Monthly Archives: December 2011

A Christmas medley

It’s Christmas. I suppose there’s practically no one here, so let’s have some fun and relaxation with music.

I never imagined I’d even think of offering you the Smurfs singing Christmas songs in Danish. (I had a weak moment at Kastrup airport one December. In case you wondered.) But then I thought, you all love The Killing, and go round trying out those very Danish sounding Danish words and names. So you will adore the Smurfs. Won’t you?

Here are Smølferne with Så er det jul alle smølfer, aka Merry Christmas Everybody.

I went travelling at Christmas time again and bought a Swedish Christmas CD.  I especially liked one track. Still had no idea quite how fun it would be to actually see The Real Group sing, rather than just listen to them. And this is top quality singing. (Sorry about the Smurfs.)

Here you have The Real Group with their Christmas medley. Four of them sing a mix of hymns and lighter seasonal fare, while the fifth member of the group keeps trying to sing his song. The other four constantly interrupt him, until they finally give in…

God Jul! And Hej!

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Kale and the outsider

First I spent years in the belief that kale soup is a traditional Christmas meal in the part of the world where Mother-of-witch grew up. We would have it on Christmas Day, followed by rice porridge. (No need to feel sorry for me. It’s delicious.)

Then I learned it’s not a widespread habit at all. I suppose it was my Grandmother who felt it made for a lighter and cheaper meal to have on the day after the big Christmas meal, and her daughters continued this lack of tradition.

So did her granddaughter, and my first Christmas in England saw me trawling The Lanes in Brighton for kale. ‘No dear, but we have some nice broccoli,’ was generally the reply to my question.

Kale

Once we arrived in the north it’s been easier to obtain kale. But then you have the casual conversations when people inquire what we eat for Christmas. They always feel sorry for me. Especially if they know what kale is. And then they tease me.

In the place where I grew up, people eat kale in a different way, but plenty of it, and always as part of the Christmas Eve ‘table.’ Basically, you boil it and then you fry it and then you smother it with butter and cream…

They want a lot of it, so drag home sackfuls of kale from the market in December.

Witnessing this, one newcomer to our area was totally taken aback. Where she came from they put a small sprig of kale on the table for decoration. She was impressed by the amount of table decorating her new neighbours must be getting involved in.

The one change I’ve made to the menu is that we skip the whole Christmas smörgåsbord and I now serve up the non-traditional kale soup on Christmas Eve, closely followed by the rice porridge. One Offspring likes it and the other hates it, so has tinned tomato soup instead. That’s also a tradition.

Go on. Pity me! Or them.

Christmas beans

The trainee witch once (almost twice) worked in a bookshop in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This was in the days of Christmas Eve getting the Saturday treatment, shop hour wise. So we closed at twelve, and I recall I had a Saturday bus to catch soon after, where I was the only passenger, on the last bus for a couple of days.

Where was I? Oh yes, in the bookshop, before the last bus. It was quite nice working on Christmas Eve (well, one had a Mother-of-witch doing the kitchen stuff at home…), and something I noticed was that the world is full of people who don’t shop until there are mere hours between the buying of and the opening of presents. It takes a cool and steady mind to be that late.

They come in and spend anything, just to get the deed done. And obviously they require wrapping and all that.

According to Son it seems the wellknown online bookshop can offer the same these days, as long as you live somewhere civilised. Order on Christmas Eve morning and have it delivered that afternoon. It will cost you, but as I said, the Christmas Eve shopper can afford it.

What I’m trying to say here, in a roundabout and waffley way is that you could still manage to buy Magic Beans. I’m truly sorry for being so late mentioning this perfect Christmas book, but I’ve been feeding the cake brandy. And various other minor things.

In Magic Beans you have absolutely the cream of children’s authors doing their thing with classic fairy tales. Adèle Geras retells the The Six Swan Brothers. It’s wonderful with such sibling love. But I wonder what happened to the old King and his witchy wife? It’s funny how Princes and Kings wander around finding themselves wives all over the place.

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Henrietta Branford before. Here she retells Hansel and Gretel, without too much gruesomeness. And why do witches and stepmothers get bad press all the time? Berlie Doherty’s The Snow Queen is icy and season appropriate. And below you can listen to Jacqueline Wilson talking about Rapunzel.

Other particpating authors are Anne Fine, Philip Pullman, Michael Morpurgo, Kit Wright, Alan Garner, Gillian Cross, Susan Gates, Malorie Blackman, Linda Newbery and Tony Mitton. And since it’s not only writers you get, every single fairy tale has been illustrated by some pretty creamy artists like Debi Gliori, Ian Beck, Lesley Harker, Nick Sharratt, Patrice Aggs, Peter Bailey, Nick Maland, James Mayhew, Siận Bailey, Ted Dewan, Michael Foreman, Sue Heap and Bee Willey.

By good fortune I have also just found out that some of these stories can be bought as ebooks, so if you’re really desperate…

Don’t say I haven’t provided a useful suggestion. And if you were to go for the old-fashioned dead tree version you get a nice, fat volume with pictures. I’ll even wrap it for you. If you come here, that is.

Nicola’s brain and my just desserts

I really want to be amusing and able to tell a good story. The truth is rather different, but I have this urge to force my sad pudding tale on you, regardless. Don’t worry, I’ll make it up to you. Later.

The twenty-something witch and Mother-of-witch and Favourite Aunt had decided to spend Christmas in London. Or rather, the witch had, and the other two had to trail after her. We crossed on the ferry from Gothenburg, which still sailed in those days. We splashed out on the proper dinner with waiter service as it was Christmas. Waiter service. Hah. He was as drunk as a skunk.

I forget what we ordered for dessert, but we all had the same. Tried to have the same. The other two were in receipt of their puddings. Our lovely waiter had three more on his tray, and two of them were safely delivered to the diners at a nearby table. Then he stopped and looked in bewildered fashion at the remaining bowl. He pondered it briefly before depositing the offending pud on a small table behind a column, which was presumably holding up the dining room ceiling.

I steamed – not very nicely at all – and nearly exploded before managing to explain to him that it was not unwanted. It was wanted by me.

My bad pudding karma followed me to London. We were allotted our own waitress at the hotel, and ours must have been re-called from a long retirement to help them out over the festive period. She was ours for breakfast and dinner. Every day. One night my eye was caught by the Baked Alaska on the menu. My foreign-ness meant I wasn’t totally sure what it was, but strongly suspected it was a close relative of the ancient Swedish delicacy we call Glace au Four.

I asked our faithful waitress (she really seemed to be very fond of us) for a confirmation of this. She peered at the menu and thought about it before whispering conspiratorially that I would probably be better off having something else (i.e. she didn’t have a clue). Well, you know me. We ordered the Baked Alaska/Glace au Four. I had been right. It was ‘Glace au Four.’ At least it didn’t go missing en route. Towards the end of the holiday I had grown quite fond of our waitress. She meant well. And I do like it when people like me. It’s a rare thing.

And now for your reward. Here is Nicola Morgan’s tale about when her brain tried to leave Belfast. Nicola knows how to be amusing.

My Christmas hat

Isn’t it wonderful? My hat, I mean? It’s a Christmas special. For everyday use I wear something a bit more ordinary.

Christmas card 2011

This glamorous witch’s hat was embroidered by my lovely friend/blog reader Laurie. I’m not sure what I did to deserve it, but I’m very happy to be at the receiving end of things too good for me. Don’t mind at all.

A very Happy Christmas to you all!

Witch’s Eleven

Here’s the 2011 top ten. Because it’s my top ten, it has eleven books. Because it’s 2011. Eleven is such a nice number. You know.

Anyway, I can’t have the same number every year. I need to keep my readers on their toes. There could have been many more. Books. Not toes, unless we count them individually, since every extra reader ought to bring around ten when they join.

DSCN1202

I was aiming for some sort of order of colour in this pile, but eleven isn’t enough. And rest assured, I didn’t choose my list according to colour of spine.

Whereas in the photo the books are rated by colour, I will list them here based on titles in alphabetical order. It’s an even year, and almost impossible to pick a ‘winner.’

Being Billy, Phil Earle

Bloodstone, Gillian Philip

Caddy’s World, Hilary McKay

Cat’s Paw, Nick Green

In the Sea there are Crocodiles, Fabio Geda

Life, an Exploded Diagram, Mal Peet

Outlaw, Stephen Davies

Return to Ribblestrop, Andy Mulligan

There is no Dog, Meg Rosoff

The Unforgotten Coat, Frank Cottrell Boyce

Wonder Struck, Brian Selznick

My rules are few. The books need to be from this year. I need to have loved them more than I loved many other excellent books. They need to have made me go ‘Yes!’ when reading them. Made me laugh or cry, or both, that little bit more than average. I’m also hoping to have at least partially avoided what someone was complaining about on facebook the other week, which is that recommended books often have very little to do with what children read. Or rather, since I don’t know what children actually read, that I’m not recommending books suitable for adults only.

If I’m to elevate one book above the others, it will have to be Fabio Geda’s Crocodiles. And it’s not even fiction. And it’s a translation.

Goodnight Mister Tom, the musical

In February I blogged about the dramatised version of Goodnight Mister Tom after I’d seen it on stage at the Lowry. I liked it a lot, and soon after Michelle Magorian sent me her own two act musical of the book, for me to read and compare.

There was singing in the production I saw as well, although not nearly as much. Whereas it sounds strange to think of this tear inducing novel turned into a musical (don’t you somehow feel a musical is happy at all times?), I find that you can fit a lot of back story and explanation into a song, in a way you couldn’t with plain speech, because it’d be boring and sound too much like a shopping list.

So yes, I liked Michelle’s own version a lot. I’m always surprised by how well you can fit a really long book into what is a pretty short play, without losing too much of the general feel of the original story. The actors obviously help, as they can show you in a second what takes a while to describe on the page.

The film starring John Thaw is also excellent for that very reason. The plot of the book  has been cut, but you feel it’s ‘all there.’

I have heard of authors who attempt to write screenplays of their own novels, but who give up. Not only is it a different skill, but it must be hard to cut your own ‘baby,’ as it were. The difference for Michelle is her theatre experience, which gives her a head start when it comes to adapting her work for the stage.

The Mister Tom musical was a brief read, but it still brought tears to my eyes. I suspect it always will.

And tonight you absolutely must watch – or at least record for later Christmas viewing – the new ITV film of Just Henry. It’s on at seven this evening, and I have been looking forward to it for months.

Josh Bolt will be Henry, and Elaine Cassidy, Dean Andrews, Stephen Campbell Moore and Barbara Flynn are also in the film, with Sheila Hancock as Henry’s grandmother. Now that should be interesting!