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Neighbours on either side of the road tackle Christmas decoration differently

Neighbours on either side of the road tackle Christmas decoration differently

Hoover and I had Christmas cards to deliver. Those that needed to be posted had already been dropped into the letterbox, but by the time the others were ready darkness had fallen, the moon was high and there was a sharp nip in the air. Hoover didn’t mind. A chance for a walk, sniff and explore is fine at all times of the day or night.

A clear day had led us into a clear night, spangled with starts. The mist that gathered around the moon was a harbinger of rain, but as yet the air was clean and sharp. We have no street lights and when darkness comes it comes absolutely. Once when returning home torchless on a clouded, moonless night from a friend’s house I had found myself ricochetting of the hedges as I fumbled my way home. Now I remember to carry a torch, but avoid using it whenever possible, preferring to rely on moon and starlight to see my way.  Eyes accustom themselves to the darkness, and I find my way surprisingly well.  Hoover has no problem, seeming to see almost as clearly at night as during the day.  Certainly she knows the instant my hand dips into The Biscuit Pocket, appearing out of the darkness immediately, ready to receive.

Lights are set around the doors that only a passer by can really appreciate

Lights are set around the doors that only a passer by can really appreciate

Now the darkness has been banished.  With Christmas drawing close, houses are decorated and the warmth within shines out through curtained windows.  As I searched through my collection of envelopes to find the right card I was lit by the lights set on my side of the curtains, a sign of the good cheer inside.  The door opened and Hoover shot in to greet the new puppy who lives inside.

“Oh, a card!  How lovely!” said Sally.

“Yes, we can come to your party!” called Guy from within as Hoover bounced back through the door.

Next door the windows were lit to greet us again.

Next door the windows were lit to greet us again.

Suddenly I became acutely aware of the decorations, maybe the more so as we have none of our own this year.  We are full of works on the house and decoration has been restricted to the kitchen.  On our way to the next card drop we passed Father Christmas’s sleigh with reindeer prancing in attendance.   There we found that the curtains were drawn aside to allow us a glimpse of the decorated tree.  What generosity to allow us to share the pleasure.

Christmas trees stand sentinel beside the door

Christmas trees stand sentinel beside the door

At the next house we had to slip the card between lit trees.  There is such generosity in these decorations that post such cheer in the dark and cold nights.

But now we were not the only ones out.  People were heading out along the lanes, in twos and threes, children laughing as they flashed torches about.

“Hello, Hoover!  Are you coming too?”

“Not tonight, She’s keeping Jay company because he’s still working.  It’ll be just me”

“Do you want us to save you a seat?”

“I’m sure there’ll still be space when I get there.”

Whilst the moon lit the path, the lights in the church beckoned us in

Whilst the moon lit the path, the lights in the church beckoned us in

Hoover was miffed when I took her home.  She, too, sensed the excitement in the air and wanted to be part of it, but Jay had a bone for her to chew and such things are the perfect distraction.

“See you later,” I called, as I headed out again.  Beyond the church more lights flashed and whirled on the brightest house of all, but I followed the crowd.

The candles in the window shine brightly, as they have done for centuries

The candles in the window shine brightly, as they have done for centuries

Warm welcomes, and the scent of oranges, greeted me at the door.  Now I could remove my hat, and gloves can be thrust into pockets.

“Here’s plenty of space for you.”  Peter moves closer to his wife and I can see the crib, by the lectern, still awaiting the arrival of the baby, just as we are too.

“Any news?” asks Ann when she joins us.  I shake my head.

“Not yet.”

“Babies come in their own time,” she says.  I nod my head in agreement.

On the window sills the candles shine out, softly lighting the church as it must have been when it was first built, nearly a millennium before.  They remind me of the light that shines in each one of us, a light that is sometimes fragile or dimmed, but always there, waiting to be nurtured by appreciation and love.

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Happy Christmas to you all!

There are places close to home that, in summer seasons, are highly visited. Then we avoid them. When Weymouth beach is packed with bodies laid out like piano keys, we stay inland and stride about the hills. When the air turns chill and the wind blows lustily we head for the shore and indulge in the waves. Now the tourist shops are closed and the town centres are festooned with Christmas lights and plastic reindeer, so we headed off to Corfe Castle.

Corfe Castle

The steam train is a revitalised version of the one that used to take my brothers to school when they were young.

When I was a child the highlights of Corfe were the icecream shop and Mr Fry’s paintings; the castle we took for granted.  It stood there, a custodian of the road that led home a place to chase about and about which to be chased, rolling down the hill until the world spun giddily about us when we staggered to our feet, muddily, at the bottom. There were cautious visits to The Bank’s Arms where the landlord sported a magnificent beard that entranced me as much as it terrified me. I absolutely believed that a man with such vast girth and ferocious bristles was likely to eat children, rather than feed them, and therefore treated him with great caution, and when I heard my godfather recounting stories of evening mirth at the bar was convinced that he was making it up to lull me into a false sense of security. I could barely bring myself to enter the door, even though the meals to be had inside were among the best to be found anywhere on the isle of Purbeck.

Tom and Jay were all for following the sings from the carpark round the back of the castle.
“I promise you the town is just round that corner,” I told them, pointing in the opposite direction. “We can take a short cut through here.”
“This from the person who saw the Queen walking her dogs in the gardens of Buckingham Palace…” This is old family slander and is usually followed by a challenge.
“If you’re right I buy lunch,” said Jay.
“And if I’m wrong, I’ll be paying.” I agreed, omitting admitting that my purse was at home rather than in my pocket.

“So where would you like me to buy you lunch?” asked Jay a few yards later. I was still daunted by the ghost of Mr Figgis, and Tom was taken by the idea of ox cheek, so we headed into The Greyhound where a sign declared that Hoover would be welcome. There were even dog biscuits on the bar, a fire for her to lie in front of while she munched, and strangers to be sidled up to for surreptitious snuggles.

Satiated on all fronts we went to explore the castle.

Corfe Castle

Magnificently ruined during the Civil War the castle remains enticingly citadel-like on the top of the hill

The rough grass we used to race across is now neatly mown and paths have been laid that make it an easy saunter to the entrance.  Hoover was as eager as any child to explore the nooks and crannies, clambering up steps and peeping over ruined ledges.  Jay and Tom peered over the edge of an old latrine and we wondered at the smells that must have made castle life a pretty unpleasant affair, even for the kings who originally built it.

Sanitary inspectors

The wall beyond this corner is worn away by the acidity of the quantity of pee that has cascaded down it over the centuries. Now wild flowers cling to the crevices instead.

Great arches and open windows through which chill winds no doubt blew in winter, still frame stunning views across the surrounding country.  It must have felt grand to look down on the village that grew around the base of the hill and beyond to the flat lands towards Wareham or the Isle of Purbeck on the other side. Here they really did lord it over the huddled masses below.  I spotted the grocer’s shop where my mother used to buy bread and milk whilst we tried to cajole her into giving us icecreams, the ones we swore were the best in the world.  Freshly made in the shop, the strawberry flavour was scattered with pips that my brothers teased me were splinters of wood.  It didn’t matter what they said, nothing was going to stop me loving it, lingering over every lick, pushing the icecream down into the depths of the cone so that it lasted until it melted stickily onto my fingers.  Now the grocer is gone, replaced by a gallery.

Corfe Castle

Tanks still exercise on the plain between Corfe and Wareham, but not with the frequency that they did when we were children. Then it was a familiar sight to come across them bouncing jerkily along the track, gun barrels waving jauntily, running parallel to the road. We used to clamour at my mother, begging her to race them. And, oh, the joy when she indulged us!

Corfe Castle

Once a favourite castle of kings, and then a home to the Bankes family, I am not surprised that they held it so tenaciously during the Civil War, not that the Parliamentarians were so keen to wrest it from them, even to the point of ruining it.

With imagined sounds of battle cries and crashing stones, clattering hooves and clashing metal echoing through our imaginations we abandoned the Castle to walk on the hills.  Across the stream a path winds up the hill to the top of the down.  Low winter sun burst through the scudding clouds.  We were warmly dressed, with plenty to debate.

Hoover ran free.  My imagination ran wild.  Stories abound, washing through my mind,; adventures, explorations, discoveries.  There are never enough hours in a day to write them all down.

Up on the downs

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An early start

Early mist has yet to burn off

With a busy day ahead of us Hoover and I were up on the paths, heading for the hills, almost as soon as it was light enough to see where we were going. It was a glorious morning, cold and crisp with one of the first frosts of the year decorating surfaces. Sun streaking low across the valley melted the crystals faster than our breath disappeared in thin air.
“Woow! Taste that freshness!” I told Hoover, but she was busy being a dragon. Across the field Brian’s woodburner told us that they were up too.

Frosted leaves

There is an enticing crispness to frosted leaves

When I stooped to examine the frost Hoover stopped to see if it was worth eating. Disappointed she looked around us and catching sight of a rabbit on the far side of the churchyard was over the wall and chasing it round the belfry in no time.
“Come on, that dog!” I called. Hoover looked over her shoulder. What dog? She abandoned the rabbit and chased me instead.

Frozen puddles

Even when frozen the clear blue of the sky is reflected in puddles

Up on the hills the birds were celebrating the sun. We have had so much cloud this past year that even when the clear sky brings plummeting temperatures we all feel heady with pleasure at the clear blue. Handfuls of sparrows flung themselves about the hedges and Hoover darted from side to side in their wake. At the top of the hills the puddles remained frozen in the lea of the hedges, their surfaces crinkled like crushed silk. I restrained myself from jumping on them, preferring this first time of seeing them to just take pleasure in their mirror surfaces.

Berries

The brightness of berries makes for an impression of summer

As we walked along the side of the field we spotted berries in the hedgerow that echoed the poppies that had clustered at

Dandelion clock

the side of the path during the summer. Scarlet red against the blue, with the glistening green of leaves about to fall from the vines created a false impression of summer, but I plunged my hands into my pockets to keep them warm, striding briskly on as Hoover sped ahead hunting for the deer she knows linger nearby in winter. At every open space she stopped to examine the horizon. I too examined the horizon, anxious to see the deer first.

 

Deer spotter 3

 Far over there?

Deer spotter 2

Or there?

 

Jay was far away in foreign lands, but due home the following day.
“Look, Hoover! Vapour trails!” Hoover takes scant notice of my conversation, responding to the words she knows and ignoring the rest. She nodded at the mention of her name, but galloped on when I pointed to the sky. No birds there for her to chase. High above us a plane turned west heading for South America. I thought of all those passengers packed so closely together – who was going home? Who starting some new adventure? My heart sang that the thought of Jay’s return. Although I love travelling too, I am glad to be at home on a day like this.

Vapour trails

Heading for warmer climes, but I do not envy them

As we started our descent into the valley the sun streamed through the mist and the smoke of chimneys. Brian’s was no longer the only woodburner that had been lit. Now June’s and Julie’s and Karen and Nigel’s had all been lit as well The day was well started and it was time to get on.

Valley mists

The home fires keep burning, welcoming us back