Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Few Wee Predictions for 2012: A Baker's Dozen

It's as predictable as the papers and broadcasters running reviews of the year. Or magazines publishing detox diets on Jan 1 and binini diets in May.  Yes, it's papers and broadcasters running their predictions for the New Year.

Here are mine:

1) The Olympics will take place in London (what? You didn't know?)
2) There will be a kerfuffle about: tickets / someone missing their race because of public transport /  the Danny Boyle opening ceremony divides the nation / why didn't we win more medals on home turf / did Boris make a fool of himself, and, last but not least, phew! A big success!
3) The Vulcan bomber returns to the flypast for the Queen's diamond jubilee  (Concorde would be even better)
4) Everyone gets fed up with reading / watching Charles Dickens
5) Jennifer Aniston splits up with Louis Theroux  (oops, wrong Theroux)
6) Kate and William anounce baby news near the end of the year
7) Kate Moss parts company with latest husband
8) Spurs win the Premiership (COYS!)
9) UK bounces back with economic growth of a full 1% !!
10) John Galliano pops up somewhere with a high profile new job (well if Gerald Ronson can get a New year's Honour......)
And in the vein of (8), wild optimism outweighing likely reality:
12) David Bowie makes triumphant comeback  (yay!)
13) More baby news, this time for Mr and Mrs Panda of Edinburgh Zoo

Saturday, December 24, 2011

David Bowie gift wrapped for you this Christmas

Apart from the scourge of Christmas songs we don't want to hear ("Stop the Cavalry" and "Mistletoe & Wine" in my case) this is a fantastic time of the year. The long holiday always feels well deserved after a hard year. So put your feet up, put a paper hat on your head and enjoy a big scooner of sherry.

My Christmas gift to you all is the remarkable footage found by a BBC cameraman of David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars in 1973 on Top of the Pops.

The BBC wiped all their tapes routinely, to save money. So much of the TOTPs archive was lost. Miraculously, a cameraman recorded this footage for himself, and recently found it in his attic. Marvel at how wonderful the band is. Playing live, with no backing tracks. Amazing. No wonder I lost my heart to Mr Bowie when I was just 11 after seeing his mesmerising performance of Starman on TOTPs.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Traditions: Part Two

Buche de Noel
Yesterday we looked at the origins of some of our Christmas traditions. Today we look at how our European neighbours celebrate. Christmas Eve is often the big day.

In Finland, Christmas Eve is the traditional time to set up the Christmas tree and it's also traditional to visit the sauna and for families to listen to a broadcast of the national 'Peace of Christmas' on the radio. Christmas Dinner generally consists of a main dish of boiled codfish that is snowy and fluffy in appearance, served with cream sauce and boiled potatoes.

Christmas in France is called Noel, from the phrase 'les bonnes nouvelles,' or 'the good news,' which refers to the gospel. On Christmas Eve, cathedrals and churches are beautifully lit and filled with the sounds of Christmas carols, ringing church bells and carillons. The tradition among children is to put their shoes by the fireplace for Pere Noel or le petit Jesus to fill them with gifts. In northern France, as I mentioned yesterday, St Nicholas brings presents on December 6.

Most French homes will have a Nativity scene on display during the season. In Southern France, some people will burn a log in their home from Christmas Eve until New Years Day, which comes out of a farming tradition of using the log for good luck in the coming harvest.

The French also make a traditional cake called the buche de Noel, or Christmas Log, shaped like a Yule log. It is part of a late supper called le reveillon held after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
In Germany everything gets going on December 6. It's often the day when spiced cakes and cookies are baked - "Lebkuchen", and gifts and decorations made. Little dolls of fruit are traditional Christmas toys. Germans also make beautiful gingerbread houses.

December 6 is Nikolaustag, St. Claus day. A shoe or boot is left outside the door on Dec.5 and the next morning you find presents (if you were a good) or a rod (if you were bad). (Does anyone ever get given a rod?!).

The Christmas Eve dinner menu in Germany traditionally comprises of dishes such as suckling pig, white sausage, macaroni salad, "reisbrei" (a sweet cinnamon) and many regional dishes. Some people will feast on carp. The Christmas Eve is popularly called here as "Dickbauch" (meaning "fat stomach") because of the myth that those who do not eat well on Christmas Eve will be haunted by demons during the night. So everyone tries to stuff their belly to the fullest on this day.

The feasting continues on Christmas Day with a banquet being held on this day. Traditional Christmas dishes consist of plump roast goose, "Christstollen" (long bread loaves stuffed with nuts, raisins, citron and dried fruit), "Lebkuchen" (spice bars), marzipan, and "Dresden Stollen" ( a moist, heavy bread filled with fruit). And, strange but true: it's a German tradition to watch a short subtitled British film called "Dinner for Two." It's hardly known over here. But the Germans find it hilarious.
Frankfurt Christnmas market

Here in the UK, it's traditional to go to church at midnight on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, presents are opened around the tree either in the morning, or, if you're the royal family, at supper time. Lunch is roast turkey with all the trimmings followed by Christmas pudding with rum butter or clotted cream. Family games are played in the afternoon, or maybe a bracing walk taken. A few hours later the feasting resumes with cold turkey sandwiches, cheeses, pork pie, mince pies and trifle.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Traditions: Part One

Since I started this blog in 2006, I've written quite a few posts about Christmas. There was the one about my own family's traditions, the First World War Christmas Day football match, quite a few about Christmas TV and politicians' messages, but nothing, I noted, about the origins of Christmas. Why do we have Boxing Day? Why do we set fire to a Christmas pudding? Without further ado, here is the first in a two-part posting, the Curious round-up of why we do some of the things we do.

Setting fire to the Christmas pudding
Before Christianity and when we were all pagans, there were winter festivals around this time and the Festival of Fire was common. Our tradition of igniting the Christmas pudding hark back to those times.

Christmas stockings
According to legend, a kindly nobleman grew despondent over the death of his beloved wife and foolishly squandered his fortune. This left his three young daughters without dowries and thus facing a life of spinsterhood.

The generous St. Nicholas, hearing of the girls' plight, set forth to help. Wishing to remain anonymous, he rode his white horse by the nobleman's house and threw three small pouches of gold coins down the chimney where they were fortuitously captured by the stockings the young women had hung by the fireplace to dry. 
St Nicholas in the 4th century was the original "Santa Claus". Our image of the jovial white bearded gentleman in red is courtesy of Coca Cola and their ads in the 1930s. But the origin of Santa Claus began with Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey. By all accounts St. Nicholas was a generous man, particularly devoted to children. When I was in Poland recently, staff were being given gifts on December 6. In many European countries this is the day when St Nicholas delivers sweets and toys.

Christmas Cards
Sir Henry Cole is credited with creating the first real Christmas card. The first director of London's Victoria and Albert Museum, Sir Henry found himself too busy in the Christmas season of 1843 to compose individual Christmas greetings for his friends.

He commissioned artist John Calcott Horsley for the illustration. The card featured three panels, with the centre panel depicting a family enjoying Christmas festivities and the card was inscribed with the message "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You."

Christmas Tree
The idea of a decorated tree in the home was started by the Romans many centuries ago for the festival of Saturnalia. Sometimes they put 12 candles on the tree, one for each month. Gradually the practise of decorating a tree with ornaments and lighted candles spread across Northern Europe and into Scandinavia. Austria is said to have had its first tree in 1816 when Princess Henrietta set one up in Vienna. In 1840 Princess Helena of Meckleburg brought the idea to Paris. In England it has always been a custom to decorate an evergreen garland called a ‘kissing bush’, but in 1841 Prince Albert, Consort to Queen Victoria, introduced a tree decorated with candles, tinsel, and ornaments as part of the Christmas celebrations at Windsor Castle. After that, the Christmas tree soon became an English tradition.

Boxing Day
This is a uniquely British one and we get a 2nd day off! Boxing Day takes its name from the ancient practice of opening boxes that contained money given to those who had given their service during the year. It was also the day when alms boxes, placed in churches on Christmas Day, were opened. The money was then given to the priest or used to help the poor and needy. Another name for Boxing Day used to be Offering Day.

The Queen's Message
The first Christmas Broadcast was delivered by George V in 1932 and since then has evolved into an important part of the Christmas Day celebrations for many in Britain and around the world.

Tomorrow: Learn about how our neighbours in Europe spend Christmas


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Items of Desire #1: Monty Don's shed

It may seem a strange thing to lust after, but I am very covetous of TV gardener Monty Don's shed.
Looking at some of the gardening community sites, I'm not the only one  (although Monty himself usually comes into the lust equation there).

His shed is large and spacious, with his tools neatly hanging on hooks. He's got lighting and, the thing I most envy, a four sided box from which he scoops his compost mix for potting up (you can just see it, in the corner of his worktop, below).

A shed like that seemed a distant dream.

Our shed is a a weird structure that I called "the haunted house" because the door was so rotten a huge hole had developed and any passing fox (or worst) could kip down among the tools, paint cans, old coffee tables, bike and other mildewy items.  Unlike a normal shed, the previous owners built it on a concrete base and it's made of bricks with a flat corrugated plastic roof.

The roof began to bow under the weight of leaves from next door's leylandii. The shed was taking in more water than the Titanic.

But now the shed has had a face lift. We have had a new roof and the window frames and door replaced. It looks quite cute! Phase 2 will see a power supply (J has already installed a consumer unit in the garage) and the construction of a worktop and compost mixing box, just like Monty's. I've got an envelope full of seeds sent by my mum, and this spring I fully expect to be out there potting up. Happy times!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Who needs the BAFTAS or the Emmys? These are the awards to win.....

Ahead of the nationals and gossip mags with their "reviews of the year," here is my Yuletide celebration of the naff and the triumphant. Brace yourself for this year's Curious Girl awards!

The "enough already" award for over exposure
Pippa Middleton. Am I the only one who's fed up with hearing about the saintly bottom? And massive advances for her book about party tips. I blame the Middletons for spoiling children's parties by making parents feel guilty about not having the latest table decorations and the showiest party bags.

Most cynical use of media
I'm not sure who Kim Kardashian is: I believe she's a reality "star" in the US and her family all have names beginning with K. Predictably she married someone whose name began with K, got lots of wonga in the downmarket gossip mags and then split up with him. We haven't seen such a cynical use of the media since Jordan married Alex Reid.

Top Chap
Gareth Malone. What he does with dispirited communities and disenfranchised military wives has to be seen to be believed. He is a tonic for the nation! Let's all sing a song in his honour. I'd like Mr Malone to tackle care homes next. I heard about a women's choir in the north who go round care homes teaching the staff how to sing without embarrassment to the residents. Those with dementia often still remember songs long after they have lost all other memory.

Top Bird
Kate Middleton. I admit I wasn't won over until the wedding. I thought of her as "Waity Katie." But she has conducted herself immaculately since the wedding. Ignore the occasional carping about your eyeliner and "too long" hair. The harridans are just jealous!

Biggest disappointment of the year
Mary Portas at House of Fraser. She may have wanted to offer the over 50's better service and a better choice of fashion, but the clothes fell short of the mark. Some nasty fabrics and shapeless sacks. Mary's mistake was imaging that her peers are all willowy and tall like her. Gok Wan may be naff, but he understands how to flatter a woman's shape.

"It'll Never Last" award for the relationship doomed to failure
1) Elizabeth Hurley and Shane Warne
2) Jason Orange and Catherine Tate

"Time to keep Schtum" award, given to those who talk too much
1) Liz Jones, the sad, pitiable Daily Mail writer who cheerfully chronicles how she can't get on with anyone.
2) Esther Rantzen, who constantly writes about her loneliness. OK, she might be lonely, but she enjoys good health, she has family and she isn't short of a bob or two. "Count your blessings" springs to mind.

Slimeball of the Year Award
This one is always fiercely competitive. So many men to choose from! The loathsome misogynists Jeremy Clarkson or Rod Liddle. The slippery and self righteous Julian Assange.The shameful way that Ashton Kutcher humiliated Demi Moore. The low life John Terry, whose crime is that he doesn't even realise how awful his behaviour is. Quite a few senior clerics in the Catholic Church, frankly deserve this award for not dealing with child abuse which STILL happens. But this year it goes to Dominique Strauss Kahn, who thinks it's OK now to lament his fall from grace in terms which suggest we over exaggerated the vile predatory nature of the man. 

"Consign to the dustbin" award
The X Factor.  In its early stages the show cynically humiliates people  - those with learning difficulties, the obese, the tone deaf - chosen by the producers to "amuse" us, like a Victorian bear baiting tournament.  Then judges who are ill equipped to make any serious judgments on musical talent (except Louis Walsh) parade their outfits and ruin the dreams of many.

Rocket. This revolting leaf finds its way into salads the world over, ruining everything. An end to it!

The It Took Us Years To Get Bruce Forsyth Knighted, Now Let's Do It For.....
Robin Gibb. Now. The man deserves it!

Now dear reader, what about your awards? Who have I missed?
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