Christmas Bounty

Now the dust has settled on the festive season, I spent some time going over my pile of ‘bounty’, the gifts I received this year. Having made the decision not to just get more ‘stuff’ that we don’t need, it was nice to open my pile of presents and discover that everything I had was something I wanted and could use.

So without boasting, or rubbing it in for anyone who didn’t get anything, this is a list of what I found under the tree on the 25th.

The Phantom Atlas.
This is a sumptuous hardback book featuring detailed reproductions of antique maps.
Most of them are wildly inaccurate, or deliberately misleading, and that makes the book all the more enjoyable.

A new keyboard for my PC.
I have the desired replacement for the one I am using now that is almost worn out.
It is a Geemarc brand, ‘big key’ keyboard, with black letters on a yellow background.
Perfect for not straining my eyesight after long hours at the computer.

Two long nightshirts.
Looking like very long T-shirts, I like to wear these under a dressing gown when I am mooching around the house.
It has to be extra cold for me to wear them in bed.

Four bottles of red wine.
This included one ‘special reserve’ in a fancy box.
I have only drunk one of them so far.

A tin of Scottish Butter Shortbread.
The best biscuits (cookies) you can get, in my opinion.

DVD films.
First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke.
The Guilty.
A German film a about a police emergency operator.

Chocolate-covered Brazil Nuts. (Two bags)
I don’t eat much chocolate, but these are in dark chocolate, which I prefer.

A selection of Baklava.
Those Greek/Turkish pastries full of chopped nut and honey syrup are a big favourite of mine.

Chocolate-covered fruits and nuts.
This mixed box included Pecans and cranberries. All delicious.

One was a Sharpei calendar, with a different dog for each month.
The other a Dogs Trust charity calendar.

Joint presents for Juie and I from two of her children.
One is for a meal for two in an Italian restaurant, Prezzo.
The other for a special afternoon high tea, in a well-know Norwich restaurant, Bourgee.

I think you will agree that this was a very good selection of gifts. They came from Julie, her children, my cousin, and some of our neighbours in Beetley.
More importantly, they will all be used, read, watched, worn, or eaten.

I hope all of you had an enjoyable time.

Favourite Presents Of My Childhood

Christmas is coming on fast. Too fast.
That got me thinking about Christmas presents of my youth, and the fond memories I still have of them.

I was luckier than most. As an only child I got more than my fair share, and on birthdays too.

Sometimes, I even got a present ‘just because’.
I might have won a prize at school, helped out at home, or recovered from an illness.

Thanks once again to the Internet, I can find images of the identical toys that I received.

Fuzzy Felt was a wonderful toy, if you had the imagination to make the best of it. Pre-cut felt shapes could be stuck to the base, creating anything from a flower, to a wild animal.

My Dad made me a wooden castle when I was very young. When it got broken, I got a new plastic one for Christmas.
The great thing about such toys was that you would get the ‘extras’ to use to play with them.
I accumulated a large collection of Knights in Armour, and weapons like medieval catapults that actually fired stones.
The drawbridge and portcullis both went up and down too!

Around the same time, I also got a Farm Set for my birthday.
Within a few months, I had farm animals, tractors, and even a combine harvester!
(The camels and elephant seem rather out of place in this set though)

Along the same lines, there was a Wild West Fort.
This became home to US Cavalry soldiers and cowboys.
They fought great battles against marauding tribes of Indians on horseback.

Being a boy in the late 1950s meant I was given guns as presents.
I loved my ‘Davy Crockett’ pistol.
This was given to me for being ‘brave at the dentist’!
As well as ‘defending The Alamo’, this was also used when I wanted to be a Pirate, or Highwayman.

I later ‘upgraded’, to a Colt 45 Peacemaker that fired caps.
This was give to me in a cowboy holster, and I used to practice my ‘fast draw’.

Summer holidays meant playing outside, and along came the ‘Spud Gun’
Push the end into an ordinary potato, and you could fire a small plug of the vegetable at anyone.
We had some legendary Spud Gun battles, using large baking potatoes ‘borrowed’ from home.
(This image is American, but my one was identical)

Electronics arrived in the form of a Train Set connected to a transformer.
This was my first set, which was added to over time.
I had more track, a turntable, signal box, and a small station too.
Trouble was, my Dad used to take it over, and I ended up watching him.

The racing-car game Scalextric was a real luxury. My set was like the one shown, with contemporary Vanwall cars.
Extras were numerous, including a Pit Lane with buildings, and a Grandstand full of miniature spectators.
Sadly, as with the train set, my Dad usually ended up commandeering both cars!

Over the years, I had hundreds of toy soldiers. But my favourites were the sets of tiny soldiers sold by Airfix.
They were cheap to buy, so I could even add to them with my pocket money.
I think I must have had every set they sold, including US Civil War, Romans and Greeks, and French Foreign Legion and Arabs.
But when I got the Desert Rats and Afrika Corps duo, I built a sandpit in my bedroom, to recreate the battles of the 1940s.

Let me now about your favourite toys, in the comments.

Thinking Aloud: The In-Between

This is that period we go through every year. Christmas is over, though the decorations are still up, and some presents hardly looked at. Sweet treats yet to be eaten, and some luxury snacks remain in the fridge, approaching their ‘best before’ dates.

From the 27th until the 31st we have that in-between time. Some people had to go back to work, others are off until the 2nd of January. Life goes back to normal for five days, even though the local children are still on holiday from school. Everyone is inexplicably tired. All that stress and preparation leading up to the 25th has taken its toll. No enthusiasm for trips out, even though we have been spared any rain. No desire to do much more than flop about listlessly, and only doing the bare minimum to keep the place tidy, and ourselves respectable.

With the festive season officially behind us, the anticipation is now focused on New Year’s Eve, and 2019. Not that we have any plans of course. Julie has to work from 8 until 6 on that day, so is unlikely to be feeling very celebratory by the time she gets home at 7 pm. We might manage to stay awake for the annual countdown, but it’s not guaranteed. In this house, it is far more likely that it will just be Monday.

And what of the year to come? I still can’t get over the fact that everything after 2001 has had a science-fiction feel to it. To me, born in the early 1950s, any year with a 2 in front of it is associated with people in silver suits, eating nutritional pellets as they travel in driverless flying cars. Even though none of that happened, I still feel as if I am living in a future imagined by others long dead, if only because of the number signifying the year.

As others make resolutions, and pundits make predictions, all I can think of is that it will be much the same as any year. Bins will need to be emptied, a dog will need to be walked, and at some stage, it will undoubtedly rain too hard, for too long. The gloom merchants will continue to predict the imminent end of life as we know it, Brexit will continue to be a complete mess, and people will still die in foreign wars. Only the number of the year changes, little else.

That’s the trouble with these five days ‘In between’. Too much time to think.

Ollie: A Dog’s Christmas 2018

Ollie doesn’t instinctively celebrate Christmas of course. For him, yesterday was just another day of routine. Wake up, go outside for a look around the garden, then back inside for a small breakfast treat, followed by another long sleep on his rug in the living room. But his routine was about to be disrupted. We had to go out, and earlier than usual too. Both of us were rushing around, in and out the bathroom, getting changed into ‘outside’ clothes. Ollie knew immediately that something was amiss. We were going somewhere, and it didn’t look like he was included.

As a distraction, he was given wrapped presents. The sight of soft toys wrapped in Christmas paper always excites him, especially when he is told that the parcel if for him. The two words “For Ollie” are two of his favourite words, and he knows exactly what they mean. As each toy is revealed, his excitement knows no bounds. He grasps the toy in his mouth, and rushes around the room with it, displaying his delight to anyone who can see it. By the time all four toys were unwrapped, he was over-excited, and running around panting, unable to choose a favourite. He got a stuffed Santa, a stuffed Snowman, and two stuffed Rudolphs, one a present sent from my cousin, in a parcel addressed to him.

But as we loaded the car, and appeared wearing outdoor coats, his playful mood changed to anxiety. I gave him an extra treat to eat while we were out, but he demolished it immediately, so he could check on what we were doing. When it became evident that we were going without him, he retreated to his bed, looking glum.

We got home four hours later, and he was delighted to see us, choosing the stuffed Santa to greet us with. He got an extra treat, and I got changed to take him for a walk over on Beetley Meadows. There were some other dog-walkers around by 2 pm, so he got to meet up with a few dogs, and sniff all his usual favourite spots. But when we got back, the sight of me getting changed once more left him pacing with a worried look. He didn’t know that we had to be at a local restaurant by 4 pm, for our Christmas meal. So once we had coats on again, he looked dejected indeed. We were only out for just over two hours, stuffing ourselves with a three-course traditional meal. When we got back, Ollie was very pleased to get his own special dinner of ham and chicken, with a dog-sausage to follow. He was even allowed a few cheese savouries and crisps, as he had been left so long that day.

By the time we were relaxing on the sofa at 7 pm, he wanted to play. He had been alone for most of the day, and had some catching up to do. So he brought all of his new toys, and played tug-of-war with them, or had them thrown for retrieving. Once an hour of this had passed, he decided we were staying home now, and he could rest. By 8 pm, he was snoring peacefully, and his Christmas Day was all but over.

He is very happy today, as it is just ‘Wednesday’ in our house. Routine returns.

Thinking Aloud on Boxing Day

Seasonal Consumerism.

I am still trying to digest the large Christmas Dinner that I enjoyed, and the presents received are still in a pile where they were left after being unwrapped. Ollie got new soft toys, and still can’t decide which one he likes best. The 26th is upon us, which in England is still known as Boxing Day. Although it is a Public Holiday, all of the shops will be open at some stage, as the post-Christmas sales begin. At one time, we only had ‘January Sales’. People would anticipate bargains to be had on the second of January, often queuing overnight outside big department stores. The clever shop owners would have loss-leaders featured in the windows. Televisions for a few pounds, or a half-price mink coat. The first through the doors would grab those bargains, and feel very pleased with themselves. But such once-a-year events are long behind us.

Now we have Black Friday and Cyber Monday. They are followed rapidly by Pre-Christmas sales, and immediately after by the Boxing Day sales. Before the shops close today, they will already be tempting buyers with previews of the New Year sales that start next week. As customers rush to buy things which are supposedly reduced by up to 50%, other less happy shoppers have to see huge reductions on things that they paid full price for on the 24th. Vouchers and cash received as presents yesterday will all be spent by the time it gets dark today. Having to endure a whole day with no shops open yesterday unleashes a buying frenzy once they are all trading again.

Logging onto my emails this morning, my Yahoo account was chock-full of sale offers from companies I have used online. Amazon suggesting things I have already bought, with the friendly comment “Buy them again?”. It never seems to occur to their computerised sales adviser that I am unlikely to buy exactly the same things that I ordered last week. Cookies provide fertile ground for companies I may have glanced at fleetingly, with obscure suggestions that I might like to buy some bags of gravel for the driveway, or rubber sealant for a cracked gutter. And let’s not forget the holiday companies. Holiday adverts traditionally begin on Christmas Day here, with TV advertising full of suggestions for exotic foreign holidays, cruises, villa rentals, or Disney trips. When the UK is in the grip of gloomy weather, and we are shivering in below-freezing temperatures, the sight of a tropical beach, or someone sipping drinks by a sun-soaked swimming pool is guaranteed to make you think about escaping the winter.

So, what I woke up thinking about today was this. How long will it be before most shops are open on Christmas Day? How long before companies just cannot bear to miss just that one day of trading? Most people no longer celebrate the religious aspects of the season, and I am convinced that many bored people would like nothing better than to get to the shopping malls on the 25th, instead of watching re-runs of old kid’s films after a heavy lunch. They could get an even earlier start on the sales, and the shops would save money by having to print ‘Boxing Day’ on their banners. I am also sure that many shop staff would welcome the extra pay from working on a public holiday, and anyone who is still religious would not be forced to work.

It will be a lot like Sunday shopping, which started as an experiment, with the reduced opening hours. At first, it felt strange to go shopping on a Sunday. Now, it is one of the busiest days of the week in most supermarkets. I always used to say that I would never see Christmas Day opening in my lifetime.
Now I’m not so sure.

What do you reckon? Say within five years?

Merry Shopping!

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Seasonal musings.

As it is the Sunday before Christmas, that was obviously going to feature to some degree today.

But first, another strange dream that I woke up thinking about on Saturday, not today. I thought the sheer madness of my recent dreams was down to having such a high temperature. But that had gone by Friday afternoon, so why I had this dream is beyond me.

I was in a nightclub. It was an old-fashioned club, like the ones you see in films from the 1930s. I was sitting at a table with a very attractive woman, who looked a lot like the actress Louise Brooks. We had cocktails to drink, in triangular glasses, and she was smoking a cigarette using a long holder, like they often did in those films. We were watching the show, which was a male singer crooning, surrounded by dancing girls in 1920s clothes. Later on, we left, and took a taxi back to a smart apartment somewhere in London. The taxi was a modern one, the sort you would see after the year 2000. In the bedroom, the woman started to get undressed, as I watched from a chair by the dressing table. When she undid her bra, instead of revealing plump breasts, it was full of pieces of multi-coloured Lego bricks that spilled out onto the floor. She laughed hysterically, pointing at the amazed expression on my face. Then I woke up.

Work that one out, if you can!

Christmas is in full swing. The arguments have started, the freezer is full of food, and everyone is already talking about ‘after Christmas’, as usual. Cards are still arriving, local houses illuminated, (not ours) and anyone you encounter is asking, “What are you doing for Christmas?” They don’t really care of course, but it is a conversational requirement at this time of the year. The weather has decided to not play along. No snow forecast for Beetley, (thankfully) just some cloudy periods, followed by heavy rain.

Let’s not forget those people alone at Christmas, or the recently bereaved who have no heart left for celebration. As we stuff ourselves, and open gifts, let’s try to remember why we have this holiday in the first place, before you open the bottles of drink, and rip at the wrapping paper. I’m not religious, but I still like to think about the excess, in the face of genuine poverty, and loneliness.

To those of you not around the blogs for the next few days, I send my seasonal best wishes from Beetley.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday


I could hardly avoid thinking about Christmas today. There is a big decorated tree in the corner of the living room, surrounded by a huge pile of wrapped presents. Cards received adorn the doors, and we have one of those ‘candle bridges’ (electric) on the window ledge too. The main door onto the street has a wreath hanging on the outside of it which may be very wet now, but survived the storm-force winds.

Nine days to go, until what I like to call, ‘Tuesday’.

OK, so I am not a big Christmas person. I was at one time, until I woke up one night and spied my Dad stacking presents at the end of my bed. That clinched it, Santa didn’t exist after all. That didn’t worry me unduly, as I realised that I could now hint directly to my parents, instead of worrying that Santa might not have had time to read my note.

There were fond memories to follow. Parties at my Nan’s house, dressed in my best new clothes. Extra gifts from men I called ‘Uncle’, or ladies I called ‘Auntie’, usually some well-received money. Lots to eat, staying up later than ever, and sweets, lots of sweets. Long before I had got around to getting married, the age-old argument began. I had to be at my parents’ place, or my grandmother’s, if they were going there. But my girlfriend had to do the same with her family, so we could never actually see each other on the day in question. When you are married, that debate starts early in the year, usually just after the Christmas you have just argued about. Do you split the day? Morning at one, evening at the other? Perhaps have two Christmas Dinners, one at lunchtime, another in the evening? (Yes, I have done that)

Then there were the presents. In the absence of any list, most of the stuff given to us was either unwanted, or downright awful. If people stuck with reliable standbys like cartons of cigarettes, or vouchers, it was a relief. Buy jewellery for my wife, and I could guarantee that the chain wouldn’t be long enough, the stone the ‘wrong’ colour, or it was just something that she would never wear. Such gifts ended their days still in their boxes, at the back of a drawer. Dare to buy something useful back then, like kitchen utensils, and be left open to accusations of male chauvinism. And supposedly ‘sexy’ underwear? Never go there. Ever.

In 1980, I had to work on Christmas Day, for the first time ever. I was 28 years old, and felt liberated by having a genuine reason not to have to eat a dinner cooked to extinction by my Mum, whilst pretending I was alright with having a paper hat on my head. Ambulances must be available every day of the year, and it was my turn, I told them. For the first time I could remember, my Mum left her house on the morning of the 25th. She went to eat dinner with my wife and her family, twelve miles across London. She was collected, made welcome, and taken home after. But for her, it was unacceptable, and was certainly never going to happen again.

That left me in a dilemma. My Dad had left home when I was twenty-four. So Mum was on her own, and I had no brothers or sisters to spend Christmas Day with her. She made me promise to try to never work on Christmas Day again, so she didn’t have to leave her house for any reason. That started thirty-two years of always trying to get the day off, if I was scheduled for a shift on the 25th. A lot of the time I was lucky, if I applied to be off by January 1st, at the latest. Sometimes, I would be on night duty, so spend the day half-asleep, before having to go back into work exhausted, after shovelling down the meal Mum prepared for me. On a few occasions, she was in hospital on Christmas Day, rushed in by ambulance. So we spent our seasonal celebration in the relatives’ room, waiting to hear if she would pull through.

By the time I arrived in Norfolk, in 2012, I had well and truly had enough of the Christmas merry-go-round to last me a lifetime.

In fact, it has almost been my lifetime.

Time to start watching…

Christmas is coming, and our habit is to give out a list of presents we might like to receive, so we don’t end up with unwanted gifts like soap sets, or decorative items we have no room to display. My short list this year contained one non-fiction book, and fifteen DVD films that I would like to own. I already knew that I would be getting a new pair of my favourite sheepskin bootee slippers, so didn’t bother to include them on the list.

Thinking about the DVD films to add to my list, I generally only consider the cheaper ones, not the expensive brand new releases, or Blu-Ray editions. It seems presumptuous to request an expensive version of something that can be bought for half the price, or reduced significantly once the festive season has passed. As small parcels began to arrive, it soon became obvious that Julie has bought more than a few of the films on my list. And if she has passed on the others from the list to relatives, I might be lucky to get lots of new films to watch.

This morning, I had to get something from a shelf in my small office. I noticed the top shelf, which contains DVD films that I have yet to watch. Some of these are still wrapped in cellophane, and some are used copies, bought for next-to-nothing on Amazon Marketplace. The films are stacked two deep, with others on top of them, sideways on. I had a look through them, and was quite frankly startled to discover that there are over forty films I have yet to watch. Many were presents from last Christmas, and my birthday in March. Some date back to Christmas 2016.

I watch a fair bit of TV. I also watch films on TV. Since acquiring a streaming device, I have watched a lot of foreign serials on that, generally one episode after the other, until I have seen them all. But I obviously don’t watch nearly enough films on DVD.
I will have to set aside some time in 2019, and get watching.

The seasonal lull

Is it really only Wednesday? I spent all day (until a few minutes ago) thinking it was Thursday.

So now the ‘lull’ begins. The presents have been opened, the bins full of wrapping paper and the debris of huge meals. I feel a lot like a slowly deflating balloon, and probably look a lot like one too. The aftermath of that seemingly endless rush toward Christmas, and the two days of hectic celebration. Bones aching, unusually tired, and wondering what to do with yourself once all the good crockery and cutlery has been carefully washed, and tidied away.

This year, we have four days of ‘lull’. Julie is off, and I no longer work. The weather is just awful so no chance of trips out, or bracing seaside walks. Still dark before 4 pm, and little enthusiasm to do much more than flop about, and wonder what we can salvage for dinner tonight. I can’t even imagine the stamina of those who have gone off excitedly to the sales. Maybe it is being older, but I never remember being that lively even when I was young.

I call it the ‘lull’, because there is more to come. New Year’s Eve is looming, heralding the arrival of 2018, which I have said previously somehow seems futuristic to me. I know it’s only one more than 2017, but something about the 8 makes it seem to be ‘the future’. There is no time to really take advantage of this lull though. We have guests arriving on the 31st, and a grandson to babysit that night too. The whole house to clean thoroughly once again, and special meals to prepare. Again.

But for today, on that Wednesday that still feels like Thursday, it’s time to stop.