Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

I wonder why it is that, however carefully you pack away the Christmas lights each year, you end up wrestling with a tangled mass of wires before draping them over the tree to discover that they’ve decided not to work. They worked fine during the plug-in test in their jumbled state. This is one of life’s many little irritations and reasonably resolvable after checking the efficacy of each individual bulb but it is a seasonal time-waster.

I managed to avoid one of the stressful Christmas traditions this year – that of actually going out and buying the tree in the first place. For once, last year’s tree has been flourishing, potted up in the back garden, requiring very little maintenance other than the occasional watering. Because I have to have a real tree – and I’m very determined about this – nothing will incite me to unfold a fake tree from my attic – the task of selection and carriage falls to me. Many a year I have suffered scratches to face and arms as I force the shapeliest spruce I can find into my modest hatch-back.

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So with the tree decorated, all presents wrapped and cards written, unusually I had time on my hands so, as you do, I hemmed a pair of curtains. Now, this might not sound like much but let me tell you, my sewing box and I are distant acquaintances. It sees the light of day occasionally if a button goes astray but coming out as part of some sort of enjoyable leisure activity is, frankly, risible.

I put this down to the trauma I suffered as a child in my first year at secondary school at the hands of our sewing mistress, Mrs Gorrill. She was a sour-faced little woman, always dressed in black (I think it may have been taffeta – whatever it was, it rustled) and she would rap us over our knuckles with her pinking shears if the stitching on our gingham cookery aprons wasn’t neat enough. My knuckles that term were red raw and I spent much of the time in that sewing room unpicking my sub-standard effort gazing across to the adjacent hut where the boys were doing technical drawing, wondering why girls were excluded from learning about perspective.

We were relegated to ‘domestic science’ which I reckon was only a generation away from ‘housewifery.’ I wasn’t much better in the cookery room, either. I remember my Swiss roll unravelling and ending up on the floor and being told off for pointing a saucepan handle over a hot ring when, in my defence, I’d been taught at home to angle handles away from the edge so that smaller siblings wouldn’t reach up and tip molten liquid over themselves. I think the teacher burned her hand on that handle as she was reprimanding me…hadn’t she heard of oven gloves?

These days cookery is called ‘Food Technology’ and anyone is allowed to take it as a subject, although its current status has gone the way of many of the more useful subjects on the national curriculum and has been savagely down-graded in favour of the academic subjects. While students are still required to make (in my opinion) unnecessary culinary items – fresh pasta, for instance, whoever is going to make their own pasta in halls of residence? – for some pupils, creating dishes in the kitchen is what they excel at and should be given as much kudos as an A star in English or Maths.

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Little Mai from the Moomins looks just like my old sewing teacher

But what am I thinking? This wasn’t meant to turn into an education based rant. I simply wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Have fun, enjoy yourselves – and cheers to another blogging year!

 

 

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I’m feeling festive. Term ended in a rush of noisy classroom games, chocolate prizes and hyper children. My modest little tree is outside the back door in its little red pot waiting to come in and be decorated with a string of lights and bits and bobs collected over the years.  Many of the houses locally are bedecked with lights, competing with each other as to who can be first to shut down the national grid.

This apparent competitiveness was the inspiration for a piece of creative writing I did while at my writing group. We were given a one word title  and allowed up to 2000 words instead of the 300 flash we were usually tasked with.

So to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and at the suggestion of one of my lovely critical readers, here’s a little fiction for you.  See you on the other side …

RIVALS

“Look at this, Mo!” Len exclaimed.  He was surfing the internet for new additions to his Christmas lights display.  Len’s lights had become something of a talking point in The Close over the years.

“Looks like you’ve got a bit of competition,” said Maureen, watching from the front room window as their new neighbour opposite strung fairy lights across two conifers.

“Over my dead body,” said Len, as he clicked two angels and a Star of Bethlehem into his basket.

***

Maureen was exhausted. She had spent the day taking her mother Christmas shopping, helping her buy presents for everybody and buying something for herself for her mother to wrap up. She was looking forward to putting her feet up with a cup of tea. The house was in darkness as she parked the car.

     “Silly sod,” she thought, “He’s fused the lights again.”

Letting herself in, she automatically tried the light switch.  It worked.  Where the hell was Len, she wondered, annoyed now. Her hallway was strewn with Star of Bethlehem packaging, Len’s toolbox on the bottom stair.

As she began to feel alarmed, the doorbell rang.

“Oh, hi-ya,” said the woman, standing there “I’m Cheryl Parks – just moved in over the road. My Steve has taken your hubby to A and E – he fell off his ladder.”

Maureen looked at Cheryl, slowly taking in the information.  She peered past her in the gloom and saw Len’s ladder leaning against the side of the house.

     “Oh God,” she said, “What’s he done?”

“Think he’s broken his leg,” said Cheryl, “Steve offered to help – he’s an electrician, see. Steve Parks -S Parks – SPARKS – couldn’t be anything else, could he?” and she laughed raucously, as if she’d just thought of the joke, which of course she hadn’t. Maureen had seen the name on the side of his van.

“I’ll take you to the hospital,” said Cheryl, stepping inside Maureen’s hallway, pushing the door to and making a performance of wiping her open-toed sandals on the mat, revealing bright red nails and an ankle bracelet. Maureen began feeling shaky, whether from shock or tiredness she wasn’t sure, but she was grateful to her new neighbour for assuming control.

“What about your children?” she said, aware there were several smaller versions of Steve and Cheryl across the road.

“Oh don’t you worry about them,” grinned Cheryl, “our Stacey’ll get their tea on; she’s very capable.”

Maureen had witnessed Stacey being very capable with a young man in a Ford Escort outside the house a few evenings back but she didn’t say anything.  Instead she gathered together a few things Len might need and followed Cheryl to her car.

They found Len sitting on a trolley having had an x ray and waiting for a bed.  He looked dishevelled, his hair awry, trouser leg cut up to the knee, a temporary bandage covering up his swollen ankle. He and Steve were in deep discussion.

“Hey Shezz,” Steve looked up briefly at them as Maureen dumped the bag containing Len’s things on to the trolley.

“Thank you so much,” Maureen said to Steve, while looking at Len, who winced and smiled at her sheepishly.

“No worries, love,” replied Steve with a wink.  “Good job I was there!” He stood up and shook her hand.

“Looks like I’ll be out of action over Christmas,” said Len, “it’s broken in two places.” He pointed unnecessarily to his lower leg.

Cheryl suggested that she and Steve go and find cups of tea for them all.  Maureen sat up on the trolley next to Len and patted his good leg. He looked as if he’d been through it a bit. Maureen hoped that Cheryl wouldn’t be long with the tea, she was gasping.

     “Does it hurt much?” she asked, suddenly feeling sorry for him.

Len turned to Maureen, his face happier than it should have been for someone who had recently double fractured a major bone.

“A bit,” he said, “but don’t worry, love, Steve’s going to do our lights for us. We’re getting a banner to string across the road between our houses, Mo, just like up the high street!”

     Len’s wretched lights were the least of Maureen’s priorities right now but she could see that talking about them would distract him from the pain. She wondered doubtfully what the rest of The Close would think.  She knew that some of them felt Len was already going a bit far with his luminous flashing nativity scene on the front lawn.

     “Where will you get a banner from, then?”  She said, suspicious that Len had been doing some clandestine on-line purchasing.

“Had one left over,” Steve arrived back, making Maureen jump. He handed her tea in a cardboard cup. “Did a job down in Kent. Small village. Ran out of fixing spots.” He winked again.  Steve did a lot of winking, Maureen thought. That, and talking in abbreviated sentences.

They all stayed with Len until a bed was found and he was settled. He’d be plastered tomorrow, when the swelling went down.  Cheryl made the observation that she usually swelled up after she’d been plastered which made Steve laugh uproariously and call her a daft cow.

They laughed a lot, Steve and Cheryl.

***

     “I love Christmas,” sighed Len, contentedly, from the back seat as Maureen drove him home from hospital two days later, via the town centre so he could see the decorations and the town tree festooned with fairy lights.  Steve had been busy while Len had been laid up with his swollen leg.  As Maureen swung the car into The Close, Len saw the banner, strung professionally across the road, uniting them with their new neighbours.

“Looks like a decent job,” he said, generously, craning his neck to see his angels and Bethlehem star adorning their roof. “Good bloke, that Steve,” he added, struggling with his seat belt in his haste to get out and have a better look.

 Maureen held the door open for him thinking that her husband was beginning to sound like Steve and half expected him to wink at her, but he didn’t.

     “Steve’s waiting till tonight to switch on,” she said, “he thought you’d like that.”

“Great stuff,” replied Len, hobbling to the front door on his crutches.  Maureen followed him in and went to finish off her mince pies for the festive gathering later that evening.

     Maureen’s mince pies were as much a tradition in The Close as Len’s lights, so she felt a little disgruntled as she and Len joined the gathering crowd to see Cheryl with a crate of Cava, dispensing to all and sundry in plastic cups. Cheryl, wearing flashing antlers on a plastic hair band, greeted them expansively, plonking red lips onto Len’s cheek and handing them both some bubbly.

     “There you go, Lennie!” she said, adding, “Look, the boys have found you a deck chair!”

     “Lennie?” thought Maureen, aghast, at the same time feeling grateful for Cheryl’s kindness. While Len lowered himself into the chair, she offered Jack and Darren, Cheryl’s twins, one of her pies. They turned their noses up, shook their heads in unison and ran off, grinning.

     “We ready, then?” Steve arrived on the scene in a Santa hat. “Shall I nip in to yours and switch on, Mo?”

 Without waiting for an answer, he jumped over their low wall and let himself in to their house as Paige, Cheryl’s youngest, sat herself on Len’s lap and handed him a remote control. Maureen could see that Len was loving this so she tried to muster up some Christmas spirit by handing round her pies. Just then a cheer went up: Len’s nativity scene was ablaze, the new star of Bethlehem twinkling against the night sky. It did look lovely, everyone agreed.

     “Now for ours,” Steve was back, winking again, “go on Len, press the remote!”

With Paige clapping, Jack and Darren counting down excitedly, Len pressed and Steve’s side of The Close lit up, the Merry Christmas banner sparkling above them. As the crowd watched, an enormous white inflatable took shape on Steve and Cheryl’s front lawn accompanied by an ear shattering version of ‘Frosty the Snowman.’

     “I can turn the music off it if gets too annoying,” Steve said, anxious for a moment, seeing Maureen’s face, but everyone clapped and cheered, filled with seasonal bonhomie and a second cup of Cava.  Cheryl encouraged everyone to conga back to her conservatory for more alcohol and sausage rolls.  Maureen pulled urgently on Len’s sleeve, thinking he’d had enough excitement for one night but he was having a wonderful time and despite not being able to dance with the others, hobbled behind Mrs Norris from number fifteen towards Steve’s back garden.  With a sigh, Maureen picked up the deckchair and followed.

***

     Christmas passed by in a flurry of neighbourly exchange, culminating on New Year’s Day in a ten pin bowling challenge on the Parks’ family Wii and their new forty-two inch plasma screen which Len accessed from the comfort of Steve’s multi positional armchair. Even Maureen’s mother had been invited and she sat happily chatting to Mrs Norris while Cheryl provided more party food from a never ending supply.

     “Such a shame Christmas is nearly all over,” Len said, taking a vol au vent from the plate Cheryl offered him.

“We’re off to the in-law’s villa in Spain next week,” grinned Cheryl, “to do it all over again!”

“Lucky you,” Len replied, dropping mayonnaise down the jumper Maureen’s mother had given him.

     “We’ll need to get the decorations down before twelfth night,” Maureen said, aware that with Len incapacitated, she was in danger of having an unseasonal nativity scene in her garden and bad luck for the coming year.

     “We’re back mid Jan,” said Steve, shovelling a handful of peanuts into his mouth, “No rush, is there?”

     “Here you go, Mo,” Darren said, handing her the Wii controller before Maureen had a chance to protest, “Your turn!”

Maureen was surprised to find computerised bowling quite easy and felt strangely satisfied that her name appeared on top of the leader board when Len finally called it a day and decided they should head for home.

***

     The electricity bill arrived a week later.  Maureen picked it off the mat with the junk mail and went to have her breakfast. Len was still upstairs, awkwardly showering, his plaster cast encased in a plastic sleeve. Maureen flicked through the sale catalogues that had just arrived and then opened the bill.  She couldn’t believe her eyes; there must be a mistake. She went to her home file and pulled out the last few bills. She was right; this one was more than double any of the others. At that moment, Len limped in to the kitchen.

     “Look at this!” Maureen greeted him, “your blooming lights are going to have to go!”

Len looked at the bill, a puzzled look on his face.  He shook his head.

     “This can’t be right,” he said, “all my bulbs are low energy.”

Nevertheless, he rummaged in the drawer for the torch and hobbled out to the garage.

“I’ll just check the meter, Mo.”

Maureen followed him, feeling angry. Len opened the meter cupboard and continued to look puzzled.

      “I’ll just try something,” he said, and went to the master fuse box.  He turned all its switches off, cutting all power to their house. Returning to the meter, Maureen could see in the torch light the dials still whirring merrily around at a speed much faster than any of the cogs cranking around in her husband’s brain.

“Well?” she said, arms folded, waiting for Len’s appraisal of the situation.

Slowly, he turned to her, his lights now well and truly on and with a look of complete disbelief, hissed uncharacteristically between clenched teeth: “The thieving bastard!”

LOOKING FORWARD TO A NEW BLOGGING YEAR!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How long did it take during your Christmas/New Year break to discover that you really couldn’t face one more chocolate, marzipan fruit, mince pie, trifle or slice of cold turkey, ham and accompanying pickle? How long was it before you were pining for something plain and simple, no sugar or unnecessary carbs attached? I’d reached my limit by Sunday 28 December.

As the fridge was still bursting with seasonal fare and a chocolate mountain overloaded the sideboard already I was dreaming of fasting. Even alcohol lost its appeal.

The sofas remained in a state of permanent lopsidedness with their slumped indented unplumped cushions caused by their permanently slumped and increasingly obese occupants while the TV went round on a loop of hideously boring repeats – some only repeated from the week before – as if any of us really noticed or even cared as yet another box of Turkish Delight was offered around.

Not being one to waste food I’ve made just about made sure we’ve chomped our way through pretty much everything before hitting the supermarket with renewed New Year vigour. The other day I made soup from some old leeks I found lurking and a wedge of stilton cheese. Why we buy strong blue cheese I have no idea – we never eat it at any other times during the year – but it’s a part of Christmas, so we have it. I had no idea that there would be a recipe for this combination so I just followed my culinary instincts (which we all know aren’t that well honed), chopped the leeks, sweated them in some butter, added a potato and vegetable stock then zizzed them up together with my hand-held blender. I then crumbled in the cheese, zizzed a bit more and returned the pan to the heat, adjusted the seasoning and served. Quite good, actually, although if I made it again (unlikely), I’d add a bit of milk to take the strength from the cheese.

I’m pleased to report that a) there won’t be any further recipe tips here and b) thankfully the cupboard is bare and we can look forward to getting back to a weekly routine.

Speaking of reports – I was interested to learn from the WordPress review of my blogging year that I have managed to elicit the same amount of traffic to my site as it would take to fill the Sydney Opera House several times over. Well, not having ever visited said concert hall, this statistic was rather lost on me until I equated the total to filling the Royal Albert Hall and discovered that I’m probably as popular as Eric Clapton on a two night sell out tour.

Now I know how many hits it takes to fill the Albert Hall…

Thanks to everyone who has dropped in, liked and commented – much appreciated.

WordPress also suggested that I take a look at some older successful posts and consider writing about those topics again. Hmm, might try this as a bit of an experiment especially as one post has only elicited interest because of its accompanying photographs and I’m feeling less than creatively original at the moment. Sounds like an excellent solution.

Also, in their wisdom, school have sent me on a training course which requires homework to be completed every week for the next ten. I can see this taking up more time that I anticipated so blog posts may well be sporadic although I’m hoping that the training course itself will provide some fodder.

So, that’s the start of my 2015 – glad to be back in the routine – however much we rail against it, I think we’re all creatures of habit to a greater or lesser extent.

Here’s to a new blogging year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wrapping, sticking, tying, cutting, folding, covering, curling, polishing, paring, adorning, chopping, embellishing, fretting,  marinating, rolling, icing, dicing, stuffing, hiding, cooking, hanging, forgetting, decorating, dusting, peeling, browning, trimming, seasoning, stirring, splicing, vacuuming, arranging, sautéing,  draping, laying, panicking, cleaning, shining, contacting, baking, whipping, drinking, roasting, slicing, basting, measuring, fixing, fastening, eating, festooning, simmering, hosting, tidying, washing, drying, stacking, preparing, repeating…

images3JEDFBJNI hope it’ll all be worth it.

The blog kitchen will be closed for a bit while I concentrate on the real one, but I’ll be back sometime in January.

Whatever you’re doing over the festive season, have a wonderful time and a very happy, peaceful new year.

See you on the other side.

     

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Have you bought your cards yet?

For Christmas?

I have. (Smug).

Last week I was in a pretty market town somewhere in the south of England when I spied the charity cards for sale sign, denoted by a little triangular Father Christmas. I always buy my seasonal greetings cards from this outlet, they who temporarily take over abandoned church and village halls, take up space in tiny museums and libraries. I don’t know how much of the profit goes to charity but it’s better than none at all.

So in I went. I was the only customer – it was early afternoon and the foyer of this particular hall was decked with festive cheer and boxes and boxes of cards laid out in military precision on tables, each box clearly stating for which charity the cards were supporting. I had plenty of space and time to browse.

Manning the ancient transitory till were two lady volunteers of a certain age so very obviously of the Jam and Jerusalem variety. Couple this with the fact that I was in the home counties, add a padded green gilet or two, a tweed skirt, a would-be Hermes scarf and a set of pearls and you’ll get a pretty accurate picture of these two frightfully well-meaning souls: pillars of their community. Huddled together as they were, around a battered convector heater, clacking away with their knitting needles, (probably socks for the Ebola crisis – any world crisis and the British Women’s Institute is right in there to knit the socks) I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation, delivered as it was in the unmistakable bray so inherent of the Shires.

For the sake of the telling, I’ll call these ladies Phyllis and Felicity. Their conversation went something like this:

Phyllis: Did you see that Tony Blair….

Felicity: Ugh, ghastly little man….

Phyllis: Yes, quite. Did you see that he’s been given some sort of an anti-poverty award by Save the Children?

Felicity: No! Unbelievable! Something else to keep his horrible little profile going…

Phyllis: Absolutely.  Well, I for one certainly won’t be donating to them any more … What on earth were they thinking?

At this point I was perusing the children’s charity cards. My hand hovered; I hesitated, selected a pack of cards then moved to the next table.

Felicity: Well I don’t give to Cancer Research anymore. Did you see how much they’re paying their Chief Exec?

Phyllis: Oh, I know; absolutely outrageous isn’t it? Oxfam’s just the same.

And so it went on, the two of them loudly dissecting different charities and posing reasons as to why they wouldn’t support them. It was hilarious; I had to stifle my laughter.   It was like landing in the middle of a comedy sketch worthy of the Two Ronnies. Characters so blatantly unsuitable for the roles they were performing…

Then it occurred to me that these ladies could be conducting some sort of psychological experiment of which I had unwittingly become a part. Were they amusing themselves by trying to work out the personality of their customers by leading them away from certain boxes of cards? Were they trying to ascertain that some customers were defiant?  Were they testing me? Should I play their game, double bluff them or put my theory down to an unusual rush of paranoia?  I put the cards back. I started at the other end of the room. Two can play at this game, I thought.

As I sifted through a box of assorted odd charities such as the Benevolent Milkman’s League or similar I remembered that one of my very good friends volunteers for Christmas card duties every year. (SSF – she of the London bus tour – remember her?) She’s as far from Hermes scarves and pearls as one could possibly be but she does have a wicked sense of humour. I can just imagine that if she and I teamed up in some village hall in a volunteering capacity, we’d probably invent a game like this to while away the hours. Perhaps I’ll sign up with her next year – we could have a lot of fun, even though I’m not a knitter.  As it happens, I’m seeing her tomorrow for tea. Maybe we could play a version of this by commenting on the calorie content of the cakes at the counter as potential customers salivate.

Anyway, back to my cards. I purposely haven’t bought as many this year. I’m paring down my list, I’ve decided. I’m sticking to my inner circle. Not because postage is so astronomically expensive and I’m a skinflint – no – but when we send out cards year after year to people we never see, don’t want to particularly see and receive cards from people we don’t even know, what is the point?

For instance, we open a card every year wishing us all the best from Roger, Bev and family (with all their love). We have no idea who these people are. Not a clue. At least it’s a source of annual amusement: we await the envelope dropping on the doormat with seasonal anticipation.  I suppose we should be grateful that they don’t include a family newsletter although in this case it might help us with their identity.

I loathe those letters, don’t you? The ones people photocopy and send out to everyone on their card list, regardless how well they know the recipient. I’d go as far as saying that I find them offensive. If I’m not worth writing to individually, then please don’t bother. If I don’t know you that well then I’m not interested in the condition of your great aunt’s care home or your daughter’s violin lessons or the problems you’ve had with your kitchen extension. If you really want to write about the minutiae of your life, then start a blog and make it at least half-way amusing.

Right then, that’s the cards done. Just the present buying and food shopping to go and we all know how much I love that.

 

 

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