Category: Christmas


Hygge (pronounced Hoo-gah) is a Danish concept that has become popular across the world in the last couple of years. It’s an approach to a way of life that the Danes have developed to cope with their cold, dark winter season. It’s spread to other parts of Europe where we ‘enjoy’ long, cold winters. Quite how hygge works in places like the West Indies and other tropical areas I’m not sure. 

Hygge, in Northern Europe, works like this…. You gather your good friends and relatives together on cold winter evenings. You give them nourishing food and drink in houses that are decorated for comfort and warmth. Flickering candles are important. As are pleasant smells. You listen to music and talk. You enjoy the atmosphere and each other’s company. Then you enjoy the moment that you have created. 

An entire industry has grown up around Hygge. I suspect IKEA are behind it somewhere. The word doesn’t have an exact English equivalent but ‘cosy’ is the closest we have to it. In the UK we go for ‘cosy’ big time at this time of year as we are in the middle of the festive celebrations.

We had a ‘Hygge’ experience yesterday afternoon. If you can’t do it at home you can always go out to experience it, preferably in a traditional country pub that has a good kitchen. We headed for the George and Dragon in the biscuit tin lid pretty village of Great Budworth in Cheshire. All the components of Hygge from the overstuffed cushions to the open fire, by way of the ancient oak beams holding up the ceiling and the elaborate candlesticks were there creating a cosy atmosphere. Tables were laden with food and friends and relatives were gathering to enjoy the experience. With Christmas Day and New Year’s Day falling on Monday and bookended by two holiday weekends, plus the British extra holiday of Boxing Day, most people aren’t working on the three remaining days and are having a mid winter break. Many won’t see the office or factory until 2nd January. The George and Dragon were busy and we were relieved to have booked.

With all the rich food over Christmas we decided to go for something simple and had Ham and eggs with thick cut chips with a piccalilli relish and English mustard. We had a bottle of Merlot from Chile. 

I had this delicious Assiette of Mini Desserts described as ‘An indulgent selection of four mini desserts. Chocolate Torte, Raspberry Cheesecake, Apricot Frangipane and a Tart au Citron.’ Four puddings on one plate. Plus ice cream and some fresh fruit! Happy Tom!

The denizens of Didsbury don’t queue in supermarkets for their Christmas provisions. They have staff to do that for them. Either that or it’s delivered courtesy of Waitrose or Marks & Spencer’s. However, they are not above queuing at one of the local independent stores to pick up a few quality treats to nibble on over the festive season. 

We’re all getting together for Christmas lunch and everyone is bringing something or helping with the cooking. I was told to bring something for the cheese course. People have the cheese course at different times in the meal. I believe that in France it comes after the main course but before the dessert. In the UK it comes after the dessert. I’d had enough queuing in supermarkets yesterday so I caught the tram to Didsbury to go to The Cheese Hamlet, probably the best cheese store in the city. 

I got there by 10am and the queue was well on the way to merging with the queue for Evan’s the Fishmongers next door on the corner of Barlow Moor Road and Wilmslow Road. Round the corner on Barlow Moor Road the fishmonger queue was snaking down the street towards the one for Axon’s the butchers. 

It was a good natured queue. Being Didsbury people passed the time reading the Saturday morning edition of The Guardian. 

The little store was packed with people picking up orders (wish I’d thought of that) or choosing Christmas cheese.

The Cheese Hamlet has the best selection of cheeses in Manchester and that’s a big city.

The tall guy, second from the right, served me. There was an awkward moment when I couldn’t find my bank card in my wallet. Thought I was going to have to go back home to retrieve it. Fortunately, it appeared in one of the pockets of my bag.

Outside they had set up another little stall for people who didn’t want to queue. I checked the selection of cheeses outside after I’d got mine. Two were outside as well! But the third wasn’t. 

Queue outside Evan’s the Fishmonger…

Queue outside Axon’s the Butchers…

I bought a good strong, artisan Cheddar (you can buy ‘cheddar’ type cheese all over the world but you have no idea what it really tastes like until you have tried the real McCoy from Somerset), a good Blue Stilton and a rich creamy Brie from France. There are some oatcakes and crackers to serve the cheese on and some special Cheese Hamlet Chutney to serve it with. Port wine is the usual drink to go with cheese. The nice bag came from Sainsbury’s. 

The first of the Spring flowers were on sale for Christmas.

Later on in the morning, I found myself driving behind this van belonging to a local company providing services to the high maintenance doggies that live in south Manchester, ‘All Wagged Out’. You can see what they do for them on the van. But what I liked was the yellow registration plate. I like it when people pay attention to detail.

When I got home I was delighted to find that our tickets for the stadium tour of Strictly Come Dancing had arrived just in time for me to present them as a Christmas present.

 

I’m not feeling too festive at the moment. Am desperately in need of a cup of mulled wine I think. The reason? We popped over to the supermarket to ‘pick up a few things’. Three days before Christmas Day and the focus has moved from frantic present buying to shopping for food. The shops are closed for ONE day but people are buying enough to resist the Siege of Leningrad. Christmas lunch is a normal Sunday roast with added pigs in blankets (little sausages wrapped in bacon for non UK readers), I must have missed the news about the impending zombie apocalypse! 

First, there was parking, the car parks were overflowing. There was even talk about me putting back my medical boot and using my crutches so we could bag a disabled place. We found one eventually, we just happened to be in a place where a lady was leaving as we got there. We picked up our ‘things’ and we were lucky to get what we wanted from the increasingly denuded shelves. Parts looked like one of those stores they used to have in Soviet controlled Eastern Europe. That took us about 10 minutes but we then had to queue for 50 minutes to get out! The lady at the till offered me a chocolate. It was going to take a lot more than that to restore my festive spirit. We discussed gin. 

It was in contrast to last night. December 21st, the longest night of the year, a day that used to be celebrated with feasting to welcome the beginning of the long awaited return of the sun. The early Christians moved Christmas to try and stop us celebrating it. They have only been partially sucessful. 

We went to Dunham Massey Hall, the mansion in the deer park on the edge of the city. A trail had been set up around the gardens decorated with lights and enhanced with Christmas music, both religious and secular. Fountains played in the lake and canals that surround the house. The mansion was bathed in coloured lights that changed colours and patterns. The courtyard was filled with old fashion fairground rides and food stalls where you could buy pulled pork rolls with stuffing and apple sauce and mulled wine. It was all quite enchanting, which is a word that doesn’t get used too much these days. It was  quite wonderful and my photographs really don’t do the experience justice. We walked through tunnels of light. Trees sang for us. Blazing sculptures lit up the lawns. Maybe this little video will capture the experience a little better….

Poor Carol. So busy at this time of year giving concerts here there and everywhere. And on Sunday afternoon there she was again giving a pretty high profile one at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester’s symphony hall. It was my first actual social occasion since my ankle problem. It’s coming on well now. I don’t need the boot or the crutches and I’ve given up the stick that I was using to steady out my walk as well. I’ve been a good boy and do my exercises at home and have been going, religiously, to the gym where I do the routine Jimmy mapped out for me. I can still feel it but, if you saw me about, you wouldn’t know I’d had a problem. I can walk further than I could but, eventually, my ankle says ‘I’ve had enough’ and I have to rest. I can get upstairs but coming down is still problematic. Running isn’t happening at all. I was pleased to be able to keep up with the others walking about Manchester.

We caught the tram to St. Peter’s Square and then it was a short walk to the Midland Hotel. It was another of my goals to see the Midland Hotel Christmas Tree. So….tick!

I wanted a picture of me in my Peaky Blinders cap by the tree. I handed over my iPad and told them what to do. ‘Wait till the yellow square thing focuses and press the white button’. Simple. It didn’t quite work out. 150+ pictures were taken. Here’s a few of the best with me channelling my inner Tommy Shelby with cap, wool/cashmere coat (just like Tommy) and my new scarf. 

We had Kir Royales (champagne mixed with a French blackcurrant liqueur called Cassis). Delicious.

Then it was over to the Bridgewater Hall for the concert. The concert hall is only about two minutes walk from the Midland. Being one of the popular Christmas concerts it was a sell out. 

And we had the full Brigewater Hall experience. The full Hallé Orchestra was out and all three of the Hallé choirs (adult, youth and children’s). We even had the magnificent Bridgewater Hall organ working as well. 

The concert was a mixture of Christmas music, both secular and religious. It was a treat. Some pieces were just the Hallé, some just the choirs a-capella. For some we had the full monty.

Some of the music was familiar some was new to us. The Hallé Youth choir (made up of young people 13-19 with some of the lads having freshly broken voices) sang an American piece by Stephen Martin called ‘The Darkest Midnight in December.’ It was a lovely piece and they sang it quite beautifully. I couldn’t find the Hallé Youth Choir actually singing it but here’s another group singing it to give you an idea.

But the piece that got the biggest round of applause was the Hallé Children’s Choir (8 or so until their voices change I suppose) who did a delightful song called ‘Merry Christmas To Me’ by someone called Andy Beck. It was a delightful song about children demanding stuff for Christmas and not wanting PJs, socks and underwear and the like. They did actions as well. Huge round of applause. Here’s another group doing it but really not with the charm of the Hallé Children’s Choir.

With my recent difficulties, I did think there were going to be lots of things that I like to do at this time of year that I wouldn’t be able to. One was having a run out to the Hollies Farm Shop, deep in Cheshire, to visit the Hollies Christmas Barn. I may have mentioned the Hollies Farm Shop before. It’s sells delicious food of great quality. It’s the sort of place where you can throw a few bits into a basket and not have much change out of £100. I suppose there are people who can get their weekly shop there. And Cheshire is full of them of course. But, for the rest of us, it’s an occasional treat, especially at Christmas. We went down to pick up some Christmas food, the sort that’s in jars and the like, that will keep for a while. Fresh food will have to wait until the weekend. 

At this time of the year they open the Hollies Christmas Barn. It’s full of beautiful, unusual things that make thoughtful gifts. True, like the food, there are at a premium price but people appreciate the effort you go to…

I was delighted to see the Classic Mini outside, decorated up for Christmas with the family tree on the roof…

If you haven’t got your tree or wreath for your door they still have a few left…

And inside I was delighted to see bottles of Peaky Blinders Gin, made in Tommy Shelby’s stamping ground, in Walsall near Birmingham. He makes it in the drama and now you can enjoy it as well. Did I buy any? Well, I wouldn’t want to upset Tommy would I? Not wise!

Having got as far as the Cross Street end of King Street, I was within a mulled wine whiff of the main Christmas Market in Albert Square. It had to be done. First thing I noticed was that the entire market was ringed by a concrete barrier. The Manchester Arena attack, back in May, showed us we were not immune to problems elsewhere in the world. So with that in mind, and the memory of an attack on the Christmas Market in Berlin last Christmas, we have these precautions put into place to keep us safe. Sad but necessary…

Inside the concrete ring it was its’ usual festive self with Father Christmas presiding over it all from his perch outside the Town Hall. It was Monday so it was pleasantly busy but without the weekend crowds. I got talking to a nice couple from Yorkshire who’d come over to shop and enjoy the city…

Singing Moose was back in his place serenading us with carols in German. He swaps from that to English, he’s very good at languages…

I was sad to find that the ladies from Luxenmbourg, from whom I like to buy my first mulled wine of the season, weren’t in their usual place. Maybe they have decided to retire. Here’s this year’s mulled wine mug. As usual, I paid my deposit but took it home as a souvenir…

The bright, winter sun lit up the buildings brilliantly but my phone camera couldn’t cope with it and plunged the paths between the stalls into darkness. But you get the idea…

At this point my foot had had enough exercise and I hobbled back to the tram stop to go home.

I’d been wearing my favourite jeans when I had my fall 9 weeks ago. I’d bought them from GAP a couple of years back and they were developing nicely. They were good with sports shoes and a sweatshirt but looked equally good with a pair of dress shoes and my wool/cashmere overcoat. Before they put my dislocated ankle back in place they had to cut them off me. I was high on gas and air and I don’t know what pained me more, the manipulation of my joint back into position or the ruining of my jeans. So while I was in St. Ann’s Square I visited the GAP store and replaced them. I fell lucky and there was a sale on with a whopping 40% off!

It also gave me a chance to have a first look around the Christmas Markets. By now I’d usually have visited them on several occasions but this hasn’t been a normal Autumn for me. Here are some random pictures from the market in St. Ann’s Square…

And a few more taken in King Street…

Jimmy, my personal trainer, has sorted out my gym routine so I went in early to try it out. It went well but the part of the cycle really defeated me. I told Jimmy and he said he will scale it back for next time. I hope he remembers.

After the snow yesterday, we’ve had one of those ice cold, blue sky December days. I decided on a bit of an adventure. I drove over to Chorlton to find Eddie at the car workshop to say thank you for rescuing me after the accident. He’s been in Ireland when I’d last called in. It was good to see him and thank him for helping me out. He had been amazed at how calm I was when my foot was obviously so badly hurt. To be honest I couldn’t feel any pain, probably due to the shock and adrenaline pumping through my system.

With the weather being so good, apart from the worrying ice patches here and there, I thought I’d go into the city centre. I needed a good haircut and wanted to visit M&S. I did get the haircut but I got distracted by the Christmas Markets which I haven’t seen of course so far so Marks will have to wait. I thought I’d go as far as St. Ann’s Square but ended up in Albert Square. It was a lovely winter day and the markets were busy enough to be buzzy but not so crowded that they become unpleasant, like they can be at the weekends.

I took this picture that I was pleased with. I liked the Victorian Gothic spires of the Town Hall tower and the Albert Memorial and then the reindeer on the roof of one of the market chalets. All against the cold blue of the sky. I just wish I’d left a little more sky between the memorial and the reindeer. More pictures soon, I’m back!

Another little step on the road to recovery this morning but maybe I shouldn’t have done it. I like to go out and turn the engine over on my Mini. It’s not had a run for nearly two months and could do with one. I thought I’d put it into reverse and back out along the drive to see how my foot felt. My bad left foot just does the gear change pedal, the good right foot does the hard stuff with the accelerator and the brakes. I reversed onto the road. It felt OK. I put it in first and was about to go back onto the drive when I wondered if I could get it round the block? It was mid morning and quiet so I tried. It went well.

Then I remembered that I’d run out of shaving foam and forgot to mention it this morning. And, having made some toast, I’d noticed that we were running short of bread. I decided to risk it and drive to the little Sainsbury’s store a couple of miles away. I got there and realised I didn’t have my crutches so, as it’s not a huge hypermarket, I thought I’d try that as well. I felt pleased with myself as I hobbled (hobbling better these days) across the little car park and round the little store. I got my shaving foam and bread and threw in some of the mince pies that I like to eat around Christmas. I also liked this Christmas ‘bag for life.’ Not sure how much shopping you can get in it but it would be cool to put an awkward shaped present in in a few weeks time.  

I’m wondering if anyone notices my shopping  and puts 2+2 together and realises how they got here. Personally, I’m really pleased with myself. Another step on my road to recovery. Tomorrow I’m back at hospital for a physio session. Bring it on!

I’m feeling a bit down at the moment. Being stuck inside with the broken ankle is definitely getting old. I have to wait for others to take me out to places and most places I’d like to go are off limits as I’m still not very mobile. I can walk with crutches and the boot but I’m slow. And this morning I walked with just the crutches, just in bare feet. There was no pain just a stiffness which may be because my ankle is still a bit swollen. The marks where the doctor cut into my foot are still there but they are neat and will probably fade with time. I go back to the hospital on the 22nd to see the doctor and I hope she’s going to say it has mended and I can start physio properly.

I’m feeling particularly down as the Christmas Markets start today in Manchester. On an ordinary Friday I could have finished work at lunchtime and gone into the city to have a check and, maybe, have the first mulled wine of the season. I hope I can get in at sometime before they close. Online Christmas shopping just isn’t the same as doing it in the real world. 

And the Christmas advertisements from the UK retail giants are being released. The one we all wait for is the John Lewis’s who have, for many years, set the bar for the quality of how a Christmas advert should be. None of that ‘here’s a pile of stuff we want to flog you this year’, more the ‘this is what Christmas is all about.’ This year they have a little boy who’s scared of something nasty that lives under his bed and how he comes to terms with it. It’s sweet but I still prefer the snowman epic they did a few years ago. A big plus is Guy Garvey and Elbow (from Manchester of course) have done the soundtrack. Listen to how he sings the word ‘lullaby’ in his velvety, Manchester accent. If you have never heard a Manchester accent, we all sing like that (in our heads in the shower at least).

Department store chain, Debenhams, have done this rather nice ‘boy meets girl’ take on the Cinderella story with them being brought together by social media. Again, nothing being sold just a nice message.

But the one I’m enjoying the most is the Marks & Spencer’s one. Paddington Bear from the children’s books (not sure how well known he is outside the UK) who mistakes a burglar for Father Christmas and helps him return all the presents he’s stolen back to their sleeping recipients. Nothing being sold from Marks & Spencer’s but another nice message. Cynics among you may have noticed that the movie Paddington Bear 2 is about to hit the cinemas