Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent Traditions: Young Wheat

According to some traditions, we are linked to the ancient past by young wheat, which in the Advent period represents the awakening of all new life. It is still a custom in Slovenia, usually on St. Lucia Day (December 13th) or St. Barbara Day (December 4th), to plant wheat seeds in shallow bowls. The bowls are placed in the crib, under the Christmas tree, or elsewhere in the living room, and during the Christmas period fresh green wheat sprouts grow from the seeds. This wheat is left to grow until the Festival of the Three Kings (Epiphany) or until Candlemas (February 2nd) at the latest. Similar traditions still exist in France, where lentils are also grown, and in croatia and the Ukraine, where the sprouted wheat has place of honour on the Christmas table.
Christmas! Traditions, Celebrations and Food Across Europe (Stella Ross Collins)
No wheat seeds here, but on the feast of St. Barbara (4th) I plan to cut some twigs from the hedge surrounding our garden, put them in water and see if I can force them to flower during Christmas.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Advent Music

After another trawl through the iTunes store and my music library here are some suggestions of music for Advent. Christmas music to come later.

Advent (General)

  • O Come, O Come Emmanuel - of course! I downloaded the version by the choir of King's College, Cambridge.
  • Gabriel's Message, also performed by King's College Choir
  • Advent Mass and Vespers from Chant - Music for Paradise by Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz
  • The Kingdom Triumphant by Eric Ball (Norman Law and Sellers Engineering Band) - rousing brass band setting of three Advent carols. Not sure what the first is, but it segues into O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ends with Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending.
  • Christmas is Now Drawing Near at Hand (traditional), from Frost and Fire, The Watersons
St. Nicholas
  • Canticle to St. Nicholas, performed by St. Eliyah Children's Choir - beautiful Orthodox hymn
  • St. Nicolas Cantata by Benjamin Britten
  • The Advent Polka / St. Nick's Brawl, The Albion Christmas Band - fiddle music
  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town
  • When Santa Got Stuck Up the Chimney
  • Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer
Immaculate Conception
  • Immaculate Mary (hymn)
  • Gregorian Chant: Graduale Romanum - Missa in Conceptione Immaculata
Gaudete Sunday (3rd Sunday of Advent)
  • Gaudete (medieval hymn) - I like the folk version by Steeleye Span
O Antiphons (used duing last week of Advent)
  • Seven Magnificat Antiphons by Arvo Part
  • Advent Carols from St. John's: Antiphons, performed by choir of St. John's College - plainchant

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Preparing for Advent

Advent calendar - bought
Chocolates for Advent calendar - bought
Advent candle ring - found
Jesse tree decorations - found
Blog template - tweaked
Jesse tree - still dithering
Candles for Advent ring - still to buy

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

St. Catherine of Alexandria

In honour of my name saint ... a day late, but hopefully of use next year!

A Few Facts

Timeline: died c.305 at Alexandria, Egypt
Feast day: November 25th
Patronage includes: lacemakers, librarians, unmarried girls, educators, students and schoolchildren
Colours: St. Catherine's colours are green for wisdom and yellow for faith

The story of St. Catherine is legendary and for this reason her name was removed from the calendar of saints in 1969. It was reinstated in 2002 and she is now considered an intercessor for unity between the western and eastern Churches, where she is greatly venerated.

Things to Read


  • Saints for Young Readers (Susan Wallace)
  • Lion Treasury of Saints
  • A Story of St. Catherine of Alexandria by Brother Flavius (Neumann Press)
Picture Study

Traditions associated with St. Catherine

Lacemaking was an important occupation here in Bedfordshire, and "Cattern's Day" was an important holiday for the lacemakers. Cattern's Day marked the point of the year at which lacemakers The day was celebrated with "Cattern cakes" and the custom of jumping over a lighted candlestick. This was the origin of the rhyme:
Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack jump over the candlestick
The tradition of making and eating Cattern Cakes dates back to the saint's namesake Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII ...
The origin of [Cattern Cakes] was the concern of Catherine of Aragon, who when hearing the plight of the lace makers of Bedfordshire, burnt all her lace and commissioned new lace, thus keeping the lace makers employed. There after the lace makers contributed to a fund that provided tea and cakes on this day.
In France, heart shaped cakes are given on St. Catherine's Day to unmarried women over the age of 25 to encourage them to find love. The women are called "Catherinettes" and wear green and yellow hats.

Food for St. Catherine's Day

Craft Ideas:


O God Who gavest the Law to Moses on the summit of Mount Sinai,
and didst miraculously place the body of Thy blessed virgin-martyr Catherine
in the selfsame spot by the ministry of Thy holy angels,
grant, we beseech Thee, that her merits and pleadings
may enable us to reach the mountain which is Christ.
(Collect of St.Catherine from traditional Roman Lectionary)

Almighty and eternal God,
who gavest to Thy people the invincible virgin and martyr Saint Catherine,
grant that, by means of her intercession,
we may be strengthened in faith and constancy,
and spend ourselves unsparingly
in working for the unity of Thy Church.
(New collect of St. Catherine from Roman Lectionary)

St. Catherine, St. Catherine, O lend me thine aid
And grant that I never may die an old maid.

Finally ...

Check out St. Catherine on Facebook!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


One minor frustration since Angel and I became iPod owners is that we couldn't find a way to convert DVDs to MP4 files so that we could play them on our iPods. I looked at a couple of programs with a view to buying one, but they looked clunky and confusing and I couldn't justify the price. Thanks to a tip from my helpful neighbour we now have free DVD / MP4 conversion software and are busily overloading the iPods.

Handbrake has both Mac and Windows versions and is very simple to use. One caveat for Mac users ... the most recent versions only work on the new Leopard operating system. If (like me) you still have the old OS X 10.4, you can find an old version here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 24th November

For Monday 17th November

Outside My Window ... grey and damp, with bare tree branches.

I am thinking ... that it would be fun to experience some of this weather, just for a little while. It is so totally outside my experience.

From the learning rooms ... 1:1 Learning Conversation day for Angel. Normal school is cancelled and all the students get a 15 minute one-on-one appointment with their class tutor to discuss their progress. The rest of the day is supposed to be spent doing assigned work at home. Right now, Angel is sleeping.

I am thankful for ... the friend who gave me a lift to Church yesterday morning. I discovered at 10.05 that our car had two flat tyres and I was due to play the organ at 10.30!

From the kitchen ... Cattern Pie for St. Catherine's day tomorrow. Not only is she my name saint, but she is patron of lacemakers. We live on the edge of an area where lacemaking was a traditional occupation, and Cattern's Day was celebrated as a holiday by the lacemakers.

I am wearing ... beige hooded sweater, faded blue jeans, striped fluffy socks. Warm and cosy, but on the scruffy side.

I am creating ... a sweater in navy cotton. I found it in my knitting box, three-quarters done when I abandoned it back in the spring.

I am going ... to play some games with Little Cherub. She is deep in a game playing phase. I'm hoping Father Christmas will expand her collection, as we could all use some variety!

I am reading ... The Magical Maze by Ian Stewart. Living maths.

I am hoping ... Tevye manages to get the tyres fixed or replaced this morning. It looks as though one of us ran over a nail. (He just texted: one repairable, one needs replacing)

I am hearing ... Cherub click-clicking with her Playmobil again. A camper van this time. I rotate the larger Playmobil toys.

Around the house ... a mouse in the garage. I know from experience that any food stuffs left in the garage will attract mice. I thought I could get away with a very thick box of chocolate brownie mix. Wrong. Apparently mice like gourmet chocolate brownie mix.

One of my favorite things ... my toasty warm, feather and down winter duvet.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... haircuts for myself and the two older girls, and maybe the toddler if she cooperates; preparations for Advent (I gave up on the felt Jesse tree idea for now).

Here is picture thought I am sharing ... I just found and scanned in this photo of my great-grandmother, Frances Dugdale

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to do one of your own.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Christmas Newsletter

In response to overwhelming demand (from one commenter!) to hear about previous ideas we had used for Christmas newsletters, and not wishing to disappoint my reader ...

Due to massive incompetence, it seems we only have a copy of last year's newsletter. All the previous ones have been lost in the shuffle of various computers, and we never had the sense to keep hard copies. Last year we took a literary theme, using book titles as headings for each section, illustrated with cover art borrowed from Amazon. So a section on the girls came under Little Women, Ballet Shoes covered dancing, Five Went Down to the Sea (Famous Five) was for our beach holiday, Tevye's trip to his father's home town of Gdansk was Roots, and so on.

Racking my fuzzy brain for previous themes ... one was a similar idea with song titles, another was a humorous school report with subject headings (holidays under geography, dance under PE, and so on). I'm fairly sure I remember one with a multiple choice question format, though Tevye thinks not ... but given that he writes multiple choice questions for a living it would be very obvious. I think there was also a "Twelve Days of Christmas" letter, where we managed to come up with something relating to our lives for each of the numbers.

I enjoy the creative element of writing newsletters. Writing and addressing Christmas cards is a whole different ball game ...

Friday, November 21, 2008

7 Quick Takes Friday

Joining in with Jennifer's seven quick takes again ...

-- 1 --

This week I had a moment of awareness when I stopped to truly appreciate my good fortune. How many 48 year olds get to start their day singing nursery rhymes with an enthusiastic, giggling two year old? There may be times when I feel old and tired and stiff, but I wouldn't swap for the world.

-- 2 --

Friday is my day for socialising over food. My neighbour (and good friend) doesn't work on Fridays so we usually share breakfast, and Little Cherub and I regularly go out for lunch with my mother. I've also promised to take my middle daughter to Borders this evening for a browse and a Starbuck's hot chocolate. Lots to look forward to today!

-- 3 --

I can't say I was surprised by the announcement I heard on the radio news that October's retail trading figures had failed to live up to the doom and gloom predictions of the media. Sales had fallen only a microscopic 0.1% since last month. I went to a large retail park on Saturday to pick up a couple of duvets. Busy, busy.

-- 4 --

Listening to coverage of the economic summit I noticed another difference between elections in the US and the UK. In the UK the leader of the winning party becomes prime minister with immediate effect; in the US there is a time lag before the new president takes office, leaving the outgoing president in a rather awkward position where he has to look presidential but can't actually commit to anything.

-- 5 --

Tevye and I have a tradition of sending out an annual Christmas newsletter with a twist. Each year we try to come up with an original theme or approach. I'm feeling smug that I managed to hit on something entirely new for this Christmas. Unfortunately I can't tell you what as some recipients read this blog. All I can say is that it is quirky and cryptic and different from anything we have done before.

-- 6 --

Angel came home from school yesterday with an interim report giving scores for behaviour, effort made in class, and organisation and quality of homework. Excellent scores across the board except, bizarrely, for English were they were very poor. Having looked at her English work I can confidently predict that someone messed up and input the wrong numbers (the report is all electronically generated). How nice to be able to be so sure that a bad report is wrong ... and how unlike her parents she is. I found some of my old school reports a while ago. Comments included the classic "K does the minimum of work or less". Tevye tells me his weren't much better.

-- 7 --

Winter is forecast to arrive today, with temperatures plunging down to freezing and maybe a few snow flurries over the weekend. According to weather lore, a cold November is supposed to herald a mild, wet winter ... "if November ice will bear a duck, all the rest is mud and muck".

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Tale of Two Zoos

Today I took advantage of the weather - dry and not too cold - to use my membership pass and take Little Cherub to Whipsnade Zoo. Unusually for Whipsnade in November we managed to stay quite warm - the zoo is in a very exposed position and gets every blast of cold wind going. The five layers of clothes may have helped; so may the hot soup and chips (fries) for lunch. As this is the zoo's winter season we were able to take the car in without charge and drive round, turning it into a rather eclectic safari-style experience. I had never noticed before just how geographically jumbled parts of the zoo are ... reindeer, antelope, yaks and camels all sharing the same large open area was a particularly bizarre combination!

It is a while since I had taken Cherub on her own and it was very noticeable how much more engaged and curious she has become. We have definitely moved beyond the "look, an elephant!" stage to real interest in the different animals and their habits - camels eating hay, yaks that give milk ("milk come from cows!" ... "yes, and from yaks too" ... "oooohhh!!!"), the size of a yawning hippos mouth. She was intrigued by the mara which roam freely, which she called "mara rabbits" after I said they looked a bit like a giant rabbit. She also took charge of the map and wanted me to show her where the different animals were - they are marked with little pictures - and where we were going next.

Our highlight of the day was a stand off between a rhino and a magpie. The magpie was perched on the muddy rhino's back pecking at something tasty it had found there. This was clearly irritating the poor rhino, who tried everything he could to shake it off - running (too slow!), shaking, and wriggling as best a rhino can. The magpie simply stood there and carried on pecking. After a while the rhino gave up and just stood looking grumpy until the magpie eventually decided it was done and flew off. I'm sure there is a fable in there somewhere.

Today's zoo trip reminded me that I meant to post some photos from our trip to London Zoo at half-term and forgot. Here are a few to make up for the lack of any today (I forgot the camera) ...

Star took this photo of one of her favourite animals, the tapir ...

The pair of silverback gorillas ...

We loved the butterfly house. This raggedy moth was the size of a soup plate ...

And finally Star with dragons. The Welsh dragon came to visit after she was voted class "star of the week"; the komodo dragon can be seen in the background trying to disguise himself as a log. Lighting and focus were my downfall in this photo, but he was such an impressive lizard I'm posting it anyway.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

November Prayers

I have been finding it difficult to get Little Cherub to engage with a prayer time in the morning, beyond playing with anything I have set out as part of a liturgical year display. Arranging angels, yes; joining in with (or just tolerating) even the shortest of prayers, no.

For November, I set out some photos of family members who have died - my father and grandparents, Tevye's parents, and an aunt who died earlier this year - and a row of tea lights, with one candle for each person I want to remember this month. And this time, she is hooked! We light the candles, look at the photos, talk about who each candle is for and pray for them. Then she blows the candles out. She is so enthusiastic she even wants to do it more than once in a day. And the enthusiasm has extended into wanting to look at and talk about the "saint of the week" picture I try to remember to keep out, light another candle and say an extra prayer. I'm saying a simple morning offering and hoping that she will soon pick it up and start to join in.

I admit we were nearly half way through November before I got this organised, but I'm glad I decided it was better late than never.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 17th November

For Monday 17th November

Outside My Window ... late autumn. Many trees almost bare, some still with old yellow leaves falling.

I am thinking ... I must be more disciplined about going to sleep earlier. I'm a night owl and tend to come to life at bed time.

From the learning rooms ... Little Cherub is getting interested in letters. She likes to spell out her name on her bedroom door ("Naomi ... Apple ... Orange ... Mummy ... Ice Cream") and is beginning to pick the letters out when she sees them. This morning she pointed out "Peppa Pig" (p) and "elephant" (e) on the back of a book.

I am thankful for ... a big cardboard box that arrived this morning containing a new printer. The old one had reached the point where it only worked if you held the back together as it printed.

From the kitchen ... more apples from a friend's tree, so this morning Cherub and I made Dorset apple cake and put two apple crumbles in the freezer. There are enough apples left to make an Eve's pudding tomorrow. Bella's delicious sandwich bread is rising in the bread machine. Dinner tonight is chicken stir fry and noodles.

I am wearing ... black jeans, grey polo neck sweater, blue and pink striped fluffy socks, blue crocs.

I am creating ... playlists on iTunes. I had an urge to put together selections of seasonal music.

I am going ... to use iPlayer to catch up on a new BBC series about picture books while Cherub naps.

I am reading ... knitting and Christmas books. I am in the mood for making and doing.

I am hoping ... to get most of my Christmas gifts bought and wrapped by the end of November. I like to be able to focus on Advent and not end up with a last minute rush.

I am hearing ... the click-click of Cherub playing with her Playmobil aeroplane.

Around the house ... laundry drying; a new electric blanket for our bed - the old one broke while still under warranty and the replacement arrived this morning; the printer waiting to be unpacked and set up.

One of my favorite things ... listening to Little Cherub talking to herself as she plays.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... I want to try to make a felt or fabric Jesse Tree. I used to use a silver spray-painted branch but threw it out when it got tatty and have never managed to come up with a replacement I am happy with. Last year I just used a small artificial Christmas tree.

Here is picture thought I am sharing ... the queue for lunch at London Zoo

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to do one of your own.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

November Music

I spent some time last night trawling through iTunes looking for seasonal music. Even though we are already half way through November, I'm posting a list for the month. That way I will be able to find it again next year! Some of the music I know or own already, the rest sounds promising from 30 second samples but I haven't downloaded any yet.

  • Handel - Music for the Royal Fireworks
  • Durufle - Requiem: Pie Jesu
  • Britten - Sinfonia da Requiem
  • Karl Jenkins - In Paradisum: Requiem
  • De Victoria - Missa pro Defunctis
  • Faure - Requiem: In Paradisum
  • Mozart - Requiem
  • Elgar - Elegy (Opus 58)
  • Celtic Requiem (Mary McLaughlin)
  • Purcell - Ode for St. Cecilia's Day
  • Britten - Hymn to St. Cecilia
  • Herbert Howells - A Hymn for St. Cecilia

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Google Trends

I just discovered Google Trends where you can see graphs of the popularity of search terms. This site should only be visited by trivia loving geeks with time to waste. It seems I fall into this category.

The joy of these is not just to spot trends, but also patterns. This one for snow is entirely predictable but rather pretty. My favourite summer drink, Pimms, peaks in the summer, but the height of the peak varies according to the weather - colder summer, less hits.

You can find lots of economic trivia. Both Tesco and Waitrose (UK supermarket chains) have rising search numbers; both show peaks before Christmas, but Waitrose spikes much higher. Unsurprisingly, recession has jumped out of flat-lined nowhere to violent peaks and fluctuations in 2008.

Friday, November 14, 2008

7 Quick Takes Friday

I love this idea from Jennifer at Conversion Diary of posting seven quick takes ... snippets and half-thoughts that don't quite merit a fully formed post of their own. Check out Jennifer's quick takes for today and links to other contributors here. And if you also have half-formed thoughts and half-baked posts lurking at the back of your mind, add your own.

-- 1 --

I have been watching various BBC programmes on World War I broadcast for the ninetieth anniversary of Armistice Day. While I knew about the Spanish Flu epidemic after the war, I had no idea it started in an army camp and was rife among the soldiers on both sides. Many soldiers died right at the end of the war. Imagine how it must have felt to know your son or husband had survived the war and was due to return home imminently, only to hear a few days later that he had died of flu. Beyond poignant. Also, did you know that the Spanish Flu was a bird flu virus? H1N1, rather than the H5N1 bird flu that has been in the news over the last year or two.

-- 2 --

Moving swiftly on to something more cheerful ...I ordered new Crocs for Little Cherub for next summer as I wanted to take advantage of a 40% off sale. I was intrigued to see that this pair were made in Bosnia, unlike the last pair (and both mine) which came from China. If any UK readers are Crocs fans and want a discounted pair, I can recommend Sweetfeet Shoes - good selection, good service and good prices.

-- 3 --

I have been placing some online orders and have realised that I am a thematic Christmas present buyer. Which is another way of saying that once I have a good idea I'm inclined to run with it and buy variations of the same gift for more than one person. This year is, apparently, the year of the clock, the radio, and the toasty warm bed. And yes, there is a clock-radio in there for good measure. I'm not quite in the same league as my dad, who was a one stop Christmas shopper. At least he varied the shop he visited from year to year, though the book shop and Marks and Spencer tended to feature quite regularly.

-- 4 --

I have declared war on our gas usage (natural gas for heating / hot water) since the gas company insisted we need to increase our monthly payments by 50%. It is probably poetic justice that I can't get the central heating to work this afternoon.

-- 5 --

Lesson learned yesterday. Do not give a sticker to a toddler who is about to go to bed. You will have to hunt for the sticker before you can get the toddler upstairs. You will then be summoned to search for the missing sticker two minutes after you put the toddler down to sleep. The sticker will turn up in her bed only after you have mollified her with an alternative sticker. Two minutes later both stickers will have disappeared again. At that point, you need an older sister to calm her down by giving her a stuffed penguin to cuddle.

-- 6 --

Why, when Star has known for over a week that today would be a non-uniform day at school, was it still a major crisis this morning to decide what to wear?

-- 7 --

I'm sleepy. Little Cherub has had a run of waking early (6.00am or soon after). This morning she woke at five. She went back to sleep. I didn't. Why am I blogging when I should be taking a nap?

One Shelf at a Time - Shelf 9

The bottom shelf of my children's history collection (non-fiction - historical fiction is somewhere else entirely) ... an eclectic mix here. There are various books picked up in library sales, ranging from a book on Medieval People to (blush) a history of toilets; a few historical picture books; Diane Stanley biographies (Cleopatra, Peter the Great, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci); picture histories of Scotland and Ireland and other miscellaneous oddments. Then there are some adult level books: assorted chronicle-style books, ranging from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to Russia, and several historical atlases.

Three favourites from this shelf ...

How Children Lived by Chris and Melanie Rice ... similar in style to DK's Children Just Like Me. Each double page spread focuses on an imaginary child from a different era, beginning with the ancient Egyptians and ending with 1920s America.

The Boy Pharaoh: Tutankhamen by Noel Streatfeild ... although she is better known for her fiction (Ballet Shoes, White Boots and so on), Noel Streatfeild also wrote several history books for children. This one was written to accompany the Tutankhamen exhibition when it was shown in London in the early 1970s.

The Book of Greek Myths Pop-Up Board Games by Brian Lee ... does exactly what it says on the cover. Four pop-up board games, each themed on a different Greek myth, with everything you need to play them in a little pocket. Very unusual, and we have had a lot of fun with this one over the years.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Counting Cherub Style

Little Cherub likes to count. She has got the idea of one-to-one correspondence and can count quite accurately except for one problem. She has decided she doesn't like the numbers four, five, six and seven.

"Cherub, how many fingers do you have?"

She holds out her hand and counts earnestly ...
"One ... two ... three ... eight ... nine"

If she is in a particularly mellow mood and I ask her what comes after three, she will answer four ... but more often she simply looks mutinous. The sort of look that says "you can call it four if you like, but I know better and I am going to count my way!"

Isn't she going to be fun to home educate!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 10th November

For Monday 10th November

Outside My Window ... trees and houses silhouetted against a sky that is just beginning to lighten.

I am thinking ... how can it be the middle of November already? This term is flying past.

From the learning rooms ... art. I'm very impressed with Angel's art course this term. The theme is "myself", so there is lots of self-portrait work, but it is very varied and creative. The first half term they worked in monochrome, and now they are moving on to colour. One project example: trace an outline from a picture of herself, and then stick on tiny pieces of newspaper in a kind of mosaic to create the dark and light shading. Very effective.

I am thankful for ... my voice. It came back.

From the kitchen ... planning to bake Victoria sponge and lemon cakes this morning; dinner is shipwreck stew.

I am wearing ... the same warm blue pyjamas as last week.

I am creating ... nothing, but I'm determined I will pick up my knitting again this week. The mess that is my knitting box keeps putting me off.

I am going ... to have a nice quiet, routine sort of week.

I am reading ... Since Records Began: the Highs and Lows of British Weather by Paul Simons. Tevye says it is turning me into an anorak and a bore. "Did you know that Rickmansworth is one of the coldest places in Britain?" ... "No! And I didn't want to!"

I am hoping ... for a productive and organised week. Last week I struggled to get back to normal after half term disrupted my routine.

I am hearing ... thuds from upstairs as Angel and Star get dressed.

Around the house ... clothes drying, more waiting to be ironed, beds to be changed, floors to be washed.

One of my favorite things ... Monday mornings. Writing my daybook; thinking about the week ahead; organising my Toodledo list; enjoying the quiet.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... sort that knitting box (yes, I know that was on my list last week!); declutter toys; go to the gym; an evening out with Tevye.

Here is picture thought I am sharing ... for Remembrance Day

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to add your own.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Lest We Forget

Today is Remembrance Sunday - the nearest Sunday to November 11th (Armistice Day, when the First World War ended) and the day on which Britain remembers its war dead. Every city, town and village in the country has its war memorial, listing the names of those who died in the First and Second World Wars. The lists of names are long, particularly for the First World War. Today wreaths of poppies were laid at them all, and a two minute silence kept.

My father and all his family came from the village of Stewkley, Buckinghamshire. Courtesy of the Roll of Honour website, here are the names of those from the village who lost their lives. The population in the early 20th century was a little over 1,000. In the First World War thirty young men were killed, and a further six in the Second. Heartbreaking.

First World War

  • Albert Ashpool, killed in action May 1915 (aged 21)
  • Arthur Beasley, killed in action November 1917
  • W.J.Beasley (no information)
  • George Russell Cannings, killed in action September 1916 (aged 30)
  • Fred E. Cheshire, died of wounds December 1917
  • William John Cheshire, killed in action June 1917 (aged 35)
  • Harry Dickens, died in United Kingdom January 1915 (aged 18)
  • Albert Richard Hall, died 14 November 1918 - three days after Armistice (aged 38)
  • William Hogston, died in United Kingdom September 1917 (aged 20)
  • Claude Cressy Horsley, died of wounds November 1917 (aged 35)
  • William George Illing, killed in action July 1916 (aged 21)
  • Leonard Keen, killed in action November 1914 (aged 31)
  • Sidney Keen, killed in action July 1916
  • Chester Winterbon Kilby, killed in action March 1918 (aged 35)
  • Henry Knight, killed in action August 1915
  • Arthur William Mead, died September 1916 (aged 20)
  • Bertram Frederick Mead, killed in action August 1917 (aged 21)
  • John Mead, killed in action April 1918 (aged 26)
  • Albert Edward Moxon, killed in action February 1918 (aged 19)
  • Frederick Pitkin, died in South Africa, November 1916
  • George Roadknight, killed in action, October 1915
  • J. Smith (no information)
  • Bruce Swinton Smith-Masters M.C., killed in action July 1916 (aged 24)
  • George Arthur Smith-Masters, killed in action, August 1915 (aged 20) - brother of Bruce
  • Frederick Thomas Stonhill, killed in action, March 1917 (aged 29)
  • George Syrett, died July 1919 (aged 24)
  • William Syrett, died September 1918
  • William H.Syrett, died June 1920 (aged 27)
  • Percy William Tofield, killed in action August 1916 (aged 24)
  • John Henry Willis, killed in action April 1918
Second World War
  • Raymond Ivor Brewer, died September 1940 (aged 25)
  • Theodore Frederick Faulkner, died March 1943 (aged 42)
  • Edward James Jones, died July 1944 (aged 22)
  • Leonard James Mead, died June 1943 (aged 23)
  • Eric Ernest Robinson, died October 1944 (aged 23)
  • F.A.Wilson (no information)
Three of the First World War casualties died after the end of the war. George and William Syrett, who died in 1919 an 1920, both originally served in the Royal Army Service Corps and subsequently transferred to the Northumberland Fusiliers. I wonder why and where they died?

For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon

Friday, November 07, 2008

'Tis The Season

... to let off fireworks in honour of the failure of Guy Fawkes' dastardly plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Should Catholics celebrate Bonfire Night, given that Guy Fawkes was acting in the cause of Catholicism? Given that the leading English Catholics of his time thought he was a foolish maverick, and feared a terrible backlash would have resulted if he succeeded, I think I can live with it. And it gives me an opportunity to mention our Catholic history and remind the girls that our religious freedom is something to be appreciated. (Though given that Star had somehow managed to forget entirely who Guy Fawkes was, I'm obviously not making a good job of it.)

We usually celebrate on Bonfire Night itself (November 5th), by watching a firework display at a village school with friends, then going back to their house for drinks and snacks afterwards. This year our friends' son was sick and the weather was dismal, so we didn't make it. In the end we went to a firework display tonight at another local school. Good fireworks, but very, very loud. Little Cherub was seriously not impressed, though she did manage to hang in there - literally, hanging round my neck which she decided was the only safe place.

'Tis also the season to prepare for Advent, albeit accidentally. I spotted this wooden Advent calendar in John Lewis yesterday and loved it. It has little drawers just big enough to hold three sweets or chocolates, a tiny gift, or a note. I love that it includes a nativity scene. I just know that if I looked for something like this, I would never find it ... so I bought it while I had the chance.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election Night

I'm an election night enthusiast. I don't usually make it all through the night, but for UK elections I always stay up until the early hours, and I couldn't resist watching last night's US election results. All that punditry, and David Dimbleby gravitas, and clever interactive maps turning blue and red ... irresistible!

As I watched I was fascinated by the differences between US and UK election nights. Here are a few random comparisons ...

In the US Republicans are red and Democrats blue; here Conservatives are blue and Labour red. Very confusing.

American results seem to be announced by the TV networks before they actually happen. Did I get that right? Here all the candidates for a parliamentary seat are gathered on a platform while the returning officer announces the result. This means we get to see their face at the moment of victory or defeat - in comparison, the American election coverage was, literally, faceless. Often a number of fringe candidates stand alongside the main parties in parliamentary elections. Sometimes they look like this:

This adds some entertaining eccentricity to the announcement of results. I suspect there is something peculiarly British about a returning officer solemnly intoning "Screaming Lord Sutch, Monster Raving Loony Party, 51 votes; Gordon Brown, Labour, 35,000 votes ...".

Results - or accurately predicted results - come through much quicker in America. It was quite a surprise to see some called virtually the instant the polls closed. Here polls close at 10pm, and the results don't get beyond a trickle until about 1am. Then they come through thick and fast for a couple of hours, with the TV coverage zooming frantically from one vital count to another.

America has 50 states; the UK has over 600 parliamentary constituencies. Whereas the US has only a handful of important marginal states, there are many more marginal constituencies here ... and keeping track of the flurry of results is harder. The US results are simpler and clearer to watch.

The time zone effect surprised me. It was odd to realise that the overall election result was already obvious before voting had finished in some states.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Exams, Exams ... And More Exams

For anyone curious as to how the British education system works in the "high school" years, or how it has changed since they were at school ...

Young people in British schools sit two sets of examinations at ages 16 and 18 (except in Scotland, which also has an exam system but one that works rather differently and which I know next to nothing about!). The original exams taken until the 1940s were known as School Certificate, and pupils had to achieve pass marks across a range of subjects to gain an overall pass, first at ordinary level and then at higher level. In the early 1950s the School Certificate was replaced by subject specific GCE (General Certificate of Education) 'O' (Ordinary) and 'A' (Advanced) Levels. O Levels were intended for more academic pupils, and an easier qualification, the CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) was brought in as an alternative for the less academic. A Grade 1 pass in a CSE was considered the equivalent of an O Level pass.

Typically an academic track pupil would take eight to ten O levels. They would then select just three subjects to study for A Level. This focus on a limited number of subjects in depth, rather than a broader range in depth, is the big difference between the British and American education systems. The same applies at university level, where British students typically take a single subject degree, with little or no study of any other subject during their three year university course.

In 1988 O Levels were replaced by GCSEs. This change was intended to make the system fairer for all, and stop CSE students feeling second class or being discriminated against by would-be employers. GCSEs have a broad range of "pass" grades, from A* to G, and an "Unclassified" failing grade. (The A* was introduced several years ago to identify the best performing candidates, as too many were getting an A.) This is good in theory, but in fact only grades A* to C count as equivalent to an O Level, and therefore as a true pass. Students can be entered for papers in which the top grade possible is a D, meaning in effect that they are guaranteed to fail - unlike the old CSEs where they could achieve an O Level equivalent grade. The A Level system was left in place, but in the 1990s an additional AS Level, intermediate between GCSE and A Level was introduced, in an attempt to encourage pupils to take an additional subject after age 16. To gain an A Level you now have to sit both the AS exam at 17 and an A2 exam at 18.

The other big difference between O Levels and GCSEs is that O Levels were entirely exam based, whereas GCSEs have a coursework component. This means that from 14 to 18 young people are pretty much continuously assessed, either by coursework or exams. Coursework has become increasingly problematic as it is difficult to tell whether the work is genuinely the student's own - particularly since the advent of widespread internet use has made plagiarism accessible to all. From next year coursework is being largely replaced by "controlled assessments", except for subjects where practical work is an integral part of the course. So far as I can see, controlled assessment is essentially supervised coursework.

Every year, the number of passes and top grades in both GCSE and A Level rise, and every year there are accusations that the exams are being dumbed down - which the government strenuously but not very convincingly denies. Just last week I read a newspaper article comparing sample GCSE science questions with O Level questions from the 1960s. The gulf was - predictably - enormous. They had clearly picked the simplest and most ludicrous GCSE questions they could find. Comparing the harder questions answered by the more able GCSE candidates would be a fairer test. Apparently students who achieved A grade GCSEs were given an old O Level paper and scored an average of 16% - but then, they presumably hadn't been taught the O Level course or prepared for that style of paper, so again, not a fair test. My mother has marked religious studies papers for over thirty years, and has marked O Level, CSE and GCSE papers for several different regional exam boards. She has no doubt that there has been a dumbing down. I suspect she is right, but it is hard to prove.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 3rd November

For Monday 3rd November

Outside My Window ... the grey of early dawn.

I am thinking ... about yesterday's Brazilian Grand Prix. Oh. My. Goodness. I'm not normally a fan of Formula 1 and big racing cars that go vrooom, but that race had us hooked. Lewis Hamilton overtaking on the final bend to become the youngest ever world champion. Finishes don't come more nailbiting than that.

From the learning rooms ... discussions about Angel's GCSE choices. She has to pick four options alongside the compulsory subjects (maths, English, science and RE). Currently she is thinking PE, geography, textiles (designing and making clothes and fabrics) and possibly graphic products, which seems to be a mix of technical drawing with product and packaging design. This combination should suit my practical, active daughter.

I am thankful for ... my new warm and comfy winter coat.

From the kitchen ... no time to cook today. Fish and chip takeaway tonight.

I am wearing ... warm blue pyjamas.

I am creating ... ballet shoes. Not the shoes themselves, but sewing on ribbons and darning the toes. Not my favourite job.

I am going ... to take Star and Cherub to London Zoo. There is an extra teacher training day tacked onto the half-term break so we are taking advantage of it.

I am reading ... English Catholic Heroes edited by John Jolliffe and The Magical Maze: Seeing the World Through Mathematical Eyes by Ian Stewart.

I am hoping ... my lost voice will return quickly, and my sore throat and cough will not trigger my asthma.

I am hearing ... oh dear! Little Cherub complaining about something!

Around the house ... lots of flowers. White carnations and yellow and orange roses from a visiting friend.

One of my favorite things ... Starbuck's coffee mocha with whipped cream.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... declutter and reorganise my knitting box; a meeting to plan the next few First Communion classes; a visit to the doctor if my voice doesn't come back.

Here is picture thought I am sharing ...

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to add your own.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

All Saints and All Souls

This is a confusing year. Normally the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls fall on November 1st and 2nd respectively. However, in England and Wales if a Holy Day of Obligation (like All Saints) falls on a Saturday or a Monday it is transferred to a Sunday. That makes today - which should be All Souls - All Saints, and All Souls has been transferred to tomorrow so that it doesn't get missed out of the calendar altogether.

On All Saints Day we celebrate the Church Triumphant - all those individuals who are already enjoying eternal life in heaven. Some have been officially canonised, that is, their holiness has been recognised as so evident that we can be sure they have reached their ultimate destiniation (in most cases this is confirmed by miraculous healings associated with the intercession of the saint). Most importantly, though, this day is an opportunity to celebrate the multitude of unknown and unsung saints, those who will never be canonised.

On All Souls Day we pray for the Church Suffering - those who have died but whose souls have not yet reached the state of perfection which will allow them to enjoy the vision of God in heaven. I find the Catholic doctrine of purgatory a tremendously consoling one. I know that my sins are forgiven by virtue of Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross, but also that I remain weak and imperfect. Simplistically, I think of purgatory as an opportunity for God to spring-clean my soul after death, clearing out all the dust and debris left behind by my failings.

Traditionally the whole of November is a time during which Catholics remember and pray for the dead, that they will reach the end of this process and enjoy their eternal reward more quickly. As we here on earth - the Church Militant - join our prayers to those of the Saints in Heaven on behalf of the Holy Souls we are reminded that we are all part of the Body of Christ. The curtain that divides heaven and earth seems thinner, and it is no coincidence that at this time of year Death and its minions are mocked - Hallowe'en, or "All Hallows Eve", marks the beginning of this time when we focus on the triumph of Life over Death.

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon them.
May the souls of all the faithful departed,
By the mercy of God, rest in peace.

All the Saints of God, pray for us!