After daily posts for the Year of Words a few days to collect my thoughts resulted in a posting hiatus. Rather than the pressure of daily posts for a challenge, I thought I would drop to less regular but hopefully more thoughtful posts, on (hopefully) a weekly basis. I'm aiming in the great tradition of Alistair Cooke (an eloquent and natural Anglo-American broadcaster) for 52 letters from the Acreage, of which this is the first. Whether that aim materialises we'll see. But there's a potential framework for the coming year.
The first thing to report is the relative success of Christmas this year. I'm something of a grinch by nature, or I thought I was. However, the last month may have recaptured a little of the Christmas I remember as a child.
I happened to find some of our old tree decorations, those I remember from childhood. Surprisingly they were smaller and less impressive than I remember them. The small artificial tree that was put up for pushing twenty years would probably class as a table decoration by today's standards. However, it managed to create many years of childlike wonder nonetheless.
This year's experiment was largely a shift of mindset. So instead of Christmas Day being the subject of massive build-up and instant let down, it was merely the first of twelve seasonal days.
I don't know if that would work for everyone, but for me it lessened the focus on day one and returned to a festive season rather than a day of pure commercialism. It also changed the quality of the time between Christmas and New Year. By the time it came around to twelfth night it formed part of a natural cycle - all in all a success and one I'll repeat next year.
Of course New Years do mark the passage of time and remind us how tempus has a habit of fugiting.
A few years ago I posted elsewhere something entitled turn, turn, turn which looked at how I mentally break up the year.
It got me wondering if I'm the only person who has these way-markers? Mine will of course be personal and don't even necessarily reflect matters I follow with huge interest. However, without any problem at all I can share my annual stepping stones through the year.
January - New Years Day and snowdrops appear in numbers
February - 6 nations rugby and Dobbin Day. The first trailers for the rugby mean winter is on its last hoorah and spring is nearly here. Dobbin Day is very specific (to my village and childhood). Each year on 19th February children in the village receive a specially baked loaf of bread at a church service - thanks to a benefactor in 1745 who left money for the day. He also left alms for the parish widows. They were being allocated at late as the 1980s. The land he left to fund the purchase still brings in rent and so this month nearly three hundred years later, the tradition will continue.
March - St David's Day. The local church is St Andrew's - two references to church will make you think I'm a regular God-fearing attender, which is not the case.
However, when you grow up in a village in the 1970s the church played a major role in village life. On saints days, the church flies the relevant flag. I always remember looking out for the dragon to appear over the church - long before I realised it was St David's day. A second landmark is sadly less regular. March was always the month when the first cuckoo would be heard. I could always count on hearing it over the last week on March and know that the seasons were turning. In more recent years, I'm afraid it's less certain in this part of the Shire.
April Though I have never swung a golf bat in my life I rarely miss the Masters Golf from Augusta. I think it's just the beauty of the course and the vivid Augusta green that tells you spring is here. It's not quite the same without the sartorial wit of Peter Allis (commentator) but it remains a landmark in the year. Add to that the university boat race (come on Oxford) and the departure of the Brent geese and that's April done.
May - Mayday (the traditional holiday on the first day of summer rather than the political celebration) has a special place for me. It reminds me of junior school in a small village when the Maypole still came out thanks to Marjorie Adams our teacher (now long gone). I know summer has started when I see the first arrivals at The Chelsea Flower Show and note (sadly more rarely) the arrival of Swallows in the Shire.
June - The Summer Solstice is something I always look for and splits the year for a variety of reasons.
In what seems like a different life I would interview the self-styled Chief Druid Arthur Pendragon who lived in the Shire. Years later I would spend many a mid-summer's day at Stonehenge protecting the stones or preventing people having a good time, depending on your particular point of view. I think I've seen more sunrises around Stonehenge than is typical in the UK. Now with an Australian husband it also reminds me that just as the weather starts to warm up, the nights start to get longer and the days shorter.
July - The conclusion of Wimbledon always makes me feel that summer is in full swing and feeds an unhealthy urge for strawberries and cream. In my teens and twenties I never missed Wimbledon - in recent years while I've noted its passing, it has otherwise passed me by.
August - Ever since the age of ten or so I've associated August with the village agricultural show. That, and blackberries. Crumbles, apple and blackberry pie or just as they are - don't mind. But blackberries in August are gurt peachy lush.
September - As a child, being born early in the month, it was always associated with the return to school which often took the gloss off things. It also was the month you would see the swallows in ranks on telegraph lines (how twentieth century), You can still see them, but since the move to mobiles, there are fewer phone lines and sadly, fewer swallows.
October - If, like me, you grew up in the country you'll hear this bird as soon as I say Brent Geese. When I see the v formation of geese arriving in the UK, I know we're on the downhill slope to Christmas.
November - Like many dog owners, I don't relish the end of October and early November. Halloween now apparently a thing (it never was in the same way) bring fireworks along with Bonfire Night and a solid week or two of anxious dogs. However, I do always feel the approach of winter with the commemoration of Remembrance Day. I provided policing support for many parades in the Shire and it's always something I will continue to attend.
December - Advent is bizarrely already a gateway date. I'm obviously aware of its religious importance to many. It also forms my personal willingness to engage with the build up to Christmas. Otherwise, I suspect others would want me to start preparations in August.
Whether others have similar markers through the year I'll hope to find out, but I'm certainly not the only one to have suggested something similar.
Though I won't be highlighting a daily word this year, I will try to find a suitable musical element to each letter from the Acreage. Somehow, this offering from Flanders and Swann seems strangely appropriate.