Friday 26 December 2014

IS(S) That Really Santa?

No rest for the girls on the 25th.
The boys at the International Space Station must have thought that all their birthdays had come at once in (British Isles) PR terms. They managed to get the beast to fly over Ireland and the UK not once but twice in full view of the excited Christmas Eve, Santa-obsessed children at a perfect time in the evening. For those who have not kept up to date on this project, the ISS is still 'up there' 16 years after the first bits were 'launched' (via a shuttle), all estimated $100 bn of it and is now 98% complete with just a couple more bits of laboratory to be banged up (this time in a Russian rocket). It 'flies' round in the lowest possible orbit, 242 miles above the earth (modern commercial long-haul jets fly at about 40,000 feet, or 7 and a half miles but in a series of loops like the wires on a balloon whisk, tracking a bit further north over 'you' at each pass. It takes about 92 minutes to orbit.

The geese survive to see their own Christmas Dinner of
spent sprout plants. 
It is so big (356 feet 'wide' and (soon) 240 feet long, roughly football pitch size) and it is made of shiny metal so it reflects so much sunlight back at the earth that, when it is there, it is the brightest "star" in the sky and it moves across the whole sky in 4 minutes or so, so it is moving as visibly 'fast' as a commercial jet, dead easy to spot even by the smallest 'Santa spotter'. With superb timing and by complete coincidence, it would be visible high in the sky at 5:20 pm on a clear, cloudless Christmas Eve night (!), going from SW, pretty much straight over, and then pass over again at 2 minutes to 7, lower in the sky. Parents everywhere were taking their kids out to show them 'Santa' flying past once to check up on them and warning them that he'd be back in 92 minutes to check they were all in bed. He's making a list, he's checking it TWICE. Excellent. We 'grown ups' were out there too, with a glass of wine watching both passes and raising our glasses - we two are in awe of this technology and knowing that it "is us up there". Fair play to them.

Comfy PJs for the 'duvet' days. 
Well, no obsessions and over-excited kiddies for us; we had a nice quiet relaxing Christmas planned and that is what we achieved, but I'm not about to bore you with all the details; you will probably have done your own thing and once was enough. We were sensibly restrained, though, in the event, with no obligation to eat more or drink more than we wanted to (nothing to prove, nobody urging us to take seconds or manage just one more drink, No forced jollity and certainly no games). I did get Shanghai'd by Bob, mind, who pounced on me when I was out with the dogs and forced me to drink a glass of Whiskey. Rough job this 'being neighbourly' but someone has to do it!

Tígín and the house from the back I nice inviting plume of
 smoke promises a toasty warm Living Room. 
Even our main meal was not the 'obligatory' turkey or goose (the geese were delighted!) - we did a baked gammon/ham with new potatoes and a mix of greens (yes, sprouts did feature); there was no starter and pud was our homemade Christmas Pud with just double cream ( I can't abide brandy-butter). Even our "Christmas Movie" was the not-very-seasonal 'Casablanca' with Bogart, Bergman and Paul Henreid. We turn the internet off for the whole day, adopting the Silverwood's policy of actually talking to each other! I know. We lit fires at both ends of the house, so the place was toasty warm. Very relaxing. Just what was needed.

Geriatric bunnies Ginny and Padfoot get whole carrots with
the leaves still on for Christmas. A firm favourite - they eat the
leaves first. 
Boxing Day (they call it 'St Stephen's Day' here, or more unusually "Stephens's Day" as if the guy was Mr Stephens already with an 's' on the end) was equally relaxing and unplanned, no visitors and no visits out. We'd done the 'in' visit earlier week with The Airy Fox and we are not due down to Silverwoods for a day or so. We woke up to a heavy fall of big wet snow flakes, but no laid snow. We wandered along to our friend and little aul' lady, Una and were plied with excellent home made mince pies and porter-cake (porter as in Guinness), 'tay' and brandy. We nipped out for milk and bread; Una did not need any shopping. I then walked the dogs along in the other direction and got Shanghai'd by Bob again (only tea this time).

A goodly selection of excellent books.
This time he asked me had we "seen any Wren-boys?" (he says 'Wran'); at that stage we hadn't but this reminded me of the Wren Boy tradition locally which I have, I am sure, described before. The local children would dress up as Mummers in straw costumes and parade round with a wren in a cage, demanding money and treats with menaces lest they kill the bird. I think, though the rhyme that Bob told me sounds like the intent was quite opposite

"Up with the kettle and down with the pan / now give us a penny to bury the 'Wran'! "

Mid-bake, the gammon joint gets its skin sliced off, the fat
cut into diamonds and dredged in brown sugar. A clove is
pressed into each 'diamond' and then it is back into the oven
for another 25 minutes.
These days of course, the wren is a protected species and anyway, the children are a lot less murderous (we hope!) so the kids come round ready to sing or play music for their donations. They don't seem to do the dressing up, either. Bob had had two lads who "played the mouth organ" to him. As I type this we have just been visited by a young lass being driven round in a car. She had on a Santa hat and played us a tune on a penny whistle. It was not that sure-footed a rendition and we think we heard strains of 'She is handsome, she is pretty' in it, but we clapped her vigorously and dropped a stack of Euro coins into her fist. She declined the Clementines. So, we have now officially been "Wran-boy'd" all be it by the female of the species

The newly planted daffs by the drive are starting to emerge. 
The incoming gifts this year included a nice healthy stack of excellent books (Thank you all concerned - we will be thanking you properly, of course!) with a good leaning towards food growing and cooking as well as a toehold into my 'new interest' of exploring history. It is only Boxing Day, so I've not done much more than open and flick through most of them, but I have delved into 'Gubbeen' and am very impressed. The 'Gubbeen' here is the famous artisan cheese which comes from the farm and dairy in Co. Cork, way down almost on Mizzen Head by the Fastnet Lighthouse. The 'team/family' there farm dairy cows and outdoor pigs as well as running a kitchen garden and all four main characters have contributed to the book. Hence there are sections by the main farmer and cattle-man, the pig products and smoke-house charcutier (who also makes kitchen and butcher knives), the wife who is also the main cheese-maker and the kitchen gardener and herb grower. As well as covering all these subjects (which fascinate me anyway), the farming and production is done in as sustainable and chemical-free way as practicable/possible - soil fertility has always been mainly by collecting sea-weed from the rocky shores; the kitchen garden is run on 'bio-dynamic' lines. I thoroughly recommend it if that's the kind of thing that floats your boat.

Muddy parsnips, dug for the 'day that's in it'.
Meanwhile, I hope you all continue to enjoy your Christmas and the run in to the New Year. Ahh, the Haggis.

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