Going to the Dogs – or The Dog Days of London


There are few, if any, stray cats in London – the foxes (read my blog later this week) seem to be keeping the cat population well under control – but there are tons and tons of dogs.

When you spend hour after hour standing in a market stall – both at an urban market like Fenchurch Station, and at a neighborhood market like Alexander Palance – you see a lot of people with their constant companions – their dogs!

There are big ones, little ones – ones with jackets – one in a bling covered suit – and one in a full wool sweater, including sleeves on all 4 legs. There are Whippets that look as if they have been rung in the washer for way too long – their fur is soft, but matted to their skin as if it weighs too much to every stand up.

There are tiny little dogs – all of whom seem to sport jackets and coats – and trust me – by Montreal standards – it’s not that cold – even for a small dog. There are long haired and short haired Dachounds – mostly minitures but very cute. I’ve seen countless Jack Russels – and tons of Pugs. What’s interesting about the Pugs are they are huge. Much bigger than the Pugs I’ve spotted in North America – and literally the size of my stuffed Pug that I carry when I’m playing the role of Lady Bertrum from Mansfield Park.

I’ve seen big dogs too – nothing as large as a Newfoundland – but German Sheperds and various kinds of Sheep Dogs abound. There was just one Greyhound – a rescue dog was what I was told. There was even a dog on the train!

Only one stall in the market was selling dog treats – but I’d guess that “going to the dogs” in London is probably not a bad plan if your goal is to make money!

One other observation – most if not all the dogs were leashed. Not the casual leashing of American and Canadian Dog lovers – but a proper harness with a proper leash. And there are rubbish bins clearly marked for dog waste on most corners. In fact often it was easier to find a rubbish bin for doggy-do then for your paper cup of coffee.

Back to the breed identification list – yes I’ve seen the Queen’s dogs – Welsh Corgies, all breed from the one she was given when she was 18. Sounds a bit like in-breeding to me. According to Jan, since she doesn’t want them to miss her when she dies – she’s no longer getting new ones. Now that’s an odd British fact if ever I heard one.

Just one more doggie comment – the gal that was in charge of one of the markets we attended very proudly showed me pictures of her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. So having a ‘bred’ dog is not as classed based as I had assumed – it must be a British Tradition.

Signing off to look up dog breeds – in case looking turns to buying
The Soup Lady

Exploring the byways of Sutton Courtenay


The village of barely 3500 souls that my daughter’s in-laws call home is a place with a very ancient history. Today we ate lunch at a pub that traces it’s history back to the 18th century – and it was built on a bridge over the river Thames that dates from the 1600’s!

According to Craig – this bridge was a source of much conflict – and at one point the Abbey in Sutton Courtenay errected a Toll Bridge. The villagers retailiated by diverting the river, and building another bridge. I’m thinking “Pillars of the Earth” meets “Harry Potter”.

Speaking of meeting Harry Potter – it turns out that Bellatrix Lestrange has a house in Sutton Courtenay. At least the actress that plays her in the movies does. Her (great?) grandfather was the First Earl of Oxford – and at one point he owned a good part of the village. She still owns – and occasionally stays in – one of the larger homes bordering right on the Thames.

There are other exciting sites to see in Sutton Courtenay – it’s not just about the Thames. There’s the Medieval Abbey, the WWII pill box – built as a defense position against the Germans, the Norman period church where we sang Christmas Carols, the homes built with lumber from ships that fought in the Spanish Armada and were defeated, the old prision in process of gentrification (they are building condos – surprise, surprise) – and there are 3 pubs. Those are seriously the hightlight of the village – I loved the look of the gastro-pub called “The Fish”, but when it came to lunch we left the village and headed to the next town for lunch at “The Nag’s Head”. I opted for fish and chips – when in England – do as the English do I say! I wanted to get a beer – but picking one from the over a dozen on tap proved daunting. The first one they drew – “Goldie” was too bitter for me – as were the next 5, including a cider. I finally tried the “Tiger” – which my hosts refered to as “not a beer” – but I was happy.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. After a quick – everyone grab what they want – breakfast, Craig, Charlotte, Adrienne and I opted to take the village walk. This was a wonderful public path that leads over bridges and past bits and pieces of the Thames in a loop. There were Swans and ducks in the ponds we strolled past – and a solid collection of different dogs.

We eventually wandered our way past the remains of an old mill, past a series of adorable shop fronts that are now private homes (Gentrification at work), and both the Norman Church and the Medieval Abbey. Neighbors greeted neighbors, some young girls rode by on horseback, and we saw several MG Sprites. All together it was a very British walk, in a very British village. Totally Charming.

On call for tonight is a cold dinner of left-overs (finally), a board game – and fireworks. Turns out that fireworks are only legal in Great Britian on Guy Fawes Day – and Christmas. Guess the 4th of July isn’t much of a holiday here – win some, lose some.
Signing off for now

The Soup Lady – reporting from Sutton Courtenay (If you can spell it – you can find it on a map!)

A Traditional British Christmas


My daughter married a Brit – one whose family traces their lineage back several hundred years – so when they invited me to come and spend Christmas with them – I of course said Yes.

My daughter’s inlaws live in the tiny village of Sutton Courtenay. It’s is an hours fast train ride from Paddington station – but a universe away from the hustle bustle of London.

The village is very famous – Hubert Asquith, First Earl of Oxford, and one of the British Prime Ministers from before World War I was born and is buried here – as is George Orwell – who I must say I know better! But I’m not really here to see the sights – I’m here to eat – and eat extremely well I must say.

My Daughter’s In-Laws – who to save on typing we say call Jan and Craig – (which are their names…) do not live on an estate – and there’s nary a servant to be seen in the house – but never-the-less – they have gone all out to make sure that we have an amazing Christmas.

They picked us up at the Train Station – all smiles and Christmas cheer – and we drive thru the village admiring the lovely homes, stone fences, and what I’m now realizing are traditionally tiny roads. Their lovely home has at least 5 bedrooms up stairs – and 3 bathrooms. Downstairs there’s a kitchen, a lovely dining room with wood side-boards, a prep-kitchen with the dishwasher, a sun room that is serving as a 6th bedroom – and a living room/den with the TV – Wii machine – several sofas, and a warming gas fire. The garden is truly lovely – which despite the weather is so so pretty. It’s large enough to be divided into sections – a pool/meadow area, a graveled sitting area – and for my taste – an extremely large area of raised garden for growing vegetables.

From the front – you wouldn’t expect them to have such a spacious backyard – because their neighbors are very close – but the lots must be angled – because the backyard is quite a bit wider in the back than it is nearer the house. Behind the stone wall that marks the end of their garden is a public walking path – but because it is sunk about 2′ below the level of their garden – you don’t even see the tops of people’s heads.

I’m shown to my room – not fancy by any standard – but very comfortable. I’m sharing the bathroom with Thomas – the adorable 4 year old son of my daughter’s husband’s brother. We will be 9 this Christmas – 2 under the age of 4 (both the children of Jamin’s brother), Jamin’s brother and his wife, Jan and Craig, Adrienne and Jamin – and of course me. An odd woman at the table – but fortunately they don’t feel the need to bring in an additional male to balance!

Christmas Eve begins with a fabulous Norweign Christmas Dinner. Jamin’s brother married Charlotte, a gal from Norway – and they are doing all the cooking tonight. The table is lovely – a christmas centerpiece with candles and the placemats also have a Christmas Theme. They have 2 large warming boards – so the food is carefully being kept hot while drinks and seats are organized.

The meal is stellar. I love, love, love the very traditional preperation of Pork Belly. Charlotte went to the butcher to explain the unique cut required – and the effort definitely paid off. Tons of meat – and the fat has been crisped. The dish is called “Ribbe” – and trust me – it’s yummy.

There are an assortment of other dishes as well – Broccoli, fat fresh sausages that were brought here from Norway in Charolette’s suitcase, meat pies that were similarly imported, and a divine take on cranberry jelly called “Tyttebaer”. Yummy.

After dinner, we put on our winter jackets and grab long traditional torches. There’s a torch light parade tonight – starting at the school and gathering walkers as it goes to the church. We join about 1/3 of the way – lighting our torches from the torches of other marchers. At the church, they have built a bonfire, and they are handing out sheets of Carols. We join in with the several hundred other celebrants – sing heartily – and enjoy listening to the very ampped piano player! Of course the church choir is there – and often they can be heard over the crowd doing the descants.

Lovely.

We walk back home – tired, full – and ready for bed. Unfortunately – it’s only 7:30! There are no street lights in Sutton Courteney – and the sun sets early so it feels quite late. We sip tea, chat, and wait for the kids to call it a night. Then the serious work of present wrapping and placing under the tree begins. There are a zillion gifts! Thomas and Craig both have late December birthdays – so this is a combination party – and the number of gifts reflects that double holiday.

Besides – 9 people, if each person bought one gift for the other 8, that’s 72 gifts.

The tree is placed strategically about 2 feet off the ground (Thomas’s younger brother is 10 months old – and he is definitely in the pulling things off if he can stage). The presents form a mound under the tree – every 4 year old’s idea of the perfect Christmas.

In preperation for the arrival of Santa – tradition says that a glass of sherry and a mince pie should be placed by the fireplace. We forego that tradition – but it might be the only one that gets skipped!

We head off for bed – little kids get up early – and Christmas Day promises to start early and last late!

I’m woken up at 7:02 AM by squeals of delight – Thomas has seen the tree and gifts – and there’s no point trying to pretend to sleep in! I hustle downstairs – but things are well in hand. He’s allowed to pick one gift – the rest must wait until everyone else is up and about.

But first he wants to examine his Christmas Stocking. Like all the other members of the family – hanging at the end of his bed this morning was a huge Christmas Stocking. And this is not a tiny thing – nor a store bought packaged delight – nope – this is a huge sock carefully decorated, and lovingly stored year after year. The contents vary – Thomas gets some toys to play with, his younger brother gets two ‘duplo’ trucks, my daughter gets the calming tea she craves. And everyone gets a clemintine and a walnut!

Breakfast isn’t fancy – the big meal will be Christmas lunch. Eventually everyone has gotten up, had coffee or orange juice as best appeals to them – and we’re ready to open the gifts. Thomas takes a great delight in picking out the order in which gifts are to be opened – a bit heavy handedly picking ones with his name of course. But soon the pile of gifts has been descimated – and we are left with gifts galore for everyone. Thomas plays with his favorites – toys featuring the Octonauts. Daniel (10 months old remember) – is thrilled with the boxes – and anything his big brother is playing with!

I’m pleased with my gifts – a book I’ve never read called ‘Magician’, a box of bath salts – and best of all – a box of Rasberry Preserves from England Perserves. They have an Arch behind my daughters – and they make the best Rasberry Preserves I’ve ever enjoyed.

Lunch is eventually annouced – and what a lovely lunch it is.

Prize of place is a roast Goose – and it is awesome. The skin wonderfully crispy, the meat juicy and rich. There’s several popper’s at each place setting – plus a large Christmas Cracker. We begin by pulling our poppers and Crackers – sending jets of bright ribbon everywhere. Food is again kept warm on the side boards – there are carrots and brussel sprouts, roasted potatoes, peas, pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon), two different kinds of stuffing, and a fab gravy for the goose. Plates are heaped up for serious feasting – and the conversation is lively and laugh filled as we read the silly jokes in the crackers to each other.

After dinner there’s the traditional lounging time – which we spend playing board games, watching Thomas enjoy his toys, and racing Mario Kart on the Wii. The fire is lit – our tummys are full. It’s lovely.

There’s still another meal to go – after the kids are asleep – there are cold treats to enjoy – mince pies, fresh veggies of various kinds, nuts to crack – and some glorious cheese brought from London by my daughter. My contribution was to pay for the cheese – and to buy a loaf of fresh bread from the Little Bread Peddler who shares one of the Arches near Adriennes. There are 3 different desserts – all traditional Christmas treats. There’s a light and fluffy home-made Pavlova, a home-made Triffle, and two kinds of Mince pies. The Triffle is actually made with fruit grown in their garden last summer. My personal favorite has to be the Pavlova – but of course I had to try all three.

More conversation, more laughter – and time for bed.

Wonderful Christmas!

Signing off – The Soup Lady