Tag Archives: christmas

On the third day of Christmas: magic at Christmas

On the third day of Christmas: magic at Christmas

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a touch of magic. It would also be lacking without a festive trip to see something by Creation Theatre. After last year’s Aladinn, and before that A Christmas Carol, I was very excited. This year’s offering was n adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In the year’s since I originally read the books I confess I have fallen a lttle out of love with them for their overtly Christian allegory, but since visiting the Magical Books exhibition earlier in the year, and watching a recent documentary about the life of C.S. Lewis, I have had a renewed interest in the books. However I do approach adaptations with caution. I remember the almost fanatical excitement I had at the prospect of the BBC’s adaptation in 1988, and he crushing disapointment that followed after… So I’m not sure what I expected from Creation Theatre’s take on the story. Directed by the always inventive and brilliant Charlotte Conquest, I was expecting it to be magical, playful, and briliant. What I definitely wasn’t expecting was a musical version of by (the up and coming?) Steven Luke Walker. 1426441_690934297605716_1226064540_nThe show was brilliantly produced, and the singing execellent, although in such a small space as the former-Victorian swimming pool I’m not sure that the cast needed to be mic-ed and certainlynot as closely, and there were some moments of true musical magic. There were also some sons that sat oddly with me – in particularly the opening ‘wartime’ number and the Witch’s song when she murders Aslan on the stone table… these in particular had joviality to them that sat at odds with the tone of the story.

Where the production was at its strongest was when Charlotte Conquest was able to her bring the familiar Creation magic out, for example with thold-fashioned puppetry that played out to Mr Tumnus’ song, or when Lucy and Susan ride on the back of a reincarnated Aslan. I found myself wanting more of these. It may have been hard to work in the acrobats of the Ring Jinee from last year but I can’t help/thinking that something like that would have made it even better.

Still, a very enjoyable production of a curious book. I still feel that, despite its faults I want to re-read them…


On the fourteenth day of advent: like queuing for the end of the world

On the fourteenth day of advent: like queuing for the end of the world

I always knew that going to the Post Office on the Saturday before Christmas was going to involve queuing – lots of queuing – but I don’t think my brain had really processed just how long a queue would be involved.

The Post Office in Bicester is a very long, very narrow shop – at the far end of a newsagents – and when we joined the queue we were able to see the doors to Sheep Street better than we could see the counters where we wanted our Christmas stamps. I think I must have been stood there for the best part of 40 minutes in all! But stamps were bought, and international cards posted, even if there was for a moment, a thought going through my head, that I would still be stood there waiting when Neil came to collect me to take me to concert band this afternoon ahead of our concert this evening

To refuel ourselves after the wait, Emma and I treated ourselves to a sausage roll and a sticky ginger cupcake from the farmer’s market for lunch. 🙂

On the ninth day of advent: twinkling lights and festive joy

On the ninth day of advent: twinkling lights and festive joy

A bit more of a quiet day today. Well, that is until this afternoon. Whilst I can’t stand the repeated traipsing round the shops, doing panic-stricken Christmas shopping to get all the presents bought, favouring instead to do much by either a) the internet and the comfort of my own home, or b) something by my own fair hand, I do like to not miss out on the experience of the High Street in December and all those festive lights. Last year Emma and I had a lovely afternoon out in Oxford seeing the lights and this year we decided to do it again.

So we headed into Oxford and visited our favourite shops, and looked in all the nice windows, and picked up a few last things we needed. I had thought there was a Christmas market too in Broad Street, but clearly that had packed up and moved off. What there was in Broad Street but the big, ol’ Coca Cola lorry and Santa Claus and snow falling from the sky (somehow)…



On the eighth day of advent: Christmas concerts and American-themed Diners

A bit of a productive day today, cleaning out the animals and such, but I did get some good reading time in there too – that is – when I wasn’t staring at the most gorgeous of sunsets…

BicesterSunset_20131208_166After the sunset, we headed out into Bicester to watch Lucy in Bicester Concert Band’s Christmas concert in St Edburg’s Church. It was a joint one with a local school choir, and was fun, and good, and Christmassy…

BicesterConcertBand_20131208_171…and then, because by then it was 8 o’clock and none of us had had anything to eat, we decided to go for a bite to eat with Lucy and Luke at the newly opened Dean’s Diner – an American 50s-style restaurant – that has just opened up in the town centre.

We had milkshakes, burgers and fries. Not really on-diet, but very nice, and it was nice to see Lucy and Luke again.


On the seventh day of advent: carolling in the square

On the seventh day of advent: carolling in the square

I never really think that Christmas has begun until I play some carols. Yes, we’ve been playing Christmas music at band since November but that is rehearsal for the concert next week and so doesn’t count. This morning Emma and I headed out, she too enjoy the Abingdon Christmas Market, and I to play my flute with a few others from the band in the square.

The Round Table were selling mulled wines and mincepies from the table behind us and the aroma just kept on wafting over us as we played. The market too was good, with a stand of lovely leather goods and some reasonably priced leather bound journals for sale. Must check out The Old Leather Works again sometime.

1470193_10152178138584155_2020999907_nBetween sessions, Emma and I headed across the square to the Throwing Buns cafe for a gorgeously warming hot chocolate and bacon and brie pannini before more playing…


Next, we’re off out to a pub somewhere near Abingdon for Emma’s work Christmas meal. Should be fun!



This weekend has been one for hibernating, partly because of the weather which has been cold, and grey, and utterly wintery, but partly also because Emma has been working/on-call which dictates that we can’t venture very far. So I decided to blitz the jobs early, and on Friday evening made a start on cleaning the house, and then on Saturday morning cleaned out the bunnies and the chickens. As it turned out, I’m glad I did for by the time I headed into town to do the veg shopping the grey mizzle had come down.

Saturday afternoon was definitely hibernating weather and I tucked myself up with my book: Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper by Charles Butler. I actually bought this book when it came out back in 2006 but struggled then to read it’s selection of discursive essays on four of my most-favourite authors. Yesterday I was romping through its pages, and today, I have been doing the same.

I paused from my reading only in the afternoon to luxuriate in one of my annual pre-Christmas traditions: the making of the Christmas cake. Stir-up Sunday should actually be next Sunday being the one closest to my Mum’s birthday but we will be otherwise busy next weekend so I brought it forward. In the Shepherd household, it was always a family thing. My Dad would line and grease the cake tin with baking parchment and newspaper and make its little newspaper hat already for the four hours in the oven, and my brother and I would help my Mum get the ingredients all ready and ready to add into the BIG mixing bowl. And we’d listen to Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker whilst we did so.

In the new-Shepherd household we seem to have a different tradition, one that we observed today.


I set my LP of The Nutcracker playing on the record player and prepped and made the Christmas cake whilst Emma snoozed into the afternoon, and then I returned to reading in the armchair whilst the delicious aroma of Christmas wafted out of the kitchen as the cake cooked…

On the twelfth day of Christmas: the beginning and the end

As night follows day, so today follows Twelfth Night. We weren't too bothered about the traditions of when decorations come as their dies seem to be a fair amount of difference of opinion as to whether it's the 5th or 6th, and we just didn't have time yesterday.

I removed all the decorations and lights from the tree and then took it round the front to dig a large hole to plant it in. I had to cut it out of it's pot though and I'm not sure how well it will grow as the main tap root has been cut. With the 2012 tree safely planted we carried on with cleaning out the chickens and the bunnies. After that we finished with the decorations and vacuumed round before a a nice as soothing bowl of turkey soup – the last of the turkey soup.

After Emma being off-colour last week, yesterday I seem to have got the bug. I had a headache on Friday night and a persistent tummy ache yesterday and today – the turkey soup was just what was required.

This afternoon has been altogether more snuggly. As the joint of pork roasted I read chapters from both Revelations by Diana Wynne Jones and Joanne Harris' Runemarks and did some more writing of my own Mr Tumnal. I'm also very excited to discover that there is a new sequel to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. This time the action happens Before Midnight and takes Celine and Jesse to Greece. Another nine years have passed both in between the films and in the story. I'm very excited, and can't wait. Can't quite believe it's 18 years since I first fell in love with the films!

On the eleventh day of Christmas: the confusion of the night

There is an undeniable confusion as to when Twelfth Night actually is – even Stephen Fry got it in a muddle on the Christmas episode of QI. So…

It is defined by the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as “the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking”. There is some confusion these days, however, as to which night is Twelfth Night: modern practice is often to regard the night of Epiphany itself (sixth of January) to be Twelfth Night. The older tradition of Twelfth Night being the 5 January stems from the medieval practice of the day beginning at sunset, rather than at midnight as it does now. Thus Twelfth Night falls on 5 January, ahead of Twelfth Day on the 6th.

So, I guess tonight is Twelfth Night, probably unquestionably, but you’ll notice today’s title is the eleventh… I guess because although in today’s world Night follows Day, this medieval tradition of the day beginning at sunset not midnight, means that tomorrow will indeed be the Twelfth Day of Christmas…

On the fifth day of Christmas: books in review

One of the joys of the post-Christmas and pre-New Year holidays is those long afternoons in the fading light, tucked up on the sofa with the Christmas tree across the room, reading… reading lots and lots. So, a roundup of a couple of books I finished in the last couple of days…

Someone Else’s Fairytale by Emily Mah Tippetts
This isn’t the usual genre that as I read, and it probably wouldn’t have entered my radar had Twitter not recommended me as someone that the author should be talking to. But I’m very glad that whatever algorithms Twitter uses put us together, because this a genuinely interesting, funny, and entertaining book.

I don’t like the Twilight saga – I know because I tried reading them. I mention this because this story’s central idea is based on the film’s of that series and how everyone should be in love with the main stars but that not everyone is. I feel a bit like Chloe in this story but where instead of ending up liking Jason Vanderholt I find myself unknowingly falling in love with chicklit. Who would ever have thought that we could happen?

Grubson Pug’s Christmas Voyage by Jane-Anne Hodgson
An entertaining, modern fairytale about a family of dogs, and what we should wish for at Christmas. When Mr Brunson takes a voyage before Christmas to get presents for his children, it is his youngest, Henri, who wants nothing more than to h as ‘ve his father home for Christmas Day. When there’s a stir. at sea, even that simple perish seems to be in doubt…

On the fourth day of Christmas: the death of the book?

There’s an article in today’s Guardian which seems to want to suggest the rise of traditional print book sales eBooks. It seems obvious to me that in the run up to Christmas that you will see more physical books sold – you can’t currently gift eBooks to people, and I have a feeling that it is this more than anything that goes to explain this rise. After all, one of the big sellers has been Jamie Oliver’s New cookbook of 15 minute meals. If my own use of the Kindle Fire is anything to go by then the cookbook will be one of the first to go to the eVersion… it’s so convenient to have next to you to cook by.

The article also goes on to suggest that the *humble* eReader has had its peak of sales as people flock to tablets. Again, I’m not so sure… I discovered yesterday that reading a book on my Kindle Fire was actually quite comfortable (or rather less uncomfortable than I had imagined), but for battery life alone the eInk eReader cannot be beaten (except by a print book that never crashes and never dies).

I would also hope that if there is a real, sustained rise in print books again, it is just the convenience of the eReader and the tablets that has led to people falling back in love with reading and from that the pleasure of reading from the turning of real not virtual pages.

On the twenty-second day of advent: wet beyond wetness

After the festive, Christmassy joy to which we concluded yesterday, today was the antithesis of festive. It’s emej‘s weekend of working the day shift and so it was my job to venture out into town to pick up the Turkey, get the veg in, head home, and clean the house from top to bottom, and cook a delicious meal for Emma ready for when she got home from work – in this case Nigel Slater’s Pork Rib ragù – which was every bit as yummy as it sounds.

I did make full use of the new Kindle Fire though, taking a selection of audio gems on the iPlayer, including a brilliant documentary on Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds: …but still they come.

Thanks to petticoat_tails for nodding me in the direction of this I also found the first half of the Grimm Thoughts series to listen to, which was equally fascinating.

I feel a bit guilty for saying it because I’m not the one who’s been at work all day but honestly, preparing for Christmas like this is a whole lot more tiring than my day job. By the end of it, I really wasn’t up to much apart from flumping down on the sofa in front of the Strictly Come Dancing final, which is good because that’s precisely what Emma wanted to do anyway!

On the twenty-first day of advent: the shortest day

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!

On the nineteenth day of advent: the last working day of the year

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…

On the eighteenth day of advent: preparing for Christmas

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…

On the eighth day of advent: Let Christmas begin

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…

On the second day of advent: tree dressing

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… 🙂

On the first day of advent: The beginning

In days gone by I always used to have a real Christmas tree, in a pot that I could afterwards plant out in the garden. My first, 2001, tree grew fabulously and is now a mighty tree. In 2007 I had my last real tree, for in the intervening years we’ve always erected Emma’s artificial tree. This year though Emma is having a big birthday party in two weeks time… it will be a bit late to put the tree up on the 16th and the artificial one is a bit on the large size for having up for the party so we’ve gone for a smaller real tree.

Within five minutes of bringing it in the house, Nellie was chasing her tail around its base and then later in the afternoon she was hiding under the Christmas tree skirt.

There was a Christmas market on in Bicester today which was lovely to wander round, and then this evening we headed into Oxford with friends to enjoy bangers and mash at the all new Big Bang before going to see the Oxford Operatic Society’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

Let Christmas begin!