Posted in Family, Personal life

A Winter Makeover

Poland. Garden.
Image via Wikipedia

Overnight my garden has had a makeover.  When I opened the bedroom shutters this morning, I discovered my garden had turned green.

I should have anticipated this transformation last night, when I went out to collect some firewood from the shed and heard an unfamiliar noise on the conservatory roof: a soft, persistent drumming.  I was given a clue as to its identity: wet slippers.

“My goodness, it’s rain!,”  I cried aloud.  “I remember rain! ”

It was a very welcome sound, not least because it meant it was no longer cold enough for snow.  There followed the rush of relief that a cloudburst must bring to drought-ridden nations.  I told myself briskly not to be melodramatic – in my case, the arrival of rain was hardly a life-saver.

Even so, the sight of a verdant garden this morning was a delight after weeks of the monochrome of snow.  For a moment I was Dorothy, opening the door of her black-and-white house, air-lifted by the Kansas tornado, to find the glorious technicolour land of Oz.  I’d forgotten how green my garden could be in the middle of winter.  Yes, there are rusting remains of sweetcorn and sunflower stalks, but these are eclipsed by bright and copious ivy, glossy grass and the ever-optimistic leaves of spring bulbs.

The experience felt like a mini Winterval celebration, a welcome reminder in the darkest depths of December, at the time of the shortest nights, that the sun will return. It’s surely no coincidence that this Christmas, amid blanking piles of snow, more people than ever seem to have felt the need to put up colourful outdoor lights.  I was no exception.

I began Advent with a string of soft white lights in the apple tree in front of my house.  Nothing garish for me, I decided, sifting through B&Q’s festive offerings.  But when I got home, I discovered that against an all-white backdrop, my subtle choice was insignificant.   I swiftly added some magenta and royal blue  Christmas tree baubles to the stark brown branches and was astonished by how many neighbours remarked favourably upon them.  Then a few days before Christmas, I decamped from any attempt at good taste and strewed a string of brightly coloured fairy lights over the porch.  Along with my candle arch in the living room window and the Christmas tree lights in the old shop window (my house used to be the village post office), these conspired to lift my spirits (and my core temperature) every time I went outside the front door.

When I was a child, we used to make a game of spotting lit-up Christmas trees on the walk home from tea at my grandparents’ houses.  I’ve played that game every Christmas ever since, dismissing from my mind any prissy environmentally-friendly thoughts about wasting energy and causing light pollution.  (Who wants to stargaze in sub-zero temperatures anyway?)  Though caustic about the first one I spotted in mid-November this year, by the time the snow fell I was going out of my way to seek them out.

One night when leaving my sister’s house, I braved ice-packed sidestreets to investigate a glow of near-daylight intensity.  I followed the light, magi-like, to the end of a cul-de-sac, where four houses were festooned with enough flashing Santas and prancing reindeer to necessitate 24-hour sunglasses for the residents. It was worth the dangerous detour.

And now, mid-morning, there’s a fine mist descending, the teasing ghost of the snow that’s melted away.  As spring steps up to the starting line, all that will be left is a white memory, dwindling to homeopathic strength.  By the New Year, we’ll all be sighing nostalgically about how beautiful it was while it lasted, all thoughts of school closures, delayed mail order and car crashes forgotten.  But even so, I’ll be very surprised if we’re craving a white Christmas next year.  Here’s to colourful New Year!

Posted in Family, Personal life

Let It Glow

A set of fluorescent Christmas lights
Image via Wikipedia

You don’t need me to tell you that the autumn colours have been fantastic this year.  Each day late October, early November, I kept thinking “I really must bring my camera with me next time I’m out”. Everywhere I went, breathtaking treescapes of gold, amber and bronze, dramatic as fireworks, rose out of rich, dark, newly-ploughed hills.  Then, overnight, they disappeared.   Strong winds stripped the trees bare, leaving muddy heaps of compost at their feet. It was as if a herbicidal maniac had been on the rampage.  Suddenly it was winter. The clocks had gone back.  And it was dark.

My sense of loss at this overnight tragedy made me less dismissive than I might otherwise have been when a day or two later I spotted my first Christmas tree of the year in the front window of a house near my mum’s.  Not only had the occupants put the tree up on the wrong side of Remembrance Day.  They’d also sprayed lavish drifts of fake snow on the windowpanes, as if egging on the winter to do its worst.  The shiny red stars and golden bells were a garish echo of the subtle russets and auburns of the departed autumn leaves, but boy, was it a cheery sight.

All at once I found myself looking forward to the rash of Christmas lights that would inevitably follow.  Nothing cheers me in winter as much as bright lights.  In a former life I must have been a Druid.  For the rest of the year, my usual mantra is “Put that light out!” (So maybe I was once an ARP warden?) My husband and daughter treat our household like a Christmas tree all year round, in terms of lighting, and for the rest of the year, I go round turning unnecessary lights off, muttering disapproval.  But when it comes to midwinter, I need a burst of light to stop me hibernating.

Certain local routes round here provide a real tonic at this season.  Last year, the white-lit Christmas trees, hung proudly like flags above the shops through the centre of Tetbury, were as cheering to me as any Olympic opening ceremony.  And who can resist the uplifting annual switching on of the Christmas lights?  Passing by the Arboretum, I’ll slow down to savour the “shop window” for the Enchanted Wood, which revitalises bare trees with coloured floodlights.  And just a little further down the Bath Road, there’s an ever-growing beacon that takes many by surprise.  The first time I passed that way after dark, I was convinced that I was about to come across a major conflagration on the road ahead.  I listened out for sirens, but there were none.  Rounding the bend, I discovered it was actually just Willesley’s cattery and kennels in all their electric glory.  Their furry residents must feel ever festive by Christmas Day.

In the past, I’ve shied away from too lavish a Christmas lighting scheme at my own home.  Think Ikea candle arches, and you’ll get the picture.  But this year, in the depths of this dark winter, I feel the need to throw caution to the winds.  That’s appropriate enough, as my electricity comes from the wind-powered Ecotricity in Stroud.  If their profits suddenly go up next quarter, you’ll know the reason why:  I’m planning to splash out this year on the festive lighting front.  Now, can anyone tell me the best place in Tetbury to buy an illuminated reindeer?

Wishing all Tetbury Advertiser readers a very merry Christmas, and a New Year filled with light.  Let it glow, let it glow, let it glow…

(This post was originally published in the Tetbury Advertiser)