Christmases of Yore

Natural History Museum, London, at Christmas, 1981

Natural History Museum, London, at Christmas, 1981

This rather dark and blurry photo may look like the interior of some European cathedral, but in fact it’s the foyer of the Natural History Museum in London. I took the photo during my first Christmas in London, while a student there in 1981.

On the right, you can just see the dark outline of part of the huge Diplodocus skeleton (Dippy) that was a permanent fixture in the museum’s foyer in those days. You would be unlikely to see such a thing in any church!

Unlike most students, I didn’t go home to my family during the Christmas break from university, but instead stayed in the student dorms (paying rent, of course), and worked as a Sales Assistant at Selfridges on Oxford Street. (During Christmas of 1982, I worked at Harrods, but I found Selfridges to be the better employer.)

I knew that, if I were to go back to my home town of Scarborough for the Christmas break, my only employment opportunity was likely to be as a waiter at one of the town’s hotels. While still at Scarborough Sixth Form College, and then after returning from my first term at Warwick University, I’d worked as a waiter at the Red Lea Hotel over Christmas, and that was not pleasant work. The pay was very low and the hours were unsociable. Not only that, but, since I didn’t own a car, I had to walk there and back, or wait in the cold for infrequent buses. Working in London, at Selfridges, was considerably pleasanter, and I was able to take the relatively cozy London Underground tube between my lodgings and my work.

In the Thick of It

At that age, I really enjoyed spending the Christmas holiday in bustling London, where it felt like it was “all happening”. In retrospect, I must admit that I just remember the place as being noisy, dirty, cold, and dangerous, but I didn’t mind all that at the time.

It really was quite dangerous. There was always the threat of an IRA bomb (which did actually happen outside Harrods in December 1983). Apart from that, simply negotiating the traffic could be hazardous, as I discovered one evening when leaving Selfridges. As I was crossing Oxford Street, the heel of one of my shoes broke, causing me to fall backwards. My head landed only about six inches from the wheel of a passing taxi.

I also took the photo below during Christmas 1981, showing traffic crawling along near Piccadilly Circus.

Traffic in Piccadilly, London, Christmas 1981

Traffic in Piccadilly, London, Christmas 1981

Looking at this photo again now, I can almost hear the noise and smell the diesel fumes!

My reflections in this article should not be mistaken for nostalgia. Although I preferred Christmas in London to Christmas in Scarborough, I don’t miss those days! The Yuletide season for me now, here in California, is much happier than it ever was in Britain.

Our Yuletide Cards are On the Way

 

Sonoma Winter Birds

Sonoma Winter Birds

All our Yuletide cards are on the way to their recipients, as of Wednesday.

This year’s cover design is called Sonoma Winter Birds, and features a Cedar Waxwing and an American Robin. I took inspiration for the design from something that’s a common sight in our area at this time of year. Wherever there are trees with berries, we see mixed flocks of waxwings and robins descending to feast on the fruit.

The painting was produced with ink and watercolor. For the robin’s breast, I used Japanese-made vermilion sumi ink, which provides a strong festive highlight for the image (and happens to be just about the correct shade of orange-red!).

Robins for Christmas?

In a previous post, about a year ago, I discussed the popularity of Eurasian Robins in Britain, as a seasonal icon on Christmas cards and other holiday decorations. Apparently, that tradition is limited only to Britain, and doesn’t extend to other European countries.

When I was discussing the design of this year’s card with Mary, she pointed out that, in the more northerly parts of North America, some robins migrate south for Winter, and are thus less likely to be seen in the seasonal landscape. In those areas, some people even look out for the “first robin of Spring”, although the idea that there are no robins around in Winter seems to be a myth, according to this article.

Here, in more southerly climes, our resident robins not only stick around for Winter, but the numbers may actually increase, because of birds migrating from the north. Their behavior also changes, presumably because of variations in the food supply. During the warmer months, robins forage alone, or at least not in organized flocks. It’s only in Winter that they travel together with birds of their own species and other species.

QR Code Link

This year, for the first time, I included on the card a QR code that, when scanned, takes you to a landing page in this blog (https://davidohodgson.com/yuletide-letter-2017/). We’ve always included a printed copy of our letter with the cards we send, and sometimes people ask for a PDF version of that. Now, people can just navigate to the online letter, and print a version for themselves in PDF, or any other format, if they wish.

Of course, to scan the QR code, you need a scanner app for your smartphone (or similar device with a camera). There are many such apps available free, and I’m not recommending any particular one here. However, the app I use in my Android devices is the Kaspersky Labs scanner:

https://usa.kaspersky.com/qr-scanner

A nice feature of the Kaspersky app is that it warns you if a QR code is malicious, which is always a risk, because the web address to which the code points is not human-readable.

Our New Production Plan Succeeded

Following the card production problems that arose last year, Mary and I agreed on a new “division of labor” for the various tasks. I’m pleased to say that the new arrangements seem to have worked very well, with the unplanned result that we’ve been able to send out the cards earlier than ever before.

We also avoided the atmosphere of “last-minute panic” that has sometimes accompanied the task on previous occasions!

Yuletide “Backup” Artwork for 2017

 

Waxwings & Berries

Waxwings & Berries

The picture above is not the artwork for our 2017 Yuletide card, although our cards just arrived back from the printer yesterday, and I’ll be sharing the actual artwork for that as soon as we send out the cards (which I hope will be during this week).

When I began working on a painting for this year’s card, I was painfully aware that the possibilities for messing it up were rife. (In fact, that’s one major advantage of creating artwork digitally instead of via conventional methods; with digital artwork you can always hit Undo!) When working on a conventional painting, it only takes one slip of the brush, or perhaps one drop of spilled coffee, and the whole project is ruined.

Therefore, I decided to create a simpler piece of “backup artwork”, which I could use for the card if some disaster befell the main painting. Thus I created the vaguely “Charley Harper” style design shown above, using Corel Draw.

Fortunately, I didn’t mess up the main watercolor artwork, so I didn’t need to substitute this design. Nonetheless, I realized that I could easily adapt it for use as a decoration for our return address labels, so that’s what I did.

I mentioned on another page that I had decided to stop producing “Asian New Year” designs for the return address labels of our cards, because the time taken to do that detracted from the creation of the card itself. Thus, things worked out well for me this year!

Thanksgiving in Sonoma

Sonoma Plaza at Sunset, Thanksgiving 2017

Sonoma Plaza at Sunset, Thanksgiving 2017

Following up from the previous post, we did indeed have Thanksgiving dinner at the El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma Plaza. As the photo above shows, there was a beautiful sunset, which was a little surprising, since it had been overcast earlier in the day, with a few drops of rain.

As shown below, El Dorado Hotel is largely back to normal following last month’s disastrous fires, and has a large banner outside thanking the first responders to the disaster (as do many other buildings).

El Dorado Hotel & Kitchen, Sonoma

El Dorado Hotel & Kitchen, Sonoma

Our meal at the hotel did not disappoint. Everything was delicious, and the portions were so generous that Mary and I both came away with “doggie bags”, which will provide further meals today. (In fact, they should have been called “kittie bags”, because our cats were treated to some leftover turkey when we got back home!)

The holiday lights in the Plaza had been formally switched on the previous weekend, and, as usual, most of the trees are lit, including the large palm tree at the South end of the square.

Palm Tree at Sunset, in Sonoma Plaza

Palm Tree at Sunset, in Sonoma Plaza

Happy Thanksgiving!

Autumnal Vineyard, Occidental Road

Autumnal Vineyard, Occidental Road

The photo above, which I took yesterday afternoon, shows autumn-shaded vines by the side of Occidental Road.

Today is Thanksgiving in the USA, so we wish everyone a happy holiday. If you’re not in the US, then this probably isn’t a holiday for you, but enjoy your day anyway! (When I lived in the UK, nobody even thought about Thanksgiving. However, since I left 30 years ago, it seems that my birth country has adopted some commercial aspects of the US holiday, such as Black Friday.)

As we did last year, Mary and I plan to have our Thanksgiving dinner in Sonoma. We’re looking forward to it, in anticipation that it will be just as excellent as last year’s feast!

Sonoma Plaza at Thanksgiving

Sonoma Plaza at Thanksgiving

Although I won’t be working for the remainder of the week, I do expect to be busy… working on this year’s Yuletide card design.

The weather here today is clear, dry and pleasant, but apparently Southern California is expecting temperatures in the nineties! Whatever the weather is like where you are, enjoy your holiday!

Autumn Then & Now

 

Autumn in Hackness, Yorkshire, 1966

Autumn in Hackness, Yorkshire, 1966

My father took the color transparency above, in Hackness, Yorkshire, during one Autumn in the mid-1960s. It’s a good example of an annual event that we always looked forward to: the “Turning of the Leaves” on deciduous trees. In the photograph, you can see my mother and my brother strolling through “Autumn’s golden gown” on the right.

Growing up in England, the onset of each Autumn brought a variety of both welcome and unwelcome events.

The school year always started in September, and, given that I always hated school, that was definitely not a joyous event. On the other hand, when I was at Primary School, our teachers would often organize some kind of Harvest Festival celebration, which I did enjoy. Given that the North Riding of Yorkshire had a heavily agriculture-dependent economy, harvest time was far from being just a symbolic event.

While out in the countryside admiring the foliage colors, we also quite often stopped to pick wild blackberries (brambles) from roadside hedges, where berries were in abundant free supply. It was also sometimes possible to find and pick bilberries in similar locations. I participated in that, but I must admit that I enjoyed the results much more than the actual task! The traffic levels on country roads in those days were generally light, so it was usually no problem to pull the car over to the side of the road wherever we spotted some fruit, as shown below, where my father had parked our Humber Super Snipe to let my mother sample some likely-looking brambles.

Picking Blackberries in Hackness, 1966

Picking Blackberries in Hackness, 1966

Other autumnal events that I welcomed with glee included Guy Fawkes Night (aka Bonfire Night) each 5th November. At that time, Guy Fawkes was the only regular event in Britain at which fireworks were let off (the tradition of fireworks at New Year didn’t start until much later). Fireworks were sold to the general public because, given the damp climate and the time of year, there was little fire danger.

I also looked forward to the arrival of the Winter Catalogues. In those days there were few large stores in or near Scarborough, so my mother did much of her shopping via mail-order “catalogues”, such as Kays, Grattans or John Moores. There were two editions of each catalogue each year: for Summer and Winter. I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Winter editions in September or October, because those editions included larger selections of toys, and I had Christmas and a birthday coming up for which to make my choices (or at least to dream about them!).

Excerpt from Grattan Catalogue, 1966

Excerpt from Grattan Catalogue, 1966

The image above is part of a page from the Winter 1966-67 Grattan catalogue. The pre-decimal prices shown are explained in my previous post: Old Money.

Fall in California Wine Country

The seasons in California are less pronounced than in England, but we do have noticeable autumnal changes.

A Laughlin Road Vineyard, Sonoma County

A Laughlin Road Vineyard, Sonoma County

I took the photograph above last weekend of a vineyard at Laughlin Road, Santa Rosa, just near Sonoma County Airport.

Unlike similar species in Britain, California native oaks are “live”, meaning that they do not shed their leaves during the winter (as shown in the photo). Nonetheless, the leaves of the (non-native) vines do change color, and you can just see that process beginning in the photo above.

Once the leaves have changed color, they tend to stay on the trees longer in California than in Britain (probably because California is less windy). The photograph below was taken in Moraga a few years ago, in mid-December. (The photograph is marred only by the bus stop sign in the foreground!)

Autumn Leaves in Moraga

Autumn Leaves in Moraga

I plan to write further posts about Autumn in California, as the season progresses.

Mount Fuji: The Right Place at the Right Moment

Sunset on Mount Fuji, Japan, November 2007

Sunset on Mount Fuji, Japan, November 2007

I took this photograph of the sun setting on Mount Fuji as we were flying towards Osaka, in November 2007.

Looking back on my life, there have been several occasions where something happened to me that was simply the result of being “in the right place at the right time”. These occurrences were not the result of any great skill or prescience on my part. This photograph was one such instance.

As a Flight Attendant, my wife Mary typically worked flights to Japan, and occasionally I was able to accompany her on those flights. For me, it was a short vacation to a fascinating place.

Mary elected to work a flight to Osaka over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2007, and I went with her. We spent an enjoyable few days there and avoided all the travel hassles in the USA.

As we were approaching Osaka to land, the sun was setting. I happened to look out of the airplane window, and saw the view in the photograph above. It was hazy, but the low rays of the sun were just breaking through and catching the top of the volcano. I’ve never seen Mount Fuji like that again!

Toji Temple, Kyoto, 2007

Toji Temple, Kyoto, 2007

During our stay in Osaka on that occasion, we made a special journey to the grounds of Toji Temple, Kyoto, to visit a flea market. Mary wanted to buy a bead from Japanese beadmaker Akiko Isono, who had a regular stall at the market, and that was exactly what she did.