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. 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!