Snow had fallen, snow on snow…

The big freeze has its picturesque side

Snow-clad cement mixer, 5 January 2010Sometimes even a cement mixer can have a certain poetic charm, when it is blanketed under several inches of snow. And so it was this afternoon in our Derbyshire back garden.

As for Christina Rossetti’s carol, it’s true that

Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;

… but this ‘bleak mid-winter’ isn’t ‘long ago’ but with us for the rest of the week. It’s a good job the email can get through, as the Royal Mail didn’t!

The Publican’s ’Postrophe

Christma’s partie’s for all

The Publican's 'PostropheAt this time of year, I’ve been given a special Christmas present: what I think we should call the Publican’s ’Postrophe. Until today, all I had was hearsay – but now, as Othello says, we have ‘ocular proof’ from the window of the very hostelry in London’s Wood Green where these ‘Christma’s Partie’s’ are advertised. There is of course some clever word play here, despite the artless lettering. For surely these are no ordinary Christmas parties but festivities in honour of Mary, Christ’s Ma?

No doubt the publican is aware of the need to bring old customs up to date, just as the Guardian recently reported how Jeanette Winterson has, in an interesting phrase ‘taken up the crusade’ by bringing out her own, ‘unorthodox account of the nativity story told from the point of view of the donkey in the stable’. Not that it’s very unorthodox; U A Fanthorpe included a ‘Cat in the manger’ in Safe as Houses, with the lines:

Matthew, Mark and Luke and John
(Who got it wrong,
Who left out the cat)…

Thomas Hardy wrote about The Oxen, ending:

I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so

So Happy Christmas, everyone, publicans, sinners and, as Betjeman says,

Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

Baddeley Cake: a happy tradition for Twelfth Night

A festive tradition set up by the first Moses in ‘The School for Scandal’

A happy new year! I have just come across the information in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography that the Drury Lane Theatre has for 200 years celebrated this day, 5 January, with cake and wine thanks to the generosity of Robert Baddeley, the first Moses in The School for Scandal. According to the entry, ‘Baddeley… created a small trust whereby every 5 January the Drury Lane company, still in their costumes, receive a glass of punch and slice of cake, known as the ‘Baddeley Cake’. This tradition was still being maintained at the close of the twentieth century.’ Has it survived into the twenty-first? I very much hope so – I’m sure the actors deserve it! The tradition was referred to by Dickens in his Dictionary of London of 1879.

You can see a painting of Baddeley in role as Moses at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Liverpool – and online, with helpful notes. He certainly looks a genial soul!

Take away that bauble!

Children’s secretary Ed Balls on the dangers of the humble bauble – and other lessons from 2008

‘With a little more care and forward planning, most accidents and the resulting trips to A&E could be avoided,’ according to today’s Guardian. Sheila Merrill, Rospa’s home safety manager for England, was speaking at the launch of a Christmas safety leaflet from the Department for Children, Schools and Families. If only she had warned Ed Balls at the beginning of the year of the avoidable accident caused by the inflammatory combination of SATs, an American contractor already notorious in its own country, an Australian Chief Executive and a sleeping quango! Then the great SATs crash might have been avoided. The DCSF reminds us that ‘the pieces can be very sharp,’ as Ken Boston and David Gee will doubtless ruefully agree. Best put away all those nasty tests next year, then?

My hasting dayes flie on with full career

Looking back (a bit) on 2008

St Peter's, RomeAs I read the Christmas letters, I wonder what happened in the last twelve months that’s worth reporting. It’s hard to remember now – though we did get quite excited when Ben popped his head out of his window to give us a shout as we were passing. That’s him you can just see in the window high up on the right. Nice house he’s got, isn’t it?

There’s also been a trip to Texas, where I received another warm welcome. Before that it’s a bit of a blur, though you can read a few things elsewhere on this blog. As Milton hath well said in his Sonnet VII:

How soon hath Time the suttle theef of youth
Stoln on his wing… &c

Happy 400th birthday, John! He’s received some overdue recognition this month – and, appositely, he wrote a fine ode On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity. Just don’t ask what he might have said about the Pope.

Happy Christmas!

More Christmas listening – poetry and music

Christmas CandleA happy and melodious Christmas to all our readers! As a follow up to last year’s entry on Christmas poetry (which you can read about in more detail on the Literary Connections Christmas page), I’ve just noticed that last December’s Woman’s Hour interview with Carol Ann Duffy about her Manchester Carols is still available on the BBC site. The Manchester Carols also feature in Aled Jones’s Radio 3 programme on Christmas Music for Choirs on 14 Dec 2008 at 19:00. Happy listening – and I hope you enjoy some singing of your own too!