Category: Christmas

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

I had my first proper trip out today since the accident. I did try going to the big, local ASDA last Friday but it was a bit of a failure. It’s a huge store and the method I was trying to use to get about (using the crutches to throw my entire weight forward while keeping my bad foot and the moon boot off the ground) was exhausting. I had to give up and ended up sat on a bench outside the Barclay’s Bank concession with two old ladies who had bad legs as well. They must meet there regularly, ‘ooooo look’ they said ‘we’ve got a fella!’ 

There’s no pain when I put my foot on the ground in or out of the boot now but walking normally is impossible. But I can do it with the help of the crutches and it’s a lot less exhausting than my previous method. So we had a little trip out. I went round the little Sainsbury’s in Culcheth and enjoyed it. I never thought I’d look at a trip to a supermarket as a pleasure.

And we went to Bent’s, the wonderful garden centre near Culcheth just before you get to the East Lancs Road. It was all ready for Christmas and I enjoyed taking these pictures of their display. They are always worth a visit. They do these beautifully decorated trees. With an average price of about £6 an ornament we reckon it would cost £1000s to do an entire tree. 

It was weird, at my age, to find that people were holding doors open for me and stepping out of my way so I could get about. Very kind of them but I didn’t expect to be here for decades! Hopefully by Christmas I’ll be the one stepping out of people’s way and holding doors for them as they get about on crutches. And I hope I will get a chance to see at least some of the Christmas Markets in Manchester. They open soon and I love to visit them but it will be difficult with the crowds and the huge number of stalls that are stretched through the city centre.

I had my first mince pie of the season at Bents and a delicious coffee. I arrived home and wasn’t exhausted as well. Some of the pictures might be a bit fuzzy. It’s hard to hold a phone camera and balance on your crutches at the same time I’ve found!

I’ve been working at home today. I got up really early and began and by noon I’d done everything I’d planned to. First thing was very autumnal with mist but, later in the morning, it burned off and we had a warm, sunny September day. What to do with it? Well, at this time of year we usually go foraging for sloes to make Sloe Gin. And, if I say so myself, we’re rather good at it. 

Last year I learned, too late, about a drink called Bramble Whisky. Basically it’s blackberries, sugar and whisky all shook up. I’d looked at a recipe a couple of weeks ago and it advised picking the blackberries on a warm, sunny day. So off I went foraging among the hedges around the fields near home. 

I was out for about a hour and a half. I learned that there weren’t as many blackberries as I thought and they were quite small. I knew that blackberry bushes have nasty thorns but I didn’t realise that they liked to grow mixed up with stinging nettles! I needed 1Kg but when I got home I’d only found about 250g! I then remembered that we had some blackberries in the freezer. We’d picked them last year in Shropshire where the blackberries are bigger and I don’t remember them coming with nettles. So I had enough to start a batch of Bramble Whisky. Here’s the recipe….

Bramble Whisky

1Kg Blackberries.

325g of white sugar.

370ml of whisky.

Put the blackberries in one of those jars that you can seal (see picture).

Add the sugar and shake the jar so the sugar gets distributed among the blackberries.

Pour the whisky over the fruit and seal it up. Give it a good shake. A note on the whisky. Go for a bottle of supermarket own brand. NEVER, EVER use an expensive single malt for this recipe. There’s a particularly nasty place in hell for people who do this. You have been warned.

For the next few weeks give it a shake when you pass it. It’s a good idea to have it in a cool place.

Eventually all the sugar will dissolve into the whisky. You then have to be patient. Very patient. The batch I set up today will be ready by Christmas. And that’s Christmas 2018!

Just before the Christmas season, strain the liquid through some muslin and put into bottles. It would make a cool, homemade present or enjoy it yourself over the festive season.

I’ve heard that you can do something wonderful with the left over fruit and ice cream. But I won’t be worrying about that just yet.

In Exchange Square, outside Selfridges, I was delighted to find that Dutch Cookie Man was in town selling his delicious Dutch biscuits, cakes and cookies. I’m a big fan of the toffee waffles that you can put into the little Blue Delft Cookie tins. They are usually a Christmas treat that we start enjoying in November, when he’s at the Christmas Markets, and make sure we have some to enjoy over Christmas. I’ve given the lovely tins with the cookies as presents for Christmas as well. So it was good to see him here in July. He’s back in September as well. I doubt if the two packets I bought will last till then though. Everytime he makes a sale he rings a bell. 

He has a new design for the tins.

I live in a very pleasant bubble. Living in Manchester, I’m not alone. I have a job I enjoy that rewards me sufficiently to have a comfortable house, run a car, have enough money to pay my bills and way in life, with enough left over to enjoy trips to the theatre, eating out at restaurants and other treats. And, as I said, I’m not alone. Manchester is a good place to live if you have the cash to enjoy it.

But, as you enjoy the city, shopping in the smart stores, eating in well appointed restaurants, hanging out in trendy bars, it’s easy to miss, or choose to miss, people who are not in a position to enjoy all the city can offer. Manchester has a homelessness problem. Possibly attracted by the city’s reputation of being successful, they come maybe hoping that they can share in our good fortune. But, once you are on the streets, no home means no address and that is enough to exclude you from work. And homelessness is a complicated issue. Solving it is not a matter of putting a person in an apartment and letting them get on with it. These people have complicated problems often involving abuse, drink and drugs. They need support to cope with living indoors.

If homelessness wasn’t a big enough a problem to solve, the city also has a population of people who are not actually on the streets but they are struggling to cope. Often they can be families who are struggling to heat their homes and put food on the table. It’s astonishing that in a city as obviously rich as Manchester where visitors are amazed by the huge amount of building projects going on, streets lined with exclusive stores and expensive restaurants and in awe of the cultural and sporting scenes in the city, that people are going hungry. A First World city with some very Third World problems. The children of people in this position often don’t prosper at school and the problem perpetuates itself. It takes a lot of hard work to break this cycle.

It’s all thrown more sharply into relief at Christmas. The Christmas Markets thread their tinselled way through the city’s streets packed with shoppers preparing for the big day. The restaurants and bars are packed with revellers. There was once a time when Manchester was busy only on a Friday and Saturday nights. Nowadays you can go in any night of the week and the city is busy and buzzing.

I’ve done my fair share of shopping, eating and drinking in the run up to Christmas. I’ve worked hard and now it’s time for me to enjoy the city with family and friends. But I have, at the back of my mind, that there are people a lot less fortunate than myself in the city and they won’t be enjoying the Christmas I will. Usually, if I remember, I’ll buy a Big Issue or give some small change to someone sitting on the pavement on one of the busy streets. I always intend to do something more substantial but I never really get to do it. I need some structure.

But this year has been different. Scrolling through my Twitter feed in late November I came across a post from the co op organisation. The co op, for those abroad who don’t know it, isn’t too difficult to explain. It started in 1844 in the Rochdale area of the city when a group of people, the Rochdale Pioneers, got together to buy good quality food at a cheaper rate so it could be sold to the workers in the Rochdale mills at reasonable prices. Up until then access to decent food for the working poor was haphazard. 172 years later, and a move to city centre Manchester, the co op still thrives with stores across the country among other initiatives. All looked after from their spectacular office block on Angel Meadow. The co op have never lost their original ethos of working in a way that benefits its’ customers, its colleagues and the communities it operates in.

So back to the tweet. It was about #ReverseAdvent. Most will be familiar with the idea of an Advent Calendar. You open a little door and you get a little treat and count down the days until Christmas Day. What the co op wanted us to do was the opposite. I applied to be part of it and received a bright, co op blue box, some basic instructions, a £5 voucher to get me started and, instead of getting a treat, you put one in the box for each day of Advent. Having filled your box you had to find someone or an organisation that would accept it. I, through some connections in Chorlton, arranged to have mine delivered to a refuge for women who have been suffering from domestic abuse. I don’t suppose they go hungry in the refuge but it may do help them to learn that some people do care.

It has been a fun and interesting way to support someone else this Christmas. I’ve been tweeting pictures of my filling box each day through the Advent season as well as putting up regular posts on my blog. You didn’t need a posh, bright blue co op box to do it. Get a cardboard box, wrap it in some Christmas paper and fill it then take it somewhere where someone will appreciate it in the run up to Christmas. 2016 hasn’t been the best of years with some terrible things happening in the world but I’m convinced that away from the headline grabbing disasters and the untimely deaths of talented people, there have been millions of tiny acts of kindness like the #ReverseAdvent idea.

It’s been a lovely idea that the co op, especially Jordan (and his mum), has come up with, getting ordinary people to engage with helping others at Christmas. I am pleased to have had a small role in it. Many thanks. I may have got as much out of it, if not more, than the people to whom my filled box will have gone to.

The last day of #ReverseAdvent 2016. I’m taking the box to my chosen receiver as soon as I’ve posted this. It’s been fun to do and I’m pleased that someone less fortunate than myself and many of the people I know will benefit from it. A big thank you to the people at the co op for organising this event.

The final item for my box are Gold Dusted Christmas Puddings. A suitably blinged up addition for the final day for someone to enjoy over Christmas.

The box is now full. I’m slightly worried about the weight and how I can carry it from the car. I hope the base doesn’t give way.

Day 23 of #ReverseAdvent. We’re nearly there. Today a Christmas Pudding is going in. It’s a rich, fruited, spiced pudding that has to be steamed. Some people love it (I do), while others find it a bit much after a first course and a main course of turkey dinner. I like it with brandy butter or a thick cream. Wonderful!

I’m still managing to find some space in the box.

I’ve been in ASDA today for my sins. It’s the busiest food shopping day of the year and, as I drove in, the BBC told me that £3 billion will be spent in the nation’s supermarkets. That’s a lot of sprouts. The first customers were being let in as I arrived at 6am. The produce department had, mostly, been set up and we were able to finish it off  before the big push. The store manager likes it looking good usually, a good display of well set out fresh produce puts the customer in the right frame of mind to buy it seems. But today it was all about ‘pile it high and get it shifted.’

By 10am it was busier than the busiest Saturday afternoon. The stores are only closed for Christmas Day and Christmas lunch is really just a slightly more fancy Sunday lunch followed by a nice afternoon tea all washed down with rather too much wine. It’s not difficult but people were buying as if expecting the Siege of Leningrad. We could barely keep up with the amount of vegetables we were shifting.

And what sort of parent thinks that their children think a trip to ASDA on the busiest day of the year is a treat? It’s not Disneyland ffs! And those trainers (sport shoes) with little wheels in are in vogue at the moment. And the last thing you want in a crowded store are a few out of control kids careering around the aisles on our nice smooth stone floors. 

I stuck it out until noon when the afternoon reinforcements arrived. I did the ‘Merry Christmas’ with a few buds and came home. Am not moving now until the 27th! Here’s my colleague, Chris. He’s a young guy but has managed to grow an impressive, hipster beard. ‘Beard Baubles’ are a thing this festive season apparently. Decorate your local hipster!