A Posset of Delights

December 24, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Posted in Eating and Drinking | 4 Comments
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What seasonal book, music or tv traditions do you have? The Nutcracker? The Snowman? The Bible? I like to read The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the wintery Bond story), and watch the tv adaptation of John Masefield’s The Box of Delights, first shown on the telly in December 1984, with the final episode going out on Christmas Eve, i.e. 27 years ago today. I think I must have seen it a bit later than this though.

The book was published in 1935 and as well as bizarre and magical happenings, is full of curious language (“I haven’t a tosser to my kick” exclaims Kay, the protagonist. “Now, Kay, you mustn’t use slang in the holidays” admonishes his guardian) and traditional foodstuffs like muffins and possets. I’ve made lemon posset as a dessert before (cream, sugar, lemons) but have never drunk a traditional posset. But after watching/reading The Box of Delights I really really want to.

After various ‘scrobblings’ (kidnappings), which all hinge around the baddies’ quest for the eponymous Box, young Kay begins to despair of the police taking action. But although the local inspector is not quite the bloodhound of the law that he thinks he is, he does offer Kay some sound advice:

‘”You get that good guardian of yours to see you take a strong posset every night. But you young folks in this generation, you don’t know what a posset is. Well, a posset” said the Inspector, “is a jorum of hot milk and in that hot milk you put a hegg and you put a spoonful of treacle and you put a grating of nutmeg and you stir ’em up well and you get into bed and then you take ’em down hot. And a posset like that, taken overnight, it will make a new man of you.”‘

Kay gets Ellen, the maid, to make him one and finds it does do him a world of good. And when feisty scrobble-victim Maria returns to the bosom of the family a little later, she firmly turns down the offer of a cocoa in favour of a posset:

‘”I”m not going to drink any poison like cocoa, thank you” Maria said, “When one’s had a nervous strain such as I have, one wants a posset with three fresh eggs in it and a spoonful of sherry”‘

NB Maria is about seven.

If the rest of today goes according to plan (there is stuffing to make and some final presents to wrap), we’ll be going to Midnight Mass tonight and I think a posset with a tot of rum will be just the ticket when we get home. I will report back in due course. In the meantime, here is the opening credit sequence for The Box of Delights, with a sinister and atmospheric take on ‘The Coventry Carol’ and ‘The First Nowell’.

Merry Christmas!


Christmas with the Famous Five, Part 1

December 10, 2009 at 10:50 pm | Posted in George, Timmy | Leave a comment
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One of the things I love about children’s books are their descriptions of Christmases past. Lucy M. Boston’s The Children of Green Knowe (1954) has to be a contender for one of the best Christmas children’s books ever. Young Toseland (or Tolly for short) is a lonely only child (much like George pre-Julian, Dick and Anne) who goes to stay with his grandmother at her ancient and magical house of Green Knowe. Whereas George gets to bond with her cousins, Tolly’s new-found friends are relatives too…but ones who lived three hundred ago.

This first Green Knowe book is set in the run up to Christmas and is full of lovely Christmas rituals – decorating the tree with ancient glass baubles that have been handed down over generations, shopping for gifts – most unusually a real live partridge in a pear tree, and attending midnight mass at the local church.The Children of Green Knowe was made into a television series and was broadcast in the run up to Christmas in 1986. It’s not available on DVD or video, but for anyone wanting to revisit (or discover) this lovely adaptation, there is a rare opportunity to see it on the big screen at BFI Southbank on the 17th December and it is also available to watch via the BFI’s fabulous mediatheque (currently available in London, Derby and Cambridge).

Enid too is not without a Christmas-themed Famous Five adventure, albeit one lacking the magical and Pagan-meets-Christian qualities of Green Knowe. Five Go Adventuring Again is the second FF book and is set during the holidays immediately following the summer adventures of Five on a Treasure Island.

When Julian, Dick and Anne’s parents fall ill with scarlet fever (an affliction that strikes quite often over the course of the 21 FF books) they are invited to Kirrin Cottage to spend the holidays with George, Aunt Fanny and the ever-irritable Uncle Quentin. Sadly, this means that George will not get to experience the parties, circuses and pantomimes that usually make up part of her cousins’ Christmases, and the holiday is also somewhat dampened by the presence of a live-in tutor called Mr Roland. Not only does he subject the children to hours of French, Latin and maths (he’s obviously a bit of a polymath) but he also takes a dislike to George and her beloved Timmy, who gets exiled to his kennel after taking one nip too many at the tutor’s ankles. Things get worse and worse for poor George and when her father’s important scientific formula gets stolen, she starts to realise that Mr Roland has not come to Kirrin Cottage solely to make her life a misery…

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