New Year’s Day and the Story of a Doll’s House

It’s a New Year’s Day burdened with hope and expectations.  Last year we had no idea what lay ahead. Cannyrob confidently filled the 2020 diary with planned events: Zumba and Pilates classes, weekly swimming sessions, singing days, choir rehearsals, art exhibitions, drumming classes and weekend camps. We had tickets for concerts with Cat Stevens and Elton John as well as holidays planned in Portugal, Spain and Tenerife. Cannyrob has just checked annual mileages for our car and campervan; the total is 4,298, compared with 14,954 in 2019. In this year of separation and cancelled events there have been some moments of joy – a postponed June wedding in December in a tree-lined marquee and the welcome arrival of two new babies in my extended family. Anxieties over ill-health among relatives and close friends are exacerbated by lack of information and direct contact. It is hard not to be able to visit. The new diary is a blank canvas waiting for new experiences, maybe some ordinary everyday things which we appreciate more. Last night we played games: Pictionary and Uno. Perhaps we’ll find some more. We’ve already dug out Sing Star for the Play Station, a karaoke game we used to love (well, some of us….).

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight

Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine 1944

This has always been one of my favourite Christmas songs, from the musical Meet me in St Louis, sung by Judy Garland. The lyrics, penned in wartime, seemed particularly apt this year.  ‘Some day soon we all will be together, if the fates allow.  Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.’

Thanks to my Sister for recording the lovely piano accompaniment, so Cannyrob and I can sing along.

Today’s Tarot card is The Emperor, number 4 in the Major Arcana, a ‘seed’ card marking a transition from one phase to the next.  A symbol of male worldly power, it represents authority and order.  Right now we depend on government to make decisions about Covid restrictions and the distribution of vaccines, as well as finalising the Brexit deal that’s been hanging over us for so long. We may not entirely trust the Emperor’s judgement but right now we have no alternative. Following the rules and waiting our turn in the vaccine queue is inevitable. Leaving the house means checking for keys, mask, sanitiser and phone for payment (I haven’t used cash for months).

Our Christmas celebrations were a bit different but festive nonetheless. With B’s input, we had a German Christmas Eve with duck, red cabbage and potato dumplings then a cream and chocolate pudding called Herrencreme. On Christmas Day we had a family gathering in the garden round the fire bowl   A friend who saw the photos thought it looked rather like a gypsy encampment. Woolly hats, smoke….. I liked that idea! Fortunately the gazebo stayed up until the edges of Storm Bella hit us the next day.

Snacks, cakes and a big pot of coffee kept us going while presents were exchanged.  Later, a few of us had our traditional Christmas dinner.

There’s something very special about Christmas food.  As someone who doesn’t do any of the work, I set the table and clear up but otherwise enjoy what other people make.  Older Daughter and Cannyrob excelled themselves this year, with cookies, fondants, tiffin, jam, marmalade, chutney, butterscotch sauce and, of course, marzipan fruits (crafted by OD since she was a very small child).

My biggest surprise was a present from Cannyrob.  He remembered that months ago I had come home saying that I had seen a doll’s house in a local second hand shop.  It reminded me of the one I had as a child.  It was my Christmas present from my paternal grandparents when I was four. When I was ten, my mother decided I was too old for it and it was done up to be given away to the ‘poor children’. I was upset.  I had loved playing with it, creating all sorts  of scenarios for the dolls and objects.   I remember turning it upside down as if some disaster had happened and working out how the family would manage.  I remember being told to play with it properly.

I had no idea that Cannyrob had been researching and negotiating. On Christmas night,  he produced not only a house very similar to the one I had (only bigger) but an almost complete set of furniture. I was completely taken by surprise.  It was very emotional.  To have something lost and mourned so long ago replaced was a wonderful experience.  I have already subscribed to some collectors’ sites and am looking forward to restoring the house and its contents.

Reading is, as always, my favourite activity.  Stuart Macbride’s Logan Macrae crime stories set in Aberdeen are violent, crude and funny.  Binge reading the whole series again is a real treat. I also have new Christmas present books to look forward to. Black Spartacus, continuing my education in black history  and The Binding, a new gothic novel to enjoy.

I’ve been reading and knitting rather than having the usual television binge over Christmas.  What have I watched?   Made in Chelsea, Ghosts Christmas Special. Black Narcissus, Death of Stalin (grimly funny), The Crown, Frozen (deeply disappointing). I’m planning to watch Victoria Wood, The Great British Sewing Bee, Christmas at Chatsworth, Roald and Beatrix on catch-up. Final series of French drama Spiral begins tomorrow night. Carrie and Hallowe’en are on my horror movie list.   Any other catch up recommendations?

With weeks, if not months, of lockdown ahead, keeping warm and cosy at home seems a good plan.  We now have a super efficient log effect gas fire downstairs where I spend my time on the sofa.  My daughters gave me a lovely heated fleece blanket for Christmas which follows me from bed to sofa (what an old lady present but my own choice!) and I have a new hooded black fake fur dressing gown which reminds me of the Russian sable coat my mother used to wear when I was a child.

Thank you for continuing to read my posts – or maybe you are checking in for the first time. It’s great to get feedback.  I’d love to hear about your Covid Christmas and future lockdown plans. The blog has recently helped me connect with friends I haven’t seen for a long time.  Making plans to meet in person will be a priority in 2021.  Leave a comment below, or email me privately at timewithelinor@gmail.com. Of course, you can also reply via WhatsApp.

Wishing you a happy, healthy New Year with new opportunities to enjoy life, whatever it brings.

So late so soon

How did it get so late so soon?

Dr Seuss

Just minutes ago it seems, it was summer, and now it’s dark at five o’clock and mornings are frosty. This year of lockdowns hasn’t followed a normal pattern and now we face a Covid Christmas. For children, it must seem that there has always been Covid, people in masks, bubbles in school, hand sanitiser in shops. When Covid is done, says Wee Boy, we can meet again. I am very happy to say that we can meet as a family on Christmas Eve as usual, having reconciled ourselves to the ‘digital Christmas’ we might have had. However, we are planning to be mostly outside under the gazebo, rather than round the big table in the kitchen.

As always, the card is selected at random from the Scarpina Tarot. And, as always, I am surprised at how appropriate it can be. After months of stasis, this transitional card finally moves us forhward. Driving The Chariot, but without much control, our young hero sets out on a new journey. Beneath the wheels are green shoots which might indicate growth and hope for the future. The black and white horses twist and pull, their positive and negative energies making navigation uncertain. This youth may be riding for a fall.

After months of lockdowns and restrictions, a vaccine brings a move forward, even with doubts and uncertainties.

I have been literally stuck at home with my worsening knee problem. I am hoping to have an x-ray very soon followed by a physiotherapy assessment. I really want to get back to walking, Zumba and swimming in the harbour. Frustrating though it is, I have had more time for reading. The Familiars by Stacey Hall, The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal, Tidelands by Philippa Gregory and Bone China by Laura Purcell all feed my appetite for slightly creepy historical fiction. I’ve enjoyed these modern psychological thrillers too: Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins, I Found You by Lisa Jewel, The Lying Game by Ruth Ware and The Memory Wood by Sam Lloyd. For good forensic crime stories set in Scotland, Lin Anderson keeps writing her Rhona MacLeod series and I keep reading them. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is an intriguing new novel about twins who adopt different racial identities. Non-fiction completes my list. I found Court No I The Old Bailey by Thomas Grant a fascinating read. I’ve just finished Janice Galloway’s autobiographical books This is not about me and ALL MADE UP. She writes with painful honesty about her childhood and teenage years in Saltcoats. Having been a fan of her other books, I am fascinated by her own life story.

I’ve been listening to a lot of music too, using Amazon vouchers I was lucky enough to get for my birthday to top up my MP3 collection. It’s great having my old Bob Dylan albums to listen to in order: Freewheelin, Blonde on Blonde, Bringing it all Back Home, John Wesley Harding, Blood on the Tracks……. Christmas music has always been part of our lives, singing in our Choir Concert, but of course that’s not happening this December. However, we’re going to rehearse some German carols to send by video to B’s family in Leverkusen.

I am, unusually, fairly well prepared for Christmas. Not as prepared as I was many years ago, awaiting the birth of my first child, but presents are bought, as well as wrapping paper, cards and chocolate tree decorations. I remember feeling quite sad the first year there were still some left on the tree when I took it down, the children having grown up and left home. Mind you, I just ate them myself. I’ve even bought some new rubber stamps for making gift tags. On Friday we head for Blairadam Forest for our tree but Covid means we don’t get to choose it, but order by size and type and get it in a net.

I have a few sedentary projects underway. A jumper for Son, always a lot of knitting as he’s so tall, but he is most appreciative, a crochet retro baby kaftan for B’s wee niece in Germany and a painting – a diptych featuring Miles Morales and other Marvel characters with a Brooklyn background. And then there’s the jigsaw, started during the first lockdown, which must be finished in time to begin this year’s new Christmas one.

I have become a huge fan of online shopping and will happily spend hours scrolling through websites, often lat ofe at night, but have learned to exert restraint. Sometimes you just don’t actually need all the stuff you put in that basket. Sleeping on it is a good idea. I do love to get parcels and am quite disappointed on a day when nothing arrives. Cannyrob has sourced some specialist food from sites around the UK as well as a variety of wines. We even get pies from Lochinver Larder. They are really good. My favourite purchase has to be the large box containing my rattan reindeer. For years I have lurked around garden centres in November, eyeing up families of light-up animals. This year, I thought, of all years, I’m going to have one. And here she is. She is called Dancer. Wee Boy chose her name.

And so this is Christmas, and what have we done? (John Lennon)l

Quite a lot, actually. I feel I’ve learned from all that’s happened. I value my relationships with my friends and family, tested by distance but made closer through the efforts we’ve all made to keep in touch. We’ve talked about feelings, instead of leaving things unsaid. Cannyrob and I have co-existed in a way we never did when we led busy pre-Covid lives, enjoying the house and the garden together. We have been fortunate; no-one close to us has become seriously ill. We have a home and our pensions, but there are many this winter who are struggling. Let’s hope that out of this crisis we can build a fairer society.

Keep in touch in the usual ways. This blog has connected me with so many people and helped combat the isolation we all feel at times. Remember you can email me privately at timewithelinor@gmail.com

Wishing you health, happiness and a little bit of Christmas magic.

PS The picture at the top of the post is called Tree of Life. It is not one of mine but I have permission to share it

Gazebo, Goodies and the Grim Reaper

This is from a Guardian article on Saturday 17th October entitled Spooky films and scare trails: how to have a Covid-safe Halloween. I was one of several readers who contributed.

Elinor Kirk, from Fife, is planning to decorate her garden and create a window display with skeletons, witches and a pumpkin. “ “I will be wearing my Dark Fairy outfit and my creepy playlist will provide suitable songs like The Monster Mash and The Time Warp,” she says. “I hope we will be visited by the boys from next door who can join in dancing, dooking for apples and eating treacle scones, but if we can’t have visitors, my husband and I will dance and dook on our own.”

by Linda GEDDES

Saturday night was Hallowe’en. Was it as I’d envisaged? The previous weekend the gazebo blew down, an essential bracket snapped along with almost all the guy ropes. Wind and rain continued and there was some doubt about going ahead. Undaunted, I sourced the part on ebay, bought some heavy nylon twine from the Fishermans’ Mutual in Pittenweem, and sent for three gazebo ‘walls’ from Argos. By Thursday they had all arrived. Updates from the Scottish Government meant we could meet in the garden as planned. In the continuing saga of my operated knee, another fall meant a phone consultation with the arthroscopy department with advice to rest for at least two weeks. At 3am on Saturday morning, Cannyrob and I were jolted awake by a fearsome clanking, grinding noise from outside. We immediately thought of the gazebo and put coats over our pyjamas to investigate. The gazebo was coping pretty well with the wind and rain and we worked out that the noise was coming from somewhere nearby. I put in earplugs and tried to get back to sleep. In daylight I saw that a metal bin lid was rolling back and forwards in the wind.

Last minute touches were added to the window, a nine year old sugar skull, a wooden skeleton and some more fairy lights. My friend B was particularly pleased with her creepy hand emerging from a box (glove with wire and old tights). Hallowe’en morning was dry and not too windy, so we began attaching guy ropes to the roof of the gazebo. I had found some tips on YouTube and practised my bowline and truckers hitch until I’d I’d got them almost perfect. Some heavy objects were used to weigh down the walls – a stone lion, a large pot, some bricks. Costumes were donned – Dark Fairy for me with thermal underwear and boots, my son’s Grim Reaper outfit with scythe for Cannyrob. B was an elegant Edwardian ghost with her long hair in a plaited crown. The Sonos speaker was set up in the greenhouse to blast out my Hallowe’en playlist. One complete fail was my effort to hang treacle scones from strings in the ‘through gang’ (passageway}. First, there were no treacle scones to be had and I was using doughnuts instead, dipped in treacle. Second, the string I was using kept breaking.

At this point our guests arrived: Harry Potter, a smaller Grim Reaper and a very glamorous Day of the Dead Senorita. I gave up and put the scones on a plate. The boys gamely tried to eat them without using their hands but it was sticky. Dooking for apples was more successful. It was very cold and windy and although the firebowl was burning merrily it was emitting too many sparks to huddle round. Blankets were provided, however. We had laid out plates of goodies – eyeballs, gingerbread skeletons, jelly bones and brains in the greenhouse, which meant a major sugar high ensued. This coincided with The Monster Mash and The Time Warp on the playlist. Everyone danced (my knee protested but it was worth it!). Our neighbours went home and we settled down to pizza and a movie, Hotel Transylvania. It was a great distraction from current events and so nice to welcome visitors who were last in our garden in the summer.

I was curious to see what the Tarot cards would show at this time of a new moon and All Souls Day. With Brexit, Covid and the US election looming ever larger, I chose to try a three card spread with cards chosen randomly from the Major Arcana.

The first card represents the present or a question. Predictably it is The Falling Tower, both prison and asylum. Escape is only possible by leaping into the unknown. Like the Hanged Man of previous months, it represents a state of uncertainty and inaction, with the threat of further destruction to come. The next, which shows the immediate past or a current influence, is Force. One of my favourite images, she is a vulnerable yet strong woman, brave enough to place her hand in the lion’s mouth. My female friendships and family relationships have got me through these difficult months and we will go on relying on each other. Women politicians and leaders continue to set an example. The last card shows the potential future or outcome. The Emperor represents worldly power, reason and fairness. Of course, all of this is simply a projection of my own feelings, which allows me to reflect on how things might turn out. A trustworthy leader would be a good thing though.

My friend A came up with a good word – vicarity – meaning absorbing, experiencing events from someone else’s life. She has family far away who have sent lots of photos of Hallowe’en fun. Maybe we all experience this to some extent. We exchange stories of our everyday lives and find interest and comfort in them. I recently found a photo of an old friend who was killed in an accident many years ago. I thought I’d try drawing her and found it took me back to our friendship as teenagers and young women. I remembered that in a box in the attic I have her letters written over two decades, from Canada, Thailand, South Africa and Oxford. Another twenty years has passed since I looked at them. I think it’s time I read them again. She led such a varied and interesting life, very different from my own at that time.

That’s it for now. No space for books this time but will definitely update you in next post. Who knows where we’ll be in a month’s time? Will the world be a better place? Will we be planning Christmas dinner in the gazebo? Will I be swimming in the harbour again? What do you think? What will you be doing? Thanks for all your feedback. Keep in touch. And stay safe. Remember you can email privately on timewithelinor@gmail.com

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