That was the Christmas that was

And so Christmas is done for another year (unless you are looking forward to the Epiphany) and so indeed is another year!  Yes 2012 seems to have flown by and after surviving the Apocalypse that never was we stand at the threshold of 2013.  There will be another update looking back at 2012 and looking forward to the new year so tune in later in the week for that one.

So how was the Bagnall Christmas?  Well let me take you back a dozen or so days before the big day.  Peter Jackson’s eagerly awaited first film in the Hobbit trilogy was released.  For those of you not in the know the Hobbit is the prequel to the events that culminate in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  That ‘first’ trilogy was released each December of the first three years of the millennium. For each of the films myself and a group of friends went to see the first UK public performance of the film at the Odeon Leicester Square (London).  Therefore it seemed right and proper to do the same for these films and so the tradition has been re-ignited.  Therefore Thursday 13th December 2012, around noon saw 15 of us waiting in the chill air at the eastern side of Leicester Square before hurrying inside for the 12:10 showing ready to renew the tradition, this time with my wife in tow (someone I didn’t even know when the last in the films (The Return of the King) was released – hasn’t it been an exciting decade!).

The next day was Éowyn’s last day at school and the obligatory Christmas concert.  Éowyn had been practising the Christmas songs for weeks and had really been looking forward to it.  The weather had changed from cold and clear the day before to overcast and heavy rain (the weather pattern that has settled over this corner of the globe for the last two weeks) and so the parents (and grandparents for Nanny and Granddad came too) were a little on the soggy side by the time we headed indoors.  Nevertheless the concert warmed us all up.  The children were all in costume (Éowyn was dressed as the Virgin Mary with a little baby Jesus doll) and they sang their hearts out and afterwards there were mince pies.  To complete the concert morning there was the raffle draw.  Éowyn won the first of the teddy bear raffle and so was able to take her pick of the soft toys on offer.  So guess which one our first born picked?  Yes, that’s right the biggest one there, a life-size dog! (A smallish dog but a dog nonetheless).

The inclement weather stopped us doing anything of note that afternoon, it was just too wet!  The weather continued in the same vein over the weekend (which I was working so it wasn’t too intrusive!) but there was a break in the rain on the Monday and so we took full advantage.  Our Merlin Passes have been underused this year (mainly due to the fact that it has been one of the wettest years on record) but Chessington World of Adventures and Christmas opening seemed like the perfect opportunity to use them for the final time in 2012.  Yes, Chessington World of Adventures opened it’s zoo doors (and a couple of the rides) and welcomed Santa in the lead up to Christmas day.  As we had not managed to take the girls to visit Santa is seemed to be custom made for us to take the short trip around the M25.

We arrived in time for the first Santa show of the day and decided to head there straight away.  A little show was put on before the arrival of the man himself, who told the gathered children a little story about a little Christmas tree before handing out Christmas chocolates.  The girls enjoyed themselves and wanted to go and see the reindeer straight afterwards.  We then headed to the Bubble Works ride before wandering around the zoo.  For free it was a perfect day out but if I was being critical it was not as good as the Santa grotto at Peppa Pig World.  I wonder where we will see him next year?  Definitely going to see him in Lapland when the girls (and the boy) are a little older.

The Christmas schedule over the last few years has been a meal around our house for the family and then everyone around Lucinda’s parents for Christmas dinner.  However Lucinda’s mum was concerned that if her Dad had had his knee replacement that they were hoping would happen before Christmas that he would not be able to help her prepare the day (due to various norovirus outbreaks at the hospital his operation will now happen early 2013).  Thus to take that worry off her and because Lucinda’s brother Steve and his family were unable to make it on Christmas day we volunteered to host Christmas day at Chez Bagnall for Lucinda’s parents and Mike and his family.  Steve and his family were, however, able to make it on Christmas Eve and because our house is a little on the small side (and we were hosting Christmas day) Lucinda’s brother Mike volunteered to host Christmas Eve.  It was good to see the family together at Christmas and it was nice to see all the cousins together under one roof.

I was at work for the lead up to Christmas however I did manage to get Christmas Eve and Christmas day off!  Unfortunately Lucinda didn’t!    Oh, the joys of shift workers!  Indeed she was working from 0530 Christmas day and so would miss the girls opening their stocking presents.  Thanks to modern technology she didn’t have to completely miss it.  A video camera and a tripod and strategically placed children meant that she could relive joy on their faces as they opened present after present.  Lucinda’s dad popped round mid-morning to take the girls so that I could concentrate on preparing Christmas dinner and the house for our dinner guests.  I am pleased to report that the dinner went well and everyone went home sated.  I have to say that after everyone left and we had put the girls to bed myself and Lucinda turned in.  We were both knackered.

Boxing Day is traditionally a big day for football in the UK and this year was one of the biggest, indeed if it wasn’t for the tube strike putting pay to the Arsenal v West Ham United game it would have been a full house.  As the Premier League is my biggest client I was therefore back in work, no rest for the wicked!  The upside of the fact that it was a busy Boxing Day was the bonus that there were no football games on the next two days and so I took advantage of that hiatus to take a couple of days off work.  I wasn’t going to put my feet up though, there was the small matter of seeing my mom.

As I have been working every weekend and my mom only has weekends off, I haven’t seen much of my mom this year.  However 2012 is to be the last year my mom will be working as she has decided that she would hang up her work shoes and retire.  She may be retiring from work but with a third grandchild on the way we will no doubt keep her very busy.  And so we did on the Thursday.  It was  one of those flying visits driving up on the morning, spending the day with mom and my sisters and then getting the girls ready for bed and heading back down the M40 in the evening.

Éowyn and Amélie enjoyed seeing the Bagnall side of their family as they don’t see them that often.  Éowyn loves seeing her Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz but Amélie’s favourite is definitely her Auntie Mary.  Maybe it is some kind of middle child kindred spirit that they share but whenever we say do you want to go and see Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz, Amélie will say: ‘And Auntie Mary?‘ Hopefully they will see more of their Black Country family in 2013.

Football and televised football stops for no man (or woman) and thus neither does work for me and so with galleries beckoning I will bid you adieu and just take time to wish you all the best for the New Year and hope that 2013 brings you love, luck and happiness.

Love and Peace


Bagnalls abroad

I was doing so well with updating this website and then May befell this corner of the internet.  Regular readers may be wondering what has happened, ‘has he got bored?’; ‘has he run out of gas?’ or ‘has nothing happened?’.  Quite the contrary my dear readers, we have been away, on holiday, vacating (if that is a word).  The football seasons have finished, live programming is slowing (not quite gone away but definitely reducing) and so we decided to take advantage of this hiatus in my busy work life and head off for the sun as a family. 

We only booked the holiday last month (Friday the 13th for any of you friggatriskaidekaphobics among you) and were due to fly out on Lucinda’s birthday from Gatwick airport.  We upgraded to more sociable flight times (0730 instead of 0430) but still decided to book a hotel near Gatwick just to avoid unnecessary fuss on the morning, it is hard enough to get yourself packed a ready that early in a morning without the additional hassle of attempting to get two sleepy youngsters ready too!  So with suitcase packed and Lucinda’s presents and cards packed we headed to Gatwick on the Thursday night bound for Tenerife the next morning.

In the build up to our holiday the weather in the UK had been atrocious: the wettest April since records began, night frosts in May (Snow in Scotland and in parts of the Midlands!) and generally cold, dark, damp days.  So, with the magic of the internet at our fingertips, we searched for long range weather forecasts for Tenerife.  Tenerife, (for those of you that don’t know is the largest of the Canary islands – more geography later) and the Canary islands as a whole, were experiencing a heatwave at the beginning of May with temperatures of around 40°C (104°F in old money) but the long range forecasts that we could find were predicting thunderstorms and rain for the majority of our holiday.  ‘Just our luck’ we thought and we became a little despondent.  We have a knack of taking the rain with us on holiday (Barbados, Italy, Kent), which is good in some ways as we are both fair skinned and easily burn but wet and windy weather is not conducive to a happy holiday, especially with two little ones (then again neither would 40°C temperatures either).

This was also going to be Amélie’s first flight (and only Éowyn’s third!) beating her sister by exactly a week for the bragging rights of who was first to fly (although both flew as foetuses) by virtue of being 598 days old as opposed to Éowyn’s 605.  So it was with a little trepidation that we headed off to the airport at Oh my god it is early o’clock.  Just what you want on your birthday.  We checked in and went through security and on to the plane pretty painlessly (without any of the trips to the toilet that accompanied Éowyn’s first flight!).  It was a full flight with very little leg room on our chartered 737, however with Éowyn now requiring a seat of her own it was nice that we had a row of three seats to ourselves.  Both girls were excellent on the plane especially considering it is a long flight (4 hours 20 minutes on the way there) without any onboard entertainment (thank Steve Jobs for the iPad!).  With a certain amount of counterintuitiveness (is that a word?) we actually think that a longer haul flight maybe easy purely down to the fact that the children can be entertained for hours with a film or cartoons on a small seat mounted screen.  Hopefully we will test this theory soon.

An hour coach journey greeted us on arrival in Tenerife, as did 22°C and overcast skies.  It is Lucinda and my first experience with a package holiday (usually we book everything separately and hope for the best) and it does take the worry out of many things.  You literally arrive at the airport and follow the signs, however it does mean that a big group of you all arrive at the hotel at the same time and so at the end of an exhausting trip it takes another 40 minutes or so before you get to the front of the check-in queue and finally get the keycard to your apartment, all the time while attempting to keep two children in view (extremely difficult when they run in opposite directions – imagine herding cats).  The other benefit of a package holiday is that you have a rep who can help sort out issues and we called upon our rep almost immediately.  Check-in was relatively painless until we tried to confirm that there was a cot (for Amélie in the room).  There was no cot and there were no cots available until tomorrow.  Not what you want to hear after 12 hours of journeying.  Thankfully that problem was handed over to the rep and by 1800 we had a cot in our room in plenty of time for Amélie’s bedtime.

Before we even arrived in Tenerife there were two things that I wanted to do while we were there: a) visit Loro Parque and b) visit Mount Teide.  We only had a week so two big trips were all that we thought we could reasonably manage and still have time to relax.  So the next morning we booked the trips via the reps and again decided to embrace this package lark rather than hire a car (and car seats) and head off under our own steam as we would usually do. 

We also checked out the kids club and the crèche, so that Mum and Dad could have a little me time too!  Unfortunately I think this was one of the few disappointments on the holiday.  Éowyn loved the idea of going to Kids club (or holiday school as she called it) but had a bad experience on her first day when one of the boys screwed up her drawing (which was bad enough) but that was compounded by one of the adults in charge dismissing the importance of that to Éowyn by merely giving her another piece of paper and throwing her screwed up drawing in the bin. We only managed to convince her to go once more (I had to stay with her for 25 minutes before she felt settled) and although she seemed to enjoy it, she didn’t want to go again. 

Amélie was the same.  The crèche was not free and we had decided to pre-book 3 sessions when we booked the holiday as it was cheaper to do so.  However, when we arrived there just because you had booked didn’t mean that there was a space available for you.  Spaces at the crèche were limited to only 6 (which is good) but these got booked up very quickly and the time slots didn’t seem to marry with the hours we had booked and were thus owed.  We had booked 3 two hour sessions but the timeslots available were either one hour or 90 minutes and trying to juggle when Amélie could actually go with the hours we were owned got very complicated.  Nevertheless we managed to book the correct number of slots for the hours we were owed and all seemed hunky-dory.  However Amélie had other ideas and did not want to go to the crèche.  This is not like her at all. Éowyn is often shy and takes a while to accept new surroundings, Amélie just charges straight in there and settles herself in without a care.  Not this time.  Maybe because we were in a strange place and then she was being left in a strange place but there were tears everytime we left her, which was not pleasant.

Éowyn did however make one friend by the pool and girl of about the same age as herself called Brooke.  She constantly looked out for her and was so excited whenever she saw her whether that was by the pool or in the restaurant, but unfortunately they didn’t get to play with each other everyday because of trips that we had both booked.

We booked two trips while we were in Tenerife and the first was on the Monday and at 0740 we headed out on a coach to Loro Parque.  Loro in Spanish means parrot and that is how Loro Parque was initially conceived as a reserve for parrots but it now has a diverse number of animals (and plants – the orchids particularly interested Lucinda) and is probably the biggest attraction in the whole of the Canary Islands.  The zoo still has the most diverse collection of parrots in the world (not the most as a Mr. Antonio de Dios of Birds International in the Phillippines has the largest collection of parrots in the world – over 10,000) but also has chimpanzees, gorillas, tigers, jaguars, sea lions, dolphins (the largest dolphin show pool in Europe) and is only the second place in Europe to have orcas (killer whales to you and me).  It has the longest shark tunnel in Europe and the world’s largest indoor penguin exhibition.  Loro Parque has set up a foundation and most of its profits go back into conservation projects.  Have I sold it to you yet? 

The zoo is wonderfully laid out but the main attractions are the shows.  We only managed to see the sea lion, dolphin and orca shows (we missed the parrot show) but thoroughly enjoyed them all and the only disappointment of the whole day was the fact that the penguin exhibit is being expanded and so was closed.  There was a small enclosure with some Humboldt penguins in but that was it.  Damn you Loro Parque we will now have to come back and visit you again!  There are plenty of photos on the Flickr page if you are interested.

Our other organised day out was to visit Mount Teide.  The Canary Islands are volcanic in origin and lie off the west coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean.  Tenerife is the biggest of the islands and is dominated by the volcano Mount Teide, the highest point in all of Spain (in fact it is the World’s third largest volcano after Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on Hawaii’s Big island).  The area around Mount Teide has been given national park status and is a World Heritage Site.  Teide is currently dormant (which is good) and last erupted in 1909 however the area around the volcano is bleak and mostly barren giving it an appearance similar to many of the planets that Captain Kirk visited and either ended up fighting or falling in love with an alien that dwelt there.  The only strange being that we saw was a man dressed up like one of the original inhabitants of Tenerife, the Guanches.

The trip was entitled ‘A Jeep Safari’ and so in convoy we headed with other tourists around the national park stopping at various sites to get a close up look of the terrain.  This included walking through a lava tube and through the pine forest that surrounds the caldera.  Unfortunately we didn’t go to the summit of Mount Teide (in fact we didn’t ascend the final 5,000 feet!).  The road ends at 7,730 feet and from there the quickest way to up the volcano is via cable car, however unless you arrive particularly early the queues for the ride can be four hours long!  But even the cable car itself doesn’t go to the top the final 660 feet requires special permission the park office in Santa Cruz and it is limited to a maximum of 150 per day.  There is a 6 hour hike that would have avoided the queues for the cable car but we decided to be content with the view from the road.

Before we returned to the hotel we stopped for lunch at the camel park where there was a camel ride included as part of the trip.  Health and safety hasn’t really arrived in Tenerife and the Bagnalls sat precariously either side of a seesaw-like bench strapped between the camel’s humps with only a small strap to stop you falling the 8 feet or so to the gravel below.  Lucinda sat with Amélie on her lap and I sat with Éowyn on mine both holding onto the camel with one hand and our wards with the other.  It seemed a very long 20 minutes!

Our only other excursions were the half kilometre trip down to the beach.  Down being the operative word as the hotel was up quite a steep slope from the beach, which was an effort on the way down and an even greater effort on the way back up.  Being a volcanic island the sand is black volcanic sand and heats up extremely well, it is highly recommended to wear flip flops or sandals and it is rather hot under foot.

The hotel was excellent and being all inclusive took away the worry of a) finding somwhere to eat b) finding something for the kids to eat.  This is only the third time Lucinda and I have been all-inclusive and we have to say that this was by far the best for choice and quality of food (and wine and beer).  So much so we have both put on half a stone (7lbs/ 3 kgs) in the week we were away – ah well, back on the diet!  The weather, too, was kind without so much as a hint of rain.  The hottest it peaked was 33°C but was mainly in the mid to late 20’s which is perfect for us and apart from being overcast on the first couple of days it was blue skies all the way.

So, as you can probably tell, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and our only regret was that we didn’t book 10 days!  But this is turning into an epic (I think it is the longest entry I have made thus far) so I will stop there and for those of you that haven’t fallen asleep I have included a few of the 1,000 or so photos that we took, there are many more on the flickr site.

Peace and Love


They said there’ll be snow at Christmas; they said there’ll be Peace on Earth

For those of you who scored 10 for knowing the answer to last year’s Christmas pop trivia another ten points are on offer if you know from which Christmas ditty the title of this update is from.  Well done, treat yourself to a mince pie and a glass of mulled wine.

This will be the last full update before Christmas although the (now annual) Bagnall Christmas message will automatically appear just after noon on Monday 19th December 2011 (already pre-written – aren’t I clever?) and I will try to squeeze in a post-Christmas update (time permitting) before the New Year.

As I mentioned in the last write up, I have attempted to use the remainder of my 2011 annual leave up by taking this past week off, in an attempt to get into the Christmas spirit and complete (start) the Christmas shopping.  The week started well with the obligatory trip into the loft to get the Christmas tree and decorations down.  We then duly put them up and encouraged Éowyn to help decorate the tree.  Not the most enthusiastic of decorating from our oldest child but I think she will get into it a little more as the years pass.  Amélie on the other hand just wanted to pull the bauble that you had just placed on the tree and throw it across the floor, well it is a fun game!  Éowyn however did let us play Christmas songs (her particular favourite being Mrs Santa Claus by Nat King Cole for some reason) while we bedecked the lounge.  It certainly raised the Christmas spirit and indeed does the tree everytime I walk into the lounge, all that was missing was a flurry of snow (still a disappointing lack of snow in these parts this winter!).

As I was off Lucinda also decided that she would book her week off too (both days!) so that we could have some time together and since the childminder had already been booked for Lucinda’s work days then it meant that there was two days that we could have off together.  However, an invite to a supplier’s lunch on the Tuesday put pay to part of one of those days but at least Lucinda could spend a little time with her mum without the kids, which was good for both of them.

The Wednesday without the kids flew by.  We were worried that we would spend the whole day missing them, but to be honest we just didn’t have the time.  Taking advantage of the fact that we were dropping them off at 0800 we headed to Kingston early (to avoid the lengthy queues to the car parks) in attempt to complete our Christmas shopping.  We may not have completed our Christmas shopping but we certainly put a big dent into it.  Going early meant that there was no queue for the car park and we were ahead of the game before the shops got too crowded.  Definitely the way to Christmas shop, second only to sitting at home surfing the on-line retailers and getting it all delivered to your door (or alternatively their door – even better if the on-line retailer offers a wrapping service!).

It seems that no matter how much you think you know you children they will always do something to surprise you.  Amélie has not slept through the night since she was born.  The latest she will wake up in 0530 and usually once or twice in the night.  This week she slept straight through for four nights in a row.  Yes, not one or two days but four!  Brilliant we thought, she is finally learning to appreciate the magnificence of a good night’s sleep.  Unfortunately we don’t know how long she may have slept on two of those days because we had to wake her up to take her to Jo’s (the childminder).  Nevertheless we were feeling a little pleased with ourselves as we headed to the end of the week.

A trip to West Bromwich to visit Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz was in order to complete the week, especially since we will not see them until after Christmas.  We arrived Friday lunchtime and did not stop.  We paid a visit to see Éowyn and Amélie’s Great-Grandma.  Then the school that Auntie Liz works at were having a Christmas fayre and so we paid Auntie Liz (who was busy face-painting) a visit and had a look around the fayre.  Very disappointing really, except for the roasted chesnuts.  They after putting the kids to bed myself and Lucinda headed to the local supermarket to stock up on supplies that we hadn’t brought up with us.

Sitting in the car on the way back to Nanny Fran’s, Lucinda realised that she hadn’t got her purse.  We headed straight back and retraced our steps from the till to the car.  No luck.  No one had handed the purse in and there was no sign of it either in the shop or in the car park.  We gave our details to security and headed back to Nanny Fran’s.  Obviously Lucinda was extremely upset but fearing the worse we left Nanny Fran’s and headed straight to the Police station to report the incident.  As soon as we had the crime number we began cancelling Credit cards.  It was part way through cancelling the second bank’s cards that we received a phonecall from security, someone had found the purse and handed it in.

All the cards and all the money was still in the purse and Lucinda was delighted to have it back (even with the now useless cards in there).  We had been fearing the worse but the spirit of Christmas still endures in the Black Country and we thank the kind soul for handing it in.  He left his name and number and so there is a thank you card and a little something for him to thank him for his goodwill.  We salute you, sir!

Amélie, however was no so generous.  After lulling us into a false sense of security with her four nights of sleep she brought us down to earth on Friday night.  She awoke just after 0100 and would not go back to sleep.  Nanny Fran popped up about 0500 (when Amélie is awake everyone without a blast zone of 20 blocks is awake – she has the most piercing scream when she wants to let loose!) and took her from us and finally got her to sleep leaving us to get a couple of hours.

On Saturday myself and Lucinda headed into Birmingham to visit the German market while Nanny Fran, Auntie Liz, Éowyn and Amélie went on an adventure of their own.  Again the few hours that we had to ourselves allowed us, not only to visit the Christmas market but to finish off our Christmas shopping without the kids.  Indeed I think we are both now completely ‘Christmas shopping’-ed out, we just have to wrap them now!

But where was the adventure that the other went on.  Well Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz took the girls to visit Father Christmas at Dudley Zoo and Castle.  It was Éowyn’s first visit to Santa this year and she was a little overwhelmed by the experience.  She was overcome by shyness and did not ask Santa for anything (does that mean that she doesn’t get anything? – I am a cruel father!), indeed did not speak to him at all.  Not sure what Amélie thought about it.  It was only afterwards that Éowyn got a little upset because she did not ask Santa for a cicciobello doll, which seems to be the one constant that she asks for.  We are not sure where she discovered the doll or why she particularly wants it but it is a parent’s duty to at least investigate.

After another disturbed night of sleep (it is payback time) and a Sunday lunch we headed back down the M40 and home.  When we finally arrived home Elf was on the telly and if there is one thing more magical than watching a Christmas related feel good film that must be watching a Christmas related feel good film with a three year old that believes every word of it.

For those of you that we won’t see between now and the big day we hope that you have a great time and trust that Santa (Father Christmas/ Saint Nicholas/ Kris Kringle/ Santa Claus/ Ded Moroz etc…) brings you all that you deserve and maybe a little of what you want.

Peace and Christmas Love