Monthly Archives: December 2015

I was at a small girly gathering the week before Christmas, and conversation turned, as it increasingly does, to the trials and tribulations of our lives.  And it struck me, that, good as such bonding undoubtedly is for us, also good would be to close the year with something more positive –  a summation of all the good things I’ve learned.


The only way is down: Santa Maria, looking down on Las Palmas, Gran Canaria


For example,  I’ve learned that I’m braver than I realised. Despite my pedigree – former biker, driver of trucks, style-free skier – I
find going downhill on a pushbike extremely scary. But back in January, atop the highest point of Gran Canaria, knees- a-knocking, I  pushed off on my pushbike, and surprised myself greatly, by returning to sea level quite fast.

That ‘quite’ is key. I still have a long way to go. But also key  – and I think this is true for so many things – has been to realise just how far I’ve come.

I’ve learned that we’re allowed to pronounce quinoa (the gloopy grain-mutant-weirdiness formerly known as ‘keen wah’) as the prole-friendly  ‘quin – oh –ah’ after all. James Martin said so. So it must be true.

I’ve learned that if you post everything that niggles you with the hashtag #firstworldproblems it makes them funny, yes, but also acts as a reminder that, actually, you should shut up, and crack on.

I’ve learned some new French. Je Suis Charlie. Bataclan. I’ve resolved to learn more.

I’ve learned to let television go. Not so much in terms of watching, but of trouncing  television tyranny, by hearing “but you absolutely must watch”, and  “you cannot possibly miss”, then accidentally-probably-on-purpose forgetting to set the planner. It’s incredibly freeing.

I’ve learned that it’s possible to like tomatoes.

Astonishingly (for me, if not for everyone) I’ve learned that I can still be transported by fiction, after several years of beginning to accept as inevitable that I‘d be finishing barely half the books I bought.  (And, yes, I do see the irony.)  I remember my dad saying to me once that he’d outgrown his beloved Sci-Fi (saying he was too old, too jaded, too lacking, now, in wonder)and was lately beginning to suspect the same might be true of me generally.

This year, however (unashamedly on account of Aidan Turner) I bought the first Poldark  book – Ross – then the second – Demelza –  then the third, and the fourth and the fifth. A dozen later, I was reborn and back in the game. I have read an astonishing amount of brilliant books this year.

I’ve learned that an ereader with a light is a joy. And that insomnia doesn’t have to be a negative.

And that the very best way to find books which transport you is to ask friends what they’ve loved, every time.

I’ve been on a speed awareness course, and it did raise my awareness. I have been driving much more thoughtfully ever since.

I’ve also learned that as soon as you say ‘I’ve been on a speed awareness course’ it turns out all sorts of other people have too,  but had  previously neglected to mention it.  Which says a lot about how, increasingly, we feel about speeding. Which would appear to be ‘ashamed’. Which is good.

Sadly, I’ve also learned that in every speed awareness course you go on, there will be one person – invariably a man – who is a dick.

I wrote a novel this year from the viewpoint of a cat, so I’ve learned that adult anthropomorphism can be surprisingly joyful.

I’ve learned that it pays to keep an open mind. I thought I’d learned that, while a fan of adult anthropomorphism (obviously) I wasn’t one of adult ‘stress-relieving’ colouring books. That, as an ‘artist’ (how tragic) I could get nothing from them. That they were a niche idea (REALLY?), which I wasn’t buying into, chiefly because I saw it as a piece of cynical, greedy marketeering – peddled as a must-have for the stressed (and the gullible),  so the CEOs of various publishers could upgrade their yachts.

I was wrong. At that same girly gathering I was bought one. By a dear friend. Very thoughtfully. With love.

And it’s a thing of great beauty.  And I will do some colouring. Because, a thing bought with love is a thing to be treasured.

My bad, then. Which is surely what learning is all about.

Happy Twixtmas. (Or Christween, or Christwix,  as Pete has it.)

See you all in the New Year. xx

First published in The Western Mail Weekend magazine, 26th Dec 2015

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According to Jo March, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without any presents. And to some extent, the heroine of Little Women is right. But for the CEO of Festive Catering Services Plc (not so much ‘little women’ as ‘women with way too little time’) it’s not so much the presents, but the presence, from early December, of a robust and comprehensive to-do list.
Or is it? I’m at the Xmas Epicenter once again this year and you know what? It occurs to me that I’ve been doing it all wrong all these years – experience has finally taught me that what I really need is a to-don’t list.
I must not, for example, buy any comestible that will still be knocking around the living room come February. String bags of mixed unshelled nuts. Tins of Quality Street, Cadbury’s Heroes or Celebrations. Trays of crystallised fruit. Piccalilli. Pickled red cabbage. Eat-Me dates. In fact anything bought whimsically, while in some weird seasonal fugue, that suggests whatever we ate for Christmas in the late 1960s is essential, but that, bar me, no-one in my family actually eats.
By the same token I will not buy an enormous Christmas pudding, just for the opportunity of topping it with a holly sprig and creating an instagram-friendly conflagration. Because, bar me again, no-one in my family eats them either.
I will not be seduced by the promises of the batch-bake-and-freeze lobby. A long-time folly of mine, the whole business of BBAF (which should be re-labelled FAFF) is much over-rated way to spend time. Sure, it’s great if you a) have time and b) wish to spend it in a cloud of flour in your kitchen, listening to ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas’, all alone. And for what? So you can spend more time relaxing with friends and family, as in countless twinkling photographs in lifestyle magazines, showing immaculately groomed women in knee-length velvet frocks, clutching sherry and looking smug, having BBAFed. Newsflash. These women do not exist. In reality, you will still be in a fug, cooking lunch, no matter how many dozen mince pies you’ve knocked out. (Also see ‘come February’ above.)
I will not assume that, after a couple of swift ones in the pub, an array of pre-prepared ‘festive nibbles’, and a carb-heavy four course late afternoon lunch, that my house-guests are going to require a full cheeseboard, six types of pate, three slices of thick-cut Wiltshire ham, home-made chutney, a bunch of grapes, some oaty biscuits, a head of celery, and a warm mince pie apiece, topped with brandy cream. Unless they wish/I wish them (it’s been known) to go to an early grave, that is. Which they can do just as easily via the ingestion of chocolate that will otherwise still be knocking around come February.
I will not see Harvey’s Bristol Cream either as essential or essentially non-alcoholic any more.
I shall redefine brunch. Because it’s all in the designation, isn’t it? Previously, in our house, brunch was the festive spread designed to a) fill the gap between dawn selection boxes and my frankly slovenly 5 pm Christmas lunch, and b) my once-a-year opportunity to introduce bonkers foodstuffs into the boring breakfast menu, such as cranberry and walnut bread, artisan chipolatas, pomegranate champagne cocktails, mini pain au chocolates, kumquat preserve, and rillettes du porc. This year, brunch will comprise toast, eaten late, standing up. Which was what everyone was hoping for in the first place.
I shall not buy sprouts on frigging stalks.
I shall not do anything whatsoever with giblets. We’ve all got the one friend who blanches at the word ‘Bisto’. And we love them, we do, despite this odd thing women have of accepting the myth that it’s somehow morally reprehensible not to at least make a stab at it. However, this year, despite decades of being told just how INCREDIBLY EASY it is to make VASTLY SUPERIOR homemade gravy, I won’t. End of.
I shall rein in my impulse to over-cater. The phrase ‘I’ll get a bigger (whatever it is) so we have enough left for Boxing Day’, will have no further place in my life.
By the same token, the phrase ‘no, really, no need, I think I have everything sorted’ will not pass my lips from this day forth. It will be replaced (yes it will) by ‘yes, thanks, yes, we DO need, any help/victuals/trifles would be massively appreciated’.
Though if I manage to tick that one, it will be a bloody miracle.

First published in the Western Mail Weekend magazine 5th December 2015

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