Today has been non-stop. Emma’s been at work all day. Now she has busy, tiring work days – not like my sit down at the computer for 7½ hours a day – but today I really feel that I have worked hard. First off was collecting The Bird from John The Butcher in Launton, before heading into Bicester for the veg and a few other things. I can’t believe how wet it’s been today. So, so wet.
Home to put the shopping away, rearrange the fridges… and a brief break for lunch.
Then I was back to it. Cleaning the kitchen, dusting,scrubbing up cat puke stains and hoovering the house from top to bottom before moving straight on into cooking dinner and making some Hairy Bikers diet pasties. Whilst I caught up with the first five episodes of the excellent Grimm Thoughts series that has been on all this week on Radio 4 with Marina Walker. Thanks go to for pointing me in the direction of it.
After the bleak wintriness of yesterday today was one of those crispier, nicer days that make you fall in love with winter. After a quiet morning pottering, and base-icing the Christmas cake, Emma and I headed into Oxford in the late afternoon for a spot of festive Christmas shopping. It was one of those relaxed occasions where I have done all the main shopping, but there’s just a few little things I wanted to get if I saw them, but the main objective was to be around the twinkling festive lights in the dark and the cold and just feel Christmas. I got this from the very beginning, seeing the lights through Summertown (one day I really must visit Barefoot Books), and then no sooner that we had arrived in Oxford but the lights of Boswell’s tempted us invitingly, and there were carol singers in Cornmarket Street and a fire juggler…
The Pylones Boutique is always inviting with its array of bright colours and I found a few stocking fillers in there. The Oxford Covered Market is always a good place to wander round. Turkeys really don’t vote for Christmas…
The Last Bookshop has relocated from Jericho into the centre of Oxford with every book just £2 – perfect for stimulating stockings! And then we were lured by inexpensive, antique glass baubles in our favourite card shop – Arcadia in St Michael’s Street – with a window display to die for.
By then we were beginning to get hungry so we dropped into Wagamama for a meal that may have been a traditional Japanese breakfast but was nonetheless very yummy.
A perfect way to end a perfect Christmassy-festive day. Must make a tradition of this!
For the first day of my Christmas holidays I had big plans. I feel a bit like I have failed. I’ve basically finished as all my shopping but one thing I do like doing is going into Oxford, close to the day itself, when it’s dark and cold and the twinkling lights are all festive and just enjoying that festive-feeling.
So today the plan was to get up not too far off the normal schoolday time, do some productive jobs like cleaning up after 8 cats, feeding the hoards, and generally making the place nice. Then I would settle down to read lots or write lots (to Mr Tumnal), cook lunch for when Emma gets back from work, before heading out to Oxford in the late afternoon before being back in time for the Ocado order. That, as I say, was the plan.
What actually happened was me going back to sleep until half nine and then me being incredibly slow about things until I had barely done the house-being-presentable stuff before Emma got home. Lunch was later than I had envisaged and the weather outside is looking anything but festive.
We’re going to go into Oxford tomorrow afternoon for a bit of a wander.
Yesterday was the last Tuesday that I would work this year. Today was the last day I would work this year. That said, to say *day* might be pushing things a bit. After a morning trying to finish things off – difficult with a flaky and unreliable network drive – Team Marketing headed out to The White Hart in Old Headington for our austerity Christmas lunch ans Secret Santa.
Far from being a serious affair of tightly kept secrets, from the start we were all keen to piece together who might have whom. Everyone knew who had Kirsty; Amy knew who I had; both Claire and Robert had strayed over the set £3; Emrys had admitted to his containing two presents with 2p change; I had let slip that mine was exactly £3 and not purchased from a chain store; and Nicola’ s had been purchased with Danish Krona.
The steak and ale pie that I had was delicious. It would have been nice to have a washed it down with mulled wine but I was driving. All in all a very nice way to end the working year…
So, after two years off, and I are doing Christmas again. My mum and dad are coming to stay and it will just be the four of us. I had already prebooked my Ocado order for this Thursday in order to guarantee my delivery slot, adding various high- value items to it quickly in order to hit the minimum spend, but tonight I finalised my order…
I've experienced a few Christmas shopping runs in the past – most notably in 2008 with Emma to Tesco which was, in a word, hideously busy. The other occasion that stands out is, I think in 1995 or '96, with my mum when we experienced Waitrose for the first time. On this occasion although it was still hideously busy but the adequate staffing levels and good- training actually a pleasurable experience.
We've found online grocery shopping a real winner over the last three years both in terms of saving time and saving money and so the online Christmas order seemed the natural thing to do. And it was. Half an hour as and I was done. Only slight problem was that they were *all* out of xmas puds. Should be possible to pick one up somewhere though…
It’s not an easy read; a portrait of a land, and a people, and a person – Bjartur of Summerhouses. It’s definitely easier to read this if you have visited Iceland; seen, and felt, the landscape. If you have you can imagine the small house they live in, and the harsh, unforgiving environment but also the beauty of it, and you can understand why Bjartur clings to his life there. It’s possibly about the only thing you can symphersise with him over, so beastly otherwise he can be.
Written as four parts, it does get a bit unrelentingly depressing during the third part which I had to really force myself to read through, and the second half of the book is not as good as the first half but that is possibly because by now we have had all the imagery of Iceland by then. By the end of the book it is a bit of a relief, with it all ending pretty much where it began, but I do feel satisfied for having finished it.
( Independent People by Halldór Laxness )
Traditionally it is the weekend closest to my mum’s birthday (25 November) and Stir-up Sunday that launches my preparations for Christmas. It’s not until I play my first carols though that I truly feel Christmas. Today Emma and I headed down to Abingdon on Thames for two sessions in the market square amongst the Christmas Market. When we arrive, some of the band are already playing a last minute, third, session, and it is the perfect accompaniment to some impromptu Christmas shopping.
We have new carol books this year, which some of us have never seen before in our lives. What’s more many of the carols are in 6 flats! Six flats?! It seems the carol books are Salvation Army ones. That explains it then, Salvation Army carols would be written foremostly for brass, and thus the crap key signature for anyone in of a woodwind persuasion.
Following the morning of carols and Christmas markets (including a yummy stone cooked chicken salad on a bed of coleslaw for lunch), we returned home – Emma to a sleep, having only had 1½ hours sleep the night before, whilst I put the Christmas lights up outside and found a home for the large bale of hay we have acquired from Fringford Feeds…
~ After the dangerously slippy roads of yesterday (with the dusting of snow we had), this morning was cold, damn cold. Apparently last night it got to -7ºC. Bbrrr… So today I went to work the shorter but slower way of straight down the A34, then (following the lead of Laura and Steve) on down the Banbury road into the centre of Oxford and straight through the middle. Controversial, but it seemed to work.
~ Had to squeeze in a visit to see Auntie Helen at the vets in the evening. The graze on Scooter’s eye had got worse and Emma has been on night’s this week so I had to take him. Part way through the consult Emma arrived on her way back from seeing Lily and her sister. Scooter needs to come back in tomorrow for an operation to remove a flap that has developed on the surface of the eye.
~ After a pleasant evening at band playing Christmas music I get home – after a short diversion through Chesterton because of a car accident on the A41 – to find Emma, far from getting ready for work, lying sprawled on the floor in front of the sofa having fainted with exhaustion – the night shift’s having caught up with her. There is no way that she can go to work tonight, having just fainted and so I have to phone up – and wake – the bosses to let them know.
There is really cool author promo event running on Facebook throughout December called Christmas For Authors. I decided to participate in it as it helps Indie authors (like me) get exposure and helps to boost book sales. We authors have donated books for giveaways and charity. The Author I’ve adopted is Angella Graff. This means I’ll be promoting her for the next seven days, so please go on over and give her facebook page a like!
I first came across Angella after she reviewed my own book, and then offered to interview me about it. I’ve just started reading her book, Moments Collide, and already I’m captivated by the quality of the writing and the storytelling…
“There are no beginnings or endings, just a series of moments colliding.”
Felix LaPage was a young man with huge musical aspirations. Growing up, Felix developed a love of music, and with his cello, worked his way through school to try and become a musical success.
However, that’s not the whole story. While working toward his musical dreams, Felix met a woman who would change the course of his life, but not necessarily in a good way. With this woman, Rayne, Felix learns that not everyone is kind or selfless. Struggling through Rayne’s verbal and emotional abuse, Felix also must face getting over her multiple affairs.
It’s one night, on a long train-ride home, where Felix meets a young woman who shows him a different path, a path that could lead to his own personal happiness, free of struggle and pain. It’s up to Felix, however, to choose whether or not he’s meant to walk the painful path with Rayne, or a path that allows him to be free.
…and I struggle to comprehend why only 2 out of 20 items in an ePub table of contents link through to their respective chapters. The other 18 are tagged in precisely the same way so… I not understand.
I would like to apologise for the unahamedly geeky nature of this post, but its what’s going through my mind at the moment. Normal, festive, joy will resume shortly.
After the floods come the frozen fields down by the river Cherwell and the Oxfordshire canal at Somerton, and scene for a brisk and cold walk in the winter chill. Then we retreated back home to dress the tree. It’s always such a pleasure to get the boxes of decorations down out of the loft and rediscover our favourites, and how and when we came by them.
35 years ago, whilst living in America, I made this one out of an old clothes peg and a doily… 🙂
It has been a fantastically lovely week’s holiday. When I first decided to take this week off I didn’t really have any idea what I would expect from it. As it has turned out it has been busy, and productive, and relaxing, and festive all at the same time. Emma and I, together, have done so much. I think, that I been working to the end I would not be ready for Christmas, or relaxed enough into the yuletide season.
Today, after a last bit of wrapping, and packing, we had a suitably seasonal lunch…
…before going to see Emma’s friend Sue, and to give presents to them and to their daughter Tilly. Emma was briefly reunited with Oscar (neé Diesil) who was a former patient at Bicester Vets before being taken in by Sue’s mum (note the absence of one front leg).
Tilly unwrapping her present and then serving out cakes to all of us
Then we moved on to Emma’s parents where we will be staying for Christmas, and sat and talked, and ate nice food and watched Carol’s from Kings, and looked forward to the day to come…
~ Today I headed down to Oxford to collect the replacement TV – venturing out before the rain but in the wind on a roads that were already getting very busy. At first, Comet didn’t know anything about it, and then had to go and find it out on the shop floor! What the? The organisation of this store is woefullly awful! Getting the TV home and setting it up was straight forward and it is a fatastic picture, but woe, the sound, so tinny!! It makes my old TV which didn’t have the absolute best sound seem like the very best! That said apparently all the small LCD TVs – and even the bigger one’s – have pretty naffish sound. Have improved things though with some computer/walkman speakers which make it okay.
~ Collected the turkey. John The Butcher was a bit of a bah humbug being rushed over his feet, but jollied up when Emma gave him the bottle of beer we had got him as a Christmas present. Then went on into Bicester to get our weekly veg, and to give Hayley and Spence some chocolate as a present for all the leaves.
~ After lunch we set to an afternoon of baking. Emma made sausage rolls and I made cheese straws for the Bicester Vets secret santa party this evening…
~ Then I decorated the cake, possibly going a little OTT with a snowman as well as Father Christmas, and three outsized robins (or albatrosses) and a couple of silver giant redwoods! Still, if you can’t go OTT on a Christmas cake, when can you?
~ Next, remember that chocolate and brandy mixture from the other day, I finished them off…
~ Today was a quieter day, although not without its busy moments. Chiefly the pre-Christmas shop… no regular Ocado delivery in Christmas week, and seeing as as we had vouchers to spend we headed out to Thame and to Waitrose to buy our weekly goods plus one or two planned treats for the holiday season. We met up with Emma’s sister, Helen Lily, and meandered around the aisles, being thankful of the self-scanning option at skipping the checkout queues…
~ After the shops we headed back to Helen’s for lunch and a stroll around the block once Lily had had her feed.
~ Tonight, I cooked Nigel Slater’s yummy winter-warmer of a lamb hotpot…
~ Last night I finished reading my own novel. Got a list of edits to be made and then, I think, I’m done – I’m ready. Today I started reading Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and already I’m hooked. Man tries to kill parents and baby. Baby escapes, ends up in graveyard where ‘residents’ decide to raise him. Such a simple concept. I love it, and I look forward to finding out what happens next.
~ I have finished my present wrapping – well, with the exception of the yet to arrive amazon delivery. Ggrrr, its frustrating. I pay for Amazon Prime which gives me free next day delivery on all eligible items (or everything sold by amazon itself), and ordered my last present on Sunday. It was dispatched on Monday with delivery scheduled for yesterday. When it didn’t arrive I went to track the order because all prime deliveries come with tracking to see that there was no tracking because it had gone out by standard Royal Mail. What the?!? So I contacted amazon by email and they responded very quickly and offered me £3 by way of compensation and dispatched a new copy of the thing but this one is still going out by First Class. Who knows when I will receive one or other or both or neither parcels…?
~ Emma’s best friend Caroline came to visit for lunch and pressies with her children on their way back up to Yorkshire. Arthur, in particular, did a good job of flying the feline flag and entertaining the children.
~ This afternoon I have been mixing up chocolate truffle mixture and baking mince pies whilst catching up on the last four days of The Archers
The last two days have been like a second weekend after the first. Thinking back, it seems ages since that cold day last Saturday, freezing at Millets Farm and playing carols. Today, whilst Dad went off to a meeting at Milton Keynes, Emma and I took my mum down to Hughenden Manor where they have dressed the ground floor for a traditional Victorian Christmas.
Clearly, nice though our decorations are, we have some way to go before we can achieve the same elegance…
After a weekend of Christmassy activities, this afternoon we welcomed my my mum and dad for yet more Christmassy joy. We exchanged presents over a cup of tea and a mincepie in a little, mini-Christmas – Emma and I got a joint present of Christmas joy: All About Me by John & Juliet Atkinson, and for me, a biography of woodcut artist Thomas Bewick, which proves, even at this early stage to inspire me into jealous art making.
In the early evening cold and dark of a December night we headed into Oxford to see http://www.creationtheatre.co.uk‘s latest production, a brand new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. We started off with mulled wine and savoury crepes at the Northwall before taking our seats in the theatre that was a former-Victorian swimming pool.
I had been worried about this production for two reasons: firstly, that last time Creation Theatre performed here, although Measure for Measure was brilliant I had been disappointed by the magic of the venue (for a site-specific theatre company like Creation, the venue is important); and secondly, the last time I had seen them do this story it was not their best production.
I shouldn’t have worried, tonight’s production was brilliant on an epic scale, full of carol singers, with words that weaved themselves into the story, a simple yet effective set and a brilliant cast, it was simply amazing! We’ve had so many perfect starts to Christmas, but surely Christmas has truly begun now…
~ a quiet, slow start to today after Lucy’s Christmas carol party last night. Okay, so carols are not that hard to play, but I think this weekend has taught me that what I lack most of all when it comes to my playing is the confidence. I guess that’s the same problem that I’ve had in so many areas of my life. Anyway, I really enjoyed playing carols yesterday, both with the rest of Abingdon Concert Band, and as solo accompaniment to Lucy’s piano and her friends singing.
~ we made the most of the weather today, heading out into the cold, clear midwinter’s day to clean out the bunnies and the chickens, who were very soggy.
~ after the late breakfast we decided to forgo lunch and have a late Sunday roast beef dinner in the mid-afternoon. So I did a bit of preliminary preparations for the meal, before setting to rearranging the study. The study has got a bit out of control of late – no longer the comfortably full room of books to study and work in – but the dumping ground for everything we haven’t sorted out. I still need to tackle long overdue filing and purge some of the unnecessary junk, but it is now reorganised into such a way that both Emma and I could sit at our respective desks at the same time, and the newly-acquired, free, desktop computer can be set up and used.
~ dinner was, although later than planned, yummy. Beautiful meat and veggies with gravy of just one oxo cube and the meat juices. The only slight disappointment was the roast potatoes, which, having been in the oven a bit too long were a little on the charcoal/carcinogenic side of done.
I’ve missed the carols at Millets Farm for the first couple of years, first by car trouble, and last year of course by the great snow fall of 2010 – and when I say missed it, I really mean, missed it. Playing carols in the cold is the perfect start to the festive season and that Christmas is here. This year, for me, it really is here, as I am on holiday now through to the New Year.
Quite why the players of flutes choose to play what is essentially a tube of cold metal which they press to their lips in the freezing cold is beyond me (hey, I’m one of them!), for it was flippin’ freezing today, if beautifully clear and bright – that kind of perfect midwinter’s day. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, even if has taken a while to thaw out and get warm again!
Yesterday the builders moved in to renovate my old and future office. This morning when I went in after my day off, the wall was down already and they were onto the painting. The new Marketing Emporium is enormous! And going to be so nice with the fresh, bright, paint, new carpet and furniture.
Today was the first time that the new Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences marketing team was complete and all in the same room at the same time. So we all went to lunch to the Brookes Restaurant…
Winter squash soup
pomegranate salad with spiced molasses dressing and caramelised onion bread
Roast breast of Wiltshire turkey
pressed leg, stuffing, sausage and bacon with a port and redcurrant gravy
Chocolate Christmas pudding
brandied plums and vanilla seed ice cream
Managed even to get a new website live before lunch, and do some more work after! 🙂