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Christmas bouquet

My Christmas bouquet from the garden this year.

Every Christmas Day for some years now, I've walked around the garden on Christmas morning and composed a bouquet of the things I can find in flower and in berry. It's one of those simple things that makes me very happy. There's a lot of holly around this year, but not in my garden, so I can't cheat (under my self-imposed rules), but I'm well supplied with cotoneaster berries and crab apples. 

Christmas bouquet

It's a very mild winter, and this year my bouquet is composed of:

BuddleiaEleagnus pungens 'Maculata'
Crab apple (nameless)

Mahonia media 'Charity'
Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki' and
Rosa Rambling Rector.

There were plenty of others to choose from, including the dried-out heads of hydrangea paniculata, all sorts of rosehips, bamboos (which I am forbidden to touch until year 4) and grasses, but these were enough to be getting on with.

Merry Christmas.  



Christmas cheer

A tiring day but a rewarding one.

It's been a good day today - our Christmas meal with friends. 

Since our restaurateur friends left the area for the south, we've held the Christmas lunch each year at our place and this year, as last year, there were 11 of us at table. I cook the meat, plus a soup and do a cheese course; a veggie friend makes a big nut roast; and the others split the vegetables and dessert between them. I make sauce, another friend makes vegetarian gravy. Everyone brings their dishes over, which are kept warm in our capacious oven, and we all have a lovely time. 

This is a very relaxed way of doing Christmas. The fact that the cooking is split means there's no pressure. About half of us this year had the beef, which was rump roast, slow-cooked overnight, so I didn't have to worry about timing. The soup recipe (curried pumpkin) came from another friend who couldn't join us, and I screwed up the the quantities so large amounts of it will have to go in the freezer.

I have fun doing the table. Last year, I think I did it turquoise - I can't remember. But this year it was red and gold and silver, with lots of tinsel, candles and sequins everywhere. The tablecloth, place settings and napkins are all paper, so afterwards they can just be bundled up and used to light the woodburner. Two lots of friends bring over four chairs each, to go with our four.  

We also do a Secret Santa, with the aim of spending one euro - maximum 2.50 euros. This year, presents included nougat-shaped candles, pierced ceramic candle holders, sugared almonds, keyrings with lights, pates de fruit and various toiletries. All of it is easy and fun. 

Afterwards, on this occasion, we adjourned to the sofas for coffee, then watched the two short films we have produced so far with Zolascope - Impasse and Albert. And then the DH and I have spent the rest of the afternoon loading and unloading the dishwasher and just chilling out.

Christmas Day itself this year will probably just be the two of us, opening our pressies early (bought by ourselves and handed to the other to wrap - romance itself). Then maybe a good movie, such as Lawrence, given the sad passing of Peter O'Toole, and cheese and crackers for tea.

There is no Boxing Day in France, so it's straight back to work after that, before supper with friends on Saturday, then another party for New Year. And then, thank heavens, the days will being slowly to lengthen.  


And so this is Christmas....

...and here's what we've done.

Well, what a lovely Christmas Day that was. Pretty much a perfect day from start to finish.

We got up at the usual time, in the pitch dark, rekindled the woodburner and gave the cats their Christmas breakfast, the dog his turkey Caesar, and the wild birds a special fat ball with dried insects.

We'd already had our big Christmas meal with friends on the 22nd, when 10 of us sat around the table, each bringing a dish (pork loin, nut roast, chocolate mousse...) - a lovely stress-free way of spending Christmas, so on the day itself, there was no pressure - just the DH and I, opening pressies over breakfast.

Having been married since the Ark, we tend to choose our main presents for ourselves, and he had gotten me a bottle of vintage 1985 Mitsouko, chosen by me and paid for by my sister, since we can't buy Guerlain on Ebay from France. Meanwhile, I gave him a mystery box containing something he'd ordered for himself (it turned out to be a microphone for podcasting).

Our other presents, however, were indeed surprises - for him, books and DVDs and for me, to my astonishment, a Kindle. I'm made up. I've been resisting a Kindle for a long time because I like to be absolutely certain with technology that it's really going to be worth it. But since we've formed a book club locally, a Kindle has become a more useful entity, as it enables us to pass books around more easily. First up, the first Rebus book, Knots and Crosses, and The Year of the Hare, which I'm meant to read by January 9. 

Presents from others included, as ever from my sister, items for keeping warm in our medieval house (this year, microwaveable slippers: in previous years, kalmuks, fleece blankets with sleeves and even a Billy Connolly Big Slipper); lovely Neal's Yard toiletries; chocolates; and - again from my sister - a beautiful bottle green velvet coat with a fake fur collar. Many years ago I had a bottle green velvet coat that I adored, but which my arsehole boyfriend destroyed, as he hated me in it, so it is very nice to have one back again. 

Time was, the DH and I would have Buck's Fizz for breakfast, then stagger around all day, but these days we are more abstemious people, so after breakfast I had a bath, put the chicken on to cook, and we went for a walk over the surrounding fields. Our dog Zola was diagnosed with congestive heart failure on Christmas Eve, so we were keen not to tire him, but a short walk allowed him to run around at his own pace, and then back we went for lunch - farm chicken on a bed of ginger and garlic, with roast peppers and fennel, followed by apple and chocolate ice-cream. 

After that, it was watching Day of the Jackal (one of the DH's DVDs), a natter to the family in England, and a leetle sleep, then we made our Christmas donation to microcredit organisation, loaning money this time to people in Georgia for animal feed, and a women's collective in Peru. For some years now, we have sent e-cards and given money saved to Kiva, and the total is now rolling over at about $300. I highly recommend Kiva as an organisation, as it helps people to help themselves.

So, several Carry On movies and one Royle Family Christmas Special later, we rolled off to bed. A fabby day, and today - hopefully - a good swim and then some gardening.

Merry Christmas, one and all.  


Where have all the euros gone?

When did everything get so expensive?

I'm holding a girls night in on Friday - the first for quite a while - and one idea I had for the evening was a bran tub: it's Christmas, after all. 

I've asked the girls to buy a present for the tub for one euro, or as close to one euro as people can get, with an absolute upper limit of 2.50 euros, so's not to embarrass anybody.

But I know that some people will forget, so today I decided to pop out and buy a few one-euro items to use as emergency bran tub presents.

Only one problem: I could barely find any.

OK, it's not as if my local town, sunny Gorron, is wick with Pound Shops, but really, the only things I could find in our local supermarket were the own-brand bargain shampoo (SuperU Bien Vue) at 69p a bottle, and a couple of cakes of soap. I'd been thinking scented candles (4.50, 5.60, 7.57...), hand cream (5 euros and up), packets of joss sticks (3.50) etc, but absolutely no joy. 

Really, when did everything get so fucking expensive? I mean, who really pays 3.57 for a bottle of detergent to wash your hair with? No matter how many fancy passion fruit oils and angels' wings the stuff's meant to have in it, it's still basically a petroleum by-product. Personally, I do use the SuperU 69 cent egg shampoo, because it's perfectly all right and I won't let companies take the piss in this way (I also use it for washing the dog), but it would also be nice to have something prettier to present without the price suddenly quadrupling or quintupling.

A trip around Maison Point Verte (a sort of Homebase) got me incense cones (35 cents each), but forget my ideas for little gewgaws like coasters (2.60), teaspoon rests (5.00 euros), bags of Christmas baubles (5.67) or even joke presents like a box of Whiskas treats (2.67). Even a tin of baked beans in our supermarket costs nearly 3.00 euros. 

The glory that is Lidl did fit the bill, eventually, with packets of cola chews (99 cents), gingerbread (1.57), handcream (99 cents) and pralines (1.99) coming in at under 2.00 euros, so I do now have enough for the bran tub without bankrupting myself, but how daft is it that one can't buy a few simple stocking fillers without breaking the bank? Guess I'll have to fit in a trip to Mayenne before Friday, and have a wander round Noz, where consumer goods go to die...


Mouse crap on my baubles

And I mean literally....

I decided to start putting the deccies up yesterday. It's a tad late for France - you're meant to do it on St Nicolas' Day, December 6, but I was busy scraping filth off the house that day as we were having friends over to eat. 

We used to buy real trees, but I hate the idea that something living is cut down, and of the five we've planted out, only two have taken (now over 20ft high), so for some years now, our 'tree' has been made of plastic. Christmas involves the DH going down to our dank cellar and hauling out the big white box, then slotting all the (amazingly realistic) green branches into the plastic trunk. This, for me, is also a strong memory from childhood in the 70s, after the time when my mother rebelled at still picking needles out of the carpet in February. But so good does our plastic tree look once decorated that I've even had people tell me it smells nice.

This year, as a change from my black, white and metallics-only rule when it comes to deccies, I've decided to add a little of my favourite colour - turquoise. I haven't been able to find any tinsel in this colour yet, but got a couple of packs of baubles from the supermarket.

Sadly, when hauling the decorations box out from under the stairs, my findings weren't quite so pleasant. Back in the days when we actually had money, I used to go to Heal's every January and buy huge glass baubles in the sales.  Each January I wrap these carefully up in kitchen roll and pack them away in cardboard boxes, but clearly neither cardboard nor paper are much barrier to a mouse. When I opened the box up, it was full of shredded paper and mouse shit, entailing the washing of my baubles (and endless opportunities for double-entendre, I'm sure). 

Fortunately, mice being pretty lightweight, nothing was actually broken, which is a relief, as some of the deccies are well over 20 years old now. But it was a surprise, too, to find that my new tiny turquoise baubles are also glass, which I discovered in the usual way after dropping one from a great height onto tiles. 

Right, I shall away to find a stepladder and get the tinsel up... 


Twinkle, twinkle, little dress

If you can't dress up at New Year, when can you?

Occasionwear becomes a tricky issue when you're given criteria like 'ballgown' and 'possibly no heating'.


Why do we always overdo it at Christmas? My stomach is glad to get back to normal

It must be a sign of ageing - my poor digestion is only just recovering from Christmas

A slightly grumpy Christmas?

Now that I've got the Christmas spirit in, perhaps I can get more into the Christmas spirit

Christmas comes but once a year - a shame, then, that it's in winter.

At last - a useful trend in party frocks

A statement dress with a really busy print is a godsend for women over 40 in the cocktail season

dress thumbUseful party frocks for the run-up to Christmas