It’s funny how sometimes something as functional and as mundane as a trifle bowl can suddenly take on a whole new meaning and just make you pause and think.
Like most families, trifle has been a staple part of any gatherings over a number of years. Both our parents – well our dads to be honest – and other members of the family (Nick Hunt we mean you) love it, and even when birthday cakes and other desserts were on offer, somewhere on the table you could always find trifle in some form or another.
And there were plenty of forms too. Some with jelly, some without, sherry or not? And what about blancmange? And then what fruit do you put in – a straight forward strawberry only recipe or a fruit cocktail - but what about the sponge – ladies fingers or chopped up swiss roll? Talk about difficult choices!
But whatever your preference it needs a receptacle. Something to serve this magnificent concoction in.
Step forward the trifle bowl.
We’re not sure when trifle bowls changed in design. If you Google trifle bowl these days the vast majority are plain glass affairs, no doubt functional but lacking in any sense of glamour and grandeur.
We’re lucky in that we have inherited our grandparents’ trifle bowls – great hefty, substantial, cut-glass beasts that you feel like you could be there for hours filling up with ingredients. Viv has had hers for a good number of years and this year after we lost dad, mum passed on her mum’s bowl, the trifle bowl of choice in my family for decades, which we used this year on our Christmas table.
Now you’re probably wondering what on earth this is about. But just think about this for a minute. That trifle dish that we used on our family table in 2018 is being used for the exact same purpose it was bought for all those years ago. It hasn’t been altered in any way. It will have been handled by generations of our family. Think of the conversations, the fun, the jokes and good times that it will have been privy to just sat there on a table surrounded by people. After use my grandma will have washed it and no doubt my grandad will have probably been relaxing, stomach full, his pipe either lit or busy preparing it, tapping in his tobacco.
It may be a humble piece of glass and may only be used every so often but there’s not that many things around in our house that are still going strong after such a long time of use. And one too with such strong physical connections to those we have known and loved and now sadly no longer with us as well as those who passed before we were born and never knew….
So to finish this little seasonal meander through our families' histories a quick timelapse piece showing off Grandma's trifle bowl with what it was designed for.
Christmas is a time for families, a time for friends, but isn’t it mostly a time for children?
The look on a baby’s face the first time they see the tree lights switched on and the screams the first time they are plonked on Santa’s knee – just remember children, don’t talk to strangers! The years when money was tight when wrapping up much needed bedding, underwear and items so very kindly passed on from friends and family just to give your children that pile of presents. The wait on Christmas Eve for them to finally fall asleep so you can go next door and retrieve that new bike secretly stashed in your neighbours’ garage – the bike you ‘put away’ 12 months ago and paid off each week when you dreamed of teaching them to ride it the following year. Trying not to make too much noise when you’re filling their home-made sack with the presents so carefully chosen and ensuring Santa will find his home-made marzipan sweets and drink of milk when he pops in later.
Christmas Eve has always been and still is our favourite night of the whole year. The traditional family afternoon of silly games and ridiculous food – we never eat chicken vol au vents or brandy snaps at any other time – a Christmas film before bed in our new pyjamas, cuddles on the couch, tracking Santa on the NORAD site and watching the skies for signs (Is it the ISS passing over or was that really Santa?) And then that hour of perfect peace when the kids both eventually fell asleep and we sat with a glass of wine, listening to Christmas music, enjoying the lights on the tree and the anticipation of the day ahead – even sometimes peeling potatoes and sprouts to save time!
Sadly, those days have long disappeared into lovely memories as they both grew up and left home. Presents becoming smaller each year– smaller and more expensive – the time spent together over the Christmas period is shrinking and no need to make Santa his marzipan sweets anymore.
So, what should we do? Home alone again its hard to remember how Christmas was before the kids arrived. What did we do on Christmas Eve back in the late 80’s? Danced the night away in the iconic Wigan Pier, paid extortionate prices to get a taxi at 2am – always double fares after midnight! Then try your hardest not to fall asleep at your Mum and Dads the next day! We probably won’t be going back to that!
We may be over 50 but you will find us both trudging round in the field to pick our own Christmas tree, find the man to cut it down and just hope we don’t lose each other in the midst of all the trees! We still go out in the street to meet and greet the Rotary Club Santa raising money by visiting the area. We open our advent calendars every day and look forward to spending time with the ‘grown ups’. We find time to celebrate the birth of Christ, although we no longer have a cake with candles for him and the days of singing Happy Birthday Jesus have long gone…
And whilst we may not have small children at home to share the Christmas magic with us, that won’t stop us from embracing the season and ensuring our own family traditions continue if somewhat differently. Christmas Eve remains an afternoon of silliness although as our parents age the concentration needed for some of the games has led us to revert to such delights as ‘blowing the sprout up the turkeys bum’, ‘passing the bomb’ and even ‘snowball fights’. We make Santa’s marzipan sweets, but gift them to Grandie; have an afternoon of Nanna, Mum and daughter baking from mince pies to chocolate logs – always making too much but having fun in the kitchen together. We get in each other’s way as we all try to set the table, find the crackers, serve the food. The bottles of pop, which were a real luxury when we were small, are always hidden ‘behind the couch’ following the tradition set by my parents many, many years ago. We have Christmas Eve boxes filled with our matching home-made pyjamas and slippers, take multitudes of photographs and share what becomes very precious times as everyone grows older.
We may not have our "grown ups" at home, but we have the pleasure of their company on our favourite day of the year. This year, like many, many other families we find ourselves one person missing. One less person on the shopping list of presents, one less name to write on a card, the person who appreciated the badly decorated home-made Christmas cake each year more than any other person, no longer here to enjoy it. We expect there to be tears and sadness, but we will be together and appreciate much more strongly the time we share with each other no matter how small that is.
Christmas is a time for families, a time for friends and yes a time for children. It's also a constant in so many of our lives, a seasonal yardstick by which we measure our lives and those of our nearest and dearest - for memories past and for many more still to be made.
It’s a bit of an odd season isn’t it? First off, it’s dominated by Christmas and New Year celebrations right at the start - we’re traditionalists who see 21st December as being the proper start of winter not this meteorological season 1st of the month stuff. Then once January starts everyone’s in a rush to get to spring, lighter nights, warmer weather and, basically, everyone can’t wait to see the back of it.
We can’t really think of any other season that provokes that attitude. “Spring gah! Wish it was summer” said no-one ever.
Bit sad isn’t it?
So here’s to winter and why it’s just as special – probably more so than some of the other seasons and times of the year.
Ok so it’s cold – maybe not as cold as we may remember – but in addition to snow and ice you can also, on the same day, get glorious cloud-free, crystal clear, blue skies and sunshine. Plays havoc with your white balance and exposure, but can create some unique photos. Ok, so the glorious autumn foliage is only there …in autumn and bluebells in spring, but snow and ice is, well snow and ice!
2.DARK MORNINGS AND EARLY NIGHTS
Picture the scene – midsummer and you fancy a sunrise picture – 4.00am anyone? Or midwinter and you could still be tucked up in bed at 7.00am and still make it in time. Likewise sunsets – we’ve still been out in parts of the country gone way past 10.30pm in summer – or you could be enjoying a full on sunset at 4.00pm – not handy on a work day it has to be said, but at weekend…perfect!
Christmas – time to practice your bokeh with twinkly lights, candles and tinsel. Christmas markets – always great for street photography especially when they haven’t fully opened and it’s been raining – perfect. New Years Eve and fireworks – this actually seems to be bigger (and louder) than bonfire night now - especially at 3 in the morning!
Harsh winters aren’t great lets be honest but some bad weather can be good in offering some unique opportunities to photograph wildlife that you normally wouldn't be able to. Just as we have summer migrants – swallows, warblers etc we also have winter migrants as well and in some years if conditions are right we get great influxes or irruptions of certain species that can usually be difficult to see. Last year huge numbers of Hawfinches “invaded” the UK driven west after crop failures on their usual wintering grounds in Germany - one flock alone at Castle Howard in Yorkshire held up to 100 birds. Waxwings are always another such species, a couple of years ago we even had a flock of a dozen or so of these enigmatic visitors turn up just around the corner from home part of a massive nationwide irruption numbering several thousand birds.
Plus don’t forget the familiar garden birds that all need food as well as the magnificent geese and swans that have migrated south to the UK plus the famous but increasingly rare Starling mumurations – only at winter!
Ok so daylight is in short supply but what a perfect time to get the fire on, grab a brew (or something stronger), do some tidying up of your photos, get around to looking at some forgotten stuff, look back on the past year (or maybe forget it) and start to plan ahead.
Ahh winter and why you should be as loved as much as all the other times of year despite you throwing all sorts of stuff at us! Sliding across sheet ice in a car isn’t the top of most people's to-do list, but, taken with care and proper clothing there’s no better feeling than being the first to walk through a familiar landscape that’s been magically transformed by an overnight snowfall.
Beat that spring, summer and autumn!
Life and other