Monthly Archives: December 2010

Work in progress

This is a slightly surreal Hogmany. I am more-or-less confined to my bedroom, while down stairs in the living room the work of demolition proceeds.

The fireplace is now all-but empty. Work yesterday by my neighbour revealed the extent of damage to the back wall when the back boiler was put in, and that the pot chimney lining is fixed with cement. I have been working on indoctrinating him with stories of the Evils of Cement in Limestone Mortared Buildings, so we jointly shake out heads over this – and in addition it is gripping on so firmly that it is hard to get enough out to make the view from the front appropriately aesthetic. I have condemned the modern, nasty and clumsy in filling of the damage to the back wall, and we will discover more about the existing stone back (a wire brush job) in order to recreate it as well as we can. I have also vetoed a whole new back wall. I have so few authentic features left here I really do not want to lose any of them.

Work on taking out the modern plaster-board wall by the fire so far reveals a nice stone wall behind it. I am considering leaving it as stone – the bottom reaches will be bookcase-lined anyhow. I do know stone is totally inauthentic, but despite that it is appealing. And plasterboard is not authentic anyhow. The only down side will be my need to point out in Eyoreish tones to every visitor just HOW inauthentic it is. I will give blog readers a free pass so they do not need to undergo this expereince. The password is SVBWG or Scottish Vernacular Buildings Working Group.

But it IS odd to see Hogmany devoted to the creation of an ever-growing pile of rubble, and I cherish the hope (I fear a vain one) that next Hogmany I will be found sitting calmly in a immaculate house, tidy and clean in every part, with a Christmas tree sparkling and a crib set glowing, and family arriving with exclamations of delight at the general ambience. Past experience suggests it is more likely to be a day of rubber gloves and frantic activity … but we can always dream.



I looked down at the shepherds. Transfixed; they had never heard anything so terrible or so wonderful. There had never been a sound like this on the earth before and each of us was privileged to bear our part, each specially chosen. I saw the flames of the Holy Spirit flicker over and around them, as she opened their minds to see us.

Well, yes, I do think in Hebrew, usually, although I can speak every tongue which is spoken anywhere in Time. I alone of the angels meet each mortal thing. That night, that astonishing night, we were all singing in Aramaic. I heard my voice, true and perfect and tuned up for human ears, sing the soprano line: ‘Glory, glory, glory. In the highest, in the highest.’ And my heart was breaking. Each one of us there that night had our significant part to play in his story. Rafael was over to the right, booming out in an impressive base: ‘His favour, his favour. His favour rests, rests, rests.’ Gabriel caught my eye. His own were filled with tears, though the tenor never quavered. He was thinking of the Annunciation, of the fragile courageous child even now nursing her own child.

And me? I was thinking back nine months too. I was thinking of that place where I, who can no longer enter Eternity, stood with the other three. A place outside Time and Eternity. The Spirit wrapped round us all. The Son was already emptying himself, and folding up, hiding from himself much that he was. He had already resigned his omniscience. His courage never faltered, but it was courage with fear. He could no longer remember forwards to see the whole course of the new life, though he still knew how it must end. ‘You will come for me?’ he queried, begged, ‘You will come for me in the end, when I need you. I know it cannot be when I want you, but you will make it when I have to have you? You will not let fear or reverence stand in your way?’

I was weeping. Later, Gabriel told me they had all wept, when he left, when he sprang off his Thrones. The Thrones, said Gabriel, had spilt great fiery tears, but he had gone joyously. I had given up Eternity to Become, to enter truly to myself. I knew that what he was doing now, hard as it was, was in a sense Becoming too. That he was most truly himself, here and now, as he begged me for assurance. ‘I will come,’ I promised, ‘I will come the first moment I can. I will help in every way I can.’ None of the four of us said: ‘Whatever it costs’ because we all knew it would cost everything we could, possibly, give.
I could hear his Thrones now, more instrumental than voice. Pride purred, yet somewhere you heard the longing. Each one of us, here tonight, had sacrificed for this moment, and that was why we sang as we did. It was the most glorious sound that Earth ever has or ever can know. These were the finest sounds of Eternity translated into time, and we sang out of our loss and longing. It was our gift, made to honour his gift.

I sang knowing one day I would come to his broken body and take his life. I have resigned Eternity to bring all moral things to Eternity. I have done that because my Master has need of me. My name is Azrael. You know me as Death.

The taste of Christmas

It was Schmeekins who started me off – I was in the supermarket, thinking of a treat to get for myself to cheer me though the inevitable frantic activity which is the prelude to my Christmas dash south. The journey has its own traditions, which include cherry tomatoes and pre-cooked cocktail sausages.

But what to buy to help me through the frantic clean-and-pack-athon? The fence-muckout-write-instructions-bathdogs-do the irritating-jobs-delayed-over-athon? I prefer home-made mince pies and am holding off. The co-op had no nice biscuits, let alone cookies which American friends have kindly occasionally shared. I especially remember some Hermits which cheered me on my way and which I would be very happy to make a tradition.

I remembered the comment by my son, recalling the post cash-and-carry but pre-Christmas treat of Tunnocks teacakes. Treat because the rest of the year I was inclined to spend my cash on healthier and more nutritious foods, and so the sugar shock of the teacake came as a thrill to my poor deprived children.

Gentle reader, I invested in a packet and they have turned out to fill the bill admirably.

Now tell me? What are your treats? Expected or unexpected? What foods actually do mean Christmas, or late Advent to you?

Another country

Today has been really beautiful, a proper winter’s day The wind has blown in from the Atlantic, warm and blustering and pretending to be fiercer than it is. It has brought rain and the sound or running water. The evening sky was rose edged clouds, and shafts of light. The snow has vanished and everywhere is green. It is winter as I remember it from my childhood.

We were poorer then. The run-up to Christmas was marked by the making of home-made ginger beer. There was no thought of bought-in ‘pop’ as we called it, and certainly no wine beyond my grandmother’s bottle of sherry, which also went into the trifle. Mum cooked on a heroic scale, liberated at last from rationing, but it was all traditional things. Mince pies with home-made mincemeat, high on spice, low on sugar. And the pies themselves, with my grandmother’s very short pastry, were all delicious filling with a tiny crisp crust and a little toffee on the edge where it had caramelised. There was Christmas cake for Christmas day and beyond (mince pies could be eaten in Advent) and Christmas pudding and sausage rolls, and beef roll, and trifle. We made the cake for it ourselves. And roasted chestnuts, and ‘ginger drink’ (now only obtainable at the Co-op). Also muscatels and almonds. The former were like huge dried raisins, double the size of anything you can buy now. If we were lucky there were also crystallised fruits and chocolates and sugar almonds. The filling of a fruit bowl was a thrill in those post war years. And each stocking had an orange and a sugar mouse. Christmas dinner was turkey, and bread sauce and roast potatoes and sprouts and carrots. Two kinds of stuffing, one at each end of the bird.

I would have decorated the house with paper chains and paper streamers and a paper bell and lots of holly, because we had a holly bush. We were very advanced and made a wreath for our front door with a big red bow on it. Postie remarked on it.

The past is another country. I wish I could take a day trip there. I like the weather, but, to change quotations, I also know that I take the weather with me, everywhere I go.

A wandering guineafowl was my father

On getting home this evening all the guinea fowl had gone to bed in the open barn. At first I thought they had all vanished, again. But no, they had just decided it would be safer to move home. This seems to be a guinea fowl thing and the worst of their habit. However they usual shed is reasonably warm and perfectly safe, so fearing foxes, I decided to move them. Big mistake – five now where they should be, safe and warm. One on the stable roof, safe but not warm, and one totally missing, and possibly not going to turn up tomorrow. IF I manage to relocate the missing one and reunite the flock, they are spending a couple of days indoors. They I am once again clipping flight feathers. Then a couple of days to calm them and centre them. Then, maybe, freedom again.

I must, must get to the spring with a male and a female. Then I can hatch some under calm and helpful hens, who can, I hope teach them a less nomadic way of thought.

And for non-biblically trained readers, the original phrase is ‘A wandering Aramean was my father’ and it is the start of a rehearsal of the story of the exile in Egypt, god’s rescue of his people from there, and their being placed in a land flowing with milk and honey. Then the first fruits are offered. I wish the guineas had less enthusiasm for wilderness wanderings.

Cold feet

The guinea fowl do not much like the snow. The spend most of their time in one or other barn. Crossing the snow, they run with a very jerky trot, trying to keep their feet from the worst of the cold.