That was the Christmas that was

Trust that you all had a fantastic Christmas and Santa brought you all the presents that you deserve.  He was very generous with the Bagnall household this year and despite rumours to the contrary the Baguettes must have been on the ‘nice’ list.  As tradition dictates this will be the last update of 2015; the next update will be early in the new year when I will reflect on the year but here I will update you on the events of the Bagnall household over the yuletide.

Both girls broke up from school the Friday before Christmas, which means that they will be off school for just over a fortnight.  Fortunately my new shift pattern meant that although I was working the weekend before Christmas (the tail-end of a seven-day stint) I was off for the three days leading up to Christmas and could spend some time with them (and Ezra) at the start of their holiday.

Monday saw our fireplace, or more accurately our multi-fuel stove, finally installed and although it is the warmest December on record, in the South-East of the UK at least, wood needed to be burnt.  It has taken me a few goes to begin to perfect the technique to obtain a really hot fire, and I still think that there is a lot to learn.  My early mistake was that I was a little too eager to get the logs on the fire, as soon as the kindling was aflame I was piling the wood in.  Thus the stove was never reaching the optimum temperature before being asked to work.  There is still a lot to learn though, something that I am looking forward to.

Tuesday was the first day off as a family and I took this opportunity to take Éowyn to the local cinema to see Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, while Lucinda stayed at home with Amélie and Ezra.  I was seven when Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back was released so I thought it was high time to introduce my eldest to the Star Wars universe.  Éowyn hasn’t seen any of the other films (something that will be rectified over the next few weeks) unlike her friend Blake who, along with his father, accompanied us to the first showing of the day.

Unfortunately, we could not get 4 tickets in a row, so we had 3 in one row and 1 just in front, therefore Martin sat with the children, while I saw on my lonesome.  Even in my excitement of watching a Star Wars film at the cinema, I was conscious of my little girl in the row behind and kept turning round and making sure she was fine.  About half way through the film she tapped me on the shoulder because she wanted to go the toilet, so we headed out of the auditorium.  I took the opportunity to ask her what she thought of the film.  She said that she was enjoying it but was a little scared in places.  This as such didn’t worry me too much as I think that is the beauty of film, that it takes you on an emotional journey, however the next sentence broke my heart.  She said that she had noticed that when Blake was scared he had his daddy’s hand to hold but when she was scared she had nobody’s hand to hold.

Therefore when we returned to the auditorium I told her to sit on my knee to watch the remainder of the film.  As we sat there watching the conclusion of the film my hand was holding her side and chest and I could feel her heart beating at ten to the dozen with the excitement of the final scenes.  Father and daughter bonding over a film.

This isn’t really a forum for my report on the film but suffice to say that I enjoyed it but was disappointed.  That sounds oxymoronic but Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope – as it was retrospectively christened) took Hollywood in a new direction and kicked off the summer blockbuster (in tracks laid by Jaws a couple of years before).  It was a nod to 1930’s serials such as Flash Gordon, it took inspiration from Akira Kurosawa (especially The Hidden Fortress), mixed in 1950’s Westerns and a dash of World War II movies and captured a generation of children’s imaginations.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens on the other hand is trying to be Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, it is not trying to be anything new; it has no story of its own.  That is slightly unfair as it is part of the continuing Star Wars story however, for me, it is a scene by scene remake and brings nothing new to either the Star Wars universe or Hollywood in general.  It was Disney playing safe trying not to damage the franchise with its first film especially since it has paid $4 billion for the rights.  It will do well at the Box Office; it is an enjoyable romp and to be honest I think it is a good film and I will see it again, and I am looking forward to the ‘Director’s Cut’, but is it a great film?  Will it be anyone’s favourite film?  Does it do anything that no other film does?  Unfortunately not.  That is why despite my childhood enthusiasm for the film and for all it stands for it is a disappointment.

We left the cinema with Éowyn asking lots of questions (some I could answer, some I couldn’t – the films haven’t been written yet!) and a promise that we will sit down and watch the remaining canon.  We had a list of things to pick up while in Staines town centre, so after grabbing something quick to eat we battled the Christmas shoppers and headed home.

In November we had offered to cook Christmas dinner for both of our families.  That is Lucinda’s Mom, brothers and their families and my Mom and my sisters.  With Granddad’s passing in October it only seemed right and fitting that we spent Christmas together as a family.  It wasn’t right, however to burden Nanny with the entertainment (even if we, as the next generation cooked the actual meal) so the logical place was our house.  Our lounge/dining room is big enough, with a rearrangement of the furniture to comfortably seat 17, even if the kitchen isn’t quite equipped to cook for that many.  However as we stood on Tuesday afternoon, 72 hours before that meal the house was not in any fit state to welcome Christmas visitors.

The lounge had been emptied to allow the workmen to work on the fireplace and so all the furniture was piled to one side of the dining room.  There was also a layer of dust coating many of the surfaces in the house.  So after returning from the cinema we set about rearranging the furniture and getting ready for the family.

Christmas Eve saw the arrival of Nanny Fran, Auntie Liz, Auntie Mary and Toffee and Frazzle.  The house was ready for Christmas and the fire was on.  Toffee and Frazzle were introduced to their new home (although the girls did not know that we were going to keep them at this point) and we settled down for the evening.  We were all sitting around chatting and watching Christmas telly that we completely forgot to go out into the garden to look for Santa’s International Space Sleigh.

Christmas morning we were expecting to be woken at oh, my gosh it’s early, O’clock.  However that was not to be.  Éowyn and Amélie didn’t wake until 0730 while Ezra was still asleep at 0800! How lucky were we?  Indeed we were downstairs when Ezra woke up and I asked him whether Santa had been and left anything in his room.  His little face dropped and he shook his head.  ‘Are you sure?‘  I inquired (I did have some insider information), ‘Shall we have a look?‘  His face lit up when he saw he big sack of presents and we took it downstairs to join the girls in the big opening.

Nanny Fran, Auntie Liz and Auntie Mary must have also been good girls as Santa had left them a little stocking of presents too.  They certainly were good girls helping us prepare the table and more importantly preparing the mountains of veg for Christmas dinner.

Amazingly, Christmas dinner for 17 went fairly smoothly.  We were planning to sit down and eat at 1500 and we started serving at 1503!  There was a mountain of food left over (that kept us going for days afterwards) and we needed a little bit of a tactical break before tackling the desserts.  Auntie Zoe provided the desserts (with help from Uncle Steven) but as Christmas Day is also her birthday we had a surprise for her.  Instead of bringing in the Christmas Pud alight, we turned the lights out to bring in a birthday cake replete with 4 lit candles.  Apparently, it was only about the third birthday cake she has ever had.

I was back at work on Boxing Day (it is one of the busiest football days!) and Nanny Fran, Auntie Liz and Auntie Mary headed up to West Bromwich, leaving Lucinda and the Baguettes in the house with ridiculous amounts of cardboard and piles of toys.

There was a gap in the fixtures on the following day so it was time to introduce the Baguettes to one of the big responsibilities of pet ownership – cleaning out the cage.  Not sure how long this enthusiasm will last but they all helped cleaning the cage and their house while I disposed of the waste products.  It was a good excuse for another cuddle with the guinea pigs before putting them back into their clean cage for them to mess up and throw their food all over the floor.  I have been teaching the Baguettes that when you approach the guinea pig cage to talk to them softly and walk slowly to the cage so that they know you are coming at it is not a big surprise.  That way they will be less scared (guinea pigs are always scared) and hopefully they will not run and hide as you get there.  We have a long way to go until his guinea pig etiquette is fully established and a long way to go until the guinea pigs are fully trusting, especially of the smaller members of the household, but while the enthusiasm is still there, then we will encourage their interest and hopefully Toffee and Frazzle will begin to trust us more and not be quite as nervous around the kids.

I have a couple of days off around the New Year before football kicks off again on the second of January.  So by the time the girls go back to school I will not have spent too much time with the baguettes, which is a shame but will have had Christmas and New Year off and Lucinda has had the entire time off which would have been an impossibility if she was still at the airport!

I will leave you now but not before I wish you all a very Happy New Year and see you all in 2016!

Peace and Love


PS For those of you that enjoy geeky stats click here for a summary of for 2015.

The Bagnalls’ first pets

Lucinda and I have decided that three children makes our family complete.  I think if we had met when we were 21 rather than 31 and we had a bigger house we may not have stopped at three, however we didn’t and as we had both come from 3 children families it seemed a natural number to stop.  Therefore, if we are to expand the family then the obvious way is to introduce pets to Chez Bagnall.

As children my sisters and I had a plethora of pets: goldfish, mice, gerbils, hamsters, Siberian hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits and dogs so I am not stranger to sharing your house with our forms of life.  Lucinda, however, never had such pets, the Cathrall household did have dogs but no small mammals.

I am a big advocate of children having pets.  Having a pet teaches you many things.  It teaches you respect for other life forms; it teaches you empathy; it teaches you responsibility and it teaches you how to grieve.  These are all important life skills for our little ones to acquire.  Microbiologists will probably tell you that pets are good for your immune system.  Obviously there are those that are allergic to certain animals but for others the inevitable bacteria that will be passed from animal to child helps with the build up of the bodies defences and there is some evidence to suggest that children that grow up around pets have less risk for developing certain allergies.

A pet also helps bond a family together.  If you ask a child, or indeed their parents whether a pet is a part of the family, most people would be almost offended that you had the audacity to ask such a question. “Of course they are!”  It can be the focus of family activities.  Whether that is taking a dog for a walk; encouraging a cat to chase a felt mouse or simply watching a fish swim in its tank.  There is nothing as relaxing as just sitting down stroking the fur of a pet.  It has been proven that stroking a pet lowers blood pressure and slows the heartbeat reducing stress.  Something that can not be understated in our hectic modern lives.  Sometimes it is important to sit down and do nothing – and not feel guilty about it.  If this sitting down and doing nothing can be done as a family, so much the better – children can feel stressed too!

Despite their name guinea pigs are not pigs nor are they from Guinea.  Guinea pigs, cavies or more accurately domestic guinea pigs are short-tailed, rough-haired South American rodents (family Caviidae, genus Cavia).  They were first domesticated around 5000 B.C. from a closely related species of cavy but do not exist naturally in the wild.

Guinea pigs thrive in groups, indeed in Switzerland it is illegal to keep guinea pigs on their own.  Guinea pigs have been kept as pets in Western Europe since European traders brought them back from South America in the 16th century due to their easy going nature and hardiness.  Biological experimentation has been carried out on guinea pigs since at least the 17th century which is where our modern idiom ‘guinea pig’ originates, even though their use in medical experiments has largely been replaced with smaller rodents such as mice and rats since the 20th century.

A guinea pig was one of the first pets that I had as a child, so I have a soft spot for these friendly rodents.  Notwithstanding my affection for guinea pigs there are a number of reasons why I think that they make a great first pet:

  • Guinea pigs are easy to care for. They only require hay, fresh water, fresh vegetables and a small amount of  guinea pig food, plus a vitamin C supplement each day – unlike other rodents guinea pigs can not produce their own vitamin C and thus require it from their food.   They need a secure cage lined with paper and a little sawdust.  A quick tidy daily and a thorough clean once a week and that is it.  If you want to keep them friendly, a daily cuddle is required and you have a happy and contented pet.
  • Guinea pigs are great pets for children. Not as big as rabbits and far more relaxed  than smaller rodents like hamsters and gerbils, however it is still important to supervise younger children and those who aren’t as familiar with animals.
  • Guinea pigs are hardy. When you adhere to the first point guinea pigs will generally stay healthy.  Diseases can be kept at bay with regular trips to the vets.
  • Guinea pigs live long lives. While most small rodents (such as mice, hamsters and gerbils only live for about two or three years, guinea pigs can live for five to seven years, this means that more of a bond can be formed without the extended commitment that comes with a dog or a cat.
  • Guinea pigs have personality. From my experience guinea pigs have different personalities, more so that the smaller rodents. They can be shy; while others can be bold and dominant and just because two guinea pigs look the same doesn’t mean will be the same.
  • Guinea pigs like people. People who haven’t kept guinea pigs often don’t believe this, but they really do recognise and respond to their owners. Many squeal with delight when they see their owners or try to climb up the sides of their cage to greet them.
  • Guinea pigs talk!  Guinea pigs are extremely vocal animals.  They squeak, squawk (indeed my second generation of guinea pigs were called squeak and squawk), and sometime purr like a cat.  They will also make a rumbling sound or chatter their teeth, especially when they are angry or aggressive.

Given their low-maintenance care, overall hardy nature, strong ability to bond with their owners and generally long lifespans, guinea pigs make fantastic first pets for families who want an animal that is loving and rewarding but would find a cat or a dog too much of a burden.

Auntie Liz bought two guinea pigs as class pets for her nursery group and as such had the responsibility for looking after them at weekends.  It soon became apparent that one of the guinea pigs was with pups.  (Male guinea pigs are called boars, female guinea pigs are called sows but that is where their porcine naming convention stops; baby guinea pigs are called pups).  The school didn’t want the responsibility (or cost) of extra mouths to feed so there was a decision to be made about the pups.  This was when Lucinda and I thought it was about time the Baguettes had a pet.

Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz had been down relatively regularly over the last few months and as this has been mainly at weekends, the guinea pigs have been regular visitors too.  The Baguettes loved them and regularly asked to hold them, even if it was for only a couple of minutes before they got too nervous.  It was also a good time for Lucinda to get used to holding them.  Lucinda had never had small rodents as pets as a child and so was also unfamiliar with handling them.  Since guinea pigs are relatively docile and not at all skittish she, and the children, quickly grew in confidence.  Therefore when the pups arrived it was a no brainer that we would take them on.  However, with the fireplace install on-going and thus a lot of dust in the air, not to mention the loud noises associated with building work, we decided to leave it until Christmas for their true adoption.

The pups had already been named by the children, for when they were born we asked them to think of names.  The list was relatively long and had some more unusual names on their (Eric, unfortunately did not make the final list) but eventually the names Toffee and Frazzle were chosen and thus they were christened.

The Baguettes had no idea that there were going to keep the guinea pigs, even though for about a month before we finally took them in we were trying to get the Baguettes used to the idea of having them as pets.  They were very excited when Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz bought them down for Christmas; we expected them to be just as excited when Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz left leaving Toffee and Frazzle behind, however Amélie got herself all upset.  When Lucinda asked why she was upset she said that Nanny Fran should take them back.  Lucinda said that she thought that Amélie would like the guinea pigs as pets and she replied that she would but Nanny Fran would be too upset if she left them here.  Amélie is a sensitive little soul sometimes.  Nevertheless she managed to convince Amélie that although Nanny Fran would miss them, that Toffee and Frazzle would like to stay at our house and Amélie should help look after them.  This satisfied Amélie and thus it was the beginning of pet ownership in chez Bagnall.

Here are photos of the latest additions to the Bagnall household.  We will see how long they keep the attention of the Baguettes.

Peace and Love


A new fireplace

One of the missing features when we bought our house was a fireplace.  Not that it really matters in this day and age and, it goes without saying that it certainly did not put us off the purchase.  Nevertheless when we had issues with our central heating last year we thought that a fireplace would have been a nice back up, as well as the æsthetic appeal of a flame – to satisfy the pyromaniac in me.

We, therefore, have kept an eye on the many house-related magazines that Lucinda buys for general decorating tips and fashions for fireplace-related ideas.  It was in one of these magazines that we saw a woodburning (to be strictly accurate: multifuel) stove that we liked.  It is amazing when you start looking into areas in which you are not familiar, how big and complex such a market is and so it was for stoves.  Nevertheless we both like the company, the company name and more specifically the stove itself.  Established in 2001 Chilli Penguin are small family run business located near the stunning coastline of the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales.  We liked the fact that it was a UK based company; we liked the fact that they are highly efficient; we liked the design but above all that we liked the chilli penguin logo.

Chilli Penguin have developed a unique clean burn system. Air is drawn in from the underside of the stove through stainless steel channels within the firebox. These channels direct jets of oxygen directly into the fire and down the back of the glass. This pre-heated secondary combustion air ignites the unburnt combustable gases. This means that the wood burns far more efficiently it also means that the blackening of the stove glass is minimised, giving a clear view of the fire.

To prevent the stove from dominating the room we decided that we would like a shallow but wide stove and Chilli Penguin have just the design: Woody.  The Woody is the ‘widescreen’ of woodturning stoves, slim but wide allowing longer logs to be burned.  It is also their most efficient stove with 82% efficiency burning wood (increasing to 87% for coal!).  To give you some idea of what that means, burning wood in an open fire is between 20-30% efficient, so we will get about 3 times as much energy out of the same volume of wood which effectively means that we will only need a third of the wood that an open fire would require.  It has also passed its DEFRA testing which allows it to be used in smoke control areas.

Now we had chosen a stove we needed to chose an installation company.  Windsor and Eton Stoves had a fantastic on-line reputation and when Chris came round we immediately liked him and put us at ease about the construction and gave us some design ideas.  Then those magazines came in handy again and we came up with what we wanted and booked him in.

We were very happy with Chris and his team, although his e-mail communications was sometimes wanting (great on the phone, not so good on email) but would quite happily live with that for the work that they did in installing our new fireplace.  It is amazing to see the amount of work that was required behind (and under) the scenes to make a safe and sturdy install.  There is a real science behind not only burning wood but the safety required to ensure that we do not poison the family with carbon monoxide (carbon monoxide detector fitted as part of the install).

With this in mind I asked, and received, for Christmas a book on wood:  chopping wood, storing wood, burning wood the Scandinavian way – and as a people that are the pre-eminent experts on wood there can be no better teacher.  I have bought my 6.5 lb splitting maul and a 1.5lb hand axe; I have yet to build my log store (out of pallets that brought the material to build the fireplace) then I will be all prepared for a cold spell – even if, as fate, would have it, we have experienced the warmest December on record.

Let’s hope it turns cold so that I have a real excuse to start to burn things!  For those of you that like that sort of thing here is the story of the build in photo form (redecoration to begin in the new year):

Peace and Love