21 December 2016

Cardiff does Christmas

I won’t actually be in Cardiff for Christmas as I’m off to Cornwall with a friend for a week but here’s a little of what I’ve been seeing in the lead up to the big day ...

Winter Wonderland takes over the green in front of City Hall. With its Giant Wheel, an artificial ice-skating rink, rides for young and old, and lots of eateries, it’s a favourite place for folks to relax after their hectic bouts of Christmas shopping.

And speaking of shopping ... the huge St David’s Mall and all the shops in the streets round about are sparkling with decorations and geared up to sell you everything you never wanted at the best possible prices. An Advent-calendar-type countdown of specials seems particularly popular this year.

Haven’t seen much of Santa but he’s probably been hiding away in his various grottos.

Not a lot of snowmen either and not a snow flurry in sight.

Lots of people adorn their front doors with wreaths that look very pretty. You can glimpse trees twinkling away indoors as well, but I thought photos of those might be a bit intrusive.

Speaking of trees, though ... here are mine (a beautiful driftwood tree made for me by a wonderful friend), theirs (in one of the malls) and ours (the much discussed and criticised Cardiff Council tree – don’t even get me started on that story!).

The city looks lovely in the early evenings (it gets dark now around 4pm) when the street decorations light up. This photo also shows some of the Christmas market stalls that line one of the streets.

More city lights ...

Saving the best till last ... Despite ‘that tree’ Cardiff Castle does look lovely, mostly because of the deer grazing on the front lawn. I presume they are meant to be reindeer though none have antlers and one of the special things about reindeer is that, as well as the males, most of the females also grow antlers. Still, these gorgeous beasties are most definitely my favourites! 

18 December 2016

Christmas Nutcrackers

I don’t know about you but the Christmas nutcracker soldiers freak me out more than a little! 

When I see them, and particularly when I’m standing close to the life-size (and larger!) versions, I keep thinking I’m in an episode of Doctor Who and the soldiers are alien beings that will suddenly come to life and try to take over the earth.

Presumably it’s the large teeth-bared mouth and generally fierce expression that gives me these fanciful ideas. Of course, the mouth of the smaller versions would once have been a functioning nutcracker, so it had to be large enough to fit the nuts, and, according to the German traditions from which this particular form of nutcracker is derived, these characters were intentionally created to look fierce. They were gifted

as keepsakes to bring good luck to your family and protect your home. The legend says that a nutcracker represents power and strength and serves like a trusty watch dog guarding your family from evil spirits and danger. A fierce protector, the nutcracker bares its teeth to the evil spirits and serves as the traditional messenger of good luck and goodwill.

My vivid imagining of the nutcrackers coming to life is, I’m sure, also prompted but the various versions of the Nutcracker story, both E. T. A. Hoffmann’s 1816 tale of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and the version by Alexander Dumas which, when set to Tchaikovsky’s superb composition, became The Nutcracker ballet, a perennial Christmas favourite.

These days many of the life-size statues you see decorating shops, restaurants and Santa’s Grottos at Christmas time have lost their fearsome grimace and it’s not clear whether they’re still meant to be representations of the soldiers, knights and kings that featured in the nutcracker stories, or whether the image has been conflated with that of The Little Drummer Boy, or whether they’re something else altogether. 

11 December 2016

Edward VIII pillar box

Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David Windsor was King for less than a year, from 20 January 1936 till his abdication on 11 December that same year. It should come as no surprise then that items that carry the Edward VIII name, insignia, portrait (like coinage) or emblem are few and far between. So, I was rather pleased to get a photo of this pillar box carrying the royal cipher of Edward VIII, one of only two known to exist in Wales.

According to a list I found online, there are around 170 known Edward VIII pillar boxes, most of which are in England. Apparently, more still exist that were manufactured and put in place during Edward VIII’s short reign but their doors were changed to display the cipher of George VI after Edward’s abdication. Images of some of the other extant Edward VIII pillar boxes can be found on Wikimedia here,  

I am not alone in having a fascination for such things: the Humbugshouse blog has a great post with lots of photo of many of the English boxes, and there is even a Letter Box Study Group, whose aims are ‘to encourage research, preservation, restoration and awareness of letter boxes and the definitive description and documentation of their types and locations.’  

For pillar box aficionados, I have blogged previously about some of the other pillar boxes I’ve found, and my local Edward VIII pillar box can be found in Heol Don, in the Cardiff suburb of Whitchurch. Its importance is obviously well recognised as the fence of the house behind it has been altered to accommodate it.