Christmas, Marley and Me

Well Christmas can be a confusing time for a dog. So much going on, humans behaving madly, more food than even a labrador can scoff and no routine whatsoever. Watching TV during the day!? Walks at odd hours?!? Eating nonstop!!!!! (and that’s just the humans…)

Our previous dogs are used to Christmas; it’s always low key here and they would go with the flow. Marley by contrast is hyper-interested in everything that happens, he’s always sticking his nose into whatever you’re doing because he has to know what everyone is doing all.the.time. I wondered what he’d make of our little Christmas, it being his first with us.

Luckily for him we had no visitors this year which might have been too much for his little nerves to handle. But he knew something was up when a couple of days ago I started rearranging things and tidying up the house. Part if this also included making him a new kingsize dog bed out of an old mattress topper and duvet cover on top of his cushion which means he has somewhere comfy to sprawl on in the evening. This spot was also traditionally where I put my modest “Christmas Tree” and hanging shiny baubles and fairy lights in front of a dog that likes running off with things  and crunching them up was probably a bad idea anyway. So no Tree here this year; just a not particularly lit-up labrador!

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Yesterday he seemed a bit anxious, picking up on the fact that more people than usual were coming and going, new things were being brought into the house and we were disappearing off at odd times to do chores or visit neighbours to wish them a Merry Christmas. I took him with me for some of these but he was still a bit edgy.

He knew things were really wrong this morning when I rolled out of bed as soon as my alarm went off instead of hitting the snooze button so as to turn on the oven and stuff the turkey. Whilst I was waiting for it to heat up I did other preparations like laying the lunch table so as to leave the morning free for other things – like dog walking! Marley didn’t realise this, he really didn’t approve of me slapping butter and bacon all over something instead of heading outside straight away like usual.

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He tried to get my attention by whizzing his toy up and around for a bit and swuffing at me in that half sneeze-half woof  way he does to try and tell us what he wants.

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But then after a while the early morning cooking session became a lot more intriguing as nice smells started coming from the oven – that big buttery bacony thing didn’t half smell good! Mmmm…

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Does that yummy smell really come from inside that hot box?! Best sniff it again…

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Yup! It really does!

Once the turkey was well under way we had to feed the other animals and straw down the sheep barn and fill up hay nets. Cobweb the pony got a Christmas carrot before she went out to the field. Petunia Pig was quite cheerful today too considering the nasty wet weather! Nothing like a turkey for taking the heat off a porker!!

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So as it was clearly going to drizzle all day we decided to brave it anyway and headed off for a walk to work up an appetite for lunch and take some of the fizz out of Marley.

Come on!! What you doing now!! I’ve been waiting for HOURS!

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Back home again it was time for me to take off the walking boots and put on the apron again. Marley is a good assistant chef – he loves raw vegetables so we experimented with some new seasonal ones. He ate all the sprout trimmings with gusto and much crunching and lip smacking but has decided that parsnip tops are a no-no. Cooking a turkey seems to take an awfully long time without anything interesting happening. But you never know if something exciting might happen so you have to be ready and waiting. There are watchful eyes everywhere.

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And I really do mean everywhere…!

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I managed to work my way through my Christmas Dinner schedule of events despite a slight hiccup over oven temperatures and then it was time to take the turkey out and put it on a plate. This was veeeeeery exciting to my sous chef helper and luckily I didn’t drop it. I did however managed to accidentally tip the turkey juices down the cupboards and onto the floor which suddenly made things really interesting! Marley as ever leapt to offer a helpful paw (or tongue in this case) and started to clear up the mess for me whilst I went to fetch the mop.

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He did a particularly thorough job of cleaning the grease off from round the handles on the drawer fronts too, no slacking here for Helper Marley! He might have just been trying to get closer to the giblets I’d put in his bowl for his supper though…

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After that bit of excitement and getting a taste of crispy skin as a reward there was a funny turn of events as the humans started ripping paper up. Normally Marley gets told off for ripping paper up – so it is a Very Confusing Thing indeed when the humans start doing it whilst laughing and ooh-ing and agh-ing and hugging and generally behaving like idiots. Marley could have told us how much fun ripping up paper was ages ago but would we listen to him?

He even had his own special paper to rip up. He was a bit shy about this in case someone changed their mind and told him to stop but nobody did so when in Rome…

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A little bit of help from opposable thumbs and he was away.

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Oh look! A squeaky armadillo just for me!

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After all this it was time to help the lunch settle and get some fresh air so we went for another walk – much more normal. The usual things started happening again; feeding animals and putting them to bed, the humans sitting down and doing the usual odd things they do in the evening like staring at books and the Talking Box. It’s a bit exhausting this celebrating lark. Time to get onto the new bed with the new toy  armadillo and play quietly and snooze.

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Maybe Christmas isn’t so bad after all!

Advent: December 24th

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So from the distant past to the here and now:

I took this photo this afternoon; the sun was shining (for a few minutes at any rate – we’ve had rain squalls continuously!) and the wind was keen and biting as it whipped along the hedgerows and lanes.

I spotted these early daffodils a week ago on the bank by my neighbours house. I couldn’t believe they could be out so early, I’ve never seen daffodils out in December before, not here in Wales, not this high up. They should be tucked underground for a bit longer and not flowering for another 12 weeks or so. This is the only clump – maybe 7 flowers. All the rest of the verges are wintery and void of colour.

It makes me think of Wordsworths poem ‘I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud”. The last verse as he muses on the “host, of golden daffodils” he’s seen on his walk o’er hill and vale he reflects…

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

I hope that over Christmas you will get to spend holiday time with people you care about and that your heart will be filled with the pleasure of good memories from times past too, especially if this Christmas is perhaps a hard time for you. May you dance with the daffodils.

The daffodil of course is also the emblem of Wales. So from this little spot in the Welsh hills on Christmas Eve, my animals and I wish you

Nadolig Llawen!

Advent: December 23rd

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This close to Christmas it’s rather nice to mull some wine or home pressed apple juice with spices and honey over the wood stove in the evening when we’ve finished work.

With the curtains drawn against the dark and cold, the flickering of the flames in the stove and the dogs quietly snoozing on their beds at last after a day of bouncing around (well, Marley bounces at any rate!), there’s something comforting about the sweet, spicy smell curling around the house to mark the beginning of evening.

I know some people prefer a nice cold beer at the end of the working day though so I thought you might like this clay hieroglyph “bar tab” for the workers from over 5,000 years ago. Some things never change!

Advent: December 22nd

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This is a scene from part of the Parthenon Marbles, more commonly known as the Elgin Marbles.

Originally sculptures adorning the Parthenon and other buildings at the Acropolis, these sections now reside in a specially built part of the British Museum. They were removed from Greece at the beginning of the 19th century by Lord Elgin for which he was criticised at the time and much controversy still surrounds them now.

This piece attracted my attention because of the cow, it’s stance and the beauty of the detailing over the muscles and folds of skin on it. I’m always fascinated by the way that sculptors of hard stone can make the unyielding surface look soft and alive with working with tools of cold metal. According to the notes it is said to have inspired John Keats poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn”.

Advent: December 21st

The shortest day. At last! It was almost the first thought I had when I woke this morning – thank goodness the days will start to lengthen from today. The slow, steady uphill climb to spring, to warmth, to light, to hope.

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Nothing much to do with it being the shortest day! This is a granite statue of the Egyptian god Amun in the form of a ram.

Amun was believed to be the chief of the Egytian gods. His identity seems to have changed over the years and dynasties but Amun was god of wind … so perhaps it is slightly relevant for today – we’ve had some fairly spicy winds kicking up here in Wales for the most part of the day!

In later generations Amun’s identity merged with the sun god Ra and he became Amun-Ra.

I don’t believe in Egyptian deities but I would rather like to see the sun again! And I do like sheep. So I quite like this nice granite ram statue.

Advent: December 20th

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This item is so well known it probably doesn’t need introducing. It was another of the artefacts I most wanted to see.

It is of course the Sutton Hoo Helmet.

This formed part of an Anglo-Saxon burial hoard found in Suffolk and excavated in 1939. The hoard dates from the early 7th century and consisted of a ship buried in an earth mound. In the centre was a wooden burial chamber containing rich textiles, silver Byzantine plate, armour, weapons and musical instruments. Items made from organic materials of course rotted away including the timber of the ship itself. But the imprints and chemicals left behind in the soil indicated items.

It is thought to be the magnificent burial of a king, most likely King Raedwald of East Anglia.

Advent: December 19th

Behind on my days again! Not doing very well this year!

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This is the back view of one of the Lewis Chessmen.

These are mediaeval chess pieces exquisitely carved from walrus ivory that were discovered on the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles of Scotland in 1831.

They were carved in the 12 century probably in Norway.

I’ve chosen this back view because of the beautiful patterns  and detail of the carving but also because the front view I took was rather blurry sadly. They have unbelievably glum expressions too – one queen piece I took a photo of looks like she’s in a right royal strop!

Advent: December 18th

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This is a badly taken photograph again from my trip to the British Museum but it interests me because it combines both textiles and ceramics but not in a conventional form.

These beaded nets are in the so-called Mummy Room. Because I was walking around without a map I came upon the popular Egyptian exhibits without realising it until I was in the midst of the mummies. Part of me was almost shocked by the suddenness and trying to process the fact they were “real” bodies. Because they are a draw for visitors the room was quite full of people and I think that’s what unnerved me the most. There is something disconcerting to the point of being distasteful to see grinning tourists taking “selfies” with the embalmed bodies of people from a different millennia, culture and place.

I refrained from taking many photos in here, confining myself to inanimate objects and animals. They may “just” be the earthly remnants of people long gone but the impact of what embalming a body meant to the Ancient Egyptians was apparently totally lost on these unthinking visitors. Their whole belief structure centered around the Afterlife – the gods, their judgement and the need to preserve their human remains so the deceased could live happily in the Afterlife. The higher status the person, the more elaborate the burial and mummification process could be.

The mummies in the British Museum may not be pharaohs but nevertheless, they were people of rank and importance and presumably accorded great dignity both in their lifetimes and after their death. Whilst several thousand years has diluted the impact, I still feel that all human remains should be treated with a measure of respect and I felt uncomfortable with some of the behaviour I saw in this part of the museum.

Beaded nets placed on the mummy were part of high status burials from around three millennia ago. The notes next to this exhibit suggest that deities were often depicted wearing bead net garments and to place one on the mummy was to more closely ally the dead person with a god.

The large net with the collar is constructed of blue Egyptian faience beads which is a silica ceramic – a forerunner of both glass and other glazed ceramics – so neither glass nor pottery. I like that this article signifies so many things; both human and divine, creative and scientific, aesthetic and devout.

And as a craftsperson it most strongly resonated that it was something so painstakingly crafted in this life so as to be fit to be buried for eternity.

Advent: December 17th

Just another photo I like.

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Friends

This is our old pony Cobweb with her new friend Boysey. Cobby has lived with us for around 17-18 years – we can’t really remember how long! She’s very old, 35 years old which even for a native pony is good. Most of the time she’s lived with us she’s been an only pony but horses are herd animals and thrive better with others so it’s really nice that she now has a friend to keep her company.

When Boysey’s owner comes to take him out for a ride she rushes around whinnying for him and I have to soothe her and reassure her that he is coming back again. They don’t always share things nicely and their needs are different so they don’t actually live in the same field. But all the same, they like to touch noses over the fence and be a mini “herd” like that and are very fond of each other. They’ve both benefited from like-minded company. Friendship is as important to animals as it is to humanity.

It seems a good photo for today. It’s 19 years today that we moved here from my Shropshire home town. I was 18 and it was hard to leave behind my friends and start over someplace new and go from urban living to the wide open, sparsely populated spaces of rural Wales. The demographic is very different here in every respect and it took some getting used to, especially as a teenager when you’re changing and growing so much emotionally and mentally. At times I struggled and more so as my friends gradually moved away from my home town too and went to University and started new lives elsewhere. Sometimes I felt it was hard to make new friends where I had no common ground, no shared history. To fit in. In time I settled and discovered the rich community around me. But it was hard won and took time.

Today I had to go back to town to do some shopping and errands and coincidentally managed to meet up with one of my childhood friends who moved back to Shropshire some years ago. We don’t see each other very often at all and for many years we’d lost contact completely. It was good to meet up and talk about old times, old places from the perspective of adulthood and the acquired “wisdom” that life teaches you; sometimes with hard knocks, sometimes with soft caresses. We both know we’ve changed a lot through the life experiences that have happened to us over the 28 years since we first met.

It was good also to look at her face and see my childhood friend and the qualities I admired in her then still here now; her generosity, her calmness, her kindness to both her siblings and her friends transformed into the grown woman and mother she is now. Different and yet still reassuringly the same.

I’m lucky to have a few friends from my childhood still who are still part of my life now. We may no longer “live in the same field” but it’s good for the soul to occasionally “touch noses over the fence” as it were and remind ourselves of the qualities that bind us living creatures together and our shared histories that forged our early characters. That which makes us step outside of ourselves and see others as they really are.

Friendship.

Advent: December 16th

You know who this is!

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I suppose it’s inevitable that even when I’m in a concrete jungle – albeit one with beautiful architecture – I’ll still go looking for animals.

Yes, it’s one of the Trafalgar Square Lions. I took this sitting on the steps of the National Gallery whilst eating a rather tasty Chelsea Bun and drinking a take out cup of Earl Grey fending off a very determined pigeon who had designs on my cake. You can’t really get more British than that…