Last Christmas

Fear not, gentle reader, this will not be an ill-judged attempt at a Wham! tribute post.  Who would have imagined, in their eighties pomp, that Wham! would go on to put the children of so many panel-beaters (and allied trades) through school and beyond?

It struck me that GofaDM has never described the Festive habits of its author.  Whilst you probably don’t care, it is an unmined seam of content and so I am heading down there with my metaphorical pick and some dynamite.  As the title suggests, I shall be relying on the most recent midwinter festival as my primary source in what follows.

I have, since being brought forth upon this earth nearly half a century ago, spent Christmas en famille.  I have, at times, thought that perhaps I should do something more exciting and more in keeping with my (imagined) role as a dangerous maverick and setter of fashions.   These tentative plans have always foundered on two rocks: (i) the amazing power of apathy (especially mine in the depths of winter) and (ii) the awkward conversation that would be required with those who share my blood were I to suddenly replace them with the fishy denizens of a reef off the Maldives (for example).  Over the years, the festive line-up has been augmented by a range of guest stars (some appearing for a single season, others with a more recurring role) but it has always centred around the traditional, nuclear family: augmented in recent years by the arrival of my nephew.

I tend to drive back to the family estate(s) on Christmas morning to take advantage of the quiet roads and almost total lack of lorries.  Despite this return to the road experience of a gentler age, I find I am already bored with the whole idea of driving within about 15 minutes of departure from home.  How people become petrol-heads I have no idea: they must have a much higher tolerance for tedium than I.  Whilst in charge of a vehicle, you can’t even read a book, have a nap or enjoy a fruity glass of red (well, not safely or legally): what can the appeal be?  I rather fear that I look down on frequent drivers much as I do on those with strong allegiance to a sporting  or religious team: i.e. with a combination of pity and grudging admiration for their single-minded commitment to something so soul-destroying.

Having now offended 99.9% of the human population of the planet, perhaps it is time to actually tackle Christmas.  I think my Christmas contains most of the key elements: family, presents, crackers and too much food and drink of a broadly traditional form.  I may offend some of the 0.1% still with me when I say that I eschew the Brussel sprout: despite the maturing of my palate over the years, I still believe these are a terrible waste of good agricultural land that could better be used to produce cavolo nero (to offer but a single example from the same family).

This year’s special Christmas guest was a giant rabbit – and no he was not a product of my excessive seasonal drinking or called Harvey – who, between enjoying some serious shut-eye, could occasionally be found wandering around the festive throng, munching on unattended presents or wrapping paper.

In an attempt to burn off a few of the seasonal calories, my sister and I played a popular video game entitled Just Dance 2016 after Christmas lunch.  This involves replicating the dance moves of a dancer on screen to win points (and no prizes).  In fact, the player only has to reproduce the choreography of the right-hand as the games console only monitors this one extremity.  The music on offer was clearly not aimed at the listener to BBC Radio 3 and 6Music in his late forties: so I had heard of almost none of the available dance tracks (except a couple of dodgy remakes of classic hits of yesteryear).  Despite my lack of familiarity with the soi-disant music on offer, and well-documented lack of skill on the dance floor, I feel I put in a pretty decent performance and was neck-and-neck with my sister throughout (which may only indicate that she can’t dance either).  Despite some wildly faliling limbs, there was no need for a festive visit to A&E: which I count as a Terpsichorean triumph!

In days of yore, Boxing Day would be the occasion for a restorative walk, perhaps taking in a supergrid point (or other site of interest) on the way.  However, the weather was not conducive to such an excursion and so I used up a few more festive calories helping my father break-up two decidedly hefty UIX workstations and start them on their journey from my parent’s loft to the amenity tip.  In the olden days (or the 1990s as I like to call them), workstations were built to last (and, probably, survive all but a direct hit from an ICBM): I think we liberated enough steel to make a decent start on the Royal Navy’s newest destroyer.  I fear this is a seasonal pleasure that will be denied to future generations: yet another element lost from the real meaning of Christmas.

On the evening of Boxing Day, after the driving hoards had grown bored of purchasing cheap three piece suites and left the roads, I girded my loins and drove home again (entertained on my way by the foolishness of Count Arthur Strong on the radio).  I made it home without a need to buy petrol, meaning I bought no petrol at all in 2015.  I really may need to review this whole possession of a car scenario…

For next Christmas, I am planning to bring out my own range of Christmas cards which reflect today’s modern Christmas and its climate.  No, not of a family smashing up some old UNIX boxes: though given the strength of the geek market that could be a possibility…  No, I’m thinking of Santa Claus, clad in red-and-white waterproofs, riding a submarine pulled by a team of eight dolphins (perhaps one could retain the red “nose”) over a host of sodden daffodils.  I feel this far better captures the 21st century British Christmas than all this nonsense about snow and reindeer.

We made it!

Before I start with the content of today’s post, just a little AOB missing from yesterday’s offering.

One of the key take home messages from my viewing of The Force Awakens was the need to visit Skellig Michael: it seems to have very well maintained stairs and would, I suspect,be quite a bracing location.  I’ll have to see if I can tag it onto a work trip across the Irish Sea come the spring.

Continuing with my engagement with popular culture, I must admit that I’ve never watched Gogglebox.  Normally, I love recursion but this seems a little to meta even for me: though I have seen the play-within-a-play trope several times, so perhaps I’m just being a snob.  However, yesterday afternoon I did catch Francesca Stavrakopoulou live tweeting Raiders of the Lost Ark: which was very amusing.  She is professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion (so rather eclipses my own O Level in RS) and has some forthright views on the movie.  As I write this, she is giving the Temple of Doom the same treatment.  I think there could (and should) be a TV series where domain experts make fun of classic movies that intrude on their areas of expertise.  A Gogglebox for the Only Connect viewer, if you like.  And now, we can return you to your normal programme – though I’m afraid theology will raise its head once again…

Today is the winter solstice and so we have survived through to the shortest day (well, unless you are reading this from beyond the veil).  I have (somehow) resisted the urge to visit Stonehenge, despite its proximity. From tomorrow, we (in the currently fashionable northern hemisphere) should start to notice a real stretch in the evenings: according to the Met Office (and they are rarely wrong) we denizens of Southampton should have a whole additional minute of afternoon daylight in which to revel come the morrow.

With the exception of changing day-length, it is otherwise quite difficult to believe that we are well into the second half of December.  We rather seem to have given up the outmoded concept of seasons and replaced it with a constant, rather windy (if mild) monsoon.  I am forced to assume either that some very large, if unreported, fold mountains have developed nearby or that the weather is properly jiggered.  As a result, I have had to work rather harder than usual to engender some minor hints of Christmas spirit in my resolutely curmudgeonly frame.

At the weekend, I wandered over to Lewes to enjoy the Esterhazy Chamber Choir’s Christmas concert.  This was most enjoyable, but some of the more modern carols did wander into unexpected doctrinal areas.  I am familiar with the idea of Christ as the Lamb of God, presumably linked to his gambolling round the Holy Land a few years back.  However, on Saturday I discovered that he is also an apple tree (just plain weird, and no hint as to the variety: do we think of Jesus as an eater or a cooker?) and as linked to ‘springing’.  I do wonder if the idea of his ‘springing’ might help to explain the Easter Bunny – he did, after all, emerge from some sort of underground ‘burrow’ after three days.  Sadly, the carol itself did little to clarify the potential connection and made no mention of the ickle baby Jesus laying chocolate eggs: though that would certainly count as a miracle (on several counts) and perhaps even a mark of divinity.  Returning to the idea of Jesus springing, I am now wondering if he is some sort of messianic Zebedee?  Will the final trump by a loud ‘boing’ followed by our Redeemer telling all that it’s time for bed?

Anyway, that’s probably enough heresy for one post – though not my heresy, I acquired this unorthodoxy in a proper church.  I have also watched the Shaun the Sheep Christmas episode and completed my annual viewings of The Muppet Christmas Carol and Arthur Christmas.  I am as ready for winterval as I’m ever going to be (though I may yet squeeze in a listen to Tom Lehrer’s Hanukkah in Santa Monica to provide a little religious diversity).  Let’s hope I haven’t peaked too soon!

Actually, if I’m honest, the primary reason for this post is as a displacement activity to put off the fateful hour when I must start wrapping seasonal gifts.  I like to do my wrapping on the 22nd, because then the presents are interred for three days in their papery tombs before rising to general jubilation.  I like to feel that I am, in my modest way, prefiguring the Passion even as I celebrate the Pagan turning of the year (and, of course, a deity being born in a branch of Prêt-a-Manger: luckily, hygiene standards have improved since the first century and livestock is no loner welcome in sandwich emporia).

Seasonal traditions

The current time of year is rich in traditions: I presume because we, like our ancestors before us, need something to help us through the short, dark days of winter.  One such tradition is to bemoan how early Christmas now starts – a tradition which predates Christmas itself, though in ancient Rome it was Saturnalia which seem to start earlier each year.  It seems that if you steal a festival and re-brand it for your aggressively proselytising  new religion, you may also acquire its problems along with the (perhaps) more desirable feasting and gift-giving elements.

Since I was first brought forth upon this verdant globe, I have spent Christmas with my family.  Initially, I was offered little choice in the matter – precocious indeed is the baby or toddler who is able to make and execute alternative arrangements – but I have continued in this manner long after I could do something else.  Partly this must be force of habit, partly my complete failure to come up with an alternative but I think mostly because it is good to come together as a family with a common purpose from time-to-time.  Since my nephew arrived on the scene, we are joined by someone who understands (one of) the true meaning(s) of Christmas.  Was I really ever that excited about the contents of a parcel?  Or about the idea of a cracker?  From this distance in time, it is hard to believe that I was ever so excitable (well, at such modest provocation, anyway) – but then again, was I really such an odd child that I viewed December 25 with cool detachment?  I’m guessing not, though I did used to respond to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with the unhelpful and somewhat unambitious response “Alive” – so perhaps I was.

As well as the Saturnalian feasting and gift-giving, we also usually try and fit in some sort of family game on Christmas Day.  This year we played Articulate! (for Kids) which was great fun.  I had my worries given the age-range of the participants and the noun-blindness which afflicts older members, but it was surprisingly close fought.  As folk try to describe a word against the clock (or mini egg timer, for the avoidance of doubt the timer was mini, rather than the egg), secrets can inadvertently be blurted out – let’s just say that my brother-in-law would appear to use a rather unexpected item of bathroom furniture for washing.  Actually, a number of recent events have reminded me how much fun board (and similar) games can be – one was remembering Fluxx, a card game I one saw played and which my nephew is now old enough to play. I think this is enormous fun as the game changes itself as you play, and as we all know I love a bit of recursion (me and Alonzo Church).  An article in The Guardian led me back to Will Wheaton and his YouTube channel where he and chums play tabletop games and it would seem that there are lot of rather entertaining games out there, including an even more complicated version of Fluxx called Star(r) Fluxx – which we may tackle once we have mastered the basic version.  It looks like the Art House cafe here in Southampton has a board games night and I think I may have to start going – as it can be quite tricky to play these games alone (or against a wall).

On Boxing Day, weather permitting, some sort of modest walk is called for – to burn off a few tens of the many thousands of recently consumed calories.  In recent years this has tended to involve the bracing promenade at Bexhill.  I like to include the consumption of a sea-front ice-cream as part of this ritual – though this year, no other promenader seemed willing to join me.  Lightweights!

As I don’t live with my family – for that way lies madness (or more madness at any rate) – tradition requires me to travel.  In my many carless years, this was done by train – but as recent users of Kings Cross have found, this is not without its problems – so in recent years I have used my car.  In fact, nearly 50% of my current vehicle’s road miles have come from the last four years of Christmas-based driving.  Driving home for Christmas isn’t too bad (despite what Chris Rea would have you believe) as the roads are very quiet which makes the experience as close to pleasant as driving gets in these traffic-afflicted Isles.  The driving also necessitates my annual purchase of petrol, which traditionally falls on Boxing Day as I journey homeward, and involves me guessing on which side of my car the petrol filler cap lies (this year I guessed correctly, it is on the passenger’s side and so no embarrassing repositioning of the car or desperate stretching of the hose was required for once).

To help the journey pass more pleasantly, I listen to the radio (some of it previously preserved in the form of podcasts).  Shaun Keaveny delivered me to my family and a combination of items from Radio 4 took me home – we had comedy, history and semiotics.  I also had the latest edition of In Our Time, entitled “Truth” – nothing like a little late night philosophy to make the miles just fly by.  This programme demonstrated that though Melvin can appear several sheets to the wind on occasion, he is still a more responsible broadcaster than me: I would have been unable to resist uttering the words, “The truth? You can’t handle the truth” at some point during the show had I been at the helm.

Being away for Christmas means that it does end rather abruptly when you return home, there are none of the traditional seasonal leftovers to gorge on in the lull before the New Year.  What I do have to gorge on after my return home are the televisual and radio treats I missed while away – and this year, as so often, the majority of the treats were on the wireless.  Not only the triumphant end to John Finnemore’s brilliant Cabin Pressure (I know he is probably a tad young for this, but I’m starting the campaign for JF as National Treasure now) but also a dramatisation of Good Omens along with a whole stack of other seasonal Radio 4 treats.

This year, as I have guests joining me in a modest consecration to the god Janus, the flat does have a mildly festive air with a few Pagan symbols festooning my “tree” (which at other times of the year holds postcards: in this house a I do like to “sweat” my assets!).  And given the Hatton blood (from my paternal grandmother’s family) that courses through my veins, the change of year should be massively over-catered – no-one leaves my home with soft arteries – so there is some hope of left-overs come the end of the week.   In the meantime, I must devote myself to menu planning, cooking and appeasing the Lares (or, if you prefer, overcoming local entropy) to ensure that all is ready for the new latty’s first overnighting guests – very bold!

It’s a wrap!

I am finally ready (more-or-less) for the forthcoming Winterval, with the last of the parcels wrapped.  I do, to an extent (basically the extent that requires little or no exertion on my part), attempt to avoid the more obvious stereotypes of the modern man – but I find I am very poor at wrapping.  This is particularly distressing given the hours I devoted to squares of coloured paper and the instructions of Roger Harbin as a child.  Sadly, despite my knowledge of the mountain, valley and squash folds I seem unable to apply my origami skills to the wrapping of even the most cuboid of presents (and I do focus on cuboid gifts – if any reader wants a ball, then they would be advised to seek elsewhere for satisfaction). Either wrapping paper is too thick and/or stiff (oh, er, missus) or it is the attempt to encase another object which throws me – or that is my theory.

Last Christmas, no-one gave me their heart (OK, they may have done and I failed to notice) but I did buy a roll of rather stylish, mostly silver wrapping paper.  Worried that this would be insufficient I acquired another roll: just-in-case.  The original roll was more than adequate to Christmas 2013 and has now also dealt with Christmas 2014 and shows promising signs of also covering next year’s seasonal wrapping needs.  I have no idea how many metres of wrapping paper I acquired on this roll, but I begin to suspect it may have been sufficient to wrap a small moon (or large space station – which would certainly help keep X-wing fighters out of the vents).  Having discovered another two rolls of seasonal paper in storage (marked “Bedding”) last week, I think I may have enough wrapping paper to see me out.  I think I now have a new ambition, to live long enough to run out of wrapping paper!

In other Kwanzaa-related news, I have now watched the Muppet Christmas Carol, been to a very fine carol concert – at which I even had a chance to sing, though sadly no Adeste Fideles this year – and watched a BBC4 documentary on winter art.  So, this is about as festive as I am going to be – if you like, you can imagine me jingling something (I’m not, but feel free to imagine it).  As I have visitors coming for the New Year, I might even put up some decorations – I’m virtually Santa!  If you have not yet exhausted your imagination, you might like to think about three hydroxyl groups and a mirror.  OK, as it’s Christmas I’ll help you out : HO-HO-HO- (but don’t expect this sort of spoon-feeding at other times of year).

The Second Coming: An update

Readers of the last post will know that I am proposing Kettering as the site of the second coming, largely on the grounds that existing carols would require minimal changes – and, in these days of austerity, even the divine may need to seek some simple cost savings.

I was at a Christmas concert yesterday afternoon, and took the opportunity to check a number of seasonal hymns against a possible re-siting in Northamptonshire.  As expected, O Little Town of Bethlehem is fine – there are no references which could not safely be applied to Kettering (well, assuming we can arrange for its dark streets to shineth).  O Come All Ye Faithful likewise only needs the substitution of Bethlehem – though, I do wonder if we should recognise that the “y” in “ye” is really a thorn and so the hymn should be sung O Come All The Faithful.  So the key “O” hymns are covered.  Hark! Te Herald Angels sing is similarly easily fixed and Christina Rossetti kept the geography of In the Bleak Midwinter sufficiently vague that it requires no changes at all for a move to the East Midlands.

I’m not sure of the agricultural situation of Kettering, but I suspect it may be a little short of mangers attached to an inn.  I did check for branches of Prêt à Manger as a modern substitute, but the nearest are Peterborough or Leicester.  I’m sure the owners of the sandwich chain could be inveigled upon to open a branch in Kettering, well it’s either that or add a stable to the Travelodge – but I think the former would be more useful to the locals whilst they await the herald angels.

Once in Royal David’s City is proving the most challenging to adapt.  The only suitable royal I could find was Dafydd ap Llewelyn – but he rather kept to Wales which is a bit of a hike (even with a little donkey) from Kettering.  I fear we may have to lose this hymn altogether, or replace the current Royals with something a bit more modern (and/or Welsh) and move their HQ from Buck House to Broughton House.  We would also need some oxen on hand for verse three.  Still, it seems a pity to discard an otherwise excellent plan just to save OiRDC.

Entering this world in Kettering would offer the next Messiah easy rail access to London, Nottingham and Sheffield.  He would also have the possibility for local shoes and outerwear as gifts from the wise, replacing the traditional frankincense and myrrh with rather more useful alternatives for the modern world (and more suitable to the East Midlands climate).  All-in-all, for a budget second coming, I think Kettering has it all – I feel it is time for me to pass the ball across to the relevant authorities for action.  Given the traditional need for a census at a Messianic launch, I guess we’ll have to wait until 2021 – which should provide sufficient time to square the sandwich makers, some suitable cattle and some major update to the monarchy.  I suggest we all put the date in our diaries!

Ill-prepared for wealth

Listening to the radio earlier in the week, I chanced on reports of gift giving from Angelina Jolie to her husband, Brad Pitt.  They are both rather rich, and frankly could buy anything they might need – or even want – themselves, but I suppose the exchanging of gifts is an important piece of human social bonding.  I would have thought a small token would suffice, but apparently not.

For his 50th, apparently Mr Pitt is to receive (or perhaps already has) a heart-shaped island from his wife.  All I could think was that this would be a nightmare to wrap and then a pain to maintain going forward.  Apparently, for his 48th his partner bought him a waterfall so that he could build a home above it which would constantly resound to the noise of rushing water: I presume wrapping this was entirely impossible.  I can only hope that the house has plenty of bathrooms as the sound of constant rushing water is no friend to the bladder.  My 48th is not far away, and I would like to make clear now that I will not welcome the gift of any significant geographical or geomorphological features – despite my love of geomorphology.

Luckily this is unlikely, as my family operates a system for both birthdays and Christmas where the potential recipient is required to provide a list of presents that might meet with some degree of approbation if received.  Obtaining these lists is usually difficult and for the upcoming festive season I may yet have to resort to thumbscrews.  Basically, with the honourable exception of my nephew (who has youth on his side), we don’t really want anything.

I am reasonably well-paid, though nowhere near the level of a half-decent footballer, banker or Hollywood star, and have for some time failed to spend my salary during the year.  Whilst there are many things which I can’t afford to do, none of them are a terribly high priority in my life.  Perhaps if the human lifespan were much greater I’d get around to owning a yacht, buying a pointlessly fast car or flying first class round the world (to pluck but three examples from the air) – but I find there are plenty of much cheaper sources of fun and/or enlightenment which remain unattempted to try first.  I’m also trying not to acquire new stuff that needs to be stored – though my recent house move indicated that I am not quite as good at this as I liked to imagine.  Supporting the arts and eating out both work well as I only have to store the memories.  However, I only have the energy to do so much – so I’m now trying to increase the range of charities I support as well, particularly as successive governments seem to be leaving more and more things I think of as important to the vagaries of charitable donation for their continued existence.

It is often said that the best things in life are free, which is probably not entirely true and almost certainly requires you to ignore some element of sunk cost.  However, many pleasures can be very cheap at the time of experience.  This past Sunday, I decided to attempt a whole new (to me, not the world) piece of music via the medium of song.  My chosen piece was “Arm, Arm, ye brave!” from Mr Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabeus.  Despite my stumbling (née bumbling) attempts to sing the notes while accompanying myself with only the melody line on the old Joanna this was a glorious experience (though anyone who overheard it would probably have taken a very different view).  This was free (well, I already had the music, piano and voice) and way better than any number of luxury yachts.  Plus, to paraphrase D:Ream, its performance can only get better!

In summary, I shall continue to eschew the national lottery – this both saves me money on a weekly basis and significantly reduces the risk that extreme wealth will ever be thrust upon me.

Winterval

I rather like this neologism, but it is actively disliked be our more reactionary press and their readers.  I believe this is because they are upset that it has supplanted the “original” word of Christmas, rather rich given that the early church purloined the earlier festivals of Saturnalia and Yule for its own nefarious ends.  Even these festivals were derived from even earlier mid-winter celebrations, so the original meaning of December 25th and the New Year is hidden in the mists of prehistory.

I decided against erecting a circle of massive stone menhirs this year – well, I had a bit of a cold and it seemed a lot of work (added to which my garden is really quite small and water-logged) and so returned to the bosom of my family as has become traditional.  This pilgrimage entails my longest drive of the year as I head from South Cambs to a supergrid point on the south coast (in fact, the journey represents some 20-25% of my annual driven miles).  I drive down on Christmas morning when the roads are pleasingly quiet – and lorries stay at home (or at least off the roads) – which makes driving an almost pleasant experience.  This year my journey south was accompanied by the dulcet tones of Shaun Keaveny and PBC OBE thanks to a portable DAB radio and the AUX port on the car stereo.  As I crossed the Thames at Dartford, the river was spanned by a rainbow – which I felt must be at least slightly auspicious – though the toll booths of the crossing were still manned even on Christmas Day (given the low traffic flows, I do wonder how cost effective this is at £2 a go).

Christmas and Boxing Day were great fun, and I am able to eat to excess without having to cook any of it – though the period does emphasise the “mostly” in my mostly vegetarian lifestyle.  Having an (almost) six year old with you does remind you of the true meaning of Christmas – which I think is Lego, crackers and Mario on the Wii (recalling the gifts bought by the wise men to the Ickle Baby Jesus – rather mis-translated from the original Greek and Hebrew in the KJB).  I returned home on the evening of Boxing Day – waiting until the hordes have finished their desperate purchases of reduced sofas on long-term credit – when the roads are still pretty quiet, though the lorries are starting to return.  Given the rather poor radio on offer, I created a playlist on my iPhone for the first time (I have had the capability to create playlists for 7 or more years, but had not taken the plunge before).  This was rather a success: I may have to try it again.

Returning home has the advantage, and disadvantage, that there are no Christmas leftovers to consume – so no turkey jalfrezi for me!  This means that the festive season comes to a rather abrupt stop, though this year I resisted returning to work until almost 2013.  This didn’t mean I could loaf around too much as I had friends coming over to see in the New Year.  No visitor comes to my house and leaves hungry, or even well fed – no, no-one leaves unless completely stuffed with grub (I blame genetics and my paternal grandmother’s bloodline).  Such hefty food consumption does also seem to eliminate the hangover that might otherwise arise from having wine (or other suitable alcoholic accompaniment) with every course.

To avoid boring my guests with a medley of my greatest culinary hits, I decided to try some new dishes this year.  New Year’s Eve-squared (0r 30 December as it is more commonly known) was a relatively modest repast with a mere three – albeit sizeable – courses.  I once again attempted chocolate cookery – and even made pastry (a very rare occurrence) – to provide a suitable accompaniment to a glass or two of marsala.  This was a slightly worrying build, as the tart’s contents looked vastly bigger than the available space – but miraculously just fit.  Even more importantly, it tasted great – but I suspect won’t be made that often as it is quite a laboured process and creates an awful lot of washing up.

New Year’s Eve was an altogether more challenging affair with six courses to be consumed across the evening.  These included a very fine starter based on roasted squash, stilton and mushrooms; two years ago I had never eaten a squash, now I am almost addicted to the things – ah, the dangers of the mostly vegetarian diet (why does no-one warn you of the risks?).  However, the star of the night was the trifle course – based on a recipe by Nigel Slater (but in only half the quantity).  This was a huge rigmarole to make and rather worrying as it includes making a mincemeat sponge with no raising agent – but it is one of the finest things I have ever eaten.  If you are very good and come to visit, I may make another – if you are really, really good I may even let you eat a bit (though I wouldn’t want to raise your hopes too high).

In recent years, my NYE tradition has been to hold the turn of year celebration at a time of my choosing, rather than waiting for midnight as “the man” wants.  By use of YouTube, one can now have Big Ben, Auld Lang Syne and fireworks whenever you want – this year it was around 23:30, though it has been as early as 22:30 and as late as 00:30.

Unlike Christmas, I was able to live off left-overs from New Year for several days – despite sterling efforts from my guests to consume the excessive quantities of food provided.  I must also admit that at least one pig, one deer and three fish died to provide our end of year provender – but their sacrifice was much appreciated and only members of the plant kingdom have had to give up their lives to feed me since.

Many Winterval cards are covered in snow – but the country (or the parts I crossed) were covered in water, which should perhaps become a theme for future Christmas Cards – but now the country does look much more festive (I blame Charles Dickens).  This seems to happen whenever I try to leave the country by plane on business – I think the government should be paying me a decent stipend not to fly to Europe, it would save the country a small fortune in gritting and snow ploughing.  Still, until I’m paid off I shall continue to visit our European cousins – this week Berlin, where the maximum temperature on offer is a balmy -2ºC so I’m rather hoping there may be some glühwein on offer to stave off the chill!