strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
I have wanted to make this post for three days, but have been unable to do so until now because I could not load my LJ photo galleries. As multiple friends have noted, LJ has been shonky in a number of ways over the same period, and although it seems OK again now, the problems seem to be associated with a server move to Russia - and I must say I also feel very uncomfortable about relying on anything in Russia for the ongoing preservation of a journal I have been carefully curating for 13 years now. I've never felt so inclined to set up a Dreamwidth mirror... but then again something [livejournal.com profile] nwhyte said in an entry earlier today made me doubt that Dreamwidth has proper picture-hosting facilities at all. It's all sadly ironic that this should happen just when people are genuinely popping up on LJ again, thanks I understand to a FB LJ-nostalgia community.

Anyway, here's what I actually wanted to post - a few pictures of our Christmas. We booked a cottage in the Cotswolds village of Bourton-on-the-Water this year - 'we' in this case being me, my Dad, my sister and her husband and children. None of us had ever done Christmas this way before, but we decided to try it on the grounds that it would be healthier and cheerier to do something new and different this year, rather than try to re-create our normal family Christmas but with one person missing. It would also allow flexible levels of participation for each person, in that everyone could choose whether to hang out with the other cottage residents, go out for a walk or simply lie on their bed reading a book. And I'm glad to say it worked really well. We did remember Mum of course, and Dad had a couple of tearful moments. But for a first Christmas without her, it was actually really nice and enjoyable and nothing like as difficult as I suspect it would have been in the family home, or even my sister's home (where Mum had also been for Christmas day a couple of times in recent years).

We arrived in the afternoon of the 23rd, in pretty rotten weather, and got settled in. We had brought a LOT of food, which took quite a bit of unpacking and putting away, while Christophe admired the (fake) Christmas tree which the cottage owners had supplied, and Eloise enjoyed The Snow Dog.

Pictures start here )

Anyway, here we are in the Festive Perineum (h/t [livejournal.com profile] inbetween_girl), which I found boring as a teenager, but has now become one of my favourite times of the year. The obligations of Christmas are all fulfilled, my work email account is blissfully free of people demanding things, and it is genuinely OK to sit around in my dressing-gown watching a Buffy marathon on SyFy and ordering the unpurchased items on my Amazon wish-list. I wondered about driving up to Allendale for their New Year's tar bar'l procession this year, as 2016 is a year which I feel pretty strongly could do with a good burning out. But the weather reports say it will be raining pretty heavily there right over midnight, so maybe not. I am open to other suggestions, if anyone has any?

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strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
Well, the little children slumbering upstairs do not know it yet, but Santa has been!

2016-12-24 22.27.10.jpg

Personally speaking, I'm hoping this will be the sort of Santa who comes down my chimney tonight:

chris santa.jpg

Look at his beautiful face! Such a fetching shade of green...

Merry Christmas, everyone. :-)

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strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
OK, last meme entry. And again, although Boxing Day was awful, thankfully Christmas Day itself was all right, so I can describe it fairly normally.

I actually began Christmas Day at my sister's house in Warwick, because she had invited me and her old sixth-form friend Duncan over for the evening to keep up our old tradition of toasting in Christmas together at midnight. We had a lovely evening of canapés, drinks and chat, and did our little toast together at midnight (me with raspbery and cranberry juice), even though we were all yawning by that stage. Then Duncan and I bid them goodnight and headed off in my car, under a bright starry sky and taking care to avoid the (very few) other cars and people whom we saw pursuing their own rather drunken-looking paths home. I crept quietly into my parents' house with the benefit of much practice acquired during my teenage clubbing years, and sank into bed.

The next morning, we all got up, had breakfast, got ready and headed back over again to my sister's house in Warwick for Christmas Day itself. We arrived around 11am, and sat down with a round of coffee while we showered Eloise with presents. She is one and a half now, and has very definitely become a little girl rather than a baby:

Eloise


She also genuinely manages to get even cuter every time I see her. The picture doesn't begin to capture that, because so much of it is about her lovely smiling animated face and her increasingly eloquent chatter, and nor does it even really show off the growing mass of blonde curls hiding at the back of her head. But I hope it gives some idea at least.

Eloise's presents )

Christmas dinner )

Adult presents and Christmas TV )

A decent day all told - and a jolly good thing too, given what followed. :-/

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strange_complex: (Me as a child)
Day 09's prompt was 'Best holiday traditions', and I was really pleased about the plural form of 'traditions', because it meant I could just list everything I liked, and didn't have to choose. Now, I do have to choose!

So I have looked over my previous list, and with due consideration I am going to nominate the process of getting all the presents out from under the tree and sorting them into big piles for each person as my absolute favourite moment.

In part, I'm sure I still like that bit simply because as a child the presents were very straightforwardly the most exciting bit of Christmas, on a basic "yay new stuff!" level, and that excited child still lives within me. But I can appreciate the more adult aspects of the ceremony now, too. Like the fact that piling up the presents signals the start of a good two hours where as a family we are all basically focused on expressing our affection for each other and making each other happy. That's nice. And I've always liked the way they come from under the tree, too, like a sort of magical fruit which has grown there over the previous few days.

I'm sure things won't be anything like so ordered this year, with a one-and-a-half-year-old running around the place making mischief! But I'm pretty sure she will be her own compensation. :-)

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strange_complex: (Barbara Susan planning)
As an adult I'm pretty good at waiting, because I know how nice it is to have a lovely big pile of presents to open on Christmas day. That said, nowadays I often know what is in half of them anyway, because we tend to share present suggestions and requests around within the family in order to ensure that we're all buying things that the recipients will want. The only presents I really have to exercise self-control over are ones given to me by friends, students or colleagues, which are a) a genuine mystery and b) often presented to me quite a few days before Christmas itself.

Like most kids, though, I often peeked as a child. I seem to have known from quite an early age that birthday and Christmas presents were always stashed in the cupboards above the (fitted) wardrobes in my parents' bedroom, and would regularly take advantage of any opportunities which arose to climb up on a wooden stool and find out what I could expect on the day itself.

Most of the time, that didn't really cause any problems. I managed to keep my secret knowledge to myself, and it wasn't usually a problem to look suitably surprised and pleased when I got the gifts themselves, because I was a child and all gifts were exciting anyway, whether I knew what they were in advance or not. But I guess over the years I learned that a genuine surprise was more fun for me.

One year, though, I did get myself into trouble for it. Not by being found out in a straightforward way, but because I gave the game away myself while basically trying to do my Mum an emotional favour. I already knew that she was 'Santa', so when I found what were obviously destined to be our stocking presents one year a week or so before Christmas, I decided to write a letter to Santa asking for exactly those same things. In my childish mind, this was intended to be lovely for my Mum, as it would reveal to her that she had managed to buy exactly what we really wanted, and she would feel a glow of warm satisfaction. And I'm pretty sure I did throw in a few random other items in an attempt to make my letter look 'realistic'.

But it obviously didn't convince, because she sussed what I had been up to straight away. I don't remember being told off hugely for it - perhaps she realised that my intentions were generous, even if they were based on me looking in places where I knew I wasn't supposed to look. But I did feel pretty ashamed of myself afterwards, and I think I pretty much figured out for myself after that that I really shouldn't look in the top of the wardrobe any more.

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strange_complex: (Lady Penelope)
Firstly, many thanks to the people who commented on my last entry in the 25 days meme to suggest effective charities working to increase access to education in the developing world. I haven't had a chance to reply to your individual comments yet, as I went to bed soon after making the post and have been either working or worrying about sofas all day today! But your suggestions have all been really helpful. It's probable that I will go with one of [livejournal.com profile] the_alchemist's suggestions of the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative or Deworm the World, for their combination of proven effectiveness and joined-up thinking about people's needs, but I haven't looked through the other ideas properly yet, and want to give them all a fair hearing before I decide for sure.

Meanwhile, today's entry is going up a little early, as I am going out this evening. But I'm not sure I have a massive amount to say about it anyway! Obviously I try to make gifts look reasonably enticing and attractive. I usually choose purple shiny wrapping paper if possible, though at Christmas I may go for something a bit more seasonal-looking instead. E.g. this Christmas I'll be using one roll of black paper with a pattern of white wintry trees on it, and another silver-grey one along much the same lines. I wrap the gift itself as carefully as I can, though my habit of giving a selection of chocolatey treats and candles to each member of my family each year makes this difficult. Those things are too small (in value and often size) to be wrapped individually, but they are also of different sizes and shapes, so they make for awkward bundles to wrap. I'm pretty rubbish at remembering to buy gift-tags, so my gifts often have the names written on the paper instead - but hopefully now that I've written about that here I will remember this year!

And I think that's pretty much all I have to say on this fascinating topic.

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strange_complex: (Anas Penelope)
I'm taking this to mean best Christmas gift ever given, rather than best gift of any kind ever given, but must admit that I'm struggling to remember very many of them in that case. I can only hope my presents have been slightly more memorable for the recipients!

I did give one gift last year which went down very well, though, and that was a clear plastic tube containing a stack of six different-coloured toy bath ducks for Eloise. It was only something I grabbed on a whim while in the queue for the tills in the Kirkstall branch of Dunnes Stores, because it looked brightly-coloured and exciting, and also included one purple and one black duck, so was a good excuse to sneakily start training up my new niece in the ways of Gothdom. ;-) But she has had so much fun out of them.

A couple of times since I gave them to her, I have been lucky enough to sit in on the bath-time ritual and watch her playing with them, and looking back over what type of play she has used them for during the last year tells a small but distinct story about how she has grown and changed since last Christmas. When she first got them, she was only about 6 months old, so she mainly liked to wave them about, bashing them on the side of her little baby bath and occasionally sucking on them. But already by this August, at the age of about one-and-a-third years, she was more into trying to line them up neatly along the side of the bath, and picking them up again with great concern if they fell down. Apparently, more recently she has become a bit of a nightmare about undertaking bath-time at all, but thankfully I have been spared witnessing that!

As it happens, she also got very into ducks generally not long after I had given them to her, and in fact one of the first words she could securely say, at approaching the age of one, was 'duck'. She didn't enunciate the final consonant sound very distinctly, but from context that was very definitely what she was saying. What I found really amazing when she started this was that she would say it whether in the park looking at a real duck, at home looking at a picture in a book, or in the bath playing with the toy ducks - despite a huge range in colour, appearance and realism across the different contexts. I really didn't expect a baby who was under a year old to be able to recognise such disparate items as belonging to the same category, even with adult prompting and affirmation, and it was an incredible insight into the capacities of the human brain for me to realise that she could.

Anyway, babies and young children are very easy to please with presents, so having Eloise around should hopefully guarantee a good few more years of Christmas present hits. Apparently this year, she is all about elephants, helicopters and action play-sets which she can take pieces in and out of. So I guess the ideal present would be a toy helicopter with removable elephant pilots? Well, it's a bit unlikely, isn't it, but I'll see what I can do!

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strange_complex: (Rory the Roman)
Well, Christmas was lovely. We did our usual stuff - a leisurely breakfast, presents in front of the fire, a buffet-style grab-whatever-you-fancy lunch, dinner prep, Doctor Who and then the dinner itself in the evening. I got some great presents, including two Doctor Who DVDs (The Time Meddler and New Who season 3), various books which will get reviewed here eventually, two boxes of chocolates and some vouchers for Next and Marks and Spencer. And the presents I got for other people seemed to go down well, too. I gave Charlotte some posh tea-cups and a huge pampering lotions & potions set; Mum a voucher for concerts at the Town Hall and Symphony Hall in Birmingham and a waterproof radio which you can listen to in the shower; and Dad two jazz CD sets which he wanted. Plus a general package of chocolates, a Lindt Santa and a Saturnalian beeswax candle for each person.

A Christmas Carol took us to a different kind of Christmas )

Overall impression and favourite bits )

TV screens and meta-referentiality )

Blurring the line between recording and reality )

Obviously you can't actually have Matt Smith popping up for real in every living room up and down the country, even on such a magical day as Christmas. But showing him within the story flipping back and forth between being a recording and a reality at least gave the boundary between the two a good old shake-up, and helped to create a thrilling little frisson of the feeling that, after all, he might just tumble down our chimneys too. That sort of stuff is at the absolute heart of why I like Doctor Who so much, and I was very happy to get a good hefty helping of it before tucking into my turkey.

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strange_complex: (Me Half Age party)
Well, that was an absolutely lovely birthday.

I spent the morning loafing around in my dressing gown, opening presents, responding to LJ comments and setting up a Scrabble game on Facebook. My sister had sent me a Porpora CD from my Amazon wish-list that I'd wanted for ages, so I'm really happy about that although I haven't listened to it yet, as well as a brilliant book on Art Deco houses, which wasn't on my wish-list, but was a really excellent choice. I spent ages sitting on the sofa, poring over it wonder and awe, and occasionally getting to say things like, "Ooh, my window catches are like that!" It's great, and will be a very handy guide to choosing the right sorts of rugs, light-shades and so on.

Mum and Dad had also sent me a couple of CDs, but they weren't my 'real' present - just copies they'd made, in fact. No, my real present is this lamp:

Pic under here )

It's stood for years in a pub in the centre of Birmingham, where my Dad likes to go on a Saturday afternoon to mark people's PhD theses, and whose landlady he has become good chums with over the years. So of course he told her about my new house, and she'd already said that if he ever wanted any of the nick-nacks in the pub, he just had to make an offer. And he did! It's not here yet, but it looks like Dad will be making another visit late next week to help me sort my curtains out, so he will probably bring it with him then.

After lunch, I finally got dressed, and headed into town for some Serious Shopping. Two pairs of shoes, innumerable hair accessories and biscuits and a large roll of fabric later, I arrived in the Swan so laden down with packages I was having trouble getting through doors, to be joined by no less than six lovely friends. And since I'd only decided to do anything on my actual birthday at 1pm that day, I was touched beyond belief that so many people were willing to come out and join me with only 4 hours' notice. I think that's a real sign of being properly settled in here now, if I have friends who'll do that.

Finally headed home at about 7pm, and then just whiled away the rest of the evening eating my dinner, watching House and working out how to use the staple-gun I've bought in order to re-cover my dining chairs. Just perfect, really.

strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
Oh dear. I seem to have spent far too much time over the last few days doing nice things or falling asleep on sofas (also a Nice Thing) to write on live journal. Let's see now:

Christmas presents: an excellent haul, aided in no small measure by the gentle introduction of parents to Amazon wish-list. I got:
  • DVDs - Life of Brian, a particularly gripping performance of Handel's Giulio Cesare.
  • Books - Architectural Guide to Leeds, Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith, enormous Collins English Dictionary (now all language is mine! Ha-ha-ha!), Andrew Lintott's Imperium Romanum (handy for teaching), C. Steven Larue's Handel and His Singers and The Quest for the Wicker Man.
  • Chocolate - enormous raspberry truffle, box of dark chocolates.
  • Tokens - £10 book token from paternal aunt (today converted into Plutarch, The Age of Alexander) and £15 Waterstone's token from maternal uncle (today converted into Ancient Cities by Charles Gates).
  • Other - notebook with pictures from the House of the Vettii on it, facsimile Roman oil-lamp which by an amazing coincidence happens to have the exact goddess I am going to the Dark Masquerade Ball as on it (name withheld for the present to preserve a suitable sense of Mystery), sandalwood incense sticks, ticket for ice-skating on the outdoor rink currently operating in Birmingham town centre, incredibly cute K-9 key-ring, Guinea-pig calendar, L'Oreal lipstick.
Christmas dinner: we did goose, which very nearly didn't fit into the oven, but eventually was squeezed in diagonally. It was really nice, and I think the first time I've ever had goose at all. But I prefer the taste of duck. Just a pity that one duck doesn't quite provide enough for four people.

Boxing day: went over to the Waltons', as we usually do. Chatted, caught up, and marvelled at the cuteness of little Holly. Came home and watched lots of TV. On which note:

Doctor Who: I gather a lot of people have been all snide and grumpy about this episode online. But I really enjoyed it, so I don't care what the cynics say. I was impressed that Catherine Tate managed to make her character so sympathetic (especially given that I usually can't stand her), and the Empress of Racnoss reminded me a lot of Echidna, the Mother of all Monsters from Hercules: the Legendary Journeys, both in appearance and characterisation. (The real character looked a lot more like the Empress than that action figure, but I can't seem to find a picture of her). Looking forward to the next series.

The Hogfather: I did enjoy this, especially each time I got the same thrill I remember getting from Rivendell in Lord of the Rings of 'recognising' a place I'd only seen before in my imagination. And seeing Pterry himself in the toyshop at the end was particularly groovy! But somehow it wasn't quite what I'd hoped. I think the problem is that Pterry doesn't actually write stories as such, but rather narrative explorations of abstract concepts. And so the storyline wobbled, flailed and dragged, failing to impart the significance written deep into the book, and yet I suspect also confusing those who hadn't read it. Oh well - I appreciated the fact that it was made at all, though.

Today: La Sistrella and I used our ice-rink tickets to swish and glide around in central Birmingham, enjoying watching people's rosy laughing faces, misty breath and children falling over as we did so. Then we went shopping to spend our tokens, and returned home to eat party left-overs and indulge in more nodding off on the sofa. A most satisfactory way to spend the day, except that my groin muscles are killing me now. Apparently I only ever use them when ice-skating.

And that would appear to bring me back up to date.

Cheese!

Monday, 9 January 2006 19:44
strange_complex: (Mariko Mori crystal ball)
My final Christmas present arrived today. It is a Canon PowerShot A620 Digital Camera.

When my Dad asked me what I wanted this year, I said that I wanted a digital camera, but that I wanted to get quite an upmarket one, so wasn't expecting him to pay for the whole thing. I can handle the money side of these things myself nowadays. No, what I wanted from him was his technical expertise. I told him what I wanted from my camera, and charged him with the task of identifying a suitable model.

He did some online research before I went up to Brum for Xmas, and then we spent a few hours browsing together and talking about what I wanted. The A620 is the result.

I've yet to actually put batteries in it, or anything like that, but depending on progress with the lecture I'm currently writing, I might have a little play later on tonight. I think it's safe to say that you can expect my first stumbling experiments with it to be appearing on this LJ some time soon.

Presents

Monday, 26 December 2005 18:06
strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
Time to mull over the presents, then.

Gave )

Received )

All in all, a very fine collection, then, and I can definitively count myself well out of the whopping 45.2% of my Christmas poll respondents who confessed to getting a present they really didn't want.
strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
Uh-oh. We were going to do our Christmas duck with an orange and port sauce. But when you find yourself uttering sentences like, "Well, are we still going to glaze it with marmalade, or do that with apricot jam as well?", you know insufficient forward planning has been engaged in. Never mind. I'm sure apricot jam will be just as good.

The stockings this morning were well-received, and giving them certainly generated a pleasantly warm glow for this year's Santas. And my haul of tree presents this year was fantastic, too! More about those later, when I've had a chance to play with them properly. For now, a poll on Christmas-or-similar traditions in your household:

[Poll #640025]
strange_complex: (Default)
I shall have to resort to numbered paragraphs.

1. I spent the weekend in a cottage near Ledbury, enjoying the 10th Annual Winsley Road Posse Christmas Meal. The choice of Ledbury was pretty random, really, based on reasonably equal travelling distances for all of us, and a nice-looking cottage within taxiable range of a railway station. But it was a good choice. The cottage exceeded all our expectations, while the lady we were letting it from had even left us a real live Xmas tree, a plate of mince pies and a lovely fire smouldering in the grate when I arrived. It was fabulous to catch up with everyone again, and enjoy the cottage, the grounds and the crisp but sunny weather together. We were all a bit bemused to find ourselves smoothly and professionally cooking a fabulous meal, eating it on an antique oak dining table and passing round port afterwards: all something of a contrast with meal number 1. Anyone would think we were grown-ups now, or something! But it was great, and so great in fact that we unanimously decided the book the cottage up again for the equivalent weekend next year before we left.

2. Last night was another jovial Christmas gathering, this time with the [livejournal.com profile] oxgoths in the Chequers. Presents aplenty were distributed amongst the assembled company, chocolates munched and silly hats worn. We even attempted to play Christmas carols in chorus, with Spiky Neil conducting us and each person blowing on a differently-pitched whistle. Just one of those evenings that makes you feel really glad to have the friends you have.

3. And, finally, isn't Radio 3's Christmas Bachathon a stroke of genius? I don't tend to listen to Radio 3 all that much, but now that it's offering 100% Guaranteed Bach every time I switch it on, things have become quite different. I even threw over the Today programme this morning, setting my alarm to wake me up with one of his cantatas instead. Chatting to friends, I think a lot of people are doing the same sort of thing, and I don't doubt it's doing their audience figures a world of favours. Now, how about a Handel New Year, eh?

4. Ah, it's time for Futurama! Bye. :)
strange_complex: (Default)
Ooh, so it did snow in the end, even in Birmingham! I thought for a while there that the whole of the rest of the country was going to get it, but not us.

I have just been watching Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, taped from earlier in the evening, sitting as I did so in the middle of the lounge floor wrapped up in a huge double quilt, with glowing embers in the hearth and various chocs and other goodies spread out around me. I often seem to end up watching films late at night in this fashion over Christmas, and there is, in my opinion, no better way to do so.

Presents were multiple and all delightful. I'm glad to read that [livejournal.com profile] stompyboots got a stocking, because that means it's OK to admit that my sister and I still get them too. Much of the stuff contained therein tends to be useful / practical these days: e.g. washing-up gloves, a micro-umbrella or spare electric toothbrush heads. But Santa also brought me various types of chocolate, two sets of postcards of Roman things in the British Museum, an 'Earth from the Air' calendar and some body-spray.

Tree presents (i.e. presents from family members, placed under the tree on Christmas Eve) included some very posh make-up from my sister: a deep purple Sephora lipstick, and a mauve, shimmery Chanel eyeshadow. I don't think I've ever owned anything Chanelesque before, so that was very exciting, and both were worn for Xmas dinner in the evening. From my auntie Pat I got some dangly earrings, and from my uncle Duncan a £10 book token. And Mum and Dad got me a guinea-pig calendar (I was a very enthusiastic guinea-pig owner as a child, and would love to live somewhere where I could have them again now), and DVDs of A Tale of Two Cities (1958) and Moulin Rouge (1952), both featuring... what, you guessed? Also a special mug to make proper filter coffee in at work, a Boots gift card (the modern equivalent of a gift-token, it seems), a CD of my equal-favourite (with David Cordier) countertenor, Robin Blaze singing music by William Byrd, including one track called 'Constant Penelope' (in fact, it turns out to be a translation of a poem by Ovid), and four books: 'Brighton Rock' and 'The End of the Affair' by Graham Greene, 'The White Goddess' by Robert Graves' and 'Howl's Moving Castle' by Diana Wynne Jones.

And finally... could this be the best of all? I now own this pony (Star Catcher).

As for the day itself, the morning was spent first opening our stockings, and then baking and eating croissants from ready-made dough which you can buy in funny carboard tubes. They tasted very nice, actually: easily as good as buying them fresh from a boulangerie, and possibly even better.

Then I boiled down stock from the giblets which came with the duck we'd be having in the evening, while simultaneously doing general pottering, showering and fire-lighting. Lunch was a selection of cold bits and pieces: much of it still left over from our party on the 23rd! Then, after lunch, we were finally allowed to open our tree presents: something of which much ceremony is made in our family, with each person getting given a pile of their own presents, and then sitting in a circle and opening them turn by turn. People who want to really spin it out and make the others fume may open only a card on their turn... or, if they're my Dad, they leap straight in to the biggest present on their first go.

Finally, we cooked our duck, and had our proper Christmas meal in the evening. Everyone agreed it came out really well, with an excellent bitter orange sauce (which is what the stock was needed for), as directed by Delia. We finished with Christmas pudding, properly set alight with brandy and all (this bit is always my job - yay!), and then sat round with brandy and port as the last tinkles rang out on our angel chimes.

Now it is nearly 2 in the morning, so I rather think I ought to put my head down. Even though it's not Christmas here any more, I never quite like to go to bed on Christmas evening... After all, when I wake up, it will only be boring old Boxing Day, and another 364 days to go until the magic comes round again.

Oh: or a mere 356 until the next Saturnalia, of course!

Nighty-night, peeps.

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