Category Archives: Christmas

Mog lives again

Would you buy your brussels sprouts in a supermarket you don’t normally frequent just because it revived Mog?

I fail to see how normal people could be swayed by this. It’s one thing to advertise sweets and toys at children, or for that matter, wine and discounted sofas at adults. That way you are being sold a particular item that you might not need, but will develop a craving for.

But Sainsbury’s are not flogging a dead cat, however adorable and Christmassy. Well, they are. I understand that you can go to the supermarket and buy Judith Kerr’s latest book about Mog. (Anyone reading this, feel free to get me a copy..!) Other than that, though, they are either ‘merely’ hoping to win the Christmas television commercial war, or possibly also hoping that you will pop into one of their branches for your Christmas food. Whether or not you are already a customer.

So as a part time customer, I feel neither more or less of an urge to let them supply me with sprouts after the Mog ad.

It’s lovely, though. More so for those of us who have got used to the idea of Mog being dead and not expecting to see our darling cat again. But that little film of Mog’s nightmare and subsequent crazy accidental frenzied exit from the house has had many of us old cynics laugh and cry at the same time. And that is a most welcome feeling.

Thank you Judith Kerr for giving us some more Mog. And thank you Sainsbury’s for making Mog come to life again, in such a spectacular way. (I might be in later for sprouts. Or I might go to Lidl. I’ll see.)

Will they want books?

The local newspaper is helping collect toys for needy children again. I’m sure most of you have similar schemes somewhere near you. It’s good that they exist but absolutely awful that they have to.

I know I can go out and buy toys and give, and possibly also give money. But it’s books I want to give, and it’s what I’m best placed to pass on. As you well know, there are many spare books. Good ones. Books that could inspire and keep a child busy.

But will they accept them? (I know. I have to ask. I just haven’t done so yet.) It’s not so much that I wonder whether the needy children would like books. I’m sure they would. My question is more whether those in charge of collecting feel that books are fun enough for this purpose.

I have many good books I can give. Most show absolutely no sign of having gone through the reviewing process. And the sad thing is that the books probably don’t even have to be good. Sometimes any book will do. (I was aghast at the book lovingly read by the little girl at the gate at Geneva airport the other week. If it was her choice, or all she’d been given, I have no idea.)

You could say that needy children need toys, because books are something they can get from the library. True. But will they be taken to a library, I wonder? And for how long will we continue having libraries?

Owning your own book(s) might be the only way soon.

So I don’t want to give cars or dolls or teddies. I want the excellent books I’ve got spare to go to good homes where they will be appreciated. I hope that the children this charitable collecting is aimed at will be good homes for books. And if someone else gives dolls, then perhaps they can have more than one Christmas present?

Noah’s Ark

This beautiful pop-up book by Francesca Crespi would have made for the perfect Christmas present (except I ran out of review time in the run-up to the big day). But if – like me – you have a birthday child in January, now is good too. And if you haven’t, I have to say that any day would be a good day.

I don’t often see pop-up books these days, so that might be why I feel a bit excited. It was always such a treat to ‘read’ one to Offspring back in the day. You could open up those pages so many times, and it never got boring. The main threat was always that the popping-up aspect would die a violent death at some point.

Francesca Crespi, Noah's Ark

Noah’s Ark begins with God despairing over the ways of the world, and that is still far too true. So Noah builds a boat (there’s even a ‘working’ saw!). And then he collects the animals.

And it rains. It rains some more. When it’s finally dry, the ark has run aground and is sitting on top of a mountain. After which they all live happily ever after.

(Although, I reckon the time has come for some more ark-building…)

New Bear’s Eve dinner

Sorry, I’m getting carried away here. And not by a bear. I meant New Year.

Decades ago the Resident IT Consultant rather hopefully gave me a cookbook for Christmas. Not that he thought my cooking was bad (at least not the food that didn’t have mustard in it), but he quite fancied more lovely Indian food. This was in the early days of veggie Indian restaurants in England. He wanted more. I wanted more.

But I didn’t want to cook it, so I took one look at Madhur Jaffrey’s Eastern Vegetarian Cooking and asked whether I could assume the gifting of the book meant he’d be cooking the meals as well.

It, erm, did. And he has cooked some very nice food ever since.

Over the last decade or so, we have developed a family tradition that says he cooks an Indian buffet on New Year’s Eve, which we eat in front of the television.

Madhur Jaffrey, Eastern Vegetarian Cooking and Curry Easy Vegetarian

This Christmas he gave me Madhur Jaffrey’s new book, Curry Easy Vegetarian, which apart from having a weird title, seems pretty good. And I think it goes without me asking him to, that the Resident IT Consultant cooks.

So this New Bear’s Eve we tried new food. Did you know there are Indian kale recipes? This means kale for Christmas and New Year. (There was also a fantastic creamy paneer dish. The less we mention all that cream, the better. It was really very nice. If I wasn’t such a fair witch I’d have eaten all the leftovers myself. Very small portion of leftovers. Obviously.)

Ever younger kettles

Aunt Scarborough introduced the young Offspring to the Singing Kettle about twenty years ago. At that time they were mainly famous in Scotland, but filtered south to England during the period when we adored them the most. They were wonderful. And funny. Good all round entertainers, who took well known tunes and gave them new lyrics, or wrote their own, or simply used traditional songs for children, but in a fun way. Nothing boring about them at all. I would happily have listened to them with no child as an excuse.

Now they are stopping their Singing Kettling. The two main stars retired a while back, and with the audience age plummeting, they no longer have their ideal primary school aged children, but are performing funny songs to children perhaps too young to understand. (See my comments about this below. ‘Little Diddle’ didn’t even know his own name. But he was cute.)

But I simply had to treat Daughter to one more humiliation while she’s home for Christmas, and take her to see the farewell tour. (She enjoyed it, really.) It was good, but I can see that things are not what they were. Lots of things aren’t. The Singing Kettle have provided fun and intelligent songs for many, many children. And judging by comments from various astrophysicists on Daughter’s facebook page, and the fact that Dodo gave Son a Singing Kettle DVD for Christmas, I’d say that those primary age children may have got older, but they never forgot. That’s proof of quality.

Below is CultureWitch’s review of Monday morning’s concert at the Albert Halls.

“There was a slight disadvantage to sitting on row five when they used their large water ‘pistol’ from the stage. It reached. Very well, too. Although I didn’t do what many parents did, which was to hold their children in front of them as shields. Some parents they turned out to be!

The Singing Kettle at Stirling Albert Halls

I – on the other hand – was an exemplary parent and brought my baby girl to what has been advertised as the last tour for The Singing Kettle. She probably hadn’t been since the millennium concert at the Albert Halls in Stirling, which means it had been a 15 year gap. Contrary to what Daughter thought, you can actually go to these shows as an adult. Neither of us fell over, bumped our heads and cried, nor did we require help to go to the toilet.

It was good. Apart – possibly – from the water and the fact that The Singing Kettle will be no more. It was a tonic, on a Monday morning after Christmas, with plenty of grinning and laughing, not to mention singing. I did draw the line at rocking my poor head from left to right and forwards and back, going over the Irish Sea.

The Singing Kettle mug

Despite there being no Artie and Cilla anymore, Kevin and Anya did a great job, ably assisted by the still baby-faced Gary and his purple trombone. Anya is testament to the strength of the brand, having herself been one of the audience participants, being invited onto the stage. (She clearly never left, which was something I did think about as parents blithely let their offspring wander off with these strangers, in order to perform on stage with them. Did they see them again? ‘The tiniest ever’ Diddle in the first half was the smallest, cutest participant I have ever seen. A little confused maybe, but so keen, and later seen trying to return to the stage again.)

We knew some of the songs (because back then we were pros) and some not, as they were possibly using new material as well as recycling old songs forever. Daughter had forgotten Bunny Fou Fou, but not I. And you have to love Music Man (even without Cilla…).

The preparing and cooking (and subsequent burning) of the turkey made an impression on the younger part of the audience, especially cleaning it with a toilet brush. The snowman who sneezed all over and the galloping reindeer, not to mention the adorable yellow ducks (including tiny Diddle) helped make this a very visual show.

But we weren’t allowed to take pictures (if I’d been Diddle’s mother, I’d have taken a photo of him in his duck costume anyway!) so we don’t have much to show you. Daughter did hit the merchandise stall as soon as we arrived, however. It might be her last opportunity.

The Singing Kettle mug

There was some Hokey Cokey at the end, and a fitting finale of pushing Granny off the bus. (As if we would…)

If you’ve never seen The Singing Kettle live, I feel sorry for you. We used to travel across half the country for them, whereas now it was a mere walk away.”

One winter is as good as another

This time last year we were looking at houses for sale online. One I particularly liked was a bungalow near the motorway (I know…) with a larger than average garden. The house had been photographed on a clear and frosty day and everything looked rather nice.

It sold fast, that bungalow. I’m not surprised, considering what nice frost it had.

But you know what? Yesterday I discovered I live in a house with such a frosty, sunny garden (and the distance to the motorway is more favourable), and it felt Christmassy in an almost Scandi kind of way. (I find Scandi a most useful new adjective, btw.)

View from the Ice Cube

Here is the view from our Ice Cube, towards the end of this sunny winter’s day. The end, because the main fly in the ointment was a bad head, which didn’t totally appreciate the clear blue sky, except as an abstract concept.

And I suppose it would have been stupid to buy a house purely for the weather in which the photos had been taken.

Ten years ago

Just over ten years ago I explained to Meg Rosoff that I am a witch. She seemed to think that was OK, and said she rather believed in what she called ‘minor witches,’ which I suppose is a fair description of my trade. I ‘knew’ she’d win the Guardian prize that autumn for How I Live Now. I just did.

I also knew she’d win the Whitbread. Or I did, until some odd instinct made me take out a copy of Not the End of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean from the library, to read over Christmas. Just in case. I’ve no idea whether what I sensed was Geraldine’s success in winning the Whitbread, or that the title suggested there really would be an end to the world for countless people.

It felt almost wrong to be reading about Noah’s Ark when all that water killed so many people in the tsunami on Boxing Day 2014.

Some of you may know I’m a Roger Whittaker fan. Earlier that year I’d felt an unexpected sense of unease when reading Mrs Whittaker’s annual newsletter to the fans. They would generally always have a family Christmas get-together. But in 2004 Roger had worked so very hard that they decided to spend Christmas away from the family, to relax. In Thailand.

I didn’t like it one bit, and wondered why. It’s not as if they had announced they wouldn’t be spending Christmas with me.

So when the news broke, I fished around in my mind for anyone I might know who was there, and realised that I did ‘know’ someone. Luckily the Whittakers were safe, and Roger went on to write a song about it, in aid of the victims.

But I do wonder how these premonitions work.