Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s Day

I live in the presence of flowers again. Red, white, and pink, with a touch of greenery. I bought them for my beloved on Valentine’s Day to acknowledge her presence in my life. Day. I avoided the pre-packed supermarket flowers and went to the florists. What a mess they were in: flowers and packages scattered everywhere along with cards, vases, teddy bears wearing hearts on their sleeves and other parts of their anatomy.  “Excuse the mess,” the young man said. “It’s Valentine season and we’re very busy.” “Don’t worry,” I replied. “I’m getting old and it looks just like home.”

We walked through the sliding doors and into the back room where the loose flowers are stored. “Careful,” he told me. “It’s cold in here.” “Don’t worry,” I replied. “It’s -16 out there and the wind’s bitter. This is actually quite warm. I feel right at home.” He showed me round his stock and I settled on a combination of large and small carnations in red, white, and pink. “They all come with greenery,” he told me. “You go back out into the warm, and I’ll get them ready for you.”

I wandered round the shop, looking at Teddy Bears and trinkets but I didn’t fall into temptation. I am not always able to do avoid temptation, but today I was strong. I was tempted by a balloon, but the thought of driving home and having the thing deflate on me was not encouraging. After a few minutes, the man arrived with my flowers. “How are you going to pay?” he asked. “It depends on the price,” I said. He quoted a ridiculously low figure and added “That’s if you pay cash.” I did, and we both looked very happy.

When I got home, I presented the flowers to my beloved. “Not now,” she told me. “I’m busy. Just leave them on the table and I’ll get round to them later.”

“The best laid plans of mice and men” (and also of lovers on Valentine’s Day) “aft gang agley”. I hope I have quoted Burns correctly. I think gang agley can be translated as go astray. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long. Within a few minutes, vases were produced and filled with water and chemical additives, flowers were trimmed and organized by size and shape and color, suitable cooing sounds of appreciation could be heard.

Appreciation of what? Of my undoubted and unquenchable love? Of the wonderful scent and color of those Valentine flowers? Of the neat quick way they had been vased, trimmed and ordered?  Who knows? But one thing I do know, sometimes it is better not to ask. Especially on Valentine’s Day. A little bit later, a certain someone was on the phone, checking our bank account and our Credit Card Expenditures. Now, I don’t know what that was all about. And I don’t intend asking. Not on Valentine’s Day.

Friends

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Friends

When good friends get together they can talk and walk and hug and hold and discuss so many awkward and difficult things, like how the body fills with spirit and the reader can be swept away in the magic of voice and how time and space can be suspended in the majestic act of creation that spins a web of forgetfulness around us and makes us forget who and what we are as we forge new worlds and the duende (Lorca’s dark earth spirit of love, want, and creation) holds us captive and drives us onward and inwards until we give birth to that which was waiting to be born, even though we never knew that the seed had even been planted, and “What is this?” we ask as we survey the new born entity fresh on the page, held in the hands, suddenly full of life and breathing on its own, a thing of beauty in its own right, that made complete sense as we struggled to hold it as it grew and transformed and transitioned from internally ours to externally and eternally theirs, a product of mind and body now belonging no longer to us but to the world beyond us, and we long to know its fate, to watch it as it walks along its path, its destiny now in its own hands, and “What is it?” people ask as we stand still and know not what to tell them, or else they say “Nice”, sigh, and go back to their two-thumbed clicking and their imaged devices, bereft of the imagination to see and explore that which has just been placed before them, this babe in swaddling clothes, this new creation, “Here, have some,” they say, thrusting our way the chips on which they are munching, or the curly French Fries they are crunching, or the pistachios, or whatever, and their coffee cools on the table, and their eyes are locked on the text that moves between their fingers across the electronic page, and this is life, as they know it, this shifting screen of shadows, this black and white stage that moves across the wall of the man-cave, woman-cave, in which they have immersed themselves, their noses close to that shifting screen, their minds elsewhere, trapped in the instantaneous insanity of the hyper-cyber-space that inhabits the void behind their eyes and between their ears, as they try to judge the price of everything never understanding the value of anything, let alone what we have created, and “Take away his grant,” “Let her wither on the vine,” “They’ll soon forget to be creative when we chain them up face to face with harsh reality,” and was that what they said to Goya, to El Greco, to Leonardo, and what exactly did they say to Lorca, before they shot him dead and rolled him into that common grave along with all the other murdered men and women, teachers and artists, poets and thinkers, and we, poor parents, holding our precious precocities in their swaddling clothes and wondering why we ever set out on this adventure, and why we are creators in the first place and “Watch out, here it comes again!” the tsunami, the tidal wave that sweeps us away and drives us into the black holes of our inner lives where a dark sun shines and shadows dance and lead us on and on until we have caught our dreams, squeezed them dry of their nothingness, and turned them into the weavings of an actuality stuffed full with new life, a new reality, a new creation, something that is truly ours, yet outside ourselves, and we gaze at it for a moment then position it in its cradle of reeds, place it in the river, push it out into midstream and eyes fill with tears and heart with hope as we watch it float away to make its own life, sink or swim, on this sea of sorrows, where someone, downstream, may bend to the waters and say “Holy Moses: what on earth is this?” or “How are we going to judge and assess it?”

Last Legs

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Last Legs

A wooden carving of Don Quixote stands guard over the mini-carnation pinks that have now lasted for 23 days. Alas, they are now suffering and several are ready to bow their heads and take their leave. They have done marvelous service. Arriving on December 21, a present from Gwen and Victor, these flowers have graced our house and table for over three weeks: a singular service in this age of rapid floral turnovers. We have looked after them, talked to them, cared for them, tended them, given them fresh water and sweet music. They have responded by filling our days with color and charm.

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Here they are in the early morning sunshine casting a shadow onto the wall behind them. So beautiful, the play of the early morning sun, through glass and water. Even the shadows are filled with tiny bursts of light. They were never heavily scented, these pinks, and their beauty lay more in their color and their longevity.

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” Well that’s one way of putting it. But the roses, regal as they are, break down so quickly, while these little fellows have hung on and on. What a pleasure to count the days and watch them flourish. “Gather ye mini carnation pinks,” I say, for they last longer and their love is more constant.

What joy, to rise in the morning and to know they will still be there. But now their days are numbered. My birthday draws near, and our Christmas flowers oh so rarely last through into mid-January. Perhaps I should crowd source and get a host of flowers, tossing their heads in sprightly dance, sent to me through e-mail. Now that would really be fun.

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“Forget us not,” they whisper to me through their leaves. “You’ll never be forgotten,” I murmur back. A sense of light and warmth wraps itself round me and now I can face whatever the future brings with joy in my heart.

 

 

Mums

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Mum’s the word: in this case baby mums. Here they are, just starting their third week. Incredible how they have lasted. Wedding anniversary > Christmas Eve > Christmas Day >  New Year’s Eve > New Year’s Day > heading for Reyes (on January 6). Who knows how long they will go.

Some friendships are like that. They appear out of nowhere and go on, seemingly for ever, in spite of so many changes. I guess a few good friends are worth a great deal more than many casual acquaintances who flicker in and out of our lives, or those fine weather friends, who are there when all is merry and well, and gone at the first sign of a dark cloud gathering on the horizon.

Think too of the caring, giving friends, who are there when you need them. They are a pleasure to be with. Then there are the friends who always borrow, and take, and never return … nice to be around, while they are receiving. Gone when they realize they can take and receive no more.

So, here’s to those faithful friends who stand by and with us. Like well-watered flowers, they hang on and are loved and respected. Carpe diem: seize the day, and hold both friends and flowers tight while you still have them, for one day, like it or not, much sooner than you think, we will all be gone.

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Friends

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Friends

This is the time of year to think about family and friends. We all need friends, especially friends who bring flowers, who stop awhile and talk, who bring comfort to us when we doubt ourselves, and help forethought, and insight when we are troubled and need knowledge. And flowers are best. Here are some from Gwen and Victor. The picture was taken the evening of their arrival. They sat on the table and spread their color over our wedding anniversary, our Christmas dinner, and now, with any luck, will last into the new year, bridging, as good friendship does, the gap between the old and the new.

Plants

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The plants in this photo were given to Clare and I by Barry and Susan in 2010, the day I was made a Professor Emeritus. It’s hard to believe that happened over eight years ago. The memories of that day have faded. The certificate has gathered dust and sits somewhere in a frame, hidden from sight, at the bottom of some cupboard or other. But the flowers of friendship planted that day by our two friends have last and lasted. I showed these plants to David, their son, when he visited the other day. Eight and a half years … some bonds and friendships are never forgotten. Others wither and are taken by the frost of loss and the ice storms of neglect.

Flowers

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Those same flowers, snapped 8 days later in the morning sunshine. Carpe diem: gather ye rosebuds, and baby carnations, while ye may. And celebrate the joys of the season: plants, flowers and so many friends, too many to be mentioned here, and I apologize to all I haven’t mentioned by name, you are never forgotten, even though your names don’t appear in this tiny snippet from the indoor winter garden where you are always welcome and friendship still blossoms and blooms.

 

 

 

Nativity

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Nativity

We keep this beautiful, hand-carved nativity scene on the sideboard all year round. It is tiny, approximately 2″ x 2″ and came from Central Europe, possibly Hungary, where a friend was travelling in the mid-seventies. He brought it back for us as a gift and we revisit it every Christmas, moving it into a more central place of honor and beauty by the Advent calendars and the Christmas scenes.

It will soon be time to remove most of these Christmas adornments. Some will stay up longer though and this is one of the pieces that will remain in sight to delight us all year round.

 

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This is another piece that will stay with us. It shows our photo of Tigger being visited by Kiki the Cat and several little puppies. Tigger gazes at them from his Royal Portrait, making them all feel welcome and protected as he endows them with the seasonal spirits that will extend well into the New Year.

Advent Calendars

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Advent Calendars

We have multiple Advent Calendars. Some are online, others are religious, and yet others, like the one pictured above, are forest scenes with Santa, courtesy of my daughter and Playmobile. We particularly like this one. Each day, from December 1 to December 24, we get a different set of pieces to add to the background. Then, on December 25, Santa arrives ad we keep him around, usually until the New Year, sometimes until Reyes, the Spanish and Mexican Christmas, on January 6.

Every morning, Clare opens the large Playmobile Box and adds the day’s pieces to the scene. Bit by bit, the scene grows until everyone is present in the same forest glade they have inhabited for many years now. Every year, I search for new animals, and they live in the scene next door, cats and dogs and kittens and puppies, all watched over by a framed photo (2001) of my favorite dog: Tigger.

No, the spirit of Christmas doesn’t reside in a cardboard box and its plastic figurines. Rather it resides in happy memories (horas non numero nisi serenas / I count only the happy hours) and in the new memories, usually very happy, that we create each year. Clare is a sun-watcher. Each day, she calls out the minutes as the days lengthen, post-mid-winter, and the earth tilts slowly back into spring, then summer. We also watch the sun shadow creeping up the wall (pre-Christmas) and then slowly back down again, post-Christmas, into the New Year, Reyes, and my birthday.

Christmas visitors in our plastic Christmas forest scene are joined by real visitors in the world outside. Deer walk up to the bird feeders by night and squirrels (red and grey), chipmunks, and a variety of birds feed there by day. By night we also get raccoons and the occasional fox. By day, our neighbors’ thin, predatory cats tinkle their Christmas bells, and patrol the garden in search of their Christmas dinners. Every year, we watch the splendor of birds at the feeder and hope that the cats go hungry for now, to be filled later in the safety of their own feline dishes safe indoors.