12 Days of Tradition

12 Trads Blog

IT’S COMING PEOPLE! CHRISTMAS IS ON IT’S WAY! I don’t want to panic you or appear overly dramatic, but it cannot be denied. Halloween is over and done with, Bonfire Night is a distant memory and people are gearing up for the Big Ho Ho Ho. Shops are filling up with suspiciously smug customers who have already made a dent in their gift lists, fairy lights are popping up like festive moles all over the bloody place and I have already seen one child walking to school in a Santa hat. People are starting to get excited and there is a whiff of festivity in the air.

Honestly, I can’t say I’m enjoying to that much. I am one of those grouchy grinches who repeatedly insists that there are only 12 days of Christmas and not one of them is in November. I’ve already spent countless hours wordlessly screaming into the black void of Christmas music and I’ve had to haggle hard with some work colleagues to keep the festive radio station playing to a minimum (we’ve compromised on an hour a day until December 1st, though this has already been ignored and Tuesday was a whole day of Mariah Carey and Wizzard). I have also categorically refused to even touch the wrapping this year, but thankfully TMM has take my childish refusal with good grace and tackled the ever growing pile with a positive attitude and a healthy amount of recycled brown packaging paper. I have deigned to come from my lofty heights to make a couple of pompoms for decoration, but that’s it.

Look how cute these are. Though be aware, this is just a fraction. The whole left hand side of the living room is lost to the Present Pile now.

It is unavoidable though, and no matter how much I bury my head in the snow, the undeniable seasonal cheer is seeping in. Various Christmas adverts insist on thrusting themselves into my eye line despite the fact I never actually watch live TV anymore, and I’ve witnessed the Kevin the Carrot hysteria second hand. Apparently Aldi were forced to put a limit of no more than two carrot families per person (though god knows why anybody wants that many stuffed felt carrots, as they will undoubtedly end up in a cupboard or under the bed within two months before making their way forlornly to various charity shops/bins before this decade is out). I do have to admit to possibly encouraging the craze and agreeing to make a baby carrot toy for one of the girls at work, which in itself was a challenge. Never having crocheted before I feel maybe a carrot was a tad ambitious, but after 1 broken crochet hook, countless swear words and some near misses with tears of frustration, I was able to gift him as promised and apparently he is now much loved. To be honest I think he looks a little like he’s screaming, but as long as she’s happy with him, it’s all gravy.

It’s not a great photo, but I still can’t help but think he looks like a carrot version of The Scream. As long as someone loves him though.

It’s coming up to the time of festive traditions though, as people start to talk about their Christmas routines and everyone starts to fall into the same old patterns of preparing for the big day. We had the ultimate pleasure of taking Molly to the local Christmas Fair (one of my favourite events) and boy am I glad we don’t have to do that again for a few months. She tutted her way round the stalls complaining loudly about the lack of local people (despite the fact that it was the busiest I’d ever seen it), pushed in front of various other elderly people without any regard for social convention (though thankfully in her excitement she missed the Tombolo which really is more trouble than it’s worth) and spent a truly repulsive amount of money at the jam stall. She evilly eyed up the woman with the golden charity bucket, who despite being there every damn year is apparently a complete stranger (Molly insisted on repeatedly saying to her “I don’t know who you are”) and griped about the coffee being stone cold (but refused to let us get her a fresh cup). By the time we got her back to her house, both of the other couples that look after her had turned up (a fortuitous event that has never before happened). We all had to have photos and the she got completely overwhelmed and just shouted at everyone until we all went home. A truly festive afternoon.

I have heard of some rather more positive seasonal traditions though, which I think would be much nicer to adhere to (no offence to the local Christmas Fair, obvs). There are a lot of European and Scandinavian practices that have popped on my Facebook feed over the last few years that I would love to adopt. This year, a lot of people have been pointing me towards an Icelandic tradition that is part of a season called Jolabokflod (Jólabókaflóð) which roughly translates to “The Christmas Book Flood”. Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country and sells most of its books between September and November in preparation for the upcoming holiday. This has led to people exchanging books as presents on Christmas Eve and spending the rest of the night snuggled up reading them and snacking on festive foods. Obviously this speaks to me on a rather emotional level and TMM has already made the executive decision to appropriate this idea this year (I can’t say I’m too upset).

I’ve also seen articles relating to a movement in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where people purchase new coats and leave them tied around lamp posts and packed safely on benches for homeless people with notes tied to them that say “I am not lost! If you are stuck out in the cold, please take me to keep warm”. Austrians also like to help, and apparently buy extra Christmas trees to leave outside their houses to ensure the local wildlife has a nice festively themed haven. If these don’t warm your heart, I don’t know what will.

Denmark and Norway have given us Hygge, a massively on trend movement that thrives well in the wintery season. All about comfort and relaxation, it’s there to help away fight away the winter blues and seasonal low moods. It’s all about the aesthetic; including lots of heart shapes decorations (which will please my mum no end) earthy colours and natural textures – bringing in some much needed greenery inside for the holidays. If you’re looking for a cosy little Christmas, you don’t need much more than a little bit of Jolabokflod and Hygge (which sounds like a great law firm).

The last one I’ve seen recently which I thought was cute is a Nordic folklore about the Nisse/Tomte, which in very rudimentary terms is basically a Christmas goblin. Originating in pre-Christian times, it is a spirit that looks like a little gnome or gonk and is often linked specifically to a family or clan, thought to be of the farmer who originally cleared the land to live on. Believed to possibly be derived from Norse niðsi which translates “dear little relative”, they live in the homestead and act as a guardian. They will look after the family and animals and protect from misfortune, but are short tempered and easily offended – they will steal stuff or kill life stock and basically they will eff shiz up if you don’t treat them properly. However, over time their legends have evolved and they are now widely linked to Christmas. Their purpose and appearance has been heavily influenced by the commercialised ideas of Father Christmas and they now visit houses to deliver gifts to worthy souls. I like the notion of a little house spirit keeping an eye on things and enjoying the festivities as much as the next romantic.

Not to be a lefty snowflake (though I suppose it is the season after all) but I would like as much European influence this Christmas as possible. It’s a time for celebration and coming together (I feel the urge to burst into song) and with everything that’s going on elsewhere, I think it’s important to share our histories and traditions before they’re lost. And let’s face it, anything that keeps me in the mood has got to be worth it.

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Variations on a Theme

Theme

Well as promised, I can confirm that we Themed Hard (please notice the capitalisation) at the weekend in honour of the Halloween Holidays. The Scooby Doo idea was an undeniable success and I think you’ll all be pleased with our faithfulness to the original course material. We can proudly say that it’s not just the costumes that make it, but the overall effort and vigour with which we throw ourselves into the whole debacle. Most of you will have seen the images and videos on various social media platforms, however I’ve done a tiny montage below for those of you who haven’t (and because I do love a good montage).


I was quite chuffed to have only spent about £8 on my outfit overall (it’s handy when Velma actually is life and most of her wardrobe is items you already own), though I have to admit to being a tad concerned at how happy I was with the brown wig (I think I was basically just recreating my mum from the 80s). To be honest though, I think we all looked rather special in it. It was an excellent night overall; Wilson’s house was decorated beautifully (so much delightful Halloween bunting) and they plied us with homemade chicken tikka wraps, vegetable lasagne and gins of various flavours.

Considering how much I hate drama and the thought of being up on stage in front of people though, I bloody love dressing up. There’s something so childishly gleeful about wearing something you normally wouldn’t, or trying make up techniques you’ve seen on YouTube and fancy a bash at. I had a couple of memories come up on Facebook over the week detailing my previous struggles with make up and albums full of hilarious decorated drunken selfies, so it’s good to know that nothing’s changed.


I feel like my attempts have been slightly more successful this time round though, however it’s more than possible that’s due to the fact I haven’t actually got to pick one for a party.

This isn’t our first rodeo though. As a team, we have themed hard over the past few years. I like to think it runs in the family (early memories from my childhood include seeing my parents dressed up for the Rocky Horror Picture Show – my dad looks fantastic in a basque and heels you’ll be glad to know), and I’ve cultivated this ability in my friends.

Alice in Wonderland was possibly one of first themes that we really made the effort for. Granted we’d done similar gatherings prior to that (Mexican night was our first official foray into the world of fancy dress parties – mainly everyone had a paper print out poncho and culturally insensitive moustaches) but this was when we really started to pull our collective finger out. Woo let us all pile into her tiny flat dressed as the main cast (we had an Alice, the Red Queen, the Cheshire Cat, the March Hare, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and then Jonbles stuck a piece of paper to his hoodie that said “Eat Me” because tragically it took him a year or so to really get into the swing of things) and ply each other with dangerously strong cocktails (read – vodka and fruit juice) poured out of teapots. The whole night could really be summed up by the tag line “great costumes and bad ideas”; a couple of teapots down we were trying to cram two of us into a single pair of skiing salopets, which as I am sure you can summarise, ended terribly. Woo and I crashed to the floor in dramatic slow motion and although I didn’t come off too badly, I am pretty sure Woo’s knees were never the same again. TMM made a fabulous March Hare though he did insist on taking his shirt off and just wearing his waistcoat about ten minutes in.


*Side note – this is a recurring feature of both our fancy dress parties and indeed general life. TMM is reminiscent of a little boy; he often gets too hot too quickly and resorts to immediate stripping. At parties he usually limits himself to just his top, but at home it’s fair game and the other day I was in complete fits of hysteria when he stood, completely stripped to his boxers and then fell asleep upside down on the couch within a ten minute time frame.*


The joy of TMM’s chosen activity though is that it reveals his magical chest dimp (a curious little cream egg sized dip in his rib cage) and we all have to do shots from it – because why would you not. To be honest, we have tamed down a little in our old age and the chest shots have taken a slight downturn in regularity, but I think it’s more due to the fact we all struggle to kneel down as easily now. #rockandroll

We had a 1920’s poker night that similarly could be described as a party full of fabulous looking people who made some very suspicious life choices. There were sumptuous dresses, sparkly headbands and splendid suits (with tiny pencil moustaches) galore. TMM obviously took his shirt off as soon as humanly possibly (he said it was because he’d spilt something on it but I don’t know how much I believe this) and spent the rest of the night in just his braces. I started well but then mainly proceeded to make an absolute shambles of myself. After drinking far too much far too quickly, I threw up atrociously and had to be stripped (I made an impassioned plea to all present that if I was to throw up, my strapless emerald velvet dress had to be saved – they rallied round superbly and within seconds of threatening to hurl I was down to my tights). I ended up knelt on the kitchen floor hunched over a sick bowl wearing the Drunken Dressing Gown of Shame. (There are similar pictures of various other team members in pretty much exactly the same position in various kitchens wearing the very same gown). The evening ended with me burritoed up against the living room radiator between George and the dog (who kept trying to eat out of the sick bowl).

We enjoyed other nights of drunken dressed up revelry, including Under the Sea which provided a lot of variety (we had a mermaid, a scuba diver and Jonbles, who told us he was a jelly fish but basically stuck a plastic shopping bag to his head and looked like a washed up condom. That night somehow ended up with everyone absolutely covered in sparkly blue make up that took most of the next day to scrub off. There was also Rocky Horror (a classic that TMM fully committed to – he looks equally as good as my dad in the basque), Eurovision (please pursue previous posts for photographic evidence of TMM being the prettiest lady you have ever actually seen), If We Were Super Heroes (I was Marsh Lady – using my clammy palms to save the world and TMM was General Kitchener and had a bandolier made of utensils – Woo still has our ladle) and If We Were Each Other. That was a truly hilarious night which involved a couple of quick changes for the photo opportunities, fake beards, boys in skirts and poor George coming out in hives when we made him dress up in my fur coat to be the dog.


The highlight of our whole career was, undoubtedly, the Addams Family. Jonbles went from reluctant participant to the most immersed (he let us shave him complete bald for Uncle Fester) and I really feel every one of us looked our absolute best. As is usually the way with these things, minimal effort was really required (except the shaving of Wild Yeti Man Jonbles) for maximum effect.

As is the way with most of these events though, the days after took a bit of recovering. This year was, I misguidedly thought, going to be different. With a good stodgy meal in me and only a couple of gins, I expected to be bright eyed and bushy tailed on the Saturday morning. Instead, I woke up with what seemed to a railroad spike straight through my temples and had to make a couple of unplanned trips to the bathroom to throw up unattractively. I am still convinced Wilson spiked me, because it’s either that or my ability to deal with alcohol has apparently completely vanished (is this what growing up feels like?). I was forced to spend the whole day on the couch buried under the duvet pathetically and binge watch the new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (the Teenage Woke as TMM has taken to calling her) and lamenting that my house was not as witchy and my hair not as wavy.

I did eventually recover though, and I’ve now only got a week and a bit now until it’s time for the work do. As previously mentioned, having it so late is causing mild confusion for everyone concerned, but it does give me more time to practice putting on false eyelashes (which is 100% the work of the Devil, I don’t care what anyone says). It will most likely be the last theme of the year (so sad! I hear you cry) but I have high hopes for next year (Wizard of Oz anyone?) and I’ve still got a few late nights of make up trials in me yet.

A Month in the Life of a HalloKween

It’s just a mini blog this week chaps, a blogette if you will, because TMM and I have managed to snag a few days off work and consequently have been cramming in as much adventure as possible, leaving little time for hardcore blogging. I’ve been writing snippets here and there during car journeys and tea breaks, but overall I can’t promise too much content.
Mainly though, I just wanted to make you all aware that Halloween is coming. HALLLLLOOOWEEEEEENNNNNN BIZNITCHES.
I’m sure you may have noticed in your own time and probably couldn’t give a tiny ghost rat’s ass, but I think it’s important to just make you all fully aware that My Time is here. Considering I am highly anxious and do not enjoy gore or horror at all (this week’s post is brought to you by the words squeamish and wimp), you’d think this somewhat counterintuitive, but this commercialised, wildly varying and completely subjective attitude we have as a society to this particular holiday is right up my street.
We have previously discussed my joy of pumpkins but it’s getting serious now; it’s the annual TMM family pumpkin carving party this weekend and I’m slightly panicked because I haven’t researched at all sufficiently and this is very much a “go big or go home” kind of event. Last year set the precedent and I’ve already had to shout at TMM for discussing ideas with his mum (or fraternizing with the enemy as I’ve taken to calling it).


TMM has already a little practice session though.

We’ve not had anymore time to make any more tasty pumpkin delights though, much to my chagrin, and seemingly all local super markets have stopped stocking canned pumpkin puree the moment I showed an interest in it. I’ve got a recipe from a friend for Pumpkin Spiced Cookies though, which I am absolutely bloody desperate to try, so there’s going to be a pumpkin puree hunt at some point.

Let’s be honest here though, the main reason I’m excited is because I freaking love dressing up like some kind of trashy 80s drama kid and there is no other festive holiday that is so accepting of that. I’ve already had a go at three make up options for no other purpose other than because I wanted to, and I’m hoping to have a go at a couple more before the month is out. I’m theming it up at work with two other ladies (our actual office Halloween celebration isn’t until Nov 9th which has which has thoroughly confused my system; but the costume is already ready) and I’ve already got nearly everything sorted for our team Scooby Doo soiree tomorrow. Fred just needs his ascot and there’s a couple of sets of dog ears that need tending to, but I can already tell we’re going to look excellent. The trouble is though, neither of those themes involve much overdramatic make up or lashings of fake blood, so I’ve had to amuse myself just a little to get the standard Halloween fix.

Just some casual Halloween looks.

It’s not just me though, the Halloween spirit has overtaken us all – TMM is smashing through his horror reading list like an absolute demon. (I think he’s found his reading niche). We bought a copy of The Haunting of Hill House to finish his month on a bang after binge watching the telly show over about 3 nights – which was fine up until the point TMM fell asleep half way through and then suddenly woke up and tried to throw his arm at me, yelling incoherently. Turns out he’d been lying on his front and had trapped his arm which had, understandably, gone numb and twitched slightly, but I am not above admitting I momentarily thought he was possessed and was fully prepared to smother him with a pillow. We’ve been very much in the zone though (minor possession fears aside). We’ve already watched Beetlejuice and decided most definitely that we are Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin (who’s butt was so much better than I ever remember it being) and have got Hocus Pocus to watch tonight. TMM has also introduced me to various new morbidly fascinating podcasts centring round the Salem Witch Trials (Unobscured by Aaron Mahnke), various horrifying folk tales and urban legends (Lore, also by Aaron Mahnke) and mysterious deaths in Norway (Death in Ice Valley by BBC World Service and NRK). Just a little light October bedtime listening.

Overall though, I think we’ve Halloweened pretty well, and that’s not too shabby considering there’s still a week to go…

Another Dead, Another Dollar

Death Blog

So I have been thinking a lot about my “dream job” recently. This happens on a semi-regular basis; the typical adult day dream of what you’d be doing if you could, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the future and what I’m supposed to be doing with my life (spoiler – I ain’t got a clue) and as such it’s been a little more at the forefront of my mind. It’s important to understand that being a grown up is pretty sucky overall, and considering you spend about 75% of your time working, it is really the best course of action to find a job/career that is actually good for you.

Now it’s all very well and good being rational and thinking about saving money and sensible career options, but I think there surely must be more to life that the daily 9-5 grind. I’ve heard horror stories of people who worked every god given day of their lives, saving up for a dream retirement and ended up dying a week after they finished. Can you think of anything more soul destroying? Working so hard for so long and then it all just being a waste? It doesn’t bear even thinking about. Still, I know it’s hard, and that talking about “living in the moment” and Carpe-Diem-ing all over the place is fine for some people, but there are those of us that can’t; because they don’t know how, because they’re scared, because they haven’t got the freedom. For the silently complaining majority, working is literally a means to an end and “living for the weekend” is more than a cheesy saying, it’s a way of life.

There’s a fine line that needs to be navigated for most of us; the perfect balance of submitting to the necessities of the world (earning enough money to live) and actually enjoying the way you do it. I’m pretty sure that there’s only a tiny fraction of people who actually love their jobs, but the rest of us need to at least find something that doesn’t make us cry every night and dread getting out of bed every morning.

My job teeters on this line, sometimes tipping further one way then the other. I really like the people I work with but the role itself can be either here nor there. I sort of accidentally fell into it and whilst it could obviously be worse and it succeeds in keeping the wolves from the door, it’s a long stretch from what I’d hoped for when I was little tot dreaming of my future. Before further education, I’d been lucky enough to never need a job. I’d tried (Somewhat lacksidasically) to find one, but I barely did anything and as such didn’t really need the funds. However, leaving University left me with an acute terror of needing to find a job immediately or face certain death and dishonour on my family. Working part time at a pub whilst studying was fine, but it wasn’t really feasible for a couple looking to set off on their own into the big wide world. TMM managed to find a job at the local mill (which makes us sound like right hillbillies) quite quickly and I was left to spend a few weeks milling about in our cramped little room above the pub feeling sorry for myself and eating left over cold pasta. Not one to be kept down though (read – having encouraging friends and family who guided me in the right direction), I contacted a couple of employment agencies and within a few days was signed up for a temp job working as a recruitment consultant for a healthcare company. Now, not to sugar coat it, but I hated that job quite passionately. I made some lovely friends and had some good times, but the job itself was gash and completely unsuited to me. Still, I spent a year there (what else was I going to do) and got what I could out of it. After that ended though, it was easier to fall into a similar role again and again and today still finds me working in recruitment (though thankfully in a role more back office based than customer facing). It’s not what I would have picked for myself when I was younger though, and I still don’t think it’s really where my passions lie.

To be honest though, the jobs I would class as right for myself are a tad…odd. I’ve been pretty set in my ways and since school, I have only ever really wanted to be one (or more) of three things.

  1. A librarian from the 1950s
  2. A famous author
  3. A mortuary assistant

Specific and somewhat niche, you can see why I have maybe struggled to find myself in these career options yet. The first choice, the librarian, is possibly the most accessible to me (though I have tried on numerous occasions to get a job in a library to little or no response) but I fear that my imagings of what working in a library is like would not be anything like what working in a library actually is, hence the caveat. I want towering wooden bookshelves; leather bound books nestled safely in amongst each other in a soothing smell of must; cabinets labelled in neat hand writing housing thousands of neatly arranged reference cards and women with sensible skirts, smart buns and piznez. Basically I want to work in the Bodleian or the Hogwarts Library. The trouble is, I think the libraries of today are a lot more multimedia based, computerised and sadly nowhere near as prevalent as they once were. That is not to say I would not jump at the chance to get myself in there (a library is a library no matter what, and if I have to bring my own reference cards I will), because no matter how the job evolves or what systems are used to manage it, it is and always will be “a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life” and that is what I am all about.

For those of you who know nothing about Isaac Asimov, I strongly suggest you go out there and educate yourselves.

The second option is I think the aspirations of everyone with a note pad and a head full of imaginations, but the trouble is most of us either don’t have the staying power or the ability to cope well with criticism and rejection. Personally, I find myself with thousands of ideas but just not the ability to flesh them out fully. I become too bogged down in the minutia of finding the perfect simile or conversational exchange and lose interest before the first chapter is out. My notes are filled with countless unfinished stories that I return to now and again, but never at a rate that will end up with the intended J.K.Rowling levels of popularity. Considering this was my dad’s third chance at a fortune (the 1st being his great monetary success and the 2nd being my sister’s – neither of which have come to fruition yet) I think he might need to start buying a lottery ticket.

The final choice has been a firm favourite ever since I fell in love with the imagined funeral director who I used to pass every day on the way to school. (Side note – the man himself was not imaginary, he and his snazzy briefcase were very real. However I have no idea what his chosen profession actually was or if his briefcase housed the secrets of the dead – I imagine it more likely he was just a very smart accountant). I found him fascinating though, and the life I made up for him, dealing with those who were not so alive, was pretty awesome.

I remember telling one of my teachers that I’d be interested in working in a funeral home during one of our short lived “Career Options” meetings at high school and I still remember the look of horrified disbelief on her face. I was quite surprised at the fervent opposition, especially considering it is possibly one of the most viable and sustainable options (never going to run out of work, are you?) and kept my ideas to myself after that. The dream never really went away though.

We actually own two copies of this book due to an unfortunate selection of incidents last Christmas involving some cover staining and a gravy disaster. However, it does mean we can take a cool picture so it’s not all bad.

I’m currently reading “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory” by Caitlin Doughty, a lady who works in the industry though, and it has done absolutely nothing to dissuade me. It’s a viscerally real, deceptively funny and surprisingly affectionate view behind the curtain of cremation and has pushed me to think about it in ways I never have before.

People have a very odd relationship with death and reading this book has made me aware of how far society (especially Western civilisation) has come from its rituals and belief systems surrounding the dearly departed. Death is so far removed from us now, and so hidden; we don’t want anything to do with the vessel that housed the person we knew. Indeed there is a commercialisation surrounding it, in our attempts to make it more palatable, death has become just another business. Some of the descriptions in the book; the things that are done to the bodies to make them “acceptable” for family viewings is almost unbelievable. I’ve already told TMM that when I die, he is to either just look upon my remains for what they are or remember me as I was. I’ve spent enough time making myself acceptable for other people, like hell am I gonna do it in death.

But one of my favourite quotes – “Someone must take care of these corpses, who have become useless at caring for themselves” really stuck with me and felt quite timely in this, my time of annual frustrations over my need to care for others but inability to do so. I want desperately to support homeless people, but I still struggle making eye contact with people I know, never mind strangers living on the street. I want to help the legions of abandoned old folk who are living alone and share in their rich histories, but can’t seem to hold a serious conversation to save my life without coming across horribly patronisingly. The thought of children suffering horrifies and shames me, but the idea of working with them terrifies me beyond compare. The dead though, they don’t actually need that much in the grand scheme of things. Someone to prepare them, someone to take care of what remains, someone to stand by as they vanish into the ground or the crematorium. It’s strange because by that point, I’m sure they really don’t care what happens, but I like to think that when I’m gone, there will be someone there to look after me one last time. They won’t know me and they probably won’t remember me, but they’ll make sure I shuffle off this mortal coil with whatever dignity remains and I find that comforting.

It might be morbid but it’s necessary and honestly? I can’t think of a dream job more worthwhile.

Spring Forward, Falling Back

Blog Autumn

Well, that’s it guys. Summer is over. The most joyous warm weather has departed, leaving us with unnecessary amounts of rain and gradually darkening evenings. No more late nights in the garden with a good book and a beer. No more lying on the floor in patches of golden sunlight like a giant cat. No more light summer dresses, Primark sunglasses and suncream sticky skin. Cue much sighing. Now as I’m sure you’re aware, I am a tad bitter, it can’t be denied. To be quite frank, I’m generally furious with the whole damn situation, but I’m trying to be a grown-up about it (honest). Summer finishes every year and I really am going to have to get over it. It’s not like it’s a surprise.

As such, it appears that I have decided to embrace Autumn. Hard. I’ve weirdly gone into full Kirsty Alsop mode “welcoming autumn into my home” with kitschy style, but combined with my own special branch of sarcasm and swearing.

I think TMM managed to distract me from my post-summer slump early on by colluding with me on a most successful Primark haul. Primark, like Ikea, inhabits two opposing states. It either has everything you could ever possibly want (when you went in with nothing particular in mind and no money in your pockets), or it’s completely bereft of anything decent at all (especially when you go purposely looking to binge). I suggested a visit purely to stock up on some more false nails, because Primark false nails are the actual shiz, and for a £1 its stupid to not embrace them. (Seriously, they are bright, long lasting and the glue could be used to hold NASA’s rockets together – everything a girl who wants nice hands but doesn’t want to commit to full-time real lady nails could need). Anyway, I promised I would just pick up a couple of packets, and maybe a new bra, and we’d be in and out in no time. It’s important to note that TMM really is the perfect shopping companion (which is mostly wasted on me because unless it’s Primark, Ikea or a bookshop, I don’t want to be there) and he simply nodded at my bold statement, offered no argument and fired up the chariot.

It’s at this juncture that I should point out that by the time we actually made to the false nail section, we’d already had to go back for a basket and I’d picked up two jumpers, one skirt, some pumps and a fabulous pair of rust coloured cord trousers. I was wild and untamed and each floor only brought forth new delights for to get my grubby little mitts on. You’ll be glad to know I also treated TMM to a new shirt, but it really paled into insignificance by the time we finally made it to the till. You might be questioning my logic by this point (you weren’t the only one by the time it came to total up the cost) but you have to think of the bigger picture. New jumpers require colder weather, cute skirts can be beautifully paired with thick tights and some little boots and fabulous rust coloured cord trousers really are the style of the autumn season.

Please enjoy this shot of my fabulous nails (which although a little hard to see here, were a glorious combination of metallic red and orange) paired with one of my perfectly coordinating with one of the aforementioned Primark jumpers.

Side note – it is important to note that fabulous though they may be (also completely perfect for a Shaggy from Scooby Doo fancy dress outfit – just saying) cord trousers should probably not be worn in a torrential downpour. On a team outing to see the Weeping Window Poppies at Middleport, I did have to hike them up like a posh lady to make it over puddles without soaking everything up like a sponge.

My outfit choice hasn’t been the only thing I’ve been pimping up in time for the autumn season though. As you may remember from blog posts long past, I have been deeply taken with the idea of year-round wreaths as a constant decoration for ones front door. TMMs sister treated me to my own wreath base for my birthday and its been sitting quietly, patiently waiting for its turn ever since. Well, after a particularly eventful trip to Wilkos (i swear, it’s like I think I’m a Rockefeller or something) which resulted in a new kitchen mop (with fancy inbuilt sprayer) and a surprising amount of cleaning products considering who I am, I thought it time to update my flower collection. Gone is the time for pale pinks and creams, here come the russet reds, butter yellows and …orangey oranges. I brought in the summer wreath, which had done its job rather splendidly and is waiting to be stored away carefully for next year, and settled down in the cwtch with my flowers, some wire cutters and a whole lot of willing. Whilst it became abundantly clear halfway through that I still have some kind of blindness when it comes to flower arranging, I gave it a good go and both TMM and Bucky passed on their approval.

I do think I might add some purple flowers and maybe a little skull or two closer to Halloween, but it looks just as pretty as a peach at the moment.

I’ve been generally crafting all over the place, as one can tell by viewing the complete devastation that is currently our dining table. I’ve been working on a little commission for a school friend for the longest time (apologies to her for my truly awful time management) but there is always vaguely reminiscent feeling of Christmas when the table looks like this. Bucky finds great pleasure in sitting right in the middle on top of the most uncomfortable pile of paints, pencils and or pads he can find whilst trying to drink dirty paint water, so at least he’s embracing it all too.

TMM once again managing to make my chaos look artistic. He’s got a talent.

Finally, I’ve brought autumn quite soundly into our diets as well, soundly rounding out the whole emersiom therapy vibe I’ve got going on. Sourdough has made a welcome return into our lives, as it is the tastiest and most comforting of all the breads. Hearty soups full of goodness and flavour have been mightily enjoyed in very Instagram worthy ways. Cups of tea have been imbibed in a possibly alarming amount whilst cuddled under blankets with books. Most excitingly though, I have been researching pumpkins.

I mean, come on. That could be in a magazine.

No matter what anyone says, pumpkins are one of the mightiest gourds around, and over here in good old Blighty I definitely don’t think we use them to the extent that they deserve. They provide a pleather of possibility and I’ll be damned if I don’t try every bloody one of them. Now most of you will have, at some point, been involved the joys of pumpkin carving – a sport so messy it really should only be attempted by people in crime scene suits, but hardly anyone I talk to ever thinks of doing anything else with them. For shame, I say to those people. The taste sensations that await them if only they were to try strikes me as a sad waste of potential.

Now its true that I might be slightly over-egging this whole mini autumn harvest festival – there aren’t actually even pumpkins in the shops yet, but I’ve decided I’ve either got to go big or go home, and guess what? I’m already at home, so big is the only option left. If the pumpkins won’t come to Mohammed, Mohammed will just have to go to the world food aisle of Sainsbury’s and stack up on suspiciously battered tins of “Pumpkin Puree” shipped from Canada. I’ve been meaning to try this stuff for ages (one of my biggest regrets was not trying pumpkin pie when I went over to America – though boy was the peach pie tasty) and what better time is there than now? After spending a good 7 minutes watching a Buzzfeed Food video on all the possible ways I could make pumpkin based pastries for myself, I decided to give it a go. So this weekend, armed with hormonal rage, wild hair and a hankering for some tasty treats, I went at it. I have to say as well, it went pretty damn well. The recipe was surprisingly simple and easy to make (though I do think the measurements might possibly have been off, as we’ve now made 14 mini pies and I still have about the same amount of mixture again sat chilling in the freezer). A tin of puree, a can of evaporated milk (god I could drink that stuff), 2 eggs, a spoonful of ginger, a pinch or cinnamon, a sprinkling of salt and a 1/4 teaspoon of TMM’s finest ground cloves (not a euphemism, just cloves he pestle and mortared by hand) and bobs your uncle, you got your pie mixture. Eating it raw was pretty great (only a little bit though, I’m not a mad salmonella tempting bastard) and the smell was divine. We were mildly concerned about the texture it must be said, but the video promised us we were looking alright. Some banging, rolling and swearing later (TMM wisely left me alone for this section) I had some little doughy bases and I poured in my mixture with all the love and attention of a new mother. 30 minutes later (gas mark 5 for those of you who are interested) and our little pumpkin babies were ready. And let me tell you, those treats are tasty. I don’t really know quite what I was expecting if I’m honest, but I was happily impressed by the results, and can see why they’re such a smash over in the States. I plan to try at least two more of the pumpkin based suggestions before the season is out, and I expect you all to at least attempt the same. You don’t even know what world of culinary wonders awaits you.

Not to toot my own trumpet, but hat is how you make a petite pumpkin pie

And so, with great aplomb, I bring this glorious celebration of autumn to a close. I’m not ready for the rain, or the dark nights or the fast approaching build up to Christmas, but I’m accepting my fate and doing my best to welcome the fall with open arms. Come at me, bro.

Just a Smoothie Operator

Smmothie

The idea for this week’s blog struck me whilst I was lying prostrate and sweaty on the couch after our weekly kettle bell session (more on this below). Recently, TMM and I have been doing our best to act more like bright young things and less like 90 year olds trapped in the bodies of hipsters, and have made certain life choices to try and help. We’ve changed from Radio 4 to Radio 1 (TMM thought the youth music might liven us up a little), agreed to wake up/go to bed respectively at more appropriate times to “make the most of the day” and do some kind of exercise to loosen up our seizing joints. (Seriously, I have never been bothered about getting old, in fact I can’t wait to be a crotchety old lady with crazy hair, giant rouge patches on my cheeks and bags full of cats and knitting, but god when did it get so hard to get out of a chair?!) To this end, we now have a set exercise schedule that has actually lasted more than 2 weeks. (Let’s just ignore all the previous posts I’ve done about aborted exercise routines I have tried, alright?)

Indeed, it’s not the first time we’ve gone on what I would (very loosely) describe as a health kick, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. TMM and I have often had somewhat misplaced fantasies of getting memberships and meeting at the local gym after work for an hour or two of hard cardio. Let me tell you right now, in case you were under any kind of misapprehension about what kind of people we are, this has never and will categorically never happen. There was once even a mention of going to the swimming pool, but seeing as I can’t even float, never mind coordinate myself enough to do laps, and the smell of the chlorine brings TMM out in panicked hives, we shelved that idea pretty sharpish. Sometimes, even as we talk our way through the possibility of it becoming a reality we get a bit disgusted with ourselves and have to change the topic. Now this is not to say we have some deep mistrust or hatred for regular gym bunnies, indeed they are just doing them and it’s great, but it is definitely something we are just not about. We don’t like people, or after school clubs, or enforced fun (mainly I am the one who doesn’t like these things, but TMM defo enjoys his sports outside where he can be free and untamed. He’s like a wild stallion).

I was actually once a gym member (weird right?) and used to go on a semi-regular basis with a lady I worked with for a while whilst at uni . We agreed it was better to go together (safety in numbers) as at least that way we’ve had someone to talk to and provide sorely needed motivation. I think the whole things lasted about 3 months at the most, and mainly I discovered that I enjoyed the rowing machine, hated the treadmill with a passion an just generally wasn’t about having to leave my house to have other people watch me get sweaty. Turns out I am very easily bored as well as tired and running on the spot staring out at a sports field is not my idea of a fun time. Still, I look back fondly at the memories, especially the fact I purchased a specialised sports top (from a specialised sports wear shop) as somewhat of a personal learning curve. I know now that no matter what job I get (or when I win the lottery) I will never have enough money to spend on a gym membership when I could be buying cake.

However, stagnation is not allowed, and TMM has been very encouraging of me actually getting off my butt and moving a little. (Don’t get me wrong, he is also incredibly supportive of my lying in bed all day and eating cereal, but I think he genuinely cares for my health too. He’s a good egg). He enjoys outdoor running, walking, hiking, climbing and pretty much anything that gets him out under the wide open skies. I enjoy indoor sitting, eating, napping and anything that involves me moving as little as humanly possible. Together, we can just about commit to minimal exercise to ensure I don’t die of stroke at 45 and the agreement to do occasional outside walks so TMM get’s to see nature and I get some fresh air.

So over the past couple of weeks we’ve been doing 15 minute kettle bell routines every Tuesday (and the occasional Thursday. Very occasional. Okay, we did it one extra Thursday, but we’re trying!) TMM found the YouTube tutorial a few months ago (done by Joe Wicks, over-excitable health guru extraordinaire) and was doing them on his own, but has since lured me in with the promise of better stamina and arms more like arms instead of wet noodles. I can’t say I’m particularly enjoying it and I have been known to hurl abuse at poor Joe, with his beautiful curly hair, perfectly defined muscles and in my opinion, unnecessarily preppy attitude towards kettlebells (“it’s a great little workout” is it? Is it really Joe!?), but I have stuck with it. We’re about five weeks down the line and I can now lift the kettle bell over my head (hurrah) but still can’t do a burpee (what the ever loving eff are they even about?) so I’m calling it an even draw.

The whole healthy living business has spread outwards too (unlike our waistlines and chiselled abs as TMM pointed out). We definitely eat more like grown ups than we used to – it’s amazing what a full time salary does to your grocery shop. Sometimes I even actively go out of my way to include salad, I mean, what? In fact, most of our meals now include some kind of leafy green shit, which was something I swore as a child would never happen. I was willing to try anything once, but most vegetables were pretty much the devil to me. Now, we’ve got a fruit and veg basket (two actually – one for holding bits and bobs in the house and a sweet little wicker one for picking up fresh un-bagged produce (literally could we be any cuter?)) and we’ve even been growing our own. Admittedly I say this like we’ve gone full Tom and Barbara Goode and sold the TV for a goat, but that is not quite the case. So far we’ve had 3 small bowls of raspberries, 2 medium potatoes, a handful of adorably small tomatoes and we’ve got high hopes for our rhubarb. It’s not really enough to feed the 5000, but I’m still very proud of us.

Look at this bountiful harvest. Have you even seen anything more beautiful and healthy?

This very adult attitude towards the healthy bounty of nature has led quite nicely into a new recognition of the greatness of smoothies. Mother is a great believer in the homemade smoothie, and whenever we go to visit her she’s come up with something new. As she rightly points out, they are perfect if you’re in a rush, too stressed to think about cooking or just need something quick, easy and hearty in one fell swoop. And for someone like me, who is prone to perishing from scurvy at any given moment, it’s an excellent way of cramming 5 (or more) portions of fruit and veg in. We’ve been creating new and increasingly bizarre combinations, but I have to say they’re proving to be rather tasty.

The TMM and Ebert Smoothie Menu
Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Chocolate Nana Ovalteeny; a family classic – banana (2), Ovaltine/hot chocolate powder (some scoops), peanut butter (2 sizable dollops) and milk (enough to make it drinkable rather than chewy).

Lemony Thicket; a silvery summer sensation – banana (2), frozen spinach (1 handful), lemon juice (a dash), kiwi (however many you’ve got lying about), frozen blackberries/blueberries (1 handful) and spirulina powder (which is some kind of green witchy stuff).

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You’ve got to love a drink that comes out the same colour as your counter top.

A Song of Fire and Iceberg Lettuce; our new warming autumn concoction – strawberries (1 punnet), raspberries (1 handful), watermelon (1 wedge), ginger (1 chunk – unpeeled), iceberg lettuce (half a heart) and added optional passionfruit (2).

Turns out that whilst our joints may be aching and our bodies very unwilling, we’re not doing too badly at this staying healthy malarkey.

Czech Us Out

Czech us out.PNG

Alternative Title – Bombs Away!

So before we start, I think it’s very important you know that this week’s post was brought to you by my homemade early 80s rock playlist (inspired by Steve Harrington from Stranger Things – my new life guru), which consists of possibly more Toto and Journey than is ever strictly necessary. However, it’s helped me through some real hard times (mainly the overwhelming holiday blues and god awful early mornings on the bus to work) so I won’t hear a word against it.

The rest of the blog is brought to you by MY HOLIDAY which was most excellent and will now be gifted to you in great detail. You’re welcome.

For those of you that don’t know the background, TMM and I basically invited ourselves along on a trip to Prague that was predominantly for a gathering of various singers from all over the place (a sort of super group of the choir world) that Mother was going on. There was minor dillydallying from both sides, but it was eventually agreed that we would go along to provide Mother moral support (seeing as she’d never been on a plane before) and get a well deserved break at the same time.

Now, as I’m sure is quite clear if you are an avid follower of my work, both myself and TMM are what could be loosely described as “anxious” and it’s not a stretch to say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. On the build up to the trip, I received increasingly hysterical messages from Mother in various stages of capslocked panic regarding packing, passport and other preparation. I obviously responded to these in a very soothing and calming fashion, before proceeding to have very similar panics at TMM and Woo. Still, the day of reckoning rolled around swiftly and it found us suitably suit-cased and ready for our adventures.

We managed to successfully navigate a taxi, two trains and airport security (both TMM and I had to be patted down because we obviously just looked massively suspicious – TMM’s dungarees have been retrospectively voted as the worst flying outfit choice) before we even met up with any other members of our party, but before long we were safely ensconced on the plane.

Side note – it is important here to point out that Mother, a fan of the Film4 channel, has recently been finding particular joy in the Action Month advert. It apparently consists of clips from various adrenalin fuelled men shouting “bomb” set to the Ride of the Valkyries. Now, I wonder if you can see where this might be going…if you thought it might be somewhere along the lines of both her and TMM, whilst simultaneously being the nerviest of beans, finding every opportunity to mumble “bomb de bomb bomb, bomb de bomb bomb, boMB ON THIS (insert any of the countless modes of public transport we experienced here)” hysterically, you would be dead right.

Unfortunately we were all spread about on the flight itself (I was a bit gutted to miss Mother’s first ever trip in a plane but it probably limited her excuse to sing the bomb song which can only be a good thing), but I had a pretty good journey. I was sat just in front of a very cute little girl who had a great attitude to flying and her parents but the arse of the devil and apparently uncontrollable gastric upset. I was nearly forced to kill her when I realised I had no money for snacks either and she proceeded to happily munch on her Pringles with infuriating enjoyment. (Guess what, I did not learn my lesson on the way home and was nearly resorted to sucking olive juice out of my jacket to sate my hunger after there was an incident with the guy next to me and the air hostess both reaching for the packet at the same time and proceeding on getting that stuff everywhere). I do really enjoy flying though, especially at night, and it was rather stunning to be able to watch the sunset and the lights of Prague start to twinkle on our arrival. I always find looking over a scene like puts me in mind of a flickering map of golden neural pathways; a living city.

We lucked out pretty well whilst exiting the plane as well; due to a bit of faff with our carry ons, we ended up being the last passengers and Mother stopped to say thank you to the cabin crew. After they found out that it was her first ever flight, there was much kerfuffle and we got invited into the cock pit for a photo.

Let me tell you, I have never had to fight the urge to touch buttons like that before; the urge to try my hand at plane theft was pretty strong (it was like the hot air balloon festival all over again).

cockpit

Apparently my innate desire is to be some kind of aero-pirate; like Fast and Furious but with hot air balloons and airplanes. (Woo rightly pointed out here that I have the best ideas but am so entirely unequipped to carry them out)

Once it became clear that I wasn’t allowed to hijack the plane (TMM gave me some serious “don’t touch it” eyebrows), we regrouped with our party and were shepherded onto the coach and to the hotel by our lovely (and longsuffering) guide Helena.

The first morning found us all up bright and early (half 7 – good god) for breakfast before the choir disappeared off for their first rehearsal as a group. TMM and I took the opportunity to have a little nap (because we might be young but by god we’re not energetic) before braving out to tackle the public transport system – which I have to say is excellent. We could definitely learn a thing or two, just sayin’. We made it on and off the underground with minimal stress (the hardest thing was 100% the escalators, which all appeared to move at warp speed) and then bumbled around the centre for a while. We inexplicably managed to entirely miss Old Town though, and spent most of the morning skirting round the New Town section looking for Charles Bridge – spoiler: it’s freaking massive and should really not have been that hard to find.

Giving it up as a lost cause for the moment, we returned to the hotel to merge with the rest of the party and spent a good hour or so watching with thinly veiled hilarity at the ensuing stress caused by the underground ticket machines. I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing, generational thing or just the fact a lot of people really have no idea how to navigate ticket machines after having had their own car for so long, but TMM and I have never felt so accomplished at being able to just hustle my mum to the front of the queue and be ready to go within a few minutes. After eventually making it into town, we split into smaller groups for lunch. We were treated to the wonderful scene of Mother accidentally chatting up one of the waiters – she insisted she was just trying to ask how large the plates of food where, but mainly she got as far as saying “how big” and gesturing somewhat crudely in front of his crotch. Either way, we all had a great laugh and I’m pretty sure we made his day. The afternoon was frittered away with casual wanderings and we finally made it to Charles Bridge (only to have to survive a completely unexpected deluge) before we met up with a couple more of the group for a guided coach tour and a absolutely bloody lovely river cruise.  Between eating a buffet tea and chattering, we were treated to views of beautiful apartments with chocolate box facades and open windows that spoke of romantically struggling artists with jazz soundtracks and cigarette addictions.

Prague 2

It’s been decided that we are very much about night time river cruises

Day two started in very much a similar kind of vein, and once we’d picked up Mother we took a little trip up to the Castle. Let me tell you, that place is stunning (also super hot). We enjoyed lunch (I had goulash in a giant bread bowl and literally don’t think I will ever use crockery again) in a cute little village café (no waiter mishaps this time, but I do think he found us somewhat bizarre) and then wandered round in amazed bliss, staring at towering spires and sparkling stained glass windows. Heading back to the city centre, we treated ourselves to some of the famous tunnel cakes (so so good), but we did manage to make a complete mess of ourselves. Mother had pistachio filling which succeeded in making her look like she was covered in baby sick, and my strawberries and cream seemed to attract a swarm of wasps that kept trying to dive bomb straight into our mouths. Still, we enjoyed them immensely and they kept us going all the way back to the hotel for Mother to get changed into her concert gear.

The concert itself was in a lovely little church (very different from the Palace) and I was proud of myself for only tearing up three times. I’m pretty sure I have some kind of switch that just flicks and turns me into a blubbering mess whenever Mother sings, but I managed to not embarrass myself too much, and take some nice photos/recordings for everyone. After they finished, we went back to the hotel for a late night picnic and all stumbled into bed.

Day three was yet another early start (we holidayed hard) before the entire group were shepherded into the centre for a team photo in front of the bridge (school trips never change). After finally managing to get a couple of fairly decent shots, we slid off to wander and visited the Mucha Museum. Now I’ve always loved Mucha’s art, ever since being a little girl and being obsessed with a Mucha mirror my Neens had in her hall, but seeing some of his work up close just really drove it home how amazingly talented he truly was. The level of detail and forethought that must have gone into every piece is mind-boggling and we might have all gone a little mad in the gift shop. Finally managing to drag ourselves away, we took a break (we must have walked approx. seven thousand miles over the whole holiday. No exaggeration.) and spent a good 45 minutes absolutely wetting ourselves at a couple of folks trying their hand at a bit of zorbing. We thoroughly appreciated the efforts of a dad who was obviously trying to be very serious and active about it whilst his little girl just threw herself about in the background, and a gorgeous girl who’s hijab kept getting tangled and nearly garrotting her and her boyfriend whilst they proceeded to make it about 2 foot away from the starting point. It was unanimously agreed that we all need to have a go next time.

After lunch, we did another quick change round at the hotel and left Mother at the new concert hall (the Czech Museum of Music) for the final rehearsal and went for a quick drink and an apple strudel (when in Czech…). The second concert was just as good as the first, and once again the venue was stunning.

Prague 1.jpgTMM ponders the classics

After they’d finished, we snuck off (we did a lot of that) for a pizza and a late night wander across the Charles Bridge and a peak into some of the tourist shops – Mother was very taken with the little wooden dollies and Christmas decorations (before you ask, yes we do all have nice new Christmas decorations. And what).

The last day was a tad more reserved, and after a leisurely breakfast/lunch, we said goodbye to our slightly harried guide (she was definitely happy to see the back of our party I think) and were dropped off at the airport. Once again we somehow managed to lose everyone but we made it through with minimal fuss (there were a couple of sneaky older folks who were trying to sneak over the limit liquids back through – v troublesome) and before long were back in the home country. Off the plane, we made a quick departure and made our way back to Manchester (whilst traipsing somewhat sluggishly through a Mancunian train station that was crawling with men with unnecessarily large guns, TMM and Mother both took up another chorus of the bomb song and I had to fight the overwhelming urge just to give them up as terrorists and strike out homeward alone). After various train journeys (only got on the wrong one once), taxi rides and snack stops we made it home in mostly one piece.

Overall though I think it can be classed as a success and I’m terribly proud of Mother. We’ve already started to surreptitiously mention other holidays, but I’m laying down the law on the musical accompaniment….bomb de bomb bomb, bomb in this blog!