Christmas Chez Moi

I love Christmas. There are few perks to working in the charity sector, but one of the best we do get is the week between Christmas and New Year off. So, here I am, still sofa bound, watching Mary Poppins and eating my weight in Ferrero Rochers. And it’s only 9am! I know how to live!

Father Christmas was incredibly generous to me this year. I got a lovely mini sewing machine that took me much painstaking reading of instructions, furious mutterings and licking of thread to get set up, but now it’s trundling along very nicely. I’ve started a new quilt which I am very excited about making and hopefully I’ll get that finished by this time next year! I also got a much wanted Persephone, Farewell, Leceister Square by Betty Miller, along with other things like a gorgeous new purse, new pyjamas, slippers etc – all lovely things I need but would never buy for myself. Plus, Christmas isn’t even over yet! We’re having another Christmas on New Year’s Day as my sister, her husband and the little munchkins will be back from spending Christmas with the other side of the family and we shall all open up our presents to one another and eat more Christmas dinner. Brilliant!

Better than Christmas presents though was the Downton Abbey Christmas special – I could barely contain myself all day waiting for it to start, and when it did, oh was it worth the wait! I cried and cried and clapped my hands with glee – needless to say everything you want to happen happens while leaving plenty of loose ends to take up in the next series. I’ll say no more for the sakes of my American readers – but I can promise you this – while you may find series two a little weaker in general than the first series, the Christmas special is the exception and is definitely back to series one’s incredibly high standards. Only nine months to wait until it’s back on our screens!

What else have I been up to? Well, I have briefly left the house. My mum lives in a small village on the outskirts of Sevenoaks, in Kent. It’s surrounded by beautiful open countryside and traditional, sleepy villages with cobbled streets and wonderful houses, churches and other buildings that date back to the 1600s in some cases. Β On Christmas Day mum and I set out for a walk, leaving the ‘boys’ behind to watch TV. We wandered along in pursuit of the church we hadn’t been able to find the previous evening when we had planned to go to the carol service there. As we headed further out into the countryside, we found ourselves walking beside an old red brick wall, well over head height. The further we walked, and the longer the wall continued, the more the mystery deepened – what was behind the wall?! As we reached the tiny village of Chevening (there are about 10 houses) it soon became clear that the group of lovely red brick Victorian cottages clustered opposite the church were estate cottages – they are all identical. However, we could see no entrance to a big house, and neither of us were aware of a stately home in the area at all. My Nancy Drew sensors heightened, and I announced that the church’s graveyard would probably have some answers for us. I leapt off to explore, and in the far back corner, I spotted an area that had an impressive iron railing. On closer inspection, my suspicions were verified; apparently there was an Earl and Countess Stanhope, whose family had lived at Chevening House for quite a few hundred years. I then found a plaque on the wall near the church; in 1969 the last Earl Stanhope had died without any heirs and left the house to the nation. No sight of the house was possible from the road, so when we got home I looked it up online. Left to the ‘nation’ indeed – this beautiful mansion set in 3,000 acres of prime Kent countryside is now a country home for members of Parliament, and to add salt to the wound, it is widely believed to have been Jane Austen’s inspiration for Rosings Park, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s home in Pride and Prejudice. Austen’s cousin was the rector at Chevening and she visited the village and house several times. What an amazing piece of literary history to have on my doorstep, and it makes it even more of a shame that it’s not open to the public for everyone to enjoy. I’d love to get to explore inside!

What else have I been up to? Some more family history research…I have now discovered that my surname has been passed down through the female line due to illegitimacy and so who I really am is a mystery…I could still potentially be descended from gypsies or aristocracy or all manner of interesting sources! I have also been doing a little bit of reading to keep my brain ticking over…I’m enjoying my second Helen Hull, Heat Lightning, immensely…discovering her has been a real literary highlight of 2011, and I must urge you all to try and track one of her novels down! Finally, I have booked myself a course of French lessons to start in January…my New Year’s Resolution is to learn French again and so I have paid up now to ensure I don’t back out! I’m really looking forward to it!

Right, back to loafing…I hope you have all had wonderful, relaxing Christmases surrounded by the people you love, and are looking forward to a sparkling New Year!


  1. I’ve been looking at that JL sewing machine. A post on how you’re finding it would be most appreciated as an excuse to buy, or not to buy.
    Aaah Downton I lazed this morning watching it. My final thoughts ‘How can I wait until next autumn?’ Happy Continuing the festivities x

    1. I can tell you now that it’s definitely worth buying – I am a total novice and really awful with machinery and I’ve had no problems. The instructions are easy to follow and I had it up and running in ten minutes – as a guide I haven’t touched -let alone threaded – a sewing machine in 10 years. If you just want to do basic things on it then it’s perfect – it does straight and zigzag and scallop stitch and I think it will quilt as well. It’s very light so easy to lift and move around and it looks very pretty which is a bonus! I’m thrilled with it.

      Wasn’t it wonderful?! I know – the wait seems so cruel. Did you see the Titanic preview on afterwards? Not sure how I feel about that. It’s so sad, I’m not sure I could bear to watch it.

      Hope you’re having a lovely Christmas! x

  2. I’m keen to start quilting, but know next to nothing about sewing machines. I didn’t even know you could get little ones like that – I will have to investigate. πŸ™‚ I shall be looking into Helen Hull too as I’ve never heard of her. Is that a Virago modern classic edition in the picture?

    1. Me either, so don’t be discouraged – I haven’t used one since I was about 15 but the one I have is so easy to use even I can manage it without any problems.

      No – Helen Hull has never been republished apart from in Feminist Press editions – there are a couple of her books available in paperback from them on amazon. Otherwise you have to find the original hardbacks – they’re pretty easy to get in the US on amazon but not so easy in the UK. If you need tips/help, let me know!

  3. I have a dreamy memory of starting to read John Fowles’ The Magus on a random, nice, grassy hillside somewhere near Sevenoaks. Can’t remember where; could never find it again. Nice part of the world, R.

    I do enjoy reading your Tales Of Rachel.

    1. It is a nice part of the world, Bop! Glad you have experienced it for yourself!

      I enjoy reading your comments, Bop! They always make me smile! πŸ™‚

  4. It sounds like you had a wonderful Christmas. I’m really envious of your sewing machine. I should really invest in one to inspire me to work again on my quilt. Wasn’t The Christmas Downton Abbey marvellous?! I completely agree that it was Downton back to top form – it had me in tears! :o)

    1. Don’t be envious! Buy! You can get little sewing machines fairly cheaply and then you’ll be away! It’s an investment that will give you joy for many years to come!

      Oh yes – it was terrific! Everything I had hoped for and more – I need to get the box set to tide me over until the next series now!

      1. I am very much tempted to! :o)
        Happily my parents bought me season 1 on DVD for Christmas so I will defintely be turning to this to get me through the next few months!

  5. A good deal has been written about Jane Austen and Chevening, which may have been her “Rosings.” This article has some interesting thoughts about a real prototype of Lady Catherine de Bourgh at Chevening – did you think you were so close to her shade?
    There are so many associations with Jane Austen in Kent, I hope you’ll visit Godmersham and Goodnestone, if you haven’t. I did years ago before they were such a part of the Jane Austen trail, and even had tea with Lady Fitzwalter! A useful book on the subject is Jane Austen in Kent by David Waldron Smithers, which should be easy for you to find in your part of the world, if you don’t have it already. I bought it many years ago when the subject didn’t mean that much to me – but now here it is, and that’s how a useful library is acquired!

    1. Diana, you astound me with your knowledge yet again! I haven’t been to the other places you mention so I will definitely make trips now! I’m going to read that link and then perhaps put together my own Jane Austen in Kent trail…sounds like a fun Sunday outing to me!!

  6. Merry Christmas (belatedly)! I just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed your blog during the past few months, since discovering you.

    You genuinely seem like someone I’d like to know. I too, am currently reading Anthony Trollope and have a small stack of Elizabeth Bowen on my bedside table at home (currently on holiday). I have to say, Death of a Heart, whilst only half way through, is less than I imagined. However, I am a jaded mother of three, so it’s entirely probable I am failing to find and hold the rhythm with just two to three pages per night. I lament the loss of s cover to cover read!

    The point being, I shall be very interested in your view.

    How enchanting to stumble across the possible inspiration for Rosings Park. (I absolutely cannot mention Rosings without it conjuring int mind’s eye the dreaded cousin -BBC style.)

    It is one of the great benefits, I imagine, for a literary minded girl to live in the UK – especially one with a penchant for the Regency period.

    Anyway – apologies for any typos. I’ll blame the iPhone and, more realistically, the three glasses of Shiraz.

    All the best from the shakey isles in the deep south. I look forward to more from the BookSnob anon. X

    1. Oh what a lovely comment, thank you! I am thrilled you’ve come out of the woodwork to say hello!

      I’m glad we are on the same reading tracks, though I am sad to see that Death of the Heart hasn’t lived up to expectations. Personally I thought the Heat of the Day was not nearly as good as To the North so I am tempering my excitement until I start, as many people told me that Heat was the best and it wasn’t as far as I was concerned!

      Living in London and having family and friends across the home counties does help somewhat in making literary discoveries…I was frustrated by the limited opportunities for me to explore in the US due to sheer distance. The fact that you can drive for an hour and be in a totally different place here is definitely something I am much more appreciative of now!

      Thank you and I look forward to seeing more of you too! Hope you had a lovely Christmas! x

    1. Thanks – well don’t be too envious, as unless I invest in a pair of stilts I won’t ever be able to see over the wall and get a good look at the place! I might have to smuggle myself in under cover of darkness!!

    1. Glad to hear it, Elizabeth! Which one are you reading now? I have loads stacked up to read…I went a bit crazy on after reading my first, and of course I haven’t had time to read them since!

  7. I found your lovely blog today. I grew up in Penge and know your area well. How I miss all the old buildings (people get excited when something is 100 years old here in Texas).
    Can’t wait for Downton Abbey to show over here. I think we’ve only had the first series which was repeated on Sunday.

    1. Hi Ann! Nice to meet you! From Penge to Texas, eh? Quite the change! I actually grew up in Sidcup so really not that far from you at all.

      Enjoy Downton Abbey – you are in for such a treat!!

  8. Oh Rachel! My first thoughts after the Christmas special were of how happy you would have been with the conclusion. It was beyond wonderful and worth every moment I spent sitting on a rock-hard dining room chair clutching a hot water bottle for the duration.

    And such an interesting, and gorgeous, place to end up on your walk with your Mum!

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