Dec 242014
 

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Well, boys and girls, here we are at the end of our Christmas Alphabet and hasn’t it been fun!? Even more exciting, there’s a triple bill of letters today because today is Christmas Eve and Santa will be firing up the sleigh in readiness for the evening’s deliveries. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our Yuletide offerings as much as we’ve enjoyed writing them. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and please do take the time to come visit again in 2015. Thank you.

 

 Xmas excitement, Xmas excess, Xmas exhaustion…

Are for…

X-Rays: 

santa xrayX-Rays: I recently fractured my ankle while running and it’s made me more aware of the silly little things (like crumbling tarmac on verges) that can trip us up and our own fragility when we do so. The holiday period is really just a broken limb disaster waiting to happen, what with climbing up on ladders/chairs/partners’ shoulders to hang decorations and dress trees, tripping over newly acquired toys left on stairwells, lugging furniture about to make room for party games and/or extendable tables, dancing and charades… And that’s without taking bellyfuls of alcohol into consideration – how any of us survive is absolutely beyond me!

On top of that there’s all the things we might accidentally swallow – Coins (Christmas pud); Keyrings (Christmas crackers); Shells (nuts, Lidl lobster); Date stones (dates); Board game tokens (Monopoly houses and pieces, Triv pie pieces, Miss Scarlet – the list is endless); Bottle tops and corks (alcohol cabinet); Bleach (cupboard under the sink); One of Aunt Mabel’s mince pies (Auntie Mabel’s house) – and any of these could necessitate X-Rays and/or MRI scans. And it goes without saying that tempers get frayed at Christmas too, and frying pans, tea mugs and fists may therefore present further hazards that need avoiding. Mistletoe’s poisonous, by the way.

Keep safe and well this Christmas, eh? And if you can’t be good be careful. Don’t have nightmares…

Continue reading »

Dec 232014
 

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We’re nearly there, just our  XY & Z triple bill tomorrow to go!

 

Wishing for wondrous whiteness but the winter weather washes us in watery gloom.

walnut whip treeIs for…

Walnut Whip: Christmas is one of the few times of the year when these seem to be on sale. There they sit in a box, 3 all in a row. When unwrapped I always thought as a child they looked rather like a chocolate Christmas tree with the walnut as the angel on the top.

They are a treat, as you try to decide which way to eat them. For me the walnut is crunched first. Then inside lies the whipped mallow center. Nibbled slowly, they are hardly the most elegant chocolate treat or the easiest thing to eat. However by the time you have finished the first one you can’t decide if you feel sickly from it or to just carry on eating the rest.  By the time I’ve eaten all 3 I’ve had quite enough and next Christmas is soon enough for the walnut whip to enter our house again.

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Wensleydale: Cheese, cheese, cheese, and more cheese, please! Hard ones, soft ones, runny ones, rubbery ones, mild ones, stinky ones, rindy ones, veiny ones, holey ones, solid ones, cottage ones and mouldy ones – cheese is the gift that’s bound to please, so bring it oooon…

Sadly, my metabolism is crap, so no matter how enthusiastic I might be about cheese I have to temper my enjoyment and consumption accordingly.

Of course, massive weight gain isn’t the only reason for watching one’s cheese consumption – there’s the coronary considerations, the farting factor and the night terrors to contend with too. And indigestion. But those things aside it’s lovely stuff, especially when served with an assortment of equally unhealthy, fattening, belch-inducing crackers. And pickles. Laaaavly.

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king scooterWe Three Kings: (of Orient are). I am not a great one for traditional carols. They are alright on the first verse, but by the second its dragging and by the last verse I am ready to stop. This week signing at choir we went over the carols, as it is the season. We three kings was the next on the list. However I found this very difficult to sing with a straight face; all I could remember was the version we sung at school:

‘ We three kings of Orient are, one in a taxi one in a car one on a scooter beeping his hooter, didn’t get very far…’ 

I think this version is great and certainly puts a smile on my face when I’m singing it.

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White Christmas: A single snowflake falls at one minute to midnight on December 25th at a weather station in Aberdeen and officially it’s a White Christmas. Bookmakers across the country reluctantly prepare to pay out.

On the basis of the Met Office’s definition, 38 of the last 58 Christmas’s in the UK have been ‘white’, with the last one occurring in 2010. But a proper covering of ‘deep and crisp and even’ snow at Christmas is a much rarer occurrence and more likely to happen in the Scottish Highlands than in Tunbridge Wells.

Unlikely it may be, but images of a White Christmas are all around us at this time of year.

It’s in the music. Bing recalls glistening treetops, listening children and sleighbells. Carol singers warble of a Bleak Midwinter and of Wenceslas and his long-suffering servant making their way through the bitter weather.

It’s in books. Ghosts conduct Scrooge around the snow-covered streets of the past, present and future. And four children go through a wardrobe into an icy land which is waiting for Christmas to come.

It’s in the familiar films repeated and repeated and repeated. Angelic choirboy Aled Jones sings while a snowman walks in the air. And James Stewart wanders through snowy streets, before eventually discovering that life is wonderful.

bing(An aside: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was filmed in sweltering June weather. The technicians on the film invented a new form of fake snow – based on fire extinguisher foam – which was used on films from then on. Previously cornflakes painted white had been used, but they crunched so loudly that dialogue often had to be dubbed). 

It’s in the Christmas trees decorated with artificial snow towering over Christmas shoppers and in the millions of cards which are sent featuring rotund snowmen, rosy robins perched on snowy branches and shepherds watching their sheep in white-covered fields. (The last in Palestine, not a country known for its heavy snowfall).

On wet, grey December days, the idea of White Christmas may seem unreal and it feels like it’s been commercialised, along with much else at this time of year. But if we let it, Christmas can also be about the suspension of disbelief and cynicism. About magic. If we use our imagination we can feel the crisp chill of a winter’s day, hear the clear sound of laughter and see snow-covered trees bathed in bright light. So let’s dream.

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WINTER WONDERLAND: Frozen in the memory, a film world of snow and sleigh bells. In the worlds generated by Hollywood or Phil Spector it was always a Winter Wonderland of icy delights and love affairs, surprise gifts and cosy sweaters. For the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it was always winter but never Christmas, while Slade and Roy Wood would have us in a permanent Christmas. Aided by The Snowman flying through the air, and even a Fairytale of New York, fiction, film and music have created a Christmas that is probably unachievable. As the magical white Christmas ideal of the 1960s fades, we are offered ‘Theme Worlds’ of polar bears, penguins and Father Christmas, and even overnight trips to Lapland to experience the real thing. Confronted by a real Britain covered in snow, most people complain as they can’t drive anywhere and “our train system just can’t cope”, while muddy, wonky faced snowmen linger in gardens as the pavements thaw and re-freeze into lethal ice-rinks. Somehow that magical world where all your dreams come true (due to snow and Santa) is better in a book, in a film, or singing out of the department store doors… Search out ‘Holiday Inn’ and enjoy, it’s sure to just rain hard in the UK this Yuletide.

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Wise Man:

The incense gives off a mystic perfume which hangs in the air
But is not strong enough to mask the sweat and stink of the animals
He kneels to pay homage
Acknowledges a King
Presents his gift
But this has been an altogether unexpected end to his travelling.

(This is the final stanza of a four part poem. The full poem can be found HERE.)

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Woolworths: Don’t you miss it? Yes, me too. We all do, I think. And their wonderful Christmas adverts. What a pity we all switched to buying our crap from Amazon. And I bet Woolworths paid their taxes. And their staff. All those Saturday jobs for 14-16yr olds. Bugger. Shot ourselves in the foot there, ennit?

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Featured Writer: Anne Cawardine (White Christmas and Wise Man). Additional Contributors: Katherine Loverage, Peppy Scott, David Smith.

Dec 222014
 

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“V” for Victory! And Very Nearly Christmas!

 

Various cuts of venison on offer at the supermarket – very good value but rather like roasting Rudolph!

Is for…

Vanity: Both in terms of dressing up and panicking that your new little black dress (I never wear these, but so many women do) makes your bum look big, and in terms of wanting to look your best for the festive season.

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Vestry: I was stuck for a letter V for my ABC until Ephemeral Short Film Co. presented me with four options by releasing their Christmas video based on a story written for last year’s TW Writers’ advent calendar. Back in October I was asked if I knew of a church with a Vestry. The one I thought of wasn’t the final Venue used in the Video (which is about a Vicar discovering a couple of runaway teens in the church just before midnight mass), but… Well, watch the video HERE and keep going until you reach the credits for location assistant…

escalado*

Victory: Every year the dinner is finished, the table is cleared and out come the board games. So what’s it going to be? Escalado was always my favourite. The race course stretched from one end of the table to the others, The horses lined up on the starting line. The bets on the horses were just pennies. One person would start winding the handle, the race course moving from side to side as the horse found their pace. We would jump and shout at the little lead horses, desperately wanting ours to win.  And as the winning horse crossed the line, the winner would take the pennies. Victory was a pile of pennies, and a big smile on our faces, as we lined the horses up to have another go.

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Vino Veritas, in: This Latin phrase (in wine is truth) has caused all sorts of trouble over the centuries by suggesting that the things we say and do while pissed as farts reveal our innermost and truest emotions. This, of course, is a load of old bollocks baloney, as anyone who has woken up after a night on the tiles with vague recollections of almost starting a fight/love-affair/book group/gym membership or divorce proceedings will tell you. The reality is that wine – all alcohol in fact – stimulates not that part of the brain responsible for honesty, but that small, shrivelled knot of pustulent-purple neurons at the base of the amygdala controlling gross stupidity, verbal diarrhoea, and the gag reflex. Continue reading »

Dec 212014
 

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U’ve almost made it to the end of our Festive A – Z. Well done!

 

Under the tree, inviting unwrapping, treasures unknown…

raw turkeyIs for…

Underdone Turkey: What panic ensues when it comes out of the oven looking distinctly pale and wan, when everything else is piping hot and ready!

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Underneath The Christmas Tree

The boy lay sleepless in his bed. He’d hung up his stocking and left a tray of goodies for Santa underneath the Christmas tree. It wasn’t the excitement of presents keeping him awake, but the sweet waft from the mince pie waiting for Santa.

His mouth drooled. His tummy rumbled as he tiptoed downstairs . He licked his lips, gobbled up the pie and looked around for more.

The boy’s eyes widened at the window as he saw Santa parking his sleigh on the roof across the street.

The boy raced to his neighbour’s house and sneaked through the back door like a greedy burglar.

He quickly found a neat tray laid out for Santa. He cast aside the boring old carrot for Rudolf, knocking over the glass of sherry. In a second he scoffed two mince pies, followed by a slice of chocolate log. But his tummy wanted more.

The boy ran see what he could find in the other houses. He chomped and chomped though whatever deliciousness he could find.

Meanwhile, Santa landed in the neighbour’s fireplace and saw the carrot strewn amongst a trail of crumbs. He popped it into his pocket and tutted as he placed the presents underneath the Christmas tree.

Santa slid down the next chimney and saw the same mess as in the last house. And in the next house and in all the houses in the street! He winked at his team of elves and they sped off to investigate. Continue reading »

Dec 202014
 

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“T” Today. Ta-da!

 

Treats and tinsel, turkey and trifle, telly then time for bed

Is for…

simpsons fightingTests (of patience): Funny how almost every Christmas article I come across mentions the need to be extra careful to get along with people at this time of year – especially family, of course, who, according to these same articles, seem to become extra irritating when you’re stressed out over the Yuletide arrangements.

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Tinseltown:

 * ***************Liu Zhang groaned as he stretched his back. He had crouched for perhaps a minute by the shrine before standing upright again and pulling his coat tightly across his chest. The shrine, almost overgrown by the side of the road, had some dried flowers placed by it, some offerings of sweets and parcels of food. Liu Zhang had left one thing only, recently acquired. And he had muttered two newly-learned words to his ling ‘ai – his beautiful daughter.

The sun was blood red, creeping over the distant mountains and the sky was already much lighter than when he had left the house a few minutes ago. His wife didn’t sleep well nowadays and had been up tending the fire. She handed him his cup of tea in silence and they sat impassively opposite each other in the darkened house, listening to the coughs and scuffles of their neighbours, also preparing for the day, and the trucks rumbling on the main road. Then Liu Zhang began his walk to work, passing the shrine as always. Continue reading »

Dec 192014
 

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“S” today. All my troubles seem so far away…

 

Santa’s sleigh passes us by so we stuff the stockings ourselves

Is for…

Secret Present Room: The best present I ever got was from my son, Ben, and he bought it from the “Secret Present Room” at his primary school Christmas Fayre. The secret present room, for the uninitiated, is an adapted classroom only children can enter filled with donated gifts suitable for adults that the kids can buy for a couple of quid a pop without their parents seeing. Once the kids have made their choices they are wrapped and labelled for secrecy and the kids come home and put them under the tree for Christmas morning.

Ben put a huge amount of thought into his secret presents – I could be waiting outside the classroom door for an hour or more while he made up his mind – but his autistic fuzzy-logic didn’t always pay off. The first year he used the secret present room, for example, he bought me a book, on the basis that I like reading.

fashThe thought was certainly there, and I was chuffed to bits in that respect, but the fact it was an autobiography of John Fashanu was a bit of a letdown, as I had (and still have) no interest in football or Mr F’s footballing career, which was the main topic of the biog. The book was secretly gifted back, unread, to the secret present room the following Christmas, and Ben given a reminder of the previous year’s gift before he went in lest he unwittingly buy it back again. That year he bought me a leatherette case holding twin decks of cards so we could play nomination whist when on holiday. I liked that present much more. Continue reading »

Dec 182014
 

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Ah. It’s “R”. R U ready? Then let’s begin…

 

Roast dinner is ready, but nobody really relishes the parsnips.

Is for…

Reveries in Red: With the red, red robin bob, bob, bobbin’ and the holly bearing berries as red as any blood, the garden reminds me that it is time to bring the red party frock out of mothballs. Christmas festivities provide an excuse – if excuse were needed – to paint fully scarlet lipstick onto my (regrettably) less than full Scarlett lips and, less wantonly perhaps, to succumb to the lure of a cheap poinsettia for the table. Red may be the colour of warning and wantonness, but it is undoubtedly also the colour of winter celebration and it seems particularly apt at Christmas. Santa just wouldn’t be so jolly in green.

Both Anglican and Catholic churches use white as their liturgical colour for Advent. Perhaps red is a throw-back to the Old Religion and rituals celebrating the life cycle and fertility which long pre-date, and contrast with, the Virgin birth. Most of the trappings and traditions of our modern Christmas have nothing to do with the religious festival itself, after all: they are an amalgamation, an adaptation, an incorporation (enough ‘ations’ already!) of the imported newer religion into the ancient mid-winter festival. And we continue to import ‘traditions’ – cranberries, anyone? Pleasingly red!

Maybe that is it. Maybe it is simply pleasing to festoon our homes and clad ourselves in a warm, vibrant colour to cheer us through the winter gloom.

treeI spent several years living in Japan trying – failing mostly – to make sense of its highly stylised culture. I appreciated, for example, the aesthetic of traditional wood-block prints but found the depictions of persimmon trees in winter landscapes to be stylised beyond credibility. White background; upward-curved rooftops of country dwellings and barns; jagged bare black branches and perfect red circles of fruit supposedly ripening in the snow. As if! Then winter came, transforming the entire region into a snowscape, drifts reaching the upward-curved roofs of the buildings, and only the jagged bare black branches of kaki trees breaking through the snow. And hanging from those branches in an otherwise monochrome landscape, perfect orange-red circles of ripe persimmons like droplets of life-blood in the six-foot-deep midwinter of northern Japan.

Red is very much the colour of celebration there, with Sekihan – ‘red rice’ – the traditional New Year dish, the red coming from aduki beans cooked with the rice. Continue reading »

Dec 172014
 

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Okay, okay, stop shoving at the back. That’s better – Q nicely…

 

Quite stuffed, feeling queasy, all quiet for the quaint ritual of the Queen’s speech.

Is for…

Quality Street: When Cadbury’s phased out Lucky Numbers in 1969 my family were forced to jump Christmas sweetie ships (I wanted to work a Good Ship Lollipop pun in there but couldn’t quite pull it off) to find a one-size-fits-all Toffee and Chocolate solution. Quality Street fitted the bill perfectly, and have continued to hold their own to this day.

The contents of the Quality Street tin have changed a few times through the decades, but here, for the record, is my chart rundown on the twelve current varieties:

At 12 – Orange Crème: Meh. Vile. Almost bad enough to bin, but worth keeping for a rainy day in early January. Just. Or you might be able to swap it with an idiot for something worth eating. Tastes a bit like sick.

At 11 – Strawberry Delight Crème: They’re having a larf, ain’t they? There is nothing delightful about this bugger. Not quite as vile as the Orange Crème but bloody close.

At 10 – Orange Crunch. A bit like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange segment, but not as good. Not that a Chocolate Orange is much cop, but it’s better than this waste of valuable tin space.

At 9 – Milk Chocolate Block: Mostly harmless.

At 8 – Noisette Triangle: A contentious number 8 – many people rate it much higher. Many people are wrong.

At 7 – Toffee Deluxe: a nice toffee with a good chocolate to toffee ratio, but not particularly aerodynamic and hard to get started on a cold day. The Ford Escort of the sweetie world.

At 6 – Vanilla Fudge: Often mistaken for the Coconut Éclair at first bite, engendering a mild pang of disappointment, but it’s a nice little sweetie in its own right and well worth investing a couple of seconds savouring time on. Continue reading »

Dec 162014
 

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I’ll have a P please Bob. Obviously…

 

Pennies are placed in the plum pudding as nobody has a sixpence.

Is for…

Paper Chains: Handmade of course. A few years ago, finding myself single again, I thought I would start decorating the house for Christmas, bringing back to life the simple paper chains, just as I had done during my childhood.

To my grown up sons delight, we both spend a lovely evening with a bottle of wine, making loops and hooking them together. We then blu tacked them to four corners of the lounge meeting up at the central light.

Delighted with decorations we went to bed, full of the joys of Christmas. In the morning they had fallen to the ground. There started the daily ritual of masking tape, moving chairs and re sticking them to the circle. Amid giggles, a few choice words we continued this every morning until the darn things were taken down.

christmas-paper-chains_out-of-boxMy son was delighted the bin awaited these paper delights, on no  I am the tight one.. I put them in a black bag and popped them in the loft.

This is year Christmas number 3 where the paper chains will be brought down from the loft, stuck up in the lounge with the same sticking problems as the other 2 years. I know darn well we will take it in turns every morning to re stick the offenders, this new Christmas ritual. Which I relish as it makes me really chuckle watching my son’s choice words as he stands on a chair desperately sticking the paper chains again.

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Pigs: Yes, I know one does not normally associate pigs with Christmas, except maybe for a boar’s head on a platter with an apple in its mouth, and the carolling of: ‘A boar’s head as I understand is the finest dish in all the land’. But read on … even pigs deserve to celebrate Christmas. Continue reading »

Dec 152014
 

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Oyez, Oyez… Guess which letter today?

 

Over-spending, over-eating, over-doing it – the origins of the festival are no longer obvious.

Is for…

ocarinaOcarina: I remember, at the age of about six or seven, being told by a friend that she had received an ocarina among her Christmas gifts. ‘Just the one?’ I said smugly, ‘we had a whole bowl of them!’ Later she showed me her ocarina. I was well jealous. I was thinking of satsumas.

Orange: The stocking placed at the end of bed by Father Christmas was always heavy. It was the one thing that we were allowed to open before we left our rooms to see what else Father Christmas had brought us.  Inside were little treats such as new pencils, a puzzle book, a novel to read, a new soap, a packet of chocolate coins, a tube of smarties, some monkey nuts and in the very bottom where the toes would go, rested an orange.

The most delicious juicy orange just waiting to be eaten. There was nothing like peeling it in bed, and enjoying every juicy segment as the puzzle book was tackled. By the time it was 6 o’clock we were allowed downstairs. The ceremonious orangesunwrapping of presents would begin.

Even now the smell and taste of the Orange will always be the one that conjures up the most images in my mind of Christmas. And yes, my grown up son still gets an Orange in his stocking. Continue reading »

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