For the first time since 2019, I write surrounded by aromatic greenery and yards and yards of fairy lights as we are about to set up our twinkling little chalet at Bath Christmas Market, home for the next three weeks. On the one hand, the festive season has arrived upon us in the blink of an eye, and yet, on the other hand, so much has happened since the last time Bath Christmas Market was held that it is difficult to process. Covid will no doubt have touched the lives of many of the people that will visit Bath this year. I am so very thankful that we are lucky to spend another Christmas with those we love.
Coincidentally, as Americans are preparing for Thanksgiving, I am giving thanks to the wonderful people who work with me and help get Limelight to the point where we are ready for the Christmas markets. There has been a couple of points in the last few weeks where I thought we might not be. Somehow it always comes together in the end, and I could not have done it without our wonderful and amazing, Jean. A shout out to Rachel our Florist at The Fresh Flower Company as well for her help in the chalet decorations.
Whilst we will always sell our fabulous range of candles, diffusers, home mists, wax melts and luxurious bath and body products, I totally understand that the cost of living crisis is going to have a profound effect on people’s spending this year and so, some customers may be delighted to know that they can still have a little luxury in their lives or gift it to their best friends as we are offering gifts from £5 and some lovely gifts in the £10- £20 range.
The Bath Christmas Market runs from Thursday, 24th of November until Sunday, 11th of December and there is a preview evening for Bath residents on Wednesday 23rd November. If you are local or planning to visit from further afar, we’d love to see you. You can find us on Bath Street (Chalet BD 118).
Like everyone at this time of year though, however much we may plan for the festive season by writing lists worthy of Samuel Johnson – such as steaming puddings, making cakes, ordering gifts, turkeys, geese, cheese, wine etc., etc., other people and events have to be considered – the car’s MOT, the dogs’ vaccinations, the ever-present mock exams, our children’s hearts and minds, work, admin. My mantra is – Me and you are not alone! It’s a tricky time of year when the expectations of us are superhuman. If covid has taught us one thing though, it is that the most important thing is our health and being together. Do try and find time in the lead-up to Christmas to chill out, even if this means nothing more than lying in a bath with the company of Audible and a flickering candle (put it somewhere safe!), or really making the effort to catch up with an old friend. The year passes so quickly, it’s quite remarkable how long, sometimes, it’s been since we’ve seen people that we’re very fond of.
All good advice – let’s hope that I can follow it. We’re all in this together and I sincerely hope that I get to meet some of you over the next few weeks so we can remind each other of this very fact!
Summer feels like a distant memory. For the most part, one that was spent languorously at our house in Abruzzo, Italy. Whilst the children slept in, I, in the cool and quiet of the early morning, painted so much furniture that I feel qualified to call Annie Sloan and her transformative chalk paint, a dear friend. The household would gently wake up, Hubby had more than enough work and DIY to occupy him and our daughter kept at her MA dissertation. At lunchtime, we all gathered to eat Caprese salad. A favourite and eaten every day. We have eaten it for years at our kitchen table in England– but nothing compares with the Italian tomatoes, warm off the vine, fresh, milky, pillowy buffalo mozzarella; pungent, abundant basil, drizzled in local, extra virgin olive oil, all mopped up with hunks of crusty bread. Food of the gods. Afternoons we spent at the beach, where we stayed for sundowners at our favourite spot, before returning to cook supper together. Ragu, simple pasta, oven-roasted vegetables. We made fig jam from our trees in the garden (see pic below) and also homemade limoncello. Lazy, slow days.
Our neighbours welcomed us into their family and could not have been more nurturing. The nonnas invited my daughter and me to help make made tomato sauce from tomatoes grown at the end of our garden which involved hours of careful peeling and filleting, de-seeding and skinning some 200 kg of tomatoes. What an experience. All the chatter in Italian tested our basic Italian to its limits but somehow, we got by with a lot of gesturing, smiling and laughing. The sauce was cooked outside over a wood fire for hours. We have brought some home and every time we open a bottle, I am transported back and remember the time, effort and love that finally resulted in a bottle of Nonna’s pomodoro.
One evening we decided we should invite them all for dinner. Everyone came, mothers, grandmothers, godmothers. Too many to count, but I think we had twenty four including our own family. Cooking for locals however, be they any nationality, on their own turf, with their own traditional food, is genuinely terrifying, but we made a stellar effort. Our daughter made her legendary bruschetta and this was followed by the excellent local Ventricina and polpette in industrial quantities. Tiramisu and fruit was well received and rounded off with our homemade limoncello. The boys did a marvellous job of keeping everything moving and all glasses topped up. After they left to an operatic chorus of ‘Meraviglioso’, ‘Delizioso’, ‘Bellisima’ and a thousand, ‘Mille grazie’, ‘Molto, molto’ and many kisses, none of us could quite believe what had happened. It had been as though we were on the set of a Dolmio advert and then, to be congratulated by our children on our Italian speaking was the crema sulla torte (cream on the cake) for hubby and I!
Nothing lasts forever, not even our dear Queen it seems. Everyone has now returned to school, university and work, and, apart from the dogs barking, the house is very quiet. I miss them all so much. Our daughter is now happily installed in LA studying for a PhD, bought a car and has even passed her US driving test, all in the space of three weeks. She is doing so well, I, however, have aged a decade. Thank God for the WhatsApp video and the ability to see her dear face very regularly. Too regularly she might say.
Mercifully, the busiest September at work since I can remember keeps me focussed during the day, not allowing me the time to be continually fearful of the health and wellbeing of our only daughter. We are literally making hundreds of candles and getting ready for Bath Christmas Market which returns, at last, after a two-year break next month.
We have no alternative but to embrace that Autumnal feeling – nights drawing in, the flickering flame of our Fig candle snuggling up watching TV in front of the fire. Autumn also means that Hubby and I are back at night school learning Italian having moved on from the beginners’ class. If nothing else, I can shut my eyes and pretend that I am far away, sun shining, my fingernails still encrusted with the very best pulped pomodoro Italy has to offer…
School’s out for a sunny summer and it has brought back home how much the younger generation have gone through in the last two and a half years. Their rites of passage expunged. Our daughter had her final year at university snatched from her, sitting her final exams at home. Our middle son had his entire 6th form blighted by covid, with no experience of a public exam, no 18th birthday parties to attend, no prom, trips to the pub or to a nightclub. Life has been very sober for adolescents, in all senses of the word. Given the lack of practise in a controlled environment, where mum and dad are there to scoop up and taxi home, we were worried about how our second son would make the transition to university life. Our fears were unfounded – achieving a staggering first class in every single subject he’s taken, despite partying hard. I’d like to add that it’s not rocket science to pass first year exams – only that it is – that’s exactly what he’s reading at university!
To make up for the sobriety of our children’s youth the husband and I can find just about any excuse to open a bottle of champagne these days. I blame the Queen for encouraging us with a five day jubilee. Several bottles have been consumed in recent weeks – because apart from the fledgling rocket scientist’s achievements, our daughter has just received a first-class honours degree in History and Spanish. Having been delayed for two years from July 2020 her graduation felt so very special. Not to be left out, and after a phenomenal amount of work, our eldest son has launched his own business and we are thrilled for him. We have also celebrated birthdays ‘properly’ with parties, sleepovers with gangs of lovely teenagers and twenty somethings and going out to restaurants and concerts.
This may go towards explaining why we’ve all had the festering virus again – thank God for all the young scientists’ brains for the vaccine, so that, although one feels a little yuck with covid, we can at least live our lives to the fullest. Is it just me but given that life on earth seems a little precarious right now, what with wars, climate emergency, strikes, energy and food crises, I want to make the most of every little moment. Some champagne from time to time and my evening ritual of lighting the candles, returns me to an equilibrium – a little solace in a crazy world.
Work has also been a little crazy; we have re-launched two of our lovely summery fragrances with new scents – ‘Amalfi Lemon’ and ‘Sea Salt’. These fragrances have proved very popular with you: thank you. We have made hundreds of these little sage green beauties for one of our clients and a lovely independent group of hotels (one of which is just outside Bath) and our new wax melts have also gone down well and offer exceptional value for money. Customers seem to love them. We have resolutely not increased any of our retail prices, despite some real increases in the cost of materials and will continue to do our utmost to keep it that way.
It’s been a busy time and we are longing for a few weeks of downtime in our Italian house with our youngest son soon and we are hoping that the older ones, who are all now working for the summer, may be able to join us for a bit. Fingers crossed that my oldest girlfriend and her family will join us too. Yet another excellent reason to pop open a bottle of bubbles and maybe, a little Limoncello chaser…
Whilst I write, the temperature has dropped a little and the sunshine has temporarily disappeared, however, what a wonderful few weeks of glorious summer weather we have had since the Platty Jubes, as I’m reliably informed the Platinum Jubilee is referred to.
We celebrated Jubilee day in true British fashion, with our neighbours in their garden with a local band playing. We feasted on Coronation chicken and I surpassed myself and even made ‘the’ Jubilee Trifle. I’m not sure how many people tried their hand at it, but it was truly delicious. I made a few changes, such as pistachio amaretti, but otherwise followed the recipe faithfully, including making the mandarin jelly from scratch! The citrussy smells were amazing.
We watched the concert and waved our flags along in time to the music, helped by a couple of libations and a jug of Pimms and on the Sunday, after a very jovial barbecue with friends and family watched with piqued interest as the Duchess of Cambridge kept her cool, as her four year old son, bored out of his brains, tried his mother’s patience. She was incredible. Imagine having the world’s cameras on you as your child torments you. You have no alternative other than smile through gritted teeth, although, if she’s human, what she was really thinking was, “get this kid in his pyjamas and me a large glass of something chilled”. I take my fascinator off to her. Few of us are cut out for royal life. Mostly because we yell at our children and cannot tolerate high heels for more than fifteen minutes!
After such a lovely long bank holiday weekend, we have come back to earth with the inevitable bump. With the husband hitting the deck. I immediately thought that he’d had a stroke. He was in hospital for a few worrying days, but after every scan known to man, CT and MRI to name but two, it turned out to be a debilitating inner ear virus. The relief! I saw first hand what an amazing job is being done by the NHS, but by God, it is at crisis point. I counted 18 ambulances queuing to get into Bath’s RUH and there was a two hour wait to even be triaged. Husband, thank all the gods, was only out of action for a day and when I visited him the next morning, he had set up a mobile office from his bed and was already in a meeting. Ever the stoic and in typical Royal Navy fashion, he glossed over the fact that he was in a hospital bed preferring the “there may be some background noise” approach.
If Hubby’s funny turn has taught me anything, it is a reminder that we are not promised tomorrow. Without being reckless, we must live in the moment and live as big a life as possible. Look around us. The Queen is running towards 100 years old, Kate Bush still running up that hill at 63. Rod Stewart is still thinking he’s sexy; and Tom Jones, who my friend saw last Wednesday reported back that at 82, he’s still a sex bomb. Paul McCartney at 80, headlined Glastonbury, with a surprise visit by the 72 year old, Bruce Springsteen and Diana Ross, 78, played the legends spot. Such vitality, vigour and vim are more than inspiring. It gives us hope that we have decades of rocking it still. Something hubby and I intend to start immediately as a matter of fact, because this weekend is our wedding anniversary and to celebrate we are going to see another legend, the Rocket Man himself, Elton John.
With so much uncertainty in the world, the cost of living crisis, war, spurious politics and god knows what all – that old British stiff upper lip attitude of ‘turn the wireless up and get on with it’ which I’m sure is the Queen’s mantra, at least we know that we are going to listen to something good…
The Easter holidays came and went in a flash, but we were very lucky to manage some time in Italy, although the three of us were assiduously engaged whilst there. I cleared and cleaned, my husband painted, and our son revised. We were delighted therefore to accept an invitation to our lovely neighbours, Roberto and his wife for an Italian family lunch. We were fifteen and the lunch, which lasted seven hours and seemed to drift seamlessly into supper, tested our Italian to its absolute limits. Fair play to our teacher at Bath College, because we managed to understand much of what was going on. We were served wild boar, followed by pasta, followed by lamb. There were salad courses, cheese and all washed down with a delicious local Montepulciano made by Roberto’s daughter’s father-in-law, who, retired from the Carabinieri, is now happily making wine. The Italians know how to do food and family – if you need further proof, watch Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy on BBC iPlayer. It’s pure escapism from the madness of the world – where everyone and everything is beautiful.
What else is beautiful is this burgeoning time of year. I almost crashed the car the other day so bewitched was I by the verdant, brand spanking new, green leaves that were kissing the white blossom from the other side of the road. The pink blossom next to it seemed to be blushing in response. Lambs are frolicking, baby calves are getting unsteadily to their feet, wisteria is showing off, tulips are flirting. Spring is nature at its sexiest!
Speaking of which, last weekend my husband and I headed off to Stourbridge with the dogs for a blissful, child-free long walk and a pub lunch (our youngest was in Dartmoor for two nights for his Ten Tors trial). We stumbled across a beautiful, forest with an eiderdown of bluebells as far as the eye could see, its scent far removed from my grandmother’s Yardley Bluebell bath cubes! We so enjoyed just being the two of us again and the pace of life on slow, with nowhere specific to be and no timetable.
In our house, it doesn’t stay slow for long and this week is no exception. Not returned two minutes from his adventures on Dartmoor, our youngest is in the midst of exams; our daughter meanwhile has moved home, kit and caboodle, to complete her Masters degree, when, in September she will embark upon a Californian adventure as she continues to study in Los Angeles.
Before then summer is around the corner and we have a Jubilee to look forward to. Bunting, trestle tables, dainty cakes, Pimms, tea and the chance to celebrate within our communities will be the order of the day. Limelight is doing a patriotic little Jubilee candle to get into the spirit, so if you are hosting a garden party or looking for a little gift, watch the website. We are a British brand that our Majesty would be proud of and virtually all our suppliers are in the UK, such as wax and scent and we support local suppliers where we possibly can, with bags and artwork made in Bristol and packaging in the Midlands. Come and see for yourselves! We would love to see you at one of our markets if you are in Bath – just check on the website as we list all the dates on there, and if like us you have been hooked on the Bridgertons’ shenanigans, I can even give you directions to the Modiste’s shop! Oo la la!
Omicron finally struck the household just before Half Term via our youngest child. We both isolated in separate corners of the house, although he was completely asymptomatic, and I had a week in my bedroom with room service delivered to the door, which, dare I say it, was rather nice. I did some paperwork, read books and practiced my Italian which I am learning at night school. Thankfully my husband has, thus far, completely managed to avoid being infected – the only person in the family that has not had it. He is convinced that having spent years sharing cabins and the intimate environment on board her Majesty’s ships that his resolve is made of steel. I’m more inclined to think that his liberal use of Dettol and having the windows open during storm Eunice provided biblical levels of ventilation, which no germ, however tenacious, could have withstood.
My most pressing symptom was a loss of smell, which for someone who makes her living from sniffing nice smells was a little alarming, but I inhaled so many essential oils and munched on so many fish oils to boost my recovery that the dreaded anosmia was thankfully, short-lived. I feel so sorry for anyone that has had this persist for weeks or months and for those whose sense of smell has not returned after covid. It’s awful not being able to enjoy your food!
I watched the little blue lines on my lateral flow tests more intently than I did for any of my four pregnancies, and when finally there was only one, singular sensation of a blue line, I packed my valise and Hubby and escaped to Italy for a long weekend. We stayed for a few nights in a little hotel in the mountains before returning to our house in Italy for a night. A brief but very welcome few nights away. Thankfully the weather was kind and we managed a couple of wonderful days of skiing, the first time in over two years. No 4 child’s two positive line stayed resolute however, but our wonderful daughter stepped into the breech and took over the maternal reins. Strange to think that now, only a week later, no form of isolation is mandatory.
The early spring sunshine is welcome after a long winter and the dachshunds are much keener about going on their daily walks. Those little legs did not like Dudley, Eunice and Franklin and are positively hopping with the promise of spring, trotting through the crocuses and early shoots of daffodils and grape hyacinths that are emerging under the trees in our garden. It’s very inspiring as we are working on some new scents for Spring and I was back at the market in Green Park Station yesterday and it was lovely to see a few of our regular customers again and to chat. I’m so lucky my job grounds me and makes me feel calm.
Something needs to – as we emerge from the darkness of two years of a pandemic, please God let us not head into something worse. I remind myself that the flame of a candle has for years been a symbol of hope. It is comforting, illuminating and brings light to the darkness of individual life, precisely why mine is lit tonight for the people of Ukraine.
There was a time, in my dim and distant past when the vestiges of Christmas had to be hidden from the bin men. Far too many empty bottles of champagne, claret and Port and countless discarded boxes that once contained silk, cashmere and perfume. This year I received, much to my family’s amusement, and very much played with as one would a new pet – a robot vacuum cleaner, nicknamed ‘Dobby’ who scuttles hither and yon, before retiring to its staff quarters under the dresser in the kitchen.
To be honest, far from being irked at such an unglamorous gift, I was so poorly after Christmas that having an android to do the family’s dirty work was an absolute godsend (or whoever created it). It wasn’t even Covid that floored me, and I should know, having had four children. I’ve taken more lateral flow tests than I have pregnancy tests, and know all about the suspended breathing as one waits for those two lines to appear. Nope, the telltale negative, singular line remained resolute and this was some other, nasty festering virus that got my chest and compelled me to lie on the sofa for a few days as Dobby, Dutchy and Daphne, noisily demanded my attention.
Luckily, for Christmas Day itself, I was spared and was still hale and hearty and energised after all the pre-Christmas running around to provide and receive, a magical day. My children surrounded me, and, although they aren’t up at 6am anymore, they are still just as excited by it all, even though we had to shake up the tradition of decades past of stocking opening on our bed. Propriety had it that since we had a guest, who was perhaps as yet, not quite ready to see Hubby in his altogether, we gathered in the sitting room this year in front of a roaring fire. Champagne, a long lunch and present opening (including the ceremonial naming of Dobby) went on into the evening. My parents joined us too, which after last year’s Christmas lockdown of champagne in the garden (don’t get me started on the shenanigans of Boris Johnson and his cabinet) was absolutely wonderful.
I’m not surprised that I was felled by illness though. The run up to Christmas was crazy busy and everyone around me was getting ill so it was probably inevitable that I would and, whilst it doesn’t feel like work, I was nevertheless working all hours just up until Christmas Eve. The pop up shop was fun and I loved meeting some of you for our festive candle making – the feedback was that it was very therapeutic and calming, particularly, concentrating your attentions on an unfamiliar task but, one that smelt so lovely! We also delivered hundreds of Christmas candles for one of our bespoke clients and, we were also absolutely thrilled to deliver some very special candles that we made for Alain Roux and his wife Laura at their three starred Michelin restaurant, https://www.waterside-inn.co.uk/ in Bray, Maidenhead.
And here we are in January. Dry January and Veganuary – the month really has nothing to recommend it.
“How about dry Gin, or dry white wine?” I asked the Husband.
He was having none of it and has been desperately working his magic as a virgin mixologist. His alcohol free Mojitos, are in fact, delicious, but everything is improved with a few bubbles thrown in for good measure, so roll on February.
To try and perk up the general, all over malaise that January brings, we have, when not abstaining and eating more greens (Nigel Slater’s Greenfeast is fab) , been walking the south west coastal path and making the most of the some winter sunshine. We were in Dorset yesterday, eating fish and chips and blowing away the cobwebs and in Devizes today, cheering on our rugby playing son – although I confess that I cannot watch if there is any sign of a tackle or the outside chance that he may be even, ever-so-slightly injured.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very healthy and happy new year. Let us hope that 2022 brings an end to covid, LFTs, isolation, lockdown, PCR tests, travel bans and all the other awful new words that the pandemic has furnished our vocabulary with.
There are few scents that instantly evoke Christmas. It’s a mingling of wood smoke, pine, cinnamon, cloves and orange, puddings and turkey. Walk into a home redolent of these smells and we are immediately transported to times that were magical. When Christmas was magical.
The scent of Christmas transcends the ordinary. A smell unlike that of any of the usual family gatherings or Sunday lunches. It’s a smell that can comfort and soothe. No wonder then that we all hope to recreate it. Year in, year out, to be passed on from generation to generation. It is the tradition that hits you and makes Christmas smell unlike other time of the year. You know it when you smell it. How can you create it then, or amplify it for those that love it like me?
The scent of fresh, evergreen pine
You know the smell – resinous, tangy, forestry. It hits you the minute you get the tree into the back of the car and breathe in the first smell of Christmas. After a battle royal to get the tree to stand straight in its holder, and untangling and festooning hundreds of twinkling lights, and baubles, you leave to get a G& T and walk back into the room and it hits you, Christmas is around the corner! And breathe, it’s the holidays. For me, the scent of a freshly cut tree is quintessentially Christmas and is worth all the mess and hoovering. I always have two huge trees but they have to be watered regularly (they drink loads). The scent does fade though as the tree ages, but you could accentuate the scent and enjoy the added pleasure of a cosy flickering light with our limited edition Fir tree scented candle made with essential oils and high quality, phthalate- free, fragrance oils.
For an added scent boost and because it is just so pretty, use evergreen cuttings to make a garland for your hall and weave some fairy lights around it – looks very effective in creating a magical, Christmassy atmosphere. You could also fill jam jars with cuttings of pine, and add to which herbs such as bay & rosemary. Space these the length of your table, use jute or twine to hold bunches of rosemary on place name cards. Voila!
Light the fire
For me the scent of a smouldering wood fire epitomises Christmas. I also love the comfort and primeval feeling of safety that fire brings. Some of you may not have an open fire, so why not light one of our Hearth candles – the wood smoke scent is (almost) as good.
You may have made this as a child for Christingle. The scent of orange, cloves and cinnamon is the sensory experience of Christmas. I absolutely love it. In fact I love the smell so much, I named our candle, Pomander, because it was the nickname of our first baby. Making pomanders is an inexpensive activity that children will enjoy getting involved in. You’ll need an orange studded with cloves, a red ribbon tied around its middle (it has to be red) and a cinnamon stick poked in the top. Hang them or stack them in a large hurricane lamp as a festive table centrepiece.
Make scented pot pourri
Collect pine cones, add cinnamon sticks, star anise, nutmeg and dried orange slices (put on a baking sheet in a very low oven. When cool, spritz with your own blend essential oil mix or our Pomander room mist. Pile the cones high in large bowls or beautiful hurricane vases, anywhere where it is warm is good.
No candle can compare with the scent of fresh gingerbread, besides, I dislike sickly, food scented candles, so my advice is, if you want that wonderful spicy aroma, then bake your own biscuits. You can punch a hole in the corner with a skewer before baking and, when cool and dry, thread a ribbon through the hole to further adorn your tree. There are an enormous variety of cookie cutters available online. Stars, hearts, Christmas trees, or whatever particularly resonates with your family (sausage dogs in our case) and decorate. I like to pipe every family member’s name in icing. An advisory note: If you have a Labrador, or any greedy dog, place the biscuits high up on the tree. Our much loved, 15 year old lab once took down an 8 foot tree in his quest to get the gingerbread. That particular carnage was not what I wanted to come down to find on Christmas morning.
For the more advanced, why not try a gingerbread house? I’ve been making one for around 20 years – all part of the Christmas ritual. It takes a bit of patience and another pair of hands to stick the sides together, but the scent of baking and then the residual smell on the counter whilst the icing is drying, is worth all the hassle. If baking isn’t your thing, buy a gingerbread house kit and decorate it. It smells almost the same and the fun part is the decorating bit anyway – children will love it, but they will eat more than goes on the house!
When it’s homemade, steaming away for hours upon end, the smell is heavenly. That rich mixture of dried fruit, sugar, spices and brandy. I confess to not making mine and always buy mine at Bath Christmas Market, but there’s still plenty of theatre when it’s brought to the table ablaze, with that gorgeous boozy blue light.
I doubt that we will ever make a meaty smelling candle, but the smell of the turkey roasting is sublime. I cook mine with loads of herbs, a few clementines, apricot stuffing and slather its bottom with streaky bacon. All the bits and pieces that transcend Christmas dinner from a regular roast have their olfactory part to play too – Spiced red cabbage, sautéed sprouts with chestnuts, maple syrup glazed parsnips, crunchy roast potatoes and of course, stuffing, bread sauce and gravy!
Redolent of Christmas Eve and neighbours popping in for a couple of glasses and excited children running around. A couple of bottles of red wine, sugar, brandy, clove studded orange slices, cinnamon sticks, served with a sausage roll or two and you have yourself a party!
Jewel red, sharp and aromatic, the husband says that cranberry sauce is his favourite smell of Christmas. Easy to make, take a packet of fresh cranberries, add the zest of an orange, a cinnamon stick, a little sugar, a splash of water and 25g butter. Simmer slowly until the cranberries burst. The smell is incredible and the ruby red sauce is fabulous with turkey or Boxing Day lunch. Add Cointreau if you like. If short on time, empty a jar of shop bought and stir in some port, the grated skin of an orange and a teaspoon of freshly squeezed orange juice.
When making pastry for my mince pies, I am often nostalgic for my grandmother’s. I vividly remember standing on a stool next to her, listening to Christmas carols as her hands deftly made the most buttery, melt in the mouth pastry. She made her own mincemeat and the smell when she opened the great big kilner jars was intoxicating. Gloopy brandy, fruit, spice squelching out of the jar and she sunk in her battered, old silver spoon to stir it one more time, before I was handed a much smaller, decorated little spoon to fill the pastry cases. Half an hour later and I’d sit at the dining table with my very own, warm mince pie – the smell and the texture so lovely that I’d shut my eyes so that I could savour it all the more. Granny would make her own brandy butter, and I’d be allowed half a teaspoon off my tiny little silver spoon.
It’s memories like these that I try to recreate in all the over and above extra effort I go to at Christmas in the hope, I suppose, that my own children will continue our traditions bringing them as much comfort as it does me. As they cook and kindle, simmer and string up, it’s the scents of these festive activities that will bring their memories back to life.
The clocks have gone back here in Italy, despite, as it says in the paper, ‘an EU deal on scrapping the hour change’. I made the most of the extra hour in bed this morning, besides it’s bloody chilly here in the mountains and I have lots of snuggly blankets. In Italy, today is ‘Il Giorno del morte’ (the Day of the Dead) and All Saints day tomorrow is a national holiday where everything closes. In Schiavi d’Abruzzo a village close by, children don’t really do tricks or treats, they make houses out of recycled materials and put candles inside to remember their loved ones lost. It’s called ‘Le cassette degli Angeli’ – the houses of angles. This is in complete contrast to the British version which, dare I say it, is all plastic tat and imported festivities.
I far prefer the Italian version and, as one who makes her living from making candles, then the spectacle of hundreds of them burning obviously appeals to me enormously. In fact, last night, when our gas ran out, and the pasta was most definitely on the hard side of al dente and needed a few more minutes, we placed a couple of handfuls of tea-lights under the pasta pan which kept the water hot enough to cook the pasta, just. Never has cooking fusilli ever looked quite so romantic. What with the gas running out, a missed flight and a lost wallet this half term holiday has not been the switch off I was quite hoping for, yet another reason to stay in bed a little while longer this morning.
As soon as I return to Bath, I will be busy at work and, for those of you that are early birds and like to be organised and are already soaking your prunes in Armagnac and steaming your Christmas puddings, then you might like to know you can now buy pre-order Limelight Advent Calendars – 24 scented wax melts, our winter favourites plus two new essential oil melts designed to relax and uplift. We are also working on an exciting new product development making candles for some well known luxury brands and getting our Christmas preparations ready.
Sadly, Bath Christmas Market is not taking place this year after all, but all is not lost, as every weekend from 20th of November to the 19th of December, as part of the Bath at Christmas Limelight will have a pop up shop at 15, Cheap Street, Bath. And, as so many of you have expressed an interest, we are also running festive candle making workshops here too.
Thank you to everyone who has already booked to come and join us. Places are in demand – obviously lots of you out there want to get creative – one of the few positives of this pandemic has been the return to simple and slow pleasures; activities that we did in our dim and distant past, when we had the time, before life got in the way. Apparently, now that so many people are working from home and not having to commute for several hours a day, ‘old-fashioned’ pursuits have flourished and there are more people knitting, sewing, painting, gardening and bread baking than they have for generations. Well, now candle making can be added to that list and we have therefore added a few more dates to our classes but there are only a limited number of places available, and so, as they say, book early to avoid disappointment! There will be plenty else to see and do – Bath’s most iconic streets and buildings will be illuminated and the Museum of the Moon this December, looks like something not to miss.
I look forward to seeing many of you soon. Enjoy the next month before the craziness of Christmas grips us and don’t forget to check the water levels on any steaming puds!
I’m usually rhapsodising about seasons of mists and such like at this time of year. Pumpkins, rustling leaves, candlelight and woodburners all of which make me feel cosy and snuggled in, but this year the combination of queuing for fuel, supply chain shortages, post pandemic limbo and half term firebreaks has made me realise that the world is spooky enough and that I’m not yet mentally prepared for witches, ghosts and the onset of dark evenings. My nest is also depleted as number 2 son has now gone off to University. That’s three out of four chicks flown and I definitely feel the loss. Of course he however went off without so much as a backward glance and thus far, is having a ball, doing all the ghastly things freshers do that parents most certainly do not need to know about. I knew that he was attending the Physics Society pub crawl and I sat at home anxiously waiting to get the text that he was back safe. I must take the kids’ advice and be “more chill”.
My maternal efforts are now concentrated on our fourth child i.e the third son and, to his credit, he’s humouring me very well and allowing me to fuss over him. We’ve even read a book together every evening– Purple Hibiscus, a brilliant book which also happens to be one of his school texts. We chatted about the characters and made some notes, which was mostly me typing and him narrating which he promptly then sold in the playground to the highest bidder which I don’t think was what the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had in mind when she wrote about freedom and individuality!
Work has also helped take my mind off my boy at university as we have been so busy since we got back from Italy. We have made thousands of candles for a client, many of which are heading off to John Lewis just ready for the Christmas shopping period. We had a fabulous show at Top Drawer in London and it was lovely to see some of our existing customers and also to meet some new ones. My right hand woman, Megan and I stayed in a lovely hotel close by and were very happy once the day was done to don our PJs, crack open a bottle of wine, open the chocolates and watch Emma Raducanu win the US. We were literally bouncing on the bed with excitement. No wine was lost.
We have just a few more orders to get out and then we can start to think about our own Christmas preparations and then it won’t be long before we are (hopefully) setting up our twinkling fairy lights in Bath, but before then let’s hope that the crucial work of lorry drivers is appreciated and more are recruited, that the petrol station hysteria calms down, that booster and flu vaccines are rolled out quickly, that the weather doesn’t do anything too extreme and that the world starts to heal. Not much to ask for eh?!