Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Seasonal cheer

Around the twenty third of December, I suddenly and mysteriously forget what day of the week it is and when the weekend is. I think this is brought on by a seasonal spate of churchgoing: more than you'd experience in a month of Sundays (ho ho ho).

Around December 27, suddenly the day of the week comes back, only to become lost once again in the confusion leading up to New Year's Eve.

Through a haze of post-holiday lethargy I'm going to try and explain the quirks of a British Christmas for any Polish readers still on board. Inexplicably, we are unable to reconcile a twelve course meal with the concept of 'fasting', even if one of the twelve courses involves eating a creature so horrible it has to be fished out of a paddling pool by a specially-armed Babcia. We just go all out and start on the mince pies. Generally, one goes out for a swift half on Christmas Eve (usually to someone's house, now that you have to pay to get into the pub on Wigilia), one drinks three gins and tonic, one totters over to Midnight Mass and one is somehow half an hour later singing 'Once in Royal David's City' all alone in a Very Quiet Church Indeed. Never mind: what's a quarter-tone between friends? (as our choirmaster said consolingly afterwards).
On Christmas day... hands up who remembered to interpret the Queen's Speech? Never mind, you can listen to her on YouTube, she has her own channel. It's not obsession, just a healthy work ethic. Recommended reading for 2009: Bonjour Paresse. In English.

Last year, I tried to capture on film the flambée-ing of the famous Xmas Pud. The technique of dousing in hot alcohol and setting alight is more commonly applied to light, fluffy desserts such as crêpes Suzette. What could be more logical than extending this to a stodgy kilo of currant-studded suet pudding?

But just to make it clear, the following pictures illustrate HOW TO and HOW ABSOLUTELY NOT TO:



Note the prudent match-lighting technique in the top picture.

Do not ON ANY ACCOUNT attempt to emulate the reckless fire-pouring method in the lower picture.

Kitchen cabinets nearly lost their melamine over this.

While we're on the subject of handy tips for Christmas, please exercise foresight in the giving of gifts. Be discerning in your choice of recipients when giving presents which may contain musical components.

They may look innocent. But Beware! These singing reindeer slippers May Seriously Confuse Your Dog.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

So here it is...

So. My friend runs this youth club.

And, sometimes, she asks me to help out.

You see... some kind donor gave them a karaoke machine...

... and then my friend bought it a Christmas CD...

"P.... can we have the mic now??"

Życzę wszystkim Wesołych Świąt!

Friday, 19 December 2008


Last night I dreamt I was in Poland, visiting the mountains.

I know that I must have been in Poland, visiting the mountains, because the only part I remember is being in the bus station office, trying to ask the time of the last bus back to Kraków.

My Polish had clearly suffered because I couldn't remember the word for 'last': I distinctly remember trying variations on później and skończony, but nothing fitted.

At six in the morning, the dog asked, noisily, to be let out.

I woke up, let her out, nodded as finally the search engine pushed 'ostatni' into my brain, and went back to sleep again.

I hope I got the case ending right.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Joy Ride

About ten years ago, having recently passed my driving test, I went on my first solo road trip. It was nothing exciting: just a couple of exits round the M25 and down to Cambridge for an open day. But it was enough to require a supply of Tesco all-day-breakfast sandwiches and big sheaf of A4 paper bearing mysterious legends in 24pt bold Times New Roman*, to the tune of:

'JUNCTION 27, M11'

(I wish I had retained the 'Keep Left' one: I still have trouble in car parks).

But that was ten years ago. This is the age of technology. Now, we all have Sat Nav!

Sally SatNav is a poor companion on a long car journey. When we were small, the voices coming from the dashboard used to read us Five on Mystery Moor or Asterix in Egypt. Now there's only one voice, and it says:

After Eight Hundred Yards ... Keep Right

(and what precisely is the point of that? After 800 yards, do nothing?)

Or, more commonly:

Turn around when possible.

No explanation, no 'never mind, we all make mistakes', just a flat, cold acknowledgement of your failure to follow even the most simple instructions. Somewhere, there'll be a setting that incorporates an electronic exasperated 'sigh' when you're trying to reverse into a parking space.
Worse still, it wakes you from a cosy snooze by beeping in your ear to signal a speed camera. Jolly uncivilised if you ask me.

But I think our Madame GPS is taking her own kind of revenge. Recently she has taken to sending us on detours down slip-roads and laybys, as a charming alternative to the main thoroughfare. Tired of cruising down Beauly high street? Why not take a turn through the car park?
Worse still is her total lack of advance warning. Imagine you are in the lighting box of a small theatre. All your lights have codes, and you need to push the right button at the right moment. But you won't just get a 'Lights NOW!', oh no: first you'll hear 'LXQ 15... stand by' and then, a moment later 'LXQ 15 ... GO!'

Not so with Sally SatNav.
Ease your mind out of the lighting box. Now you're cruising in your car through the Scottish borderlands at dusk. Stunning views all around; one or two nasty drops too. 'More or Less' is playing on Radio 4 and you want to know why Have I Got News For You were the only ones to get it right about the interest rate cut. You're not really concentrating.

Turn Left!

She has a sense of humour, you have to give her that.

Incidentally, does anyone have GPS in Polish? What do they say most? Let's have a Polish SatNav word of the day! (Makes a change from trzy razy Zywiec)

*Because we ahhhr from Sevenoaks daahrling.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Climate Change

Not everyone likes wind farms. I think they look quite dramatic, standing straight on the hilltop, with the setting sun behind them.

Some people say they take more energy to build than they produce. Some say they are an eyesore, and some hate the noise nuisance.

But what really, really gets my goat is when you drive towards rows and rows of them whirring away except for one in every six or seven that just isn't working.

And you can't even go up and flick it with your finger, or blow on it to start it up again.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Snow and power cuts

Classic Travels Without My Spaniel picture sequence including several wonky landscapes, one close up of either leaves or bugs, and one floor shot.

Monday, 1 December 2008

December 1

Right. Now you can start talking about Christmas.

What's different? Well, it's freezing (suddenly). The sun is shining (although it wasn't when I got up this morning). Work has started to ease off a bit. Classic FM* are now playing a Christmas carol every other song. Although since about mid-October they've been surreptitiously advertising John Rutter CDs, getting as far as 'What sweeter music shall...' before cutting the sound clip. Since about the same time, my brother has been asking me for a Christmas list. This basically means a list of CDs, DVDs or books that I might want so that he can pick one and buy it. The trouble is, I don't have any particular wish list at the moment. What I'd like to buy are party dresses and high heeled shoes for all those office Christmas parties that I will spectacularly fail to gatecrash. Which reminds me: what on earth do freelancers do about the office Christmas party, hmm?? Do we just all get together and go to the pub? What about karaoke, reindeer ears, warm cava and being groped by Gary from IT?

Where books are concerned, I'm desperate to get to Grant & Cutler (every language from Afrikaans to Zulu), but unfortunately they don't issue gift vouchers.

It's now getting too cold and wet to run outside, so I've been looking for alternative forms of indoor sport (except for that one: the Dalai Lama says it's bad for you).
These include: running upstairs for the phone; remote Strictly Come Dancing audience participation (best executed right in the field of vision of your fellow viewers) and fencing the dog. This last is largely ineffective, since the Other Dog tends to be unresponsive by day and hidden under the piano by night, while the Spaniel is game to start with but then gets over-excited, potters round in a circle, sniffs her tail and pees on the carpet. I wouldn't mind except that cleaning the carpet interrupts play and causes me to forget the score.

Wait! There's a Strictly Come Dancing section on Amazon! Let's see... 'Dance with Len Goodman', second-hand for £4.98! **

Hm. Christmas. Darkness, singing and pitching a tent in the north aisle of the church for some hardcore anglo-catholicism.

And then, new resolutions for the New Year. This time last year I made huge resolutions to Change Everything and Follow My Dreams. And now I'm still trying to steer things in the right direction and still trying to make it work and still not getting anywhere. What's the solution? I suspect there is none.

*The knob on the bathroom radio is stuck, ok?
**NB: any male member of my family or acquaintance purchasing this item will be subject to Never Being Spoken To Again. Which is a deterrent or an incentive, depending on how you look at it.