Friday, December 30, 2011

DSC_0074 [ps] - And the Snow PuffinOnce upon a time in a land far, far away the sky did not fall. This did not stop my mother, who had predicted such, from finding other things to complain about.

And so it came to pass (why is it I can only write by borrowing, aping, mocking the [trad]? And why am I stuck on zeugmas, echoes, lists?) that the depleted family went merrily, if 7-hours in a car with Folk Does Christmas* can be so described, to deepest, darkest Scotland (ok, so it was the Lowlands, so not so deep, and being west of here got dark at gone four, except the counter to that is it was still dark at eight the next morning).

* If this is an actual album I apologise. Think twiddle-dums, croaky singing and tabors. Ok, so there was also the sublime sound of prepubescent boys in appropriately grand venues, except I was in the back and Once in Royal David's solo...

Hang on, isn't royal David's city Jerusalem? *fact checks, so Googles, ends up on Wikipedia, discovers that he came from Bethlehem, although the City of David is in Jerusalem, and then gets distracted by wondering how an uncle ended up with the combination of names that he has, and then ends up getting further distracted by inbreeding (seriously, you married one cousin, then her sister, oh and a couple of other relatives along the way? The past: they do things differently there)*

Anyway, so we drove up, by which I mean I sat in the back, unable to hear and being assumed to be asleep, so dropped from the driving roster and we got there in daylight, which is unheard of for us going anywhere anywhere near Christmas.

And then came baking, and beating, and rolling, and emergency marzipan (only my mother would decide that making marzipan fruits is a good last minute activity. Sorry about the table by the way).

It's been years since I made marzipan fruits, and by fruits I mean carrots, owls, penguins, puffins, a pumpkin and a rabbit. Turns out that dilute Dr Oetker's red food colouring (with handy green top, complete with green fastening ring, so it must have been like that when it left the shop. The green had a red one too) is orange, not pink. Hence the baby Battenbergs went a bit wrong, and the presence of carrots, along with the tangerines.

Oh, and the birds were meant to be snowmen, but having stuck chocolate vermicelli in longways for the eyes, the carrot for a nose on the first one made it look like a goose, and it spread from there.

I still think the clove dust (used, cut in half, for the apple stalks and the tangerine tops) used to speckle the bananas was a nice touch.

I can't think why we stopped making them, given the hours spent on fastidiousness that descended in foolishness.

Frisian, Dalmatian and zebra hills. Guess who stuck that down as a phrase to be included in the section about driving up, but forgot it. Fortunately, and unfortunately, the deep snow that had engulfed, er, GazumpedbyhistoryandahovelinBraveheartton, was gone by the time we got there, straggles left high on the hills (presumably burying the lonely goatherds).

So Christmas Eve was about not doing much, then doing much, then not doing much and watching Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake because I broke the television and got it stuck in the Anytime section (actually that might have been Christmas Eve eve, which would make it an impressively swift conversion from a house steeped in the footballing travails of Celtic to one besotted with the beguiling dance of beautiful men. And what's it say about me that I take "Oh, make yourself at home" to mean "get excited about ballet". Stereotypically Sassenach much?).

Anyway, so it was Christmas, and instead of porridge we find ourselves presented with a full Scottish for breakfast, because it'd not like we're going to have much for lunch (except, nominated chef, you haven't put the turkey in yet, and nor will you until the presents are opened, which being two families' worth will be a while, but fractionally before tea-time is traditional).

And then presents. Incoming this year were:
- A Lego digger, because Lego is traditional.
- A flavour thesaurus, presumably because I once put rosemary in bolognaise because it was one of the only herbs they had and thus the SIL, who isn't good with surprises, went hungry.
- Some socks (thank you, bro's ILs).
- A tie (thank you, mother, and yes, I do know it came free with the Telegraph).
- A chocolate bauble from Chococo.
- Some silicon fairy cake moulds.
- Some Olympic mascot sweets (because nothing says winning like sucking spilt steel, except perhaps the Olympic branded Great British Design Icons toys, such as Concorde, the Mini and a Routemaster bus, all still... oh).
- A laptop.
- A case for it which I really must check fits.
- A collection of Cadbury's bars in a box with a game on (text on a table in front of me demands reading).
- A mini skittles game.
- A swirling lilac candle-holder vase type thing.
- A jumper very like one I had with me, that a couple of days later nearly caused the giver to comment on the one I was wearing, before realising it wasn't the one they'd given me, because that one has huge buttons on the stand up collar, is darker and bluer and thus a bit less of a colour I can wear, has lot less wool and a lot more acrylic in it, oh and short arms and a bulky body. Is it wrong I saw it and thought "I can probably take it back"?

Guess which got used that day? Yep, the computer—to install AVG and tell McAfee to bugger off—and the Lego (see the Footloose tweet).

Later presents were:
- Street Photography Now, so a book that makes me ashamed for being so much a coward. That and recognise things from Flickr.
- Last year's winner of the Costa Coffee Biography award. Filed under huh, until I found it referenced in some copy of the Spectator someone had left in a loo, whereupon I realised that calling it the Costa Coffee award is a bit like calling the Grand National or the Boat Race solely by the name of the current sponsor.
- The winner of this year's Booker Prize.

My brother apologised for giving that group the advice that I like critically acclaimed books. I don't think he needs to, other than for making me aware that I have no idea what the current batch are.

Outgoing presents were:
- Earrings from the little girl at the market (my mother described a grown woman, and a gothy biker one at that, as such). For once I actually found a present my mother liked.
- A wooden backgammon set, because I saw it on the way back from the doctors, in a shop that was closing down, so it was cheap, and I liked it, and thought both my brother and I ought to know how to play. Turns out their chess set has backgammon on the back, but they hadn't brought it up, even though my brother was meant to, because it was too cumbersome to travel.
- Some star shaped pastry cutters, ideal for the Mary Berry fan who did astronomy.
- A rabbit cutter so my brother wouldn't feel left out (I must have explained the Christmas rabbits thing before, right?)
- A ready-to-hang print of the orchids one (a smaller print of the woods hangs in their hall, with the mount trimmed erratically to fit the frame).
- A ice cube tray in the style of Tetris (really I wanted this for myself).
- A DVD on loan until the SIL's copy of Rear Window gets returned (it's been years).
- Two small miscellaneous Lego minifigs because it is traditional (although I'm not sure I approve of Lego going down the football cards route. And I'm really not happy about the new ultra-girly Lego, with its sudden implication that Lego isn't already for girls).

And then came peeling, and watching the West Wing while cooking, and more peeling, and making bread sauce to the age-old family recipe (so bung it in the microwave), with not enough milk, because all the strange Scottish ILs had never heard of it (sauce not milk).

Then came lunch for ten, evening reception for more than double that, discovering that, yes, the chillies are quite hot, and that myriad relations quite like the "sweet like rock cake things", otherwise known as the ordered macaroons that didn't have enough egg in to start with and were overcooked because the oven light is orange.

And judging by the reaction to the marzipan I suspect some of them think I'm mad (and some quite approve).

The next day not much happened. There was Frozen Planet in HD on SkyPositive. I woke up to find David Attenborough had become Christopher Plummer and the nuns were about to sin.

The day after there was a grandmother's birthday, in a conservatory, with the door open, in place with laminated menus and glass over the tablecloths, and being greeted by one of the guests with comments about my father; the same one who one leaving struck out at the other great not-unmentionable-just-not-mentioned. Isn't it nice when the only times someone speaks to you they say things to which there is no decent reply? I don't think it was ill-meant, just deeply ill-considered, a bit like the person who sent the cheery Christmas card which on opening covers death mournfully. I know Channel 5 keep showing Ben Hur at the moment (it's my fault; I bought heavily reduced hot cross buns two days after Christmas), but Christmas is not really meant to be the one with the constant reminders, and expectations, of pain and suffering.

And so home, via the lee of hills (puddles were exploding, and the gantry matrix signs warning of high winds wobbling). It's odd sitting in the passenger seat seeing bits of bank fall into the river, on those parts were the banks were still above the river, and then having to watch the way the land surges and valleys twist to call "wind on" before the buffeting roll reassigns lanes. Then out into the long endlessness of England (I've just about learned that there is a fair bit beyond Birmingham, or even Manchester, but it's the way it goes on even after Lancaster), dire warnings of wind, which was less than we'd just been through, and then the warnings of congestion between two sets of junctions ahead. Of course, we met one and travelled with that to the next; you do get a good view from the bridge over the ship canal, especially if the handbrake's on.

And somewhere along the way we passed what may or may not have been the original accident, a sleek black limousine with stoved in front on the hard shoulder behind a hearse with a crumpled rear. Do you think they strapped the coffin to the roofrack on a police car or put it on the back of a tow-truck? Where exactly does one get an emergency hearse from?

No pictures malheureusement because I was driving at the time and explaining to my mother that you can just press the button and that'll probably work would have taken too long. That and she was too busy tapping along to Swedish House Mafia (it was on Radio 1 because we needed the radio for the traffic reports, and Radio 4 had had You and Yours on, and the presets were buggered by nothing being where it was last time, and so it came to pass that my mother drove through the dark short-cut dog-legs of Berkshire tapping the accelerator in time to Ke$ha, having discovered Heart's frequency was most stable. This is the same woman who doesn't really like modern music, and she considers the Jackson Five modern).

This seems very short for the traditional Christmas write up, though I suppose the other bits either aren't happening this year, or were done in passing, with two of the usual four present.

Anyway, I'm off to eat yet more chocolate; this year's selection includes Cadbury's, Green and Black's, Paul A. Young and Chococo. So far the winner is Chococo's Prune and Armagnac, which was actually in somebody else's present but they kept giving them away (seriously? Diet or not it's Chococo), and I think my precise words were:
Yep, it is that one; it's definitely got alcohol in.
[Pause, then with surprise] Oh, this is nice.
[Long pause, then spoken through closed mouth] Shut up, I'm concentrating.
[Pause, then starts purring]


Merry belated to you.

Para 5 - first time I've encountered consecutive 'anywhere's in a sentence. I like that.

I've notice the Dr Oetker food colouring cap colour anomoly myself. I think it's deliberate so you end up going back to buy more. There's an older lady of my acquaintence who's slightly racist in that semi-amusing and mostly harmless older lady way, who doesn't buy Dr Oetker products on account of thinking of dirty German hands. Said company is therefore referred to as 'Dirty Dr Oetker' in our house.

I like how key present is listed eighth. A decent haul - good for you. Rather than leave unwanted presents hanging around I've already offloaded a couple of bags of junk this time around. Coming soon to a Cancer Research store near you (well, me).

Key present eighth? But I listed the Lego first.

And the nearest semi-amusing, slightly harmless lady here refers to it at Dr Oadeckers, because broken ligatures are confusing.
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