Tuesday 29 December 2009

The Christmas Wilderness

Well December 18 has come and gone and Sir Terry Wogan has presented his last breakfast show, amid a fanfare of publicity. I have never been a TOG (Terry's Old Geezer). Somehow he has never been my cup of tea. Perhaps it is because I am not quite old enough. Or perhaps it is because my literary taste is somewhat more sophisticated than Janet and John. I have always looked forward to Terry's holidays, when the BBC Radio 2 breakfast show is presented by Johnnie Walker, whose calm and laid back style is exactly what I need to bring me to life in the morning. In his quiet and understated manner he is currently presenting the breakfast show, in the Christmas wilderness, (the time when most of us don't want or don't have to work) for the three weeks until Chris Evans takes over the breakfast slot in January, again amid the fanfare of publicity. But I have to admit that I am a recent convert to Radio 2. I have not always listened to it.

When we lived down in Surrey my radio was permanently tuned to London's Capital Radio. The move to Chester meant that I could no longer receive Capital and I had to find another station to listen to. In fact, in our area Capital's 95.8 FM frequency is used by BBC Radio Merseyside. Initially, I listened to Chester's local radio, Dee 106.3 and eventually got used to the presenters and their different styles. However, it wasn't long before changes were made. Progress I suppose. I tried but just could not get on with the new schedules and presenters. First thing in the morning I need a soothing noise to help ease me into the day. Conversation alone is not enough. What I had was two presenters with mangled grammar which really grated on me and I wasn't too keen on their choice of music.

One Wednesday, when I was at home painting the study, I decided to listen to the radio to help me keep track of time, as I find that I totally loose track of it when I am painting and I decided to try Radio 2. Throughout the morning I happily listened to Ken Bruce. I am not so keen on Jeremy Vine, but part of his show coincided with my lunch break. Then, Steve Wright provided the afternoon entertainment. After him was the Drivetime show. I was still busily painting and by now it was getting dark outside, but that did not matter to me. I was enjoying listening to Johnnie Walker presenting his Drivetime show. Not long after my conversion to Radio 2 Chris Evans took over the Drivetime show.

My radio is now permanently tuned to Radio 2, even though we are no longer painting. I always try to listen to Johnnie Walker's Sunday afternoon show or if I miss it I use the listen again option on the Internet. His warm and soothing voice has me hooked and his choice of music is often a trip down memory lane, reminding me of my days as a teenager, student and then the heady days of my first job in Oxford. If like me you are a child of the 60s and 70s, give him a try. I am sure you will enjoy him.

Apologies to my overseas readers. This post is about a UK radio station.

Thursday 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas

to bloggers everywhere. I had hoped to visit my regulars before Christmas, but I am very sorry I have run out of time and the day job beckons.

Thursday 17 December 2009

No need to get all steamed up

I have been busy with my Christmas preparations. The cards are now all written and posted, except for the local cards which will be hand delivered. The presents have been bought or ordered via the Internet. The tree has been put up by husband, for I think the first time ever, and I have decorated it and put up the decorations. Just to prove it I have included a photo of our Christmas tree. Tomorrow I shall make the Plum Bread that I normally make for Christmas then there is just the cake to marzipan and ice, along with the final preparations that I hope to fit in around working three short shifts, next week. Yesterday I went to the Christmas party at the home where my mother is a resident and met a lady that I used to go to evening class with a few years ago. She is several years older than me and one of her friends is a resident. It was good to see her and have a chat. The residents and their families were entertained by a choir from a local primary school singing carols. It was not easy to watch as I remembered the events or our summer. My eye was drawn to a blond boy in the choir. I was not sure why, but realised later than he bore a passing resemblance to the child who died, at that age. Afterwards I came home and made the Christmas pudding.

Last week when Jinksy posted about her Christmas preparations I commented that for some years now I have made a Christmas pudding that is cooked in the oven, rather than steamed and she has asked for the recipe. There is no need to worry about the pan boiling dry or boiling over and I did not even need to put the extractor fan on last night! Then to heat it up on Christmas Day all you need to do is to heat it up in the microwave. The recipe came from Ideal Home magazine about ten years ago. It is lighter than a conventional Christmas pudding and should be made at least one week before Christmas. There is no need for it to age or mature. So you still have time to make it. Ideal Home magazine have called it Boozy Christmas Pudding. This recipe provides six generous portions.

400g/14oz mixed fruit such as dates, apricots, cherries, figs, raisins, all roughly shopped
grated rind and juice of one small orange
8tbsp brandy
125g/4oz butter (at room temperature)
125g/4oz dark brown sugar
2 eggs beaten
25g/1oz toasted, chopped hazelnuts
50g/2oz self-raising flour
1tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
50g/2oz breadcrumbs

  • place the dried fruit, orange rind and juice, and brandy in a large bowl and set aside for an hour or two until all the liquid has been absorbed. Preheat the oven to 160 C, 325 F, gas 3.
  • in a bowl, mix together the butter and sugar until soft and well blended, then beat in the eggs, nuts and fruit mixture. Sift over the flour and spices and fold in the breadcrumbs. Spoon the mixture into a buttered 1 litre or 2 pint pudding basin.
  • cover the top of the pudding basin with greaseproof paper, pleated in the centre and tied down with string. Cover with foil. Put the basin in a roasting tin and pour boiling water into the tin so it comes about 6cm up the side of the basin.
  • cover the whole roasting tin with foil, making sure that the edges are tightly sealed.
  • bake for 3 1/2 to 4 hours until the pudding is just firm to touch, checking occasionally to see if the water needs topping up.
  • to reheat, cover the basin with microwave film and cook on medium for 6 to 8 minutes in the microwave, then rest for two minutes before serving.
And here is the proof of the pudding!

Monday 7 December 2009

Lighting the darkness

This was the scene in our snug late in the afternoon, last Monday.

Romantic, festive, cosy? None of these.

About four thirty last Monday afternoon, I was enjoying a cup of tea in the kitchen when there was a very authoritative knock on the front door. I did not dare to not answer the door and on opening it found that it had become dark, while I had enjoyed my cup of tea and the porch light was not on. Standing on the door step, in the darkness, was a man dressed in a boiler suit and wearing a helmet which incorporated a small light over his forehead. Not really what you expect to find on your doorstep at four thirty in the afternoon, but nothing surprises me these days. He resembled a coal miner, but even in the dark I could see that he looked too clean. He started by informing me that he was from Scottish Power. Cheshire, by the way, is not in Scotland but our electricity is supplied by Scottish Power and I do wonder what will happen if Scotland gets the independence that it is hankering after. He then went on to say that they were going to have to take our power out for about 20 minutes, in ten minutes time, because the local farmer had noticed that the power was flickering.

What immediately went through my mind was 'why now?' It was dark, the children would be just home from school and it was very cold. The first frost of the winter was forecast for that night. Why couldn't they have switched off our power during daylight hours? It would still have been cold, but it would at least have been light. Any way there was no time for dithering around. I had to find a torch, candles and matches. Then phone husband to ask what to do with the computers. He reckoned that if the power were only off for 20 minutes that the UPS (uninterruptible power supply) would look after the computers and I did not need to do anything with them. Ten minutes came and went and the power did not go off. I pottered around the cottage doing odd jobs. My list of power assisted, to do, jobs went out of the window. It was a bit like being in the dentist waiting room. Ten minutes eventually turned out to be about 30 minutes and suddenly it was pitch dark. Now I realised that I was the only mug around with candles and a torch in the darkness. One set of neighbours was out and the other set went out rather than face the reality of a power cut. When I was a student, when the power went off, we used to go to a pub in an area where the power was on, but there is something a bit sad about a middle aged woman sitting in a pub on her own at five o'clock in the afternoon. I had not drawn the curtains and looking out of our windows it looked as if there was a light, from somewhere, outside. An almost full moon shone out of a clear inky blue sky and the first stars of the night were up. Twilight, I suppose you could call it.

The 20 minute outage became 30 minutes, then 40 minutes, then eureka we had power again! Now I had the task of adjusting the clocks on the oven and microwave to the correct time, resetting the burglar alarm and altering the automatic timers. Then I had the computers to sort out. Surprisingly my laptop survived unscathed but the two computers that are connected to the desk top screen both had to be rebooted. The UPS is only good for about 15-20 minutes. All that nicely took up two hours of last Monday. I do hope that it is not going to be a long Winter.