Come along for the ride!!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

And there went the Noughties"

We decided to have a full on New Years Eve party at our house this year; something a little bit different. Ok, not so much a full on party, more a soirée with finger foods. Oh yeah, and no-one else was invited except for me, M and the kids!!

That's right, an exclusive little gathering at home, just the four of us, with nice foods and nice drinks. While we were waiting patiently for our delicious looking 'cook-at-home' crispy duck to ... erm ... cook, I laid out the other nibbles. We have an old victorian travelling trunk that sits in front of the TV which occasionally serves as a low table and the children eat their snacks off it. Tonight, every time I put something on the trunk and turned to leave, I saw Joseph literally lick his lips and reach across, making sure he didn't miss out on anything.

To give him credit, he didn't actually start eating until we were all sat down which, after I had shredded the (very large) duck, we did. Joseph's plate by now resembled a comedy pyramid of food, piled more than generously and he got stuck in with gusto. Annabel, as always, started on her food in her calm, 'nibble-a-bit-here, nibble-a-bit-there' approach.

Is there anybody out there who doesn't like crispy duck in pancakes with spring onion and plum sauce?

' thought not.

Anyways, barely 10 minutes of hard core scoffing had passed when Joseph meekly announced that he would be stopping eating as he 'felt a bit sick'. Hmmm.... no surprise there then.

We finished watching our film and, barely had Bill Sykes stopped swirling around at the end of the rope, high above the streets of a very grimy east end of London, did we take the children up to bed for the last time this year. As I was tucking Joseph into bed, I thought I'd give it one more go at "bigging up" the occasion.

"You know Joseph, you go to sleep tonight and it's one year ..... "

(He interrupted and continued with a distinctly unimpressed face)

"Yeah, I know, I wake up and it's a different year!"

"You clever thing", I replied, slightly crestfallen. "How d'you know that?"

"Mum told me the same thing just now!!"

Bearing this in mind and, knowing that M had gone downstairs to get Annabel some drinking water, I ran along to her bedroom to tuck her in and try to big up the situation with her, before M came back to, ahem, sprinkle on my fire, as it were.

"You know Annabel, tonight when you go to sleep, it'll be one year. When you wake up in the morning, it'll be another year. A new year!"

I adopted my best excited expression that I could muster and, as I waited for my daughter to respond, she pushed one forefinger up her right nostril in search of an irritating booger and asked me, "and then what happens??" all the while, still fishing.

Cue second deflation of the evening within the space of approximately 3 minutes.

I gave up. Hey, I know when I'm beat, I'll give myself that much.

I s'pose they're right though. As one of my university professors used to say, "Old Years Day? New Years Eve? Pah, it's just clock worship, that's all".

I've always enjoyed seeing in a new year however, and of course, this one has the added hook of being the start of a new decade. What bothers me slightly about this decade is looking at how much as changed for me as a person. Or indeed, us as a couple.

10 years ago tonight, we were standing on London's Embankment with hundred's of thousand's of other revellers to see in the start of the new millenium. We'd spent the day seeing television pictures of Tonga being the first to see in the new year. Sydney's amazing fireworks over the harbour. Beijing. Moscow. Cairo and now, experiencing it for ourselves, London.

Of course, it never quite works here, whatever it is. Some of the fireworks planned to go off in unison on barges up and down the river failed to ignite. Concorde's fly-by happened to coincide with some rather unfortunate and extremely low cloud (most people saw nothing). But hey-ho, the sense of unity was there, the togetherness, the camaraderie. (London Olympics people, take heed!).

And that, unbelievably, was a decade ago. Since then, M and I got married. We moved from our lovely little flat by Battersea park to our present house. We got different jobs. We had a son. Then a daughter. Got more jobs.

It's been a very busy 10 years.

Unfortunately, as we were discussing the other day, we certainly feel like it's been 10 years. We're not old by any stretch of the imagination but we were just a teensy bit concerned at how we might feel in another 10 years. Crikey, Joseph will be 17 and Annabel will be 14. I mean, she already has the attitude of a 14 year old, I'm not sure I'll be able to cope with her as a real teenager!!

Calm down, deep breaths, it's just the end of the year. take it nice and easy.

I-i-i-in through the nose and ou-u-u-ut through the mouth.

You're right. I'm all better now. It's just the end of another year.

I certainly hope your year was good to you? I hope more than anything you have your health which, as I seem to chant whenever I get the opportunity, is the most important thing. Even as you crumple another useless lottery ticket into the recycling bag, wondering what you could've done with the 5 pounds you spent on it, you know deep down I'm right, as annoying as it is when I am right!!

Happy New Year to you.

I hope Two Thousand and Ten is whatever you want it to be and, as I said, I hope your health will allow you to be reading the rubbish I write at the other end of it.

(Not to mention my health allowing me to write it in the first place!!)

Pip pip ...

Friday, December 25, 2009

"I watch the sunrise lighting the sky ...

Having been entirely preoccupied with preparing for today, much has been thrown to one side with a view to "sorting it out later". The children's school bags fell into this vague pigeonhole and I only went through them a couple of nights ago, nearly a week after school had finished for the year.

I came across the following story book that Joseph had written and coloured in. Obviously the story is not his exactly, but he has told it in his own words. As with any piece of work or art that has been completed by one of your own children, it is touching and heartbreaking to picture them sat at a desk, working away, concentrating for all they're worth!!

Whether you pray to a God or not and whichever one it may or not be, try to put to one side (just for 30 seconds) any prejudice you may have for the story of the Nativity. Just read the following and enjoy the pictures because they were done by a 7 year old in his own words.

My smashing son.

Well done Poops - this is a terrific version. I particularly like the bit about Mary hanging out the washing!!!

(click to enlarge pictures and words)

(lift the flap to reveal present)

Whoever you are, wherever you are, Happy Christmas to you and yours.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Remove cork ... pour ... sip ... and rela-a-a-ax ... "

If your stress levels are anywhere near where mine have been, you will probably also be feeling relieved that you can't do much more than you already have. Actually, as I wrote that, I realised that I am no longer stressed due to the fact that we have not got any entertaining to do for the Big One - tomorrow.

As you may have guessed therefore, we are not cooking Christmas Day lunch, but have only to look forward to being catered for.

Shopping, presents, food prep', shopping, exchanging incorrect presents, further purchasing etc, it all comes down to tomorrow.

Of course, today actually marks Christmas itself, as opposed to the season of Advent, which is where the shops purposely mis-sell the whole notion that "presents = happiness and love".

It ain't true!

My picture today is the front of a Christmas card I received from one of the pupils that I work with.

I think it's rather beautiful.

ps; don't forget to leave the mince pie, milk and carrot out!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

"There's no room at the inn!"

We arrived at the Wintershall estate yesterday afternoon, nearly an hour too early for the 'show'. It was bitingly cold. We parked in a field and hiked up a steep, muddy hill where we were informed that approximately 600 people were expected to turn up.

We drank hot chocolate, stamped our feet and generally tried to keep warm until the proceedings began.

And then, as the sky had turned from orange to red to black, a single powerful spotlight picked out the two actors approximately 3 to 400 hundred yards away, one sitting on a donkey, as they and roughly 30 other actors recreated the story of the nativity.

I'll say no more, other than go and see it, however cold it gets.

It was spellbinding.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Please put a penny in the old man's hat ..."

Well, I finally decided to get my sorry-good-for-nothing butt up into the attic and haul down the boxes of decorations, including our fabulous tree. Our pretend 'fir' is on it's 6th year and it still looks terrific.

Yes, yes, I'm sure for some of you that "you can't beat the smell of a real tree" and for those of you who think that "you can so tell a real tree from a pretend one", let me tell you something; you can't!

At least, not this one.

Clever us bought it a couple of nights before Christmas when Joseph was just a year old and good ol' Homebase had done their trick of reducing the reduced.

Was £100 (crossed out).

Now £80 (crossed out)

Now £60 (also crossed out!)

20% off day £48 (errr... not crossed out).

We figured it would pay for itself in just two years and it is serving it's purpose beautifully. 7ft of extremely realistic Christmas tree.

Joseph, Annabel and myself constructed it before the two of them decorated it by themselves (with M overseeing proceedings).

As I felt ever so slightly redundant, I sat back in our old Parker Knoll, sipping a glass of red whilst thumbing through the Christmas edition of the Radio Times.

Old age here I come!!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"When your world is full of strange arrangements ..."

"How many times do I have to say it, if you wake up early, please don't wake Mummy or me. Either go back to sleep or just play quietly or read, ok?"

The old saying "in one ear and out the other" is wholly appropriate here and many a weekend lie in has been cut horribly short by this request being entirely ignored. One can only moan so much however, for this is the choice a parent has made; this is the path they have chosen! Of course, you don't know it is non-negotiable until it's too late, which is a bit of a bummer!

However, on very rare occasions, the above saying must register somewhere deep in a child's psyche 'cos you roll over, look at the clock and realise you've slept in until 8.15am (yes, that is a lie in!).

Of course, then, your worry button kicks in because everything is so ..... quiet! And so you find yourself tip-toe-ing down the landing, listening out for signs of life (you can hear nothing), looking into one bedroom, then the next, then the bathroom, before arriving at the 'back' bedroom and, peering through the crack of the door, you see both your children playing together, talking quietly but happily, co-operating with each other with the task in hand and, trying to avoid disrupting their play (and feeling slightly guilty at wondering what they might really be up to), you turn and make your way to the bathroom.

Too late - they've heard you and out they come, first to say good morning then to run off down the landing to see their Mama.

Naturally, you have to satisfy your curiosity and take a peak at what they were making.

A heart made from Crazy Bones.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

"It's only a Gastropub ..."

Repeat: "It's only a Gastropub".

These were the words I read on a food blog written by the very entertaining Bellaphon, to whom I have made reference several times on my own pages here. Otherwise known as "Fat Les" (his choosing, not mine), he has since ceased writing about food owing to the fact that he has "lost his sense of smell". Personally I think it's because he started smoking again and thus, sadly, his palate's sensitivity has gone walkabout, but I, like many, live in hope that he feels inspired enough to pack in the dreaded weed, go out to restaurants again, eat vast quantities of rich food and then sit down at his keyboard to tell the likes of me what he thought about it.

It was a procedure exactly like this which has prompted me to tell you about my visit to a place I have been meaning to sample, purely on the basis of a rave review I read by Fat Les, for the best part of 8 months. Several failed attempts at securing a table later, I received the text message I had been waiting for; your reservation for 2 is confirmed at;

Harwood Arms in Fulham.

Joseph and Annabel were having a "sleepover" at my parents, so the wonderful M and myself treated ourselves to an evening out. We took good old public transport (just like old times) so I could push the boat out, should the ale or wine list take my fancy (which they did).

Apart from some extremely loud and drunk King's Road types (who left meekly when they smashed an over-the-bar lamp shade), the ambience was just perfect. A small-ish bar adjoining an even smaller-ish restaurant area and the staff were extremely laid back and friendly.

Did we want a drink? Yes please, a pint of Wandle ale for me (local, you see?) and a Bloody Mary for M which, considering she doesn't drink, like, ever, gives you some idea of how welcoming and relaxing the place is!

We drank, we chatted, we ate the warm home made bread and I asked if I could have one of their famous venison scotch eggs which-was-amazing!!!!. (I should at this point highlight the fact that I opted not to take my camera as I have become something of a bore when it comes to snapping my food. It is for this reason that I will provide you with a link to Bellaphon's review of the place, complete with pic's, shortly).

Anyway, our choice's of food went something like this.

Our starters;

Me: (after the scotch egg) Poached salmon with sea purslane, fresh apple, horseradish cream and toast.

M: Half dozen Hereford snails with oxtail braised in stout, parsley crumbs and bone marrow.

Main course;

Me: Whole rabbit leg stewed in cider and mustard with smoked bacon, prunes and Swiss chard.

M: Roast pheasant breast and green peppercorn sausage with pearl barley, butternut squash and black cabbage.

Following thses exquisite courses, we were all set for Bramley apple doughnuts and cheese's but alas, our stomach's were full. We made do (did I just say "made do"???) with two scoops of clementine sorbet which was just amazing.

It wasn't the kind of place that we would eat at regularly - whilst it wasn't horribly expensive, it wasn't 'everyday' eating prices either. We have spent much of today reminding ourselves how nice it was and how we must go again. I think that spending the following day reminding yourself about your meal is a pretty good indicator to how much we enjoyed ourselves.

Our terrific food, the walk back to Fulham which was buzzing with people just heading out as we headed home, Christmas lights twinkling, the slightly hypnotic bus ride, leaving behind the crisp, cold night air as we walked into our warm home, all added to the special-ness of the evening.

The fact that we discussed our children for most of the evening is neither here nor there!!

I would like to say a big thank you to Fat Les (there's nothing "fat" about him, by the way!) for bringing my attention to the Harwood Arms in the first place.

Without him, I would never have heard about it, let alone gone to try it.

I reckon if I get a petition going, he might pack in the fags, get his taste buds back into shape and get out there again, giving us points and tips as to where to eat.

Having said that, he did give the South West of London a bit of a wide berth so I may have to get a different petition going about that one!

But for now, thanks Les. Thanks a lot.

Hope the shop is busy!

Come back soon!!?!

(Check out his review here)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Anger management police? Moi??

Blackadder: "Do you know what 'irony' is Baldrick?"

Baldrick: "Yeah, it's like goldy or silvery, only it's made out of iron!"

This was the terrific exchange that went through my mind this morning when the headteacher came to thank me for talking to a pupil who was extremely upset and was finding it almost impossible to control his temper. She ended the conversation by saying that I could be the school's Anger Management Police and should be called upon whenever needed.

It was all tongue in cheek of course, but the fact that it was being suggested, even in jest, prompted the irony comparison.

You see, it has been known for me to lose my own temper once or-half-a-million times in the course of my lifetime.

Heh heh, I know ..... I know ..... hard to believe but unfortunately, true.

As a general rule, I am most short tempered with myself. Having said that, if I really wanted to, I could draw you up a list of things that have pushed me past boiling point, often quite ridiculous. To do that, however, would risk you thinking badly of me (which I simply couldn't bear) so we'll forget all about that, thank you very much!

Talking of losing one's temper, I want you to consider two points.

Firstly, why is it that when you see an everyday car (including your own) getting a parking ticket, you think that traffic wardens are without heart or humour, but when you see a SuperCar getting ticketed, it's strangely satisfying? Or is it just spiteful old me??

Secondly, what do people who drive SuperCars do when they see they've been given a parking ticket? Do they freak out and start frothing at the mouth or do they simply smile, remind themselves of how little it will impact on their bank balance and drive off at terrific speed?

I sure wouldn't mind finding out for myself!!