Monthly Archives: December 2016

End of year miscellany

I did that sitting up in the middle of the night thing again. We’d finished watching the Agatha Christie two-parter Witness for the Prosecution on BBC, and I’d blogged about it on CultureWitch. I claimed I didn’t really know the story, and then – midsleep – I wondered why it all felt so familiar, and how come I knew what the plot twist was going to be?

Elementary, my dear Watsons. I’d seen it before. Quite some time ago, although not as far back as 1957, which is when the film was made. And then I remembered something else. The Retired Children’s Librarian had watched it and she mentioned she’d not come across the book, and I made it my mission to find the book for her. But could I find a single copy of Åklagarens Vittne anywhere? I could not. Some second hand bookshops even had waiting lists for it.

Apparently I gave up at that point, and then I forgot the whole thing.

Forgetting is not something St Hilda’s alumni do. I was incredibly pleased to watch Val McDermid and Adèle Geras succeed all the way in the Christmas University Challenge, winning by beating the lovely Leeds team. But Uzbekistan, Adèle? It was the middle of the Pacific!

Never mind. We got a women only team winning, even beating another women only team in the semifinals.

And then. Then Daughter let her ancient parents accompany her to see Rogue One in the cinema. Oh dear, the amount of eye-rolling that had to be done when it turned out we’d not understood any of it. The Resident IT Consultant was silly enough to ask. I was going to play it cool and say nothing if I could help it.

I saw the first Star Wars film back when it was new, when you didn’t have to keep track of all the numbers of sequels and prequels. I didn’t get it. It was nice enough, I suppose, but I could never work out why they did what they did, nor who was good and who was bad. That Darth Vader chap seemed nice.

But I quite liked getting out of the house, if only to sit in a tightly packed cinema, with a constant stream of little children squeezing past on their way back from the toilets.

I suspect we won’t be invited again, though.


Calendar change

Almost time to change to new calendars everywhere. In my case that’s in one spot only, these days. All I had to do was remember to order my favourite one in time. (And to post my spare calendar to Wales, where there was a shortage, matching the surplus here.)

At least there is no longer any need for making our own. It was fun, but it was a chore that happened right when we didn’t exactly require more things to do. But I sort of miss my slimline author calendars, which were much more meaningful than puppies ever would have been. (Apologies to all puppies.) Or tulips.

2011 calendar

I rediscovered my slimline authors a while back. They were all hiding out in the filing cabinet, hoping I’d find a use for them again. And I have. They now sit next to me to be turned into shopping lists. (I’m sure it beats having a hole punched into your head.)

There was always a reassuring feeling in having the people who write my favourite books share my room, telling me what date it was. Sometimes I think I’d like to resurrect this tradition, and no longer being afflicted by any narrow walls, it’d be possible to give them lots of space.


Now all that remains is to tear out the 2017 page from the almost obsolete 2016 calendar, on which I mark everything in such a way that I can see how the year will work out. It’s my makeshift version of Favourite Aunt’s cowberry calendar, which used to sit on her kitchen wall.


Ethel & Ernest, the film

From this,

Raymond Briggs, Ethel and Ernest

to this.

Raymond Briggs, Ethel and Ernest

It’s enough to break your heart. You know that might very well be you one day – unless it already is – and that day is getting closer every minute.

I read the Guardian interview with Raymond Briggs at the weekend, and it was refreshing to discover what someone like him is like. I suppose we ‘knew’ it already, through The Snowman and Father Christmas, but meeting his parents and the young Raymond is far more illuminating.

The book is tremendously powerful. I’m trying to work out if the film is more so, and I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that I prefer the book. Somehow they became overly loud in my mind, when I could hear them speak.

But it is still a marvellous film, and it does a great job of showing us the middle half of the last century. It’s not everyone’s 20th century, but I guess many people will recognise their lives, or the lives of a generation before them. We were discussing whether people like Ernest and Ethel could really have done so well materially, but I reckon you could, if you had a steady job and lived carefully. Once you had your cooker or your sofa you had it. No need for new ones all the time. And by the time they bought the car, the mortgage will have been paid.

It would have been easy to see this as proof of how much better we have it now, except I believe it proves we’re heading in the complete wrong direction.

Soup. And olives.

Wasn’t entirely sure what that bright shiny thing in my eyes was yesterday. Thought about this and vaguely recalled something called sunshine. That could have been it, I suppose.

We ventured out in the car, seeing as we’d received an invitation to some literary soup. With olives. It was surprisingly nice being out there, in the bright whatsit, looking at the distant hills that had a little bit of snow on them.

The Resident IT Consultant insisted on driving us past a gingerbread house. I somehow expected him to leave me there, but he didn’t. It was on a narrow road which was shorter and straighter than the main road to where we were going, but one that ‘would probably take as long, because you have to drive more slowly.’

We arrived too early. It is terribly embarrassing arriving too early. We stood outside for a bit, listening to our hosts hoovering, and seeing Daughter disappear down the road because we were embarrassing. They let us in after a while, and we had soup and olives, served with funny bread, normal bread and something that turned out to be brown bread.

There was cake and cups of tea, once the Resident IT Consultant had been lured out on a walk by our host. There was talk of zombies, but not too much, and the advisability – or not – of walking widdershins round churches and such. And how the local witch wouldn’t give away her trade secrets.

Paying tax.

That kind of thing.

And not only did we arrive too early, but we left too late. Best to make the best of such a bright day.

For the children? Really?

I’ve been reading things about Christmas, and realised I have got it all wrong.

I do Christmas for me, the way I like it. And that’s mainly an updated version of what I grew up with. Which in most cases will have something to do with grandparents. I think you often skip a generation. (An online friend had finally managed to ‘get her Grandmother’s tree,’ after years of collecting old decorations from charity shops and jumble sales. And she was so happy.)

Except for us. Offspring, I mean. They have ‘always’ spent Christmas at home, which means it’s my way, or – if you like – my grandparents’ way. Mother-of-witch was never able host Christmas for them, and the other grandparents were not terribly Christmas-minded. (Basically they did what I asked them to do. Sort of.)

So now I believe Offspring mainly want their own version of my childhood Christmasses, as tweaked by me. It’s a bit like genetics. Where you come from. Where you’re going. Who got in the way.

But anyway, in the papers I have seen suggestions that when one’s children reach a respectable age, like eight, or 19, or worse, you can skip all this Christmas nonsense and do less, or nothing. Throw out the decorations. Not bother with the traditions you taught them.

And the children mind!

It’s obvious, really. If you only did Christmas for the children when they were small, I can’t see how you can suddenly say they are too old for what you’ve brought them up with.

If, like me, you didn’t do it for the children, then you keep on doing it for yourself. That way the children get it whether they want it or not. Because they can always opt out.

And if you never lied to them and told them Father Christmas is real, then you don’t have that little problem to wriggle out of either.

Oops, sorry. He is whatever you want him to be.

I mean, last week I even said to my builders, as we temporarily moved the dining table away from in front of the fireplace, that it was so Father Christmas wouldn’t bump into it on his descent. I’m sure they believed that I believe.

Go girls!

A big Christmas thank you to the ladies of St Hilda’s, Oxford, for wiping the floor with Magdalene, Cambridge, in the Christmas Day Christmas University Challenge!

A Bookwitch obviously supports team Adèle Geras and Val McDermid. Even if they left me feeling stupid and uneducated. But that’s all right. Sort of.

It just goes to prove how much you learn if you read books. And, dare I say it? If you are a product of universities past. OK, OK, I know all of the participants are from the past, but some more from the past than others.

When she discovered that Adèle was taking part, Daughter was really excited. That’s until she realised Chris Lintott was also going to be on. On the same day, on the opposite side. Real conflict of interest there.

Chris did do well on the science/maths questions, and he might have had a misspent youth as regards Christmas number ones, but books rule. As did Adèle’s drama and music background. Not to mention Val’s intimate knowledge of comics.

Go St Hilda’s!

Klootzak of the year

Father Christmas listens. It’s amazing how, even quite close to Christmas, the man in red has time to listen to find out what people want. I obviously wanted nothing, but happened to mention that I could do with educating a bit, in regard to music. Lo and behold, what did I find? CDs featuring Bowie’s and Adele’s finest.

Other than that, it was – unsurprisingly – mostly books. What better way to celebrate the end to 2016 than with good old Enid Blyton’s Famous Five on Brexit Island. That will be a jolly read. We also cheered ourselves up by laughing uncontrollably at electric chairs. Yes, it is in very bad taste. I’m sorry. Daughter had bought another quiz book, but the questions were so hard – even for the Resident IT Consultant – that we abandoned it and went back to last year’s quiz volume.

Daughter was shocked at how few presents I got. I was surprised at how many there were for me. She is now an adult. This was made clear by how many gifts she gave and how few she received. (She has rubbish parents.) The generations have swapped places. Luckily a famous author called at Bookwitch Towers last week, with a Christmas present for the witch. Flemish insult on the outside – specially for me – and a migraine trigger on the inside, so I will share it with the Resident IT Consultant. We are both happy.

There were elephants. I have no idea why.

Amaretti. I think I know why. Socks. Obviously.

And the Resident IT Consultant went to bed with Sophie Hannah, looking very happy. (I await my turn.)

Next year I shall have to resort to wrapping individual toffees to increase the number of presents under the tree.

The cheap gift

‘Just to be safe, don’t touch the tree lights,’ said Uncle. ‘I had to cobble something together to make them work.’

Mother-of-witch and I spent Christmas 1980 (I think) with her brother and sister, i.e. Uncle and Favourite Aunt, in the latter’s home. She’d not hosted Christmas for years and the lights had not been out for a few decades. Hence Uncle’s making the best of things.

We wanted to keep things simple, now that even the child (that’s me) was an adult, so had agreed to give each of the other three a gift costing no more than the equivalent of £1. I can’t for the life of me remember what I got anyone, nor what Mother-of-witch came up with.

But Uncle gave us each an ugly brown cardboard magazine folder box thing. I used mine for years and it only died a death of mould about ten years ago, in a Stockport cellar. I always suspected he might have ‘found’ them at the office.

And Favourite Aunt gave the three of us a small bound notebook. Stationery in Sweden has always been pricey, and certain things you just didn’t buy if you were poor, or sensible. Which explains my pleasure in receiving this tiny black notebook, complete with red spine and corners.


I know. It’s nothing special, and I have a feeling it was Made in China. But I loved it! I was going to keep it and write something important in it, and not waste it on everyday notes.

But you’ve guessed it; I have yet to write a single word in the book. I get it out every now and then, thinking I’ll use it. And then I don’t.

It did fulfil the criteria well, though. It was a small, cheap-ish present. And it’s one I remember better than most other gifts I’ve ever received. Besides, lots of other treasures I have already parted with, during one of many clear-outs.

The notebook is still here.

Christmas card

Advent candles

Wishing you a Happy Christmas!

Carl Larssongården

It’s probably a fair assumption to make that most Swedes would like to live in Carl Larsson’s home. And of those who don’t, quite a few might not actively object if they ended up there.

I have friends who used to live next door to Carl Larsson’s home, and it was they who gave me this book, by Torsten Gunnarsson and Ulla Eliasson, about his house for my birthday this year.


In a way Swedes don’t need books like these; we seem to be sufficiently familiar with Carl’s home anyway. But the pictures are nice to look at, both the photos of the house and the paintings by Carl. And looking at them we see not only a home that would still be just about perfect to move into, despite it now being more than a hundred years later, but it looks pretty much like some house many of us have known at some point in our lives.

It makes me think of my grandfather’s house, which was nowhere near as big or fancy, and it was more recent, but there is still that Larsson vibe in my memories.

Swedes know the house from countless postcards and Christmas cards, not to mention Christmas wrapping paper. We have all torn pictures of the garden or the Larsson family in our eagerness to see what’s inside our parcel.

At some point I talked to Nick Sharratt about this. Maybe when he heard where I come from, he told me about having slept in Carl’s bed. It appears visiting artists can do that, under some circumstances. When I heard about it I felt this seemed quite reasonable. But I understand the bed was short. Nick isn’t. Oh, well.

The bed is in the book (and somehow I can’t stop wondering what the guest artist does when visitors who’ve paid to see the house turn up.)

As I said, Carl Larsson’s style is never wrong. Except it wasn’t his, but his wife’s. She did all the work, and we still know it by Carl’s name.