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12/24/2014 Archived Entry: "Christmas and New Year message"

With Christmas is almost upon us, with all its well-known traditions and celebrations but maybe not so familiar are the traditions and symbolism surrounding the New Year festivities. The start of another year is associated with new beginnings accompanied by a high degree of hopefulness along with a desire for beneficial change. This has long been the situation in different cultures and in different parts of our own country.
It may be of interest that New Year’s Day has not always fallen on January 1st. Until 1792 – fairly recently by some standards – New Year’s Day fell on March 25 and was known as Lady Day, its full title being “The feast of the Annunciation of Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary”. It was the start of the new legal year, and the time when landlords required payment from tenants and when new tenancies were agreed.
At New Year, most of us nurse our own ambitions along the route of self-fulfilment and happiness whilst senior citizens like Rhoda and I can recognize the future in our children and grandchildren – and ours are fulfilling those hopes.
After taking up a 2-year tennis scholarship at Lafayette University in Louisiana, our eldest grandchild, Eleanor (now 21 and daughter of Janet, our eldest daughter) is back in England studying Psychology at Newcastle University and playing tennis for the university; her sister, Anna, (19) is also at Newcastle University studying Genetics and is a member of the University badminton team.
Their brother Angus won a tennis scholarship to Millfield School in Somerset at the age of 14 and now, at 17, was recently ranked No.14 in the National Under-18 tennis players. Their youngest sibling, Isobel, is proving a gifted athlete excelling in running.
In my youngest daughter Sarah’s family, our eldest grandson, Oliver (18) is at Saxion University in Enschede in Holland doing a computer course, with special emphasis on web design. His two younger brothers are waiting in the wings whilst studying for their exams at secondary school, with one showing a keen interest in the theatre. Their mum, Sarah, is now working as a freelance editor and keeps me on track! In fact she published Benedict’s Brother under the banner of Coppice Publishing. Her latest publication is Julie Wilson’s ‘37 Legal Ways to slash thousands off your Inheritance Tax Bill’, available from Amazon.
Our middle daughter, Patricia (author of Benedict’s Brother) is still working on her film of the book but it is proving a very slow process; she now lives in Christchurch, Dorset, where most of her professional contacts live or work. And our son, Andrew, continues his calling as a Buddhist monk in his hilltop monastery at Harnham near Newcastle-on-Tyne and has helped tremendously in my research into the Stiepeltekens of Enschede in Holland (check my web site to find out what they are all about!).
For me it has been a busy year trying to cope with changes in the world of publishing and, of course, I am helped enormously by Rhoda who understands the world of computers better than I. My latest book, Confessions at Maddleskirk Abbey is due out in the spring.
We managed a lovely autumn break in Suffolk, staying at Aldburgh on the coast and visiting the incredible nature reserve at Minsmere, famed for its nesting avocets. We also managed to find a food fair at The Maltings, Snape, long known for its association with the composer Benjamin Britten. From the bird watching aspect, the chances of seeing a rare Dartford Warbler proved productive when we visited Dunwich Heath, one of its few nesting sites, with Sizewell Atomic Power Station in the background.
Southwold was intriguing, especially when we saw five little egrets wading in a small lake among a tourist development and at nearby Walberswick I was intrigued to find a mensa-slab let into the wooden communion table in the ancient church. A mensa-slab is a portable altar stone, identified by five X marks – one at each corner and one in the centre, thus forming another X mark which is the abbreviated image of the Five Wounds of Christ, otherwise the cross of St Andrew, or a saltire.
Overall we found the lack of high coastal cliffs quite remarkable and somewhat disconcerting, the beaches often comprising deep rolls of pebbles which seemed all there was to prevent the sea from encroaching inland.
Fortified by our short break, we are now settling down to the challenges of another new year as we watch our grandchildren make their own way in the world.
Rhoda and I wish everyone a very happy Christmas and contented New Year.

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