t enough to be going on with, I have had both yarn and a pattern in mind for quite a while, now. I know that Drops has blotted their copybook with a lot of knitters lately, but it has to be said that their yarns are great value for money and I do have quite a bit in my stash – and stash is there to be used. This is Drops Alpaca, which is wonderfully soft and fine, in a beautiful rich red, and the pattern is Belmont by The Shetland Trader, Gudrun Johnston, from her book The Shetland Trader Two. It will be a nice little cardigan with a lace-pattern front; it’s cropped and although this isn’t something I generally go for, I do need a short cardigan to go over some of my dresses and skirts and I rather like the vintage look. And I do adore red (despite that penchant for mustard/gold!). I am just getting into the body of the garment, which is a bottom-up, in the round pattern, something I haven’t done for a couple of years, now, possibly not since I did Soay (also a Gudrun Johnston pattern)! I’m not yet sure if I will do the 3/4 sleeves or lengthen them to the wrist, but as they are top-down set-in sleeves (a technique I very much favour), I will see when I get there.
Oh, and remember the Oa?! There’s that, too… If you’re looking for me, I reckon I’ll be – knitting!
I have talked here before about Advent, that run up to Christmas over 24 days that is so well known in German-speaking countries, as well as elsewhere. It seems to have had something of a renaissance – perhaps just something else to market in our consumerist world – and I admit that it’s something I look forward to. Possibly because my birthday is, and has always been (!) on the first day of Advent! Since I was a child, I have had Advent calendars (most frequently with or without chocolate but this year, TWO, full of different tea varieties!) and Advent candles and we have, I think, almost always had an Advent wreath with four candles on it, lighting one more each Sunday before Christmas, whether we celebrated the German, or later, Swiss Christmas Eve or English Christmas Day. Candles have always been a part of it, that lovely warm glowing light emanating with the particular scent when the lights are low and the weather outside is atrocious…the epitome of hygge, I suppose.
I don’t remember there being much in the way of electric lights around my childhood Christmasses. Perhaps they weren’t so common in Europe in the 1970s/80s. Even when our children were younger, we never had electric lights, but in the last 10 or 15 years, they have become more and more popular. Whereas candlelight lit up the lametta draped on the wondrous silver or gold Christmas Eve tree (in Germany and Switzerland), it twinkled on colourful tinsel on the artificial tree in England, but that all seems passé now. More and more houses and gardens feature electric light decorations in some form and the advent of the LED has meant that it’s a cheap and cheerful form of seasonal decoration trend. Fortunately, most people in my part of the world seem to prefer plain white and non-blinking, and I myself am partial to pretty little lights – all the year round, if I’m honest! – but almost only indoors, and hopefully tasteful!
The two pocket watches belonged to my great-grandparents and have a history of their own!
These days, no self-respecting town or city can get away without a light show of some kind. Even the local villages in my area proudly attach some kind of lights to each lamppost along the main thoroughfare(s), one has stars, the next candle shapes or snowflakes or… I’ve often seen cranes on a building site with electric stars in addition to the red warning light for planes. A few years ago, shortly after we moved to the little washhouse, our town lights extended to just in front of our house. Mid-November a truck pulls up patiently at each lamppost from the roundabout until opposite our house and deposits a smallish spray of lights and a snowflake that is quickly and efficiently fixed up on high. From the first Advent weekend until Epiphany (January 6th), the lights come on each evening, come rain, snow or wind, and put a gentle glow over the plain, tarmac street. Mid-January, the patient truck pulls up again to dismantle everything until next year.
If you follow the decorations along, you will see more Advent lights, this time in the old schoolhouse windows, where the children decorate Advent windows ready for their turn, as 24 buildings, mostly private homes, pick a day in December to star in the Advent window show. If you hang or place a jug near the entrance, it means you’re willing to host light-goers for a drink and/or snack, maybe some mulled wine or hot chocolate. By the 24th it’s well worth a walk around this part of town to see all the windows and what people came up with this time round! All kinds of winter and Christmas scenes will be your reward.
Next come my very favourite lights – a large tree just after the bridge looks as if someone has daintily dropped flower lights into its winter branches. It’s such a delicate rendering of lights and I enjoy it almost daily as I drive by. Or are they snowflakes? You tell me.
After a stroll along the river – where there are no lights, but the water captures and reflects plenty of twinkles as it flows along behind the railway station – you will get to one of the older parts of town, the first part of town to have escaped the old town walls. From here throughout the centre of the old town, our council has invested in a whole new light show. Instead of strings of lights in various shapes, there are projections onto the most prominent buildings, some taking the building’s features into consideration, others just glad of a blank space. And they tell the Christmas story!
The style is consistent throughout and also with that of golden figures strung across the mostly pedestrian streets of the town’s core. These are not electrified or lit up, they shine only with the glow from the projections or the individual shop lights, characters made famous by the Christmas story, camels and sheep, shepherds and kings.
Our little town is not a tourist attraction, it has no particular notoriety. But it does have some attractive old buildings, like most places in Switzerland. It is a town of only about 25000 inhabitants but with a great infrastructure and a loyal population which enjoys buying locally. Again, like many towns here, it has both a Catholic church and a Protestant church, a town hall, administrative buildings. It has an elegant old railway station but also supermodern commercial premises next to it. Some 19th century buildings have attractive bay windows, some of the houses have a specific connection to people or events. The projections are on all kinds of facade, regardless of age, and unite them. Sometimes also with the more familiar strings of electric lights!
And lastly, what was conceived as an elegant shopping street with a huge post office building at the top end, a smart confectionary and café halfway down and a representative bank building at the other end regains its poise with a row of young trees garlanded in strands of stars that glow modestly across the way as our little tramway train passes by…
(A small reminder: the Twelve Days of Christmas traditionally begin on Christmas Day and run on to Epiphany. This is the actual feast of Christmas (Advent was generally a fast in anticipation of the great day)… a really good excuse not to consider Christmas “over” after the 25th December, concentrating on the coming year, but to keep the festivities going! Take note, young bloggers and vloggers – I was bemused to see “12 days of Christmas” featured during Advent! :o)
From the age of 10 or so, I spent my long summer holidays with my English grandparents. We generally had 8-9 weeks, so it was much longer than the standard 6 weeks (or 5 if you’re a Swiss child!) and although there was plenty to do and see, there were times when I went looking for something to read or make. On my quests for inspiration, I frequently browsed a large collection of Family Circle magazines that my Granny picked up at the supermarket and kept in a cupboard. They were full of all sorts of fascinating information and tips, and yes, ideas of things to make. Within reason and if Granny had the bits and bobs, I spent many an hour crafting something I’d seen. It was understood that eventually, I would inherit this collection! Especially as I have gone on to develop a love of vintage magazines and books…
Unfortunately, the pile of magazines turned up so late in our packing-up of Granny’s belongings that I was restricted to a small pile to bring home with me, and I sadly had to dump the rest (though not without scouting through them for knitting patterns!). Now I am back home and the weather has taken a turn for the worse, I’ve started reading them and found myself taken back in time.
The first issue of (British) Family Circle came out in October 1964, shortly before my birth, and this issue has been faithfully kept – probably in the hope that it would become valuable! I did check online and it seems that it has gone from an original price of 1/- (one shilling in old English money pre-1971) to a value of around £20 now, so not bad. I suppose there aren’t many that have survived 53 years.
Domestic bliss was the aim for the 1960s housewife, but she was a modern miss, too. The title page advertises the competition to win an all-electric £5000 house – a real 1960s detached with all mod-cons, even things like dishwashers that didn’t become common in the UK until 30 years later.
Scandinavian style had reached the British Isles and jumps out every couple of pages – much like today!
Some of the fashions wouldn’t look out of place in 2017, either, albeit with slightly different styling. but really, Mad Men?!
It’s a treat to read real English that has been proofread, too, and the level of common sense is fantastic – sigh. The recipes look tasty and simple (in those days, few people were prepared to attempt any funny foreign food…), the embroidery timeless and the adverts no less ridiculous than in a modern magazine. I spied a few things that are of their time and yet – my mother still has a bamboo rocking chair exactly like the one in the home decor section
and I could knit up several of the patterns without the garments even looking “vintage”.
To a young 2017 mum it might seem shocking to see that babies were being given additional foods from the age of only 2 weeks, but the article about children’s imaginations v. lying is just as topical for any mum of a 4 year old, I’m sure. PG Tips and Ovaltine (Ovomaltine here!) still exist, while most of the offices you could write to (with a stamped addressed envelope, please…) probably do not.
So, the challenge I am setting myself is to implement some of the things I found in this stack of 1960s magazines! Let’s see how I do, shall we?