28 December 2014

We survived! Just about. Hope you did too.

The festivities actually started for us last Saturday when we went up to London for our occasionally annual pre-Christmas theatre outing with our good friends Dave & Sue Walton and Sue & Stuart Kelly-Brown. Ms Playchute and I dressed up in our best Christmas outfits – she looked great, as always, and I looked tolerably presentable. We’ve been doing this for some years –an exhibition or gallery in the morning, lunch somewhere and then a matinee performance of a play followed by dinner and a fairly early train home – we’re generally tucked up in bed by about 9.30!

This year’s exhibition was Rembrandt – the Late Works – at the National Gallery which was outstanding. We’ve all seen Rembrandt’s stuff certainly in books and such but also, probably, a fair proportion of us have seen some of his work in person. This collection was excellent and the audio commentary was very interesting and informative. I’ve always been a fan of the great way he uses light and some of these paintings were excellent examples. But, I wasn’t as familiar with his technique and the depth and texture this gave his work which you only see when you can view the works up close and in person. Apparently, according to the audio commentary, Rembrandt was the first to use a palette knife for actually “painting” as opposed to merely for mixing paints.

After a bite of lunch at the National Gallery restaurant we made our way to the Duchess Theatre for the matinee performance of “The Play That Goes Wrong” which was a lot of fun. As you might deduce from the title, it’s a farce – ostensibly, a performance by the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society of a 1920s’ murder mystery, where anything that can go wrong does, indeed, go wrong. Scenery collapses, props go missing, lines get mangled and actors get knocked unconscious and their parts have to be played by stage hands reading from the script. Although it’s predictable and obvious it’s still very funny and had the audience in stitches from start to finish.

I laughed and laughed and laughed until I stopped!

4_and_half_stars

Befouled Weakly News

After the play we wandered down the road to Da Mario’s, a family-run Italian restaurant which was excellent, caught the 7.50 pm train from London Marylebone back to Banbury and were tucked up in bed by about 9.30. A thoroughly enjoyable day out.

Then, on Sunday, Nick, Lucy and Annabelle came for a birthday lunch which was delightful as well as being delicious! We had to have it on Sunday as Nick had to work on Monday and Bubble is a bit young for late night carousing. Pen made the Opal chicken with chipotle cream sauce which was every bit as good as on the previous occasion! You will be as relieved as I was to hear that Ms Playchute still doesn’t think she has it quite right. She reckons she’ll need to continue to practice and I will gladly continue to taste it for her. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it!

Monday, of course, was my actual birthday and, after the highlights of the previous two days, I was expecting little to no excitement. We had planned to go out for a birthday meal but the restaurant we wanted to try was not open on Monday so we booked for Tuesday evening instead. In spite of that arrangement, Penelope fixed me a lovely birthday dinner which, you will be surprised to learn, was delicious! I received a plethora of birthday greetings and wishes – dozens of solicitations on Facebook, a handful of cards and several phone calls – all contributed to a splendid day. Penelope’s card, once again, was perfect; the front of the card, with a photograph of a demure young woman, reads, “Because you’re my husband, I wanted to give you something really special and out of the ordinary for your birthday . . .” and inside it reads, “So, for 24 hours I’ll let you be right!” She very kindly added a personal note pointing out that since I hadn’t received the card until about lunchtime, I only had twelve hours of “being right” left!

Interestingly, a number of the other birthday cards I received seemed to imply that my advanced years would suggest a rapid decline into forgetfulness and general confusion. One card had a view of a swimming pool with three lanes marked out – fast lane, slow lane and general bewilderment lane while inside they had written, “Happy Birthday whichever lane you are swimming in!” Susie sent another one – on the front is a photo of a squirrel looking somewhat bewildered, with the caption, “Now where’d I put my nuts . . .” and inside it reads, “Welcome to the forgetful years!” I don’t know about “welcome” to the forgetful years – I’ve been practising for this phase of my life for some time already. Somewhat disconcertingly, Susie had added, “I saw this and thought of you immediately . . .” Thanks, Susie! And what’s with the rude innuendo?

Tuesday was a birthday dinner out at the Red Lion in Culworth, just a few miles down the road from us. We’ve been there once or twice for lunch so thought we would try the dinner menu and very nice it was too!

Christmas Day dawned bright and clear and about 10.00 we were able to have a wonderful Skype conversation with Adam in Yangshuo – he looks well and sends Holiday Greetings to everyone.

Nick, Lucy and Annabelle arrived in the late morning and there was much animation. Apparently, Father Christmas had visited their house! Bubble arrived clutching her favourite present of the morning (as well as a few others) and with great excitement described it to me in considerable detail! She was a delight and treasure and was marvellous throughout the day – no melt downs at all! I guess three or four years old must be just about the perfect age for Christmas. I’m afraid we had so much fun that I forgot to take any photographs at all!  The following are from Nick & Lucy:

Christmas dinner was fantastic. As always, Penelope had spent days in preparation and I was delighted to be as helpful as always – staying well out of her way. I was able to cheer her up on Tuesday, however. Somehow she was convinced that Tuesday was Christmas Eve and she had to get all her preparations completed. When I pointed out that it was only the 23rd she was relieved to discover she had a day in hand! As is often the case, she catered for about thirty so there was no shortage of delicious food for the five of us. So much, in fact, that she was able to forget to serve several items altogether and no one noticed.

Penelope’s Christmas Menu

Starters
Scallops with Chili Lime Sauce
Butternut Squash & Caramelised Onion Tart (1)

Main Course
Braised Leg of Lamb
Roast Potatoes
Butternut Squash & Caramelised Onion Tart (2)
Red Cabbage
Brussel Sprouts with Chestnuts and Pancetta
Pigs in Blankets (Bacon and Sausage Rolls)
Creamed Spinach (3)
Maple Glazed Carrots in Pastry

Dessert
Filo Pastry Parcels
Spiced Orange Cake with Plum Sauce (sans the Plum Sauce)

Tea (4)
Sausage Rolls
Vegetarian “Sausage” Rolls
Chocolate Brownies with Raspberries
Cheese Straws

Late Tea (5)
Baked Camembert with Cheese Straws and Crisp Bread
Mince Tarts

All washed down with a very pleasant bottle of Chateau Pessan – Graves 2006 – Grand Vin de Bordeaux

Notes:

  1. The Butternut Squash and Caramelised Onion Tart was intended as a starter for Lucy and Pen because Nick and I were having the scallops. However, see note (2).
  2. Since there was so much food, Lucy and Pen decided they would have the Butternut Squash and Caramelised Onion Tart as a side dish instead of a starter. Unfortunately, by the time it came around they forgot and Pen discovered it afterwards in the oven, warmed through to perfection.
  3. The creamed spinach never made it to the table at all – discovered in the refrigerator afterwards.
  4. Tea – never took place. We were too stuffed.
  5. Late Tea similarly never took place.

Hmmm. Looks like some mighty fine left-overs for me to get through over the next couple of days. As I said before, it’s a tough job but someone has to do it and I reckon I might be just the guy!

Finally, before we leave for this year there’s just time to wish Sandy & Pam a Happy Anniversary and to wish Ash a Happy Birthday – those of us with December birthdays need to stick together!

Love to you all,
Greg