And at Christmas You Tell the Truth…

I’m not entirely open with you here.IMG_0601

It simply wouldn’t do to spill all the beans.IMG_0607

Sultanabun is my brave, confident (read foolhardy) and competent alter ego who doesn’t worry too much about what people think. Sultanabun doesn’t burn the arse out of her best saucepan by allowing herself to be distracted by Instagram. Sultanabun doesn’t have weird pink scum around her bathroom taps. Of course she doesn’t and she doesn’t find herself sitting, alone, in a coffee shop window with uninvited tears falling down her cheeks. That simply wouldn’t do.

No. There are levels of honesty. IMG_0613

There are always good and bad things about this time of year. That’s sort of the whole point of it, really, when you think about it. Christmas is the light in the darkness, the thing that gets you through. I read an interview with Richard Curtis about writing Four Weddings and a Funeral. He re-wrote his story about four weddings a dozen times but couldn’t get it right. It was too happy, saccherin sweet, until a friend suggested he add in a funeral. It worked. Light and shade, chiaroscuro, that’s life. It’s better because it’s sometimes bad.

It doesn’t do, I think, to pretend that it’s perfect but today I’m choosing to write, honestly, about the things that are good about this time of year.

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Music.

Is there ever so much music about as at Christmas? I love that we belt out Jingle Bells in the car on the way to school, that I can hum Santa Claus is Coming to Town at mid volume while pushing my shopping trolley without anybody even suspecting that I’m mad, and I love that George Michael is going to make it to Number One for Christmas, I love that.

I particularly love the school carol service and nativity play. The Small Girl was, as it turned out, the only homemade donkey at the birth of Jesus which didn’t seem to bother her, or Jesus, one bit. She sang her song, and performed her actions with gusto, shedding only a very small amount of her lustrous mane in the process. As I write she is practicing her party piece.IMG_0703

Creativity (aka Cutting and Sticking).

I love that Christmas grants us all permission to dolly up our homes in whichever daft fashion out hearts desire. The madder the better, if you ask me. It’s all so wonderfully liberating. Once you get past the notion of carting a whole tree inside the house, you can’t really criticise anyone’s style, can you? This from the woman with gold tinsel and multi-coloured lights draped around her sofa.

Every year I get a dose of the bah-humbugs and swear that I can’t be arsed making a real wreath for the front door, every single year.

And then I do.

I thought it would be the work of mere moments to recreate a very simple ring of hazel twigs I saw at a craft fair. It seems I will never learn the lesson that things at craft fairs which seem very simple, invariably, are not.

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Several hours, two glasses of wine, some cursing and forty-two Christmas songs later…IMG_0749

I don’t, in general, have any objection to bells, ribbons or jangly bits on Christmas wreaths. I have previously made a wreath entirely from the wrappers of Cadbury’s Roses so I am reliably unsophisticated in my efforts. This year, however, I had a notion that my wreath would be made exclusively from what my garden (and, being honest, my mother-in-law’s garden) had to offer. I may be still a pheasant feather shy of sophistication but I do like this wreath, a lot.IMG_0753

Kindness.

Have you noticed it? People in cars let you out at junctions with a wave, maybe even a smile if they happen to be belting out Jingle Bells with their kids. People in shops offer to gift-wrap your presents, or double bag your turkey. Strangers tell you stories about their Christmas party, or how they cook their sprouts, or who belonging to them is flying home on Friday. Christmas cards come in the post and surprise me, again, that someone I haven’t spoken to in years still thinks of me. A friend, who I hardly realised knew me so well, turned up on my doorstep with a gift so perfect, so unbelievably thoughtful, it left me breathless.

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Darkness.

Yes, with emotions more contrary than I can explain, I do like it. I like the sound of rain battering the windows. I like the heavy, leaden skies that take striking a match and touching it to a candle from the realm of unnecessary luxury to vital  force. I like the insulating blanketness of it, the closeness of it, the weight of it. And I like that I know, in my heart of hearts, that it will end soon enough. I like the bottoming out of it, the sense of an ending.

If you go all the way down, you get a bounce that brings you clear into Spring.

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And you, my friends who live behind this screen, have shown me real kindness. You have, somehow, endured my litany of complaint. You have encouraged my efforts and applauded my small achievements. I have lovely, lovely followers – you are nice people. Thank you.

I wish you a Happy Solstice Day, clean and bright and with a fine bounce to it, and I wish you a Christmas with just the right balance of light and shade. Nollaig Shona daoibh.IMG_0775 (2)

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How Lovely Are Thy Branches.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree…

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It was a fiasco. (See instagram post here)IMG_0642

Every light that could break, broke. IMG_0646

Some lights died, were resuscitated and died again. Others came out of their brand new packages dead. IMG_0661

It took seven hours, three visits to the local hardware, and a partridge in a pear tree to get it going.IMG_0651

But, despite the chaos and frustration, the mess and expense, the torment to small children waiting with baubles at the ready, for hours, it was a memorable day for all the right reasons. We kept it together. We laughed. We ate cake. We had a couple of stiff drinks. IMG_0657

We kept in mind that, even when it all seems to be going wrong, these days are precious. So very much depends on how you look at things.

This is the view from the kitchen window, street lights versus Christmas tree with honesty (lunaria) inside and teasels outside. I considered writing a whole post based on this photograph. I might yet. IMG_0673

Then I turned on my heel and took this photograph. I love the way the street light still threw its shadows on to this one.IMG_0676

The tree is up. Let the festivities begin.

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Truth is Beauty.

A few weeks ago, my attention was drawn (thanks, Sam) to this post on the really lovely Countryside Tales blog. It’s a very practical post, with reams of useful information for those who would like to share their garden with bees and butterflies.

However, it was these lines that lodged in my head:

‘A lot of attention has rightly been given in recent years to encouraging people to provide nectar sources in their gardens but we also need to provide food plants and to be prepared for these food plants to be eaten and to look nibbled. This may go against the grain for many gardeners, but if we want to support the continued survival of our wildlife (and through them our own), we need to look after them properly and shift our aesthetics a little bit as a result.’ (CT from Countryside Tales)

My mother and grandmother, both wonderful gardeners, set great store by traditional and natural methods BUT they also resorted to the failsafe of chemical pesticides and herbicides when necessary because their ultimate goal was a good display of perfect flowers. That’s the mindset I began with but recently it has shifted.

My Anenome coronaria had massive chunks taken from the petals this year. It was as if someone had taken a scissors and trimmed the petals right off. Touring the garden with me, my Mum (box, closed) suggested a garlic spray. That seemed like a good plan but then, I had to wonder why. Hardly anyone sees the garden but me and I get as much pleasure from the bugs as I do from the flowers so, even from a purely selfish standpoint, it wasn’t worth the effort of mashing garlic (the bugs in my garden benefit greatly from my sheer laziness).

Strangely, that was something of a turning point. CT’s post came soon after and somehow validated my new viewpoint. This might not sound like a big thing and I’m not managing to express it very well. Wiser women than me have written about why gardening is good for body and soul but one reason is surely that it brings us in touch with nature and another is that it envelopes us in beauty.

The thing is, what exactly does beautiful mean? In lots of ways, it means something different to me now than when I was younger. All sorts of imperfections, freckles, laughter lines, scars, scuffed floors and ear-marked pages, move me to that indrawn breath that spells beauty.

My constant is this; let it be real. That line from Keats was one of the few lines of school poetry I took to heart:

 ‘”Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

 

Are the perfectly circular holes in my rose petals beautiful?IMG_6617

I think they are. Letting go of perfection, or taking a different view of perfection, has come as a huge relief.

Whatever bug felt the desire to dine on roses, or maybe line their bed with fragrant pink petals (lucky bug), they have moved on. This week’s challenge is simply rain.

I’ve whined long and hard about rain in these pages but, not today. I’ve found breathtaking beauty in raindrops.

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You will still, however, find me guilty of killing slugs. Anyone yet discover the beauty in slugs?

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