Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Running-up to Christmas

Going online regularly at this time of year? Just forget it!

The period which is called the run-up to Christmas is the craziest time. If you are a Christian, this is meant to be a quiet time, a time of contemplation and expectation; after all, you are preparing yourself for the birth of your Saviour.

Everybody else just goes mad, even some Christians, who should know better.

Beloved and I are going to have a quiet Christmas; we always do. It is not in my nature to turn Christmas into a circus, we leave the drunken orgies for New Year’s Eve!   (a girl can dream, can’t she!)  Even so, we too seem to have been infected with the virus; we have been buying more food and drink than we do at any other time of year – has anyone else heard the rumour that food and drink are shortly to go out of fashion ?

I have to admit that I did enjoy greatly one particular shopping trip to Ludlow, our local market town. Ludlow is one of the best preserved mediaeval towns in the country; a huge, ruined castle and  a very fine church tower over the town. The market square is right in the heart of the town, it is surrounded by lovely old buildings and narrow lanes.  The place name ‘Ludlow’ is first recorded in 1138. It means ‘hill’ or ‘mound’ beside the ‘loud waters’ i.e., the rapids of the river Teme.
Ludlow is justly proud of its status as one of the jewel cities of the UK and guards this status jealously, making sure that no awkward new buildings are allowed within the mediaeval heart.

Ludlow’s other claim to fame is its status as a ‘foodie’ town. Unlike other busy market towns it has a large number of specialist food shops, and the stalls in the market are a joy to behold. Beloved and I visited the ‘Chocolate Gourmet’ for some extra special hand-made chocolate truffles to go with the champagne bought next door at the wine shop, before crossing over to the market and stopping to sample and buy the wares at the cheese stall, the game and fish dealer’s and the greengrocer’s stall, where we also bought large bunches of seasonal chrysanthemums, my favourite Christmas flowers. There’s even a stall which sells nothing but olives!

Shopping gives me a thirst, the spectacular Feathers Hotel was the next port of call. ‘The Feathers’ has been a favourite haunt with American visitors for many years, but then, who could resist its ‘olde worlde’ charm. They serve a mean tea too.

Valley’s End is preparing itself too. The grand Christmas-light-switch-on happened last Saturday evening in our own little square. The villagers stood in the square, getting in the way of all cars driving through, singing carols lustily and loudly, more or less in tune with each other and  accompanied by a small band. One of the many retired vicars living in Valley’s End spoke a few uplifting words between carols and a few more at the end of the session; sadly, they all got lost in the general jollity – besides the speaker system was behaving in a very wayward fashion. No matter; no doubt, the same vicar or one of his colleagues (they all like to keep their hand in in retirement) will make a similarly improving speech next year.

The singing and jolliness all happened outside the village pub, from which the publican and his helpers issued forth at regular intervals with trays bearing free mulled wine and mini mince pies, which they distributed among the multitude. No slouch, our publican; free gifts of rather sour mulled wine (sorry about that, gift horses, mouths, etc, spring to mind) inspired vast numbers of those outside to cram themselves into the tiny public bar afterwards, this time to purchase their drinks.

But first there was the grand ceremony. Naturally, the lads from the fire brigade had been testing the lights all week – in fact they had been blazing away merrily
for days. This wouldn’t be rural England if it had all gone according to plan without any hitch at all; the count-down started, the designated switcher-onner applied digit to switch and the lights came on. Some of them, anyway.  All faces turned in the direction of the lights on one side of the square, theatrical oohhs and aahhs followed, then everybody swivelled round to the other side and a great moan went up, also theatrical, and well-rehearsed in other years, because here the darkness stubbornly remained. Perhaps it took several digits on several switches, for eventually both the lights on the tree above the pub and the remaining strings of light above the houses in the square shone forth in glory.


  1. Sing Ho! for global warming and the electricity bills?!

  2. da fällt mir sofort eine sehr lustige Geschichte dazu passend ein, sie ist etwas lang und würde leider den Rahmen der Kommentarfunktion sprengen, ich sende sie mal als Mail, denn gerade diese schönen Festtagsbeleuchtungen nehmen hier bei uns teilweise absurde Ausmaße an. Die Beschreibung von Ludlow klingt sehr heimelig, da würde es mir sicher auch sehr gefallen.

    Ich finde es schön, dass durch Deine Geschichten hier, man ein wenig Seite an Seite gehen kann.

    ganz liebe Grüße

  3. Yes. Everyone is so busy. that's what I post about too (tomorrow).

    I love visiting you, Friko!

    Aloha, Friend!

    Comfort Spiral

  4. It all sounds to terribly sweet and old fashioned.

  5. Yes I love Ludlow too.
    Here's to a quiet season.

  6. I would love a quiet season... I think I'm going to have to enjoy reading about your quiet Christmas. BTW, you live in a beautiful area!

  7. I am already pining for a jolly and somewhat haphazard English country Christmas.

  8. what a gorgeous place to recognize christmas in friko! wow!!! lucky you!!! i love that the lights don't all switch on just like that! that's more real isn't it!!! have a lovely evening. steven

  9. Oh that was a wonderful story. I think I would love where you live. I like where I live, but it is not so romantic. A castle, just imagine. I am going to keep it cool this year too. Been cutting back for several years now. The grands are all getting so big, it is just not the same.

  10. Looks like Christmas in Camelot to me Friko! You seem to enjoy all that embodies the best of this season, the traditions, amazing sites with centuries of tradition and meaning....laced with all the new conveniences and baubles. I would love to share a glass of Champagne and a truffle with you...and my imagination.

    You describe Christmas preparations and festivities as they should be....safeguarding many of the old traditions.

  11. That was a treat of a post. We also have a formal switching on of lights on the giant Sequoia in town. Firemen, police, municipal politicians all come out. There's no charming pub or generous publican though, so everyone just goes home, or to do some late-night shopping afterwards.

  12. Thank you for bringing back worderful memories Friko. I worked at Ludlow hospital when a newly qualified nurse and lived just down the road for over 12months. Plus we spent our first night as a married couple in the Feathers Hotel. I just love the town. Here's hoping you have the Christmas you wish for and that we can meet up at some point in the new year.
    A x

  13. Ludlow sounds lovely - must pop up there sometime.

  14. Dear Friko, what a lovely post and such pretty photos! Daniel and I keep things pretty quiet around Christmas, although we love to make special meals, to bake cookies and to give gifts, many of them handmade. Neither one of us are shoppers so there's no chance we'll get into the Christmas circus that seems to get worse every year... Frohe Weihnachten!! Silke

  15. jinksy - bah humbug? o, I do't believe it!

    veredit - wie du weisst, ich hab's gelesen. die Sache mit dem Seite-an-Seite-gehen gefaellt mir auch sehr gut. Vielleicht wird es mal irgendwann und irgendwo zu einer Begegnung reichen

    Cloudia - thanks, friend, I love visiting you too but I can't quite get over the envy.

    Tabor - twee, would you say? It's allowed at Christmas.

    Cait - how far away are you? My town is the smallest in England, so where's yours?

    hattered - thank you Shattered, the scenery here really is very pretty if undramatic.

    English Rider - What's stopping you?

    steven - if you like a touch of inefficiency you would feel at home here.

    QMM - Guess what, I even live right next to a Castle; when I open the garden gate I am already in the castle grounds!

    Bonnie - For me it is the old traditions that make the season worth having, I hate the mindless shopping and consuming.

    Pondside - Everything her happens probably on a much more modest scale than where you are, it is possible to stay with the old customs here.

    Wipso - maybe we should have a cup of tea in Ludlow some time?

    Argent - It would not be a wasted trip, Ludlow really is a little gem. No high street with endless multiples here.

    Silke - Heart sich an wie eine deutsche Weihnachtszeit. Spekulatius, Stollen und Pfeffernuesse! Dazu das Kerzenlicht und ich bin gluecklich und zufrieden.

  16. Friko, this makes me even more determined to, even just once in my life, spend Christmas in England. The French hang up some pretty lights in the town centres, and there are Christmas markets, but the festivities seem to be of such short duration and there's no Boxing Day!!!

    Thank you for such a lovely depiction of what goes on in Ludlow...I felt like I had astral-traveled there for the few minutes it took me to read your post.

  17. brings back happy memories of english christmases friko thank you!

  18. Great post Friko. You can tell I up too late when I nearly tell you this is a grat pot!

  19. The first time I traveled alone overseas I was 13 years old and I went to London. Actually I was part of a small group where each teenager went to stay with a British family for a fortnight at Christmas. It was one of the best Christmases of my life and I shall remember it always. But then the saddest Christmas I had was again in London. In 2002 my mother past away and all the Delta flights were full from Paris to Atlanta. They told me there was a seat left on the London to Atlanta flight on 25th December. So I took the Chunnel on 23rd December and spent Christmas Eve in London. I was alone and very sad but at the same time being in London at that time made me feel so much better. I won’t forget this Christmas either.

  20. I am officially in love with the photo of the Feathers Hotel. :)

    In a rush, but I left a lengthy reply to your comment at my blog.

  21. What a fantastic building that is. I want to have a glass of wine there. Now.

  22. I would love to visit Ludlow after reading this post. It is my kind of town to visit when across the pond. The Feather's Hotel is fantastic. What a great timbered building. I think I have a Lilliput Lane cottage fashioned after it.

    I wish I could share that bubbly with you, but I will be sharing a bit of it with my daughter, son and daughter-in-law this New Years Eve. I guarantee that it will be cold there (Northern California) and that's the part I won't like.

    Happy Holidays, Friko.

  23. I just have to be amazed at the history, and the buildings across the pond!
    Great post, especially at this busy time of year! Our lake is nearly frozen over in My Muskoka ! But then you saw that! It is soooo cold.

  24. Hallo Friko, I am ashamed to say I don't really know Ludlow despite bypassing it almost a hundred times perhaps on journeys to and from North Wales.
    Except by reputation that is - and now I know it from your blog too. So thanks for that.

    Have a very happy, if quiet, Christmas. Ours will be quiet too except for the day itself when the family descend en masse.

  25. Deborah - and for an even quieter and more old-fashioned and romantic Christmas you must go to Germany.

    her at home - I am sure there will be others to come!

    elizabethm - taks for tat - although it's morning

    Vagabonde - I hope this Christmas will be neither sad nor lonely, but as happy as the first one you describe.

    Lydia - thanks for the directions, Lydia. I've been and read them.

    Fran Hill - easy enough, Ludlow's near enough for a day trip.

    Darlene - thank you for your good wishes, and the same to you. Hope it won't feel as cold as it does here at the moment.

    Jenn Jilks - Keep warm and cosy! And enjoy a sleigh ride, perhaps?

    Fennie - So close and yet so far; Ludlow really is worth a detour when you are passing anyway. Enjoy your family Christmas.

  26. Okay. You've got me now, with the ruined castle!


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