It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees

I’m on a roll, you wait for ages for an update and then a second appears without warning!  The previous revolved around mommy and daddy – for once – this one is back on track and is about the people you really want to read about:  The Baguettes!

As one would expect for a write up around Christmas there is an awful amount of Christmas related shenanigans in the lives of the Bagnalls.

As per last year, our local garden centre, Vermeulens, opened their Santa’s grotto.  This year it took on a little more of a personal significance.  Vermeulens run the grotto for free but ask for donations for local charity and the charity chosen this year was Sam Beare Hospice who were so supportive with our family through Granddad’s illness.  Indeed, it is the charity that we have raised money for on Granddad’s memorial page, (which you can find here).

Unfortunately, I was working on that weekend, so I couldn’t visit Santa with the girls and Ezra, but Lucinda met up with a couple of friends and their children so there was a big group of them going to ask Santa for all the gifts that you had no idea that they wanted and haven’t bought!

This first visit to Santa was the day after the first pantomime of the season.  The local amateur dramatics society, the Riverside Players, put on a pantomime every year at the Memorial Hall in Old Windsor.  This year was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Again, I was, unfortunately, working and so Lucinda took Éowyn and Amélie with Éowyn’s best friend Aaliyah (Ezra stayed at Nanny’s – he is a little too young to sit through a pantomime just yet).  Amélie spent most of the show hiding under the chair, frightened of the Evil Stepmother – yet said how much she enjoyed it on her return.  As with all of their performances, the Riverside Players pantomime was of an extremely high standard and enjoyed by all.

Since I was at work for both of those events, we needed to book up secondary events so that I could accompany the Baguettes, on my weekends off.  Therefore the following Sunday morning we headed to Bocketts farm in deepest, darkest Surrey (Fetcham, near Leatherhead to be precise), to visit the Santa grotto there.  Bocketts do not allow you to pre-book your visit to Santa; you turn up then allocated the next available slot to visit Santa.

Therefore, we set out nice and early Sunday morning to ensure that we were there as soon as Bocketts opened so that we could find ourselves in one of the early slots.  Indeed, we turned up at 0915 and the girls were on the tractor-trailer (this is a grotto on a working farm) at 0930!  The adults walked alongside the trailer for the short journey to the converted barn where Santa has set up his grotto.

You walk through to his straw lined room and plonk yourself on the hay bales arranged as seats in front of Santa.  It was very well done, and he called each child (or group of children) up and opened his big book of presents and wrote their names down (even if he had a slight issue with our children’s names) and what presents they would like, before handing out a little present to them.

One aside to our visit was an event, which was a little strange and highlights the smallness of the world. A work colleague was looking through his Facebook timeline, when his niece’s husband posted a picture of their child’s visit to Santa. He looked at the photo and thought why is Baggie in that photo?  Therefore, he reposted it on my timeline to confirm that it was indeed me.  There, sitting on a hay bale next to Santa was my good self.  His niece and her husband had taken their child to see Santa at the same time, and same place, as us.  Two sets of strangers linked by a mutual acquaintance, mobile phone camera footage and social media.  What a strange world that we live in.

So, two trips to Santa, one with daddy and one without; so it was with pantomimes.  A second trip to the theatre beckoned, this time a ‘professional’ pantomime, Sleeping Beauty at Woking theatre.  Again, Ezra stopped in with Nanny while Mommy and Daddy took Éowyn and Amélie, around the M25 deeper into Surrey.

The seats were up in the gods and although afforded us a good view was a little vertiginous!  This was my first professional pantomime at a theatre as an adult.  Apparently we used to go to the pantomime as children with my cousins, but I have to rely on Nanny Fran’s memory as I have no recollection of these big nights out.  Obviously, I have seen amateur ones, my dad’s employers used to put them on for the families of the workers when I was a child.  My dad was very much involved in the productions, indeed one year he was one of the ugly sisters in their production of Cinderella.  Therefore, I am no stranger to the Pantomime but since we have kids I have been working in the weekends leading up to Christmas and so have not been able to attend this family tradition.  Now, my job has changed and I am actually off at weekends there will be more of these in the future!

The other great tradition of this time of the year is the ubiquitous school nativity play.  With two children of school age then that means two nativity plays to enjoy.  However, Éowyn attends drama classes after school and thus there was an additional end of term performance to attend.  With a stroke of fortune, or just good planning on the part of the school we were able to attend performances of all three plays on the same day.

Neither of the girls had starring roles, Éowyn had been asked to be a narrator but had declined because there were too many lines to read, and she was the narrator last year.

Amélie’s play was based around a Christmas tree and the toys that come to life on Christmas Eve.  Amélie was a dancing doll and had a song to sing and a dance to perform – along with the other dancing dolls.  You could see the concentration in her face and she was obviously enjoying it.  With nearly 100 children, all with roles to play it is quite a testament to the teachers and staff that the play was so entertaining considering the ages of the children (4 and 5).  The main issue was the number of parents that stood up throughout the play blocking the view of everyone else.  There is an inherent selfishness in too many people.  By all means, stand up and encourage your child, and take a photo if you want but half a thought for the other 100 people who are also there to see their child and would also like to take a photo. Indeed, one of the mothers gave another mother a piece of her mind regarding her inconsideration.

Éowyn’s play was entitled ‘Behind the stable door’ and told the story of the nativity from the point of view of the animals that had been kicked out of the stable to allow Joseph and Mary to spend the night.  Éowyn was in the choir.  Now, I love my daughter dearly but she is not the greatest of singers so it was a brave move by the casting director.  Nevertheless, she sang her heart out and it sounded more than passable.  Perhaps because the parents watching Éowyn’s play have sat through a number of nativity plays by the time they reach year 2, there was very little standing and blocking of views; much more consideration.

The third play of the day was Éowyn’s Sense Theatre production of a highly abridged version of Annie.  Now I don’t want to be disparaging but considering that for an hour a week for the last 12 weeks they have been practising this, and the children there all want to do drama after school I felt that the two nativity plays that we saw earlier on in the day were much more polished.  Is that a testament to the teachers and staff of the school or a slight on the drama teachers I am not sure.  Saying that, there were some very good individual performances and Éowyn was definitely putting the effort in and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself.  Shame she didn’t have a bigger speaking part, but she was one of the youngest in that group.  It will be interesting to see if she wants to continue with drama and whether she wants to take it any further.  You will have to watch this space.

Therefore, after two quick updates, all before Christmas I had better leave you there so that you can look at the photos and put your feet up while you drink your mulled wine and eat your festive nuts.

Peace and Love


P.S.   As was the case last last year, the International Space Station will pass over the UK at approximately 1730 on Christmas Eve.  Therefore, if there are clear skies you can look up and wave at the British astronaut Major Tim Peake as he hurtles through space.  However, if there are any children reading, at 1730 Santa’s sleigh will be visible in the sky as he rushes to India to hand out presents to the good boys and girls in that part of the world.

P.P.S.   One more little astronomical note:  If you are younger than 38 this will be the first time that you will have seen a full moon on Christmas Day.  The last time this happened was 1977 and the next one will not be until 2034.  So, again, if the skies are clear take a peek at the moon after the Christmas festivities and marvel at its fullness.  Is it any coincidence that the first Star Wars film was also released in 1977?  Nah!

P.P.P.S.  Any guesses for this year’s Christmas Lyric title?  Award yourselves 25 points if you said River by Joni Mitchell.

That was Christmas 2014

I trust that you all had a very Merry Christmas and Father Christmas left you all that you wanted.  As 2014 draws to a close this will be the last update of the year but expect the next on the first day of the new year which will reflect on the year as a whole.  Here I will just concern myself with events in the Bagnall household that have happening in the last few weeks.

Both girls broke up from School the Friday before Christmas, which will give them just over 2 weeks off school.  Fortunately the football fixtures (which are usually heavy over the Christmas period) have, due to Christmas falling on a Thursday, meant that the 40 Premier League games that were scheduled over that same period have been spread over only 7 days.  This has meant that although I have had to work Boxing Day, and will be working New Year’s Day (in addition to the other 5) I have managed to spend some time with the family.

Lucinda’s shifts have also been a little kind and apart from New Year;s Day and Sunday 28th December I have been off to look after the kids.  So we have only had to trouble Nanny and Granddad twice over the Christmas holidays.  Not ideal but both of us work in industries that require shift work and have worked in such industries all our working lives, we are kind of used to it.

Needless to say in the days leading up to Christmas the girls were getting more and more excited.  We tempered that excitement by involving them in getting the house prepared for Christmas, making room for potential new presents and getting the spare room sorted for the visit of Nanny Fran, Auntie Liz and Auntie Mary.

Yes, this year we decided that we would host Christmas.  With Nanny Fran living in West Bromwich and with my work meaning that I always work Boxing Day (the day after Christmas day for non-UK readers – a full round of football fixtures), we never spend Christmas day with my family.  As we now have the room to accommodate a dozen or so diners relatively comfortably we took advantage of our new home (and new extending dining table) to invite the family round for Christmas dinner.  With Nanny Fran and Aunties Liz and Mary living so far away it made sense that they stopped for a couple of days to take full advantage.  Therefore, Nanny Fran and the Aunties came Christmas Eve, returning home Boxing day.

Before, any of that could happen though, the house had to be tidied within an inch of its life to make room not only for three extra guests but also the presents that they would undoubtedly bring with them.  That was how the beginning of the week was spent, trying to calm the excitement with tidying.

The girls’ imaginations were probably running overtime though and this is probably what lead to Amélie creeping into our room at 0300 scared because there was a monster in her room.  Daddy is volunteered by Mommy to go monster hunting.  So I lead Amélie back into her room.  I asked her what it looks like and she replies that it looks like a disc with two faces.  So we enter the room and I ask her if she can still see it.  She says that it is by the window.  I walk over there and say quite confidently state that there is no monster.  ‘You are not looking properly,‘ she says.  So I wave my hands about explaining that if I can do this then there can not be a monster there.  Amélie starts to get agitated, ‘You are NOT looking properly!‘ she says.  Trying to calm her down I ask her where it is.  ‘Right behind you!’  Pregnant pause: ‘Grinning!

Now I may be a 6 foot 3 bloke in what I believe to be a monster-free home but I am not ashamed to say that the earnestness in which Amélie say those four words made my hackles raise and adrenalin start pumping through my veins.  So I looked around to see what could be causing the shadow that her imagination was turning into a grinning two-faced disc monster.  I couldn’t see anything but being as positive as I could be under the circumstances that it was either the moon peaking through the crack in the curtains or the night light (or a combination of the two) was the cause of the denizen of the night, I moved some of the untidied things about, including the main suspect, an errant sock.  Amélie confirmed that she could no longer see the monster but was scared that it would come back.  So I told her to take her teddy to be as we all know that the reason that children take teddies to bed is that monsters are scared of teddies.  Amélie accepted this and was soon snoring.  I crept back into our room, keeping an eye out for a two-faced disc monster on the way.

So with the house tidied and only a few threats to phone Santa Claus it was Christmas Eve before we knew it and the first of our visitors arrived. Nanny Fran, Auntie Liz and Auntie Mary arrived before another special visitor.  The UK were blessed with the coincidence that the International Space Station’s orbit brought it over during the week or so before Christmas.  Alerted to this fact via social media, we decided, along with many parents across the land, to tell the children that it was Santa’s sleigh heading towards the children of Thailand.  So at 17:23 we stood in our garden in the freezing cold looking for a bright light to streak across the sky.  We were blessed with clear skies and a good viewing angle and sure enough we watched it arc across the sky.  Amélie was even convinced that she could see Rudolph’s bright red nose, and Santa waving.

We thank the crew of the International Space Station for impersonating Santa Claus so well, and from now on it will be known as Santa’s International Space Sleigh.

So, after Santa’s appearance it was relatively easy to get the kids into bed ready for his appearance in chez Bagnall.

The girls must have been very good as Santa had left them a well packed stocking each, and Amélie had been left a purple pram for her baby.  Santa didn’t factor Amélie waking at 0230 for a wee, noticing the pram and wheeling it in to Mommy and Daddy’s room to show them.  We managed to convince her to go back to sleep before Santa had noticed that she was awake and that it would still be there in the morning.  Fortunately she did what she was told.

Nanny Fran, Auntie Liz and Auntie Mary must have been good girls too, as there was a little stocking left for each of them too.

Christmas morning was taken up by opening presents, and there was a lot of them.  Opening presents and bacon sandwiches.  Then it was time for the main event of Christmas, Christmas Dinner.  I was the nominated chef of the day cooking for the families Bagnall and Cathrall.  I had a little help in the form of the turkey was cooked by Nanny and Granddad, because I wouldn’t have had enough cooker space (it was tight as it was).  Nevertheless everything was cooked, nothing got burnt and everyone ate to their hearts (or stomach’s content).  In fact I could have probably served another half a dozen people easily.  Indeed we are still making our way through the leftovers.

When we suggested that we would cook Christmas dinner we had but one condition: everyone wore a Christmas jumper.  I am pleased to report that everyone did and it certainly added to the Christmasiness, unfortunately there was one element missing: snow.  It was cold but no snow.  Amélie was certainly disappointed and kept asking when it was going to snow.  It saved Daddy asking the same question. But despite the lack of snow as Christmases go it was pretty darn good, even without the mantelpiece, roaring log fire, egg-nog and pipe (don’t ask).  Not sure if we can do it all again next year, but ask me again in October.

There may not have been any snow in Staines Upon Thames on Christmas day but Nanny Fran was blessed with some on her return to West Bromwich, indeed it was a veritable blizzard during the Boxing day game between West Bromwich Albion and Manchester City.  We are still waiting for our first fall here.  Indeed, it has not snowed since we moved in.  A blessing considering the lack of heating on the ground floor (update in future episodes).

All it leaves me to say, is that I trust that you all had a great Christmas and indeed a great 2014 and thank you for reading.  I would also like to thank you all for your generosity all three baguettes were very blessed with the gifts they received, now we just have to find space for them all and I look forward to seeing you all in 2015.

Peace and love