Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

Homemade Christmas cakeMy 250th post and a timely opportunity to wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2008...

...And to share with you all the recipe for the cake above which has become a traditional Christmas standby for my family. It's a gorgeously rich, three-tier chocolate fudge cake and will satisfy the cravings of even the most desperate chocolate addict. Best served with cream this cake will allow you all to experience the most superlative of Alan Partridge moments... Enjoy!

3 Tier Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

275g plain flour
45ml cocoa powder
6.25ml baking powder
2.5ml bicarbonate of soda
a large pinch of salt
125g plain chocolate
150g softened butter
225g light brown soft sugar
2 eggs, beaten
150ml natural yoghurt
2.5ml vanilla essence


Icing:
450g icing sugar
125g cocoa powder
125g butter
90ml milk

Grease 3 x 18inch sandwich tins and line with greaseproof paper.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate and salt together.

Melt the chocolate and leave to cool slightly.

Cream the butter and brown sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs, then fold in the chocolate, the sifted ingredients, yoghurt and vanilla essence. Turn the mixture into the tins and level the surfaces.

Bake in the oven at 190 degrees C/mark 5 for 25-30 mins or until risen and firm to the touch. Turn out on a wire rack and leave to cool.

To make the icing: sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a heavy based saucepan. Add the butter and the milk and heat gently until the butter has melted. Beat until the icing is smooth. Remove from the heat.

Use some of the icing to sandwich the three cakes together. Cover the sides and top of the cake with the remaining icing. Leave to set.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Darlin' you give love a bad name...

Lucy Griffiths as Maid Marian** Spoiler warning!! **

Shock ending to the BBC's Robin Hood last night.

Dirty Git of Gisbourne killed Maidenly Marian! And after I'd spent hours on-line accumulating loads of pictures of the gorgeous Lucy Griffiths purely to illustrate my throbbing reviews of the show!

The dirty rotter!

Mind you, he'd been pushed to the limit poor lad. Marian, I must admit, had become something of a prick-tease over the recent weeks:

First she promised to marry Robin. Then she pretended to give Gisbourne the green light, abusing his leathery northern affections to wheedle out various advantages for Robin and his mucky men. Then she regularly snuck out from the castle to feed the poor, right the occasional wrong and spoon Robin like a good 'un. Then Gisbourne caught her, covered up her illicit activities to save her from the wrath of the Sheriff and out of the goodness of his own heart revealed that he was embroiled in a plot (with the Sheriff) to kill good King Richard. Marian naturally begged Guy to to do the decent thing - i.e. not kill good King Richard - and promised that if he thus came good she would reward him by doing the indecent thing and... er... let him come good in another way...

And then the naughty girl marries Robin Hood on the spur of the moment whilst tied to a wooden stake out in the middle of the Arabian desert. Make up your bloody mind girl!

And then she makes the mistake of rubbing it into Gisbourne's face in the last few minutes of the episode. Doh! That's just asking for trouble, that is.

The inevitable happened. The poor man snapped. You could see it in his black leather trench coat. It flapped slightly more stiffly than usual and then he shoved his dirty great sword right up and through Marian's rather saucily curved belly.

I'm sure I don't have to belabour the link between swords and the male reproductive organ...

Anyway, that's twice Gisbourne has stabbed Marian now. Feeling a mite frustrated are we, Guy?

As for Marian, she must be wondering what the hell she did wrong. I mean she does everything to get laid and instead gets laid low with a ruddy steel blade. Forever. One last snog with Robin and she pops her Laura Ashley clogs to flit up to the great Sherwood Forest in the sky.

Gone forever.

The best thing in the entire show written out.

My motivation to watch the show has lessened considerably. And to make it even worse they even married Djaq off to Will Scarlett and the pair decided to settle down to a life of domestic bliss (?) in the Holy Land.

All the eye candy for the boys wiped out in one fell swoop.

Are the writer's insane?

Ho hum. I guess Lucy Griffiths wanted to move onto bigger, more serious, more historically accurate things... and I for one don't blame her. I wish her well and would like to add that she can wear any of her incongruous, anachronistic costumes round my way any time...

I promise to be very careful where I stash my sword.

Lucy Griffiths as Maid Marian

Friday, December 28, 2007

Unwrapped

Lego AT-AT and Emma WatsonThe bin men have literally just hauled off the six huge bag loads of rubbish produced by myself and my family this Christmas. As their filthy dustcart revved off into the distance I felt a pang or two of regret... regret that Christmas is over again for another year and regret at having produced so much waste. The amount of extraneous packaging was frightening, most of it from the kid's toys - huge folded up and moulded pieces of industrial sized cardboard which defied any attempt to flatpack them into as small a shape as possible for easy disposal.

I also have to say that, despite my initial smugness at avoiding the High Street crowds this year by shopping entirely on-line, the negative of this has been loads and loads of extra cardboard packaging, polystyrene and padding hanging about the house which has only added to our Christmas carbon footprint.

Put it this way: I nearly entitled this post "Return Of The Sasquatch".

Refuse gripes aside I must admit Christmas was highly enjoyable - it being Tom's first only added to the specialness of it all. Not that Tom was particularly impressed - or even interested - in any of the presents we'd bought for him, preferring instead the occasional bottle of milk...

However, for the rest of us, there were some cool presents flying around this year that put smiles on all our faces. Among the pile of goodies I lavished on Karen was the Bladerunner 5 disc boxed set, a copy of Newman & Baddiel's History Today, an ocean of DVDS and books and some richly gorgeous jewellery. Ben had a Transformer voice mask (oh how we regret buying that...), a Lego remote control car and his own MP3 player.

Myself? I found myself presented with an ION USB turntable so that I can transfer my immense vinyl record collection to MP3 format, a Lego AT-AT Walker (Star Wars fans will understand the coolness of this) that actually walks (!) and some fab DVDS - Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix, Rome Season 2 and 300 to name but a few. In fact coupled with the stash of DVDs I bought Karen we've now got so many movies to watch we could actually cancel our subscription to cable TV and still have stuff to watch right up to mid April.

Hmm. You know, that's not a bad idea... especially given how dire Christmas telly was this year. Doctor Who was a major disappointment. So much so I can't motivate myself to even write about it. Ballet Shoes was enjoyable and nice to see Emma Watson on TV spreading her acting wings. And Extras last night was very enjoyable. I actually found myself getting quite teary eyed towards the end. I guess I've still got too much Christmas sentimentality flowing around my blood stream.

Talking of which... I got some whisky for Christmas too and it's now baying for my company. Cheers one and all!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Breaking The Law! Breaking The Law!

Judas PriestHaving opted to take Geography rather than History at school it is hopefully quite understandable why the following intriguing nugget of information completely passed me by until I had the usual post-breakfast conversation with my wife this morning...

Apparently it is officially illegal in England (and possibly the whole of the UK) to celebrate Christmas. A law was set down during the time of Oliver Cromwell declaring that the celebration of Christmas was to be outlawed and it has never ever been repealed. When Charles II, all round funkster, hip-happening-guy and disco king, ascended the throne everybody just thought buggery to Ollie and started celebrating Christmas like there was no tomorrow (i.e. no Boxing Day) and completely forgot about undoing Ollie Crommie’s silly little law.

It still stands.

So. We are all officially breaking the law.

Hmm.

Suddenly the fun element of Christmas has increased a hundred-fold...!

Merry Christmas and merry rebellion one and all!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

School Play

Christmas nativityKaren and I went to see Ben in his school play yesterday afternoon armed like every other parent there with camera/video recorder/Dictaphone/iPod/mobile phone and every other piece of hi-tech gadgetry ever invented.

There were so many lenses and LEDs flying about the place that Steven Spielburg would have creamed his little furry boxers.

We took Tom along with us though he took little interest in the performance, preferring to sleep snuggled up in his car seat on the floor at our feet. Call it charisma, call it charm, call it innate acting ability but Tom’s afternoon nap commanded a fair bit of the audience’s attention... at least in the part where we were sitting.

The school play however was squeakily superb. Lots of cute lines delivered with volume and enthusiasm (but no feeling or understanding) and I’m proud to say that Ben’s delivery was the loudest of all. He was playing a transformer toy newly delivered by the tiniest Father Christmas I’ve ever seen and though he had but one line he gave it his all. Full lung capacity.

I’m not joking - I saw the first two rows of the audience visibly recoil and the stage shudder slightly as the air above it was warped by the sound waves. The headmaster was seen to exit the hall with blood pouring from his ears. Even Tom stirred a little in his sleep.

That’s my boy.

A star is born. The roof had been raised (literally – three cracked rafters and 17 missing slates, last seen flying towards Birmingham on a supersonic jet stream).

Mark my words; it’ll be RADA when he’s older.

Either that or a job as a town crier.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Heat Is Off

As I commence my last week at work before a much needed Christmas break the building naturally goes into complete maintenance meltdown.

No heating.

No humidity control (essential for the safe storage of art objects).

No external emergency lighting.

Broken hand driers in the public toilets (this one makes Joe Public kill).

Dead rats in the basement.

Faulty doors.

Roof leaks.

And I’ve just eaten my last chocolate on the office communal advent calendar (I am officially panicking).

Any hope I had of a nice easy week – a nice slow, downhill cruise toward festive holidaydom – has gone completely out the window. Along with the last of the building’s residual heat.

And naturally all the contractors and engineers who normally bail us out of these sorts of problems are reluctant to do so this close to Christmas because they too are wanting to have a nice easy, downhill cruise toward their Christmas breaks and don’t want to be immersed up their necks in major (probably irresolvable) works that will keep them away from their last minute Christmas shopping and their early finish on Friday prior to hitting the pubs for a session of festive quaffing.

Gits.

To quote the Pogues...

Merry Christmas my arse.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Tag

Per.pri has tagged me for Christmas and so it is with festive joy that I respond and also tag a few of my other blog buddies in return to keep the tag going. Tris, Ally, Amanda, Laura and OC – consider yourselves tagged for Christmas; I look forward to reading your answers.

"When people say 'Christmas' you immediately think..."

Nativity and the school Christmas play. For some reason I have very strong memories of being at school and enjoying the anticipation of Christmas… the hours spent in the playground looking up at the cold grey skies and hoping that I’ll be getting the present that I’ve most set my heart upon (which tended to be Lego when I was a boy and still is Lego now if I’m honest). It also makes me remember the excitement of spending Christmas Day and Boxing Day with all the family at my grandparent’s house and the constant buzz of visitors and neighbours popping in. It also, rather annoyingly, makes me think of Slade. And Noel Edmunds. Urgh.

"Favourite Christmas memory..."

My favourite Christmas memory is wanting a Lego spaceship one year. It was way too much money for my parents to afford so we did a deal whereby they’d give me twenty pounds for it as my Christmas present and then I could put whatever other Christmas money I received towards buying it afterwards. I have to say that the thought of just getting money for Christmas was hard to get excited about and I recall writing off Christmas that year with a sad shrug. When it came time to receive the money I was told to close my eyes and hold out my hand. Sure enough I felt the feather touch of paper being placed on my palm but when I looked it was a fake £20 note as drawn by my sister. Ha ha – good joke. I was told to close my eyes again. This time the Lego set itself was placed in my hands. My face must have been a picture. Suddenly Christmas was back on again. Absolute result. Best Christmas ever.

"Favourite Christmas song/carol..."

This is easy: In The Bleak Mid Winter in honour of my gran who always cried when she heard this. And oddly Silent Night which always made my granddad cry. I never knew why it made my gran so tearful but I did learn why Silent Night upset my granddad so much. During WWII he took part in the North Atlantic convoys. One night one of the ships was hit by a U Boat and a lot of men were thrown into the water. Unfortunately due to the U Boats there was a black-out so all the sailors knew that there could be no lights on and no stopping to rescue anyone… the sailors in the water knew they were going to die and all sang Silent Night as their comrades sailed by.

"Favourite Christmas movie..."

Hmm. Quite a few. Traditionally Mary Poppins or Half A Sixpence come onto the TV at some point and I’m quite a sucker for them. Since the three Lord Of The Rings films were released during this time of year though they now have a Christmas feel to them and indeed Karen and I have just spent the last few weekends watching the extended version of each to get ourselves into the festive mood. Harry Potter is also a Christmas favourite.

"Favourite Christmas character..."

Difficult. I never went overboard on the Elves or the reindeers. However, I’m quite partial to the Christmas Carol story so I suppose Scrooge would be a good one. I have a soft spot for redemption stories.

"Favourite Christmas ornament/object..."

I quite like Crhistmas snow globes and have a musical one that features a long limbed Santa – he looks like a character from a Tim Burton animation.

"Plans for this Christmas..."

Shut the door, turn up the heat, and just enjoy being with Karen, Ben and Tom. We’ll get up when we’re ready. Spend the entire morning opening presents and then eat a luxurious dinner. The whole day will be one of chilled excitement – if that’s not too contradictory.

"Is Christmas your favourite holiday?"

I’d be lying if I said no. Especially now that Karen and I can enjoy it through our kid’s eyes. But I’m also partial to the summer holidays because I love the sun and love travelling to new places.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Generations

Last week Karen and I were finally able to take Tom up to meet his great granddad. As some of you will know my granddad has been recovering from a recent spell of C Diff which had delayed the meeting for a good few weeks until everyone was sure my granddad was fully recovered.

Last Wednesday the two generations finally met. It was very emotional and my granddad had a good cry as he held Tom in his arms. Due to Macular Degeneration my granddad’s eyesight is virtually non existent but although he was unable to see Tom clearly he could at least hold him and we in turn got plenty of photographs of the momentous occasion.

My granddad now feels more at peace and quietly told me that now he’s held his great grandson he’s quite happy to “toddle off” and join my grandmother in the afterlife. There’s not a lot one can say to that – he’s been deeply unhappy since she died – but I did say I hoped he’d stick around for a little while longer. Maybe until Tom’s eighteenth birthday party so he can buy Tom his first drink.

At 87 that’s highly unlikely but you never know. Some people respond well to a bit of gentle prodding...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Morning Wood

Roy WoodOk. I’ll admit that finally I’m getting in the mood for Christmas.

The spare room is over flowing with yet to be wrapped goodies for my loved ones. Karen and I are already compiling our Christmas food shopping list. Suddenly I’m able to stomach every cheesy film that the TV throws at me (I’m even enjoying the Christmas idents on all the TV channels).

And my budget is as blown as Hugh Grant on an L.A. side street.

I’m sure I’ll be annoyed with my spendthriftery come the New Year but for now I’m well pleased with what I’ve bought. There’s nothing worse than being lavished with gifts yourself on Christmas morning and then grimacing as you hand over a meagre pile of newspaper wrapped gift-ettes in return. Sure the January bills will be depressing but I can take consolation in the fact that Karen and the boys will be over the moon with what I’ve got them.

I’m sure such inner warmth will also help insulate me from the cold chill winds of February as I bed down for the night in front of Woolworth’s shop window...

And as for Roy Wood’s desire that it be Christmas every day... well. Nice idea Roy but, really, no. I honestly couldn’t afford it.

I’m already considering approaching Richard Branson for financial help as it is...

I wonder if it would help if I changed my name to Northern Rock?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dropping The Baby

Not a nice experience over the weekend: 5am Saturday morning and so tired that one handle of Tom’s Moses basket slipped completely out of my hand before I could stop it...

The result was that Tom was ejected to the floor in a manner that he really didn’t like at all and Karen and I had our hearts in our mouths for a good hour afterwards. Thankfully we were very lucky. We tend to carry the basket low to the floor anyway so as it was Tom didn’t suffer any kind of drop – he basically was just rolled sideways out of the basket and onto his back on the carpet.

He certainly cried about it but it was mostly shock and surprise and was soon smiling, cooing and feeding again as normal.

I, however, felt awful – really shitty – and just had to hold Tom close to me for a while to make sure he was ok, followed by Karen doing the same. Instinctive reaction I guess.

We both know that such accidents are actually quite commonplace – all of my friends with babies have experienced such incidents at one time or another – but it’s unpalatable when it happens to you.

The only good thing about it is that it’s made us be extra careful when manoeuvring Tom around in his basket since then... especially in the small hours of the morning.

On a lighter note Tom is displaying a definite sense of humour – loads of laughs and bubbly giggles – and a definite interest in the world around him. He also likes having his face stroked.

Just like his old man!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

True Romance

Lucy Griffiths as Maid MarianRobin finally girded his Lincoln green loins in last night’s episode of Robin Hood and asked Marian to marry ‘im.

His carefully prepared speech whooshed and veritably twanged with romance.

He basically compared Marian to his Saracen bow. Doh! Why didn’t I think of that when I popped the question to my wife three years ago?

Apparently when Robin first held his bow he just knew, right, that it felt RIGHT. And Marian was exactly the same.

Yes. I can appreciate the analogy. She has curves in all the right places. It takes patience and strength to pull her properly – and if you do it incorrectly you’re in danger of losing one of your most essential digits. She must be brought to the right level of heightened tension before she can achieve the ultimate release. And I dare say she’ll hum rather tunefully when Robin fires off his heavy tipped long range arrows.

Unfortunately Robin will have to wait a while to consummate the partnership as, though Marian has said yes, it’s under the proviso that he foils a plot to kill the King, defeats the Sheriff and brings good King Richard back home safely to give her away.

Typical toff bird. Can’t be satisfied with a nice encrusted ring hoiked off the end of a Bishop’s finger, oh no. She has to set the bar so high Robin may as well shoot at the moon. The poor boy’s forest green togs must be turning blue with frustration.

No wonder he keeps fingering his quiver.