The 7 Days of Christmas

Most Christmas traditions we pick up either from the Christmases of our childhood or by osmosis from the world around.  When you get married, it gets a little interesting with the “but our family always did this…” conversations.  A final little centre table present instead of crackers is one we got from my wife’s family.

Starting a new Christmas tradition is always fun.  Last year we decided to go for a Rosace a l’orange rather than a Christmas pudding – lighter than a Christmas pud, the citrus cuts through the fat of the slow-roast duck and goose we did for the main course.  This turned out so well, we did it again in 2016 (all of it, slow-roast birds included) and are looking forward to doing it again from now on.  If you’ve not tried it, this is a gorgeous, light, creamy, pudding made using Mary Berry’s recipe here.  The tricky part is getting the oranges to candy successfully – took 3 goes first time, 2 this last time, so I’m getting better!  And ignore the order the instructions are presented in, you want to get the oranges on first so you know they work!

This year we went for something new.  7 of us, 7 days, each day one person gets to chose:

  • 1 movie for the family to watch together
  • 1 thing for us to bake/cook
  • 1 game for us to play

For the most part, this worked out well.  It was thrown off-track by Eldest either working or disappearing up to Yorkshire to visit her boyfriend, but this was Year 1 of the New Tradition.

Some things were to everyone’s taste – Youngest wanted to make chocolate brownies, watch The Force Awakens, and play Carcassonne.  Not bad at all!

Middle Boy wanted us all to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.  Which is unmitigated rubbish (and yet on a par with every other TMNT movie they’ve ever made).  Eldest Boy wanted to make Koeksisters, which we never quite got round to.

Over the week, we watched most of the movies – and then had a catch-up day where we had a Labyrinth/Stardust double feature – baked most of the bakes and played a few, but not all, of the games.

But we did it.  And the kids were excited to plan it – they drew it up, helped each other choose what to bake, what to play, stuck the whole thing on the fridge (where it promptly got covered in crossings out and rewritings as minds were changed).

Going to do it again next year, definitely.  Might even do a version of it over the summer holidays – they’re long enough to be able to drop a few special days in here and there…

Where does the time go?

the bag please

Can you see it move? There’s something there. It’s in this very cloth that I weave…

15 years ago I heard those words sung for the first time in the central arena of the Milennium Dome.  The acrobatic performance accompanying Peter Gabriel’s ‘Ovo’ defines “spectacular” for me. Everywhere you looked there were people performing – dancing, tumbling, flying! Truly amazing.

In total we visited the Dome 3 times that year, saw that show 8 times including the final performance on New Years Eve 2000. And we bought this bag as a souvenir. (and a copy of Ovo).
Since then this bag has been the first school bag used by all 5 of my children – carrying the things they need to nursery school and reception. Last week, after 15 year’s hard service, it finally gave up the ghost. When you can drop an A4 book bag through the hole in the bottom, it’s time.

That bag saw a lot of firsts for my family. It carried the first disposable nappies for my eldest and the first official school book bag for my youngest. It’s been on holiday wherever we’ve been.

I’m now at that stage when I’m coming up on lasts – I’ve had my last kid start walking, talking, school… Lasts are not as much fun as firsts and the firsts on the horizon are scary ones. My eldest takes her GCSEs next summer, for example. That first driving lesson is awful close!

Lasts and firsts are, to borrow a line, things that go to make up a life. They’re amazing, scary, wonderful things. And this bag saw more than a few.

Things to do over the Easter holidays, #1

Okay.  First off, you’re going to need a map and an idea of how far your kids will cope in the car without complaining (too much).  Second, you’ll need a pair of compasses.  Draw a circle of, say, 2 hours radius, centred on your home.

In our case, that goes as far north as Ripon in North Yorkshire, as far south and east as Dinosaur World in Norfolk, as far west as you need to go…

First up this week was an aborted attempt at going crabbing.  I’m reliably informed that all you need is the right spot, the right bait, the right conditions.  And to know that the phrase “I think we’ll go crabbing today” is a trigger to summon the worst weather you can imagine.

We’d got the bait – pig skin works like a charm, apparently.  We’d got the location – I’m not going to reveal that, suffice to say you’ll need rocks for the crabs to hide in, and somewhere you can drop the bait straight down to the water and pull straight up and out again.  We’d got the right time – the tide was just coming up to high, on it’s way in.  There was a pot of gumbo sauce all ready to receive fresh crab meat.

When we arrived, it was a bit blustery.  Not so much as you’d worry about, certainly nothing to stop the event.  So we started filling the bait bags…

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By the time we’d filled them and tried our first cast into the water, they behaved more like little pigskin kites.  Never got anywhere near the water.  And then the rain started.  The wind picked up, the rain increased, we retired to the cars.  The God of Crabs wasn’t satisfied – we were, after all, still there.  So He summoned hail.  And thunder.  And lightning.  Finally, we decided to call it a day, bailed out, headed for home.  And for every mile we drove away from the crabbing spot, the weather improved.  By the time we’d reached home, it was just mildly very windy (that’s on the Shetland Wind Scale).  And we had to use the backup fish for the gumbo.

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Day 2 saw us get rid of Thing1, delivering her to her grandparents for the week.  And that’s an interesting thing you’ll notice when you’ve got a big family:  Remove 1 and the whole dynamic changes.  Suddenly it’s a lot easier to do almost anything.  The rest seem to pull together and play together better – okay, so it’s 4 boys and there are the inevitable punch-ups, but even they seemed less serious.  And apart from having an adventure in the car with Thing5, and discovering a wide array of things that the Halifax won’t accept as a suitable form of ID (fortunately, another customer’s problem, not mine), that was that.

Day 3 was another foul day – someone must’ve thought about going crabbing.  So we explored Peterborough’s Showcase cinema.  I’ve got to admit that I wasn’t holding out high expectations here.  I’d read the reviews on Google+ when I moved down to Lincolnshire and they were a litany of “Thou Shalt Not!” – grubby, dirty, sound out-of-sync, just generally shit.  Well, they’ve clearly turned things around since those were written.  The worst thing about it – absolutely the worst – is the parking.  Thanks to the wondrous idiocy of the town planning, the cinema is tucked away behind several large car dealerships, all of whom have new cars parked on both sides of the road, narrowing a reasonable road to a single track with few passing places.  We were lucky when we drove in, took us almost 20 minutes to get out.  Also, the only way to find out what’s showing is to consult the website, the signs aren’t visible until you’re well into the car park, and the screens inside above the ticket desk are smaller than my TV.

It was a toss-up between Shaun the Sheep and Big Hero 6.  Shaun won.

My favourite bit.

Day 4 took us to Kirby Hall, over near Corby.  This is a cracking English Heritage site (so free entry for us) that’s only open during the spring-summer-autumn.  It’s devoid of furniture, so the scope for haring around like mad things, playing hide-and-seek, rolling down the grassy banks, performing somersaults, walking on hands, admiring the peacocks…  Fabulous.  And the audioguide is (a) free, and (b) excellent.

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Day 5 was Good Friday.  Baking, gaming, relaxing.  Woke late to the smell of fresh hot cross buns courtesy of my wonderful wife.  After breakfasting on them, we, the family, made bread, banana loaves and a Simnel cake.  And made a start on them after a quick game of Release the Hound, played while walking the dog.

The afternoon was Tsuro (a game definitely fit for everyone from age 4 upwards), dominoes, and a made-up roleplaying game loosely based on a cross between Lego Ninjago, Skyrim, and The Strange.  More of which in a future post.

Finally, for this week, Snozone at Xscape.  So, snow.  Not seen a great deal of it this year.  Or, indeed, since we moved south.  Didn’t see a lot of it in Shetland, to be honest, but at least we used to get a few good sledging days a year.  So, the lack of snow and the lack of hills here in Lincolnshire made a sledging session pretty damn tempting.  The fact that it was convenient for the grandparents to return Thing1 to us as well made it a sure-fire winner.  Broke out the kids’ “Forest School” kit – saloupettes, super-suits, wellies, the whole nine yards, and had a fantastic time sledging and using the ice slide in big rubber rings.  Brilliant fun.  The staff dealing with us were friendly, fun, and clearly enjoy their job.  Only downside to Snozone is that it’s expensive and there’s no option to buy sessions using Tesco Clubcard vouchers or Nectar Points.

Round it off with lunch at TGI Fridays (a restaurant my parents actually enjoyed, amazingly enough!), and a superb goat curry waiting for us when we got home…  What a day.

Basically, it’s been an epic week.  And I bet, if you sum it up like I’ve just done, yours has been, too.

Oh, and Happy Easter!