24 Mondays to the longest day of the year!


As always at this time of year, those last few weeks of December hurtle by – even without any late nights and too much drinking as normal – and then suddenly, beautifully, magically, time come to a halt.  Christmas!  It doesn’t matter now many years pass, it doesn’t matter how cynical old age or the state of the world makes me – there is something so simple, so pure, so beautiful in its message that when that moment comes when the world briefly stops and pauses and renews…. well, it always makes me catch my breath.

This year that moment was coming home from a long cold day on site and finding that Charlie had decorated the Christmas tree.  We had the quietest Christmas ever. I am guessing, you will have done too; and in some ways, because we were not missing parents or grandchildren, across the generations, I’ll admit – it was one of the nicest Christmases ever.

Lots of walks….

It was cold, so you needed to dress up warmly. 

Christmas tree close-ups by daylight for the curious. 

Christmas Eve was bright and clear after days of rain. 

Charlie’s new garden is beginning to look amazing.  Watch this space…. 

AND most exciting of all. His Christmas present was a new green house – which our friend Mike & team managed to install just in time. 

The veg garden is looking so beautiful at this time of year, even if Storm Bella blew over all the sweet pea stakes the next week. 

Christmas Day was bright and clear too – astonishing and beautiful. 

Very few people made it to church, that morning; one prays for full pews and people feeling safe enough to come to church on Christmas Day 2021.  But sunlight streamed through the windows and all felt well.  Back home for Christmas lunch for two.

Or three.

In the afternoon we took ourselves out again, and the hills and trees glowed in a beautiful golden light.

Boxing Day was bright and clear and cold. 

And the days followed with more walks to start each morning, and I caught up on writing a bit of the book, and Charlie gently pottered in the garden, planting the last bulbs and mulching the dahlias. 

The cold air moved slowly south and we hit the freezing snap; day 1:

Day 2:

We made trips to the coast, too, watching astonishing murmurations of the starlings as dusk fell….

And on New Years’ Eve, the most beautiful sunset of all.

2020 is a year that many have despaired of, for understandable reasons, and I think we’ve all been touched by that sense of despair. But in amongst it all, it was a year that brought its own gentle qualities too – the qualities of kindness, of staying still, and of thinking hard about our place in the world: about why, as well as what?


2021 dawned cold and bright and clear – the most beautiful morning, as we woke early. 

I can’t help feeling it will be some time before things revert to ‘normal’, whatever, exactly, normal means.

I’ve just been reading back to this same blog, this same week, a year ago – here – and I was of course struck by a little sentence at the end of the third paragraph….

Are you reading this at the beginning of the first day back to work?  I’ve called this blog the turn of the year, but of course, it’s the turn of the decade too.

If you have read the blog for a long time, you’ll know that I’m honestly more into the idea of gentle continuity than radical change. I’m not even hugely into the notion that one day is greatly more significant than the former. Are we really in for a decade, as a keep on reading, of the Roaring Twenties, a hundred years after the first?  Is that the correct reprise?  Maybe it is.  Maybe it is more appropriate for our times than how the 1820’s described themselves… although I, for one, would be jolly happy if it turned out that two turns on the century dial led to another Era of Good Feelings. Wouldn’t that be a turn up for the books? (Incidentally, did you know about the Era of Good Feelings? I’ve got to confess it was new to me, but I was happy to read about it).

Well, that all said, it’s been a wonderful Christmas and New Year, although one where I was laid low for some of the times with what really wasn’t more than a cold,  but a foul enough one to put me quite firmly in bed for a few days.  

In retrospect I do wonder about that cold now…. the dry, hacking cough, the aches and pains, the fact that I (and my bother in law James) was laid low in bed for days and days.  Who knows?

And then, I’ve looked back to the year before, to New Year 2019, here…. our visit to New Zealand, and then to Scotland…. and without realising, at that moment, that this was going to be the time when Mum and then Dad would both die.


There’s something about this time of year, these short days, when I like to both look back as well as forward, to reflect on the sadness as well as the happiness.   Time, and memory, is what connects us to the past and allows us to anticipate the future.

And are you, like us, suddenly noticing already that the mornings are ever so slightly brighter than a couple of weeks ago? And the evenings a little longer?

24 Mondays to the longest day of the year!!  Let’s make the most of them!  That’s my message for 2021.


31 comments on this post

  • Tracy Gooding

    Dear Ben,
    As always, a positive and inspiring note to start us off in the new year! How wonderful is that tree that Charlie decorated, it’s exuberance defies the heaviness with colour, humour and life. Christmas is always a time of hope and I wish you both an abundant New Year in every possible way.

  • Diane Keane

    Ben, I’ve been meaning to read your holiday post ever since the email alert arrived, but it’s a busy time of year. I am so glad I inadvertently saved it until now. I’ve been trying to work on art projects, but like so many of us here in the USA after the attempted coup, I am too stirred up, topsy-turvy with emotions—anger, fear, hope, fear, gratitude, fear, disgust, fear, fed-upness, and fear. And Anger! And disappointment. So I really needed the balm of your soothing words and timeless photos. Thank you. Stay safe, both of you, keep well. We need you more than ever!

    Hugs & love from Diane in Pennsylvania

    PS Would you be interested in taking in an American refugee?

  • Darlene Chandler

    I was so looking forward to this message and your Christmas. The pictures are beautiful. I just love your tree and the decorations and how it reflected on your cabinet. The lovely pictures of Charlie and the pets, especially the one of the cat and dog. And your beautiful church. I am so happy that you and Charlie had a lovely peaceful reflective holiday with all the nature around and lovely setting of your meal and that pudding looked amazing and you dog visiting the table as a 3rd guest. Yes, this was a holiday for us all to stop and reflect and have some peace in this turmoil we are up against and thank our blessings with what we have and the beauty still around us, and be positive that this turmoil will become something of a past. All the best Ben and Charlie and wishing you a very Happy and Prosperous New Year. So looking forward to seeing that lovely greenhouse brimming with plants and Charlie’s garden overflowing with colour and gorgeous plants and flowers. All the Best.

  • Deborah Wagner

    Good morning, Ben. Here I am, late but in earnest as this posted a few days ago. Pics are sublime, as usual, and yes, this Christmas was the least stressful of my adult life.

    I will go out on a limb and state that you had Covid. Here in the Boston, MA area, my sister-in-law had lunch in late November 2019 with an old school friend who had just flown in from China. A couple of days later, she retired to her bed for a solid month. Based on that, I believe the virus was around quite a bit earlier than is thought.

    I so get why you married Charlie (and vice versa, natch). The looks, the style, the Victoria sponges, the flower wizardry are of course the reasons that rise to the top most readily, but honestly, the tree is the very embodiment of the man. It is DIVINE, and I am SO going to tie ribbons all over our next tree, AND I am going to load up on blown glass ornaments, because they are the best thing, light enough for bendy branches. (A shout out to PatchNYC for those in the States, including the comfort dogs and creepy-crawleys). And yes, the man deserves a greenhouse. I actually have a very selfish dream that he’s asked to do a regular spot on Gardener’s World.

    Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I am starting the new year by listening to BBC Radio 1 Dance each morning. Being an un-young classical music listener, this is a great step, and it really lifts my spirits and makes me dance around the house, the closest I am ever likely to come to aerobic exercise.

    Happy New Year to you and Charlie and the fur babies. 🌱☀️🌈🤸‍♀️


    wonderful writing and pictures as always, but where is Mavis?

  • Mary

    Yes, I just noticed yesterday that the light seemed to last a bit longer at the end of the day!
    Happy New Year to you all!

  • Wendy Smith

    We are also living a very quite & socially responsible distancing life while this virus rages . Our little village, Trentham in Australia has been blessed so far with no cases but we hold our breathe waiting . I pray you stay safe & lead the gentle life in your beloved Parsonage. Charlie must bring you such joy , he is a darling ❤️

  • Lisa D.

    Sigh…so beautiful. I love the picture of Charlie with the cat and dog, and the one of him with the Christmas pudding. Happy New Year to all of you!

  • Patricia Childs

    So look forward to your Blog with your first for 2021 with beautiful
    pics and calming words. Thank you. Carpe diem.

  • Lindsey Back

    Thank you Ben. Your photos take me back in time remembering a very happy childhood spent in Sussex. I now live in Brisbane where frosts are somewhat rare but I can almost feel the crisp cold air on my face as I huddle in a warm coat and boots. You always make me stop and remember what is most important in this life and for that I thank you. Happiness is in our hands and joy is to be found in the minutia of our day if we care to stop and look I hope 2021 provides you with enough time.
    As I write this I have just heard on the morning news that you are locked down again. Keep safe.

  • Pierre B.

    Thank you for the joyful and peaceful photos. Happy Neaw Year lucky guys – and take care!

  • Kent Shawver, USA

    Thank your for allowing your followers to share your enthusiasms and love of LIFE. Your positive presence inspires us to walk on with “hope in our hearts.” May G-D Bless and Keep You.

  • Janice

    Thank you Ben for the wonderful blogs over the years i’m sure i’m not the only one who looks forward to them so much. Happy New Year to you and Charlie i wish you both Joy and Happiness

  • Teddee Grace

    Such beautiful photos as always! Your Christmas tree was inspirational. I will remember the ribbon this coming December!
    There was definitely a virus of some kind going ’round in the U.S. as well during the holidays of 2019 and immediately thereafter. I caught it twice, once mildly and then again right after the New Year. I was really ill the second time with a terrible cough so intense I was required to clutch my ribs together it was so painful. So, as you say, “Who knows?” I just received a method to register to be notified of when and where, as an “over 70,” I can get the COVID vaccine here in Colorado. Thank you for inspiring us to forge on and all good wishes to both of you in this new year!

  • joanie

    Thanks as always for sharing the pictorial beauty and serenity of your world. It gives the reader/viewer a boost, just as it does you all, in this crazy crazy world. We have no idea where this world is going to be a year from now, but I am grateful you are sharing the journey with us all. Happy New Year to both of you and all you love (four legged included). ♥️

  • Helen Anderson

    An absolute joy as always. Thank you for sharing these lovely photographs, and very best wishes to you both for a happy and successful new year! x

  • Timothy Van dam

    Happy New Year, Ben and Charlie! Sending wishes for a calmer, saner, more rational New Year for us all. Thanks for the timely doses of beauty and reassurance. Loved the Christmas tree.

  • odl bauer

    ohhhh, dearest dearies Ben, Charlie and all of the sweet furries, we are blessed to have you as our guiding light towards all things
    bright and beautiful with your magnificent blog! we thank you grandly……. bonne année a vous!

  • c.morgan

    loveliess abounds. esp. beguiling = the pups – but WHERE is Mavis ? Happy New Year.

  • Jane Leonard

    Happy New Year, Ben and Charlie – and those wonderful animals. Thank you for another set of incredibly beautiful pictures to start the New Year. All the very best to you. Jane

  • Josette

    Ben…..I always enjoy my virtual visits with you and Charlie….he can even cook, as well as garden….(who knew?). Anyway, you pictures as always take my breath away…and your kind words are a balm for one’s soul.

    Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.


  • Isla Simpson

    You finally got the Greenhouse! Remember looking at those with you and Charlie in Malvern, it feels like an age ago, or just yesterday. I’ve lost track of time. Anyway, how gorgeous are those pups on the chintzy sofa. Happy New Year and love to you all. xxxx

  • Maudie

    Happy New Year! and thank you for the loveliest messages.

  • Debra

    Happy new year 2021 l really enjoyed your photographs l loved the Christmas tree and the photo of Charlie with the Christmas pudding. I was hoping for a little mention of Mr Anthony Coote Sykes who sadly passed away and will be greatly missed. He was a real gentlemen and so loved the Bride valley
    so much so that he planted 2000 trees for the millennium in the valley at his home he designed and built.
    He will be greatly missed for his warmth knowledge and hospitality on Christmas Eve the church bells rang 85 times for each year he had lived Rest in Peace dear Anthony it was a joy to know you and thank you for making the world a much happier place.

  • Paul Newman

    Hi Ben, New Year greetings from very cold Kildare! I am in the house you looked at for me fourteen years ago!!. I enjoyed reading your message and looking at your pics. I had a very pleasant and quiet Christmas with my two Scottish Terriers, which was very peaceful. Do come over and see what I have done with the house , the two walled gardens and the grounds, best Paul

  • Katherine W

    That is the most fabulous tree! Coloured tinsel being put to stylish use for once! and the bows are an inspiration..A lovely thoughtful blog and sad reminders of the fragility of life. Both my parents alive but each passing year marks the slow sad decline. Gorgeous walks and stunning pictures as ever. Happy New Year! Love the reminder to make it ALL COUNT! Carpe Diem. x

  • Annelies

    Best wishes for you all and thanks for your wonderfull Posts.

  • Zoe

    I’m not a serial commenter on stuff at all but moved by your simple messages and obvious happiness in the life you have created to say – thanks: thanks for sharing, thanks for letting us in and thanks for keeping on taking the most beautiful photos which I’ve realised I really look forward to seeing. Happy New Year x

  • Sandra Flood

    Happy and healthy New Year to you both, may the Dahlias be more gorgeous than ever (if that is possible) and the lovely blogs continue to bring a vista of calm and beauty.

  • Emmy Gainey (USA)

    Happy New Year 2021! Thank you so much for this post and all the others in the past. You probably reallllllly (!) don’t realize how much we all look forward to your messages, especially during the past year. I don’t know….they just take us (me) to another place (virtually) which is peaceful, lovely to look at, interesting, never dull. Sounds goofy but that is the way I feel…especially since we can’t travel right now. I have tried lots of your “decoration inspiration,” too. Best wishes to you both for a Happy and Healthy New Year!


    Thank for the feeling of calmness and gentle continuity .

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