‘There is no such thing as darkness; only a failure to see.’
At the beginning of a new year most of us will make some kind of resolution, whether it to be healthier, thinner, happier, or all three. The festive season is followed by a leaner more reflective time when the glitter and tinsel are safely packed away for another year and sales slash the gifts we saved up to buy a month before. Everything feels a bit flat as the days are still short and Spring seems a long way off.
So how we approach this time will help us progress through the cold months with a positive attitude. If we tell ourselves that almost everything is the same, just the earth is just a bit darker than normal, then we can more than muddle through.
My Auntie Rose celebrated her birthday on January 19th sharing it with Edgar Alan Poe and it was apparently the feast day of King Canute – she was full of information!
Being one of the most positive people I’ve ever met, she also delighted in eccentricity. I’m forever thankful that she helped to shape my early years growing up in Consett.
In the darkest days of January – as every other month of the year – she cooked and looked after everyone else, always putting their needs before her own. And on the nearest Saturday to her birthday she religiously made a party tea to rejoice in being alive.
I remember one time in 1963 when the snow was packed solid and we had to shovel our way out of our front door in Alexandra Street, we happily cleared the path in anticipation of tucking into home made apple pie and Carnation milk later on in the day.
I recall watching her carefully preparing the Birthday food in the kitchen next to a roaring coal fire – set and lit by my Uncle Pat – while listening to Radio Four.
She always listened to Radio Four on her red Roberts’s radio which sat close to her, and seemed to be constantly dusted with flour as she worked alongside it.
My Uncle Pat and Michael usually spent Saturdays sitting in the living room, watching sport on a television perched on spindly legs made to look like part of the furniture. Their shift off from the steelworks meant they could indulge themselves by following the horse racing and putting a quick bet on in the little shop next to The Demi.
Meanwhile I was quite happy listening to her stories as she let me sprinkle sugar over the milk brushed pie before she popped it in the ancient oven.
Her party teas always consisted of ham and pease pudding sandwiches, sliced malt loaf laden with thick butter, savoury duck and polony which my Dad and Uncles liked – but I could never work out what they were made of – and battenburg cake which was my least favourite. But the signature apple pie was worth waiting for. And there was always the last of the mince pies to use up as they were selling them off in Value Stores.
She had painstakingly starched a white linen cloth and I helped her lay the table. Out of the sideboard she retrieved the pink teapot with gold edging and the little milk jug with a matching pattern while setting out the china cups, saucers and the plates. She made the ordinary feel magical and quoted from Alice in Wonderland as we worked.
‘Twinkle twinkle little bat how I wonder what you’re at, Up above the world’s you fly, like a tea tray in the sky’. This always makes me smile!
The family had bought her Nat King Cole’s album for her birthday and she was thrilled we both got a mention on the back cover, as he had recorded ‘Ramblin’ Rose’ and ‘Sweet Lorraine’.
As well as being there for everyone, she educated herself by constantly reading and keeping up with current affairs. There were always copies of ‘The Guardian’ and the ‘New Statesman’ lying close to her. And her favourite person to quote was Malcolm Muggeridge.
Always there to encourage one’s individuality one of her favourites of his was:
‘Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.’