Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Was it a Cracker for You?

I hope you have all had a pleasant and relaxing Christmas if you celebrate it and if not - the season's greetings. 

The festivities are all but done here bar the shouting for the New Year and that will come and go without celebration as it has done for many a long year in this household. It's just a date. Christmas has been fine, quiet and familified (is there such a word?) Dinner was good and the cracker jokes perennially poor. The fact that they are so groaningly poor is a laugh in itself. Is that irony? The company was excellent and television switched off while we all played card and board games. 

I don't watch much television, but those who do watch it have said that the season's offerings have been poor. I was very disappointed in David Jason's new offering The Royal Bodyguard on BBC TV. It was very predictable and the simplistic script was not conducive to showing Jason's talent. Ray's of light came in the guise of Morecambe and Wise Christmas show repeats but, why oh why is it that shows that are 40 years old (1971 and 1976) are providing us with entertainment and a genuine laugh?
I've had a sort of lethargy where the Internet is concerned hence why my blog has been sparsely populated - I'm trying to spend less time on-line (and spend less on line too!) With having just the Bank Holidays off work and working the rest of the time, life has been quiet and routine. The weather has been dull and unimaginative for the time of year. A friend, Bryan Moiser once said as a tag line for his blog (and I paraphrase) "If there ain't anything worth saying, don't say it." So rather than fill this blog with fill-in, I haven't said it. Even the camera has been solemnly resting in its black case - no scene to capture.

I suppose that's left more time for reflection. The BBC, in their usual style look back at the people we have lost in 2011 and their excellent slide show is well worth watching. 9 minutes of education on who has passed this year from the world of entertainment and my God, have we lost some talent: 

Singer Amy Winehouse, actor extraordinary Pete Postlethwaite, composer John Barry (007), Sir Jimmy Savile, Dame Elizabeth Taylor, director Ken Russell, writer John Sullivan (Only Fools and Horses), comedy writer David Croft (Hi-de-Hi, Are you Being Served & Dad's Army), Peter Falk (Columbo), forces sweetheart, actress Jane Russell, singer Billie Jo Spears, actress and comedienne Janet Brown, one of my favourite actors Edward Hardwicke (Dr Watson to Jeremy Brett's Sherlock), actress Susannah York and many more.

These people have been, at some stage in our homes through the magic of television or radio and we see or hear them or in some cases see or hear the result of their talents (in the case of the magnificently talented writers). They will be sadly missed not only by their families but by the public. A generation of people slowly disappearing.

I've seen a couple of films lately which were ok too but which I have not felt the energy to review - perhaps I have that SAD (I don't think so) but short days - going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark doesn't help does it? Energy levels are dramatically low.

Sherlock Holmes, A Game of Shadows (12A) was a good piece of escapism and after a slow start, was quite enjoyable. It's difficult not to like Robert Downey Jnr. Antonio Banderas as Puss - in - Boots (put a dramatic pause after 'Puss'), a spin off from Shrek and rated PG, was also fun and undemanding.

Shall I have New Year's resolutions or not? That is the question. Mostly, I've kept to them in the past, most famously for losing weight and for ramping up my spiritual work. Not sure whether or not to go for it this year.

By the way, here's a question for Google. Why doesn't the spell checker for this blog recognise the word 'blog?' More Irony?

Chat soon

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Feeling Christmassy - At Last

What a weekend of joy, frivolity and mayhem (of the best sort). The weather has shown it's true winter colour here of white - frost that is, on our cars and gardens and today, where the sun did not reach, the frost lasted all day.

Saturday saw a 50th birthday party for a good friend Linda which was organised for a local pub and the theme of the party was sixties and seventies dress and music and this worked wonderfully well. It was a great night with a great singer, a solo female and lovely company. There were straight laced professional people dressed as hippies, sixties fashion Mary Quant type dressed (some deliciously short) and one extraordinarily huge Afro wig. There were pinks and flower patterns, ban the bomb emblems, dark round John Lennon glasses, jaunty hats and frankly a fantastic time was had by all. I never drank a drop of alcohol and enjoyed it all the more because I was in control and danced the night away (and didn't suffer physically surprisingly), something I haven't done for many years. A night that will live in the memory for a long time.

Sunday was all the more poignant and somewhat emotional as firstly I went with a friend to support her as she laid wreaths of remembrance on her husband's and father's grave. Then on Sunday evening, I went with the same friend to the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at the Holy Trinity Church in Hull - the main church in the old town of Hull. Not the most senior church, but large, expansive and looking much better for renovations internally.
Holy Trinity after the Candlelit Service 

Some of my ancestors were baptised and married and dispatched in this church, yet, it was only the second time I've ever been in it and this was the first service in it I had ever attended. The service was by candlelight with just the lights of the Christmas Tree to show there was any electricity in the Church at all. The carols were traditional: Once in Royal David's City, It Came upon the Midnight Clear, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Away in a  Manger, Shepherds (wash their socks by night) and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. The nine readings were short but told the Christmas story from the Bible. 

The choir rendered some more traditional winter anthems of celebration such as Psallite Unigenito, I Saw a Fair Maiden, In the Bleak Midwinter, Sir Christemas, and the organist finished with the magnificent In Dulce Jubilo by Bach. Tea and mince pies were to be had in the vestry although in this I did not participate. Instead I went for a walk along the dark and chill river Humber at the Horsewash in the old town for a few minutes contemplation. Looking east, the picture below is the famous (locally anyway) The Deep - a huge aquarium, the building of which is shaped like a huge shark.

The Deep - lit against a dark winter's sky

It's many years since I've been to a midnight service - many of them were stopped because of drunks in the nineteen eighties but that means that the services are now more for families and this is a wonderful thing. It was indeed a wonderful atmosphere and thoroughly enjoyable and gave me a chance to exercise the vocal chords.

So two lots of exercise this weekend, dancing and singing. I am now officially in the Christmas mood. I have already finished the the first two parts of Dicken's Christmas Carol, something that I do traditionally and have done for more years than I can recall now; Marley has shown up, rattled his chains and gone to wander the world in torment and the ghost of Christmas past has taken Ebeneezer on the first part of his journey of redemption.

Chat soon


Saturday, 10 December 2011

Chilly Day Blues

I hope I find everyone well and in the northern hemisphere coping with the colder weather? Hardest frost of the year for us this morning and even now at 12 noon, there is still a lot of frost where the sun hasn't reached. The leaves above are in the road outside the house.

A shopping trip to Sainsburys this morning made me laugh (other supermarkets are available to laugh in). We use Clover 'butter' because it's quite versatile although I prefer real butter. A 1kg tub of Clover (which we normally buy) was marked at £3.70. Buy two 500g tubs for £3.00. I always thought buying bigger saves you money? Now there's no blaming Sainsburys here, it's all clearly marked but it's a good job we check the pricing labels first. 

The Christmas tree goes up this afternoon and I'm going to take a time lapse film of the event to astound and astonish you (gives you something to do - don't complain.)

The berries are in abundance this year. Don't forget this is because of a good spring rather than a bad winter predicted but the birds don't care, the blackbirds are eating them like they are going out of fashion.

How's your preparation for Christmas going? Do you celebrate it at all? I've mostly done now (my wife doesn't celebrate Christmas) I just have a few cards to write. Most of the few prezzies I buy are sourced on-line and delivered to the door. The rest I get from the supermarket when I'm doing some shopping. The tree is the only 'decoration' we put up - the good thing is there's less to take down. My mistake this year was not to do some prepared hyacinths because coming down in the morning to the most delicious smell known to man (well this man anyway) is a lovely experience. 

On Sunday (11th), I'm taking the Angel goods stall to an 'alternative Christmas gift fair' at the Memorial Hall in Beverley in East Yorkshire. We were pre-warned that the hall does get cold even inside so I'll be wrapping up!

Enjoy your weekend.

Chat soon


Thursday, 8 December 2011

Hector Christmas

Meet Hector.

He has pride of place in the centre of my meeting table in my office at work. I think I might leave him there all year round. Although a Christmas feeling has yet to emerge, we aren't far away and for the first time since we've been in this house we have a real Christmas tree this year and apparantly the needles do not drop - allegedly. I bought it last weekend and its been stood in a bucket of water for a week and it will be up and dressed on Saturday. Traditionally, one of the lads will dress it (under supervision).

I hope that the people of Northern Ireland and Scotland and northern England remain safe after a report of a gust of wind up to 130 miles per hour in what has been the stormiest day for a long while. Snow and other wintry weather is forecast for the weekend. We've just had gusty winds and a bit of rain here.

Chat soon


Saturday, 3 December 2011

Packed Away for the Winter

Another busy week this week but less hectic which has been pleasant, a chance to re-charge the batteries. Today has been spent in the garden pruning shrubs, cutting back and giving it a final clean up before the winter finally comes to us. With moving leaves from the borders, I was revealing ground not seen for a few weeks and hiding places for bugs, the wild birds have come flocking back into the garden. Just today sat having a sandwich for lunch, in half an hour I saw: blackbird, thrush, collared dove, blue tit, coal tit, wren (x2), robin, crow, wood pigeon, dunnock and goldfinch.

I have mostly emptied the compost bin and as I was emptying it, I noticed lots of tiny yellow maggots in one place in the compost. I stopped to have the obligatory break and a robin who had been watching me closely, swooped down and helped him/herself to an unexpected but I guess welcome meal. The compost was full of works which are now hopefully working on the borders with the new compost.

The grass has had its winter treatment, the buddleia davidii has been pruned to stop damage from wind rock and the roses have had the same. Leaves have been cleaned from the gutters and ponds and the pond pumps have had their last clean of the year. I keep the water falls running all winter to provide running water, surface movement and oxygen for the fish. It also makes sure there is a hole in any ice that forms. We've just started to have one or two light frosts, enough to ensure I have to clean the car windscreen in the mornings.  

The advent calendars are now being used with 3 choccies eaten. I bought my lads one each as I try to most years and this year a friend bought me one too with a Thomas the Tank Engine theme.  I have to say I was tickled by this choice of calendar theme because once as a parent of young children, we used to watch Thomas and his friends on television and on video every day. I could once name all the engines - not now I don't suppose.

Advent calendars come from the nineteenth century in Germany when Lutherans would count the days down to Christmas Day by chalking off the days on the door beginning on the 1st December. The first printed advent calendar hails from Germany in the first years of the twentieth century.

Whilst the calendars are largely made for children these days (including the odd adult like me), advent events including the lighting of candles can still be found in some churches.

I've already been on one Christmas evening dinner with my lovely psychic/philosophy group at a Chinese restaurant. We had a banquet, something I've never done before and tasted a wide variety of foods and I was quite brave and mostly used chopsticks although in the end, the fork became handy.

I see that the snows have already been causing some problems in Scotland, last year, we had widespread snow which caused us a lot of disruption. We are now, at last beginning to see more traditional cold weather with daytime temperatures tomorrow predicted at 5 degrees Celsius - this follows the second mildest British autumn on record (MET Office: September to November). 

Chat soon