Wednesday 29 December 2010

ABC Wednesday - X is for YOU ALL

I've no time for anything other than a big
to you all with my wishes for a Happy, Peaceful and Rewarding 2011:-)

Thank you to Denise Nesbitt and her eXcellent team who organise this weekly meme. You can meet them here.

Thursday 23 December 2010

SkyWatch Friday - Changeable December sky

Thanks go to the SkyWatch team who host this weekly meme. Click here to see more skies around the globe.
The skies have been more changeable than usual recently.
At 3:38 pm in one direction it looked metallic and threatening.
In another region of the sky, at 3:40 pm, it showed shades of blue and a topping of white.
At 3:42 pm the sky showed a different face.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Shopping and other trials

Shopping! Don’t you just love it? Well, actually, no. If I could shop in solitude – oh, all right, with just a few people around me, I might enjoy it, but trawling round the shops, after negotiating car parks designed for very small, narrow cars and extremely thin, limber drivers, judging by the paltry parking spaces, is not my idea of a pleasurable excursion. Naturally, I have been able to secure a spot only after I have reached the top level, out in the cold.

The shops are too hot; I appreciate that the employees need to work in comfortable conditions but I only have two temperatures – cold or hot – and I dress appropriately for outdoors. Consequently, I glow (ladies never sweat – that’s for horses) profusely and unflatteringly as I queue to look at objects I might be tempted to buy, but usually am not, and then queue again to pay for the things I decided in desperation to get anyway.

Then there’s the ‘music.’ An oft-repeated loop of determinedly ‘seasonal’ songs cuts across concentration. As closing time nears the recording is changed for something zippier to get the customers moving. To my intense irritation I find myself singing along to ‘Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree’ and ‘Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland’ and other similarly horrible festive songs. Outside, the Salvation Army is making real music and causing sinners like me to feel abjectly ashamed of myself.

Staggering back to the car park with carrier bags cutting into my fingers, trying to protect purse and car keys from the hordes of pickpockets I know are watching my every move, I attempt to enter a lift (elevator) – but I have to queue again. Playing sardines was a favourite game when I was eight years old at parties with friends. It’s not so much fun in a mucky lift with assorted strangers whose personal habits are not very attractive. Smokers’ breath, beer (at this time of day?) coffee (ugh) obviously no time for a shower this month, fish and chips every day for a week judging by the stench from your hair and clothes, can’t afford a dentist - or toothpaste, apparently – all these elements assail my nostrils and goodness only knows what scents emanate from me (I eat a lot of garlic!)

Eventually, I reach the level on which I parked my car and begin to relax. Just one more thing to do and then I can go home in my private, comfortable transport. I look for the ticket machine so that I can pay my parking fine fee and discover that it’s on the floor below. Gritting my teeth, I dump my purchases in the car and trail back to the lifts. I queue again. 

A lift arrives and disgorges a gang of giggling teenagers and a platoon of baby buggies. In the lift a small child presses all the buttons – ‘He likes doing that, don’t you, darlin’?’ and ‘darlin’’, who is about four years old,  doesn’t remove his dummy (pacifier) to answer, but nods his head and grins at me. So we go all the way to the ground floor, stopping on every level to let out or take on more passengers. I know there’s a machine on this level so I leave the lift, queuing of course, to do so, and walk purposefully if rather wearily to it. There are five people in front of me and I join the back of the queue. The contraption stops working and an official is summoned. He shakes his head and tells us we must use the device on the second level. Back in the lift lobby I join the queue. I’m so tired now that I’m beginning to have difficulty focusing. I would have stopped for some refreshment but that would have required queuing . . .

Eventually, having paid for my ticket, I reach my car and begin the spiral journey downwards to the exit and soon find myself queuing again. It’s a very slow-moving queue as more and more cars join at every level. By the time I have exited the car park the roads are busy with hundreds of vehicles all travelling in the same direction as me. The road going in the other direction is sparsely occupied by a few cars spinning merrily along, their occupants looking fresh and happy.

After a stop-start journey which takes three times longer than usual I arrive home. ‘Good trip?’ enquires a jovial voice. ‘How about a cup of tea?’ At least I don’t have to queue to make the tea.

I don’t like going out to shop which is why I make most of my purchases online. I can peruse catalogues or websites, compare prices, select sizes and colours, order easily and wait for delivery, all in the comfort and peace (relative peace – all things are relative!) of my own home. It is not always trouble-free.

Earlier this year:
First computer - case damaged. 
Replacement computer - internal damage

The Jiffy bag was damaged so Royal Mail put the whole mess in a polythene bag and taped it up. It may look like a squid but is actually webbing for our settees. Generations of dogs leaping on them has nearly worn the straps through. 
I had to sign for this delivery!
Our kitchen was covered in grey 'snow' - the soft, cushioning material had escaped its cover!
However my Christmas gift shopping has gone well. Everything has been delivered and all I need to do is wrap and label.

Christmas food shopping is a little different. To obtain the desired delivery slot I have to book it three to four weeks before I need the shopping. I was a little slow this year so the times nearer Christmas Eve had gone and I had to settle for today. I always worry until the order has arrived. One year, the turkey was mysteriously ‘unavailable’ despite having been ordered weeks earlier. Today’s order was almost complete – but free range eggs were unobtainable, as was the beef joint and some cheese. The brandy butter was replaced with cream and vegetarian mince was substituted for the vegetarian roast. 

So I shall have to venture forth yet again this year to endure the crowds, the traffic, the tinny sound of piped music – but at the same time I shall be entranced by the excitement of small children and the twinkling lights in the trees and something of the spirit of Christmas will be visited upon me in time to listen to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast live on Christmas Eve from the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge.

Here is a clip from King’s College Choir in 2009.
I wish you all a Very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful and Fulfilling 2011.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Winter Solstice 2010

December 21st 2010 is the day of the Winter Solstice and officially the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. So all of us who have been complaining about the winter weather should really still have been referring to autumn! It is the shortest day of the year, when the sun’s daily maximum position in the sky at its lowest. It is the longest night of the year. From tomorrow the nights will start drawing out, at a rate of 15 minutes per week. 

Of course, in the Southern Hemisphere, December 21st 2010 marks the day of the Summer Solstice and thus the longest day.

The day has also been marked by a total lunar eclipse, the first to occur on a Solstice day since 1638. It was visible as such only in North and South America. Observers in other parts of the world saw partial eclipses.

When we looked out last night it could have been a moonless night because clouds obscured the sky. Tonight the moon is full, but again we cannot see it. Never mind, tomorrow we can look forward to longer days and shorter nights!!

ABC Wednesday W is for Wayland’s Smithy

The top of the long barrow
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Along the Ridgeway, not far from the Uffington White Horse, Wayland’s Smithy is a Neolithic long barrow set amongst beech trees. It was first constructed around 3700 BC  as an enclosed wooden mortuary with a stone floor. The stone barrow was built about 3400 BC.  Later it was covered by a mound of chalk, a material plentiful in the area! It measures 185 feet long and is 43 feet wide at its widest, southern end.
Entrance to the stone monument
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
It was excavated in 1963 and found to contain the remains of eleven males, two females and a child, all interred during a fifteen-year period. The above photograph shows its appearance after reconstruction.

Its name stems from the belief that it was inhabited by the Saxon god of smiths and metalwork, Wayland (or Weland, Volund, Volundr). Legend claims that Wayland was a blacksmith. Any traveller along the Ridgeway whose horse had cast a shoe could leave the animal and a silver coin at the mound. When the rider returned, the animal would be freshly shod and the coin gone. 

Thanks go to the Wise Denise Nesbitt and her Willing Workers Who organise this Weekly meme. Please click here to see more Ws and perhaps join in.

Tommy Cooper classics

Just a few gems from the late, great Tommy Cooper . . .

Two aerials meet on a roof - fall in love - get married. The ceremony was rubbish but the reception was brilliant.

A man goes to the doctor with a strawberry growing out of his head.The doctor says, 'I'll give you some cream to put on it.' 

'Doctor, I can't stop singing the green green grass of home.'

'That sounds like Tom Jones syndrome.'
'Is it common?'
'It's not unusual.'

A man takes his Rottweiler to the vet. 

'My dog's cross-eyed, is there anything you can do for him?'
'Well,' says the vet, 'Let's have a look at him.'
So he picks the dog up and examines his eyes, then checks his teeth. Finally he says, 'I'm going to have to put him down.'
'What? Because he's cross-eyed?'
'No, because he's really heavy.'

My World Tuesday

Snow falls, giving everything a starkly stunning aspect. The air is as sharp and crisp as the snow crunching underfoot.
Outside the front door our corkscrew hazel (avellana corylus contorta) wears a thick coat of snow but the catkins hang down, ready to display their glory in a few short months’ time.
In the forest the dogs trot soundlessly, seeming to enjoy the sensation of the soft coldness beneath their paws. The scents are pungent to their sensitive noses.   
The sun breaks through the white-grey clouds to garland the tree tops with a lemon-gold crown. It contrasts strangely with the pure white snow.
Suddenly, we realise that the sun has claimed some trees as its own and covered them in gold.
A little further on it is as though we have chanced upon a magical kingdom, glowing within its icy boundaries. A warm hand has touched this region, a reminder of times past and yet to come.
The sky is huge  . . .

 . . . the trees loom and we are made sensible of our insignificance.

A dog’s –eye view . . .
. . . and Jenna wonders how long it will be before the snow and ice melt and she can swim again. A shrewd Labrador, she knows better than to attempt to walk on the pond’s unusual surface . . .
. . . but she and Gus dive enthusiastically into the undergrowth to retrieve their Kong while Frodo inspects an interesting sniff.
They emerge with a dredging of snow on their backs, looking like reverse Dalmatians before they vigorously shake themselves free.
Thanks go to the My World team who host this weekly meme. Click here to see more views of the world around the globe.

Monday 20 December 2010

Where’s my cursor gone?

I suppose it’s par for the course at this busy time of year that things should go astray. You know how it is – you put something down, turn around to look for something else and when you go back for the first thing, it’s not there.  

In our house, however, things disappear all year round, busy times or not.
When we had children living at home we used to blame the poltergeist. That excuse began to lose its potency as each child in turn left the teenage years behind and moved out of the family home, later to form their own sprite-attracting units. We have young animals – maybe they attract mischievous fairies. Actually, I think they may be the boggarts – at least they display certain boggartly characteristics. Socks mysteriously disappear to be discovered at some future point in a dog basket or a flower pot or under a mat or in the garden. The same fate befalls gloves, shoes, bags, chocolate cake . . .

However, I really think I cannot blame a hobgoblin for the loss of my cursor. I suppose it could be gremlins, the poltergeists of the personal computer.   Gremlins and computers have a symbiotic relationship much like mistletoe and trees. The case of the cursor is very irritating, though; - one minute it’s there, the next it’s gone. Hunt as carefully as I might, I cannot discern its presence anywhere on my screen and so, frustrated, I close the lid of my laptop, reopen it and voilĂ , it reappears as if by magic.
The problem has been compounded and modified recently by the addition of a second screen. Mounted on a bracket, it can be swung out from the wall to give a larger, brighter display, ideal for editing photographs or viewing details, or researching several things at once. Now the cursor is plain to view on the bright screen, winking malevolently at me as I struggle to move it back to my laptop. The touch pad grows hot under my frantic fingers as I stroke it repeatedly, despite multiple blisters and friction burns. In desperation I unplug the additional display and the impish cursor leaps back into place. Restoring the second screen to continue my editing, or research or whatever foolhardy pursuit I have embarked upon, and lo and behold, the cursor has vaulted off my laptop once more.

So here I sit, like a manic organ grinder, opening and closing my laptop a hundred times an hour and unplugging and plugging in my alternative display, while my cursor plays hide and seek with me. I swear I can hear the tinkling laughter of a naughty fairy. I shan’t be clapping for Tinker Bell this year!

Wednesday 15 December 2010

ABC Wednesday - V is for Vale

Image courtesy of National Trust
The Vale I am thinking of is The Vale of White Horse in Uffington which is now in Oxfordshire but was historically part of Berkshire.

The White Horse, more than 3000 years old, is probably the oldest hill figure in Britain. The white colour comes from the chalk underlying the whole area. The Horse strides across the Berkshire Downs near the ancient Ridgeway path, which is said to be the oldest ‘road’ in Europe.

No-one really knows why the Horse was created. It was made by digging deep trenches which were then backfilled with chalk. It is 374’ (110m) long and can only be seen clearly and completely from the air, so may have been a sign to ancient gods.

It doesn’t look much like a horse and some have mused that it might be a dragon, possibly the very dragon killed by St George.  Nearby Dragon Hill has a single white circular mark, which folklore claims as the spot where the dragon slain by St George shed its lifeblood. Legend has it that the dragon’s blood so poisoned the ground that grass never grows on this spot. Others have suggested that the Horse is a representation of St George’s steed. A little further along the Ridgeway is Wayland’s Smithy, of which more next week.
The area is beautiful, mostly given to arable farming now, since the decline of its dairy business in the early years of the 21st century. It has a plethora of pretty villages through which I used to drive to my first job in Stanford in the Vale. It is where Barry and I started our married life and where our first child was born and so it has a special place in my heart.
A few years ago we travelled back to this part of the country and spent a sunny afternoon on the hill below the White Horse. We decided not to walk to the chalk figure because the notices (which were never there 40 years ago!) asked that dogs be kept on leads and our three Dalmatians needed to run and play. As they did so we watched and took in the pastoral views.
White Horse Hill can just be seen in the upper right quarter of this photo
The site is owned and managed by National Trust. 

Thank you as usual to the Vivacious Denise Nesbitt and her Versatile, Vigorous, Valiant team who organise and host this weekly meme.  Click here to enjoy more Victory Vs and maybe join in.

Monday 13 December 2010

Camera Critters #140, Pet Pride

I’m minding my own business when a woodpigeon lands clumsily on the pyracantha. I am instantly alert. Goody! I can enjoy one of my favourite hobbies – bird-watching.
(Mrs H: Oh dear! He does need to go on a diet - just look at that tiger tummy!)
heard that!  Anyway, if I lean a little more to the right I’ll get a better view. Gus isn’t at all interested. I expect that’s because he’s a Labrador and only takes notice if he’s expected to pick up.
I‘m climbing carefully up the back of the settee. That greedy pigeon’s so busy scoffing all the berries it hasn’t seen me.
(Mrs H: You’re quite hard to miss, too!)
Harrumph! Now I’m sitting up I can see much more clearly. It’s a lovely plump bird – doesn’t look as if it needs much feeding up.
(Mrs H: Hark who’s talking! Pot, kettle and black spring to mind.)
So rude!! Wait - what’s it doing now?
It dropped a berry. Clumsy!
I’m getting very excited now, lashing my tail. Let me at it – I’ll give it what for!
 If I tried really hard I’m sure I could pass through this glass. SuperCat!
 Oh! It’s flown away . . .

. . . or did it? Just checking.
Yep – definitely gone. Ho hum – when’s supper?
(Mrs H: Winston has kindly agreed to allow me to share this with Camera Critters and Pet Pride and thanks Misty Dawn and Bozo and his human for organising these memes.)

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Mag 44 The sledge ride

Swiftly the sledge sped downhill, its path predicted by the arrow hidden beneath. The excited rider hauled on the ropes to steer the craft and it became a living thing, exhilarating, almost uncontrollable.

An edgy sensation of danger made the girl’s heart pump harder and louder. She opened her mouth to scream her elation and the sledge flexed and leapt, icy air pushing into her mouth and slicing into her lungs. She wanted to shut her eyes but knew she mustn’t for then the sledge would be master.

Faster and faster the two endured the steep slope and the girl began to fear that her journey would never end. She and the sledge were one entity, hurtling through eternity.

Just as she felt she could bear no more and began to sob, the sledge ran into a pile of soft snow and halted with a silky sigh. Strong arms helped her to her feet and she smiled up into her father’s face.

‘Did you enjoy that, sweetie?’ he said and nodding vigorously she replied, ‘Can I have another go, please, Daddy?’ 

This writing meme is organised and hosted by Willow of 'Willow Manor'. To read more interpretations, please click here 

ABC Wednesday - U is for Unicorn

Although I know the Unicorn is a mythical beast, part of me still longs to believe that such a creature exists. Naturally, my Unicorn is a beautiful sleek white horse with flowing mane and tail and a spiral horn. It is proud and free and not to be captured.
Unicorns are mentioned in the King James version of the Bible but it seems that the animal referred to was probably an aurochs which, when seen in profile appears to have a single horn.

The royal Danish throne was reputed to be made of unicorn horns though it is now fairly certain that the horns came from narwhal. Drinking vessels were also made from the horns of unicorns because it was believed that they would neutralise poison.

Unicorns appear in heraldry across Europe. 
The Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom depicts a lion and a unicorn. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, edited by Iona and Peter Opie, the old nursery rhyme, ‘The lion and the unicorn’, reflects the legendary antagonism between these two creatures ‘in many countries through many ages’ and ‘is mentioned in the earliest English natural history books.’ Traditionally it is believed to refer to the amalgamation of the Royal Arms of Scotland with those of England when James VI of Scotland was crowned James I of England in 1603, following the death of Queen Elizabeth I.  It was alluded to by Lewis Carroll in ‘Through the Looking Glass’.

Previously, the Arms of Scotland portrayed two unicorns but after the union one unicorn was replaced by a lion.

The unicorn has the form of a horse but with cloven hooves, a lion’s tail and a goat’s beard. It wears a crown around its neck attached to a broken golden chain, indicating that it was once restrained but broke free and will not be captured again. The Scottish version of the Arms shows the positions of the lion and the unicorn reversed.

The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown;
The lion beat the unicorn
All round about the town.

Some gave them white bread,
And some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake
And drummed them out of town.

Thanks go to the Unique team of Denise Nesbitt and her Universally Urbane Unit of United hosts. Click here to see more Us. 

Sunday 5 December 2010

Today's Flowers #122 In the conservatory

Thanks go to the Today's Flowers team who patiently organise and host this lovely weekly meme. To see more, and perhaps join in, please click here.

Camera Critters #139, Pet Pride

Misty Dawn hosts Camera Critters and Bozo and his human organise Pet Pride. Click on their names to see more offerings.