Twelfth Night is a movable feast

Our Christmas decorations were put away on Twelfth Night, 6th January. Christmas cards were taken down, messages re-read and then all put into a couple of bags to be taken to Sainsbury’s recycling box.

Removing everything from the Christmas tree took longer. After so many Christmases, every item has meaning, from the little glass bell bought in Germany decades ago, to the crocheted red hearts from a Swedish friend long ago.

Friends in Australia sent the Christmassy little kangaroo and koala that are hung on the tree each year. There are also shiny, ultra-thin glass ornaments that date from my childhood, as well as a simple paper decoration made by an old neighbour.

Everything has its own story, and it lives for 11 months in special boxes which are then carefully placed in a large bag before being stowed in a cupboard until the next December.

The whole process is rather sad: Christmas is over and done for another year.

It was a surprise, therefore, to see the Christmas trees, nativity scene and papier mâché angels still in their places on 13th January in Salisbury Cathedral when a friend and I visited.

Afterwards I did a little research and discovered that, if you follow the church calendar, you can display your decorations until the Feast of Epiphany which is a week later than Twelfth Night.

Perhaps I should do that in future and stay surrounded by our pretty things for a little longer.

There are no sentimental stories attached to the Brussels sprouts on this tree.

Salisbury Cathedral’s nativity scene the evening before epiphany.


When Mary Berry came to town

Mary Berry pictured with her assistant, Lucy Young, in Salisbury.

WHEN this photo appeared on my computer slideshow I realised that I had taken it exactly 12 years ago.

Mary Berry and her long-serving assistant, Lucy Young, came to give a demonstration in the studio at Waitrose in Salisbury on 30 November 2005, and as far as I know that was the last time they visited this part of the county.

Since then, the legendary Mary has seen her career take off once more. Thanks to the BBC’s Great British Bake Off, her professional wisdom has been shown to a new generation of cooks and would-be cooks. A well-established television cook and writer of dozens of cook books over several decades, she had reached an age when she could have been forgiven if she’d declined the invitation to co-host the show.

So thank you, Mary, we salute you for proving that age need not be a barrier to success.

Nature goes its own sweet way

A self-sown sunflower that appeared from nowhere.

THE first photograph (above) shows a successful and wonderful sunflower, sown by a passing bird, which had nothing to do with The Happy Moonraker. There was no question of choosing the right position for it, no careful sowing of the sunflower seed, no watering, nothing. Just watching as this mysterious plant began to outstrip the neighbouring French beans in the vegetable plot. Easy gardening with a great result.

Carefully sown nasturtiums succumbing to a fatal problem, and no, it was not lack of water.

There is a moral somewhere because the window boxes of nasturtiums produced such a dreadful crop (above), in spite of all the care lavished on them.

A neighbour’s nasturtiums doing what they are supposed to do.

My neighbour, however, who claims just to have chucked the seeds into his brick tub, has the most amazing crop of flowers (above) that have lasted and lasted, and have made their way up and along from their original spot.

How can two attempts at growing nasturtiums just 100 yards apart produce such radically different results? It’s enough to make me abandon gardening altogether.

Oliver’s Burghley triumph

Oliver Townend, winner at last week’s Burghley Horse Trials, on Ballaghmor Class, is seen here riding ODT Secret Spy at Somerley nine years ago.

ANOTHER of Britain’s top three-day eventers has further distinguished himself. Oliver Townend and his new horse, Ballaghmor Class, have clinched the championship title at Burghley Horse Trials.

Not to be outdone, The Happy Moonraker was pleased to be able to trawl through the archive and find this photo of Oliver taken at Somerley Horse Trials back in 2008.

Interestingly, Oliver’s Burghley mount, a grey, is only ten years old which is comparatively young to have had such a good win. They always used to say that a grey horse was either very good or very bad and this one is obviously one of the former.

Before the championships at Burghley, Oliver was quoted as saying that Ballaghmor Class was the best horse he had ever ridden so that says a lot about his judgement. He has previously had great success on two other outstanding greys, Flint Curtis (Badminton winner in 2009) and Carousel Quest (Burghley also in 2009).

A golden prize for hard work

Kristina Cook (on Star Witness) is pictured at Somerley Horse Trials five years ago. She was a member of the gold-medal winning British team at the European Championships at the weekend when riding Billy the Red.

IT was great to read that the British eventing team won gold at the European championships in Strzegom, Poland, at the weekend. The last time a British team managed to do this was in 2009 when the competition was held in France. British rider Nicola Wilson and her horse Bulana also took individual bronze this time.

The Happy Moonraker is a fan of eventing, the ultimate test of horse and rider, and it is heartening to see all that hard work paying off. So many things have to go right on the day that to clinch team gold is a huge tribute to the dedication of all those involved, not just the talented horses and riders that we see competing.


Ever thought of getting married?

ANOTHER windy, soggy Saturday passed and I felt sorry for people who were getting married in such terrible conditions. Ruined shoes, mud-spattered dresses and everyone scurrying for shelter. I was reminded of something I had written years ago. It was not about wet Saturdays but it was about weddings.

Tilly the terrier seems a little overwhelmed by this lovely wedding dress at Brides By Victoria in Salisbury.

RUN away to Gretna Green and there is very little to plan.

Or go to your travel agent and get married somewhere exotic. The hotel will even lend you a wedding dress.

The more usual option, though, is to indulge every fantasy you have ever had and marry at home.

Choosing the dress, the venue, the flowers, the colour theme, deciding on caterers, how much to spend on gifts for bridesmaids, favours for guests, working out who should sit where, whether to be married in church or have a civil ceremony, are all questions calculated to test your tact and diplomacy.

Opt for a big wedding and your guests will love you for the trouble you have taken to ensure their day goes as smoothly as yours. From making sure there is enough parking for everyone, to ensuring there is access to loos for those who have driven hundreds of miles to be with you on your big day, your careful planning makes all the difference between “another wretched wedding we had to go to” and “that fantastic wedding we enjoyed so much.”

A friend was a guest at five weddings last year. “All my friends’ children seemed to be taking the plunge,” she says. “But by the third wedding my husband had had enough and I practically had to drag him to the last two.

“He objected to all the hanging around and the cheap sherry, and I found myself criticising examples of bad planning, like nowhere to put our coats at the reception, and no escape from the deafening disco. I feel like quite an expert now, but unfortunately neither of my daughters is even thinking about getting married.”

Like her, we’ve all experienced the trials of being a wedding guest. Whether we’ve suffered from having to sit for three hours at the reception next to someone who has no small-talk skill (and believe me, it is a skill) or we’ve suffered because we chose the wrong clothes, the feelings of disappointment are the same. We can only blame ourselves if we choose to wear tight clothes and uncomfortable shoes, but it is hardly the guests’ fault when photography sessions last for hours while they have to wait around, either in a howling gale or in blazing sunshine with no shade available. It’s not our fault that the best man loses his speech and has succumbed to temptation and had too much champagne too early in the proceedings.

Draughty churches, walking a mile-and-a-half along a muddy lane from the car to the reception, not enough food to go round, and other examples of poor planning stick in the memory. There’s a lot of truth in the old adage: “Cut your coat according to your cloth.” It serves as a gentle reminder not to be over ambitious. A modest wedding organised within your budget can be just as enjoyable as a huge affair. It all boils down to paying attention to the details.

Goodwill is there in bucket-loads, in the hearts of the happy couple’s old school-friends, colleagues, feuding family members who’ve buried the hatchet for the occasion, among the sedentary and slightly confused grandmas and hyper-active and uninhibited small children.

But don’t push your luck. If you want your wedding to be remembered as the happiest and most smooth-running of the year, it takes effort and planning and dozens of lists. On one of your lists must be a detail like warning everyone living nearby if you are planning a long, loud, late post-wedding shindig. It may seem a small matter when compared to whether you’ve chosen the right shade of eye-shadow, but it pays to keep the neighbours on side if they can’t all be invited.

Of course there will be disagreements in the run-up to the big day, and tempers will fray when estimated costs start to escalate and Dad says “no more”, but smooth over the cracks and everything will be fine.

Bossy mothers, sulking bridesmaids, and printers who don’t know the meaning of words like “design” and “deadline” are all part of the fun.

There are wedding magazines, wedding fairs and advice columns, and they will provide you with ideas that you can adopt or reject. The mental image of wedding photographs taken outside a beautiful stately home may be tempting, or a country club setting may be more your style. If you have a garden big enough for a marquee all the better.

The best weddings are often achieved with the aid of professionals. Wedding planners can remove an awful lot of the time-consuming, stressful, nail-biting anxiety from the whole process. They’ve done it all before, they are aware of the pitfalls, they are good at calming last-minute nerves and they know which way to turn if there is a problem.

And no matter how much sympathy you feel for the poor beleaguered bridegroom who just thought he and his beloved would tie the knot quietly in a low-key civil ceremony, spare a thought for the bride who has dreamed of a big white wedding since she was a bridesmaid at the age of six.

It’s probably not worth arguing about it. For better or worse.


Time for a snooze

Tilly the terrier shows her exhaustion after a car journey.

MUCH as she loves a car trip, Tilly finds the whole business of navigating extremely tiring.

There are all those pedestrians and motorcyclists to be warned away, as well as a couple of long walks when she reaches her destination.

A 60-mile journey combined with interesting walks with dozens of new smells to investigate mean that she has to concentrate on recovering when she reaches home.

She is not interested in birdsong, whereas the Happy Moonraker is enjoying the sound of swallows and martins since their return from Africa for the summer months.

While she was dozing, Tilly completely missed the fox as it strolled through the bluebells outside the kitchen. This is another through-the-glass photo.