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As an Essex girl from a big town, the first time I saw a buzzard, gliding away from the top of a hill near Shaftesbury, I genuinely felt like I’d seen a golden eagle. That was 30 years ago, but I’ve never tired of watching them.
Some years ago, weirdly from almost the exact same spot, I saw my first ever red kite – a pair of them, in fact – and promptly fell in love.
I literally stopped in my tracks, mouth open.
The memory of that moment is so strong, triggered last week when I read Jane Adams wildlife column this month. I still remember the visceral thrill of seeing the unmistakeable forked tails, casually adjusting in the thermals, feathers flashing their rich golden red in the sunlight as they wheeled.
It’s almost the middle of January – probably too late to wish you a Happy New Year (though I do). As I write, the sun has finally come out, after so many long weeks of the worst kind of flat, grey, depressing weather. And so. much. rain!
It’s so easy in January to fall into a pit of gloom. Everything is darker, drearier … and colder.
But we mustn’t let it beat us.
We learned many years ago that we simply must make a plan for something fun, to have something to look forward to. And it is essential, this month more than any other, to pause and notice the small things that bring you a little joy in an otherwise dreary day. I have been paying attention this week – here are some of the things that have caused me a small glow of pleasure. I hope they do you, and I’d love you to share your own suggestions as well:
* The perfect strength, HOT-hot tea in the perfect mug
* Lunch consisting of ready salted McCoys crisps, between two slices of buttered bread – pressed down for the satisfying grrnnncchh, obviously.
* The piping tsurp of the gang of long tailed tits as they arrive for breakfast (and elevenses/brunch/lunch/tea/dinner/and pre-dark snack)
* Learning that the collective noun for long tailed tits is a volery
* Putting on my favourite jumper
* Finding a seven hour playlist of Disney songs on Spotify. This issue has come to you courtesy of Lion King, Moana, Tangled, Frozen, Tarzan …
* Watching a red kite from my bedroom window
* Finding my lost gloves in the pockets of the coat I haven’t worn for two years
* Ginger biscuits at the back of the cupboard (I make the same recipe every December, and I know it only uses half a packet. But I always buy two packets ‘just in case’, because at some point January always needs ginger biscuits at the back of the cupboard. I was right. Again.)
Memories of snowy Iwerne Minster
The snowy Iwerne Minster scene in Barry Cuff’s December postcards is of the house where I grew up in the 50s and 60s – my bedroom was over that very porch! (image above)
We had stables, a large garden and orchard – all of which now contain other new houses – and the house itself was turned into flats so there are numerous families where once there was just one. There were fields opposite where our ponies grazed and watercress beds to the right of the railings you can see, fed by the stream which passed under the road there – it’s hard to make out the bridge in the picture.
We moved there soon after I was born in 1949 when my parents acquired the house from Colonel Aston’s widow and it became Preston Farm House. The farm itself was on the opposite side of the road, reached from a lane further along the road, but it had no dwelling.
I loved it there and can still remember the names of our neighbours and friends in the village. We had hourly double-decker buses running between Bournemouth and Shaftesbury, a Co-op, a Post Office Shop, a butchers run by my grandfather, a bakery, a barbers shop, a garage, the Talbot pub (once run by my widowed great aunt!) and a village policeman who changed his name from PC Tit to PC Pitt to save his daughter embarrassment.
My father had a milk round and daily deliveries in Iwerne Minster were made by horse and milk float driven by an ex-carter who whistled popular tunes throughout the week and hymns on Sundays. The annual village fête was held in the classrooms and grounds of Clayesmore School where, as a youngster, I enjoyed many films and plays in their old theatre.
I wonder if the writer of the postcard was a servant in the house in 1908. In my time there were still back stairs, a row of service bells on the ground floor and numerous pantries which would have been used for food, china, silver, linen, scullery etc.
I moved back to Dorset in the 70s – we had a lovely postman called Sid Duffett who was probably related to the recipient of the postcard.
Carolyn Staunton (nee Hunt), by email
Could Stur actually sparkle?
I am writing to express my disappointment regarding the recent Christmas lighting in Sturminster Newton. The town, with its charming slogan ‘Make Stur Sparkle,’ had promised a festive display that would brighten the winter days. Unfortunately, the decision to once again use battery-operated lights on the street Christmas trees made it fall far short of that promise.
The lights came on too late – they weren’t on at school run times – and even when they were on they were so dim you had to strain to see them as you walked or drove through town.
And then the batteries would run out.
The contrast was stark when compared to the town’s main Christmas tree, which was beautifully lit and demonstrated what the rest of the town could achieve. A few independently-minded shops clearly took the initiative to put up their own lights, which looked wonderful, but further highlighted the inadequacy of the rest.
Instead of making Stur Sparkle, the trees instead rather dampened the holiday spirit. As a resident and a lover of Christmas, I urge the town council to reconsider its approach to next year’s trees. It cannot be beyond the whit of the Council – every other town and village seems to manage?
A mains-powered and correctly timer-controlled arrangement, could, in fact, make Stur sparkle …
Name and address supplied
A bloke from Bourton who loves Barcelona (but supports Real); a wag from Wincanton who worked there; a copper closely connected to the Canaries; a raconteur revelling in it (though more comfortable in Italian); a systems analyst systematically learning it; two teens, friends of course, and many more. All were focused on communicating with the world … talking in a tongue not their own.
‘Which, what, where?’ – you may well ask.
Spain, a Fiesta de Navidad and Spanish are the answers, as the local Spanish conversation group met at the Exchange in Sturminster Newton to celebrate Christmas. What fun! What an effort made to bring tapas and pinchos to share! What excellent company! ¡Olé! ¡Oh yes!
Everyone is welcome to the group – from fluent linguist to the fervent Duolingo beginner. The best point of contact to find out more is Ros Eveleigh on 07818 038 031.
Ros Eveleigh, Blandford
December was a delight!
I just had to write and say thank you and WELL DONE for the December issue. The article on the clean boot hunt was eye-opening. I’ll admit, I saw the images first and – stunning though they were – I was ENRAGED. How dare you?
I read on, ready to be further inflamed, and instead was met with humour, pragmatic sense, and a way to thoroughly enjoy the sight of a pack of hounds and riders in mustard coats again.
I didn’t know Frederick Treves’ relationship to Dorset, the CPRE’s column (always interesting) was an excellent essay on a common sense approach to housing and planning, and the local history is always a delight (though I do miss Roger Guttridge). I found some great presents for a couple of tricky-to-buy-fors, the photography was as wonderful as it always is, the quiz was fun, and please tell Heather Brown her Boxing Day Leftovers sandwich was as delicious as promised.
Where else can you find a magazine of such quality, entirely for free? We’re blessed to have you.
Marion Stone, Wimborne.
(Thank you Marion. And we miss Roger very much too – Ed)
Then & Now mistake
I’m writing to let you know that you have an error in Barry Cuff’s Then & Now this month. I believe the building shown on the postcard is, in fact, the New Ox Inn – just a few doors down from the Old Ox, but definitely a different building!
Stuart Taylor, Blandford
(You’re completely correct Stuart – you’re not the only one to write and tell me, and we caused quite a flurry of conversation on Facebook. Hands up, that one’s on me! – Ed)