Friday 31 December 2021

Onwards, clutching the chocolate gingers


A mixture of town and country. Christmas has been bits of cycling about the place, a little shopping/ice-skating/eating out, much eating in and a light smattering of work. I haven't solved the chicken mystery yet, the neighbours' recycling proved fairly tricky to examine in the dark with the dog trying to investigate it all alongside me and get his nose loudly right into the bins. I have narrowed down the suspects though and feel we are closing in.

I had a bit of a blog scare a couple of days ago when I sat down to write a blog post. I suddenly couldn't log in. Tech failures make me very neurotic and cross and I immediately imagine the worst. What if I could never get back in and you didn't know where I'd gone and I couldn't get to you and you thought I'd just abandoned you??? For the record, I wouldn't do that, I would say things and not just disappear. 

The trouble involves an old email address which I no longer have and don't seem to be able to change and it is all terribly complicated and I don't really understand. Anyway, I finally found a rather tenuous way back in, but it feels fragile, as though I might suddenly find myself out in the cold again. Anyway, here for now.

I mostly wanted to stop by and say Happy New Year and I hope it is all wonderful and full of moments when you feel brilliant about life and that sort of thing. I am of course intending to be a much finer version of myself next year and accomplish All The Things. I don't have an exact list, but you know the sort of thing. I will just finish those chocolate gingers first though. I don't think anyone else likes them very much. That must have skipped my mind when I bought them and it means I am having to eat the whole box by myself.

Wishing you a really lovely 2022, CJ xx

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Solving a mystery

Thank you for all your Christmas tree suggestions and chocolate curl advice and commiserations. The littlest boy and I went on a jolly to my favourite garden centre and managed to find a lovely little blue spruce, Picea pungens 'Fat Albert'. We did of course buy it solely for the name. It was the last one there and not entirely symmetrical or indeed vertical, but we are easily pleased and the name made up for absolutely everything. 

It's in a pot, so we'll put it in the garden for the year and bring it in each December - Christmas tree problem solved. After we bought it I was delighted to see that Anna Greenland (Raymond Blanc's gardener) does the same thing and it works a treat. The fact that ours is only two and a half feet tall at present made the whole decoration thing fast and painless as well. I have to admit it is slightly underwhelming as you walk in the room, but again, Fat Albert.

I have been endeavouring to understand sporting things this week, not always entirely voluntarily. I have had test cricket explained to me in fairly minute detail (still none the wiser), football salaries from back in the day analysed and compared (£40 a week at the top level!) and I somehow also found myself trying to understand the Formula 1 race results from the other week. I have read the explanation of what happened three times now and I still don't exactly grasp it. To be honest, I'm still a bit shaky on the off-side rule. The interesting thing is that I don't care, and yet I would still like it not to be beyond me to understand. It was something about all the cars going round in circles and going past each other. If you could put everything that I don't like into a bottle and shake it up, you would pretty much end up with Formula 1 motor racing. I have decided to give it no more thought at all.

Instead, the dog and I have become amateur detectives and are solving a mystery. The other evening, I thought I saw a chicken drumstick in the street a couple of doors up. The dog thought he did too and a rather inelegant tug of war ensued. We went home and in the morning it was gone. The next evening, I stopped for a moment and suddenly realised the dog was trying to eat something. I couldn't really see what was going on in the dark and what was in his mouth, but he was trying desperately get something down his neck. Another tug of war, and I ended up with a huge piece of raw chicken, much to the dog's fury. Somewhere in the battle, a Tesco receipt floated past. I threw the chicken away, washed my hands eighteen times and started wondering what was going on.

The next morning, the Tesco receipt was still there. A clue! Someone had bought a packet of chicken thighs (empty carton later discovered in bin - see, real detecting), Karlsberg lager, garlic potatoes and Gruyere cheese. The plot thickened. I had no idea I had neighbours who would eat something as fancy as Gruyere. So the dog and I worked out that all we have to do is check the recycling boxes on Wednesday for the empties from the lager and a garlic potato tray and we will have a main suspect.

I am guessing that they are feeding the foxes, hopefully unadulterated meat, which I don't object to, although it is starting to be a bit of a free for all out there. There have been more huge pieces of chicken since and yesterday what looked like two big pork steaks. A cat was tucking in, until Bertie came looming round the corner to have a word. I have narrowed down my suspects and I will report back after recycling day.

Wishing you all a lovely winter solstice, I do love this season with its winter skies and bare trees and cosy homes and four o'clock sunsets. Wonderful. CJ xx

Tuesday 14 December 2021

Do not try this at home

Our town is inordinately proud of its Christmas lights, which are pretty much in a league of their own. Literally all of the colours, especially primary ones, very thick ropes of matt tinsel and some very striking shapes, all topped off with a giant Santa over the top of a very strange and ancient shop that I have never seen anyone in, ever, but that has been there since the dawn of time. I will try and take more photos if I can, it really is something to behold.

On the home front, there was a small snafu with the dishwasher. I consulted YouTube, which helpfully said things like, 'Open the chamber door. Clean the impeller from the litter. Move to a more spacious place. Turn the machine over the back and remove the bottom.' I got a man in, who sorted it in about two and a half minutes. I had to wait about two weeks for him to be available though, apparently business is brisk. 

The littlest boy made cheesecake in school cookery last week. He designed his own and somehow I ended up trying to make chocolate curls to go on the top. I consulted YouTube again. Honestly, I have no idea how I got through life at all before the advent of YouTube. GlutenFreeHabit had an absolutely wonderful video setting out the whole process, step by step. I didn't have a marble slab or an off-set spatula or a plastering trowel but I didn't let that put me off. I melted the chocolate and off we went.

It is best to say that it is not the sort of thing to attempt when you are in any sort of rush or in any way a tiny bit stressed or feeling irritable about anything. Suffice to say there was a big mess and I only had one very small half-curl at the end of it all. Nothing makes me crosser than when I can't instantly do something. GlutenFreeHabit had made it look so easy! And her curls were utter perfection. At the end, she actually says, 'And that's all there is to it!' I ended up with chocolate bits all over the shop and a level of rage that is usually only achieved by a substantial technological failure. And there somehow seemed to be a lot less chocolate at the end of it all. 

The littlest boy took in a tub of broken bits of chocolate anyway and gamely sprinkled them over the top of his cheesecake. The situation was entirely redeemed by the new deputy head saying it looked so nice it was what he would be having on Christmas day. I am reminding myself not to attempt anything so reckless ever again. 

In festive news, I have been agonising over the whole Christmas tree situation, as I do every year. Buy a tree so that we can all sit around and watch it slowly dry out and die before putting it out for the council recycling scheme? Buy a fake one at a far higher cost to the planet initially, but could keep it for ever? One in a pot? Obtain unwanted and unloved secondhand fake tree from Ebay or Freecycle - but might be pale pink or some other out-of-favour colour? A bunch of artistically arranged bare branches from the woods that I can return after it is all over? I tried talking it through with the middle child who was the one who wanted the tree, during which time it became apparent that he wanted nothing to do with the actual process of getting it. I had memorised some statistics on carbon footprints which I felt were fairly solid, but he is verbally very slippery and before long he had confused me as to what my figures actually referred to. 

The minute I suggested he come along on a trip to find a tree he started backing out of the entire project claiming not to be bothered at all. I said I felt I couldn't make him the only child around without a Christmas tree. He played it carefully, wanting to subtly guilt-trip me into tree provision but without any risk of being required to partake in any way. 

I think I have decided that I will go to a garden centre and see if they have one in a pot. If I throw in a hot chocolate the littlest boy will come too. I may be too late to bag one by now, people seem to have their trees up very early at the moment. They may be too pricey. I am picturing something rather lovely, in a sort of glaucous shade. But if a free pale pink tinsel tree comes my way I shall embrace it and frankly enjoy the collective familial horror.