Weeks of planning, days of anticipation and then suddenly - it's gone! So what was successful this year and what wasn't?
We had a good Christmas. The first success was choosing to spend Christmas Eve at the pantomime at Theatr Mwldan in Cardigan. Puss in Boots, an amateur production, three hours long (with a ten minute interval during which some audience members were able to flee) but a delight from start to finish (if not always for the right reasons). Puss herself was great, a proper actress. Jack was a little self conscious (H7: Mummy why is Jack a girl?) and there were a couple of sulky teenage cast members seemingly dragged off the street against their will. And there was a very good baddie. He was so good at being bad that he often couldn't perform his lines to all the booing and hissing from the audience. At one point they did the Timewarp from Rocky Horror, complete with basques and stockings. We boggled. But it got rid of an afternoon otherwise spent at home with over excited bickering children and we're going to do it again next year.
Food wise this year we did pork cooked overnight for 12 hours following Jamie Oliver's recipe. It was delicious. The meat was meltingly tender and it was so much easier than having to spend hours in the kitchen on Christmas day. Dessert was sticky toffee pudding (M&S) and a Duchy Originals Christmas pudding which we had been given and turned out to be delicious (although I've never seen a pud drink so much brandy. I flamed it, but the pud drank all the brandy before I could get it to the table! No wonder it tasted so nice...)
Best kids' presents? Bath Bomb Factory and Luxury Soap Science, both from Father Christmas, made two children very happy having created a bath bomb and some soap shapes before lunch. Also Cella Sticker and Magnet makers, as recommended by Silverpebble. These were a huge hit, again with both adults and children. Simple, durable and refillable. We now have stickers everywhere! Other well received things for two girls aged seven and six were: Paddington and Water Horse audio books, Paddington and Olga da Polga reading books (a real Michael Bond Christmas this one!), handwriting pens and paper.
They didn't get everything they asked for which led to anxious parental moments, but it didn't matter. I think that sometimes before Christmas children are bombarded with so many advertisements of 'must haves' that they get overwhelmed. Mine had a day of asking for iPods, laptops and mobile phones, but in the end they were happiest with the simplest things (like a pen, piece of paper and their imagination).
Another hit was Rapidough where you have to guess what your team mate is modelling out of dough before the other team guesses theirs. If you don't guess quick enough the other team takes away chunks of your dough, until the loser runs out. Brilliant fun. It's supposed to be for eights and over, but R6 just about managed (with a bit of a sulk every time the other team took our dough!)
What wasn't successful? Firstly Brian working on Christmas Day. It was only half a shift, plus an hour's commute either way, but it meant we couldn't just relax and let our hair down. There was a deadline and Christmas Day shouldn't have deadlines. Then there was the electric kettle which died on Christmas Day (we weren't sad; none of us liked it) and thirdly the flare up of my old war wound necessitating too many pain killers, no running (except for the odd two and a half miler, which isn't nearly enough) and a visit to the doctor on January 5th (exactly the same as last year. Winter doesn't agree with me.)
Right. Suddenly you are a parent. It's something you've been expecting for nine months, but it's an enormous shock for at least the first two years.
Then the shock wears off a little and you have (in my case) two perfectly formed little human beings, wide-eyed, innocent in the ways of the world and thirsty for knowledge like a parent is thirsty for wine on a Friday night.
This is where the mischief creeps in.
How is honey made? They innocently ask and you explain about bees and hives and beeswax and the miracle of nectar and pollen and they are fascinated, but they don't believe you because, really, it's totally ridiculous. But then you take them to Newquay Honey Farm and Prove It. Ah ha!
Chutney, of course, is made by earwigs. They absorb this fact. 'Earwigs' is a great word, as is 'chutney' and the juxtaposition of them in a sentance is pure joy (and something we must be thankful to Eddie Izzard for).
From then on every time you find an earwig in the garden it's: "Oooh look! It's going shopping for chutney ingredients."
Wasps, by the way, make jam. This is a logical thing because you often encounter wasps in jam jars or in those wasp catching pots which are baited with jam and are known in our house as "jam factories".
I didn't think I could expand on those two, but tonight I was handed a perfect opportunity by R6.
"Mummy," she said, "how is yoghurt made?"
"Well," I said, thinking quickly. "To get yoghurt the cows do special yoga which makes the milk thick and then you get yoghurt."
Bovine yoga --> yoghurt. Simples.
Again this has logic in the animal kingdom because Mido the dog does yoga before he eats his breakfast. He gets out of his bed, does Up Dog, Down Dog, says 'woof' and then eats. So it's not such a huge leap from the dog doing yoga to cows doing yoga.
I like a bit of Christmas shopping. Especially in Narberth, like this morning, which included a yummy sandwich from Spanish deli Ultracomida (boccata with blue cheese, salad and honey). It was raining, but the staff in the shops were polite and friendly and there was a great feeling of good cheer all around.
The thing I like least about Christmas presents is wrapping the bloody things once you have purchased them. Wrapping one birthday present is short and sweet, but the onslaught of Christmas wrapping is enough to drive a woman to drink.
So, on reading The Observer's Ultimate Gift Guide on Sunday (unobtainable presents for ridiculous sums - except Dan Pearson's suggestion of Franchi seeds for gardeners - genius) I discover Lucy Eco Siegle's comment that 83 square kilometres of wrapping paper ends up straight in the bin.
Ah ha! I think. Do away with the stuff. It can't be burned (poisonous inks, plastic tape etc) so what use is it anyway? You just end up with a heap of ripped up paper (and loads of packaging, but that's a whole other blog).
Then there are gift bags. How has it come to pass that a present must be wrapped in lovely paper (and there are some absolutely lovely wrapping papers out there) but then it must be placed in a BAG? It is already concealed by the paper, so why the bag too?
I know I'm guilty of this - falling for a pretty bag - but it's not exactly eco-friendly is it? Presents just used to be wrapped when I was a kid. Now they're all bagged too. I've just confirmed this with a quick look under the tree. All of the presents except one tiny one are in bags. One bag even yells HO HO HO when it is opened. (A nasty bit of booby trapping that nearly killed me when I was having a surreptitious feel of my present... Somebody knows me well... It was 4am and quite the loudest thing on the planet at the time. I nearly had a heart attack.)
But what would happen if presents were not wrapped? Anarchy under the Christmas tree that's what. Absolutely no element of surprise and they'd all get mixed up because how would you attach the label? I can't see my children liking this much either. Part of the fun is the ripping off of the paper to expose the present beneath.
It's a bit like people really. You might fancy the pants off someone, but if they were walking around completely bollock-naked there's not exactly any element of surprise (which might be a good thing. That's a whole other blog too.)
So what is the alternative? I did think of newspaper, but having recently wrapped a pass-the-parcel in the stuff I know it has great rip-off-ability, but also great ink-transferability and it's not exactly the most attractive option.
Santa might consider just stuffing the stockings with unwrapped presents, but I'm not sure that would go down well with the small people. You'd open up the re-usable eco-friendly stocking (or pillowcase) and see straight away what it contained. No delight in unwrapping one package after another, even if it is only a satsuma.
I suppose one could just put the present straight into the gift bag too, but again there's no oooh-factor in that either.
Right, so Christmas will soon be upon us and, as you've read my ravings about how totally fabulous blu-ray is you'll have a nice shiny new blu-ray player sitting under the tree ready for the festive season. Won't you? Hmm?
Now you'll want to know what to watch on it, so here's a seasonal round-up of the blu-rays (and DVDs) that you might want to buy for a bit of family viewing.
G-Force. Lovable guinea-pigs trained as an elite squad of half pint-sized agents help to foil the evil plans of corrupt electronics boss Leonard Saber (Bill Nighy) who has programmed coffee makers and other consumer durables to malfunction and overtake the planet. It sounds ridiculous but is great fun, particularly for guinea pig lovers. There are some great laughs some fast-paced action and of course the GPs save the day. This is real people (and guinea pigs) with a bit of clever CGI. Plenty of nods to grown-up action movies to keep the adults entertained too. You have to see it, if only for the scene in which a guinea pig fights a fully armed and dangerous coffee maker. Really good family entertainment and my number one choice for a Christmas Day film.
Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure. Another in the series of charming animated fairy adventures featuring Disney's fairy Tinkerbell. Cute tales about friendship and bravery, never letting a small thing like being a tiny fairy defeat you and sticking up for what you know is right. In this one Tink goes on a quest to find a treasure and discovers that there is no greater treasure than a true friend. Saccharine perhaps but my girls aged seven and six loved this one. It looks great on screen - the blu-ray really does it justice. We've bought some great Disney Fairies merchandise too: Pretty, sparkly (but sturdy) fairy toys. For presents for little girls you can't go far wrong with Disney Fairies and it makes a nice change from the world-dominating (and sometimes too grown-up) High School Musical and Hannah Montana.
Santa BuddiesThe Legend of Santa Paws. Ho ho ho. Real talking dogs save the spirit of Christmas when the magical Christmas icicle starts to melt and the world forgets the true meaning of Christmas. The usual gags are here: Man puts the lights on the tree, switches them on, everyone says 'aah!', the lights go out. Don't you just wish that just once in a film the lights would just work? *Sigh*. Anyway. Odd film this. It has a big moral that Christmas is about what you give, not what you get and eating turkey. My children liked it in a lukewarm way. Dogs aren't supposed to talk and these puppies looked oddly bored when they were talking excitedly. Their expressions had been slightly animated, but the dogs looked sad and tired. As did Santa who looked as if he'd been at the brandy. There was a little too much forced jollity there. Very American, very Christmas, but not the worst I've seen. If you like Beverley Hills Chihuahua and the previous Buddies outings (Space Buddies, Snow Buddies and Air Buddies), you'll probably like Santa Buddies, but it wasn't my cup of tea.
Others you might consider:
Bolt and Wall-E. Not seasonal, but two of the best animated films ever. Bolt features Rhino the hamster who is so funny that we once had to turn the film off because R6 was in danger of injuring herself through the medium of laughter. Adults (even those without children) love this one too. Wall-E is very clever indeed. Who'd have thought a rubbish compacting solar-powered robot could be so cute? This is very much an animated An Inconvenient Truth, but it's so beautifully entertaining you won't notice. Funny, heart-warming, poignant and ultimately full of hope.
Cars. Sumptuous on Blu-ray. One of my all-time favourites - I mean one of my CHILDREN'S all time favourites. Terrific petrolhead fun for kids young and old. This is one of the films that was an utter revelation on blu-ray. The shiny cars look lovely, there's great sound and detail and you can Porsche- and Ferrari- spot to your heart's content. Nice cameos too from Clarkson and Schumacher.
Of course there's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs currently out in special edition and the everlasting Sleeping Beauty. We watched these over and over again when my children were very small, but I find my girls are growing out of them now. They like them, but like modern young ladies they aren't totally convinced by the lying-around-on-your-princess-bed-waiting-for-true-love's kiss thing. It was nice to see them scrubbed up on blu-ray, but it's not as spectacular as watching Cars or Tinkerbell.
Then there is High School Musical Three. Awesome. I hate to admit it, but I quite like the High School Musical films. I think Two is the weakest of the bunch (too much golf) and Three (on blu-ray) has the best songs. I haven't met a small female yet who isn't enthralled by these films. I'm told boys like them too.
Apparently, according to my Number One Pester Power Person (H7), there's also something called Hannah Montana. It might even be out on blu-ray, but we have so far avoided it (except H has Hannah Montana on everything.) I know nothing about it beyond an interview with Miley Cyrus on Newsround which was rather terrifying. She's only 17? Ew.
Many of these are available as a blu-ray and DVD combi pack - double bubble. Ideal if you've got a blu-ray in the living room but a DVD upstairs or in the car. The Bolt combi pack is currently on Amazon at £10.98 while the DVD on its own is £7.98. It might be worth getting the combi pack if you've got plans to upgrade to blu-ray in the future. DVD players do break and (according to this woman) you'd be mad not to consider replacing it with a blu-ray if you've got an HD-ready TV.
Finally, why blu-ray? For one thing it's high definition, so if you've got an HD-ready TV you literally won't believe your eyes. The discs are tougher than DVDs and they hold a lot more, so the discs also have a whole pile of extras for added entertainment. The players aren't ridiculously expensive either and will play all your old DVDs too (which instantly look better).