Christmas stockings

My major task this week is to find lovely little stocking fillers for my daughter’s stocking. I realise I have very few Emily-free days before she is home from university and will be as nosy as a five-year old about where presents might be hiding even though she is now 21!

Christmas stockings have been hung for ages but there’s no definitive history, it’s all folklore or tradition. Some people just have presents in the stocking – all supplied by Father Christmas. Some have a stocking, and then Father Christmas comes along and leaves larger presents under the tree. In our family’s case, we have stockings, and then all the presents are from real people rather than Father Christmas.

We always leave gifts for the reindeer and Santa – I don’t mean for a moment that Emily still believes – but I think we all just enjoy the little ritual of carrots for the reindeer, orange juice for Father Christmas as he is driving (Father Christmas was a little disappointed about that!) and a mince pie or chocolate brownie depending on what’s in the cake tin, to sustain him through his busiest night of the year.

When the girls were little, it was easy to have a limit of £4-5 for anything in the stocking, now it’s so much harder. Not only have prices gone up – I saw a £45 cashmere scarf advertised as a stocking filler today – but also adults are much harder to find things for than little girls! As tradition dictates, there’ll be a satsuma, some gold chocolate pennies and then a few other sweet treats, the obligatory amusing bubble bath and sadly this year I have stooped to a parrot key ring that swears – not a very good example but it is highly amusing.

So it’s full speed ahead for me – a personalised cupcake making apron (she loves to cook), some underwear, funny socks … thank goodness for the internet!

So, what are your stocking traditions?

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Photographs: to print, file or…?

With the arrival of my little granddaughter Grace – actually not so little now as she is gaining weight well and is nearly 10lbs – good for you Gracie! Anyway I digress, with a new addition to the family it made me look back and get out some photo albums from thirty years ago when my daughter Pippa was born.

There was a collective gasp when we compared newborn and first month photos and the similarity was incredible, no hiding whose daughter Grace is! I love family similarities (well the better ones) it feels comforting somehow to know the genes are working! But flicking through all the family history and remembering days out and birthdays etc, made me worry about my photographs taken today.

I love my computer, the internet and all things digital – to an extent. I know full well that Richard and I have lost some photographs from about seven or eight years ago, simply because a computer decided to die on us and we hadn’t been thorough enough to back things up. Our fault yes, but no way at all of ever recovering those lost moments.

Which is better I wonder, endless packets of negatives and print costs as you go somewhere to have them developed or to be at the mercy of your technical inefficiencies. We now have a sacred harddrive that we load with pictures and then put away somewhere safe till the next batch.

So what I am saying is – should we print out any really precious photos (possibly a real need for scrapbooking here!) as well as keeping them safe on a memory stick? What about the future in a hundred years time, will they laugh at our current technology and not be able to read it? I have photos from 1850 onwards all framed and hanging in my downstairs cloakroom, no problem with future generations being able to look at those.

What do you think?

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Fond memories of the radio…

I thought I might ramble on a little this week about the happy memories I have of listening to the radio as a child. Spending time with my little two-week old granddaughter Grace, I realise the radio may never be a part of her life as pop music and just about everything else can be listened to online or on an iPod. If they still exist, I’d like to think she might progress when she is older to radio plays or ‘Woman’s Hour’ but I think the odds are against that!

When I was a child, the television was a new and limited thing. I saw ‘Watch with Mother’ and adored such things as ‘Tales of the Riverbank’ and the ‘Woodentops’, but my TV watching time was restricted not by strict parents but by the small available hours of children’s programming. On the other hand, the radio was a very big deal for me. ‘Children’s Favourites’ was a great favourite of mine – with Uncle Mac – and I have a happy memory of bouncing on my bed with my sister while my mother was doing housework and her telling us to be quiet and listen when our names were mentioned and a request for ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ was played. She had sent in a postcard with a request and we very nearly missed it!

Radio played a big part in my childhood – Sunday lunch would not have been the same without ‘Family Favourites’ as we ate lamb or beef (never chicken as it was far too expensive) and listened to requests, sometimes for people we knew, as we had been stationed in Bielefeld in Germany for several of my very early years.

Now I listen to the radio for maybe two hours a day at the most, but I still find it a fascinating medium. I have actually written a couple of radio plays which I found really interesting, as it lets the listener ‘paint the picture’ in their mind with your words. Ask anyone what a famous character from ‘The Archers’ looks like and they will all have totally different ideas – and each will be sure their view is right!

It’s a shame that children are sometimes sat in front of the TV for so long as I do feel that imagination and ideas are really important parts of development – but I am sure many would say the lovely animal programmes we see now and informative children’s TV is every bit as good as my old radio experiences!

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Devon violets: a symbol of modesty or a little flirt?

I was peering in a junk shop window the other day – it was closed so no time for a rummage sadly – when I spotted a little pottery perfume bottle with ‘Sweet Devon Violets’ on it… and I remembered an elderly aunt (who was probably not that elderly at all) who always had handkerchiefs scented with sweet Devon violets.

Devon is a wonderful place for wildflowers and violets seem to grow particularly well in the climate here and are usually plentiful in the springtime. Beautiful and delicate, the pungent perfume of the variety Viola Odorata is used as a source for scents in the perfume industry.

Violet is known as a ‘flirty’ scent as its fragrance comes and goes. Ionone (a chemical substance) is present in the flowers, which turns off the ability for humans to smell the fragrant compound for moments at a time – isn’t that clever?

The Viola Odorata was one of the first flowering plants to be grown commercially and there are records showing they were for sale in Athens 400BC and being grown in specialist nurseries in Attica. Throughout the centuries violets have been a favourite flower, either for their perfume that scented the rooms and floors or their medicinal qualities that are still being researched today.

Dawlish in Devon was the most important centre for the cultivation of violets in 1916 and a special train ran from Cornwall to London carrying all the flowers on their way to Covent Garden Market on a daily basis. By 1936 there was a flourishing trade from this area and flowers were sent regularly to the Queen and ladies at the Court. During the war years, the land was requisitioned for growing much needed food, and violets went out of fashion, sadly never to return.

As a result, nowadays we tend to associate the perfume with elderly ladies and as being rather old-fashioned. As a flower, the violet represents modesty–hence the phrase ‘a shrinking violet’–so perhaps that has something to do with it being regarded as rather shy and retiring and old hat! Yet the sweet violet is really the true flower of Valentine’s Day as legend has it that, while in prison, St Valentine wrote a letter to his lover with ink made from violets.

Sweet Devon Violet products are still popular today with Devon violet soaps, bath bombs, perfume, essential oils, candles and much more, all being widely available on line. Look into any Devon gift shop and you are sure to find some products too! So perhaps the popularity of this lovely fragrance won’t fade away like our aged aunts and does still have a place in modern life, albeit a slightly shy and retiring one!

 

 

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Summers like they used to be!

Well, what a summer we are having here in the UK! It seems only a few weeks ago that the weather forecasters were telling us we had 10 years of wet cold summers to look forward to, and then suddenly 30ºc for almost two weeks, extraordinary. 

I haven’t really had time to sit out and enjoy the sunshine, but gazing out onto my (parched!) garden through a heat haze, my mind has wandered back to the summer holidays of my childhood. I don’t think you ever forget that wonderful feeling at the end of the school year when you knew you had six weeks of summer holidays stretching ahead of you with nothing more taxing than which game to play, ice lolly to choose or summer frock to put on. Hey ho, how wonderful it was to be young and carefree…

We used to have proper ‘bucket and spade’ British holidays – I think everyone did back then –  this was before the advent of package holidays. So it was donkey rides, with your skirt tucked into your knickers, ice cream cornets (usually with sand in them) and peppermint rock (I broke a tooth on some once). Why did we all clamour for it so much – I suppose it looked fun and the writing through the middle was definitely the best bit. 

Particular aromas always transport me back to the seaside of my childhood in an instant. The smell of Ambre Solaire suntan cream is so evocative, oh and candyfloss – marvellous! But I guess the smell of the sea has to be the overlying one. Some people hate it, I know, but I love that salty, tangy air, so healthy and bracing, it instantly makes me think of rock pools, beach huts and egg and cress sandwiches – and getting changed in that oh so British ritual, under your beach towel. I am sure people aren’t as modest now but on pain of death would an unnecessary square inch of flesh appear from under that towel!

Did any of you have a Ladybird brand ruched nylon bathing costume? I thought I was the bees knees in mine with a white bathing hat on! And then there were all the fathers wearing a shirt and tie on the beach –what’s that all about? Definitely no T–shirt or shorts for my father or grandfather!

Well, I won’t be on the beach much myself this summer but for all those of you that are, do enjoy it and remember to slap on the sunscreen!

So what are your childhood memories of summer holidays…? Do share, it’s always so lovely when I get to hear all your own memories!

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