Sunday, 29 April 2012

5 days in rural France (in great detail!)

Saturday April 21st, 0515hrs - yup, in the morning! As usual, I got up wishing I'd gone to bed earlier but never mind. I had a holiday to look forward to. It was time to return to Magnac Laval and to Cathy's little house, Étoile de Mer. At 6am, we set off from Cathy's to our park-and-ride place 10 minutes from Stansted. It really is time somebody started flying to Limoges from a more convenient airport! Still, the journey to the airport and the flight itself were uneventful and before we knew it we had landed in grey, rainy Limoges. Cathy's lovely little Renault 4 (Renée) had been helpfully left in the car park by a friend so, after a slightly faltering start where we both managed to forget that the car had a choke which was needed to start her, we set off. After a stop for necessities from the supermarket, we got to the house. It had had a little facelift since the last time I saw it - brand new shutters upstairs and all the shutters and the front door had been given a coat of very lovely blue paint. We dumped our stuff then went for a wander round the village. First stop was unexpectedly l'Escapade, the local bar where, even though it was technically closed, we were allowed in to say hi to Tony and to watch a bit of the setup for the karaoke that night. We'd already made dinner plans but we promised to pop along later, thinking we could always dip out if our nerve failed!
The cute but very old-fashioned village supermarket had finally closed down due to a combination of the ill-health of the owner and the presence of a "proper" chain supermarket half a mile away. It had been replaced by Chez NouNou, a little café with a good selection of drinks, basic snacks, a TV and, most importantly, free WiFi.
In the evening we headed off to Restaurant La Gartempe, a 20 minute drive from the house. It's run by a lovely British couple - I should know both their names having been there three times now, but I can only remember that Rachel is the front-of-house half while her husband concocts gorgeousness in the kitchen. The food is always utterly scrumptious with a good vegetarian option. This evening's fare was sweetcorn and chickpea balls, followed by spinach and potato pie with salad. Despite being pretty full, I couldn't resist hot red fruits and ice cream. We'd had a long chat about the first round of the French elections which were due to take place the following day. Rachel is actually on the local council for La-Croix-sur-Gartempe but as a resident Brit, she can't vote in the regional or national elections.

And so we headed back to Magnac and to l'Escapade. It was packed and we nearly changed our minds but we're glad we didn't. It was a fantastic evening - everyone threw themselves into karaoke (including us), VAST quantities of wine were drunk, and we bumped into Jo, a girl we'd met there last August during another raucous drunken evening, and her new bloke, Mark. Although the bar was populated almost exclusively by Brits for this particular night, three brave older local guys came in, plonked themselves down at a table and, after watching proceedings for a while, attempted to join in despite clearly not knowing a single word of English. They seemed to do pretty well with Beatles numbers. One of the tables had a birthday group - the birthday girl herself, Elsie, turned 91 at midnight and she was presented with a huge cake. 91 or not, she was up and dancing with the rest of us! The bizarre highlight of the evening was one of the regulars disappearing out to the loo, only to return dressed very convincingly as Bob the Builder, which led to an odd karaoke version of the theme tune. Rather a lot of us knew all the lyrics, rather worryingly. At half midnight, we were finally prised out of the bar but the evening wasn't over. Jo had told us that there had been a rather strange man wandering the streets of the village late at night recently so she and Mark walked us the 50 yards back to the house. Seeing as there was plenty of booze in the house we all went in and carried on for a couple of hours. Drunken darts. Drunken Guess Who. Drunken everything. Jo and Mark left at 3am but then, instead of sensibly going to bed, we decided to go stargazing! We finally gave up at 3.45 am, nearly 24 hours after we'd got up.

Sunday 22nd April - I woke up at 11am feeling alarmingly well, all things considered. The less said about poor Cathy until about 4pm the better! We finally made it out of the house at 1.30, but only to stagger to Chez NouNou again. We slobbed on the sofas, drank coffee and hot chocolate, watched the Monte Carlo tennis final (well done, Nadal), managed some stodgy hangover food and then made it back to the house. It was still raining, as it had been pretty much since we arrived, so we started giving the house a spring clean. At 5.30 there was a break in the weather so we went out for a walk all round the village. Just as we were getting back, we noticed something scuttling along the gutter heading straight for the crossroads at the centre of the village. It was a tiny mole, and it was heading for certain death! Mad English animal lovers to the rescue. What a task it was! We tried stopping it with our hands (I can confirm they have rather sharp teeth!), with my coat, with our feet but no matter what we put in its way, its incredibly strong little nose and front feet managed to force through. In the end, Cathy emptied her tiny handbag out and we managed to get the squirmy, squeaky little bugger zipped up inside! We hurried to a nearby field which houses 4 horses and 3 donkeys and let him go. He only went about a foot before burrowing neatly down into the ground and vanishing! On the way back, we popped to the square to see if anything was happening at the Mairie (the Town Hall) at the end of the days' voting. We'd heard that the count of the ballot papers is frequently public and lo and behold, we could see lots of frantic counting and various locals watching. We were too embarrassed to go in and watch so we went back to the house, rustled up a chickpea stew, played a few very silly games but by 11pm we were trashed and crashed!

There's a mole in there, I promise.

Monday 23rd April - After 10 hours' sleep, we managed our obligatory croissants for breakfast from Mme Monediere at the boulangerie on the corner, and then went out for another rainy wander. After completing necessary practicalities at the Post Office and the bank, we visited Joelle, a lovely local lady who is very welcoming but incredibly hard to understand due to a combination of hardly any teeth and the fact that she makes no allowances for our ropey French. Still, between us, we managed a conversation about the election (including the rather spectacular results achieved by Marine le Pen of the National Front), the retirement age and rather inexplicably, the danger of older men falling off rooves (there may have been a translation problem here). Joelle's husband returned at one point and the chat became a little easier because he speaks much more slowly and clearly. As we were leaving, Joelle gave us five dinky little eggs from her chickens and we knew what we were having for dinner.
We drove to Le Dorat to meet Collette, a South African lady who lives out there and who had helped Cathy out by booking Renée in for her MOT, due to take place on Tuesday. We popped into my favourite church (yes, I'm an atheist but I'm still allowed to like the buildings!) and then on to La Petite Fontaine, a lovely café which is popular with Brits and French alike. In rather British fashion, I had a jacket potato with baked beans! When we left, it was still absolutely tipping it down but we decided not be put off. We grabbed the map and just headed for somewhere neither of us had been before - l'Isle Jourdain, about a 40 minute drive to the west. It turned out to be lovely. The main square is up on high, but you can then follow winding, narrow streets through the oldest part of the village right down to the river and the bridge across to the other side of the village. Halfway across the bridge we spotted two wrought-iron gates, chained, but along the overgrown driveway we could just about see a very rundown but absolutely massive house. Attached to the gates was a For Sale sign so we started to speculate on what it actually was and how much it might be on the market for.

Just upriver is a huge viaduct which can be reached on foot but just as we were contemplating taking a stroll up there, the heavens opened and we headed uphill as fast as we could back to the square. We stopped at a deserted café to warm up then grabbed the car and drove back through more torrential rain.  We read for a bit while more rain hammered down on the roof of the sun (!) terrace, then made a delicious omelette with the eggs from Joelle. We listened to music and played more silly games until bed.

Tuesday 24th April - What on earth was going on? We woke up to blue sky and sunshine. After a leisurely brekkie of croissants and Emmenthal we headed first to the reduced-price porcelain warehouse, where I got two sideplates for a stupidly low price (€4.25) and then on to our favourite tat shop, Ecogem, to buy cheap plasticky pointlessness. Then it was on to Bellac where we stopped for lunch at Madame Corbett's, a little sandwich shop run by a friendly Scottish lady. She was lovely but, no offence, not really the best at running a café despite saying she had been working as a waitress or similar for over 30 years. She got our drinks order wrong, we waited over 20 minutes for a simple panini (there were no other customers) and the arrival of 5 other customers practically finished her off. It will be interesting to see what it might be like in there in July and August - let's hope she takes on some staff. The food was good and excellent value though. It was time for Renée's MOT so we dropped her off at the testing station and went for a walk. Cathy was quite convinced that she would fail the MOT, the car is 21 years old, after all, and four years ago, there were a few "avises" - suggested work to be done, though not obligatory. Just as, rather unsurprisingly, it started to rain, we went back to see what the damage was. Hurrah - she had passed with absolutely no work needing to be done!
We drove to Collette's lovely house where we were happily assaulted by her two friendly dogs, and I was impressed by what she and her husband Ron have there. There is the main house they live in, then another little house behind it, a huge brick building where Ron has his forge and also a large barn. Their garden is beautifully kept and they have a few chickens - it's obviously the done thing! From there, we followed Collette to the house of the lady who will be looking after Renée until Cathy's next visit. Sue lives right next door to her estranged husband in a beautiful house in a tiny village. It used to be an apple orchard and there are still loads of apple trees although she doesn't harvest them any more. The place is up for sale at the moment but has been so for three years with no movement at all. The property market in France just isn't good at the moment. With Renée happily installed in the huge (but very dry) barn, Collette drove us back to Magnac for our final evening.

We went for another constitutional round the village, but in the reverse direction to our usual one, then back to the house for a huge dinner of pasta with lentil and vegetable sauce, most of a baguette and some proper "foreign crisps"! Then it was back to l'Escapade, this time to meet Alison and Tony. Alison looks after Cathy's house between visits and sorts it out before and after the other guests who stay there a few times a year. It was another fairly riotous evening with very entertaining chat, more wine and lots of laughter. In the end, we had to admit that our last evening was over and we headed out for one more attempt at meteor-spotting (the Lyrid meteor shower was meant to be around now) but even though the night was clear and there were plenty of stars to be seen, we still didn't see any shooting stars.

Wed 25th April - We got up earlier than any other day of the holiday and set about the final clear up of the house. Recycling went down to the bins by the river. We cleaned the kitchen and bathroom, sorted the floors (OK, Cathy did that!) and packed up. The lovely Collette came to pick us up and drove us to the airport. We were rather earlier than usual but passed the time with a delicious scrambled egg and toast combo from the newly opened restaurant upstairs at the airport. After the usual 45 minute wait in the world's most boring departure lounge we were off and heading for equally rainy Stansted. Our lift arrived, took us back to the car, we aquaplaned most of the way down the M11 and the M25 and then we were home. Booo. All over. It was lovely, as always and we're already planning a return trip.

All my photos can be found HERE.

PS - Re the huge house for sale in l'Isle Jourdain, we'd estimated an asking price of between £180,000 and £270,000. When we finally found the listing we discovered we were a bit out. It was on the market for £535,000 but did include a mill and an ancient fort as well as the four massive buildings on the island and an associated 2000 acres of land on a fishing lake 2km away. Don't think we'll be putting an offer in!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Can't? Don't? Won't?

The other day, a snippet of overheard conversation in the healthfood shop where I work got me thinking about the way we refer to our food choices.

As I'm vegetarian, and have been for over 20 years now, I'll use that as my example. How should I describe my diet?

1) I don't eat meat (fish etc)
2) I won't eat meat.
3) I can't eat meat.

Now, seeing as it's a choice, 1 and 2 are perfectly possible but really, 3 isn't. However, over the years, I am quite certain that I have uttered "Oh, I can't have that" or "There's nothing on the menu that I can eat" many many times.

Of course I can eat meat and fish and seafood and gelatin and cochineal etc etc. I have a mouth, teeth, a stomach, a digestive system so I can eat them and I could - if I chose to.

And that's the point. I choose not to. I don't pretend for one second that my non-eating of animal products is anything but a choice. It's a choice based entirely on my personal moral, philosophical code that we (human beings) do not have the right to kill any other living creature, regardless of the purpose.

So really, only "I don't eat meat" and "I won't eat meat" are the only appropriate descriptions and yet, most of the time, we hear "I can't have that". I've used "don't" but I'm pretty sure I've never said "I won't eat meat...".

Really, the only people who can honestly say "I can't have ..." are those who are properly allergic to a food (even then, they still can eat it, it would just be a very bad idea!) If there were a foodstuff which was going to cause my throat to close up and stop me breathing, or result in my being in hospital with severe digestive problems, I think I'd be quite right to say "I can't eat that". On a vegetarian forum recently, a meat-eater popped in to point out that vegetarians by choice shouldn't expect to be afforded the same respect as people who "have to be veggie", like certain religions. That sparked off an interesting row over whether or not someone's religion was or was not, like ethical vegetarianism, a choice. In my opinion, for what it's worth, it absolutely is a choice and again doesn't fall into the "can't" category.

I'm always aware when I go out to eat with a group that I might be the only vegetarian in the group and I have always attempted to be as laidback as possible about it. As long as there's one veggie starter and one veggie main course on a menu, I'm usually happy to eat wherever. I have actually found in the past that some of my omnivorous friends are harder to please!

By the same token, if I'm invited somewhere for dinner, I'm very grateful for the fact that people go out of their way to make me vegetarian food, whether it's just for me or they actually make an entirely veggie menu for everyone.

One thing I have noticed many times over the years is that when there is a spread of veggie and non-veggie food, the veggie stuff seems to go much faster and be much more popular with everyone! Now I know why I would find a slice of goats' cheese and caramelised onion quiche more tempting than a cocktail sausage, but it appears that many meat-eaters agree with me.

The main reason for the title of my blog was that several trips to Spain, before I moved there, led me to discover that the Spanish, particularly in Madrid, do not consider ham to be meat. They recognise that it is, of course, from an animal but it is a food category in its own right. Frequently, when faced with my "No como carne" (I don't eat meat), many waiters would triumphantly announce "Then I will bring you jamon!" I learnt quickly that I had to be more specific - "No como carne, pescado, mariscos o jamón."

Given the basis for my vegetarianism, I honestly can't see me ever changing my diet but I absolutely recognise that it is my choice, not a necessity.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

How we know what we know

On a recent visit to my mum's for a couple of days, amongst other things we did some crosswords and some online and offline quizzes.

It occurred to me while we were doing one of them that there is some random crap contained in my brain. Now I've asked myself many times why it is that I can remember all the words to Bohemian Rhapsody but can't remember something useful like when I need to pay my credit card or when it's time to worm the cat. I've stopped trying to answer that though.

However, I did start to wonder how/where I learnt some of the actual random facts that I do know. Yes, some of it was at school so that's fair enough, but a lot of it is from reading, TV quiz shows, Trivial Pursuit, overheard conversations and some other ways that I probably can't quite put my finger on.

As far as reading's concerned, for example, I read anything and everything by Stephen King for many years. Thanks to those books (and only those books) I learnt about Hefty sacks, U-Haul, Twinkies, Schwinn bikes, the American meaning of carnival (or carny) and many other things.

QI has taught me a lot - many of them the exact opposite of things that I thought I knew. Like the fact that it's completely untrue that water spins the opposite way in the two hemispheres. No, it always goes down the drain clockwise unless it's caught in an unnatural weather phenomenon that covers a vast area - like a hurricane.

I learnt from an overheard conversation on a bus that a calorie is the amount of energy that it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Centigrade. I kind of knew it was something to do with heating something but could never remember quite what!

On a side note, I'd like to correct the very common misconception that Hitler was a vegetarian. This load of old bollocks is trotted out regularly as evidence that "not all vegetarians are nice, fluffy, lovely people". Now, I don't pretend that they (we?) are all lovely but equally, I don't see why there has to be any more proof that veggies can be evil any more than the fact that the rest of the population can. But to return to the point - Hitler wasn't vegetarian. There is plenty of written evidence that he ate meat regularly - there's a disputed "fact" that he had rabbit for his last meal.

These days of course, most of us learn stuff from posts made by our friends (and total strangers) on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Reddit and many other online sites. We could go to a library and open an encyclopaedia at a random page or we can just go to Wikipedia and ask it for a random fact.

The BBC news website regularly has a page of snippets of interesting information. There are sites which post lists such as "10 Things We Didn't Know" - most of the time they will contain 10 Things you didn't know either.

We're bombarded with new information all the time these days and I'm not pretending that it's possible to remember all of it. Nor is it all completely reliable of course. But in the great scheme of things, it's a lot easier to stumble across useful and interesting information these days than it used to be. Whether the sheer amount of information makes it easier or more difficult to actually learn stuff, I really don't know.

All-consuming aspect of motherhood

 Another blog I've had drafted since last summer - thought I'd better finish it!

I should start by reassuring you all that I am not pregnant nor broody nor any of those other (to me - inexplicable) states of being that all women are expected to experience at some point.

My feelings on that haven't changed since my early teens. I don't want kids now and I never have. I've always been grateful for that because when it comes to things like socialising, holidays etc I like to do what I want, when I want. Call me selfish, call me what you want, but that's the way I am.

Over the years, I've witnessed a phenomenon that seems to affect the vast majority of mothers (I would say parents but I've really only seen it with women). I'm talking about the sudden complete inability to hold a conversation about anything other than their child.

I sometimes visit a local café for my lunchbreak from work. It's a lovely café with delicious food, comfy seats, friendly staff and ... lots of yummy mummies and their kids. I'm prepared to overlook that to get my fix of Higgidy Pie and mash.

One day last summer I was enjoying said pie when three women, babies and toddlers in tow, entered and took the table next to mine. For the next 45 minutes there was precisely one topic of conversation - the kids. Or at least, their experience of having/bringing up those kids. They literally just compared notes on feeding, sleeping patterns, weaning, expressing milk, childcare, toys, prams, nappies, colic, vomit, poo, schools. You get the picture! At no point did I even hear them properly talk about themselves let alone anyone else unconnected to the kids. The very first exchange between two of the women was:

"How are you?"
"OK. She's not been sleeping and she won't eat properly at the moment. Oh, and Darren (who I worked out was the woman's son) just got into the football team at school!"
"Oh bless her. Hope she gets better soon. That's great about Darren. I can't wait til Luke is old enough to play football".

So basically she didn't actually answer the question "How are YOU?"

And so it went on. And on. And on. Punctuated only by various noises emanating from the prams, pushchairs, highchairs etc.

Surely motherhood is meant to be just one facet of a woman's life, if she chooses to go down that road. It shouldn't be the be all and end all. It shouldn't mean a total loss of personal identity. Or maybe I'm just missing the point given that I've never been interested in that aspect of life.

Are delivery charges justifiable?

It's Sunday afternoon and I'm bored. Bored enough to post a blog - a long overdue blog admittedly but I'm still drafting the one I actually want to post. This one will have to do for now.

So - Royal Mail delivery charges. Or rather, the P&P charged by companies who use Royal Mail. I recently considered ordering a couple of things from a lovely local organic household products company. They make green, chemical-free, organic, cruelty-free and very lovely washing up liquid, surface cleaners etc. I've used one of their products before but can't get it where I got the first one so I checked their website. The prices were pretty good - just over £2 for a large bottle of washing up liquid.

Their online ordering system is a little weird. I ticked the two items I wanted and clicked "Purchase". Instead of getting an invoice and a payment screen, I just got a message saying "Your order has been submitted. You will receive an email detailing the full price including delivery charges and information on how to pay". Unusual, I thought, but OK.

48 hours went by and I'd heard nothing so I chased it up via the website. I received a fast reply from the owner, with an invoice attached. The two products I wanted to buy came to £4.95. The delivery charge - a flat £5! Ouch. Admittedly, the email did mention that I could have up to four products delivered all for the same £5 delivery charge but of course that would mean my spending more on products.

I don't think I'm particularly stingy or cheap but paying £5 delivery for an order that came to less than £5 just didn't sit well. Needless to say, I didn't order. Now that's disappointing on two fronts - I'm not getting the products I wanted and the company have lost a sale. I honestly don't know how much Royal Mail actually charge for delivery but even if the company wasn't making a profit on that, I'm still not paying it.

If you add to that the fact that in the last month I've waited 9 and 11 days for two parcels to come via Royal Mail, it's even less appealing. Given that the company is local and ethical etc, I honestly don't think they're trying to rip anyone off with the delivery charges but that just makes it all the more disappointing that I couldn't be persuaded to order with them.

I actually feel sorry for anyone trying to run a company which relies on the postal service - and I use "service" in the loosest possible sense of the word.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

An expensive non-event

A few weeks ago, I got an email from The Applause Store, a well-known group which provides (free) tickets to the filming of TV shows. Normally, I ignore them as they're for such shite as Big Brother and various other "reality" shows. However, this one offering was pretty tempting - a show called New Britannia, hosted by Morgan Spurlock (he of Supersize Me) and with such guests as Rich Hall, one of my favourites, and various others. So two tickets were duly applied for and granted. Hurrah.

The filming was due to take place on January 9th in London, out at the BBC Wood Lane studios in Shepherd's Bush. It seemed like a long way to go just for a couple of hours in the evening so we decided to make a bit of a day of it.

It still staggers me just how much public transport is these days. London is only 52 miles from Brighton, yet a return ticket booked in advance, even travelling at a civilised time of day, was over £21.

A bit of a hiccup in the morning meant we didn't set off til about 3 hours after we'd planned and only had time for a quick skip round Camden Market, an hour in the Natural History Museum, which I'd promised myself, and a final 20 minutes in the Science Museum. All free, all good.

The TV filming tickets had said that we had to arrive "in good time" to ensure entry. Actual filming was due to start at 7pm, the doors were due to open at 6.30 so we figured that 45 minutes in advance would be more than sufficient. Coming out of the tube station, walking towards the BBC building and seeing an alarmingly large queue made us a bit dubious but we still thought we'd be fine. The queue seemed to hold audience members for more than one show which also made us feel better.

Misplaced optimism, it turned out. Less than ten minutes after we joined the queue, a guy from the studio walked up the queue shouting "Anyone with tickets for New Britannia from the Applause Store, sorry, we're full up. If you contact the Applause Store, they'll give you guaranteed tickets for the next filming of the show". And that was that. The last people to get in were about 10 ahead of us in the queue. Most other people just wandered off saying "Oh well" but I guess they probably lived in London and therefore it was no great shakes for them. For us however, having spent £42 and most of the day, really just to go to the filming, it was more than disappointing. And we certainly weren't going to spend another £42 going on a different day even with guaranteed tickets.

Determined not to just slink back to Brighton with our tails between our legs, we wandered over to Westfield Shopping Centre, not for shopping, which I hate, but because we assumed it would have a load of places to eat. Wrong again. Well, not wrong, but what was there seemed to be overpriced, chain-type rubbish. We dived into a nearby pub to decide what to do when I realised that I have the Time Out London app on my phone so I quizzed it for suggestions.

Lo and behold, a ten-minute walk down the road was a vegetarian restaurant, of 22 years' standing, called Blah Blah Blah. Good reviews, online menu looked tasty, we were hungry so off we went. What a find. It was lovely. Beautifully done out, chilled, only 3 other people there, attentive friendly waiter and ... a pot of crayons and a paper tablecloth on each table so you could let your creative juices flow before, during and after your meal. The food was absolutely delicious and, for London, not too expensive. We were also pleased to find that despite the online site saying that they weren't licensed, they actually were so we even got a bottle of wine to wash down our food.

All in all, a mixed day. Train fares are a rip-off but bits of London are still worth the effort, the Applause Store isn't worth wasting any more time on but at least missing out on the filming meant we found a great restaurant.

Swings and roundabouts!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

2012 - and in bed by ten past midnight!

So there we go. That was it, the Christmas and New Year festivities all over for another year. Half of you will be thinking "What a shame", the other half "Phew. Thank god/Santa/mince pies for that!"

I had a fairly hectic Christmas period, but a very quiet New Year - nice balance.

I spent most of the four days either side of Christmas on the road, visiting or chauffeuring friends and relatives to and from places. I dread to think how many miles I covered - not quite as many as Santa I'm guessing, but all worth it. On Christmas Day I was back in Brighton to volunteer at the Brighthelm Centre, serving hot drinks, soup and then a full Christmas lunch and presents to about 55 homeless, elderly and people from care in the community centres. This year was much better organised than last and after the presents had been given out, we gave a little carol concert. Two New Zealand girls and I were in charge of the entertainment so between us we played the piano and sang most of the well-known carols in a bit of harmony. My throat was unimpressed at my attempts at the descant though! I read out a poem I'd heard on the radio on Christmas Eve, which went down very well. You can see it HERE.

I received some lovely presents - mostly food related! That's not a complaint by the way - there's a double silver lining involved. First, they're delicious and second, I only have to find somewhere to store them for a short while till I eat them! So thank you to everyone who bought me presents, edible and otherwise. Although I'm really, really not sure about the Marmite Chocolate!!

Back to work came round fast but I only worked a day and a half last week then it was time for the New Year break.

I've never really "done" New Year. Pubs are all too busy or they charge you to get in and then rip you off with drinks prices. So I settled down with a film, some delicious nibbly dinner food from Waitrose (yes, I know, posh and expensive but what the hell!) and a bottle of Cava waiting in the fridge. The film was enjoyable enough, the food was tasty and then suddenly it was 11.55. Bubbly was poured, Big Ben was on TV and the "I dread to think how much that cost" firework display in London was causing Oohs and Aahs.

And that was that. By ten past twelve, I was under my new lovely new Christmas present duvet cover and dreaming my way into 2012.

So Happy New Year everyone - just remember, 2012 will be exactly what YOU choose to make it.