Other Christmases I recall were those I spent as a child in London. We lived in an old Victorian house in St John's Wood. It had so much rising damp, I thought it was normal that we redecorated our basement every year to disguise the mouldy patches crawling up the walls. Imagine my surprise when later I discovered that only our house seemed to need this kind of regular smooshing! It was also cold and drafty and central heating was unheard of then, but fortunately we had coal fires in most of the rooms. At Christmas, we would have a massive Christmas tree in the hall, and the paper chains we used to make were hanging in every room. We always went to midnight mass in the centre of London too. There were churches where the services were just glorious with magnificent choirs and organ music. I remember loving these Christmas services, even when I was small. They were quite magical and very exciting when you were about eight and out so late.
Then there were Christmases in the west country, in the large and hopelessly impractical house my parents bought on the Dorset, Devon and Somerset borders. It was even draftier than the London house, and we rattled around in its voluminous space, but we all loved the oversized rabbit warren of rooms and wings it consisted of. Again, we had a huge Christmas tree in the hall that we ritually decked with all manner of baubles and homemade decorations every year. The house was really much too big and the ceilings too high for paper chains, but we did our best. We used to go to midnight mass there too - at our own church but also to the carol service at the village church. Breakfast after midnight mass was baked ham with homemade bread and jam we'd also made ourselves from the blackberries in the summer months, or marmalade my mother made from Seville oranges. We had no TV then, so we would play card games and roast chestnuts in the open fireplace. It was really lovely. I hated leaving London at first, but once I got used to living in the country, I was completely smitten.
|The Ténacité at Anderlecht|
But what about Christmas on my barge? That has been another kind of magic. I won't say much about Christmas on the Vereeniging here as it's part of my new book, Harbour Ways, and I don't want to spoil it for possible readers. Still, there was another boat, the Ténacité, in another place - Belgium. I'll be writing about this too later on, but I can say at least something about it here. Some of you already know that for three years, I had a barge at a place called Anderlecht just outside Brussels. I've mentioned it in blog posts before, but what I haven't written about is the Christmas when we took the Ténacité to Clabecq in Wallonia - a Christmas I will always remember with fondness.
|The towpath at Clabecq|
|Scruffy but homely. The living area of the Ténacité|
There was a boating community on the canal between Brussels and Charleroi just past the lock at Lembeek and we knew a few of the people who lived there, so we slotted ourselves in between them for a few days to spend Christmas on our barge, in the country. It snowed while we were there and we went for long walks in the woods or along the towpath, I painted (pictures this time and not boats) and wrote. We made our own bread, and generally lived as I've always wanted to - on the water, but out in the country. We even went to a new year's party on one of the boats. There were no fireworks, there was no Wifi, there was no trite TV - there was just peace, snow, the rocking of the barge as the commercials sped past and a real feeling of a still winter's world at Christmas. I sold the Ténacité in 2006 for reasons I've also mentioned before. I still regret having to part with it as it was a lovely homely barge that gave us some wonderful times and treasured trips, but luckily the memories don't fade (in fact they probably get a bit brighter and shinier over time if I'm honest), and these are something I can always keep.
|Another view of the Ténacité interior with my paintings on the wall|