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.

Syncretism

Sunday, 25 December 2005 23:21
strange_complex: (Lord S not unenlightened)
Yesterday evening, I went with my family to a carol-singing gathering on Bournville Village Green, led by a local church called St. Francis'. (Full write-up of last year's equivalent event here). We met up with Fleur WINOLJ and her mum, and the six of us stood together in the crowd, giggling as we attempted to sing along to the accompaniment of a carillon which we could only just hear, and which sometimes played faster than we were expecting, and sometimes slower.

Then Silent Night came up. Somehow, no-one was singing out of time any more. The melody was slow and simple, and the singing was suffused with a kind of reverent hush. For the second verse, the carol-sheet instructed us all to raise the lanterns we had brought. And so we did. Everything from candles in jam-jars to battery-powered camping lamps appeared above warmly-hatted heads. And we sang:

"Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light:
Radiance beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace..."
Etc., etc.

Afterwards, we lowered our lanterns back down into the crowd. "See?" I said to Fleur. "The sun will come again."

"Change the spelling a bit," she said, "and the Christians would agree with you."

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.
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: (Saturnalian Santa)
I'll probably never be Santa again after tonight. I don't ever intend to have children of my own, you see. But tonight - for one night only - I am he.

I'm 29 years old, and it's finally been decided in our house that it really is time now to let go of the Christmas morning stockings. And for this one last year, as a way of marking the passing of the practice, we decided to invert it (very Saturnalian!). So Charlotte and I have just spent a lovely half-hour sitting together in the lounge, sipping Rémy Martin, chatting, and stuffing chocolates, hankies and satsumas into big fluffy socks. One for Mum, one for Dad. They're laid out now on either side of the fire-place, ready for the recipients to come down and find them in the morning.

I suppose this is the growing process in a nutshell, isn't it? As a child, you experience the magic. As a young person, you see the reality behind it, but still play along for the sake of its more prosaic benefits. Finally, you become the source of the magic yourself. I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
So, dusk has fallen on Christmas Eve, and here I am, up in Brum with my family. It's somehow taken me a while to 'slot in' to the Christmas spirit this year. Too distracted with book stuff and the unpleasant prospect of term starting again on January 4th, I guess. But it's falling into place now that we're all together here, the tree's been decorated and I've made my usual spray of winter greenery to go over the fireplace. Later on, we'll be going off to sing carols on Bournville Village Green, just as we did last year, so I'm sure that'll do the trick.

Last night, we attended "Christmas by Candlelight", an annual choral concert given by Ex Cathedra in St. Paul's Church, Birmingham. It was OK, but while Ex Cathedra usually tend to gravitate towards early / Baroque music, the repertoire last night was for some reason about 80% modern, and hence not entirely to my tastes. I knew we were in trouble when I scanned down the list of pieces, and noticed how many of the composers had birth-dates after their names, but not death-dates. Bully for them, but I like my composers dead, thanks. I couldn't help but sit there thinking of the concert of bawdy 17th-century Christmas music performed by the Oxford Waits which I was missing in order to be there...

And the night before, I went to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with [livejournal.com profile] redkitty23. I enjoyed it, but wasn't as bowled over as I'd expected to be. The special effects were great, obviously, and certainly much better than the poor old BBC could manage back in 1988. I also very much liked the handling of the battle sequences, and both the home of the White Witch and the castle at Cair Paravel, while I felt that all four children were well-characterised, well-cast and well-acted. But, while Disney have made stellar leaps forward in recent years in terms of recognising that sometimes preserving the inherent Britishness in a story can actually be a good thing (compare their shabby treatment of Winnie the Pooh, which sadly is still ongoing), all the same there was a little more 'Disneyfication' going on than I'd really have liked. I just don't need wise-cracking animals. Ever. Thanks. In that respect, the old BBC series scores more highly. What a pity they just never had the budget or the slick production values of the new film.

Well, Fleur WINOLJ has just rung to say she and her mother will be meeting us on the Green at Bournville. I'm pretty excited now! Time to go off and make sure we have a decent lantern to take with us.
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: (Latin admirable sentiment)
Some random recent things:

1. Yesterday, a man came round and raked all the leaves off my lawn! I'd been meaning to do it myself, but I'm glad I didn't now. He's the gardener for the communal parts of our flats, and has no obligation to do anything with my patch at all. But I ain't going to be the one who goes out and explains to him where the communal parts end and my own garden begins.

2. Yesterday evening was Cat WINOLJ's birthday, and what a lovely time we had. Luscious cocktails in Raoul's, followed by dinner in a place called Big Bang. Not, as Hitch-Hikers fans might assume, a burger bar, but a place which specialised in sausages and mash. I had two deliciously rich venison sausages on a garlic and rosemary mash and swimming in a gorgeous red wine 'jus'1, followed by Jam Roly-Poly - yay! Definitely a good choice of venue, to which I hope to return in future to explore some of their other options.

3. Book stuff seems to be happening at the moment. I've got lots of other bitty tasks to do, so I'm setting a pattern of working solidly on the book in the morning, and sorting out other stuff in the afternoon, with a return to the book later on if I'm not going out in the evening. Progress is being made this way on all fronts, and it feels good. It is also amazing how much time there turns out to be in a week when you're not spending 10 hours of it commuting.

4. I've now posted my letter of complaint to the manager at Dukes Hotel. Sorry it took a few days, chaps - my printer is being rubbish again, so I had to get a friend-of-a-friend to do it. But it's on its way.

5. I'm starting to feel reasonably Christmassy, but I'm not cracking out the Xmas music until I do my cards - probably tonight and / or tomorrow. Big thanks to those people who have sent cards to me already!

6. That's probably enough for now.
--------
1. Since when was a perfectly good word like 'sauce' universally ousted by the word 'jus'? That's what I want to know.
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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