Christmas 2019 🎅

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!😉)

As a result, this is probably the longest post I’ve ever written! 😴😴 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! 😁

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! 😁

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! 😁 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! 😁

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! 😁

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! 😮

10.00pm: We’re done for today! 🥱😴🥱😴

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!) 😁

11.00am: Tree presents placed around the tree and Christmas Music playlist prepared — 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 — human AND mechanical!)

4.00pm: Tree-present time! 🎁🎁🎁🎁🎁

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! 😁

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: 💤😴💤😴

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 😋 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 — The 2019 Glyndebourne production of The Magic Flute — courtesy of BBC2. No deaths (well, excluding the serpent!) and not a cockney in sight! Fab! 😊 We’d actually seen the touring version of this back in August at the Royal Albert Hall.

4.00pm: An excellent production — 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!😁

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

9.30pm: That’s it for today, it’s an early start tomorrow, as we’re heading south😴🥱😴🥱😴🥱

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

We headed to Bromley to catch-up with the Palmer Clan today — Debbie, Neil, Alfie and Frankie. Neil had booked us a table at our normal haunt — 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! 😁 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 £125, 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! 😮

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’! 😍

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: 💤😴💤😴💤😴

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! 😮 But on a positive note, I laid-in until 7.30!! 😁

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! 😍

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! 😁

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

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! 😮

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! 😂😂

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 — I’ll try again, once we know more about Denis’s condition.

9.45pm: 😴💤😴💤

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! 😁. We took the short drive there and also caught up with Steve and Denise — 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! 😣 and The Great Christmas Bake-off (Channel 4) — 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! 😁

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! 😻

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 — 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! 😴💤😴💤

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 — I’m always amazed at everyone’s generosity. Merry Christmas!, here’s to next year!!! 😍

Christmas Past…

2018
2017
2016
2015
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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 £26 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‘! 😁
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! 😮🙄🤔 Talk about The Jersey Boys!, these were The Cackle Cousins!! 😊

On a more melodic note, the Concert itself was excellent! The boys belted out classics such as ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, ‘Sherry’, ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, ‘Grease is the Word‘ and pretty much every Frankie Valli/Four Seasons song you can think of! Impressive!! 👍👍 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 — 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! 🎅🎅🎅🎅🎅🎅

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 — Warwick Arts Centre — 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 — 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! 😁🎅 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. 😎 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!) 🎹🎹🎹🎹🎹

And he was in top form! — both musically and (surely his second profession) as a raconteur — I don’t think I’ve heard him play better! And his humour was spot-on too! 😂

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! 😂🤣😂🤣😂🤣 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 — Rick’s musical talents IMHO deserve to be more widely heard! 👏👏👏👏👏

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.
💤💤💤💤💤💤💤💤

Christmas TV (2019)

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We’ve all got different ‘triggers’ for when ‘Christmas’ officially begins — for many, the first reminder is when the Supermarkets start displaying their Christmas lines! But that’s obscenely early, so how about…
…your first Christmas lunch?
…maybe it’s when the John Lewis Christmas Ad appears?
…or receiving your first Christmas Card?
For TV lovers, it’s probably when the BBC Christmas ident is seen for the very first time, and they start promoting their festive offerings!

For me though, it’s when the Christmas double-issue Radio Times and TV Times first go on sale. Normally it’s around the second week in December, although in recent years, that’s varied a bit. This year, normality returned, and I picked ours up right on cue at the local Tesco’s on the 8th! 😁

I think my love of these two fine magazines is a throwback to my childhood, when Dad used to bring them home after finishing work for Christmas. As a family, we loved Christmas TV (first, in black & white, then colour, just three channels, then four, then five – then hundreds!) Initially, there was no remote control, so Dad’s choice normally ‘won’. To add to the fun, in those days, there was frequent positioning and re-positioning of the aerial to ensure the best pic! 🔧

With the magazines taking pride of place in the lounge, our first job back then was to frantically search through the schedules, taking it in turns to circle our favourite programmes.

It’s much the same now — except we use a highlighter pen or just go online… or just check our phones!!! What progress ehh!? 🤔… or maybe not! 😉

The ‘Double Issue’ Covers 2019

292 pages/£4.95 (Same page count, +5p price increase compared to 2018)
196 pages/£4.00 (Same page count, +25p increase compared to 2018)

These days, both publications are massive (page count wise) mainly because they both list (more-or-less) the same information. Why’s that? Well, for younger readers here, back in the stone-age (up until 1990?) RT listed only the BBC stuff (including the radio) whilst TVT covered the commercial channels. Fast forward to the satellite age that we live in today, and you have both publications running into hundreds of pages. 😍

So, just like back-in-the-day, all that’s left to do now is to plough through them both, highlighter pen at the ready, and our Christmas TV preparations are sorted!

Merry Christmas! 🎅

Previous Publications…

2018
2017
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008

Oliver – Live in Concert

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We drove down to Roger, Jane and Oliver’s this afternoon. The weather was horrendous, but it was well worth it as we were going to see Oliver playing flute in the East Herts Concert Band at their Christmas Concert.

St Mary’s Church, Standon

The venue was the delightful St Mary’s Church in the village of Standon, a Grade 1 listed place of worship near Puckeridge.

But before the entertainment, we needed to eat, and Roger had helpfully booked us in at The Star Pub. Even more helpfully, it was exactly opposite! Parking though, was challenging to say the least. We could have used the Pub car-park but due to some excessive faffing around by another motorist, we had to drive past the pub and eventually left Robert, with two wheels on the pavement in the street just up the road. Standon is only a tiny village, and the Concert tonight was therefore going to test everyone’s parking skills!

The Pub’s food turned out to be excellent, and they coped really well with the increase in trade generated by those heading for the same destination as us!

At 7pm, we retrieved the cushions that Roger had helpfully packed in readiness for the pews, and we headed inside the Church.

Unusually, the ticket price was based on ‘what you thought of it’ AFTER the event. I’ve not experienced this arrangement before!

By 7.30, the Band was assembled, but wait a mo’, there was no sign of Oliver! ‘The Devil’s in the Detail’ as they say, and a closer inspection of the programme’s cover explained it all! There were actually TWO groups of musicians — The Youth Orchestra and Concert Band — the former were on first and Oliver was performing later.

All-in-all, it looked like a great selection of Christmassy tunes — and at least the carols were ones that everyone knew!

Oliver was soon on stage! He played with confidence and the overall sound from the Band was impressive!

The final piece — Sleighride — was where both groups of musicians joined forces. It didn’t disappoint (given there were only about 40 players) and they produced an impressive full orchestra sound — it was the perfect way to end the performance.

The Concert finished just after 9.15, and we were soon on our way back to our premium B & B for the night! 😁. After breakfast tomorrow, we’re heading home to finish preparing the garden for the Winter!

John Lewis Christmas Advert (2019)

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It’s 8am on the 14th and the John Lewis Christmas advert has finally been revealed! Back in 2010, JL were the first of the retail giants to release ‘mega’ adverts for the festive season. It started a trend that continues to this day, and now anyone who’s anyone, makes them – yes, Argos and Aldi, I’m looking at you! 😉 Always being the first makes it difficult to stay in front – and JL’s arrives a little later this year. As a result, the other ‘big hitter’ – Sainsbury’s – released theirs a few days ago entitled: Nicholas the Sweep.

Christmas has now officially begun for me! 👍 😁

Don’t forget to scroll to the end of this post for links to all JL’s previous Christmas ads! 👍

What’s this year’s about?

Entitled “Excitable Edgar”, this highly-anticipated (by me anyway!) Christmas advert stars an excitable and accident-prone dragon called Edgar who lives in a freezing mythical village with his best friend Ava. Edgar loves Christmas but can’t control his fire breathing.

In typical heart-warming (see what I did there!) and humorous fashion, the pair are forced to quell his disastrous fire-breathing habits after it threatens to destroy the festive period for everyone as Edgar ‘toasts’ a giant Christmas tree, a snowman and the local ice rink! 😮

Who’s the Voice?

If you’re wondering who’s singing, it’s Dan Smith re-imagining REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling”. He’s the lead singer and main songwriter of Bastille, the English rock band. Read more about him HERE.

A Good Cause

As in previous years, the ad encourages engagement with a good cause. This year it is food poverty charity FareShare, with ‘feasts’ to be held in John Lewis shops and community venues ahead of Christmas.

Kerchingggg!

And not to miss a merchandising opportunity, a full range of Edgar bits-and-bobs are available, including a £15 cuddly toy, a Waitrose & Partners No.1 12 Months Matured Christmas Pudding for £8, as well as Waitrose Edgar cupcakes, ‘Chocolate Edgars’ and a £1.50 gingerbread biscuit.

And our survey says…

Update: 12th December. An online survey revealed how the ads had been received on social media (increase in engagement)…

Can’t Get Enough..?

For your viewing pleasure, here are all their previous Christmas adverts…

John Lewis Christmas Advert 2018 – The Boy and the Piano
John Lewis Christmas Advert 2017 – Moz the Monster
John Lewis Christmas Advert 2016 – Buster the Boxer
John Lewis Christmas Advert 2015 – Man on the Moon
John Lewis Christmas Advert 2014 – Monty the Penguin
John Lewis Christmas Advert 2013 – The Bear and the Hare
John Lewis Christmas Advert 2012 – The Journey
John Lewis Christmas Advert 2011 – The Long Wait
John Lewis Christmas Advert 2010 – She’s Always a Woman

Enjoy! 🎅🎅🎅🎅🎅

Christmas 2018

Reading time: 7 minutes...

Christmas Eve (with Denis)

9.15am: The roads were pretty-much deserted as we headed for Heckington. We arrived in good time – just after 10.40am – where the car looked cleaner than when we left! After unloading (including the two new garden chairs we bought Denis for Christmas), we were soon tucking into Coffee… and the obligatory mince-pies, or two!

11.30am: Lunch preparations began. Ann had brought all the tools and ingredients for one of her (very tasty) Sausage-and-Apple-in-Cider casseroles as well as her Apple-and-Blueberry Crumble. With the unfamiliar oven’s controls conquered and with saucepans (and their contents) assembled, everything was in place for a tasty lunch.

1.15pm: And it didn’t disappoint! With over-generous portions all round (and even a few scraps of sausage leftover for Jet) we postponed Dessert until later.

2.00pm: We were all stuffed, so a short ‘sofa-break’ was called for!

2.30pm: Time to walk of that Lunch! Whilst Denis stayed behind, we headed for a wander round the local area (a first for me). First stop was Heckington Cemetery to pay our respects to Mae before taking a stroll into Heckington ‘town centre’. In truth, there wasn’t much to see – the local Co-Op, the Town Green and a shop that would give Arkwright’s a run for its money. Joking aside, in its favour, Heckington must be one of the few town left with an active Blacksmith’s (Nicholas Marshall).

In keeping with so many towns nowadays, sadly, one of the ‘Locals’ – The Oak – had closed permanently leaving it with just The Nag’s Head a little further down the road to fly the flag for beer-lovers.

3.20pm: It had been colder than it looked from the safety of the Denis’ Lounge window, so it was good to be back in the warm!

3.45pm: The rest of the evening was spent around the TV, including: ‘Back in Time for Christmas’; ‘Reindeer Family and Me’; ‘Under the Christmas Sky’; ‘Carols from Kings’, ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Only Fools & Horses’.

5.35pm: Dessert made its comeback – to everyone’s satisfaction!
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The Dishwasher completed its second run and after Ann began to prepare the Table for tomorrow, we were all set for the big day!


Christmas Day (with Denis & Bev)

7.45am: Merry Christmas! We had our annual lie-in (until 8am). A quick glance out of the bedroom window revealed a damp day was in the making…

We did our own thing for Breakfast – Denis headed for the cereals, Ann, the fruit, whist I finished off the mince-pies!

10.15am: A slight re-arrangement of the furniture to accommodate our extra guests was followed by the first TV of the day – Morecambe & Wise re-runs on Gold

10.35am: Bev and her friend Lynne arrived and having agreed to cook the Christmas Lunch, got straight to work! Her boot and back-seats certainly reflected the task ahead. 

After a quick cuppa, we exchanged presents and had a good gossip!

12.45pm: Ann put the finishing touches to the Christmas Table…


..including the hand-written nameplates by Bev

1.15pm: And perfectly on time (well, a minute early Pedants!), it was all ready… Bev’s nameplates were a nice touch!

  
  

Dessert followed where Bev had made a Pear Frangipane tart and that was followed by a Cheese-board. It’s fair to say that predictably, again, we were all stuffed! Just one thing left to do…

2.00pm: …in the sink for me to do all the stuff I hadn’t managed to cram into the dishwasher! With Lynne on drying duties, it was soon all done and the kitchen was returned to its normal state of calm.

Just time for a final chat and to collect up all our bits and pieces!

3.25pm: We left just before 3.30 and hardly saw another car on the road on the way home! As a result, I set new personal record – 1 hour 20 minutes, without driving like a loonie too! That’s a five-minute improvement on my next best time.

When we got home, all that was left to do, was open the remaining presents and catch-up with some of the Christmas TV on Sky Q so far.

It’s been a great day and Bev worked really hard getting Lunch together! Great to spend a bit of time with Lynne too!

Back on the road tomorrow, heading for Roger, Jane and Oliver’s for a few days. I love Christmas!!!
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Boxing Day (with Roger, Jane & Oliver)

A quick catch-up with a bit of Christmas TV before heading off to R, J and O’s until Friday.

10.15am: Wow! What a difference in the traffic compared to yesterday! It felt like the whole of Northamptonshire was out-and-about in their cars!

11.40am: After a busier journey than planned (including a re-fuelling stop at The Poplars, Stevenage) we arrived. It took a few trips to empty the car, but we were soon unpacking in our room.

12.00 noon: I spent the next hour with Oliver, walking him through his new laptop and that led nicely into lunchtime.

1.45pm: A superb lunch followed – traditional Boxing Day fare – cold cuts preceded by Salmon Blinis and all finished off with Yule Log and a Cheese-Board, with the added bonus of some mini-presents…

2.00pm: More lessons on the Laptop followed lunch: this time we configured iCloud to upload all Oliver’s pics from his iPhone to his new toy. The main event followed – opening of the main presents. Oliver bought me some Guinness Truffles, a screen-cleaning cloth and a 1980s Trivia Book whilst the big pressy for everyone was a trip to London tomorrow with a ‘short historical discovery’ a ‘top dining experience’ and a ‘Blockbusting Movie-night Extravaganza’ (but the details are, at this stage, a bit ‘top secret’).
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4.00pm: Drinkies all round with Ann showing Oliver how to use his new paint easel followed by the rest of the afternoon generally gossiping about this and that, but mainly Denis’s current health.

7.00pm: Evening Nibbles – A great selection of Asian/Chinese snacks!

8.00pm: An evening of TV followed! We watched episode 1 of ‘lost’ Morecambe & Wise episodes from 1968 (discovered in an old cinema in Sierra Leone in 2011) on BBC 2…

…followed by the BBC’s Christmas Agatha Christie offering: ‘The ABC Murders’, starring John Malkovich and an almost unrecognisable Rupert Grint.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with the latest production as I’ve not read the book. These festive productions are normally quite family friendly for Christmas – but this was dark… very dark! – and just episode 1 of 3, showing over the next two days. For me, it turned out to be an intriguing episode with a genuine sense of mystery and tension about it, helped along by excellent acting with slightly quirky visual and aural design.

10.15pm: Off to bed!


27th (with Roger, Jane & Oliver)

7.55am: Morning all!

A lazy morning today with an afternoon of mystery promised… As I mentioned yesterday, our Christmas present from R, J and O was treating us to a visit to somewhere in London, but it was all very hush-hush. All we knew was that we were leaving just before 3pm.

11.00am: A legendary ‘Full English’ brekky.

12.05pm: Helped with the drying-up, whilst Ann and Roger reminisced over a couple of shoeboxes full of family-related photos and other memorabilia.

1.10pm: Time to apply a bit of slap (to the sounds of Oliver practising his scales on the double-bass in the background) as we got ready our ‘London Mystery Tour’.

2.45pm: We left to take train from Harlow to Liverpool Street on the Stansted Express.

…and 45 minutes later we arrived at a surprisingly busy Liverpool Street Station…

…and as we jumped in a Taxi, we headed for our first surprise, just 15 minutes away!




4.00pm: Our first surprise revealed: A trip round a relocated ruin of the Temple of Mithras right in the heart of the Capital – part of the new Bloomberg HQ that was opened in 2017! If you’re into that sort of thing – and we all are – it was a magnificent exhibition tastefully rebuilt/relocated using very appropriate sound effects and subtle lighting.

In a word: ‘WOW!’

With our dropped-jaws back in their rightful position (as was the Temple), we took a short walk to our next surprise. Whereas we’d been deep down in Roman ruins just 15 minutes before, we were now doing exactly the opposite! Jumping in a lift and heading skywards (at some speed) to our next stop.

It turned out to be the Duck and Waffle, at the top of ‘110 Bishopsgate’ some 40 floors later!

Needless to say, the views were amazing across the London night-sky…

After a slightly confused group of Bar-staff, we did eventually all get a drink. We paused awhile reflecting on our unique location (apparently it’s the tallest restaurant in London that’s open 24/7) before heading for the Restaurant itself.

5.35pm: We’d been getting used our dropped jaws by now and the location was truly unique. And it was certainly busy too given that we were eating early at just 5.30pm. I learned later that it’s actually London’s tallest 24-hour restaurants. The food was very tasty but we were very conscious of the time as we had to leave by 7pm.

IMG_20181227_173626~2
…and we stuck t our timings… just!

Once gain re-locating our jaws as we descended in the express lift, it was a shortish walk to our final surprise destination…

The Barbican

Roger, Jane and Oliver had arranged tickets for the Best of John Williams concert.


A packed event where (just like everything else this evening, it didn’t disappoint!!).

The Orchestra was the London Concert Orchestra and they were outstanding! I think what made it extra special though was the way the Conductor – Anthony Inglis – involved the audience – and that’s not typical of his profession. It looked like the orchestra was enjoying every second of the performance, but I think with so many masterpieces, it would have been difficult not to! In addition, we spotted Thomas Fountain, brother of James Fountain (who played at our Wedding) on the trumpet.
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And, as an extra treat for the kids (including me!) we had the pleasure of Darth Vader and supporting Storm-troopers appearing just off stage during the two (yep, TWO) encores! They thoughtfully moved to the auditorium afterwards to ensure a smooth retrieval of coats! … and maybe a chance to grab a few selfies too with the increasing queue!
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10.05pm: As we (and a few hundred others) left, we headed back to the Liverpool Street Station just in time to catch the 10.22 back to Harlow.

11.25pm: The train was on time and we were soon back at base reflecting on our day. Well, Roger, Jane, Oliver and Ann did, whilst I crashed-out immediately!

What a treat! Our three surprises were exactly that and we’d been spoiled rotten! It had been a very memorable surprise for all the right reasons. Big thanks to Roger, Jane and Oliver for their generosity!


28th (with Roger, Jane & Oliver)

After yesterday’s surprises (not surprisingly) we slept well. We enjoyed a lazy breakfast before saying our goodbyes and heading home. Just in time to re-pack for our cottage adventure in Norfolk with Jo, Janet & Carol tomorrow…

Wow! that’s it for Christmas 2018 – and what a ‘busy’ Christmas we’ve had. It’s been unusual this year in that Ann has hardly cooked a thing, and we seem to have spent a lot of time travelling here and there (not necessarily a bad thing).

I normally exit the Christmas period knowing that I’ve eaten and drunk too much, but this year felt different – we’d both shown a fair bit of constraint wherever we’ve eaten, and I’ve definitely not consumed anywhere near as much alcohol. However, before we get too smug, we’ve both agreed to do a sort of ‘Lent-lite’ from early January leading up to our next big holiday in February.

For me, Christmas TV varied from atrocious (Death on the Tyne) to pretty good (The ABC Murders) to excellent (the ever-reliable Morecambe & Wise). And for the first time since 2005, there WASN’T a Doctor Who Christmas Special (it’s on New Year’s Day instead). All-in-all though, overall, it was all pretty disappointing – or perhaps I’m just getting old and crusty!!!???
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We received a wide selection of gifts again this year and I’m always amazed at the generosity from our friends and family. Merry Christmas!!!
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Christmas Past

2017
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010