shewhomust: (dandelion)
Christmas isn't over until Phantoms at the Phil on Twelfth Night. So last night we went to the Lit & Phil, and were regaled with ghost stories by Gail-Nina Anderson, Sean O'Brien and Ann Cleeves: unusually, at least two of these were literally ghost stories, featuring actual ghosts, and if Gail's bogeyman wasn't a ghost as such, I think it would qualify as a phantom, a spectre - and it was very creepy. After which we had to go to Mario's and restore ourselves with black pudding.

And now it's over, and we have taken down the Christmas cards, which is pretty well all we do in the way of decorating. No tree, this year - I'd like to have a real tree, but going away just before Christmas makes it difficult to buy one at the right time.

The leftovers are mostly disposed of: there's chicken stock in the freezer, and duck fat in the fridge, but that's resources, not leftovers. Not to mention a large amount of blue Stilton, and a rather peculiar Christmas cake - I'm sure I baked it for as long as usual, but it is very soft and sticky: tastes good, if you like that kind of cake, and I do, but I'm nervous about offering it to other people.

It's been a very destructive Christmas. Not just the car (the garage tell us it will be repaired and returned to us on January 28th; until then we are to make do the the toy Citroën 'courtesy car' which doesn't like going up our hill); I have also - a real catastrophe - broken the coffee pot. It was empty, so I didn't get coffee everywhere, it just slipped between my hands, hit the side of the sink and a large piece detached itself. My pre-caffeinated state may have had something to do with this. Luckily we have a spare, an elegant glass pot given to us by [ profile] weegoddess, and I am getting the hang of using the right quantities of coffee and water for me breakfast brew, but its slender neck can only accommodate the smaller filter, so it isn't ideal. I've started ccouring the charity shops.

I broke a wooden spoon, too (I think the pieces went on the fire).

There's also some leftover television to watch - time to go and work on that now.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
A visit from [ profile] valydiarosada and D. is always an entertainment in itself, of course, and we did all the things with which we habitually amuse ourselves at the New Year: we may have drunk rather less wine than usual, since one of our number was taking painkillers which should not be mixed with alcohol, but we built fires and did crosswords and waited for the New Year to strike, and so on.

Three things in particular:
  • We watched the special 'what if Sherlock were the Victorian Sherlock Holmes?' Sherlock. It's only now, trying to encapsulate that concept, that I realise quite how twisty that concept is. On the other hand, it didn't bother me becaise I wasn't trying to rationalise it. I switched off critical brain, sat back and enjoyed the eye-candy, and the jokes. If you feel that 'switch off brain' is an odd way to approach a Sherlock Holmes story, I wouldn't disagree, but I find it works pretty well for this particular version. On this occasion it carried me all the way through to the spoilers ), at which point my brain switched itself on again and said "You WHAT?!" On reflection, since more spoilers ) perhaps the whole Victorian narrative last one, I promise! ). Which is even more worrying.

  • We were lingering over breakfast on Saturday morning, not quite ready to drive out to visit D.'s sister and brother-in-law, when someone rang up, claiming to be from Windows Online Help calling about a problem with our Windows personal computer. You'd think he'd have spotted the danger signal when [ profile] durham_rambler asked him "Which one?" "Your Windows personal computer!" "Yes, but which one? The notebook, the desktop, the Windows8 machine, the Windows 10..." "All of them, all your Windows personal computer!" Or perhaps when he repeated "I am windows Online Help!", and [ profile] durham_rambler said "No, I am windows Online Help." But he persevered, insisting that we switch on a computer, so we thought 'well, he's asking for it,' and switched on the nearest computer (my little notebook). This must have gone on for the best part of half an hour. Even when I told him that I had no intention of connecting to his server, that I wouldn't dream of doing anything so insecure, he didn't hang up, he just passed me on to his supervisor. I suppose this means that the failure belongs to the supervisor rather than to him.

  • D.'s sister and brother-in-law have recently bought a house in Alston, so we drove up Weardale, up into the cloud and out the other side. The weather was grey and damp, but not too wet to walk to the Angel for lunch. This was the same pub where we had lunched a while ago on a birthday jaunt to Alston, and it served good pub food, but was running out of drink: the landlord explained that the brewery delivers once a week on a Friday, but since we had just had two Bank Holiday Fridays in a row, even filling the cellar to capacity before Christmas had not prevented the barrels running dry. About the only thing in town that was dry, though. We walked back along a circuitous route, and I took the year's first photos. This one gives some idea of the extreme lushness of the moss:


    The drive home in the dark seemed longer and more winding than the drive out. Eastgate was very enthusiastically lit for Christmas, though, and I liked the glimpse, as we passed, of the full-sized nativity scene in the bus shelter, with the star over the door.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
New Year's Day already - how did that happen?

And guests to play with, so no time to post now. But here's a half-written post left over from last year, so I can at least stop kidding myself I'm ever going to get caught up, and post that:

It starts with a news update: on Tuesday morning the garage who are to repair our car came and collected it, and left us a courtesy car in its place. We don't know how long the repair will take: the garage was running on half-staff over the holidays, and we are now in the middle of another bank holiday weekend. But in the meantime, we are mobile again. Not being able to use the car has been half frustrating, half an excuse to take things easy, but it had gone on quite long enough. We celebrated Tuesday with a visit to deliver a late Cheistmas present, some heavy duty supermarket shopping, and a jaunt to the seaside - to Seaham for a fish-and-chips lunch and the shortest possible walk along the front:

Seaside in December

Onther than that, what I wanted not to miss writing about was the Bears' Carol evening. Always the same, always different (as BoyBear says about another Christmas tradition). This year F. arrived just in time to add the final touches to the mulled wine, which I had started in his absence (I am sad to report that adding more honey than seems plausible really does make all the difference; I wish this weren't the magic ingredient, but it is). So he was there to overhear, and be baffled by, A. arriving and handing me a bag with the words "I've made one of all the kinds of dinosaur, including the 3D ones that you have to slot together." (One of my purchases while out shopping with GirlBear the previous Friday had been a set of dinosaur biscuit cutters for A., who has an extraordinary collection of cutters with which she bakes delicious and appropriate ginger biscuits for all occasions. She received the gift with every sign of delight, and the words "Oh, I don't have those kinds of dinosaut!"). P. was absent, because he works as a film extra background artiste, and had been at work from five that morning (leaving home at three) doing something highly secret in Lincoln's Inn, so the new arrangement of one of the carols (I've forgotten which one) featured neither his concertina solo nor R.'s fiddle (R. having forgotten to bring his fiddle). The other P. started a number of complicated discussions: there was one about the Sussex Carol really being from Derbyshire (Wikipedia knows nothing of this, and nor does R., who really is from Derbyshire), and one about how the wise men must have been travelling eastwards, if they came from the east and had seen the star in the east: we stopped short of drawing diagrams, but only just. And there was the traditional discussion about Here we come a-wassailing which, in the version we sing, maintains a strict rhyme scheme until the very last line, and then breaks it spectacularly. M. extemporised a revised version:
God bless the masters of this house:
Their names are Neil and Jan.
They give us Christmas carolling
And mulled wine in the pan.

We were having such a good time that we included two bonus carols, Shepherds, arise! and the Sans Day Carol, as previewed at the Islington Folk Club Christmas party.

Indeed, we had such a good time that the next day we accompanied GirlBear to the Whittington Hospital, where she was part of a recorder group playing half an hour of Christmas music in the foyer. What I learn from this is that I don't hate the Coverntry Carol at all, as a recorder piece I like it very much; but I do find it very tedious to sing.

Then, for a complete change from Christmas, [ profile] durham_rambler and I went to the Jewish Museum, and then to dinner with [ profile] helenraven, and both of these things were entirely satisfactory.

And the next day we came home.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
The plan for tomorrow was that we would drive into Newcastle for S.'s traditional Christmas morning party: Buck's fizz and smoked salmon and as many of her friends who could leave the turkey in the oven and take a break while it cooked. And then she would load the dishwasher and come here with us for Christmas dinner, and we'd drive her home the next day. We've done this before, and it works well.


At about three o'clock this afternoon I was washing up from lunch, and knocking back the bread dough and thinking that my next move was to go up to the spare room, replace the bookcase that we'd moved to give the builders access to the radiator and make up the spare bed - and then I should probably start to make the stuffing for the bird... when there was an almighty thump from the road outside, where, it turned out, a young man on a bicycle had failed to negociate the bend and cycled right up and over our car.

[ profile] durham_rambler brought him in and sat him down, and encouraged him to phone his mother. He was walking, but very shaken, had a nasty scrape on his arm and, though he was reluctant to admit this, an even nastier one on his leg. There is a very impressive dent right up the bonnet of the car (seriously, much more impressive than the one White Van Man made in the back) and another in the windscreen. The glass is crazed rather than shattered, but we aren't going to be driving that car anywhere until it's been fixed - and while our insurers were happy to provide a courtesy car, by the time we'd reached that stage, the person in charge of courtesy cars had gone home.

So, change of plan. S. will be abstemious at her party and drive here when it is over ("and I can start drinking then, can't I?"). I miss out on the party, but I have extra time for preparations tomorrow, which is why I have time to write this now. Our young cyclist is going to be very sore tomorrow, if no worse: his mother may well decide to take him to hospital to get that leg wound looked at. She, I think, is the person who comes off worst out of this (at least in the short term: ask me again when we've been without transport for a long weekend) having just yesterday taken her mother to hospital with a chest infection and confusion, and already having that to worry about.

And it looks as if we shall be having what we said we wanted, a quiet Christmas at home.

Here's not one but 12 Christmas cards for you: the Twelve cartoons of Christmas from the Guardian. Among a number of star illustrators, my favourite is still Shaun Tan's contribution.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Keeping busy. We had a dinner date on Friday, but a free afternoon, so GirlBear and I took the bus to Crouch End and shopped, for supplies and gifts, luxuries and necessities. For a while it looked as if we were going to have to report that only GirlBear had bought a book, but then I found one - Karen Maitland's latest, which was very satisfactory. I also bought soap, orange juice, artisan bread, sellotape, various cards, toothbrushes, vacuum packed chestnuts - a pleasingly random haul. I also took photographs of Hornsey Town Hall, which has some lovely decorative detail, some of it incorporating the motto Fortior quo Paratior: if I'm interpreting that correctly, it's very apt for these pre-Christmas days of preparation and planning!

We were just approaching our rendezvous point, when the car, with [ profile] durham_rambler and BoyBear in it, pulled alongside, and we jumped in with packages flying in all directions. The drive out to Waltham Cross went smoothly right up to the last moment, when we had a disagreement with a man in a white van (details redacted because reasons). No one was hurt, though the car now has an impressive dent at the back - luckily not breaking any lights, so we could drive on.

The evening recovered, we had a fun Christmas dinner with A. and A. at the local Wetherspoons, the Moon and Cross, and returned with them to their house for coffee and more chat: places, and civic planning, old friends and folk events we have known. I loved A.'s story about going to a sing around at a friendly but rather grand house, and been caught in a sudden downpour on the way: so there I was sitting with the dog's head in my lap, and the Siamese cat sitting on my shoulder, drinking the drips from my hair...

Yesterday [ profile] durham_rambler and I went out to Essex to visit his family; a busy, bustling time with Christmas shopping, football practice, changes of plan of a medical nature (not dramatic, not drastic and not my story to tell - but disruptive). There was time to admire the tree, and admire it even more when the malfunctioning string of fairy lights had been replaced with not one but two new ones; and there was time for a game of Lexicon, and to be shown the splendours of a football game on the X-box (football, not interesting, but the graphics are indeed impressive).

Then we came back to Tufnell Park for dinner and a start on the Chritmas crossword (so far, we are not impressed). And tonight there will be the Carol Evening, so I should go and do my share of preparation.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Last Saturday we missed a birthday party because there was so much snow last night we went to a Christmas party amid reports that this is the warmest December on record. We are in London: it's another country.

I've been too busy struggling to keep up with Christmas preparations to post about it as well. There's little to report: lussekater were baked, only a day late; Christmas cake baked, although 'soak fruit overnight' turned out to take three days, and next year I really am going to review the quantities; some presents have been bought, and some of those wrapped and dispatched - thoough some remain to be found, and there are some people who will not receive their presents until, if all goes well, the days between Christmas and the New Year; cards are done except those for neighbours; and we are in London for our annual pre-Christmas visit, so what has not been done will await our return. Time to party!

As usual, we would have liked to set off earlier than we did, but there was last minute wrapping, and we were watching the clock all the way, but arrived in time for a bowl of chili before the Islington Folk Club Christmas party. The club is upstairs at the Horseshoe pub, in Clerkenwell; one day I will visit Clerkenwell by daylight, but on a December night it's a fine Dickensian London scene, dark alleys and glittering lights, sacks of rubbish awaiting collection and bright cocktail bars.

The Christmas party, as BoyBear says, is always the same and always different. There was the Angel Band, the house band, complete with what we think was a bass clarinet (reaches to the floor, and you can tuck small items into the bell for safe keeping), Christmas tunes and morris tunes sometimes sliding from one to the other; there was pass the parcel, with the traditional forfeits (the solo mummers' play); there were floor spots, tending towards the seasonal.

Shepherds, awake!

Dorten Yonder sang Shepherds, Awake!, and later, as advertised on BoyBear's T-shirt, Holly, Holly; Amanda MacLean, whose book I posted about a while ago, sang a very funny Twelve Days of Christmas enumerating the traditional features of the club, the seven Swedish polskas, a very melodious five "Don't slam the door!" the four Angel Bands, and a book of Bernard Puckett's pub poetry. And we dispersed with a certain amount of "See you at the Carol Evening on Sunday..." so the fun has only just begun.

One thing, though, one conspicuous absence. Tomorrow would have been Phil Ochs's 75th birthday. I only know this because I stumbled, almost by chance, across an event at the People's Bookshop last Sunday. That would be a post of its own if only I had more time, but the condensed version is, regular event rebranded to remember Phil Ochs, but attended mainly by people who, with all good will, don't remember, haven't heard of. It was described as one of a number of events on this theme, but the internet only shows US events, and my informants on the London folk scene know nothing, either. Sad that so many great songs are so little known:

shewhomust: (dandelion)
We were later than usual at the pool yesterday morning. Not much later, just the time it took to scrape the frost off the car, but enough that we werejust leaving as the primary school children were arriving. They were in their Christmas finery: nothing excessive, but a red Santa bonnet here, a tinsel edging there, plenty of red coats. Most eye-catching: a hat with a sort of roof-tile pattern, 'Merry Christmas' written on it, and a pair of booted legs waving out of the summit (or chimney, I suppose). Most effective use of understatement: a knitted elf cap, in green and red stripes, complete with a pair of pink knitted pointed ears.

Today we went shopping in heavy rain, which turned to sleet and carried on turning. We emerged from the covered market to find it snowing heavily, and it continued to snow for the rest of the adternoon. The weather forecast knew nothing of this, and informed us that we were experiencing heavy rain, with snow on the higher ground.

We interpret this as meaning that the roads are not being cleared, and decided not to risk the trip to Newcastle tonight, which is why we are at home now and not out partying.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
We are in Ely, with D. and [ profile] valydiarosada. Despite the warnings of the weather forecast, we did not in fact have too hard a coming of it: we avoided the tailback at Catterick (emergency gas leak) by cutting through the town, the rain was squally and the wind was gusty, but the worst problem was traffic on the Lincoln ring road. And we arrived and were soothed with tea and warming stew and comparative malbec tasting (Mendoza good, Cahors better) and television. This morning D. gave us a brief introduction to Ely (the river, the self-illuminating sluice gate, the cathedral, the ducks), then we drove through the fens in watery sunshine for lunch at the Maid's Head (I recomend the sweet potato wedges, pity about the accompanying dip). I am writing this as the afternoon slips away, and [ profile] valydiarosada is in the kitchen making apple pie to the accompaniment of carols from King's College.

I had expected to have written about our trip to London long before now: but I had expected to have done a number of things which somehow have remained undone. I had envisioned the days between our return from London and our departure for Ely as a little oasis of calm in which I could achieve a number of tasks in an orderly and unhurried manner: this did not happen. I know these are the shortest days, but they are supposed to have as many hours as other days - so where did they go?

Anyway, London: It's a big place, a long post and several pictures )

And on Monday, we returned home, and the rest you know. Except that on Saturday we had yet more seasonal music, this time from the Albion Christmas Band: we'd been uncertain about this, and maybe a little confused by a previous Sage concert from a second-generation Albion Band, but the Christmas Band turned out to be Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Kellie While and Simon Care - of whom Simon Care was the least familiar name, but the one whose CD we took home with us (having heard it playing during the interval). No reflection on the band, which provided a lively and various evening; we counted seven pieces we had sung the previous week, but in very different versions (the watchword appears to be 'boisterous', and I got the idea that the band felt there was something missing, and were trying to supply the stamping and ringing of the absent morris side). I'd happily go again next year.

Which brings me up to date, I think - Merry Christmas, everyone!
shewhomust: (dandelion)
And to brighten the bleak midwinter, I sort through the cards we received at Christmas, as I did for Christmas 2007, 2008 and 2010. And where else to start but with the snow scenes?

List under the cut )

Our own card-sending was patchy this year - we bought cards as we saw some we liked, never finding enough of one kind; the system for printing out address labels broke down completely; at least one card was overlooked in the excitement and had to be handed over on New Year's Day. But looking through the cards we receive, amazed at how much effort some of our friends put into making them (hand-made cards is impressive enough, but hand-made paper?) and charmed all over again by designs which don't sound special when I describe them, but which are inexplicably pleasing to the eye - well, I do know why we carry on doing it.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
As far as I'm concerned, tonight is Twelfth Night. I have heard a certain amount of discussion on this point over the last couple of weeks, and some of it was just silly, and some of it ([ profile] valydiarosada, I'm looking at you) was very plausible. But as far as I'm concerned, tonight is Twelfth Night. All the guests have departed, all the turkey has been eaten, ghost stories have been told, the tree has been stripped of its finery. It's been a good Christmas: I feel that it's been quiet, and then I think of all the excitements and the comings and goings, and can't imagine why I feel it's been quiet - even-tempered, then, perhaps.

The tree, once it had been appeased by the sacrifice of blood, allowed itself to be wrangled into its stand, and stood in the window shining for the whole street to see and scenting the whole house with pine. I'd have preferred a tree that is smaller than I am, but size isn't everything.

On Christmas Eve [ profile] durham_rambler collected the turkey we had ordered and discovered that our supplier's supplier had fewer small birds than promised, and would we mind having the next size up for the same price? So there was altogether more turkey than we had intended: we checked, before we said yes, that it would still fit in the oven, but there was only room for one shelf above it, and the vegetables had to be cooked in shifts.

On Christmas Day I decided to skip the traditional Christmas morning gathering in favour of last minute preparation for guests: stuffing the turkey, decorating the tree, washing the last of the blood from the floor... I was sorry not to go to the party, it's always fun and such a long established tradition that people we only see there once a year have become old friends; but not going to parties seems to have been one of my coping mechanisms this Christmas, and it has worked, leaving me more relaxed to enjoy my visitors. So by the time [ profile] durham_rambler returned with house guests, we were able to peel the last of the vegetables and open our presents in a leisurely way. The turkey was good, if enormous, and Heston Blumenthal's Christmas pudding (crouching pudding, hidden orange) was nice enough, though it looked rather sinister when I turned it out onto the dish: the fruity pudding fell apart revealing the dome of candied orange inside (worth trying, but ultimately two good things that didn't benefit from being served together).

Our guests departed after a leisurely Boxing Day breakfast, and our next guests - [ profile] weegoddess and J. didn't arrive until the following day, so we had time to breathe.

We all went to the Gala Theatre to see the pantomime, and had a wonderful time. It deserves a post to itself, and I started to write one but was overtaken by events: the short version is that although the story was - very approximately - Sleeping Beauty, it had been extensively reworked to support a quantity of traditional pantomime business and characters. So the Princess is brought up incognito by the Dame and her idiot son, the hundred years' sleep is threatened but never happens, so that the Prince and Princess can fall in love before the magical sleep and awakening (I was disappointed that Prince was played by a young man, but you can't have everything), and a number of changes were made to create space for Neil Armstrong's villainous wizard Scorchard (he's made a speciality of the pantomime villain, it says here) and rightly so: he was the best thing in the show. Rather like Alan Rickman in Robin Hood, Prince of Theives, he seems to be in a stronger, less insipid show than everyone else: the excitement rises a notch when he is on stage. He also gets the best costume - a flowing black coat hemmed with flames (which I coveted, and was sorry to see replaced in the second half - the show was lavish with costume changes). He has the evil laugh off pat, and is surrounded by a troupe of black-clad shock-headed minions of all sizes - and he gets a genuinely startling transformation himself, later on.

[ profile] weegoddess and J. wanted to revisit old friends and old haunts. Sometimes we sent them out on their own, sometimes we accompanied them - for a Sunday roast lunch in the cloisers, for example, and a stroll around the cathedral as dusk was falling. And they brought gifts, four neatly wrapped thriftshop finds, all books, to be opened one on each evening of their stay.

They left us one New Year's Eve, and [ profile] valydiarosada and D. arrived in time for dinner. I pot roasted (is that a verb?) a joint of venison, which was not only very tasty but also unexpectedly easy, and we lingered so long over dinner that it was no effort at all to stay up and see the new year in. There have been years when [ profile] durham_rambler and I have thrown in the towel and left to D. and [ profile] valydiarosada the chore of sitting up and drinking the champagne, but this year we were able to help, which made light work of it.

We all went to a New Year's Day party of the light conversation variety; we went out to lunch, to an Italian restaurant so new it doesn't yet have a website, or a phone number or any means of contact but calling in in person; we entertained to lunch, and fed our guests leftovers.

On Tenth Night we celebrated [ profile] desperance's birthday with Phantoms at the Phil, at which Gail-Nina Anderson revisited one of the "ghost photographs" she had shown us at her solo ghost story session at Northumbria Gallery, and folded it into something quite different; Sean O'Brien told a tale of decadence and possession, a warning against choosing the wrong poet as your PhD. subject, and Phantoms virgin Val McDermid came up with a story both funny and chilling, and a new answer to the old question: "Where do you get your ideas from?"

How do you follow an evening like that? [ profile] valydiarosada and D. set off for home yesterday morning, and we have been attacking odd tasks and trying to get back to normal. Tomorrow we shop.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
I wole up this morning feeling reasonably on top of the Christmas preparations: not ready, of course, never that, but we had done the food shopping (bar the turkey, which has to be collected tomorrow), we had written all the cards, and [ profile] durham_rambler had delivered the local ones in person, there was a bowlful of dried fruit macerating for the cake, we were making progress. Today I would finish off a website task, clean the sitting room so that we could erect the tree and decorate it, and maybe make the beds for our Christmas Day guests, or wrap a last few gifts...

I wasn't even unduly fazed when [ profile] durham_rambler announced that the car had a flat tyre, and while he took it to be repaired, would I look at this draft letter to a prospective client? It would be good to get that letter out before Christmas, wouldn't it?

But when I tidied away that site update, and went downstairs to start on the tidying up operations, I was interrupted by a cry from the kitchen, where [ profile] durham_rambler was attempting to whittle down the trunk of the tree so it would fit the stand. I should have known better than to let him play with the stanley knife: he had cut his wrist, and there was blood all over the place. I'll say straight away that although we called the emergency services, it is not a large cut, he has not lost a significant amount of blood (from the questions we were asked repeatedly, I would define a significant amount as a teacup full) and no emergency vehicles were involved. A kind neighbour delivered him to A & E at the local hospital, where they put a stitch in the wound and a clean sticky plaster over it, and collected him afterwards. None of this was pleasant, but none of it is life-threatening.

Inconvenient, though, it's certainly that. Add to the tasks I didn't accomplish because of this distraction the clearing up the accident itself made necessary, and the things which [ profile] durham_rambler won't feel able to do, and I now don't see how everything is to be done in the time available. No doubt there's something I could be doing, even at this hour, but I don't intend to. I'm going to bed.

Have a picture, as a counterpoint to [ profile] sovay's lovely tree-trimming post:

The scene of the crime )
shewhomust: (Default)
Lucy Mangan cries at carol concerts.

There'll be laughter and tears over Tia Marias
Mixed up with that drink made from girders
And it's all we've got left as they draw their last breath
And it's nice for the kids as you finally get rid of them
In the St Stephen's Day Murders

And in between we've had two days as visitors, Christmas morning party and Boxing Day afternoon party, two long-established traditions where we meet people we've known for a long time but may only see once a year (and sometimes people are at one party who we might have expected to see at the other). The filling in the sandwich was a collaborative Christmas dinner, with our host S. as chef de cuisine, vegetables peeled by the company. We paused between main course and pudding for Doctor Who, too well fed and mellow to be seriously critical. The pudding, which was my contribution, was full of good things and tasted fine, but was falling apart, and the PX which accompanied it was sweeter than I had expected (and I had expected it to be sweet) and would have been better for a touch of acidity. And these things are also true of Doctor Who.

Today we prepare for the arrival of visitors of our own (if we can drag ourselves away from the internets).
shewhomust: (Default)
I decided, almost on the spur of the moment, to bake a Christmas cake this year - I had almost all the ingredients, so why not?

I've written before about the recipe I use ('use' rather than 'follow' seems about right). This year's is definitely a plum cake: chopped prunes, a handful of the damsons from the bottom of the damson gin, and the gin itself as the main alcoholic additive. For the record, and because, when I was looking for this information earlier this week, I couldn't find it, these quantities fill the big square cake tin and one loaf tin - rather more than fill them, and although I could have squeezed it all in, I made five little buns (in a muffin tray) from the scrapings.

I reduced the oven temperature to mark 2, with the buns on the top shelf for an hour and a bit more, the cakes on the lower shelf for three hours (or thereabouts; I lost count).

One way and another, this seemed to take most of the day (surprising, since so much of the preparation was done the previous day - but then, it was one of the year's shortest days); the upside of this is that by the time I thought the cakes were ready to come out of the oven, [ profile] desperance was there to confirm that they were indeed done. We ate the little buns for pudding. They were surprisingly light and cakey - good, but not what I require from Christmas cake. But perhaps the scrapings of the bowl have a lower than average density of fruit? We shall see.

[ profile] desperance and I sat up long into the night and a little way into the morning too, with a bottle of armagnac and much conversation to catch up on.

And now, though it's too soon to tell, the season turns and the days begin to lengthen.

Cake update: After cooking the cake remains lighter than usual in colour, and with a more cakey texture, though still moist. I think, in fact, that I have finally got the cooking time right, and while this is good, and it makes a pleasant change to have a cake I can offer to others without a health warning, I sort of miss the damp soggy thing that I usually bake. The damsons are not discernable, but I suspect their influence can be felt, though not identified.

Also, the marzipan: Jane Grigson's recipe makes too much for the larger cake, as you'd expect, even when the quantity of sugar is drastically reduced, and rather too little for both. It's good, though. I'd forgotten how much I like home-made marzipan.
shewhomust: (Default)
We are in London for the weekend, for carols and family visits.

The Bears' carol evening has become the point at which I know that it really is Christmas, even in those years when [ profile] durham_rambler and I aren't able to attend, even when - as this year - the event is severely handicapped, to the extent of being a Bear short.

My sister-in-law, GirlBear, is in hospital with a poorly leg. I won't broadcast her medical details to the internets, and will say only that after a prolonged series of false starts, she does now seem to be receiving effective treatment for a) the visible problem, b) the underlying problem and c) the pain. It's an anxious time, but she looked brighter when we visited today than she did yesterday, and she is well enough to enjoy visits, though I think she finds them more tiring than she admits.

In her absence, we were not as organised in preparing for the carol evening as we would otherwise have been, but the essentials were all present: floors were vacuumed, chairs were found, wine was mulled, mince pies warmed, songbooks found and guests welcomed. We skimped only on the decoration, this being very much GirlBear's forte (and the absence of candles was later noticed, and remarked on).

Since a very similar group of people sing our way through an identical set of carols every year, the music always varies in the details, and is always the same. Without the GirlBear, the difference was more marked: no xylophone on Past three o' clock, two guitarists turning into rock stars in one corner. What else? Someone remarked that she preferred On Christmas Day taken faster, and we decided that was worth trying, sang it again faster and agreed that this was good and we should make a note for next year. I haven't given up on the campaign to sing Adeste Fideles in Latin, because I find the English words very awkward to sing (and must find a full set of words, including the verse that I don't know because we didn't include it at school). We had two versions of While Shepherds (Cranbrook and Sweet Bells) but omitted the 'basic' version (which presumably isn't basic at all, but that's how I think of it). There were different opinions of Kate Rusby.

I was sitting next to M, who made a passing remark about Rudolph being related to Sleipnir, which led to a quick chorus of "Sleipnir the eight-legged reindeer..." and gave me the image of All-Father Christmas who sends out his two ravens to find out who's been naughty and who's been nice. I have nothing further to add to this - anyone who has, feel free.

Going out into the cold in search of Italian food now.
shewhomust: (robin)
Same categories as last year, at least until I see whether this works or not:
  • Snow scenes: 23, including:
    • 5 woodland scenes,

    • one Japanese print,

    • one stunning photograph by Edmund Nagele (ah. OK, not any of these, but the snow has the sculptured quality of the last two on this page) looking up a long hillside to a tree on the skyline with just the ghost of the moon beside it,

    • 5 townscapes: one somewhere in France, one Guildford, one surprisingly effective photograph of York at night, one starring 'the Amnesty bus',

    • 4 village scenes: including Kandinsky's Winter 1909, sunset on boats in harbour, and an unidentified picture of children playing with skis and sledges which must surely be from a pre-existing painting

    • one horse-drawn coach

    • this very stylish shot of skaters at Madison Square Garden by Gjon Mili

    • two pillarboxes - one of children queuing up to post their cards with a distinct flavour of Robert Doisneau - and a mailbox painted pillarbox red

    • and three snowmen (only one of them by Raymond Briggs)

  • Birds: 25 birds comprising:
    • 3 non-realistic doves, one covered in the word 'peace' in many languages, another owing a lot to Picasso

    • 13 robins, including some of this year's largest and most glittery cards. 3 of these are completely stylised, one is a simplified but identifiable drawing, and the rest are either photographs or photo-realistic drawings.

    • one blue tit, one barn owl, one Mary Fedden Blackbird in the Snow

    • 6 penguins, including 2 Chris Masters 'Eric the Penguin' cards in which I originally originally took the penguins for moles (this isn't completely stupid of me, but you'll have to take my word for it, I can't find a decent image on the web. One of these cards also features a giraffe, the other has a tiny puffin. Also a computer, but that's not as interesting as a puffin, right?). Also 3 very fine penguin photos, and one completely irresistible little card by Caroline Pedler showing a penguin climbing up a ladder to put a star on top of a Christmas tree (this may well be my favourite of this year's cards; it's possible I'm just soppy about these birds).

  • Animals: 12, comprising:
    • 3 polar bear families, two of which could equally well be classified as 'Madonna and Child', and the third of which is disqualified only by the fact that the madonna has two cubs. Plus two teddy bears hanging up their stocking on a tree.

    • 2 reindeer, plus one woodland scene with deer.

    • one red squirrel, one mole (yes, definitely this time)

    • 3 cats: one perched on a pillar box, one in a box (ah, it's Elizabeth Blackadder's Cat in a Box) and one black kitten wearing a Santa hat

    • one dog, wearing a Santa hat and beard - and glasses.

  • Christmas trees: 6, stretching the definition to include the Eiffel Tower (scroll down, and it's the one on the left)

  • Other plants: 15. That's 3 wreaths, 8 sprays of red berries and 2 snowdrops; and one each of mistletoe, pine cone and a loquat. Some of these may already have appeared alongside robins - berries, snowdrops, another pine cone. But not the loquat, which is a Margaret Brooker, and very lovely

  • Baubles: 5

  • The Christmas story: 14. In narrative order, that's one Botticelli annunciation; 2 (strictly, the same card twice, and I think this year's only duplicate) of Joseph and Mary making their way to Bethlehem through a black and white lacy forest under a black and white lacy star; 1 shepherds and 1 kings approaching the city, plus 2 general views of the city; 5 nativities (including another Botticelli, an unidentified illuminated capital and a Gerrit van Honthorst; 1 flight into Egypt (I had to look quite closely to distinguish this from the journey to Bethlehem, but in the latter Mary was clearly pregnant, and here she holds a babvy) and finally a Madonna and quite large toddler by the wonderfully named Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.

  • Stars: 2

  • Foodstuffs: 4, namely a Christmas pudding, a catalogue of Huntley and Palmers cakes, one of Sally Ann Norman's photographs from the Lit & Phil (not this one, but this style) and the feast from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

  • Plus 2 Father Christmas, 4 text designs, 1 bell (Inverary treble, to be precise), 1 candles (I'm surprised that there's only one, but it's a good one), 1 angel (ditto on both counts: it's Sara Wicks' Angel over Canterbury), one very lovely Erte Sleeping Beauty, 2 choristers, two 12 days of Christmas and 14 other items unclassifiable either by the variousness of their natures (a Christmas fairy, a view of Paris in the rain, a poem) or because the decorative element contained several different images

ETA (12.01.09): 4 more cards discovered lurking among other papers, and the list above amended accordingly.
shewhomust: (Default)
Happy birthday, [ profile] helenraven!

We (and [ profile] desperance) are about to head off to Barnard Castle, to drink fizz and eat pizza with our friends there: we shall raise a glass to the birthdays of absent friends!
shewhomust: (robin)
Since I last posted, I haven't had a chance to do more than dip into LJ; meanwhile my f-list have been scribbling away like mad. How does that happen? But today's a lazy day with no obligations (well, the new neighbours across the way were 'at home', but I'm snuffling and hooting my way through the third cold of the winter, so I cried off) and I'm now as caught up as I'm going to be. Briefly, then:

Seasonal visits )

The bad news: Adrian Mitchell )

The oddest Christmas news story so far. )
shewhomust: (robin)
I almost called this post "Two go mad in TK Maxx" - because we did. We bought things, several of which will make entirely satisfactory Christmas gifts (that's satisfactory to the donor, obviously; I can't speak for the recipient). We refrained from buying other things - and it was at this point I realised that on the internet, you never know who is watching, so I had better not spill all the beans about what we did and didn't buy, just in case any of said recipients happened to be passing. I will merely say that when you find yourself eyeing the USB volcano ([ profile] durham_rambler), or looking at the Christmas tree skirts in a variety of gaudy red, green and gold designs, and thinking "I wonder if they have that in my size?" - that's when it's time to leave.

So we moved on to Tesco's, where the remnants of our shopping frenzy swept us into the purchase of a new kettle, D. having commented that the previous one was sitting in a growing puddle of water, and this wasn't really good for electrical appliances (he's right; he always is).

Also in Tesco's, I had a conversation with a total stranger. We found ourselves nose to nose over the cooking chocolate, which was on the bottom shelf. She was hesitating, she explained, over the choice of white chocolate with which to make a cheesecake; they only had one kind, but she was wondering if it was good enough. "I can't see where it says what percentage it is," she said. "I'm looking for 80%." Riiight.

So the shopping is hard work, but tolerable. The advertising is excruciating. This realisation comes to you courtesy of the fact that I've been watching a certain amount of afternoon television in the past week. I won't say what I've been watching, but if you need to know, you'll be able to work it out when I tell you that I'd always assumed that Susie's clothes were less bizarre than Carol's, but that I was misled by the fact that you only ever see her from the waist up. When she comes out from behind her desk, she reveals the fashionably lop-sided hemline complete with frills, worn over spike-heeled boots. I know nothing (but I know what I don't like).

Usually, the advertising breaks are filled with stair-lifts and bathroom conversions for people who can't cope with baths any more. But it's Christmas, so they are now trying to sell us CDs of Welsh male voice choirs, Scottish pipers and Irish priests (yes, really). This isn't music to buy because you like it, this is music to buy for your mother, who doesn't really like music (or possibly, about whose musical taste you know only that she doesn't like anything you like).

I wasn't going to mention the perfume ads (the woman who's going to be Shirley Bassey when she grows up, singing Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend, the woman casting off all the inessentials - i.e. doing a strip tease - as she strides through the state appartments to the bathroom where she will, presumably, bathe in Christian Dior), but then I saw the ad in yesterday's colour supplement for Daisy, by Marc Jacobs and my resolve faltered. It wasn't the totally un-daisylike black bottle, or the almost totally un-daisylike gold flowers which form the stopper. No, what got me was that someone had looked at this daisy-free zone and thought "Now, what do we need here?" and added a small grey kitten. Yup, that'll sell anything.

(Don't know if it appears on their web site, and frankly I'm out of time: [ profile] desperance is here, and I must go and cook, and talk to him, and drink things, and other pleasures)
shewhomust: (dandelion)
  • Snow Scenes 35. Many and various )

  • Birds 22, calling and otherwise )

  • Animals 12: who knew the cat was a symbol of Christmas? )

  • Christmas trees: one per day, as is only right )

  • Other plants: 13. 2 snowdrops (in addition to the robin's pot), 7 red berries (lots of glitter), a Red Cross rose, Candy's aunt's wood engraving and a very fine hand-stencilled dandelion

  • Baubles: 4

  • Snowflakes: 3

  • Nativity scenes: (freely interpreted) 12, namely: oriental townscapes 7; magi, 3 (including magi approaching oriental townscape, 1), mother and child, 1, and stained glass, 1

  • Angels: 6, including a Gustav Klimt identified as "Harmony" who probably isn't an angel really, at all

  • Santa Claus: 5, including a Mel Calman, a Francis Blake and - goodness, that's odd: I hadn't looked closely at this one before. Santa figure in red robe and holly crown seated with a sack at his feet brimming with vegetables. Birds and beasts cluster around him; a hedgehog peers out from under his hem, a parrot watches a goat which is eating a carrot, a rabbit, a guinea pig and a kitten are investigating the sack and another kitten, in Santa's lap, is peering at something green - maybe a bauble - in his hand. Soon it will notice the mouse climbing up his skirt, and then all hell will break loose...

  • Sundry other stars, oranges, mittens, fireworks, candles, Christmas puddings etc: 15

I make that a grand - a very grand - total of 138, which is ridiculous. No wonder I didn't have a chance to play with them as they arrived, and have to make up for it now!
shewhomust: (Default)
We went swimming this morning for the first time this year (the pool was open at the end of last week, but for various reasons we didn't make it): feeling better for it.

We should have taken down the tree yesterday, and I offered to remove the decorations so we could take it to the tip on the way to [ profile] desperance's birthday / Twelfth Night party. [ profile] durham_rambler said no, we'd do that today. I was looking forward to doing it this afternoon, in a leisurely way, enjoying each ornament and all its history as I put it in its place in the box, but [ profile] durham_rambler rushed upstairs after breakfast, while I was still washing up, and piled everything on the coffee table, all on his own. I feel surprisingly bereft.

(It seems he had a secret plan to go to the tip and then on to get his hair cut).

It was a great party, though.

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