Christmas 2015

Most years our Christmas letter has an obvious highlight; this year we are spoilt for choice. At the pinnacle stands both Kate’s wedding to Pedro and our day a week caring for our grandson, Jo and Ben’s son, Wilfred. We are truly lucky to have such great daughter-in-law and son-in-law in Jo and Pedro.

Family in Kew

Heather, Jo, Ben, Wilfie, Kate and Pedro in Kew Gardens

Kate and Pedro wed in Kew Gardens, late on a perfect autumn Friday afternoon; Kew Gardens was our back yard as the kids were young so nowhere was more apt for Kate.  The sun was setting behind the Nash Conservatory, forming a path of light as they strode into the ceremony.

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Pedro and Kate in the Nash Conservatory

There were toddlers aplenty, all allowed to run free. The reception was champagne filled fun, the Indian dinner was excellent and the company delightful. The following day all the out-of-towners came around for pizza and Lambrusco. As a note to self, having a prepared wedding speech is all well and fine – but finding yourself being unable to read 11 point print anymore obviates the preparation.

Probably even before Wilfred was born Heather and I had discussed whether or not we’d be asked to help care for him.

Wilfie cuddles

Wilfie and Granny

So when Jo and Ben ever so tentatively asked if we’d be interested in a day a week we had to bite our tongues and let them finish the question. Leaving vegetables aside, as he does, he’s a joy: alert, interested in everything, giggly, humorous and chatty. Jo and Ben are terrific parents. It may be a long day for Heather and me but it is very worthwhile.

Our holidays have always been self-directed affairs; planned and executed on our own. This year we experimented. We went on an escorted  train tour of Vietnam and Cambodia. We had a terrific time. We saw more because it was time-tabled. I wasn’t worrying if we were on the right train or not. Our bags would disappear and reappear without a care. Our fellow travellers were good fun – we could tell all our old stories without boring them. We’ve made friends with the Todmans. It was so good we’re going to try India with the same company and Puglia with another. We’ve also been to Bologna for a few days; a new contender for my favourite city.

We manage a couple of dog free days a week – one for Wilfie and one for us to wander about. Elmo has four hours of walking each day. But we have London on our doorstep. The dog free days allow us to see plays, movies, museums and use our new friend, the ArtFund pass.

In the house we had planned to replace a bathroom and, finally, cover the bare worn floorboards upstairs (a result of ripping out the dog hair adhering carpets a decade ago). But, first, we needed a couple of months to install noise reducing secondary double glazing throughout. A couple of months? Try 15 months. Maybe we’ll do the upstairs floors and the bathroom next year. Or the year after.

In the meantime Heather is in a Fitbit steps competition with my sister, Marianne, and our friend Ray Eisenberg; knitting for England (mostly Wilfie but I bagged a terrific jumper too) and improving her conversational German.

Timetabling means I’ve had to cutback on evening events the local camera club.

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xkcd: Duty Calls

And I have to remind myself not to engage nutters on the internet. That should leave me enough free time to book our next holidays. Will it be Canada’s Atlantic provinces, Patagonia, Costa Rica or New Zealand?

To all a Happy Holiday season and our best wishes for the New Year.

Heather and John and Elmo

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Temperature Data Update

Open Mind

Since last year was the hottest on record, many people have trained a keen eye on this year’s temperature data so see how it will compare with last year’s record-breaker.

So far, it’s a hot one indeed. How hot? NASA has just released the global temperature data for April, and although we only have four months of data for the year so far, some of the folks at home are wondering how this-year-so-far compares to previous years’ temperatures. Here you are:

giss

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Goodbye RAW, hello JPEG?

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I treated myself to a new camera, a Fujifilm X100T, before we set off on holiday.

I’ve always shot in RAW format, allowing myself the most flexibility in post-processing. I’m modestly adept in Adobe Lightroom. But I kept reading how good the JPEGs are from the X100T. So, for our trip, I invested in a very large, 128 GB, SD card and shot RAW+JPEG Fine – belt and braces. In a few extreme very low light cases I shot JPEG only and boosted the ISO. The expected result was that my post-processing RAW should be better than the SOOC JPEG.

I returned home with about 1700 images, using about half my card and started the process of weeding out, post-processing and publishing. It took a few days.

Surprise. I have more keepers from the JPEGs than the RAWs. And many are my favourites. Ok, I do some post-processing – correcting horizons, cropping and lightening faces – but maybe a tenth of what I used to do.

The camera seems to do at least as good a job in camera as I do in post-processing. Less space is used on the SD cards and on disk. I do less work. And the camera supports the transfer of JPEGs, not RAW, to smartphones.

I think I’m sold. I think I’ll shoot JPEG by default.

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Do not buy Mahabis slippers as gifts

We’re an organised family, perhaps overly so. I start thinking about Christmas gifts for my family from Boxing Day. I order goods as experience has taught me that delay oft leads to disappointment.

So, when darling daughter Kate raved about her Mahabis slippers I thought about my darling wife’s retirement padding about the house and thought “Great!”. Expensive, maybe – but comfortable and en point – a win. I know Heather’s shoe size, 38. As per their FAQ I ordered a bit smaller, 37. I hesitated a bit, but Kate had found smaller was better.

That was in September.

Modern retailers have long cottoned on that they want the Christmas gift market – and so have accepted that gift exchanges for months ago purchased items are inevitable. If you want the sale  A trendy, web-oriented, North London retailer – I didn’t give it a second thought.

I should’ve given it that second thought.

Come Christmas, Heather opened her present – and laughed at me a bit for falling for a fashion. (There is nothing unusual in that.) But she tried them on and they were too small. I contacted Mahabis only to be told their standard return terms were 14 days with the extended term of one month leading up to Christmas. It’s all on their website, of course, so I could have known. Even better, had I been slightly more cautions, I’d have looked at Mahabis’ appalling customer service reviews before the purchase and backed away.

I have thanked Mahabis for teaching me a vital lesson in shopping. As a service to their prospective clients I thought I could help by sharing.

Anyone want “1x Larvik Dark Grey Mahabis Classic Bundle (+FREE soles) – 37 / gotland green“? They don’t fit me either. (Update: now sold.)

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Christmas 2014

It’s late November and Granny, aka Heather, has already spent nigh on three days wrapping presents. We’ve ordered our Christmas bird (partridge in pheasant in duck in turkey) for the Christmas family gathering. A few new ornaments have been purchased to augment our classic late 1970s baubles. The late November days are grey and misty. So it must be time for our annual Christmas letter – our 22nd.

Did I say “Granny”? Yes, Jo gave birth to Wilfred Jack Samuel on May 4th. He’s a very happy, very engaged little chap. Jo and Ben are terrific parents. They had a busy spring. In addition to Wilf they moved house within Walthamstow just a few weeks earlier. And Ben turned 30. The Metzler piano Heather’s mother, Alice, bought for us is now nestled in their dining room. Wilf shall not escape practice. We spend the odd day over there to see the lad and his parents.

Kate and Pedro are engaged. The marriage date has yet to be determined. If they manage to buy a new house they may delay the ceremony due to cash flow. Or not. Kate has joined Hiller and Knowlton after a multi-year mutual stalking. They’ve been on the Garden tour of South Africa and are off to Lapland. Heather and I went to Lisbon with them and met Pedro’s family. Pedro also corrected our initial, not so good, impressions of Portuguese food.

Heather retired at the end of July. She loved working with the children. She liked her colleagues. She grew tired of the NHS’ increasing demands to demonstrate her value. When the expectation is that one spends more time on planning, reporting and following up than actually performing the role life becomes frustrating. Now she has time to walk the dog, knit and have the odd lunch out with friends or even me.

I met Heather through Chris Thompson, a university colleague, in 1973. He and I shared flats a couple of times. Whilst I may not have been the greatest flatmate ever Chris probably has more similar attitudes to mine than anyone I’ve ever met. We reconnected on Facebook a few years back and still got along. Heather and I were very pleasantly surprised to be invited to his wedding to Louise Florent in September. I think he was surprised, hopefully pleasantly, that we’d come to Bronte Harbour, near Toronto, for the ceremony. Louise and he offered us a room to stay – and Chris then asked me to be Best Man. I got to stand up front with a silly grin planted on my face as the very happy couple married over a very nice meal indeed. I’d never made a Best Man’s speech so decided short and not too humourous was the safest course of action. Mark Hauser’s official photographs are here and mine are here.

Anne-Marie, the friend Heather originally emigrated to Canada with, and Jim were also invited to the wedding. We spent a few days afterwards with Annie, Jim, Mia and baby Aria. It’s always good to see them.

After Toronto we set off to Chalfont, outside Philadelphia, ostensibly to farm sit for our American ex-Richmond friends Barb and Terry. In the end they left us alone for only about 18 hours while we got ten days room, board and local tours. (We did manage to introduce them to ex-Herbert Smith, now Bucks County Rupa (Rohini), Ram and little girl Jia. They seemed to enjoy each others’ company so maybe they’ll keep it up.)

Then, just a few weeks later, we returned to Chalfont for the wedding of their daughter, Whitney Young, to Terry Fitzgibbons. It was fun to have a reception set in a barn and catered with street food. We bolted on a few days in Philadelphia, a city we’d never been to before. We liked it – a very pleasant mid-size city.

I’d already blogged about our 2013 Malaysian Christmas. We also had a long weekend in Guernsey. Next year we know we’re off to Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong Delta. Who is to say what else will take our fancy?

Work in the house this year has been dedicated to clearing Kate’s and Ben’s rooms. Oxfam was delighted to receive a score of boxes of books. Next year we’ll put secondary glazing on our lovely, but cold, Victorian windows, update our bathroom to a wet room and, finally, cover the upstairs floorboards. We’d ripped up all the carpet in the house when we had two long haired dogs and never quite got around to finishing the job. 2015 for sure.

As for Elmo, he continues to delight us every day. This year he has learned how to fetch with the help of homemade liver cake.

For those, admittedly few, who look forward to reading what theatre we have seen try this.

We hope all our family and friends enjoy a pleasant holiday season and a happy 2015.

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Pane di Natale: 7 Italian Breads for Christmas

Italian bread for the festivities? Don’t mind if I do, thank you.

thesinglegourmetandtraveller

Christmas breads at Corto Italian Deli, Twickenham Christmas breads at Corto Italian Deli, Twickenham

The blog is a constant source of joy, not least because it’s led me to meet some lovely people: other bloggers, chefs and restaurateurs who have been willing to let me interview them (click here), owners of food shops and cafes, and today two other people who are as enthusiastic about Italy and Italian food as me. William Goodacre founded Tastes of Italy (click here) in 2000, specialising in cookery and wine tours; Dorcas Jamieson handles their PR. Dorcas got in touch to suggest we all meet, telling me that William was a ‘font of knowledge’ about Italy and Italian food. How better to spend nearly two hours on a Friday morning than talking about Italy and food, and especially Venice and Venetian food, over coffee. I had a great time and was surprised and so pleased when William gave…

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What have we seen in 2014?

With two live theatres within walking distance in Richmond, the National Theatre a half hour away and London on our doorstep we are fortunate to have so much live entertainment on offer.

Don’t bother seeing Stephen K Amos.

We’ve also done well with the cinema this year: Boyhood, My Old Lady, Mr Turner and The Imitation Game. One of our small joys is the £5 noon showings at the Curzon. With the money we save we can afford a glass of wine at our seats.

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