Blue water, red hair

Amber in her red Brave wig

We took the girls to Bluewater today to spend their Christmas money and vouchers.  Mostly we went to the Disney Store, where Amber bought a Rebekah Brooks Brave wig, as you can see.

We also went to the one bookstore in the whole of Bluewater and they bought some books, but mostly they bought things from the Disney Store.  Like that wig.  Amber wore it proudly around Bluewater and all the way home on the bus – eliciting many double-takes fascinated glances from other shoppers.

It must be said, I didn’t like Bluewater at all.

Things didn’t start well when we walked in and saw people queuing for a table at those giants of gastronmy Pizza Hut and Nandos, which set alarm bells ringing in my head.  We arrived just after lunch but there was nowhere for us to sit and eat our sandwiches, so we ended up sat on the floor.  Every single shop was a generic high street store, without a hint of charm or originality.  Even the bookstore (a Waterstones) had a disappointing selection; Millie bought the Diary of Anne Frank (which should be interesting, from a parental viewpoint) but I couldn’t find anything I wanted.

After about an hour I realised everything in Bluewater was artificial – no plants, no people stopping to chat, no space for lingering and socialising or for fun.  The whole place is a machine designed to sell you stuff and nothing else.  It made Bexleyheath town centre look like an enlightened miracle of social planning!

My favourite part of the day was the bus ride there and back with the girls and the Lovely Melanie.  We saw some parts of London I’ve never seen before and, after today, probably never will again.

But next time the girls have money to spend we’re going to Camden Market!

Good news

I only realised when my Mum was surprised on Boxing Day that I hadn’t shared my good news with everyone:
Expedia have extended my contract to the end of 2013.

So, we’re financially secure for the whole of next year!

Which is nice. 🙂

But does, of course, rely upon me not getting made redundant again.

I posted it to Facebook, but sometimes it’s easy to get confused about what’s common knowledge there and what’s common knowledge in the real world!

Christmas 2012

That was a nice, quiet, family Christmas. 🙂

We had Auntie Kristine stay on Christmas Eve, so she could be here in the morning to see the girls open their presents, of which there were many.  The girls went to sleep easily enough on Christmas Eve, but they woke at midnight, and 2am, and 3am and again at 5am.  We eventually surrendered to the inevitable at 6am and opened our their presents.

Surprisingly, the lack of sleep and excess of chocolate didn’t turn them into monsters; in fact, they were really very sweet indeed for most of the day – even at bedtime.  There was the odd moment when they came near to meltdown, but it was only fleeting.  Well done, girls!

In fact, double well done, girls, because for most of Christmas morning we didn’t have festive songs on, instead we listened to my new Howlin’ Wolf CD, The Howlin’ Wolf Album!  Turns out Millie rather likes this – as does her Furby.

Christmas Day, we had the in-laws and the Lovely Melanie’s Auntie Helen round for a smashing marathon of games and eating, then some more games, then more eating followed by some food.

The Lovely Melanie excelled herself again with Christmas Dinner.  Plus, she judged the amount of food exactly right, so nobody needed emergency liposuction in the afternoon, thank goodness.  And as a bonus, no one seemed bothered about the Queen’s Speech, so we gave that a miss. 🙂

We raised our glasses to Trev during Christmas Dinner, of course, and I was a bit sad on hearing Tim Minchin’s lovely Christmas song White Wine In The Sun, but otherwise this Christmas felt easier to deal with than last Christmas.  Time really is a great healer, it would seem.

Yesterday (Boxing Day) my parents came up and stayed the night, which was even more relaxing.  Well, except for the Strictly Come Dancing game they encouraged the girls to play.  This mostly involved me and somebody else dancing with the girls while everyone else pretended to be Strictly judges.  We burnt off some of Christmas Day’s calories and all had a good laugh (except Amber, who took it very seriously).

The chickens did well out of Christmas – we’ve discovered they love quiche and roast potatoes.  Even in pouring rain they’d come out of their coop to eat those, chasing each other round round and the garden to get the best bits. 🙂

And today, we’re having a quiet day.  I took the girls to the shops in Bexleyheath and bought a couple of DVDs in the sale (Chronicle and Mirror Mirror), plus some pants and socks for me, because (gasp!) I didn’t get any, despite asking for them!

Blade Runner umbrellas
Blade Runner umbrellas

I do have a very nice hat and Blade Runner umbrella, however.

Now, while everyone else is watching Mirror Mirror downstairs I’m going to play some Diablo III.

Happy Christmas

Despite a manic, and occasionally slightly unpleasant, couple of overexcited days the kids are now asleep.  The presents are under the tree.  Work is finished.  Santa has eaten the mice pie left out for him; Rudolph has had his carrot.  Auntie Kristine is here from Australia.

Everything’s ready.  It’s all plain sailing to the festivities tomorrow.

Happy Christmas to all my family and friends, near and far, old and young; but most especially to my little brother, Trev, whose wit and generosity we’ll be missing all the more tomorrow.

If you’ll be missing someone special at the table for dinner then try to remember them as they were, and enjoy Christmas day as they would have wanted you to.

Good night.

Django Django

Oh, my – Friday night’s Django Django gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire was really something else – I haven’t enjoyed a gig that much for a long time. 🙂

Obviously, it helped that I love their album, and that we had a good view from the lower balcony, and we were surrounded by other people having a whale of a time, and that Kristine (my sister-in-law) and I were both hellbent on having a good time (even if the Lovely Melanie was convinced it was “a bit weird” going to a gig with your sister-in-law).  But when Django Django came on they were magnificent – I was dancing like a loon! 😀

The only looming problem for the whole gig was that we had to somehow get home afterwards – or possibly during, depending how long they played for.  Shepherds Bush is on the opposite side of London from my home in Bexley.

As it turns out, we needn’t have worried – instead, we got drunk and accepted and invitation from some new friends to come for a drink afterwards, and then we went back to the flat of a very nice lady and carried on drinking until 3am.  Problem solved!

Or, at least, problem deferred.  We were lucky to find a very nice taxi driver who not only didn’t overcharge us to get back to Bexley (“overcharge” is a very relative term here, obviously!) but even took us to McDonalds for something to soak up the booze.

Honestly, it was the kind of night I used to have all the time in my 20s/early 30s…  So nostalgic. 😉

Saturday was a bit of a dead loss for us both.  The girls did try and play with Auntie Kris, but her heart wasn’t really in it (neither was her swirling stomach or pounding head).

But it was worth it. 🙂

Saying no to Amazon

I haven’t bought any of my Christmas presents from Amazon.co.uk this year, as a protest against their tax-avoidance in the UK.

In previous years all of my Christmas shopping has been done there.  Literally, everything.  I started using Amazon in 1997 – ordering some hard-to-find science fiction novels from the US (there was no UK site back then!)

Amazon logoBut this year I’ve bought nothing from them; I’ve asked people who buy me presents to buy nothing from them, and I’d encourage you to sign this petition set up by two UK-based independent booksellers (who pay their taxes like everyone else).

The petition helpfully explains how Amazon’s tax avoidance is bad for genuine UK businesses, not to mention swindling us taxpayers out of over £100 million that could go towards hospitals, vital services and getting the country out of recession.

Amazon, I was one of your best customers, but until you mend your tax-dodging ways you’ve lost me, not to mention many others…

A Tale of Two Nativities

Two quite different school plays over the last few days: Amber’s on Friday and Millie’s on Tuesday.  How did I find them?

nativity cartoonWell, of the two, I enjoyed Amber’s more – that’s not any kind of favouritism, it simply reflects the fact that this year it was the turn of Millie’s class to be “The Choir” (i.e., sit on the floor and keep your heads down), while Amber’s class was in the full glare of the lights onstage (and they do have a remarkable set of lights at Hurst Primary – hugely overpowered for what they need).

My enjoyment of Amber’s play (a nativity, of course) was marred only slightly by my having been out for my work Christmas party the night before.  The Lovely Melanie kept teasing me that the headmaster could smell it and was no doubt very displeased.  He probably could smell booze from the other side of the hall – I imagine there were waves of it rising off me like a heat haze! – but was good enough not to mention it.

Amber was a shepherd in her play and made a pretty decent fist of it, dressed in the traditional tea-towel head-dress and a baggy T-shirt.  She sang along with most of the songs, but was head-and-shoulders above her classmates in doing the actions and dancing.  In particular, she did an amazing hip wiggle to one Caribbean-style number!  We have some wobbly film of it (due to the distance and my shaky hands) which is rather glorious.

Hurst wisely kept her play short and to the point.  Mary and Joseph are introduced, angel informs her that god has seen fit to get her up the duff, they go to Bethlehem and get a room in a stable; baby pops out, shepherds and kings gate-crash, and everyone goes home happy after just 25 spell-binding minutes. 🙂

I wasn’t hungover for Millie’s play, even though I was out again the night before (didn’t want to get a reputation!) but watching other people’s children is never as interesting as watching your own, no matter how good (or bad) their acting skills are.  And this nativity was framed by a meta-narrative about modern day kids finding a magical book, meaning it went on for an hour.

We couldn’t see Millie, who was sat on the floor, although the Lovely Melanie says she caught a glimpse of her occasionally (usually yawning).  But though the singing was certainly better than in Amber’s play – surprisingly so, in fact – and some of the acting was exceptional, the whole thing was simply a bit too long.

Oh, and a lot more religious, too.  Unlike Amber’s, this one had lots of “Praise Him!” and “God is wonderful” and “The king of the world is here and isn’t it just so fabulous?!” and so on.  Yes, I know that’s the whole point of a nativity, but this on felt a bit too preachy and evangelical for my liking.

Still, it’ll be interesting to see if these reviews are reversed next year, when Millie will be up on the stage and Amber down on the floor…