Confess, you’re a Gazelle

December 13, 2017

You know, we complain a lot about the horrors of modern air travel but you have to admit that it’s an amazing achievement that you can wake up in a city in one continent and go to bed six time zones and a third of a planet away in another. And it’s even more of an amazing achievement to do it the day after the odd flake of snow has hit Heathrow and the resulting chaos is still working its way through the system. I will spare you the gory details (nobody wants to read about someone else’s air travel nightmare any more than they want to read about someone else’s actual nightmares) but suffice it to say I now understand why sleep deprivation is such an effective interrogation tool. After 24 straight hours of being awake I would have pretty much confessed to anything if I could have managed to string a coherent sentence together. Fortunately our long suffering brother in law was willing to pick us up from the airport at midnight – by that point, even if the car rental desk had still been open, I don’t think we could have found our way out of the parking lot let alone across the city.

Still, we are here, we have had some sleep and we are about to have more, it is snowing (although nobody in Minnesota is excited about snow, it would be like us getting excited about rain), and we’ve already been out to eat twice in less than one day. It is also very, very cold, but I gather we could be getting that at home…

upside down Christmas lights

Oh, and when Americans put up Christmas lights, they don’t muck about. I didn’t get the photo of the house whose front garden was crammed with giant inflatable figures (and I mean giant – some of the Santas were towering over the house in a way) but I suspect it will be haunting me in my dreams.


From the Sublime (ish) …

December 15, 2014

Two vignettes from our village carol singing:

Vignette one: the apple-cheeked villagers gather outside one of the cottages in the main street where an elderly couple live: she would have been out singing with us if she could but he is ill and too frail to be left on his own so we have come to them and strike up, surprisingly tunefully, Once in Royal David’s City, his favourite carol. The pair of them come to the door to listen and to tell the truth it’s kind of hard to hit those high notes when you’ve got a bit of a lump in your throat, but that’s Christmas.

Vignette two: safely in the village hall, replete with mince pies and tea and more or less thawed out, the village children volunteer to sing a couple of the carols that they have learned in school. They acquit themselves remarkably well with ‘Away in a Manger’ – from memory no less – and then launch into the inevitable ‘Little Donkey’* by way of an encore, once more from memory. The first verse passes off without hitch, and they launch boldly into the chorus, which goes well. Then they start the next verse … only they have forgotten the rest of the words so they sing the first verse again. And then the chorus. And then the first verse again. Slowly it dawns on the hall that we may very well be trapped into an eternity of Little Donkey, a carol that most people feel has delighted them enough the first time they heard it, and there seems no way out until the choirmistress – with the aplomb of someone who has spent a good few years wrangling our choir into a semblance of order – calls out ‘and we’ll all join in for the last chorus!’ and the evening is salvaged.

And if we all stumbled out into the darkness later with ‘little donkey … carry Mary … on the dusty … road’ stuck irretrievably in our heads, well it’s just a sign that no good deed ever goes unpunished.

Fortunately my sister seems to have had better luck.

*awkward because when the choirmistress was taking requests earlier, the table at the back had expressly asked for ‘anything but Little Donkey’

Christmas Come Early

November 30, 2014
festive Brompton

101 uses for a Brompton – part many. Ferrying tinsel

This is, I hasten to say, not usually a good thing. There’s a strict pre-Christmas curfew in this household – family are not even allowed to discuss where we’re spending Christmas until the end of August, because seriously, who can even think about Christmas in August? (Apart from every single member of the rest of my family, apparently). Actual preparations for Christmas definitely can’t begin until Advent and even then that seems a bit premature. Now that I’ve managed to reduce Christmas shopping for my own family (all avid readers, thankfully) to posting off a large box of books at random and getting them to choose which ones they want (if anyone wants to try this, I should add that it works best when they are all in one place and you are 4000 miles away) the bulk of the shopping can be done on the laptop with a large glass of wine in one hand, within a day or two of the last postage date before Christmas.

Santa on a bike, doing the full cycle chic, I’m glad to say. Some people should never contemplate lycra….

However, my normal Christmas routine of sticking my fingers in my ears and ignoring anything vaguely festive till at least the 14th has come unstuck this year as I seem to have inexplicably ended up planning not just a pre-Christmas popup bookshop tomorrow, which would have seemed obscenely early a few years ago, but with the arrival of Black Friday on our shores now looks positively restrained, but a day of festive fun and cycling next weekend. The latter started as a vague plan to have a ‘Santa ride’ and has ended up with us taking over half the local park, dragooning a local Santa impersonator into riding a bike while towing a sleigh, cornering the market for tinsel in Bigtown, and unleashing what we hope will be a herd of tiny two-wheeled reindeer on a ride along the banks of the river. This all seemed like a great idea in the pub a few weeks ago, and now seems like something that hovers between madness and genius, with the thumb of the fates very much weighted on the ‘madness’ side.

reindeer heads

One likely consequence of all this is that, come December the 8th, Christmas will already feel as if it is over, and I will be unable to stir myself to organise anything else. If you’re expecting a Christmas present from me, now might be a good time to get your wish list in early. Or it’s random books all round again this year…

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2013

tiny christmas tree

We’ve been following the weather in the wind-and-rain-battered UK with a mixture of anxiety and relief. I hope everyone reading this made it where they wanted to get to for Christmas.

And once you’re safely indoors with the hatches battened down you could do worse than have a play with this – a hypnotic wind map of the earth… enjoy.

May all your winds be tailwinds for 2014

Oh Deer

December 19, 2012

Someone around here isn’t *quite* getting into the Christmas spirit, it looks like

hanging reindeer

I don’t think Santa’s going to be calling at their house in a hurry…

Meanwhile, if you can spot the deer in this picture, you’re doing well. There is one, honest, but for some reason they like to keep themselves well hidden…


Storms are forecast for tonight, so we’ve been out enjoying the sunshine while it lasts

winter sunshine

If you Leave Me…

December 24, 2011

… can I come with you?

Much as I’d like to think that this reflected her intelligence in realising we were leaving, and her desire to come along, I suspect it’s got more to do with the general cat compulsion to get inside anything that she has previously been unable to get into to try it for size. No doubt if we’d been trying to get her into the car with us, it would have been a lot more of a battle.

Be that as it may, wherever you are this Christmas and whoever you’re with, I hope you have a good one.
oh, and in case anyone is worrying, the landlord is looking after the cat.

‘Tis the Season

December 12, 2011

Yesterday we had the Nearest Village carol singing. The weather forecasters had smiled on us, promising mildish weather and no rain, but the weather gods are jealous gods and besides don’t read the weather forecasts so it rained anyway. Stop me if this surprises you in any way …

But no matter, because it turns out that we Nearest Villagers are hardy folk, and fully waterproof to boot. As we gathered in the school playground, we assumed that only the hard core choir would bother to show up, but as the hour approached the village’s two streets were suddenly filled with bobbing lights as out they came, young and old, tuneful and tone deaf, with their torches, lanterns, tea lights, flashing santa hats … Our choirmistress struck up a tune on her portable glockenspiel (what, you mean your choir doesn’t have such a thing?) and we were away, rain pattering lightly on our massed umbrellas, singing through the village, gamely attempting to keep the front half in time and in tune with the back. One song in the school grounds, one at the corner, one at the car park (‘no ball games’), one at the square, and finally all 97 verses of The Holly and The Ivy (approx) just outside the village hall before we were allowed to pile inside for tea, mulled wine, mince pies, the inevitable raffle and more singing.

At the risk of dipping into sentimentality, it really was a proper community event, from the oldest inhabitant right down to the two pink toddling twins who banged along enthusiastically to the Little Drummer Boy in no worse time than anybody else. I’ve always felt that carol singing – proper, traditional, sentimental, slightly bonkers carols – is one of the best parts of Christmas. The other half still can’t quite believe that he knowingly married into a family that not only gathers round the piano to sing carols, but thinks nothing of whipping out a bunch of recorders to accompany them. I’ve long since lost any vestige of faith, and I find the rest of Christmas verges on being a chore, but my heart still lifts at the thought of singing carols, rain or no rain.

Which doesn’t mean that a little bit of snow – or a sparkly frosty night – wouldn’t have made it complete…