31 December 2014

Other stuff : The highs and lows of Christmas

So it's 9.30pm on New Year's Eve 2014. There are plenty of things I should be doing rather than writing this- sipping champagne; eating a many-course posh dinner in a lovely restaurant; sitting in a crowded pub with friends; playing daft board games in a cosy cottage somewhere up north. But no. This year we're at home, I have already had my one and only glass of the sparkly stuff (and bloody lovely it was too), we've eaten our pizza, and we've had a little reminisce of the year with photos on Apple TV.

It must be bedtime, right?

Wrong. Instead, I am determined to get one more post in this year. December has not been my, ahem, most prolific blogging month, and without boring the pants off you it's largely been down to illness. But I can't write about Christmas once that clock's ticked on past midnight, so without further ado (and apologies if it sounds a bit off-the-cuff: it is)...

Five Rubbish Things About This Christmas
(bear with me, we'll finish with the good bits. I'm a glass half-full kind of gal. Mostly.)

1 : Cub deciding to wake up between 4.50 and 5.30am EVERY DAY of the holiday. Yep, her spidey-sense started tingling the moment daddy's term finished, and now apparently there are not enough hours in a (normal person's) day to play with him. So it's very disappointing when it's mummy's turn to get up. Cue tantrum. Yawn.

2 : The Snowman. Don't get me wrong; I love The Snowman. It makes me very nostalgic. But we introduced Cub to it a few weeks ago, and that was our biggest mistake. Though I love it for keeping madam's attention for more than a Peppa Pig (the name I have given for the unit of time formerly known as Five Minutes), watching it 20+ times in the last 2 weeks has made me love it just a little bit less.

3 : Conjunctivitis. And the Return of the Cough. A couple of lovely little extra gifts to Cub. Does Father Christmas accept returns?

4 : No alcohol. Well, okay, I may have allowed myself a cheeky glass or two here or there, but there have frankly been moments where I'd have been glad of a good few extra-strength margaritas. In retrospect ordering a mini-cask of real ale for the festive period for our visitors to demolish may have been bordering on self-torture.

5 : The bit where Christmas finished and everyone went home. And instead of going to a wedding up north of good friends we see very rarely- and on to Scotland for some more family time- we stayed at home with the aforementioned gunky eyes, hacking cough, and, just to add insult to injury, a couple of emerging pesky molars.

And Five Great Things About This Christmas...

1 : Friends and family. It's been a tough few weeks with all the lurgies, pregnancy exhaustion, toddler tantrums and early mornings, but it's all made better by our fabulous families and friends. You know it's going to be okay when Granddad gets up at 6am to keep you company with the far-too-wide-awake toddler- and makes you a cup of tea to boot. Frankly this list could stop right here and I'd be content.

2 : Presents. I know I'm not meant to say that, but giving things that draw a smile, and receiving things that I might enjoy in those precious few moments I have to myself was fun. Amongst other things I got a few CDs (oh yes, 2014, I am catching up- albeit just as you're leaving the building), some books I've wanted for ages, a cosy dressing gown and slippers, lots of nibbly things, and some lovely luxurious beauty bits and pieces that might help me feel less like an oversized tiger-striped bouncy ball on legs. And yes, I did get the box of Guylian chocolate seashells, and yes, I did polish them off within a couple of days.

3 : Doctor Who. I've always had a soft spot for Doctor Who- call it childhood nostalgia- but I've found it much less engaging in the last year or so. Probably says more about me and my ability to engage properly with a TV programme (never mind a film) than the writing/ actors. But the Christmas episodes are invariably a bit rubbish, what with trying a bit too hard to be cuddly and heartwarming; kind of like an anti-Eastenders. But this year's had a decent plot, a bit of tension, and was actually quite scary. Good Christmas-Day-Eve entertainment that took me right up to my extravagant 9.30 bedtime (we were watching it on catch-up).

4 : Ikea. Thanks for the toy kitchen (especially with a sale price). And the easel. Toy kitchen + easel = Happy Cub (and that is not an achievement to be sneezed at at the moment).

5 : Marks and Spencer's Bonfire Toffee Apple Parkin. I may have mentioned how unfestive I am when it comes to Christmassy desserts, and so, what with hosting Christmas lunch this year, I took charge of the dessert decision and decided not to exclude myself. And this is what we had. Mmm. Mmmmmmmm. Parkin. Toffee sauce. Apples for the vitamins. A drizzle of cream. Gorgeous, and somehow festive. (Oh, and since I've mentioned Christmas food- brussels sprouts chopped up and sautéed with bacon are much, much yummier than the old standard.)

So that's me for 2014. I'll try and be better- or at least, more frequent- with posts next year but that could hit a small hiccup come February 10th. For now, I am going to admit defeat and, at 10.30pm, head to bed (Husband has already given in) which will make this the first New Year I have not actually seen in. Ah well. There's been plenty of great ones and there'll be plenty more to come.

Happy New Year!

03 December 2014

Music stuff : Favourite albums (an abridged list)

five favourite albums

I don't know if I mentioned it, but I haven't been feeling very well recently.

I did? Oh.

To be fair we are, as a family of three, now on our fifth course of antibiotics in the space of three weeks, but we are now on the mend*. And as I discovered today that the Malteser Malteaster bunny has been reborn as the Merryteaser reindeer, I think I may just pull through. I know you'll be relieved.
*hopefully. And when I say hopefully, I mean we'd bloody well better be.

So the last few weeks has really just been about keeping our heads above water than actually achieving very much. You know, getting the important things done, like having a shower. Taking the bins out. Doing an occasional load of laundry. Eating. Feeding Cub (not that she's that bothered right now). Any lucid, vaguely energetic moments I've had have been swallowed up by design work (A Good Thing) and Christmas present buying (An Even Better Thing) but not much of anything else- not even listening to music (aside from the obligatory Christmas tunes whilst putting the tree up on Sunday, obviously).

Pre-Cub I would spend ages trawling the internet for new music- mostly via Hype Machine, but also This Is My Jam, BBC Music, Metacritic and sometimes iTunes and Amazon. Now I manage that about once a month, at best. I feel like I've lost my mojo for getting excited over something new I hear; or maybe I just don't have the time or energy to search properly, listen, appreciate, and listen again. I do miss that feeling of stumbling upon a great song by a previously unheard-of band, then realising that their other stuff is pretty good too, and then listening to them obsessively over and over, then irritating everyone I know by constantly telling them how great the band is. It's possible my nearest and dearest are not missing this as much as me.

Instead of new tunes, then, I'm going with golden oldies. Albums that I love and go back to again and again. Now this is a real challenge with a list of only five, so I'll just pick the ones that spring to mind right now, which- let's face it- are likely to be the ones that make me feel better when I'm feeling really pants.

1 : The National - Boxer

Possibly my favourite band in the world. I think I first heard Fake Empire on a free CD from Q Magazine in 2007; then in my annual end-of-year trawl of the albums everyone else had already realised were good, Boxer popped up time and time again. Low-key and lovely, don't get the wrong impression if I tell you it used to help me sleep on long flights. I'm not sure that really does it justice.
Favourite song: Fake Empire. Oh, the piano intro.

2 : Paul Simon - Graceland

Other than remembering the video for You Can Call Me Al (aged 10), I remained completely unaware of the rest of this album for a shamefully long time. Not till 1999, in fact, whilst on a road trip with friends through western US, when it formed the major part of our soundtrack. It was on that trip that I first met my husband, so it won't take a genius to work out why- other than it's a great album- I'm so fond of it. Even though I'm still a little bit disappointed that Chevy Chase is not, in fact, Paul Simon.
Favourite song: Hmmm. Perhaps Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes

3 : Crowded House - Together Alone

I don't care if everyone thinks they're MOR. I like them. I've liked them since first hearing Woodface (you know, the one with Weather With You on it) on the school drama trip to Greece in 1992. But Together Alone is my favourite, probably because I am a little bit in love with New Zealand. It made me imagine New Zealand before I'd even been there, and now I've been there it just reminds me of it. I may also be one of the few people to have made an extra effort to visit the Crowded House museum (aka a room in the local library) in the Finn brothers' home town of Te Awamutu. Husband was not over the moon about that detour, but then he's never forgiven me for insisting on visiting the Cumberland Pencil Museum, either.
Favourite song: Catherine Wheels. Or In My Command. Or Kare Kare, because it makes me think of NZ beaches. Oh, I don't know.

4 : Bluetones - Expecting To Fly

I was in a pub over the weekend and noticed during one of my frequent trips to the loo (did I also forget to mention I'm pregnant?) a poster advertising their New Year's Eve party, at which Mark Morriss was appearing. Once I remembered that Mark Morriss was he of Bluetones fame and not Mark 'Return of the Mack' Morrisson, I got, in quick succession, quite excited (Mark Morriss! The Bluetones!), then very disappointed (I don't live near here anymore! I have a child! I NEVER GO OUT ANYMORE!). This album was a bit of a first-year-of-university soundtrack, so my nostalgic memories of it are possibly just a little alcohol-tinged...
Favourite song: Putting Out Fires. It's a bit epic. And good to sing loudly whilst drunk. I think. I don't really remember.

5 : Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight

I think I first heard The Twist on the soundtrack of the US series Chuck, and very quickly became obsessed. This was whilst we were living in Beijing, so most of my memories of discovering how fantastic it is are from perilous journeys in taxis (which had three stages: one: initial conversation in broken Chinese resulting in tentative agreement of destination. Two: the journey, during which I'd smugly sit back and relax with my headphones on, taking in Beijing scenery, proud of my ability to successfully communicate said destination. Three: the alarming moment of realisation that we were nowhere near said destination. At all. Cue ripping headphones off and trying to explain destination again to increasingly grumpy driver before giving up and just getting out in the middle of who-knew-where).
Favourite song: I Feel Better

I realise I've told you nothing useful about the albums themselves, but you'll just have to go and listen, if you don't already know them. I hope you enjoy them.

And yes, I know I've missed out a billion classics, and yes, I know I'll want to go back and change this post about twenty times in the next few hours. A Merryteaser or two should distract me...