2010’s been a year of high highs and low lows for us, and Christmas has served as a welcome caesura: a time to pause for breath, relax, and make sense of it all. The good news is that the lows are on the up whilst the highs maintain their trajectory. The build-up to Christmas, all snowy Cotswold stone and cosy meals in the new home, was just right. And the festivities themselves have left left us feeling very much refreshed.
So, all in all, a pretty positive Yuletide. Hope you all had a great Christmas, too!
Nothing says Christmas like being extremely cold. This weekend, contrary to our expectations when it began, has put us properly in the Christmas spirit. We returned to Birmingham on Friday evening for a stroll around the Frankfurt Christmas Market with Anna’s brother, followed by a very peaceful meal (was everyone outside eating stollen?); we spent Saturday afternoon browsing Christmas decorations and gratefully drinking hot tea and coffee at the similarly seasonally silent Ashwood Nurseries; and Dan spent Sunday lunchtime at Rhubarb Radio cursing the inneffectiveness of not one but two electric heaters – and resisting (for the last week) playing a Christmas song.
The frost was so thick this morning that it seemed like snow. Best of the season to you.
We had a grand time on Saturday at the Leamington Peace Festival. Invited by the folks over at Inversion Layer, who are regular attendees, it was our first time at the festival – and, indeed, in Leamington Spa. What little we saw of the town seemed rather pleasant – although knowing Birmingham better as we do, we left the festival itself just before the end of a storming set from Misty’s Big Adventure, in order to do some last minute Father’s Day shopping.
Father’s Day when the World Cup is on is an easy thing to celebrate – and we both enjoyed spending some quality time with our dads. The weather was pretty good, too – and continued in the same vein today, so we took a walk along the canal at Kinver.
Anna’s mom remembers blossom in the trees 28 years ago. No sign of those in 2010, and though the sun shined on us for a walk in the Clent Hills on Sunday, there wasn’t much warmth in its rays. We didn’t mind, though, and enjoyed catching up with friends at 309m elevation. The day before, we’d had a similarly chilly-but-sunny stroll around Enville; today, though, the clouds have come back and are threatening the sort of rain we got caught in on Friday whilst walking to Cannon Hill Park in Edgbaston. The late winter weather, bless it, gave us its best for the two important days.
We’ll stay indoors, then, after a happy – if not yet Spring-like – birthday weekend.
We’ve had one of those weekends – and Mondays – where it feels we haven’t stopped … but with friends, train rides, good meals and country walks, we’ve been busy in the good way. Not bad when there are other kinds of busy lurking later in the week …
We popped in on the West Midlands Open exhibition at BMAG’s Gas Hall this afternoon – it is well, well worth a visit. Some beautiful work on display, and everyone – including the chums we bumped into whilst wandering around – will have a different favourite. Go.
Bread-baking: A parsnip, sage, and cheddar loaf which was entirely successful. Our last attempt at anything more demanding than a plain white loaf was a tad over-salty (possibly a result of substituting feta for, er, Wensleydale), but this one was perfect, and only slightly spoiled by Dan throwing the used tea towel over the cooling loaf whilst cleaning up!
Film-watching: An Education. We’re not quite sure when Peter Sarsgaard became the older man, but he plays it very well indeed in this garlanded coming-of-age drama. Carey Mullingan as Jenny is at the centre of the piece, though, and hers is a multi-faceted yet refreshingly subtle performance. Quietly wonderful support from Olivia Williams and the always excellent Alfred Molina, too, the latter of whom attracted sympathy to a part which could easily have been a caricature. (Something which is perhaps true of the whole picture, actually.) Fine stuff.
Birthday-celebrating: Dan’s mom enjoyed the marking of an indeterminate number of years since her birth. We all enjoyed a (very) large meal out, fun conversation and present-swapping. Anna’s gift was a pot of bright red flowers which now adorn a much brightened conservatory – this despite the birthday girl’s previous admission that she tends to kill plants more easily than not. We’ll be keeping an eye on that pot! (Happy birthday, Dan’s mom!)
Dinner-making: Mushroom stroganoff, direct from the pages of a Delia Smith cookbook. No, don’t switch off! It was perfect! Anna is trying to extend the range of dishes open to her as a vegetarian, and Dan is – to his surprise – enjoying the challenge, too. We can’t quite believe we haven’t tried a mushroom stroganoff, of all things, before, but after this one it’ll become the staple it should always have been. We all know that Delia isn’t the world’s most exciting cook, but there’s something fool-proof in those recipes, and with organic wine and Dan’s patented garlic bread on the side it was just right.
Dan’s 2666 reading also continued this weekend, and Anna perused the papers. Nick Clegg also gave a good speech – shame there’s still lingering uncertainty for lefties about where Clegg’s real tendencies lie.
It was a weekend of two birthdays, meaning we spent time with friends, ate good food, chewed the fat, and generally relaxed in fine company.We also saw Alice in Wonderland, which is very much a Disney film first and a Tim Burton film a poor second – but which also has some fun moments and Helena Bonham Carter. We weren’t keen on Alice-in-armour, but the first half seemed the right balance between weirdness and accessibility; once the film turned into a Chronicles of Narnia sequel, though, it went a bit pear-shaped. This means it’s well worth paying the extra money to see the film in 3D – it distracts you a bit more.
Dan also played a short set at Birmingham’s Irish Centre – and though the crowd was ‘select’ there were new songs. The same was true of Mellow Peaches’ set, which made for some good times, and the impromptu donning of some of those 3D glasses.
This year, we spent a perfect Valentine’s Day in Oxford, which we found in peaceful, civilized form. Despite the cold, we sat unmolested in the University Parks to swap presents and watch a crow eye us for free food; we wandered at random through the back alleys, popping into Blackwells and having lunch in the Pret a Manger now in the beautiful old building at the corner of Ship and Cornmarket Streets (actually quite tastefully done); and, this the main purpose of our visit, we visited the new Ashmolean. We may also have had cupcakes and chocolate hearts.
Neither of us had been to the old Ashmolean, but the Egyptian rooms have yet to be renovated and, if they’re any clue as to what the old museum looked like, it has been quite the DIY job. The new Ashmolean is bright, airy and very modern, and in the absence of forceful signage invites you to get lost in its corridors – periods jostle against each other, and floors cross each other, so you might see some 18th century musical instruments over a pre-Raphaelite frame, or catch a glimspe of Iron Age skulls whilst examining some Etruscan pottery. We could have stayed there for weeks!
We’ll probably return soon, in fact – hopefully the trains will be less busy next time. We did manage to get some reading of the papers done, though, and this piece on Arthur Koestler caught Dan’s attention, whilst Anna may well write a letter of dispute about this article – do (plucky, stoic) teenage mothers really exist for the edification of put-upon middle class ones?
Also this weekend – The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas. Neither of us had been spoiled for the ending, and experienced it powerfully; we understand the film and the book it’s based on has caused some controversy. It’s definitely a fable rather than a rigorous treatment of its subject – we wonder if this is a bad thing. Hmm.