31 December 2009

Happy New Year!

Just off to start getting ready for a "Fancy Dress" (costume) New Year's Party we've be invited to -- hosted by our fabulous foodie friends in Shipston-on-Stour.

Tonight theme is "The Beatles". I going as Yoko Ono, with a tan. 

I've drawn inspiration for tonight's portrayal from Edna Mode, my favourite character in The Incredibles. And, I'm being escorted by Sergeant Pepper himself...

Happy New Year to one and all!!! 

Thank you, dear Reader, for joining me in 2009, more to come in 2010!!

30 December 2009

Patience is a virtue

My dear friend, Patience, has impeccable timing.

This morning. A knock at our front door. A special delivery from luxury food purveyors, Fortnum & Mason. 

A lovely box set, in the classic Fortnum & Mason "almost Tiffany blue" box, and gold lettering. Twin pair bottles of champagne. 

The card, simply stated, as elegant as she: "Cheers, and lots of love, As you celebrate first Christmas as Husband and Wife!"

Her sweet, loving and thoughtful gift reaching us precisely on the date of our 7th month anniversary. 

How perfect. And what a way to start this special day.

Tomorrow is year end, and what a year it has been.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry!

“I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking.” – Othello

Dear Reader,

Please forgive my absence and silence over this holiday season. It has been a time of much merriment, joy and glee -- all of which I promise to share with you soon. In the meantime, I offer - a cry for help.

Someone, anyone please save my liver – and my waist line!

The sage, American essayist and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once admonished his delicate and restrained American readers of the strange British foibles he’d observed during his travels in his remarkable treatise English Traits (1856): 

“The English drink brandy and strong ale like water…[and] their daily feasts argue a savage vigor of body.”

How right Mr. Emerson was!

Christmas, of course, derives its origins from pagan ritual more than Christian, e.g. Saturnalia and Winter Solstice celebrations; and it seems to me that the English have never lost the vital link to Christmas’ bacchic past.

Is it any wonder our Puritans ancestors packed up and left?

“The best beer is where priests go to drink. For a quart of Ale is a dish for a King.” 
- The Winter’s Tale

Like Emerson, I have observed that the English are in fact made of much sterner stuff that we frail, Yankee-doodles are when it comes to merriment, mirth and carousing. 

“The pub” is of course the bedrock of British society, the thread in the social fabric. And as a result, the English are able to survive successfully on a steady diet of liquid carbs and conversation! (With an occasional packet of crisps.)

After an night of “Carbs and Conversation,” or even better, perhaps, “Beer and Babble” at an old pub called “The Case is Altered” in the tiny, Warwickshire village of Five Ways -- where we were feted with a selection of “guest holiday ales,” appropriately named: “Elf and Hoppiness,” “Twelfth Night” and “We Three Kings” -- I awoke this morning with the distinct feeling that my blood has turned to treacle (syrup).

On Boxing Day, we met up with the DEB's family in Ratley, a quaint little village, on the edge of the Cotswolds, for drinks and "cheesy chips" at The Rose & Crown. Beautiful old pub, lovely chips, and the guest ale was of course called "Santa's Delight."

And what’s on the agenda for today? A pub lunch with friends in Alcester.

Dear Reader, I am in need of a rescue attempt, or an intervention of some kind!

Thankfully, Christmas is a once a year binge fest. As Shane Watson advised in
The Sunday Times a few weeks back: “The calories you intake between Christmas and New Year do not count.”

The message is clear, a revised version of that old Middle Age maxim: “Eat, Drink and Be Merry, for Tomorrow We Diet.”

20 December 2009

Festive feelings

Not so long ago, I used to dread Christmas. My feelings of holiday doom and gloom could be begin as early as October, or July. Thankfully, all of that has changed.

It would sound quite, quite trivial to say, "Ah, the difference a Darling English Boy can make." And, I certainly do mean more than that. Perhaps, the phrase I am looking for is: "Ah, the difference Love can make." (A hard-won love at that.)

To that, I could add the difference a change of location and lifestyle can make. Living in New York, I always felt and knew I was in the cultural capital of the universe -- at least as far as New Yorkers are concerned, at any rate.

There are always an endless array of activities and events in which to take part in the City. One could die of many things in the City, but, to be sure, boredom would never be one of them!

However, even with the prospect of being surrounded by such limitless choice, more often than not, I found myself tucked away in my little West Village apartment watching telly -- BBC America, not doubt.

It's a common ailment in the City, I'd call it: Familiarphobia.
Being so used to having so much around you, nothing really seems exceptional.

And maybe, added to that is the dilemma of being a single girl in the City. I don't know about the rest of the world, but I always found it a monumental task to coordinate dates, times and schedules with my overly busy New York friends: "Let's go on Saturday...Can't do Saturday, let's go Thursday..." and on and on, until we never went at all.

By contrast, in my new British life, I always seem on the go! There always seems to be some happening or event on the calendar, especially at Christmas. And I love it!

Here in Barford, entertainment is serious business. To be sure, with two art galleries in our tiny locale, we certainly have more than our fair share of artisans and craftsmen and women. But really, there is more talent in this village than you could shake a stick at!

Every year the Barford Drama Group produces a "Music Hall" -- a little variety show with singing, dancing, comedy sketches and lots and lots of laughs.

The humour skirts the edges of blue, and certainly merits a PG-13 stamp. And, I have never laughed so long and hard in my life!

One of my favorite numbers was a rendition of a tune about Anne Boleyn, called "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm" -

In the Tower of London, large as life
the ghost of Anne Boleyn walks, they declare
For Anne Boleyn was once King Henry's wife
until he had the axe-man bob her hair
Ah yes, he done her wrong long years ago
And she comes back each night to tell him so


With her head tucked underneath her arm
she walks the bloody tower.
With her head tucked underneath her arm
at the midnight hour.

She's gonna find King Henry, she's giving him what for
Gadzooks she's gonna tell him off for having spilled her gore
And just in case the axe-man wants to give her an encore
She's got her head tucked underneath her arm


Along the drafty corridors, for miles and miles she goes
She sometimes catches cold, poor dear, it's chilly when it blows
And it's awfully awkward for the queen when she has to blow her nose
With her head tucked underneath her arm


Now sometimes old King Henry throws a spread
For all his pals and gals, the ghostly crew
The axe-man carves the joints and cuts the bread
When in walks Anne Boleyn to spoil the do
She holds her head up with a wild war whoop
And Henry cries, "Don't drop it in the soup!"


One day she found King Henry, and he was in the castle bar
And he said, "Are you Jane Seymour, Anne Boleyn, or Catherine Parr?
"Well how the heck am I supposed to figure who you are,
"When you've got your head tucked underneath your arm?"

"Music Hall" is a big event in Barford. Tickets are hard to come by, we were unable to get tickets for love nor money last year, as we were too slow on the jump.

The day tickets go on sale there is a mad rush, and punters form an early morning queue outside Jane and Rod's house -- as early as 7 a.m.! You would have thought it was tickets for the Rolling Stones, or the like.

The DEB and I are flirting with the idea of joining the Drama Group in 2010. I stress we are only flirting with the idea. It could be fun, though.

The week following the Music Hall was the Church Christmas Dinner, another fun-filled occasion with the requisite annual Christmas pantomime featuring more stage acts but a number of different performers than those in the Music Hall. Talent, upon talent in these parts.

The highlight of the Christmas Dinner is the the featured entertainment provided by the highly musical Williams family, Barford's answer to the Von Trapps. They are simply amazing.

I failed to mention earlier the annual Harvest Supper that happens in early autumn, another Barfordian excuse for wine, good food and merriment.

Wine, Food and Merriment seem to be common themes, and another wonderfully recurring element is our resident Magician and Man of Mystery: "The Great Barloni".

(Surely every English village has its own Magician?)

Speaking of magic, a couple of enchanting events that are now fixtures in the DEB household Christmas traditions: "The Nutcracker". This year, we saw the Vienna Festival Ballet perform The Nutcracker in Leamington Spa. Fabulous.

There is something about "The Nutcracker," that always takes me back to the golden days of my childhood.

I first saw "The Nutcracker" at the age of 7, at Ballet Arkansas. My sister performed in it as one of the Flower Maidens in "Waltz of the Flowers."

That was back when people knew how to dress for the theatre, and my memory of it is coloured with little girls with satin bows in their hair, wearing lush velvet dresses in dark, jewel tones; shepherded by lean, elegant women in furs, pearls, and diamonds, smelling of Chanel No. 5.

Whenever I see "The Nutcracker", I am there again, 7 years old; and I cannot help but cry.

Laughter is also part of our Christmas tradition, and the past two weeks have been utterly hilarious. We saw Marcus Brigstocke in Warwick, and got to meet him after the show. He is a very tall man.

This week it was a road trip with the DEN (Darling English Nephew) to Birmingham to see Russell Howard live at the NIA. Russell Howard defies description. I think he is a tremendous comedian, but also a brilliant social observer/commentator. And, he's just plain funny.

The weekend was capped off last night by a wonderful Christmas concert at the Warwick Arts Centre by Kate Rusby. She's a doll, and the show was a real treat. She performed a series of old English carols, and was accompanied by her band and members of the Coldstream Guards.

It was a magical evening, that really got us in the Christmas spirit. And as we came out of the Arts Centre, we discovered a smattering of snow!! Holly Jolly Joy!

Festivities continue today with an afternoon Carol Service at St. Peter's. (The DEB is doing a reading, I shall be there as the proud, beaming Wifey!)

Handel's Messiah, a few remaining Christmas cards, tree decorating, and baking still to done!!! Holly, jolly indeed!

14 December 2009

Hurry up, and wait

"We must be patient." - Ophelia, Hamlet

Yesterday was the Third Sunday of Advent, which is also called Gaudete Sunday.

On Gaudete Sunday, there is a brief hiatus from the violet or blue coloured vestments (cloths covering the altar and the robes that the priests wear), and everything shifts, for this one Sunday to rose or pink coloured vestments.

(There has to be a word for people who love liturgy and liturgical practices; I think I should invent that word: Liturgiaphilia.)

Also, in the wreath of Advent candles there is one pink candle amid the three, dark purple ones, and it gets lit on this day. It stands out, in all its wonderful pinkness to symbolize joyful and exuberant expectation. Gaude meaning “rejoice” in Latin.

I always loved Gaudete Sunday at St. Luke’s: the altar bedecked with giant vases full of pink roses, and heavenly smell of the incense, rose mingled with frankincense…

The message of Gaudete Sunday, using very venacular language, is: “Calm down. Relax. It’s all good.”

I have never been a patient person, and I hate to wait for anything. Period. I want things to happen when I want them to happen.

“Not now,” is a message I have never received with ease. And lately, that message seems to dog my every step. Most trying of which has been the probable miscarriage that occurred last month, which I am only now able to put into words. Clearly the message from the universe is: “Not yet.”

I have always been a firm believer in a God much bigger and better than myself, and One who loves and cares for us completely. It’s just God’s sense of narrative and pacing that have often given me cause for concern.

I find myself thinking – often aloud – “You know, God, if this particular thing (job opportunity, baby, house, agent, book deal, &etc…) could just happen at such-and-such time, that would be truly poetic, and would have such a lovely sense of narrative.”

(That’s me, talking to God, one writer to another.)

But does God listen? Well, yes, I’m sure God does listen. But God, ever the divine, independent, creative (and creating) Thinker, has God’s own sense of narrative and timing.

Our job is one of watching and waiting, but we are meant watch and wait without a sense of anxiety, but in a spirit of hopeful expectation. That’s the part I need to work on. Anxiety? I’ve got that down like a pro!

Oddly, pop culture seems to have offered some timely and topical suggestions in this regard. I’m not proud of the fact that the DEB and I recently succumbed to watching the final two episodes of  “The X-Factor” – Cheryl Cole gives me hives – but last night the lyrics of the Joe McElderry’s victory tune had an appropriate resonance:

I can almost see it

That dream I’m dreaming but

There’s a voice inside my head sayin,

You’ll never reach it,

Every step I’m taking,

Every move I make feels

Lost with no direction

My faith is shaking but I

Got to keep trying

Got to keep my head held high

There’s always going to be another mountain

I’m always going to want to make it move

Always going to be an uphill battle,

Sometimes I'm going to have to lose,

Ain’t about how fast I get there,

Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side

It’s about the climb  


Shortly after the glittery confetti settled on Joe McElderry, ITV featured a programme chronicling the improbable and meteoric rise of the incredible Susan Boyle.

What a story!

For over 23 years, Boyle dreamed of being a singer. She defied the odds and every expectation the world could possibly throw at her. How wonderfully refreshing to see someone achieving greatness through sheer force of will, determination and talent.

Forgive my cynicism, but frankly, there is not much talent about these days. There is a great deal of “notoriety” on offer these days, if you have the right boobs, the right face and the right publicist. As such, Susan Boyle is a much-needed tonic in this day and age.

Amanda Holden – who also gives me hives – mused, “Americans love Susan Boyle, because it’s a land where they still believe in dreams.” I much as I hate the thought of giving Amanda Holden credit for anything, I must say that she had a point there. America is a nation of dreamers. The American narrative itself is/was an impossible dream.

The message of Gaudete Sunday seems to be, from both the religious and secular realms: “Never stop dreaming.”

The other piece of advice in the Gaudete Sunday message is: "Rejoice." Rejoicing in the now. Learning to be content with what you have, while at the same time being hopeful for the future.

I refuse to let anxiety win and turn this joyous, holiday season into a “winter of discontent.”

Not now? Fine. Rejoice now, instead.


06 December 2009

All creatures, great and small

The Poorly Princess Puppy, with her DEB Dad

On the air

This past Friday, I had the amazing experience of being a “Coffee Club” guest on The Annie Othen Show on BBC Radio Coventry & Warwickshire.

What a blast!

I arrived at 10:00 AM to be greeted by Annie’s adorable assistant, Rosie, who made me a coffee, and introduced me to my fellow “Coffee Clubbers” for the day.  

Today’s Coffee Club featured writers, and I had the good fortune to joined by the legendary “Mills and Boon” authoress, Sara Craven, author of over 80 (!!) romance novels for the juggernaut enterprise; and Mez Packer, the force of nature behind the award-winning debut novel, Among Thieves.

It was an incredible morning, and I felt honoured and humbled to be in their company --especially at this time, when I am wrestling with my own ambition and sense of direction.

Annie Othen was a fabulous host, she was bubbly as a glass of champers, and kept the conversation going by giving us a range of topics into which we could really sink our teeth.

Annie Othen at the helm!

I am indebted to my friend Ella Myles, a Coffee Club regular, who suggesting me to Annie & Co.

All I want for Christmas

Yesterday, the DEB and I volunteered on the bookstall at the Church Christmas Fayre.  And, we did rather well. We made £45.00 ($75.00) for the church fund, selling second-hand books at 50p for paperbacks, £1.00 for hardbacks.

As a closet Rare Book Librarian, and an avid book collector, I’m fascinated by the book-buying obsession. “I really shouldn’t…” or “I really don’t have room for any more books…” and often repeated, famous last words.

The Barford Christmas Fayre is a truly merry event, with everyone pitching in to make it happen, to make it a success, and to make it enjoyable for those who attend. There are always good bargains to be had, an addictive tombola station, raffle prizes, a guest appearance from Father Christmas and fabulous food to sample (delicious home-made mince pies, spicy mulled wine, and always chocolate in infinite variety).

News travels fast in these parts, and even though the offer on our house has just been accepted, and the FOR SALE sign is still up, news has swarmed about the village that the DEB and I are putting down roots.

“We’re your new neighours!” a striking and gregarious couple beamed at us brightly, from the other side of the bookstall. The DEB and I beamed back, him with his foolscap on, bells jangling, and me, rather unfortunately, with a mouthful of mince pie.

This nicest part of the fayre is the wonderful sense of community and coming-together that one feels.

After clearing up, the DEB and I attended our first Christmas “do”  -- a Christmas party meal at a pub called The Napton Bridge – with family and friends.

I love the DEB’s family. They are so, well, normal. We laugh and enjoy each other company. This means a lot to a girl like me, who is used to face Christmas with a deep and abiding sense of dread, which often started as early as July. Christmas with my relatives was more often than not a time of tension and routinely hurt feelings. I avoided it at all costs, with whatever excuses would suffice: work, illness, lack of funds, etc, & etc.

Now, I look forward to the holidays with glee and abandon! Tonight, the DEB and I are off to see one of our favourite comedians, Marcus Brigstocke at the Warwick Arts Centre.

Next week, we’re off to see comedian Russell Howard in Birmingham; Handel’s Messiah in Kenilworth; and Kate Rusby at Warwick Arts Centre.

I suppose this is all I have ever really wanted for Christmas: peace, harmony, joy, laughter, love, friends and family.

Breaking news!

The DEB and I have put in an offer for a house here in Barford, and our offer has been accepted!!

03 December 2009

Things are looking up!

Things are looking up!

A call from RSC head of education for a mid-December coffee and chat; a request from 'The Annie Othen Show' to be a guest on “The Coffee Club” - a late morning chat show on BBC Radio Coventry; and an job offer for position as a freelance GSCE and A-level Drama Examiner (…welcome to the dark side…), and an evening out tonight with my precious DEB for The Vienna Festival Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” in Leamington Spa.

The start of Advent brings much-needed joy!!!

02 December 2009

Belated Thanks Giving

"O Lord that lends me life,
lend me a heart replete with thankfulness." – Henry VI

Thanksgiving took me almost completely by surprise this year. Even though I had stockpiled my tins Libby Pumpkin and Carnation condensed milk quite dutifully, I was caught unaware.

A rare and funny thing considering that Thanksgiving is an all-time favourite holiday of mine. The food, the colours, less hype than Christmas…

This year something changed. A change that was not due to my new location. An internal change.

I am not proud to say it, but I think it is hard to be thankful when life doesn’t seem to be going your way. And I realize it is always so much easier to see things from a “half empty” perspective.

Things just feel so sad right now, with Lucy being injured; and me still slowly, slowly recovering from my bout with flu. (Side note: I was fine before I had the Flu jab; and fell ill precisely seven days after having the job.)

Lucy’s surgery was a success, and she seems to be getting back to her old self. It’s awful to see her in pain, and it is going to be a long road to recovery for her. They say that pets are a good preparation for having children, as the level of responsibility can be just as high. Well, I can see how that works.

Lucy is going to need full-on care for the next 6 weeks. She will be unable to walk unassisted for that time period. That means for us, our holiday plans will need to abridged or augmented. Still, it’s a commitment we are happy and willing to make.

 Along with this very traumatic situation has been my own nearly month-long battle with the flu. I’m not one for just lying around at the best of times, and prolonged idleness makes me quite maudlin.

I find myself thinking far to deeply about things, and brooding about them: “Why are struggling so to find an agent for the cookbook?”, “Why am I even bothering trying to be a writer?”, “Maybe I should just give up and get a proper job?”

In my former life, I was an avid workaholic. Taking leave of that rat race was a joy, and I finally feel like I can breathe. But, it is so difficult when we live in a world that places value on what we do, as opposed to who we are.

I have applied for several teaching positions over the past several months, and have been rejected by every single one. Add those letters to the ones I have recently received from agents and publishers and the pile becomes quite considerable, indeed!

I was even turned down for a job in a local library for having “too much experience.” Is that possible?

Repeated rejection, flu symptoms, a poorly pooch, and rainy November days can really conspire against a girl.

The DEB tells me all the time that he is proud of me. I daren’t say “Proud of what?” He says he’s proud of me for “having a go,” daring to dream a dream, and pursue it with my whole heart.

Some days, I admire me, too. On others, I wonder why I bother getting out of bed. I feel like I am just drifting along, a boat without paddles or a sail.

Even my latest attempts at “doing good” have failed. I organized a charity sale here in Barford, and it was a huge, lamentable flop. If we had had a sale in downtown Manhattan like the one here in Barford, there would have a feeding frenzy. There would not have been a stitch of clothing left after the first half hour.

We had two pairs of Vera Wang shoes, brand new, never worn, each selling for less than $300.00. As a gal who likes a bargain, I thought the idea was heavenly. And apparently, according to The Sunday Times, the “Weekend Bargainista” hitting the second-hand sales is all the rage. In London. It takes a while for trendy to reach the countryside, apparently. Lesson learned.

And that is what this time feels like most of all. A time for lessons. Figuring out who I am, and what I want with and from this life. Pupils are rarely thankful for lessons.

Still, a week late, here I am giving thanks. I am mindful that in the midst of this inertia and seeming inactivity, I have much for which I am thankful. Not least the love that surrounds me on every side.

Post script

Our menu for Thanksgiving dinner last week: Southern fried chicken, succotash, sweet potatoes, stuffing and gravy. Pumpkin pie and ice cream.