Christmas 2019 ๐ŸŽ…

Reading time: 12 minutes...


As with many of our past Christmas celebrations, this year is mostly a family affair. It’s also a busy one (perhaps even more manic than normal for this time of year) with our festive and new-year celebrations almost blurring into one continuous festive family/friends/food/film-fest! (it’s a tough life!๐Ÿ˜‰)

As a result, this is probably the longest post I’ve ever written! ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด Here we go then…

Christmas Eve – Final Prep For Christmas

Like most people on the planet today, it was the final opportunity to clean, tidy-up and prepare for the Christmas period. It took us most of the morning (and in truth, we’d also had the luxury of starting a few days ago) and by lunchtime, everything was ready!

So, after a quick walk

…all that was left to do, was to double-check the Sky Q Box to make sure all the Christmas TV was sorted for the next few days whilst we were occupied elsewhere – pretty much BBC all the way again this year! ๐Ÿ˜

6.30pm: To end the day, and to properly get us fully in the Christmas mood, we drove into town for the ‘Carols by Candlelight‘ event at the Salvation Army Citadel (having missed their Carol Concert over the weekend). We guessed it might be popular, so we aimed to get there with plenty of time to spare to ensure a choice of seating for 7pm! We met up with Janet, Jo and Helen in the JS car-park and after some quick hellos headed for the Citadel. The event turned-out to be well-supported. Led by Major Nigel Govier the sixty-minute celebration featured an ideal mix of well-known Carols (thank goodness!) with just the right amount of the Christmas Story thrown in! The hour passed quickly and we were soon saying our goodbyes.

8.30pm: A G&T with a bucketful of crisps watching Carols from Kings (recorded earlier) ended Christmas Eve perfectly! ๐Ÿ˜

Christmas Day – Denis’s for Christmas Lunch

6.25am: Up at just before 6.30 (more out of habit than necessity!) to a cold but frost-less Christmas morning. I packed everything in the car ready for our journey to Dad’s and skipped brekky to make room for what was to come. We postponed opening our presents until we got back.

9.09am: We left ours at just after 9am. With Denis’s’ health on the decline, we decided to simplify Christmas Lunch somewhat and take most of what we needed with us – ready for final assembly!

Denis almost ready for Christmas Lunch

10.25am: As expected, it was a hassle-free journey by road to Denis’s. After a quick coffee and a longer natter…

10.55am: …we headed for the kitchen for vegetable duties. We cheated slightly this year by opting for frozen roasties and that certainly made the prep a lot quicker! ๐Ÿ˜ Ann had also pre-prepared the stuffing, so that saved us a job too!

11.25am: Time for a break from the chores, to exchange presents from Dad and Bev. Muppet Socks and DVDs for me! ๐Ÿ˜

11.55am: With our present-ritual over, we finished off the veg. All that was left was the bird, and in keeping with the national trend, it’s a turkey-crown for 2019 – just an hour in the oven – simples!

Table set!

1.35pm: Slightly later than last year, everything was ready, and we served-up the Christmas main course.

Denis enjoying his!

Denis seemed to enjoy his (as did we) although we did have to cut up his food and add a plate-guard to spare the table-cloth!

2.01pm: We finished with Dad’s favourite – Christmas Pudding! – and he demolished his in no time (in spite of his ailments, there’s nothing wrong with his appetite, and especially his love of desserts!)

2.17pm: With pretty-much empty plates all round (plus an empty bottle of Moscato too!), it was all over for another year. Denis had done himself proud!

2.30pm: I returned to my natural habitat – the kitchen – to clear-up the wreckage (although, thanks to our prep-work, there wasn’t much to do!

2.50pm: Twenty-minutes later, the kitchen was spotless. Almost time for the Gambles Ritual of watching the Queen’s Speech!

3.00pm: Afternoon Ma’am!

3.25pm: Denis was now drifting-off into the land of nod, so we said our goodbyes, packed-up the car and headed back to Kettering.

4.35pm: Just like the journey there, heading home was hassle-free with hardly anything on the road. As a result, we were home in 70 minutes – that IS a new record for us, although at one point (just before I felt a sharp stabbing sensation in my left leg) I proved that Robert CAN top triple-figures! Naughty (but briefly, nice!)

It had been a great time with Denis. These days, what he lacks in conversation, he (still!) more than makes up for with his appetite! Barry and Bev are visiting him tomorrow and Roger, Jane and Oliver, the day after, so he’s seeing the majority of the family over the Christmas break – just how it should be! ๐Ÿ˜

4.50pm: We’re home, For me tohugh, where else? Back in the kitchen, preparing a bucket of potatoes for tomorrow’s feast!

5.30pm: With the potatoes in the oven, it was time for ‘Pressy Opening (Part 2)’ – this time, gifts from Jo, Janet, Carol and Sal – and of course, each other!

6.15pm: G and Ts all round and an opportunity to watch BBC’s ‘Call the Midwife’ and for me to catch-up with the final part of rather spooky (and IMHO, rather good) ‘Christmas Carol’ adaptation from the BBC starring Guy Pearce, Andy Serkis, Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson and Joe Alwyn. It was about as far away from the Alastair Sim version from 1951 as you can get, and I think it’s going to give a few people nightmares tonight! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

10.00pm: We’re done for today! ๐Ÿฅฑ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿฅฑ๐Ÿ˜ด

Boxing Day – Roger, James and Oliver at ours

We’re all set!

7.00am: Ann was up with the lark, to attend to the Beef (a six-hour sloooooow cook) whilst I caught up with the latest Christmas EastEnders murder! (Merry Christmas!) ๐Ÿ˜

11.00am: Tree presents placed around the tree and Christmas Music playlist prepared โ€” CHECK!

11.30am: Roger, Jane and Oliver arrived, and we spent a good hour catching-up with everyone’s news especially how Oli had got on with his recent Mocks.

1.30pm: Some things don’t change! Lunch was ready bang on time, we all agreed that the beef was yummy…

…and the cracker jokes were as corny as ever
Q: “What does a frog do when its car breaks down?”
A: “It gets toad away”

Lunch was along leisurely affair (just as it should be at this time of year)…

…where Jane had made a very scrumptious Sticky Toffee Pudding…

…and where Ann and I experimented with a new creation: Mulled Cider Jelly with an Apple & Creme Fraiche Topping….

…and Cheese to finish, of course!

3.30pm: With the final mouthful consumed, it was time to attend to the bomb-site kitchen! Actually, it didn’t take long to return the kitchen to its former state (with a little help from the dish-washer โ€” human AND mechanical!)

4.00pm: Tree-present time! ๐ŸŽ๐ŸŽ๐ŸŽ๐ŸŽ๐ŸŽ

4.30pm: Time for a movie, and we chose one that Oli hadn’t seen before (that also happened to be one of my Christmas presents from Ann… in 4K of course!

6.45pm: We really enjoyed it. As usual for Marvel, mind-blowing special effects but with some occasional humorous scenes which worked really well.

7.30pm: More food! ๐Ÿ˜

We caught up with one of my recordings from yesterday: Channel 5 had managed ot create a compilation of Two Ronnies sketches. Nothing unusual there, except these were from the time in 1986 where they spent a year in Australia on Channel 9. They were as hilarious as ever, and it was interesting to see the slight variations in the scripts compared with the UK version.

10.00pm: We ended the day ‘putting the world to rights’.

11.25pm: ๐Ÿ’ค๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ’ค๐Ÿ˜ด

27th December – Normality (briefly!)

6.30am: I was up first, quickly followed by Ann, who had a plan!

7.00am: And that plan was to create another new culinary masterpiece, this time for breakfast!

It was a ‘Breakfast Quiche’ – a sort of Full English encased in pastry (but no ordinary pastry, this was M&S Ann’s Parmesan Crusted Pastry!) The egg was blended with double-cream to make it extra delicious ๐Ÿ˜‹ As expected, it went down a treat, with Roger and I tucking into seconds!

10.15am: With breakfast over, Roger, Jane and Oliver packed up their stuff and bid us farewell. They headed off to see Denis, whilst we (briefly) returned the house to ‘normal’.

11.00am: I caught up with a bit of recorded Christmas TV whilst pressing-on with the ironing. Meanwhile, Ann took over the kitchen and some serious food preparation for our next culinary get-together (Sunday, with Jo, Janet, Carol, Chris and Pete).

1.30pm: Time for a break from the kitchen and the ironing. After watching the thoroughly depressing couple of Christmas episodes of EastEnders (why do I do this???), we settled down to something altogether more uplifting โ€” The 2019 Glyndebourne production of The Magic Flute โ€” courtesy of BBC2. No deaths (well, excluding the serpent!) and not a cockney in sight! Fab! ๐Ÿ˜Š We’d actually seen the touring version of this back in August at the Royal Albert Hall.

4.00pm: An excellent production โ€” even better than the version we saw live!

6.30pm: We’re done! All the ironing is up-to-date and the food is prepared for Sunday. Time for ‘feet-up’ and a bit more Christmas TV. First, the movie: The Duchess – better than I remember it first time round in 2008. Next up: the Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special which, according to the papers, was the most-watched TV programme over the holiday period (and also the decade!) so we thought we’d give that a go! I loved it, but Ann was to be convinced. Superb cliff-hanger though!๐Ÿ˜

8.15pm: Got my fix of EastEnders! Did Mark really kill Keanu? Oh, the suspense! The Internet is full of rumours and counter-rumours!๐Ÿ˜ฏ

9.30pm: That’s it for today, it’s an early start tomorrow, as we’re heading south๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿฅฑ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿฅฑ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿฅฑ

28th December – Bromley: Neil, Debbie, Alfie & Frankie

We headed to Bromley to catch-up with the Palmer Clan today โ€” Debbie, Neil, Alfie and Frankie. Neil had booked us a table at our normal haunt โ€” ASK in Bromley and as usual we did the journey by train.

8.50am: We drove over to Huntingdon Station (Kettering Station is completely closed for an extended period, whilst they upgrade the line). Although the car-park was busy, we found a space about as close to the entrance as possible!

11.52am: All our connections were on time, and we met just outside Bromley South station. After the fifteen-minute slow walk through the ‘high street’, we were soon seated in ASK, in East Street, and studying the menu.

12.10pm: I think we were so busy nattering with each other, the waiting staff had to err… Wait! ๐Ÿ˜ Eventually though, we placed our orders, and in typical ASK fashion, it was cooked to order and delivered without too much of a wait.

1.30pm: Our time at ASK passed in a flash. Drinks, Mains for all, Desserts for Neil and for me came to about ยฃ125, which we thought was great value. We exchanged Christmas gifts and then took the return walk back to the station.

1.53pm: Talk about perfect timing! On arrival at the station, we said our goodbyes and then caught the connection to Blackfriars with literally seconds to spare! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

4.21pm: The rest of our connections also worked out, and we were soon home. It had been great to catch up with ‘The Palmers’! ๐Ÿ˜

6.02pm: No rest for us! After a quick catch-up with more of our Christmas TV recordings, the excellent Queen documentary Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender (thanks Sky Arts!), it was back to the kitchen to finalise things for tomorrow.

7.35pm: With the parsnips pulverised and the pheasant and partridge gently fried-off, all the heavy lifting was now done for tomorrow for the ‘Twixmas’ Lunch!

7.45pm: We finished the evening in front of the TV – this time, Paddington 2 from Boxing Day (BBC1) and the Not Going Out Christmas Special (BBC1).

9.55pm: ๐Ÿ’ค๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ’ค๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ’ค๐Ÿ˜ด

29th December – Lunch at ours: Jo, Janet, Carol, Chris & Pete

7.30am: Bah! Having managed to avoid a cold for the Christmas period, I think it’s finally got me! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ But on a positive note, I laid-in until 7.30!! ๐Ÿ˜

So, today, it’s our final festive meal, and we’ve invited Jo, Janet, Carol, Chris & Pete round for a slap-up meal. And it wasn’t a case of finishing-up the leftovers either! Meal? More like a banquet, thanks to Ann’s culinary expertise! ๐Ÿ˜

11.00am: The table is ready!

A Table for Seven

12.30pm: The gang’s all here, and we’re ready to eat!

3.10pm: And we certainly did! ๐Ÿ˜

Wow! What a meal. Ann really excelled herself this time! ๐Ÿ˜ And as a bonus for me, in spite of the complexity of the menu, even the washing-up seemed more straightforward ๐Ÿ˜€

I think we all felt like a nap afterwards (well, that’s what Sunday afternoons are for surely!!??) but instead we nattered and nattered (and nattered!) Possibly, the only thing that pre-occupied our minds more was that Denis had had a fall at home, hurt is back and was waiting with one of the Carers for the ambulance to arrive! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

4.45pm: By the time our guests left, Denis was STILL waiting for the ambulance, so we said our goodbyes and quickly jumped on the phone for an update on Denis. Eventually, they took him to Boston, whilst Jet was taken care of by Alan, one of his neighbours.

5.35pm: And whilst we waited for more news on Denis, we headed for the Sly Q planner to catch-up with some more of the recordings from over the Christmas period.

An old but one but a good one! ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

7.15pm: At last, some news about Denis. The ambulance took him to Boston hospital.

9.10pm: No further news on Denis! I tried to distract myself by watching Channel 5’s Susan Hill’s Ghost Story, but I guess I was thinking of other things. I gave up 40 minutes in โ€” I’ll try again, once we know more about Denis’s condition.

9.45pm: ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ’ค๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ’ค

30th December – Lunch at Chris & Gill’s

7.45am: The latest on Denis, as we went to bed last night was that he was at Pilgrim Hospital, Boston, waiting in the ambulance whist they arranged for him being admitted.

10.05am: Some news! Denis is in A & E.

11.55am: We’re off to Chris and Gill’s, and that meant got a break from the cooking… and me from the washing-up! ๐Ÿ˜. We took the short drive there and also caught up with Steve and Denise โ€” Abi too!

1.15pm: Another yummy Lunch! Melt-in-the-mouth gammon and a rather splendid Cumberland Sauce thanks the ‘Chefs Amos’

4.15pm: We got back from Chris and Gill’s and awaiting news of Denis. Looks like he’ll be discharged at some point and then move to a respite Care Home. We’ll visit him tomorrow (which was originally our prep-day for friends coming round on New Year’s Day for a meal). So, that meant a bit of hurried re-scheduling, and we headed for… (yes, you guessed it!)

5.05pm: The kitchen! – where we prepped all the vegetables and then laid the table.

7.15pm: Phew! Jobs done! We finished our day and watched a couple more of our Christmas recordings: Cinderella: After Ever After (Sky 1) which was absolutely dire! ๐Ÿ˜ฃ and The Great Christmas Bake-off (Channel 4) โ€” much better!

31st December – Boston Pilgrim Hospital & Jo and Janet’s

6.30am: Neither of us slept well as we were thinking about Denis.

8.00am: Again, by way of distraction, I dived into the Christmas TV recordings. This time, I watched the new two-part adaptation of Worzel Gummidge, written by, directed and starring, Mackenzie Crook. What a production! I really enjoyed it and, maybe not surprisingly, it had more than a slight ‘Detectorists’ feel about it! If they don’t make a series out of this, I’ll be surprised! ๐Ÿ˜

10.15am: Ann rang Boston Pilgrim Hospital for an update on Denis. It looks like they’re keeping him in for more observations and to ensure his health stabilises.

11.15am: We decided to drive up to the Hospital to see how he was. Just our luck then, as the road was closed just past where we normally turn off for Denis’s, meaning we took a slightly convoluted route to the Hospital!

1.10pm: We eventually arrived! Parking was slightly challenging, but we found a space and then after a quick cuppa, took the lift to floor 6, where we met Becky the Ward Sister for a thorough update.

Denis was as well as could be expected. He was sleepy, but we managed to have short bursts of conversation with him. The room seemed cold, so we got him another blanket and a piping-hot cup of tea to warm him up. I found the cause of the temperature drop – his two windows were ajar and after closing them, the room warmed-up nicely.

The hospital confirmed that there was no hurry to move him into respite care (that’s a relief!) and he was going to stay where was for the time being. We stayed for about an hour attempting to have a conversation, but it was proving difficult as he slipped in and out of slumber.

4.30pm: We had a good journey back, with just enough time to gather our thoughts before joining Janet and Jo at theirs (with Carol) to see in 2020!

6.30pm: We set off for the 300-metre walk to Janet and Jo’s! Janet was cooking and after a natter and a couple of Gin Cocktails, we sat down to an M&S three-fish-roast.

9.00pm: Unusually for us, we were all too full to handle dessert straight after, so we headed for the lounge where J & J had helpfully prepared a shortlist of movies that would get us through to midnight. We planned to enjoy dessert later… and maybe some cheese too!

9.30pm: By a unanimous decision, we settled on the Green Book, the story of a working-class Italian-American bouncer who becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South.

For us all, it turned out to be one of the more enjoyable movies of 2019…

…where even Oscar enjoyed it! ๐Ÿ˜ป

After a short pause in proceedings, we all managed dessert (eventually!). Ann had taken along Baked Apricot Croissant Pudding and the Plum Crumble from earlier in the holiday! None of us had enough room for the cheeseboard though!

11.52pm: As we readied our glasses for midnight, we tuned-in to BBC1 where Craig David was sweating his way through some of his old staples.

Collectively, it didn’t feel like it was our ‘cup-of-tea’, so, after we watched the fireworks on the stroke of midnight, and did our own rendition of Auld Lang Syne, we switched to ever-reliable Jools Holland’s 2019 Hootenanny on BBC2. Boy! I’m starting to feel my age, as most of the stars, I’d never heard of โ€” Stormzy (OK, I’d heard of him!), Brittany Howard, Eddi Reader, Pauline Black, La Roux, Rick Astley (yes, him too!), Ruby Turner, Tom Walker, YolandaDa Brown, Stereophonics (Yes!) and err… Melanie. It was the same Melanie who gave us; “I’ve got a brand-new pair of roller skates” back in 1971. She struggled with the song, and additionally, the intervening years don’t look as if they’ve been too kind to her.

Actually, Rick Astley aside (who was fab!), all the singers seemed a bit lack-lustre and together with the weird replies from many of the so-called ‘celebs’ in the audience when interviewed, it produced a show that was, in my eyes, a tad disappointing. At one point, even Jools commented that ‘people were off their faces’ – and it certainly looked and sounded like it!

1.10am: Whether it was the music or just our age, but just after 1am, we were done! Janet surprised us all and gave us all new-year presents and with the dessert-leftovers (and our gifts) we said our goodbyes and hobbled up the road.

1.25am: Happy new year! ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ’ค๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ’ค

Phew!

Well, that’s it for another year. Such a lot of preparation and build-up – and then it seems it’s over in a flash!

Visiting Denis for Christmas Lunch was as enjoyable as ever, but slightly more poignant this year. His health in 2019 has deteriorated rapidly, and it was sad to see how much he’s lost his mojo, compared with this time last year. As I write this post towards the end of the year, I think the whole family is reflecting on his ‘innings’ and recognising that this MIGHT be his last year with us – but having said that, he a tough cookie, so who knows!?!?

It’s felt extra-busy this year (mostly in a good way!). We’ve seen more of our friends, and hosted more meals at ours during the period between Christmas and new year. Luckily, we had more time on our hands than some, and that allowed us to get super-organised (even more than we normally try to be!). Our perfectly ordered plans were somewhat disrupted by a deterioration in Denis’s health towards the end of the break, but that’s just the way it is, and we managed the planned and unplanned aspects without any bother.

Christmas TV was as varied as ever. From the rather excellent adaptation of A Christmas Carol; the predictable EastEnders whodunnit; the dire Dial M for Middlesborough and Cinderella: After Ever After, through to the better-than-I-thought, Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special. Worzel Gummidge was an unexpected treat as was our choice of New Year’s Eve movie – Green Book.

Gifts

One again, a beautiful selection of gifts from friends and family โ€” Iโ€™m always amazed at everyone’s generosity. Merry Christmas!, here’s to next year!!! ๐Ÿ˜

Christmas Past…

2018
2017
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010

Four Seasons in a Day

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To complete our musical-themed weekend that began last night in Warwick, we’re off to Kilworth House this lunchtime, to enjoy a meal and listen to the winners of the National Tribute Music Awards 2016:- ‘Walk Like a Man‘ (aka ‘Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons‘). More information about them HERE.

Kilworth’s Christmas decorations were their usual exceptional high standard, starting with their traditional tree outside the House. The standard continued as we ventured inside.

Last time we were here, was back in November 2018 enjoying another tribute act, Bookends, who (very successfully) recreated the sound of Simon & Garfunkel.

Janet acting as chauffeur got us five there in good time, with Carol arriving separately, not long after. Plenty of time then, to order a couple of bottles of Merlot (at ยฃ26 per bottle, but ‘hey!’, it’s Christmas!) and help ourselves to a free glass of mulled wine (or some sort of orangey/mango ‘thing’ for an alcohol-free experience!).

A quick look at the table plan indicated that we were on ‘Table 4’. I answer to many names but from now on you can just call me ‘Soup-Turkey-Tart‘! ๐Ÿ˜
In addition to us six, we met Jim and Jan to make up our table of 8. It was Jim’s 65th birthday today, but I think he was trying to play it down!

It’s a well-oiled machine here in The Orangery at Kilworth House and tonight was no exception. The catering staff know exactly what they’re doing, offering first-class table-service, smartly dressed and all with a smile. Best of all, what they served was yummy!

Unlike previous years, where they held the dessert and coffee until the entertainment was finished, tonight was different. They served everything before the entertainment began. That meant the ‘meal part’ lasted some two-and-a-quarter hours.

At 3.45, 2019’s entertainment began. From the off, Walk Like A Man had us clapping and waving our arms (or was that the alcohol??). The ‘ladies’ on the table next door were clearly enjoying themselves slightly more than the rest of us. They had accidentally consumed too much grape-juice, and as a result, were the first to create a dance-space; first to attempt some singing; and worst-of -all best-of-all, first to do a brilliant impression of the witches from Macbeth! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ๐Ÿ™„๐Ÿค” Talk about The Jersey Boys!, these were The Cackle Cousins!! ๐Ÿ˜Š

On a more melodic note, the Concert itself was excellent! The boys belted out classics such as โ€˜Big Girls Donโ€™t Cryโ€™, โ€˜Sherryโ€™, โ€˜Canโ€™t Take My Eyes Off Youโ€™, ‘Grease is the Word‘ and pretty much every Frankie Valli/Four Seasons song you can think of! Impressive!! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘ and it was all done powerfully and effortlessly! ‘Frankie’ had a voice that could shatter glass (tight trousers permitting!) and they even managed some limited audience participation – so I’m glad our Table was at the back!

They worked us, the audience, really well. Even though our Table seemed safe, they even got our Carol to dance with one of the group whilst (shock horror) I grooved a bit too! And by the final number, most of us were on our feet – whilst the Cackle Cousins next door were almost on their back! I think the group only planned to do an hour of songs, but the audience were so appreciative, they did five more numbers.

Wow! A fantastic group of singers, who, individually and collectively, had a memorable and authentic sound.

Nice one Kilworth โ€” you impressed us all! Just tidy-up the process for paying for wine at the end, and you’ve got yourself a perfectly organised evening!
Merry Christmas! ๐ŸŽ…๐ŸŽ…๐ŸŽ…๐ŸŽ…๐ŸŽ…๐ŸŽ…

Rick Wakeman on Tour (2019)

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Entitled Rick’s Grumpy Old Christmas Show, we joined our friends, Ian and Ann, for an evening of superb piano playing punctuated by Rick’s unique sense of humour. This was the last of his twelve-date tour around the UK.

Eventually, we got there!

The venue wasn’t one we’ve it visited before โ€” Warwick Arts Centre โ€” and the surrounding University Campus area is undergoing some significant rebuilding. It was therefore a slightly convoluted route to the car-park (we met Ian and Ann who arrived about the same time) and once parked, the four of us took the equally meandering walking-route to our destination!

Almost time for Rick!

Arriving just before 7pm, we had time for a good natter beforehand and to order some interval drinks. When we arrived at our seats, it was clear that tonight was pretty-much a sell-out, with extra seats added in front of us and to the side โ€” we were about five rows from the front, with an excellent view.

Rick’s Latest Album

Rick is still ‘old school’ and uses his tours, in part, to promote his latest music. This year was no different, as a few weeks back, he released ‘Christmas Portraits‘. It features pretty much all those Christmas Carols we learned as kids, played on the piano, in Rick’s unique and talented style. Listen to this Album from start to finish (we have!) and it’ll put you in the mood for Christmas for sure! ๐Ÿ˜๐ŸŽ… You can listen to samples courtesy of Amazon HERE.

Rick at his best…

Back to tonight’s event! Rick was on stage at just after 7.30pm to a very appreciative audience (judging by the welcoming applause). After a quick ‘true story’ (ahem!), he was at the piano, giving the keys a serious workout.

In addition to promoting his latest Album, he played a wide range of his back-catalogue including excerpts from Six Wives, White Rock, King Arthur as well as some more recent non-prog-rock piano-based compositions, including Morning has Broken. Nerd Alert! Across the whole evening, there were only two tunes I wasn’t familiar with. ๐Ÿ˜Ž In fact, in all the years we’ve been coming to see Rick play (we last saw him in October last year when he was at the Derngate, as part of his 2018 Tour) I think tonight, he played more music than ever before (although I might have imagined that!) ๐ŸŽน๐ŸŽน๐ŸŽน๐ŸŽน๐ŸŽน

And he was in top form! โ€” both musically and (surely his second profession) as a raconteur โ€” I don’t think I’ve heard him play better! And his humour was spot-on too! ๐Ÿ˜‚

What could possibly top last year’s ‘Black Testicles‘ joke? Well, this year for me, it was the one about the old lady breaking wind in Church! ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿคฃ closely followed by the (very timely) story of the Elf, Pixie and a Fairy!

At just after 9.45pm, he played his final piece, and in return, received a standing ovation (well-deserved!). We got just a single encore, where Rick performed Life on Mars.

All-in-all, it had been a great evening โ€” Rick’s musical talents IMHO deserve to be more widely heard! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

Leaving the Art’s Centre proved to be the most difficult part of the evening, as it seemed that most of the audience had parked in the same car-park as us! The congestion meant that we didn’t actually leave the multi-storey until 25 minutes after we got in the car. It was a very wet journey home, but luckily the traffic was very light. We were home just after 11.
๐Ÿ’ค๐Ÿ’ค๐Ÿ’ค๐Ÿ’ค๐Ÿ’ค๐Ÿ’ค๐Ÿ’ค๐Ÿ’ค

Film: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

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Jo, Janet, Carol, Ann I gave the local Odeon our patronage tonight to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. It was released yesterday in the UK and US to pretty good reviews, having premiered in Los Angeles on December 16.

It promises a movie that wraps things up nicely across the nine-movie arc (see below) BUT crucially, we’re told, it works as a standalone movie for the non Star Wars geeks amongst us! Co-written and directed by J. J. Abrams (who has a great reputation for writing action movies as well as sci-fi), it’s a long affair, at 2 hours, 20 minutes, and there’s a lot riding on this final instalment!

The Skywalker Saga

Episode I โ€“ The Phantom Menace (1999)
Episode II โ€“ Attack of the Clones (2002)
Episode III โ€“ Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Episode IV โ€“ A New Hope (1977)
Episode V โ€“ The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Episode VI โ€“ Return of the Jedi (1983)
Episode VII โ€“ The Force Awakens (2015)
Episode VIII โ€“ The Last Jedi (2017)
Episode IX โ€“ The Rise of Skywalker
(2019)

It’s hard to believe it’s been 42 years since the first movie (Episode IV) โ€” how many have you seen?

So far this year, we had mostly abandoned the local Odeon here in favour of the much plusher and newer Cineworld at Rushden Lakes, so why didn’t we go there???
Simples: the short(ish) car-journey there this time of year was likely to be congested (and that goes for the traffic actually in Rushden Lakes car-park itself adjacent to the cinema) and we just weren’t sure whether we’d make it in time!

It’s been touted as the ‘final movie in the Star Wars saga’, but actually, to be pedantic (moi?!), it’s (just) the final movie in the Skywalker series! I wonder how many went thinking it was the final Star Wars movie ever? ๐Ÿค”I can’t them giving up on a cash-cow like this!!

Janet acted as chauffeur and picked us up at 6.45. We were soon parked, and the fullness of the car-park indicated that it was going to be busy!

We were right! In fact, Screen 4 was the fullest I’ve seen it in a long while! Fortunately, we were spared the presence of any super-fans dressing-up and acting out their chosen character for the occasion (that was probably last night!) ๐Ÿ˜. Jo had booked us our favourite seats (back row) and we were soon into the abundance of adverts (even more than normal!). Thankfully, just 25 minutes later, the main event began…

And what of the movie? Well, it was certainly fast-paced – no time for even a loo break!! ๐Ÿ˜ฌ I think it just about held up as a standalone, but newbies will struggle to work out at times, who’s wearing the black and the white hats! Great music, great acting and some superb CGI (but take the sea-sick pills!).

JJA did a good job of pulling-together the unresolved issues from the previous outings and for super-fans, there’s more than one Star Wars ‘familiar face’ making a welcome return to the screen. This includes possibly the shortest ever cameo by a certain fighter pilot from Episode IV!

I’m dropping it one-star for not knowing how to use an ellipsis, (boo!) but adding back half-a-star for consistency (yay!) as they got it wrong in the previous movie ‘The Last Jedi‘ too! (and probably the other seven!) ๐Ÿค

As I mentioned previously, ‘pedantic, moi?! ๐Ÿ˜

Go see! It’s a roller-coaster of a movie from start to finish!๐Ÿ˜

Brideshead Visited

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Castle Howard


It’s another cultural day-out with our friends, Dennis and Sandra, this being our eighth adventure.

Together, we’ve previously enjoyed:-

The Royal Armouries Museum (March 2019)
Bolsover Castle (October 2018)
Belton House (May 2018)
York (February 2018)
Burghley House (October 2017)
Hull (May 2017)
Leeds (February 2017)

Castle Howard is a private residence, north of York and has been the home of the Carlisle branch of the Howard family for more than 300 years. It’s probably best known though for Granada Television‘s 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and 2008’s remake for the cinema. You can read more about this stunning home on Wiki HERE.

Getting there was pretty straightforward, with part of our journey by car, and part by train. It was an early start from home though, leaving just before 7am in the dark and the damp to join our York-bound train from Peterborough at 8.18. Gosh, it reminded us of our working days! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ …and maybe not in a good way!

As things turned out, our journey was about as good as it gets! In spite of joining the rest of mankind on the A14 heading east, we had a straightforward journey… no queues… no jams.. in fact, it was all perfectly normal! A text-book travel experience, with only the ‘car park full’ sign at Peterborough causing a momentary ‘wtf?!’ moment (before ignoring it altogether and finding plenty of spaces!).

All aboard from platform 4, and we were soon looking for our seat for the 80-minute journey. The rail-franchise was previously operated by Virgin Trains, but they’ve fallen from grace in recent months and LNER has picked up the baton.

A ‘Full English’ for Ann, whilst I wrestled with a big decision

Ann had bagged us a bargain and bought 1st Class seats for just a few extra shekels. Super-comfy seats, a ‘proper’ full English breakfast/Bacon Butty with attentive staff were all part of the deal – OK two-out-of-three isn’t bad I suppose! ๐Ÿ˜‹ where the most difficult decision for me was whether it’s ketchup or HP*???

*HP obviously! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Our train slipped into York just two-minutes late, and we headed for our pre-arranged meeting point, the rear car-park, where we met up with Dennis and Sandra and their new family member โ€” a BMW i3. Ahh, another experienced motorist joins the EV revolution! ๐Ÿ”Œ

Twenty-five minutes later, we were parked and heading for the entrance. It’s clearly a popular destination (based on how full the car-park was, even at 10.15!) and although this was my first visit Ann had been here some 40 years earlier! The extra attraction for the Christmas period in 2019 was that the House had been decorated using the theme ‘A Christmas Masquerade‘. It’s running from 16 November until 5 January 2020, and as we were to find out, it wasn’t to disappoint…

Wow! What an experience! If you like your colours, vibrant and varied (we do!) and complemented by the ‘olde worlde’ charm of an old House, this is THE place to spend time. Each room was drenched in colour either though the displays themselves or a range of cleverly positioned lighting.

Sunglasses should have been an optional extra, but it all worked beautifully! Take a look at the pics below…

It was real assault on the eyeballs (in a good way) where every successive room seemed to be bolder and brighter than the previous…

The old and the new working very well together…

…and no Christmas theme would be complete without err, a tree would it..?

…or the table set for Christmas..?

…and even in places where there wasn’t a Christmas theme, it was still very beautiful!

We were all impressed by how lavish the House looked. After a well-deserved coffee break we headed outside….

Brrrrr!

It was a cold day, and were all glad we’d packed gloves – it was VERY muddy too where we found ourselves constantly checking the ‘road ahead’ to avoid sinking! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

Having said all that, it was a lovely day to wander round with the winter sun, a bright blue sky and occasional breeze.

Bracing but beautiful!