On Christmas Eve

It’s been a whirlwind of a day. Ravine walks, extracting gremlins from electronic monstrosities, eleventh hour wrapping and shortbread baking…it goes on. The annual watch of The Blue Carbuncle featured somewhere. Christmas Eve is always crammed with stuff, and this year is no exception.

Sneaking in at the end of it is our final blog write up for this year’s calendar. It’s a black tea we know well, called Santa’s Secret. It blends peppermint and black tea, and for our money is the best of these ‘sweet’ teas. It’s sweet, and has a real extravagant, desert-quality feel to it, but it isn’t saccharine, either. The mint sits comfortably with the black tea and they keep each other in check, the perfect balance of strong and long in the mouth. This is how to reinvent tea well.

We also reiterate the other day’s recantation. We stand by the fact that this calendar’s balance is skewered bizarrely, but there do seem to be nearly equal parts herbal and non-herbal teas. It’s just that all the variety came at the beginning and the end, making for a few very unbalanced weeks of tea drinking. It’s good to know the calendar can still do variety.

Here to close out the year is a carol that purports to be by Walter Scott. We say that; there are lines of this that we know for a fact belong in Marmion. There are other lines that we’re fairly sure Shaw added in because he liked them. Oh, the joys of carols, eh? THere’s a reason no one ever seems to be able to agree on both lyrics and tune, and why we each of us think ours is right.

Merry Christmas
Adapted from Walter Scott

On Christmas Eve the bells were run,
On Christmas Eve the mass was sung;
The damsel don’t her kirtle sheen,
The hall was dress’d with holly green;
Forth to the wood the merry men go
To gather in the mistletoe;

Then drink to the holly berry,
With hey down, hey own derry!
The mistletoe we’ll pledge also
And at Christmas all be merry,
At Christmas all be merry!

The fire with well dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide;
Then come the merry masquers in,
And carols roared with blithesome din.

England is merry England,
When Old Christmas brings his ports again
Then drink to the holly berry, etc

We wanted to find you a vocal arrangement to go with it, but luck was not on our side. And while, theoretically we’re not averse to singing it into this particular monstrosity for you, it’s late and all residents not Miss Marschallin would be objected by the lack of consideration. But if you happen to know of a favourite version, point us towards us or send us a link.

Until then, Happy Christmas from us, Miss Marschallin and the Dawlish Dachshunds!

Advent IV: Prose and Christmas Cake

This last stint of Advent is sponsored by Spontaneous Congregant Participation, ensuring you never know what you’ll be asked to do next! A special mention to the Wheely Donkey Manufacturers, keeping Sunday Schools everywhere in clean, reliable, portable donkeys for every occasion, forever and ever, world without end, amen.

To start with,we recant. Today’s black tea makes for 9 non-herbal teas out of 24, and even if the next two join the herbal ranks, that’s still a better balance than we were anticipating. There weren’t enough oolongs, but there are never enough oolongs.

Anyway, today’s tea is Satsuma Spice Cake, a foursome name that purports to be packed full of sweet caramelised citrus. Think Christmas Cake in a cup. N.B. There’s some fierce competition here, because Kusmi Tea does a black tea blend that really is Christmas Cake in a cup and it’s a staple of our tea cupboard. It has a very different taste, though. While Kusmi’s tea is a sturdy black blend with cloves, spices and the odd bit of caramelised orange, this is much sweeter.

We happen to quite like it. The satsuma comes through strongly, and it’s probably the use of satsuma rather than garden variety orange that adds an extra burst of sweetness. There is some additive sugar, but it’s largely there to bring out existing flavours. Of course, as we say, it does add a bit of extra sweetness, and Christmas cake puritans will probably prefer Kusmi’s Christmas Tea blend. It’s darker, subtler and without the sweeter.

But sweetness have been the harmonising note throughout this calendar. The tisanes use stevia, this black tea uses sugar. Still others had candy cane or marshmallow outright. With the exception of the marshmallows, we mostly enjoyed it, but we do gently suggest that sometimes tea is allowed to just be tea. Add the orange peel and the caramelised bits and bobs by all means, but it doesn’t have to be sweet. It can be tart, or tannin-heavy, or potently gingery; the variety is partly what brings us tea-drinkers back, especially to Advent Calendars like this. One of our favourite teas remains a daring blend of almond and liquorice root in oolong; it smelled awful but it brewed the loveliest cup of tea. We were sorry when it was discontinued.

Coming back to Satsuma Spice, though, and talking of taste, it’s that rare tea that doesn’t grow bitter with steeping. Anyone who’s ever left a black tea alone too long or not rescued a tea infuser from an oolong or jasmine in time will appreciate this. Here the satsuma sufficiently overwhelms the tannin that it keeps the tea pleasantly citrusy. And the stronger it gets, the more it tastes of Christmas cake and less of additive. Indeed, as we sit here taking our notes, it is shaping up to be a lovely tea. We may yet go tea shopping in the New Year.

Here’s a nice, long poem to read while it steeps. No Christmas Cake, but gingerbread houses get a mention. If you’ve ever attempted one you’ll appreciate the frustration they can generate – more than just cause for begetting poetry.

Advent
Mary Jo Salter

Wind whistling, as it does
in winter, and I think

nothing of it until

it snaps a shutter off
her bedroom window, spins

it over the roof and down

to crash on the deck in back,
like something out of Oz.

We look up, stunned—then glad

to be safe and have a story,
characters in a fable

we only half-believe.

Look, in my surprise
I somehow split a wall,

the last one in the house

we’re making of gingerbread.
We’ll have to improvise:

prop the two halves forward

like an open double door
and with a tube of icing
cement them to the floor.
Five days until Christmas,
and the house cannot be closed.

When she peers into the cold

interior we’ve exposed,
she half-expects to find

three magi in the manger,

a mother and her child.
She half-expects to read

on tablets of gingerbread

a line or two of Scripture,
as she has every morning

inside a dated shutter

on her Advent calendar.
She takes it from the mantel

and coaxes one fingertip

under the perforation,
as if her future hinges
on not tearing off the flap
under which a thumbnail picture
by Raphael or Giorgione,

Hans Memling or David

of apses, niches, archways,
cradles a smaller scene

of a mother and her child,

of the lidded jewel-box
of Mary’s downcast eyes.

Flee into Egypt, cries

the angel of the Lord
to Joseph in a dream,
for Herod will seek the young
child to destroy him. While
she works to tile the roof

with shingled peppermints,

I wash my sugared hands
and step out to the deck

to lug the shutter in,

a page torn from a book
still blank for the two of us,
a mother and her child.

Our Christmas tradition is Christmas cake, not gingerbread houses, and personally, we’re sticking to it. We’ve done both and while the cake dough takes two to mix, it begets far fewer tears. Trust us on this one.

We’ll leave you this Advent IV with the Advent Prose. Somehow our church never gets to them sooner, and coming from a background where we opened the Advent season with them, we’re perplexed by the choice every year. Three times is a tradition etc cetera, ad infinitum.

 

Z is for Zest, Ginger and Spice!

Rejoice! This week in Advent is sponsored by the Doors Wide Open Policy; we leave your doors open and watch as all the heat exits them pursued by shivering congregants! Coming to a church near you sharpish. It’s doing double duty with the perennial classic O Antiphons Inc, and honestly, what is it about high Anglicanism in Canada that vetoes all sequencing hymns not heavily mired in plainchant. Other churches can and do use other stuff – we’ve sung at them. Lots. Finally, there’s an honourable mention to Canadian-Grade Winter Coats, guaranteed to keep you warm whether you face subarctic weather or a failure in the central heating system. They’re marketing a new line in choral cassocks, so conductors, take note.

Okay, so church was freezing.  And the doors were inexplicably open, and the heating system was (as ever as per the end of Advent) protesting the apocalypse or something. Also, the sermon was meandering and underwhelming but since we aren’t in the business of outperforming the priest with sermons, we try not to cast that stone. Besides, the the rose vestments were out, the music was good, and the tea at the Agape was hot. (It isn’t always, cf last Christmas morning. We suspect it was a ploy to get shot of us.)

Today’s tea is another rooibos. It’s called Super Ginger and bills itself as being spicy, sweet, and comforting. We don’t know about sweet – has anyone ever labelled ginger sweet ? – but we’ll vouch for the other two.

Mind, if you don’t like ginger, there’s no salvaging this tea for you. We do, and we think that it’s the perfect compliment to the already zingy rooibos. There’s not really a lot to dissect with this one though, because it does what it says on the tin. It’s gingery in spades. Did our diatribe about the spontaneous inclusion of raisins get through to someone? We’re adding it to the list of things to rejoice about anyway.

And while we do that, here’s a poem for your Gaudete Sunday. It’s fun, playful, and irreverent. As ginger and zing go, you don’t do much better than Chesterton’s wit as displayed here.

Variations of an Air 
G.K. Chesterton

Composed on Having to Appear in a Pageant as Old King Cole

Old King Cole was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe,
He called for his bowl,
And he called for his fiddlers three.

after Lord Tennyson

Cole, that unwearied prince of Colchester,
Growing more gay with age and with long days
Deeper in laughter and desire of life
As that Virginian climber on our walls
Flames scarlet with the fading of the year;
Called for his wassail and that other weed
Virginian also, from the western woods
Where English Raleigh checked the boast of Spain,
And lighting joy with joy, and piling up
Pleasure as crown for pleasure, bade me bring
Those three, the minstrels whose emblazoned coats
Shone with the oyster-shells of Colchester;
And these three played, and playing grew more fain
Of mirth and music; till the heathen came
And the King slept beside the northern sea.

after Swinburne

In the time of old sin without sadness
And golden with wastage of gold
Like the gods that grow old in their gladness
Was the king that was glad, growing old:
And with sound of loud lyres from his palace
The voice of his oracles spoke,
And the lips that were red from his chalice
Were splendid with smoke.

When the weed was as flame for a token
And the wine was as blood for a sign;
And upheld in his hands and unbroken
The fountains of fire and of wine.
And a song without speech, without singer,
Stung the soul of a thousand in three
As the flesh of the earth has to sting her,
The soul of the sea.

after Robert Browning

Who smoke-snorts toasts o’ My Lady Nicotine,
Kicks stuffing out of Pussyfoot, bids his trio
Stick up their Stradivarii (that’s the plural
Or near enough, my fatheads; nimium
Vicina Cremonce; that’s a bit too near.)
Is there some stockfish fails to understand?
Catch hold o’ the notion, bellow and blurt back “Cole”?
Must I bawl lessons from a horn-book, howl,
Cat-call the cat-gut “fiddles”? Fiddlesticks!

after W.B. Yeats

Of an old King in a story
From the grey sea-folk I have heard
Whose heart was no more broken
Than the wings of a bird.

As soon as the moon was silver
And the thin stars began,
He took his pipe and his tankard,
Like an old peasant man.

And three tall shadows were with him
And came at his command;
And played before him for ever
The fiddles of fairyland.

And he died in the young summer
Of the world’s desire;
Before our hearts were broken
Like sticks in a fire.

after Walt Whitman

Me clairvoyant,
Me conscious of you, old camarado,
Needing no telescope, lorgnette, field-glass, opera-glass, myopic pince-nez,
Me piercing two thousand years with eye naked and not ashamed;
The crown cannot hide you from me,
Musty old feudal-heraldic trappings cannot hide you from me,
I perceive that you drink.
(I am drinking with you. I am as drunk as you are.)
I see you are inhaling tobacco, puffing, smoking, spitting
(I do not object to your spitting),
You prophetic of American largeness,
You anticipating the broad masculine manners of these States;
I see in you also there are movements, tremors, tears, desire for the melodious,
I salute your three violinists, endlessly making vibrations,
Rigid, relentless, capable of going on for ever;
They play my accompaniment; but I shall take no notice of any accompaniment;
I myself am a complete orchestra.
So long.

There’s nothing like a good literary joke, is there? Spare a thought for it next time the Doors Wide Open Policy and failing heating systems get a hold of your church. But if that doesn’t work for you, we’ll leave you with our pet Gaudete Sunday Anthem. Enjoy! And rejoice greatly!

Dance the Hours Away

Tonight our local social group for the RCSDS (that’s the Royal Scottish Country Dancing Society to the unfamiliar) hosts its 40th anniversary celebration. Clearly it’s a bit of a week for parties. Strictly speaking, we’re imperfect dancers with wobbly timing, but it’s our Christmas send-off before the ball, so we’ll be going and, as is writ in The Dashing White Sergeant, we’ll dance the night away.

In preparation we’ve made up a pot of today’s tea. Remember we said there were herbals we were partial to? This is one of them. It’s called Caramel Shortbread and given our affinity for Millionaire’s Shortbread, this is a combination of things that was always going to go well. It smells strongly of caramel, and while the colour never gets dark, it shouldn’t, being herbal. And unlike other tisanes this calendar has had us trial, it comes to a healthy strength in decent time. Better still, the caramel gives it a nice taste, and infills some of the grounding you would typically get from a more full-bodied tea. It blends nicely with the raisins and apples, and really does taste surprisingly like Millionaire’s Shortbread in a cup. This is no bad thing.

But soon we’ll be off dancing, where it’s fairly good odds someone has actually made up Millionaire’s Shortbread for the occasion. (The RSCDS here is terribly proud of its roots.) And talking of occasions, here’s one of Pat Batt’s wee poetical gems about dancing. Here’s hoping our evening turns out better than her speaker’s! Mind you, since Scottish Country Dance is the elegant cousin to the ceilidh, that’s a pretty conservative bet. Especially since we’ve never met friendlier people.

The Ceilidh
Pat Batt, 1992

I’m supposed to run a Ceilidh
For our next St. Andrew’s night –
But I’m in a deep depression
For the future’s far from bright.Our gallant Demonstration Team
Is now reduced to five –
Fiona’s in Australia
And Ann’s run off with Clive.

John could do a sword dance
Or perhaps a Highland Fling –
But he will do it in trousers,
Which isn’t quite the thing.

And Ian plays the bagpipes –
He plays them fairly well –
But always full fortissimo,
And indoors that’s sheer Hell!

Mrs Gertrude Macintosh –
Our President’s close friend –
She’s bound to play that waltz in C
That never seems to end.

The vicar’s daughters – Faith and Hope
Are keen to do a turn –
They’ve started ballet classes
And they’ve got a lot to learn!

Their mother plays the cello
And makes a nasty sound
Whilst her offspring, like young kangaroos
Leap round – and round – and round.

And that woman who does monologues
(She looks a bit like me) –
There’s no way you can stop her
As far as I can see.

They say it’s only jolly fun –
It’s more than I can bear,
And the only way to dodge it
Is to make sure I’m elsewhere.

I know – I’ll join the navy
Seasick and homesick daily –
I might loathe every minute,
But at least I’ll miss the Ceilidh!

 

N.B. We happen to love a good ceilidh. In fact, in missing them we stumbled into the RSCDS thinking they were the same. They are not. But we tell you what; she’s not wrong about indoor bagpipes!

Advent II: The Record of John

Advent II is all about John, the record of, crying on Jordan’s banks, etc, etc. Or it is as per our music schedule today. Though we have it on good authority that week two of Advent is actually sponsored by Frobisher Bay; the only winter-adjacent folksong about whaling to go masquerading as a Christmas carol this afternoon. (They’re working on a better tag line.) Note, we’re not complaining. We have great affection for Frobisher Bay, beloved of the St Andrews Madrigal Group forever and ever, world without end. Amen. Or it was when we were attending their concerts.

If you don’t know what we’re nattering at you about, you’re in for a treat. You can listen below, and we envy you hearing it for the first time!

 

 

On the subject of real treats, the calendar gave us one today in the shape of Cream of Earl Grey. We aren’t wild fans of garden variety Earl Grey (it tastes of soap!) but we love this particular blend. It’s creamier and smoother than ordinary Earl Grey and there’s less bergamot. A bit of milk can bring out the creaminess, but we like it black to better luxuriate in the flavours of the tea. We’ve even stockpiled a bit extra for breakfast tomorrow, we like it that much.

But we said today was all about John, and notionally, it is. As per certain schools of thought, each Advent Candle gets a designated theme, and Advent II is almost always John (three is almost always Mary, unless you have deferred John until Gaudete Sunday – but that gets complicated fast). We don’t do candles over on Huron St but we do do good music, and today’s lot included an old favourite that gets nicely reduced to nonsense here.

We’ve said before all good faith needs a bit of levity mixed in, so here’s On Jordan’s Banks the Baptist Cries….with emendations.

On Jordan’s Bank, the Baptists cry.
If I was Baptist, so would I,
They drink no beer, they have no fun,
I’m glad that I’m an Anglican.

This is what choristers resort to when they are made to sing multiple Advent carol services, nine lessons and late masses, if you were curious. And lest you worry we discriminate, this is coming to you from a teetotal Anglo-Catholic, so it’s odds on that somewhere there are indeed gin-drinking, fun-loving baptists. We hazard we even know one or two.

But from the ridiculous to the sublime, here’s a pet Advent Anthem to leave you with. It, too, is about John, and is our go-to example of what you miss out on if you only play Christmas music through December.

 

Nicholas v Arius…and also Cats. Again

St Nicholas Day used to find us baking Bishop’s Bread as recommended by one Judy Plum of Silver Bush. Today found us instead editing a treatise on visions and the nature of the soul for a client. It was a long essay and suddenly we looked up and it was late afternoon, so we forwent baking and had tea instead. We’d earned it.

Today’s tea was Silken Dragon Pearls, which is surely posh enough to send the price of this calendar skyrocketing. It brews a beautiful floral green tea though. It’s made from jasmine, is long in the mouth and has a wonderful smooth texture to it; the silk in the name is fairly won. Like any good jasmine, though, it makes for a pot you do have to watch if you don’t want it to turn bitter. We pulled the infuser out about five minutes in, but mileage may vary on that one. Understand, we grew up on breakfast blends, so never did get the taste for really strong green teas. We like ours somewhere in the middle, and if you get the measure of this one right, its a lovely, indulgent cup of tea.

As we’ve previously lamented, it’s nigh impossible to find good poetry about St Nicholas, because it’s all twee and weirdly saccharine, unless you really, really want The Night Before Christmas. But we tend to think the fun of that one is the illustrations you get with it in various compilations.

Instead, we’ll wrap up the accidental feline three-beat we’ve got going with a poem we alluded to at the start of the month. Miss Marschallin disapproves, because the title strongly hints that the cat comes to a sticky end, but it’s still good poetry.

Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfish
Thomas Gray

Twas on a lofty vase’s side,
Where China’s gayest art had dyed
The azure flowers that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima, reclined,
Gazed on the lake below.

Her conscious tail her joy declared;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw; and purred applause.

Still had she gazed; but ’midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The genii of the stream;
Their scaly armour’s Tyrian hue
Through richest purple to the view
Betrayed a golden gleam.

The hapless nymph with wonder saw;
A whisker first and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretched in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
What cat’s averse to fish?

Presumptuous maid! with looks intent
Again she stretch’d, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant Fate sat by, and smiled)
The slippery verge her feet beguiled,
She tumbled headlong in.

Eight times emerging from the flood
She mewed to every watery god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No dolphin came, no Nereid stirred;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard;
A Favourite has no friend!

From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
Nor all that glisters, gold.

Here’s a nonsensical titbit for you; the poem was a favourite of a university contemporary who swore up and down Shakespeare nicked that last line from Gray. Looking at his dates, we have to disagree, but the man was unpersuadable. And for those wondering, Miss Marschallin would never drown in a bowl of goldfish. Not only do we not have them, she has minions for that kind of work. And the minions aren’t drowning either, because the Dachshunds have a healthy fear of the water.

Finally, because it’s St Nicholas Day, we’re leaving you with a bit of Britten. Here’s one of our favourites from his St Nicholas Mass. If you missed your chance to give it a listen today, there’s always tomorrow. It’s lots of fun and not overly long.

 

Didn’t I tell you it was fun? How can you resist a bishop that boxes Arius’s ears? Okay, that might just be us. Specifically it might be that essay on the nature of the soul getting to us. Still. The harmonies are excellent!

Advent IV: Music and Favourite Things

In addition to the tea Advent Calendar, we keep going about four old-fashioned calendars with doors. At this point we must know what’s behind each individual door, but we still enjoy opening them. Today’s tea was a bit like that. It’s a black tea with candy cane pieces called Santa’s Secret. We knew it featured somewhere in the calendar, but not where and when.

It’s a good black tea. We’ve used it before now as a breakfast tea stand in. And after a day running between musical functions, we needed it. There was church in the morning, and then a singing lesson, The Messiah afterwards, where we were good and resisted the muscle-memory impulse to sing the choruses. We were less good at tonight’s Nine Lessons and Carols, where we defected to the descant at Hark the Herald. On the other hand, the alto next to us was having no qualms about singing the harmony line to every verse ever, so it wasn’t just us.

For a tea that’s familiar and predictable, here’s a poem to match. It wouldn’t be Advent if we didn’t give The Darkling Thrush an airing. And besides, there’s still no one who writes winter in England like Hardy. Unless we’re missing someone, in which case, please send material our way.

The Darkling Thrush

Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.
The land’s sharp features seemed to be
      The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
      The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
      Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
      Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
      Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.

In keeping with the Hardy, here’s a bit of Holst to go with it that ought to be better known than it is. It’s Hardy-adjacent, but on the other hand, we’re tolerably sure that of all Egon Heath’s many moods, winter was one of them.

And because it’s still Advent, specifically Rorate Sunday, we’ll leave you with the Advent Prose. We would sing them on a loop through the season, if we could, but apparently that’s considered odd. So here’s a choir to do that instead.

Advent III: the Jocundity of Dachshunds

As if in proof to yesterday’s declaration that it’s not spices in tea, really, we swear on a bible, that we take objection to, today’s selection was called Gingerbread. Straight and to the point. It’s a robins packed chock full of ginger, and it smells and tastes like gingerbread in a cup. So much so that we investigated the ingredients for traces of molasses. We found none. Low on caffeine and richly flavoured, it’s a perfect evening tea. This is how you do spiced teas properly.

In other news, it’s Advent III, the Sunday when the rose vestments come out and we relax whatever Advent discipline we have going. We always think that if ever there was a day we could let the blog slip, it’s this one. But we enjoy the blog, and Gaudete Sunday happens to be our favourite. Even if we still haven’t sung Hills of the North Rejoice this season.

In perpetual embodiment of jubilation though, are the Dachshunds of Dawlish. We owe them a poem, not least because Miss Marschallin has had two this season to their none. But also, no one does unbridled joy like a Dachshund leaping around your knees. We don’t even have to do anything for it. If we look vaguely in the direction of the kitchen from three o’clock onwards, they leap in jocund fashion at the prospect of food. If you go into the kitchen any time after half three, they run in giddy circles. Open the gate to the family room and they race to see who can crush the sofa cushions fastest. It’s like being perpetually bombarded with optimism, and it’s contagious. So here’s a poem to the Dachshunds, with love and affection. We really are sorry we insisted on bathing them earlier today.

img_3077

Lost and Found

Ron Padgett

Man has lost his gods.
If he loses his dignity,
it’s all over.

I said that.

What did I mean?
First, that the belief
in divinity has almost
disappeared.

By dignity
I meant mutual
self-respect, the sense
that we have some right
to be here and that
there is value in it.
(Values are where
the gods went
when they died.)

My dog Susie doesn’t seem
to have any values, but she does
have Pat and me, gods
she gets to play with and bark at.

The Dachshunds have many values, if you’re curious. Fabulous Orange Ball is high on the list. It’s narrowly outranked by Food. Sun is crucial, and warm. We’re sort of in disgrace until the warm weather comes. But they bark anyway, because apparently part of being perpetually optimistic about the universe involves making a joyful noise unto the Lord at every possible occasion.

On which note, we’ll end with Hills of the North, just so someone sings it this year. The important thing to note here is that there are two sets of lyrics, and ours are right. Well, we think so. The people who sing the other ones probably disagree. Both are quite good in their own way though.

The Messiah, Music and Metre

We can tell Christmas is hurtling ever closer by the fact that today’s broadcast of The Hallelujah Chorus was followed immediately afterwards by I Know that My Redeemer Liveth, thus tipping the musical hand, had we not already caught on, that this was The Messiah in full. We resisted the urge to protest at the radio that it had just trespassed into Easter and that technically you can no more say ‘Hallelujah’ in Advent than you can in Lent, the liturgical year being ever symmetrical. Instead we made tea and enjoyed the music.

The tea was Chocolate Orange, which does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a black tea with essence of orange (don’t ask; we’re afraid to) and chocolate. It’s a good combination, or at any rate, we’re less likely to grouse about it than we are about other chocolate-and-tea blends. Though the strength of this one comes largely from extracting the tea infuser after the first cup. While the orange is flavourful, the chocolate and tannins conspire to drown it. It could very quickly become the kind of tea to take paint off a car if left to steep unchecked.

The Messiah on the other hand, was top-heavy, that is, biased towards the soprano, a fact which delighted us. Modern editors being what they are, no two editions can agree on who sings what when, and often include appendices. Thus we have previously sung How Beautiful are the Feet as a chorus, and it’s a good chorus too, if overlooked. We mention it only inasmuch as the all-hands-round approach is itself highly interpretive; the vocal colour a soprano brings to And the Glory of the Lord Shone all Around Them is brighter and lighter than it is in the hands of an alto, or even a tenor. Not necessarily better, but certainly different. And this was a bright, light Messiah. More like sleigh bells, say, than trumpets, and a lovely accompaniment to tea. Perfect, as it were, for rapidly-approaching Christmas.

It turns out we’re hard-pressed to find good poetry on music. It’s a tricky subject, and since describing it well is a bit like trying to catch moonlight, we’re not sure we blame the poets of the age for the omission. Instead, here’s Thomas Hardy on dancing. Taught the fiddle as a young boy, you can practically here the triplets in this piece.

The Night of the Dance

Thomas Hardy

The cold moon hangs to the sky by its horn,
And centres its gaze on me;
The stars, like eyes in reverie,
Their westering as for a while forborne,
Quiz downward curiously.

Old Robert draws the backbrand in,
The green logs steam and spit;
The half-awakened sparrows flit
From the riddled thatch; and owls begin
To whoo from the gable-slit.

Yes; far and nigh things seem to know
Sweet scenes are impending here;
That all is prepared; that the hour is near
For welcomes, fellowships, and flow
Of sally, song, and cheer;

That spigots are pulled and viols strung;
That soon will arise the sound
Of measures trod to tunes renowned;
That She will return in Love’s low tongue
My vows as we wheel around.

For more on Hardy and music, try his Fiddler of the Reels. It’s the kind of short read that will lose you an afternoon, and the descriptions of music are radiant. Just don’t, whatever you do, read it for the characters. Never read Hardy for the characters. That way madness lies.

Advent II

This afternoon we opened our Advent door to White Cranberry tea, which was really an infusion. The white turned out to be chocolate, though we only know this from an examination of the ingredients. Pour out too early and it makes for lovely, pinkish cranberry-flavoured tea. Pour out later and its darker pink, tastes more strongly of cranberry, and the chocolate still isn’t in evidence. We don’t mind, not being people who much fancy chocolate in tea. We also happen to have a taste for tart things, so the cranberry flavour agreed with us. For anyone with more of a sweet tooth, we decline to pass judgement.

Instead we lost our half-hour teatime to mulling over Advent, and why exactly we’ve spent the last week or so protesting the renaming of the Advent Calendar. We don’t do it, you understand, out of contrariness. Well, not sheer contrariness anyway. Partly we really are baffled by the idea that Advent is somehow exclusive to church-goers. Doesn’t everyone observing the season, even the ones observing in secular fashion, by counting down the days ’til Christmas?

And yet, for all that, Christmas is only part of the point to us. At the end of the day there’s a flatness to Christmas that we don’t find with other holidays. Easter is triumphant and Lent is majestic and sombre. But Advent, that four-weeks journey of counting down until Christmas, is complex. It’s Little Lent to some people, all grey and solemn. There’s a theological school of thought that says it’s apocalyptic. But it’s also the liturgical New Year. Above all those things though, it’s expectant and hopeful, and giddy with blossoming gladness. It comes into fullness at Christmas, we suppose, but to us the exciting part is really the anticipation. It’s watching for the Christ-Light, or any light, on a grey sunrise, or a three o’clock sunset, or on a monochrome winter day.

Advent to us is full of shifting light as we move ever nearer to Christmas Eve. It’s why, although the candles aren’t the most Anglican of traditions (terribly Lutheran, according to a chap at last week’s Agape) we continue to love them and all they stand for. Who doesn’t need light in the darkness? To know that however grim or bleak the hour, there may yet be something coming to buy the spirit? That’s the gist of Advent to us, the nutshell version. And why it matters so much that we’re doing something more here than the 24 Days of Tea. It’s not just about the tea and the boxes, but about what is coming, and more than that, how we get there.

After all that, here’s a well-loved bit of Yeats. Normal people remember it for it’s closing lines. We remember it for the glorious descriptions of shifting light – perfect for Advent whether you see it in rushing to a half nine choir rehearsal by Scottish sunrise, or from some comfortable Canadian fireside, or indeed, somewhere else entirely.

Aden Reaches for the Cloths of Heaven

William Butler Yeats

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Other revelations that came today included the rather eclectic one that Wake, O Wake  is excluded from the Anglican Hymnal of Canada. This dawned on us when listening for the second time in as many weeks to Wachet Auf on the organ, we went in search of the words. We’re not sure why they weren’t there, and we’re convinced we will never parse the logic of this particular hymnody compiler. In compensation, we’re sending you on your way today with the hymn for an ear worm. It’s early in Advent for it, we know, but it’s also lovely, and we’re starting to think there are a shocking number of Canadians who have been cheated of the fun of singing it. This must be rectified.