Friday, 22 January 2016

In the bleak midwinter

Boxing Day in the Black Rock in Wakefield

Everlasting bond of fellowship

In the parky January days it’s comforting to remember the gatherings over Christmas – on Boxing Day, Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. “Thy friendship makes us fresh,” wrote Shakespeare in the first of his Henry VI plays.

Christmas Eve with the Lancelot-Barr-Grady Brigade

Hot ice and wondrous strange snow

It was equally thrilling in the past week to have a couple of days with astonishing ice displays and snow effects. Crystal shards and heaps of snow painting blades of grass, decorating bare branches, enclosing frosty canals. Made a change from floods (see Year of the Flood blog here.) A few months from now (all being well) we will enjoy short sleeves and vitamin D, but currently it’s invigorating to tread gingerly on the frozen footpaths, slippery towpaths, icy highways and bitterly-cold byways.
Top two pictures by Harriet

Red blood reigns in the winter’s pale

In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Autolycus sings about the mysteries of nature, how even in the depths of winter, blood pumps through the veins (“Red blood reigns in the winter’s pale.”) Bulbs sprout through snow. The depths of winter contain the promise of spring. “What is six winters?” asks John of Gaunt in Richard II. “They are quickly gone.”

Frosty wind made moan

My (joint) favourite Christmas carol is the Holst setting of Christina Rossetti’s In the Bleak Midwinter. (My other  favourite is God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.) I don’t know why In the Bleak Midwinter gets me so much: is it the tune? Or the fact that Rossetti is in my top five poets of all time? Or the final punchline in answer to the last verse’s question “What can I give Him?” – “Give my heart.”

Giving My Heart

This is my 18th month “retired from” teaching and at the turn of the year (Christmas/New Year) it’s a good time to look back and ponder. Since being retired I’ve noticed how much easier it is to tune in to other people without the distracting white noise of work, jobs, lists, tasks, schedules, phone calls, emails, annoyances, irritations, crises, plans, timetables, marking, deadlines…. How do teachers do it? How did I ever do it? I truly madly deeply don’t believe I could do it today – or tomorrow. I don’t understand how I managed to do it for 32 years. I see my career now as a period of near-insanity. I can’t decide whether this is a natural feeling common to all retired teachers, a stage of retirement-grief, or a transfer of guilty feelings about how much energy, time and attention teaching stole from me. I know, though, that it feels good to have reclaimed my heart and brain and soul and begin the process of  “seeing” again. Seeing family. Seeing friends. Seeing winter and imagining the promise of spring.