Category Archives: Christmas

…and the Christmas tagliatelle

The Fledgling Girls booked themselves in for Christmas lunch at Corrieri’s yesterday, and they allowed me to tag along, in all my un-Fledglingness.

Moira McPartlin, Alex Nye, Bookwitch and Helen Grant

It was good. Corrieri’s used to be somewhere the Resident IT Consultant’s relatives gathered for Christmas Eve pizzas in the semi-olden days, so it has Christmassy connotations for me. And what could be more seasonal than mushrooms and tagliatelle? Fish and chips. Pizza. It was all good.

We exchanged gifts and cards.

We exchanged opinions on a lot of things, from all that stuff in the news, to literary agents, authors having large incomes (hah), second husbands, incidents with cars, art, lemon desserts, having nice offspring, 1980s music, getting on with one’s parents. You know, perfectly normal conversation.

At least I think it was…

We might have stayed longer than the restaurant expected us to, but it’s hard to stop chatting mid-gossip. If there is a next time, I’ll have Moira’s dessert.

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Dough comfort

The ginger biscuit dough yesterday looked a bit funny. Not that I am worried. The biscuits will either work. Or they won’t. And what’s 300 failed biscuits between friends?

I used my trusted and very worn Vår Kokbok from the mid 1970s. Mother-of-witch equipped me well when I left home. I first made ginger biscuit dough all by myself the first Christmas in the Brighton Bookwitch Towers.

That was the day when the Resident IT Consultant went out shopping for all our Christmas needs. After multiple trips lasting until about four pm I was hungry and wanted us to eat lunch. He looked at his watch and conceded that OK, we could have an early lunch! Turns out his watch had stopped and he’d been on eleven o’clock all day.

Anyway, I was worried about my dough, because every single year when Mother-of-witch made it, we never knew if the biscuits would fall to bits or not. So instead of asking for her recipe – as she never remembered from one year to the next which one she picked last year – I turned to my very own Vår Kokbok, where it said that this dough rolls out really nicely and there need be no concerns about how it handles.

So yesterday I just wanted to read that sentence again.

It wasn’t there. All these years I’ve been calmed by a non-existent reassurance.

Having said that, the biscuits have always been fine. None of the older generation’s issues.

I also made some soup. Kale soup was one of them. That well known Christmas speciality, which I discovered a few years ago was merely a family Christmas tradition and no one else makes it. It’s in Vår Kokbok too, but I can make it without looking in there now. Seeing as it’s such a tradition.

Finished my kitchen stint – the Resident IT Consultant had taken himself off to Edinburgh for the day – with a Temptation for our late dinner. Didn’t need Vår Kokbok for that either.

Christmas comes to Moominvalley

It is rather sweet. Even people who know nothing about Christmas, can get it right, completely by accident. In this case the people are the Moomin family. They hibernate, so tend not to be awake or aware of Christmas, unlike their friends and neighbours. But this time the Hemulen comes and wakes them up, because he’s fed up with all the preparations for Christmas.

Aren’t we all?

But knowing nothing, the poor Moomins are alarmed at first, worrying about this unknown monster coming for them. It needs a tree. The tree needs to be dressed. It needs food. And on top of that it requires presents.

Christmas comes to Moominvalley

Were it not for a tiny, shy creature drawn to their house by the kindness of Moominmamma, they’d know very little. With its help, they find pretty things to put on the tree, and they wrap presents, and Moominmamma gets busy in the kitchen.

After all that they do the most sensible thing of all and go back to bed.


I seem to know the story from a long time ago. However, it has been ‘adapted from the Tove Jansson classic,’ with words by Alex Haridi and Cecilia Davidsson – translated by A A Prime – and illustrations by Filippa Widlund. So I’m not sure what it is I remember.

But it is a lovely story, with pretty pictures, and who needs a star at the top of the tree when you can have a rose?

Spending in my time

I was feeling a little bit smug. Just a little, because that sense of witchiness I wrote about the other day, stops me from complete, outright smugness. I know about karma and how quickly it arrives.

As a foreigner, I’ve never been quite sure what it means when friends, or strangers for that matter, ask if I’ve done all my Christmas shopping yet. I mean, what counts as Christmas shopping? Is it any buying before The Day, or does it have to be Christmassy, or do they mean the presents? I tend to play it safe by muttering something indistinct and look as if I’m in pain. (Just like any other day.)

So I thought about the possibility of being asked this some time soon and felt I could reply ‘yes’ to the question. There were going to be few presents and I wasn’t unprepared. And I’d more or less decided no one wants to know if I’ve got my Brussels sprouts in yet.

This is where karma in the shape of Dodo struck. She and Son are hosting Christmas, and by the sound of the preparations – yes, we can hear them all the way here – they are doing great. Which will be why there were instructions about presents.

Which will be why the very next day I headed into town to shop till I dropped. It was all right, really. Very clear and sensible instructions left me scooping ‘stuff’ into a basket in next to no time. I even went home and wrapped it all.

Which will be why I feel I’ve almost bypassed the karma and can yet again reply ‘yes.’ Should I be asked.

I also popped into Waterstones for a little look. Was gratified to queue behind a lady who had brought a copy of the Guardian Review, folded to reveal the crime review page, from which she requested various books, carefully spelling out any odd names. Very sensible.

Also in that shop, I discovered Harry Potter rucksacks. There was a nice red one from Gryffindor, and a black one for Hogwarts. I am relieved that I am both sensible and not in need of more rucksacks, so I was – mostly – safe. They were cheap, by which I mean they cost nowhere near the price of a real Kånken rucksack from Fjällräven, the style of which they were sort of copying.

I saw a similar copy in St Andrews earlier this year at the Students’ Union shop, so if you’re not going for a real Kånken, the thing to have is clearly a fake. I have used the real thing for about forty years, and have gone through a great many of them in that time.

This is where I get confused about my behaviour. Because I’ve been nowhere. I looked at bags in John Lewis a week ago. I saw how much they cost now – the same as in 1980 plus lots and lots of inflation and currency exchange rates. And soon after (last week, I mean, not 1980) I told my companion about the price, as we stood looking at someone carrying a Kånken. Who promptly turned round and looked at us and my whispering. But who was I with? I’ve not been anywhere, and not in company…

Findus and the Christmas Tomte

Sven Nordqvist, Findus and the Christmas Tomte

Will he come, or not? That is the question. In this much longer than usual tale about Findus and his Pettson, it isn’t so much whether the Christmas (here known as Yule) Tomte exists, but whether he will come to visit Findus.

Findus very much wants to meet the Yule Tomte, but Pettson has not had much experience of him, for obvious reasons. But he’s a kind cantankerous old man who loves his occasionally annoying beyond words cat Findus and he wants him to be happy.

The problem – of course – is that he knows that the Tomte doesn’t really exist. And that is my problem too. Will this story work on British children who know for a fact that Father Christmas is real? There is little room for doubt.

This book comes with an explanatory page about what Christmas in Sweden is like; describing the Tomte, who is much smaller than Father Christmas, and who comes to your door, asking if you’ve been good. But the doubt is out there. And if it’s OK to doubt the Yule Tomte, can we be sure about Father Christmas?

Sven Nordqvist, Findus and the Christmas Tomtest-2

It’s a conundrum. And conundrum is precisely what poor Pettson suffers from. He needs to organise a live talking Tomte for Findus to meet on Christmas Eve. (I’d have asked the neighbour.)

Anyway, this lovely old man sets about building an automated Tomte, and as we all know who have tried making presents in secret in front of the recipients, this is not easy.

But there is some kind of magic out there, don’t you think? Who was that in the woods? And the gifts that turned up?

We can guess at what will happen. We can’t have Pettson fail, nor little Findus disappointed.

It’s sweet. And everyone is happy, if not exactly sure of what happened there…

(Sven Nordqvist has drawn many interesting inventions and little machines. Plenty to study for anyone with a keen eye. And then there are the tiny creatures that only Findus can see.
The translation by Nathan Large is very good.)

Sven Nordqvist, Findus and the Christmas Tomte

The Glass of Lead & Gold

Cornelia Funke’s The Glass of Lead & Gold is that best of things, a beautiful, small volume consisting of a Christmas story that can be read at any time. Written in English and illustrated by Cornelia herself, it is set in her Reckless world.

In an alternate, past London, we meet Tabetha, an orphan trying to survive by searching for ‘treasure’ in the Thames mud. Just before Christmas she’s asked by a stranger to look for a sliver of glass. A specific sliver, for which he will pay well.

There is a ‘soup kitchen’ and a troll, as well as a one-armed waitress, and together they work some Christmas magic.

Cornelia Funke, The Glass of Lead & Gold

I reckon anyone would love to discover this in a stocking, or to have it to read in the months leading up to Christmas. It’s small and could lead to better things, just like the sliver of glass.

What about an actual bookshop?

The alternative to the scrunched-up but cheaper book arriving from Amazon, is to go to a bookshop, if you have one nearby.

I don’t often do this, but just before Christmas Daughter was seized by a sudden urge to give her dental nurse a book about planets, so we repaired to Waterstones. She found one that fitted the bill, and bought it. Meanwhile I rested my tired legs sitting in one of Waterstones’ armchairs, within eavesdrop distance of the till.

Thus I overheard three conversations with potential customers asking about various books they wanted, with all three being told that unfortunately they didn’t have it in stock but could order it for them.

This is both helpful, and not. You get to talk to a human and you get information, even if it’s negative. It’s a pleasant sort of place to be in, and as I said, they have armchairs. If you don’t mind coming back, and have time to do so (this was on December 21st), then having the book ordered for you can be useful.

Or you go home and order it online. I would only go to the shop to browse, or in the full expectation that I could get my book there and then. If not, online buying allows me to sit in my own armchair, and there is still a delay in obtaining the actual book.

What Waterstones did have on that day, was a lovely selection of books that you buy when it’s Christmas, but that no one needs or knew they wanted. Plus a bookish lot of jigsaw puzzles and other more gadgety gifts with a book theme.

This is nice, but it’s not really what I look for.

I hear of authors going into their local shop looking for their own books, and being told they can order them.

Physical shops are good for browsing and finding something you might not have known you wanted. But these authors’ books will not be browsed and bought by happy coincidence. You need to know from the outset that you want to buy, and decide whether to shop online, or to visit your local shop twice to make the purchase. The latter is a lot of work in order to ‘support bookshops’ that appear not to stock what you’re interested in.

I don’t know what the solution is.