Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Narnia and I: the reblog

Christmas is fast approaching and it’s almost Narnia time! I’m excited! I’m also ill and it’s a Monday so I’m fobbing you off with a reblog… sorry!

” Our relationship goes way back. Anyone who knows me well, knows about my Narnia-love.

I had probably read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at some point as a child but then my dad got me the box set in my teens and I read all seven chronicles. It took over my existence for a while. I rejoiced when they defeated the White Witch, when Caspian beat his uncle and reigned over Narnia, when Jill and Eustace broke Prince Rilian free from his spell and when Peter triumphed in the last battle. I despaired when Aslan was killed on the ancient table, when Nikabrik tried to overthrow Caspian and when Edmund and Lucy were told they had to leave Narnia. And I wept for the second half of the last book because I knew the end was nigh.

When in the Narnia zone, it becomes a very real place to me. It is the pleasant background to my normal day. Things are just generally nicer and more storybook, even when I’m just at work.

Right before going on our gap years, my friend Joe and I had walked from his house into Reading, which had taken about four hours. We had talked about Narnia a lot. It was one of those lovely days, early in our friendship when everything we said or did became a nice memory, stored up to take away with me. He left for his gap year before me so I sent him all seven books in the post to China and, miraculously, nothing happened to them along the way. I took a copy of the books with me to Africa and we started to read them on the 16th December, countries and oceans apart, to prepare for Christmas.

In fact, one day, whilst discussing Narnia with a bit of alcohol in our systems, two friends and I jumped into the rather big wardrobe we had in our room in Namibia, and searched around in the back for some snow or trees. We found neither.

Every year since then, I’ve started reading them on the 16th so I’m usually on book 4 or 5 by Christmas Day, and I keep reading till I finish them.

When my friend, Jay, started basically living on our sofa when we were at uni, I had started reading them as usual and I would always stay in the front room with her, on the other sofa. And we used to read the books to each other, a chapter each, until she got tired and I would keep reading until she had fallen asleep.

So last night, a few days later than usual, I picked up The Magician’s Nephew and started to read. All the lovely feelings of being on familiar ground and being in for a great read were ignited and I sipped my cup of tea and smiled.

“This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our world and the land of Narnia first began….”

The time we went to see the penguins

When I was 18, I decided that Africa would be a good idea. And so I moved there. I lived in a little town called Luderitz on the Namibian coast and loved it. My friend Lucy and I worked hard producing the local town newspaper and working in some of the schools.

We had been there a few months when it was time to decide what to do for Christmas. A whole load of other volunteers were heading to Cape Town for it and before leaving England, I had had this romantic idea in my head of climbing Table Mountain on Christmas morning and sitting on the top sipping a hot chocolate. It was decided then. We would head to Cape Town and join in the fun.

It was lovely. It was a lovely way to spend our first Christmases away from home. At the Long Street Backpackers, where we stayed, all the guests gave about £3 each and a few people went to the shop and got loads of food and we all sat round a massive long table, relative strangers, and had a wonderful muddled Christmas day together. Later that evening, we got it into our heads that everyone needed to be thrown into the pool. And so everyone was thrown into the pool. Fabulous.

We weren’t exactly partying hard or anything but we were letting our hair down after an intense few months. One night, we went to a club called Jo’burg and this one girl decided she was going to have a ‘dance-off’ with one of the local South African guys. We recoiled in horror and ran off, leaving her to her own silliness in the club. So you see, we were being a little bit silly.

One day, however, we decided to have a more sedate day. We were a bit tired from the partying and felt a little off-kilter being around strangers at a time when people were usually with their families. We withdrew from it all and made a plan to get the train out to Simonstown, about an hour away, and walk along the coast a little and see the penguins. There was a massive colony there, apparently.

We boarded the train and made the journey but, given our state of tiredness, were struggling not to nod off. By the time we got to Simonstown, we kind of wanted another sit down. We walked along the seafront with its lovely old high street and started our walk out to see the penguins. It was going to be half an hour’s walk. After about five minutes, we spotted a cafe and agreed en masse, that sitting down and having lunch was quite quite necessary if we were going to make this walk.

And sit down we did. We ordered most of the things on the menu and scoffed them then had to sit very still for fear of exploding. One of the group had developed a crush on the waitress so of course we lingered for longer.

By the time someone was brave enough to mention finishing the walk out to see the penguins, the rest of us kind of looked at our watches and huffed and puffed a bit and said we didn’t know if we’d make it there and back in time for the train back (I’m sure we would have, it was mid afternoon, not midnight) and our little legs certainly didn’t want us to go.

So we walked the five minutes back to the train station and got the train back to Cape Town.

That’s what happened the day we went to see the penguins.

A day off

The house is silent. There are no more excuses to be made. It’s time un-Christmas-ify.

I’m looking at some shoes strewn about, odd socks lying haphazardly on the floor, little piles of things to take out to the recycling and leftover Christmas cards. I know the kitchen needs tidying up from my latest adventures last night with Michel Roux Sr. I need to book train tickets to see a friend next weekend and I have letters to friends abroad that I must reply to. There are clothes in the wash basket which need washing and drying and I guess I should take down our two Christmas trees. That will take ten seconds as one is a picture of a tree and the other is a mini tree about as long as my forearm.
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But let me tell you about the other potential activities I could fill my day off with. I’m very tempted by having a cup of tea and reading Narnia. I’m equally tempted by the lure of shopping. Nothing major. I just need some new muslin cloths and tupperware. And possibly a steam cooker thing as I don’t have one and Michel Roux keeps telling me to use one. It’s hindering my culinary adventures. I would also like to go for a long walk and finish listening to the audiobook of The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling which, by the way, I am loving.

It’s a difficult decision to make. What to do with my day….

While I decide, I will just make a cup of tea and read Narnia a little…. Just a little….

Toponymy?

Morning all! It’s time for the guest blogger to take over for the day, so here it is. Enjoy it!

I was given a present this Christmas and here it is:
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It was a bit unusual in that it came with a veiled challenge (written inside) – to maybe include some of the info in a blog about it. Well I thought for a bit about how you could do that. It would be tricky if it’s not going to be boring. It’s a dictionary, it lists 17,000 place names and how they came about.

It is, though, printed in what has to be the tiniest font EVER! I’ve never had a book with such tiny print. I was intrigued so I counted. Each page can fit 52 lines without headings. I counted an ordinary book – 34/35 lines. That means 50% more lines per page. I also counted the words (just one page in each book as a random sample): the ordinary book had 351, the introduction to the place name dictionary had 711 so just over twice as many words per page! I also measured the area of the text on the page and the dictionary is approximately 1cm bigger on the length and on the width although the outside dimensions of the dictionary are smaller than the one I compared it with. So the ‘tiny-font’ dictionary has only a slightly larger area of text but twice as many words. The intro tells me it has the most up-to-date info on the very latest place name research by the best guys in the field. What is surprising is the number of ways places get their names: sometimes from the age of the place so the name might have a Latin or Saxon origin depending on whether Romans or Saxons were there first; sometimes from the type of landscape where they’re located; sometimes from the name of a person or people originally involved in its founding and so on – that’s toponymy. So, as I’m wondering what to write about, a few ideas came to mind:

Idea no.1 – I could work my way through it doing, say, 10 entries at a time. As there are 17,000 entries, that all appear in the Ordnance Survey Atlas of the UK, there would be enough stuff for 1,700 blogs and at one a week that’s……oh just over 32 years! However I guess readers would get fed up with that very quickly. Idea 1 rejected.

Idea no.2 – pick a random sample say one from each letter of the alphabet so 26 entries. Nah! Too many. Idea 2 rejected.

Idea no.3 – what about something on places which have something unusual about them in terms of their geography? How about starting with 4 significant ones? – The places which are the furthest north, south, east & west, on the mainland of Great Britain. Now if you’re like me you probably don’t know all of them. That became my starting point – to find out where they are.

1. Let’s start at the top, at the northernmost point. Most folks think it’s John o’Groats as it’s the start point for all sorts of people who do what is called the “End-to-end” journey (to Land’s End – about 874 miles) often for charity: walkers, runners, cyclists, wheelchair, skateboard & assorted other journeys. Although there’s not much detail in the dictionary I was curious about how the name came about. It seems it comes from a Dutchman, Jan de Groote. He built a house up there and started running a ferry to the Orkney Islands in about 1496 – the fee four (old) pence so equivalent to about 1½p in today’s money. Four old pence was known as a groat in English and some suggest that the Dutchman’s fee is the actual origin of the John o’Groats name.

However in terms of latitude John o’Groats isn’t the actual furthest point north. That honour belongs to Dunnet Head: the actual latitude north figures are 58.67⁰N for Dunnet Head & 58.64⁰N for John o’Groats. And in case you had any doubts they’ve cast it in stone and here it is:
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The dictionary doesn’t have it explained separately. The place is not inhabited and is roughly half way between John o’Groats & Thurso to the west, and is a promontory on the northern coast of Scotland. Its name comes under the explanation for the Thurso entry. Thurso, it says, comes from a river of the same name and it prob means ‘bull river’. That name comes from the old name of Dunnet Head which was known by the Romans asTarvedunum which means ‘bull fort’. I know the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall but I didn’t know they’d actually gone right to the top.

2. Next is the furthest SOUTH. Once again it’s not where you think it is. Most people believe Land’s End is the most southerly but in fact it’s a place called The Lizard. If you want the detail: Land’s End sits at 50.06⁰N and Lizard Point is at 49.95⁰N so it’s basically one tenth of one degree further south. Here’s the National Trust sign. (The National Trust sign http://www.flickr.com/photos/12651139@N05/7467620124/

down there specifies latitude 49⁰ 57’ but as there are 60’ in one degree, 57’ = 0.95 degrees which explains the 49.95⁰, in case you were wondering……..probably not.)

There doesn’t seem to be one of those stone or metal signs for the most southerly point so, apart from the NT sign above, this one will have to do:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/fray_bentos/173694200/in/photostream/

You can just about see Lizard Point underneath the Gifts & Souvenirs on the shop front.

3. Next is EAST. I had no idea on this one. Research tells me it’s an area of Lowestoft called Lowestoft Ness and the local council have put a notice there:
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The town’s name derives from an earlier version in the Domesday Book, Lothu Wistoft. It means: “Homestead of a man called Hlothvér”. The ‘toft’ part of the name means homestead but I know what you’re thinking: who was this Hlothvér guy? Well it’s possible it might have been someone of the same name who appears in an old Swedish poem called The Lay of Volundor maybe someone named after him. Volundwas an artisan also known as Wayland the Smith and Prince of the Elves and here’s the beginning of that poem:

1. Three maidens flew through Myrkvith from Southland,
young valkyries*,             in wars to try them;
they sate by the lake,        their limbs to rest,
fair southron maids,     precious flax spinning;

2. (11) Hlathguth and Hervor,                    Hlothvér’s daughters,
and wise Olrún,           Kíar’s offspring.
Did one of them          wind her white arms
about Egil,    to her bosom held him;

3. (and Hlathguth fair,    enfolded Slagfith); (12)
………… ………………. …………… ……………..
but Hervor, the third          of these sisters,
winded her arms          ’round Volund’s neck.

4. Thus dwelled the sisters             seven winters,
but on the eighth                ay in yearning,
but on the ninth              they needs must part:
longed the maidens      through Myrkvith to fly,
the young valkyries*,   in wars to try them.

*The Valkyries, from Norse mythology, were female figures who chose which soldiers died in battle and which lived.

4. And finally the furthest point WEST: Slight confusion here. Look at the pic below
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And then read this entry on the Undiscovered Scotland website:

“And mainland Great Britain’s westernmost point? Anyone suggesting it’s somewhere in Cornwall is well wide of the mark. It is actually a rocky outcrop called Corrachadh Mòr, some three quarters of a mile south (and some 30-50 yards further west, depending on how you measure it) of Ardnamurchan Point,…….”

Looking at the map I can only assume AP gets all the visitors is because of access. If you look at Corrachadh Mòr on a map there don’t appear to be any roads or paths leading to it. Ardnamurchan has a road, a visitor centre and other stuff. Not surprisingly then no entry for Corrachadh Mòr in the dictionary so will have to make do with the one for Ardnamurchan. (It is after all only about 35 metres short of being the most westerly point.) In the 8th century it was known as Art Muirchol and then Ardnamurchin in the 14th and it means ‘Point of the Otters’ (or sea-dogs). In the first version the ‘chol’ ending means ‘sin’ possibly implying that there was piracy around there.

Btw, websites suggesting that Land’s End is furthest point west (eg. http://www.sterlingtimes.org/memorable_images38.htm) should be disregarded. The longitude values are Land’s End 5.71⁰W and Ardnamurchan Point 5.98⁰W)

Anyway, fancy building a house at Corrachadh Mòr to claim the westernmost title then?

And to finish how about this? In 1995 there was even one guy who cycled from John o’Groats to Land’s End via the west, east & south extremities (Ardnamurchan Point, Lowestoft Ness & Lizard Point) clocking up a total of 1568 miles instead of the usual 874 for the direct route.

Have any of you been to any of these Mainland extremities?

And there you have it, my first attempt from the dictionary of British place names.

A review of Christmas

It’s been pretty nice really. Christmas morning was present opening time and I got, among other things, Michel Roux Sr’s latest cookbook, The Collection. It is one of the most beautiful cookbooks I have ever seen.
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The other life-changing present I got was a hairdryer! These things re amazing! I can go from wet hair to dry hair in a matter of minutes! I had heard good things about hairdryers and I think, once upon a time, I have owned one. But now I have one again and it is very exciting.

Christmas lunch was eaten here…
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…and was great because we just sat around blowing up balloons….
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…while the staff brought us our dinner. It was lovely and fuss free.

There was mass present opening with Yaya and the other children for a while and then we all went to a sofa filled room on the grounds of the hotel with a big TV showing Christmas films and sat around feeling full. It was lovely.

Breakfast the next morning consisted of my favourite 5 year old putting on her best make-up artist face and rubbing bubble bath into everyone’s necks and faces, telling us it was perfume.
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After we had all left and gone back home, Danda and I found an amaretti panettone in the kitchen and spent approximately twelve hours sitting on the sofa eating it, drinking cups of tea, reading books and watching TV. We didn’t even have lunch or dinner. We just picked at this panettone until we had finished it….!

All in all, a fabulous few days. How was yours?

Christmas Eve

I have just eaten my last advent calendar chocolate. I am about to go to work for the last time before having a little Christmas break. I am going to spend ten minutes before work reading Narnia. I am just up to the bit where Digory and Polly go exploring in other worlds and find Charn, and Digory rings the bell in the long room, like an idiot. I always get really irritated when he does that. I am looking at the pile of presents under the mini Christmas tree…

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….and I am thinking about how lovely tomorrow promises to be. In a minute, I will eat some breakfast and try to decide what to wear with my fabulous Christmas jumper.

In the meantime, here are some pictures from last Christmas to get us feeling all festive.

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                      Presents!

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Christmas dinner – an amazing three bird roast

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Yaya’s little sister, ignoring her presents and playing excitedly with some cardboard.

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                Christmas pasta!

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                     Mince pies

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        Last year’s Christmas tree

HAVE A LOVELY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

Narnia and I

Our relationship goes way back. Anyone who knows me well, knows about my Narnia-love.

I had probably read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at some point as a child but then my dad got me the box set in my teens and I read all seven chronicles. It took over my existence for a while. I rejoiced when they defeated the White Witch, when Caspian beat his uncle and reigned over Narnia, when Jill and Eustace broke Prince Rilian free from his spell and when Peter triumphed in the last battle. I despaired when Aslan was killed on the ancient table, when Nikabrik tried to overthrow Caspian and when Edmund and Lucy were told they had to leave Narnia. And I wept for the second half of the last book because I knew the end was nigh.

When in the Narnia zone, it becomes a very real place to me. It is the pleasant background to my normal day. Things are just generally nicer and more storybook, even when I’m just at work.

Right before going on our gap years, my friend Joe and I had walked from his house into Reading, which had taken about four hours. We had talked about Narnia a lot. It was one of those lovely days, early in our friendship when everything we said or did became a nice memory, stored up to take away with me. He left for his gap year before me so I sent him all seven books in the post to China and, miraculously, nothing happened to them along the way. I took a copy of the books with me to Africa and we started to read them on the 16th December, countries and oceans apart, to prepare for Christmas.

In fact, one day, whilst discussing Narnia with a bit of alcohol in our systems, two friends and I jumped into the rather big wardrobe we had in our room in Namibia, and searched around in the back for some snow or trees. We found neither.

Every year since then, I’ve started reading them on the 16th so I’m usually on book 4 or 5 by Christmas Day, and I keep reading till I finish them.

When my friend, Jay, started basically living on our sofa when we were at uni, I had started reading them as usual and I would always stay in the front room with her, on the other sofa. And we used to read the books to each other, a chapter each, until she got tired and I would keep reading until she had fallen asleep.

So last night, a few days later than usual, I picked up The Magician’s Nephew and started to read. All the lovely feelings of being on familiar ground and being in for a great read were ignited and I sipped my cup of tea and smiled.

“This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our world and the land of Narnia first began….”