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.