Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

Month: November 2022

“Mankind is my Business”

Free illustrations of VintageThe above title is a misquote from “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, words uttered by a miserably repentant Marley’s ghost to an intractable and very unrepentant Scrooge.

The full quotation is: “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business: charity, mercy, benevolence, forbearance. These were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the ocean of my business!”

In earthly life, Marley became far too engrossed – obsessed, even – with his own business of financial profit and the power which it brought him. How much money we earn and what expensive items we own do not define us. It is not what we are but who we are that counts, and that is usually best revealed by our actions.

Far too often we become so totally wound up in our own emotions and challenges that we forget what life is really all about – living the best life that we can whilst reaching out to all around us with love… and that includes not just humanity but all the natural world as well!

Every year, during the winter season, we are ALL reminded of this fact, regardless of our religious practices or spiritual beliefs, and given the chance to enter into practical action… lay aside our grievances, fears and prejudices, and extend the hand of hospitality and friendship. After all, it is a win-win activity because when we bring loving and giving into our hearts and our daily actions, we not only communicate good feeling to everyone around us, but we also end up feeling much better about ourselves too.

Yet, even when we do think about it, how many of us do not generously give our caring and love for fear that it will be scorned and thrown back in our faces. Rejection is a bitter blow to deal with. Is it foolhardy to persist in giving and loving when there is such danger of being so wounded, or a sign of emotional and spiritual maturity?

To quote a Christian concept, remember to always turn the other cheek… give people the benefit of the doubt… if nothing else it demonstrates that you are the stronger, more mature character, as well as being the far nicer person.
And, in the long run, it becomes a habit.

So, how will your ‘business’ flourish this Midwinter? What will you be able to enter in your columns of positive and negative this Christmas? What service can you render to others; what gift of smiles, friendship, forgiveness and love can you distribute far and wide – even to complete strangers?

No ‘humbugs’ here, dear friends!
With my love.

Free E-book: Christmas on a Shoestring: Or Survival Strategies for the Festive Season

How are we all going to survive Christmas this year and still enjoy it?

Yet, Christmas needn’t cost a fortune – you can actually get away with spending very little. Nor does Christmas have to cost us the Earth – literally – simply so that we can spend money we don’t really have on a lot of factory-produced tat whilst simultaneously bleeding the planet dry of all its natural resources.

The pandemic taught us many things. When we were suddenly not allowed to be with our family and friends – our dearest loved ones – many of us realised that this was the most important element of our Christmas… not what we eat, drink, dress or receive, but who we are with and how we feel.

So, hold that thought!

It really begins with how we look at life and appreciate – make the most of -everything that comes our way. It is founded upon how we relate to and interact with the people around us – loved ones, neighbours, strangers… Christmas is the season of peace, hospitality and goodwill to all.

Here is a little booklet which strips away all the consumerism and hype, encourages recycling and a lot less waste in a loving, joyful atmosphere of community and fun.

With alternative Advent calendars, cards, wrapping, decorations, gifts, crackers, hats, pantomimes and activities which cost little or nothing, topped by useful seasonal recipes and a simple but sumptuous Christmas Dinner for four costing less than £20, bring everyone together for a truly alternative, cost effective (cheaper!) festive celebration which they will fondly remember for many years to come.

THIS BOOKLET IS FREELY AVAILABLE ONLINE OR TO DOWNLOAD AND PRINT. To read the booklet, scroll down this page, or to download a print-ready version, please click hereTo print it out as a booklet select ‘booklet printing’ in adobe acrobat – instructions here.

It can also be purchased in paper form for the amount which it costs to print from Herbary Books.

Christmas on a Shoestring DISTRIBUTABLE

Tea In A Box

The most enjoyable occasions can arise from something completely unplanned and unexpected.

This afternoon, my husband and I had a real treat. A friend had very thoughtfully and kindly repaid our hospitality by treating us to afternoon tea in a box from the Cornish Company which arrived on our doorstep a couple of days ago.

Having baked and cooked from scratch for the past half century or so, I always really appreciate something which I haven’t had to make myself. The whole concept of everything emerging out of plastic packets is strangely novel and alien to me.

Just before four o’clock, the traditional time for afternoon tea, I filled the kettle and set it to boil on the Aga, laid a small tea cloth over the dark wood of our living room table, switched on the fairy lights which run across the mantlepiece above the stove and swath our seasonal ‘autumn branch’ in the window and began my voyage of discovery as I opened one packet after another… pale scones, little pots of fragrant strawberry preserve, crisp spicey Cornish fairing biscuits, buttery shortbread fingers, sachets of Cornish tea and – oh, joy! – a tub of Cornish clotted cream!

The water in the kettle began to chirrup and sing. I arranged everything on plates of Mason’s ‘Pink Vista’ – the crockery which we had used each and every day in my childhood home at the cottage at Drybones. I chose a red tea pot to accompany the pale red cups and once the kettle boiled, I warmed the pot and then brewed the tea aa my husband and I sat down to enjoy our treat.

There is something particularly special about a winter afternoon tea which defies definition but leaves a lasting impression… a time when the rest of the day retreats into the gathering shadows… time out of time when one can relax and let go of all the busyness which has gone before.  The light faded outside the window, cups chinked, spoons and knives clattered, voices softly undulated in intimate conversation, amber tea streamed into waiting cups and steam fleetingly billowed in the warm air.

As we talked and ate and enjoyed our lovely tea, my memory travelled back across the years to my childhood. This was the time when I would arrive home from school, often cold and wet from my mile-long walk down our lonely lane. Uniform and satchel would be discarded, hands and face washed and then my mother and I would sit close to the hearth, drink tea and eat crisp toast, hot buttered crumpets or velvety little Scotch pancakes which she cooked fresh on the planc over the fire.

While the daylight faded outside, the birds roosted and the cats and dogs found comfortable cushions and corners in which to curl up and snooze, we would light the candles (no electricity there) and encircled by dancing shadow we would share our news of the day, or my mother would read aloud to me, or – putting the tea things aside – we would make and write Christmas cards or make decorations like Christmas crackers and party hats. This was our special time, when the dinner was already left prepared and waiting to be cooked in the kitchen, the fires were all stoked and the kindling and logs brought in for the night, the outside work completed – a time to sit… to catch one’s breath… to be together… to dream.

Now, as I watched the grey twilight of the cloudy, mist-filled day fade into the deep blue of dusk, I felt again the warmth and timelessness of those precious post school hours with my parent which now populate my memories with such love and gentle peace. Again, I experience the sense of solid security of the ancient cottage walls protectively enfolding me, the warmth of the clean-swept hearth, the comfort of the joyfully dancing flames in the grate, candle light flickering on shelves of pots and winking back from shining copper pans and kettles, the tick of the clock in the shadows on the white painted wall by the polished oak chest… the scents and sounds of an old living kitchen as it gradually settled to rest through another frosty winter’s night.

Our ‘tea in a box’ had given me so much more than the transient pleasure of consuming some delicious delicacies; it had provided me with a magical key back into the past where memories of a small child ebb and flow into today; meld and blend as the woman I am now is swept away into another time and place. Surely a truly special gift!

My Little Sacred Garden

Clear skies, drying boisterous winds, temperatures above 21 degrees… it doesn’t sound much like mid-November does it? But that was what we were treated to last weekend and I grabbed the opportunity to spend Sunday afternoon out in all that glorious freedom of unexpected, unseasonal sunshine.

I spent my time working within our little stone circle, repotting our nine oak saplings which form a protective outer circle around the nine small stones within. Oak trees do not like to be disturbed or have their roots touched or damaged in any way, so I had to be very careful – or at least as careful as it is possible to be while forcibly wrestling young trees out of pots they have grown too large for and are now tight and constricting!

I sincerely hope that they are not too traumatised. The young trees have given me a huge amount of pleasure this year, from their leafy lush foliage back at Midsummer through all their autumn colours. The rustle and scent of their very presence has frequently brought a smile to my lips. Now their leaves are mostly brown and the first  are beginning to drift to the ground. One caught and stuck in my hair while I was working – a large curled paper-dry leaf, surely far too large for the tiny tree it had grown on.

Once the trees had been seen to, I planted snowdrop, daffodil and tulip bulbs around the edges of the pots so that – mice permitting – we might have spring flowers in the circle when all the rest is still a little drab.

And then it struck me… I was planting a sacred garden! In my humble opinion, all growth, all that is encompassed by the natural world, all life, is sacred for it contains that element of divine energy which is life itself… life which ultimately can never be destroyed, only change form.

Once all this was done, I then decided that I needed to do something with our tiny firepit in the centre of the circle which was just an irregular rectangle cut into the grass. I enlarged it and turned it, too, into a circle, edged with old red bricks which contrast nicely with the dark grey of the slate stones. Among these bricks are some from the living room fireplace of my old childhood home in Lancashire, providing continuity of hearth as an important focal point.

Here, where we shall sit to warm ourselves at our Midwinter fire, celebrate the return of the light half of the year at the Spring Equinox, and dance for joy at Midsummer in the full light and heat of the sun amidst the blossoms, here I lay the tentative foundations by planting seeds of new life. Tended with love, there can surely be no greater act of faith and positivity than to plant a garden, a burgeoning beautiful symbol that life continues, and that, contrary to popular belief, working in harmony and understanding, together humanity and the natural world can produce something amazing… and thrive.

A Very Happy Birthday!

As so many of you sent me emails and messages, I decided to respond with one huge  ‘Thank you!’ to you all – I did indeed have a very happy day, in part because of all the love and goodwill channelled in my direction which warmed and deeply touched me.

Late morning found my husband driving us down to one of our local garden centres… sadly, not the one I used to habitually frequent; that has become far too commercialised –  big, garish and a prime example of the rampant consumerism that I dislike with a passion. This other garden centre is further away but much smaller, more intimate and very Welsh.

Oh, joy! The place was filled with winter flowering cyclamen and pansies and many other colourful shrubs and flowers. It was an utter joy to see and scent and experience this glorious show of natural beauty when all around us our gardens, fields and woods are turning to drab and seeming lifelessness. My spirits instantly raised and my heart swelled.

At this time on a Sunday morning, the Christmas displays were very quiet. Happily, I strolled around enjoying all the sights and sounds. There were marvellous collections of fairy lights, large jolly gatherings of Father Christmases, gnomes and elves, herds of deer, polar bears and penguins, small woodlands of synthetic trees and crate after crate of beautiful baubles – many with a natural theme and others to delight a small child with their picturesque traditional fantasy. In one corner, a life-sized Father Christmas drove his sleigh past a large Welsh castle inhabited by animated elves who waved cheerily from every window, zealously guarded by an enormous inflatable green dragon. I was suitably amused, inspired and enchanted.

My sore knee (which has been giving me increasing problems for a couple of years now) was beginning to heartily complain, so briefly, I sat down on a garden bench which was for sale. I did notice people staring at me. I thought that it was because I had sat on something which was for sale, but when I came to stand up again, I realised that the bench had been pulled across the entrance to Father Christmas’ grotto which is not yet open… and there was me wearing my little red cape and white fur hat trimmed with a sprig of Christmas decoration tucked in the side! Mother Christmas in waiting, perhaps?

Now there is a job I would LOVE to do… play Santa Claus for the children… I have the right figure but not the right gender! Perhaps in my next incarnation I may get the chance…

Home again, later that afternoon, my husband, son and myself settled down by the blazing log stove in the drawing room with a tray of hot tea and my birthday cake… coffee and walnut, one of my favourites! Candles were blown out… cards and gifts were opened… outside the daylight waned and drifted into a wet and windy dusk… we talked and read and I gloried in contentment at just being safely at home all together – this was my best gift of all.

Years spin around with quite amazing – not to mention sometime alarming – speed. My life seems to get busier and increasingly exciting. But it is the little things, the simple times, the unguarded, unplanned moments which sometimes catch me unaware and suddenly, I see a reflection of my life… myself… in this unique yet ordinary moment and it is breath-taking in its perfection.

Even the longest life does not contain that many ‘moments’. Be aware of yours… they lurk in the shadows and most unexpected corners, ready to blaze out and stun us with their transitory glory and then vanish again. Be ready to recognise them, to be aware of what is taking place. I know I treasure mine.

So, once again, thank my dear friends and readers, for your support, good wishes and kindness. Collectively they provides just such a very special moment. Love, light and blessings to you all.

Greetings for Guy Fawkes!

‘Remember, remember, the 5th of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!’

Did you used to chant this when you were a child? Perhaps after all the recent political shenanigans the old rhyme might have more relevance to us today than merely remembering a chap who attempted to blow up parliament nearly four hundred years ago.

However, I would suggest that the instinct to gather together around huge bonfires at the beginning of winter is much older than a few centuries – it reaches back into pre-history and fulfils an ancient calling which our ancestors practiced from the dawn of time – sympathetic magic when, fearing the lengthening dark and intensifying cold, they encouraged the warmth and light of the waning Sun to stay with us by lighting the largest fire they could muster.

Yesterday evening, I witnessed this deep subconscious call first hand as hundreds of villagers hurried along the dark lanes to the rough ground beside our football pitch for the first communal celebration of Guy Fawkes Night in several decades. Streams of cars were also arriving from further up the valley and soon there was nowhere left to park a vehicle. Shouts of recognition as friends and neighbours greeted each other and lots of excited chatter filled the dark night.

In principal, the event was organised to raise funds for the football club which supports teams of every age of youngster, male and female, as well as adults and is growing rapidly in popularity. A nominal fee was asked of each attendee at the gate; hot food, drinks and sweeties were on sale, but not overpriced. And I suspect that it was held the day before Guy Fawkes so that those who wished to could still attend larger displays held in the local towns the following day – except that we later heard that many of these annual events have been cancelled, perhaps due to lack of council funds.

My husband and I walked down with friends to the designated field which was already crowded. My son had offered to provide his medical services for free, and when someone decided to jolly the sizzling sausages along and the refreshments tent nearly caught fire as a result, he feared that he might be in for a busy evening! But other than a rogue rocket detonating horizontally and disappearing off into the bushes, (fortunately away from the crowd!), and a small child burning her finger on a hot sparkler wire, there were no casualties whatsoever.

For the gathering of young and old; the family groups, the many teenagers and even more numerous  children of all ages, were without exception enthusiastic and good tempered and as everyone stood and watched the bonfire be lit and the flames slowly grow into a roaring, blazing inferno, I was wryly amused to reflect on the mesmerising effect which this powerful elemental energy still retains. Where and when else in this day and age will you find several hundred youngsters content to stand for nearly an hour to watch a pile of wood burn away?

The bonfire was still blazing when the fireworks began. Rocket after rocket hurtled into the sky and burst into blooms of coloured stars and shining petals above our heads. From the crowd came suitable “Ooooohs!” and “Aaaaahs!”. Some small children wore ear-defenders at this point… I had my fingers firmly stuck in my ears, for I have never liked loud bangs but love the beauty of the ignited, exploding gunpowder.

At last it was over. The crowd quickly dispersed. I was saddened to see some empty cans and papers cast on the ground, but on reflection, marvelled that there was actually so little after such a large number of people had stood there.

Memories of our recent segregation and isolation due to the pandemic still haunt me and it felt SO good to once more stand in the middle of a large gathering of people. Humans need humans… need each other’s company… we are sad indeed when we cannot mill together.

Altogether, it was a wonderful evening. We strolled home to eat plates of hot meat and potato pie which had been burbling happily in the cool oven of the Aga, heaped with home pickled red cabbage and sit around drinking mugs of hot tea. Hopefully this will be the start of a revival of activity in the village, a new era of communal events and interaction – the public response last night shows that there is certainly an appetite for it… and we suspect that the football club raise somewhere in the region of £5,000.

I was just a little sorry that, though, this particular occasion involved so much noise. Our timid white and black tomcat, Bandit, was discovered curled up, hiding beneath the old dresser in the living room – I’m sure that it he could have found a tin helmet to wear he would have done so!

If you are venturing out to bonfires or firework displays this evening, do take care… but have a wonderful time!


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