Catkins in the snow - Alnus incana 'Aurea.'
Well, that was a nice break from the snow! Two mild days in a row - my goodness we are being spoilt!
Prettiest thing in our garden - well, the only pretty thing - is the Gold Leaved, Grey Alder, Alnus incana 'Aurea' pictured above. The gold in the summer foliage is so subtle as to be almost undetectable but the beauty of the tree lies in its winter contrasts - the startling red of the catkins, the warm coppery parchment hue of the young bark and the dark fruit clusters which resemble miniature pine cones.
The rest of the garden is dead, apart from a primrose which rashly produced a flower, under the snow, to be ahead of the game after the melt, I expect.
Tuesday was a jolly day. I was asked to take part in a carol concert at Oakham, in aid of the NSPCC - odd, isn't it that animals, via the RSPCA, enjoy Royal Patronage whereas children do not?
The evening was a rollicking success and great fun. I was asked to 'do a reading' along with hip and thigh expert Rosemary Conley, an utterly charming young antique called Lars Tharp who is something to do with an Old People's Road Show, a delightful QC and several other sparkly TV people.
My reading was from Elizabeth Goudge's Towers in the Mist, an historical novel about Elizabethan Oxford limbering up for Christmas Eve. Ms Conley gave us a heartbreaking passage from Vera Brittain's superb autobiography Testament of Youth and Lars treated us to a gloriously hyberbolic load of old balderdash about the hard winter of 1708-9 relayed by Virginia Woolf in her batty book Orlando. We had a bit of Adrian Mole, in whom I never really believed - though I'd rather not tell you why – and a delightful piece about a small Jewish boy enjoying an illicit taste of Christmas, despite his parents stern disapproval.
And, apart from those Twelve blasted Days which palls horribly after rather more than 60 Christmases, we sang and had sung to us some lovely music.
The choir was small but beautifully precise and tonally pretty much on the button. And there was - oh rapture! - a brass band. Brass bands sound deliciously fruity, in church acoustics, and this one was proved to be the aural equivalent of a Carmen Miranda hat.
We readers had to don Dinner Jackets - Rutland always did have ideas above its station - and I have to say that the aforementioned sparkly TV ladies had made themselves magnificently glamorous.
The concert was utterly exhausting, though, not because of having read in a pulpit, but from leaping up and sitting down as the audience sang those Twelve Bloody Days antiphonally, in four sections - or was it five? We were supposed to jump to our feet every time the line in our verse was sung. My hip went on strike, just before the Five golden rings, so I sat down and stayed put, looking, no doubt, like a moody spoilsport.
Afterwards we repaired, for drinks and 'ot canapés, to Oakham Castle which is not a castle at all but a magnificent mediaeval hall, built in the 12th Century. The interior has wonderful Romanesque arches and interesting decorations, not least of which is a collection of enough horseshoes to equip a cavalry regiment. But another example of the contrariness of Rutland folk is their insisting on fixing their horseshoes to the walls upside down, so that all the luck runs out.
One other thing:
I've come to the conclusion that I'm so hopelessly out of touch with the Zeitgeist that there's no chance whatever of getting into the swing of anything. I failed to see any of the flying Widdies, on Strictly Go Ballroom and must have been absolutely the last to hear of the cast changes on Gardeners' World.
There has also been talk of something called an X Factor and a God-like creature – or at least an omniscient one – called, I believe, Simon Cowell. I haven't seen sneer or hide of him on television, or indeed, in reality, but I did see something that appeared to represent him, once, on The Simpsons. He - or someone like him - was depicted as a superior educationalist, I seem to recall. His comeuppance arrived in the form of a double punch to the hooter by our hero, Homer S.
The Simpsons is, as anyone with a brain cell knows, the most thought-provoking and subtly scripted drama ever produced on TV. I watch it daily, as a kind of mental exercise, before gearing up for the evening. You have to pay close attention, to get all the anarchic gags, and no one will ever come to terms with Marge's bizarre hairdo or Lisa's terrifying intellect.
Quite accidentally, this week, I also found also myself watching a TV programme called Come, Dine With Me which seems to be about people who dress extremely badly and then behave atrociously at other people's dinner parties. Then, when their turn comes, they proceed to give the Dinner Party from Hell.
On the programme I watched, the climax - or nadir - happened when a youthful and uncharacteristically active, semi-albino python defecated smack in the middle of the table before the guests had tasted their dessert. Nice!
This week's film was Ying Xiong (Hero) directed by Yimou Zhang. It's an action adventure about ancient Chinese war lords, but strikingly beautifully shot. The most memorable scene takes place in autumnal woodland, actually shot in Mongolia, where the leaves turn gloriously yellow. Frustratingly, it wasn't possible to identify the trees but boy, were they lovely!
I'm listening to Drink to Me Only, arranged by Roger Quilter, sung by David Wilson-Johnson and accompanied by David Owen Norris.
On Saturday Morning at 2.10 am I woke to discover that our house was on fire. Picture and story to follow.