Christmas Links #4

"This year the great manor house celebrates its Tudor Yuletide traditions and it's very different from the Victorian inspired Christmas we know today."

"After 2020’s wash out – and Omicron notwithstanding– there’s a lot to catch up on this year, with even more baubles and bubbly than usual."

"How did 1994’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” became a holiday staple?"

"With rich fillings and tasty pastry, these are the pies to pick this Christmas."

"A vintage Christmas vinyl record meant for children's parties has been rediscovered during the clearing out of a Debenhams."

"Swedish pop titans to donate proceeds to Unicef: “We think it is impossible to eradicate poverty without the empowerment of women”."

"Cut your carbon emissions this festive season with rented trees and meal planning."

"The man behind Canarsie’s most famous holiday lighting display, former Democratic party boss Frank Seddio, has put his building up for sale — potentially ending the half-century-old tradition that rivaled the most decadent displays from across the Five Boroughs."

"There’s a bonanza of festive treats on Channel 4 this Christmas. Below is a sneaky peak at some of what is to come."

"Just in time for the holidays, during which the question of what makes a Christmas movie appears across film social media feeds, arrives Camille Griffin’s Silent Night."

Review 2021:
The Christmas Sandwich Reviews:
Subway Tiger Pig.

Food  That didn't take long.  After unsuccessful perusals in Iceland and Sayers, I have now officially suspended the pre-pack only rule at least to the extent of chain bespoke sandwich retailers.  Which means, for now, independent cafes etc are still excluded but given how things are going, I can see that relaxing before Christmas too.  Which is fine.  Perhaps this will turn into some kind of survey of the current state of play in the sandwich industry.  Or at least the desperate mutterings of a blogging lifer trying to get his writing back on track.

Not featuring Subway in this would have been ridiculous anyway given that they're the largest sandwich retailer in the country.  My reticence for inclusion was because Dad and I visited the outlet opposite the hospital on the night we found out Mum was dying and I'll never forget pushing that spongy chicken, brown lettuce and pale tomato about the plastic salad bowl as everything else in our world was crashing down around us.  It's been difficult to face returning to any of the chain, but part of the healing process is to emotionally address these things.

Truth be told, I've never been a big fan of Subway's sandwich, the bread always seeming a little bit too dry, the filling never quite appetising enough.  For a while though I ate a salad pretty much every day because they were cheap (so long as you didn't have any other additions) and filling (so long as the person creating it took into account you weren't having any other additions).  But eventually I grew tired of the ingredients, as you often do when you have just a little bit too much of something and moved on to the Tesco Chicken Salad sandwich (see yesterday).

Subway serve a turkey sandwich all year round so I decided to try one of their specifically seasonal offerings and went with this Tiger Pig affair, which is a long sausage wrapped in bacon, covered in cheese, sozzled in tomato sauce and with the usual salad.  Endeavouring to keep some sort of order, I asked for it to be prepared just as it is in the menu photograph which looks it should have included spinach, onion, peppers and tomatoes.  Instead, the server piled on all the salad, so all of the above plus lettuce, olives, pickles, sweetcorn, cucumber and jalapenos.

The overall result is crunchy.  Subway prepare their warm sandwiches by putting the prepared items on a bread roll which has been sliced down the middle and flattened then put in the toaster.  This is then subjected to the salad before serving.  As you can see from the photo, this results in something which is crusty on the outside and inside and in the middle too which honestly makes it a challenge to eat. especially in this case because the sausage is completely intact and hugging the hinged side of the tole while the salad tries to not to fall out of the other.

Flavourwise it's fine.  Warm sausage and salad on a sandwich isn't something you'd usually expect and indeed it does feel like eating two different delicacies at the same time, biting through one side of the bread and then the other, crumbs and bits of crust falling onto the paper throughout.  About half way through my mouth was burning, I'd forgotten about the jalapenos and ran over to the counter gasping for water which the server quickly gave me from the self service tap at the front of the counter.

What I suppose was missing was that it didn't feel especially Christmassy, being essentially a sausage and bacon sandwich made strange bedfellows with a pile of salad (although I've been to New Year's Eve parties which have been exactly like that which is I no longer attend New Year's Eve parties).  Given that they already have turkey on the menu that Subway would be well equipped to deliver a more traditionalist festive feast and I could have tried to cobble something together myself from existing menu items but that's not why I'm here (why am I here?).

The Subway website suggests, with some jiggery-pokery in the customisation section that this business would have been 485 calories which seems on the low side considering the side of the bread and sausage and the cheese.  It cost £3.99, although as this review of the same thing from an outlet in Lincoln last year suggests, it's cheaper than some parts of the country.  And that's that put to bed.

Christmas Links #3

Jill Biden axes Melania Trump’s blood trees for restrained Christmas decor:
"After her predecessor’s terrifying vision, the first lady’s minimal display strikes a polite and safe tone."

"The switching on of a town's Christmas lights was delayed by three days after squirrels gnawed through the cables."

"Christmas was Charles Dickens’s favorite holiday. He always celebrated the season exuberantly, and in 1843 published A Christmas Carol, which was enormously popular."

"It’s officially December, which means it’s time to get cosy and stream your favourite Christmas films."

"Celebrate Christmas in the North West on a festive day out. 'Tis the season to experience beautiful halls decorated for Christmas, follow a family trail through frosty winter gardens, and enjoy seasonal food and drink from our cafés and restaurants."

"UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has added several new products to its Plant Pioneers range for the festive season."

"A recent study, conducted by the National Library of Medicine, has found that songs over 120 beats per minute (bpms) are linked with increased dangerous driving, inflating the risk of road accidents."

“We feel absolutely bowled over by this astonishingly generous surprise Christmas gift."

"After missing out in 2020 due to the health crisis, thousands of Parisians and visitors gathered in the French capital on Sunday night to admire the splendid illuminations of the Champs-Elysées."

"Brogan Group, the Scaffolding and Powered Access Contractor are running a Christmas Game this December where players in the UK and Ireland have a chance to win £150 in Amazon Vouchers operating a Jetpack Santa delivering presents at rooftop level."

Review 2021:
The Christmas Sandwich Reviews:
Tesco Turkey & Trimmings.

Food  This project (or whatever it is) (a bit?) may be more difficult than I first thought.  Turns out not every retailer with a sandwich selection pushes the boat out in that regard during the festive period, so neither Heron Foods or B&M will be judged here and instead we're assessing Tesco on the third day.  My plan is to keep these logistical notices to a minimum, but don't be surprised if the pre-packed only rule, apart from Subway of course, is suspended as the days and weeks role on.

Of all the supermarkets, Tesco's been the most ubiquitous in my biography mostly because my Mum worked on the check outs in the Clayton Square branch between the mid-90s and when she retired.  We'd do all of our shopping in there to take advantage of her staff discount and remained pretty loyal right up until Asda opened their massive supermarket within walking distance of home.  But now Tesco  have shops in almost every street, it's pretty impossible not to shop there.

For years I've been addicted to their chicken salad sandwich to the point that there may have been a sobbing incident when I was finally able to get one on the single occasion when we managed to get some home shopping during the first lockdown in 2020.  Mum loved their cheese and onion sandwich (too rich for me) and Dad always has the prawn mayonnaise when it's offered to him.  We're big, if habitual buyers of Tesco sandwiches.

Fortunately, Turkey & Trimmings doesn't disappoint.  It's gorgeous.  On opening the packet you can smell all of the ingredients, like sitting over a dinner plate on Christmas day and all of those elements are present and correct during the devouring, turkey, sausage and bacon working together with the cranberry to create a moist, yummy taste.  On seeing it in the shop I did think, "Well, that's a lot of protein ..." but it wasn't as hard or stodgy as they have been previous years.  This is a nice sandwich.  Onward.

Christmas Links #2

"Last dates for posting in the UK and internationally with Royal Mail."

"The perfect gift for any Doctor Who fan.  This hand-illustrated, original poem celebrates 58 years of the Doctor's adventures and features the first and thirteenth incarnations of the world-famous hero." [via]

"There have been no end of complaints about some of the trees being put up –from a metal one in Cardiff to a puny one in Grimsby."

"What sort of Christmas presents will you be giving this year? People in Huntingdonshire are being urged to ‘shop local to help local businesses recover from the pandemic and St Neots Museum will be holding its winter craft and gift fair which showcases items made by local crafts people, but here museum curator Liz Davies looks at the history of present-giving through the ages. "

"At Christmastime, Wally West feels bad about how presents don't have the same thrill as when he was a kid. He will soon be proven very wrong."

"A disused red phone box has been transformed for the 10th year running to bring festive cheer to a village."

"Airbnb is offering up the famed Chicago home as part of a promotion for the new film, Home Sweet Home Alone."

"Dreaming of a white Christmas? Here's what we know so far."

Review 2021:
The Christmas Sandwich Reviews:
Booths Ultimate Festive Feast

Food  When I told the check out person that I'd travelled all the way from Liverpool to visit Booths near Burscough (I'm terrible at small talk) and she gave me the requisite bemused interest, I knew it was probably a good thing I didn't mention it was just to buy a sandwich because that would have been silly.  But nevertheless for the purposes of this survey I did indeed travel to Ormskirk then walk for three quarters of an hour to a non-descript retail park just off the A59 in order to taste what this particular supermarket had to offer in the way of a festive butty.

My first encounter with Booths was at Windermere Station during my week of daily  commuting to the Lake District to complete the final few venues from the Public Art Collections in North West England book back in September 2014.  Then during lockdown 2020, when the only home deliveries we could achieve were through Amazon's Fresh service, we found ourselves getting Booths groceries (this was before they signed the deal with Morrisons) which still seemed shockingly privileged, as though we were shopping outside of our social class.  

Which was silly of course.  After years of attempting to take over Booths, Waitrose began a purchasing agreement with them in 2008, which is presumably why so much of the merch is nearly identical to what you'd find in their Formby shop.  But Booths list of twenty-seven locations shows that they've gravitated towards areas with a particular potential clientele, the sort who'd expect to find whole pheasant or Wild Mallard plastic wrapped in the fridges, the packaging on the latter stresses that although every effort has been made to remove the buckshot from the carcass to proceed with caution.

For all the that, their Ultimate Festive Feast sandwich is bland.  On opening the package all you can smell is the sage and onion stuffing and that's also all you can taste even though as the photo shows and the product description says it also contains pulled turkey, streaky bacon, Brie, cranberry sauce, spinach and gravy mayo (which is just mayo with a gravy flavouring implanted via numerous additives).  The bread is nice and soft but also slightly too thick for the filling and if that's the best part of the sandwich, something has gone wrong.

The cruelty of this process is that a single sandwich will represent an entire range, but on the flipside of that, every sandwich should be perfect and identical.  Also, why the Brie?  Why the spinach?  I appreciate the approach to these sarnies isn't always going to be an attempt to replicate everything which is likely to be on the dinner plate in a traditional Christmas meal, but these seem like foreign objects especially since they essentially exist to bulk things without adding anything to the flavour profile.  

So it's a surprise to say that the Spar sandwich is nicer despite presumably being made on a much larger scale and at the same price of £2.95 (unless when I pitch up in Waitrose in a few weeks it turns out they have an identical range of sandwiches with different labels).  Going forward I wonder just how much variety there'll be between these sandwiches and how easy it'll be to find different ways of describing them.  They're all going to be roughly the same I imagine.  But if anything is to get me in the Christmas mood, it'll be this.

Christmas Links #1

"Singer-songwriter drops rendition of Tom Waits’ “Day After Tomorrow”"

"A team of volunteers has crocheted a six-metre high Christmas tree for charity."

"Archaeologists say neolithic version of energy bars may also have been eaten at midwinter feasts."

"Amazon Brand Detector is an extension that identifies and highlights Amazon brand and exclusive products in orange while you shop on the platform."

"Charles Dickens, was also an inspired actor and director. He famously performed a one-man show of his greatest book, A Christmas Carol, summoning up scenes and characters. Shot in a great, crumbling warehouse 'our Dickens', actor Simon Callow, conjures up Scrooge and Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim out of the floorboards and the walls and the corridors and the stairwells." [via]

"French-American war hero is first Black woman inducted into Paris mausoleum for revered figures."

"A festive town project to celebrate the people and businesses of Stratford-upon-Avon."

Handpicked festive music for every Christmas occasion from BBC Sounds.

"The line-up for the Top Of The Pops Christmas and New Year Specials has been revealed, with Anne-Marie, Sam Fender, Mabel and KSI among those set to perform."

"The holiday, which gets its name from the Latin word for arrival, serves as a countdown to Christmas when Christians honor the birth of Jesus Christ."

Review 2021:
The Christmas Sandwich Reviews:
SPAR Festive Feast.

Food  In my life there have been two significant Spar shops.  The first was on Victoria Street in Liverpool City Centre, a haven during late evening shifts at Liverpool Direct, the then council call centre.  Breaks would be at around 8pm and I'd toddle up Sir Thomas Street for an emergency Yorkie bar if I was feeling especially desperate.  It was the closest shop open at that time and I could be there and back in the fifteen minutes allotted from the phones.  

The other is just nearby in a service station and for the most part its been a godsend during the pandemic.  Mum was an avid reader of the Liverpool Echo but when the pandemic hit, the idea of going out just to buy a paper seemed untenable, so we signed up for it to be delivered.  Except as we discovered, the company handling such also catered for the newsagents and so would drop the paper off as part of their route in the middle of the night.  

That would have been fine for anyone living in a house, it'd just be waiting for them when they woke up in the morning.  But we live in a flat, with a front gate, front door and a lift before a visitor can reach the letter box.  So every night I'd end up going to bed, knowing we'd be woken up between 2pm and 6pm to let the newspaper delivery person through and I'd meet them at the glass partition just before the lift to catch them so that the letterbox didn't bang and wake the neighbour opposite.

This went on for three months, always woken in the middle of the night, Monday to Saturday to collect the paper.  Well, after a while this became impossible.  Mum knew and often said that I didn't have to, but it felt like a duty to make sure she received her newspaper each day even if I only slept through on Sundays.  Eventually though, with my anxiety being the way my anxiety so often is, it began to effect my health, so she convinced me it was ok to cancel.

How then to make sure Mum got her paper safely?  Most of the local newsagents were out of the question.  The clerks or most of their patrons wore masks and didn't have protective barriers so that was too much of a risk.  For a while I visited the local Co-op, but for this or that reason I still didn't feel safe but somehow we still managed to get a paper most days.  Eventually I began walking to a convenience shop on Kingsley Road which also happened to stock papers.

But that was a longish walk away and sometimes we'd need other shopping as well and they didn't have a big enough selection.  Fortunately my filling fell out and I had an answer.  After phoning around all of the local pharmacies, the only place stocking Toofypegs was a couple of miles away and although I was fine walking there, I inevitably decided to try a shortcut on my way back and ended up going through Prince Park and exiting opposite the garage.

Which I now discovered had a Spar shop, less than ten minutes walk away from my house, which I didn't previous realise existed.  Walking through I may have sobbed.  There were foods Mum, Dad and I all loved which we hadn't seen since the start of the pandemic and there they all were.  Dr. Oetker Mozzarella Ristorante Pizza , Dad's St. Agur cheese and my, well, everything.  Stuff which hadn't been available for home shopping for months right in front of me.

As the weeks went on and the pandemic became dicier, the visits became infrequent.  Although the staff were masked for the most part, patrons rarely were as they'd decided that since they were just walking in from their and back again it wasn't work the bother.  It didn't feel safe, so I mostly kept going to Kingsley Road for the paper and the Spar early in the morning.  But now things have eased, I'm back in their quite a lot.

It's where I bought today's sandwich, the Festive Feast.  The packaging promises "turkey, smoked back bacon, cranberry sauce and stuffing on malted wheat grain bread" and none of those items were missing.  On opening the packet, you get a pungent, pleasantly sweet smell of bacon, which is the proper stuff not streaky.  The turkey is thinly sliced and large enough pieces that they flopped outside the boundaries of the bread.

Biting in there's a decent flavour combination although the cranberry sauce is most prominent, although not so much that you can't taste anything else.  The bread's not too dry considering its been in the fridge overnight.  Honestly it was a pleasure to eat, which is surprising because a lot of the sandwiches from Spar, especially the chicken salad are deeply disappointing.  Was it worth the £2.95 and 467 calories?  Yes, yes I think it was.

Review 2021:
The Christmas Sandwich Reviews:

Food Surprise. Yes, after many years of filling December with links to other places, this year I decided that for various reasons as well as doing that I'd also resurrect the already inaccurately named Review series and spend the month discussing festive sandwiches from various outlets, mainly supermarkets, coffee shops and bakeries, despite only having a consumer's pallet.  Truth be told I was going to do this instead of the links but I've decided to do both anyway.

Are there rules?  Yes there are rules.  The sandwich must be prepacked so that disqualifies Subway, which is fine because I'd rather not go there for various reasons.  Also where available, the sandwich must be turkey based, although if I turn up and only another variety is available then that will be the review.  Also no repeats.  A new outlet will be up for consideration each day.  Oh and I'll be starting to write before December.  I'm not a masochist and have other things to do.

Since completing the Merseyrail map, I've been looking for reasons to get out and about and back into writing and this seems to be a pretty good way of doing that.  Some of the supermarkets chains especially aren't local so it means travelling further afield and some walking.  On some occasions I'll eat them straight after purchase, on others they'll have to withstand being carried home and a stay in the fridge.  Let's see how this goes.  

Not Christmas Links #30

"Kathleen Kim is the woman behind Ji-Young, the first Asian American muppet. We spoke to them about their Thanksgiving debut."

"WITH many of us getting ready for the festive feeling, the debate on when to install your Christmas tree is one that comes up every year."

"‘I’m completely happy that we fall within the noble tradition of the one-hit wonder in the UK’."

"As children prepare to open the first door of their advent calendars, one mother is urging Wales to consider the sheer scale of plastic waste."

From new Christmas delights to the year’s best shows and classic favourites, BBC iPlayer has massive range of boxsets for viewers to binge on while nibbling on those festive treats.

Not Christmas Links #29

Preloved and perfect! The seven essential rules for secondhand presents: 
"For a thoughtful, less consumerist Christmas, make sure to tell the truth about your purchases, spritz musty clothes with vodka and invest in vintage wrapping paper."

"Google Search is now a pay-to-play wasteland. And that’s exactly what was predicted by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, in their 1998 academic paper on search engine design." [via]

"This is the moment a fire alarm caused two BBC presenters to make a sharp exit during their radio show."

"The greatest moments from Peter Jackson’s epic gift to Beatles fans."

"On New Year’s Eves when I was in my late 20s, I would ask my friends to reflect on our best days of the year, the times when we had the most fun, felt the most grateful or were happiest."

Survivors of the Flux.

 TV  "Giving a nod to BBC Three's sci-fi adventure Class.  If you're part of the fandom you know where its at.  Watch now on iPlayer."  Why is BBC announcer Duncan Newmarch suddenly boosting the Doctor Who spin-off few people watched and those of us who did wondered why they'd bothered?  Ending as it did on that cliffhanger, it's a bit of an oddity to be suddenly confronted by it at the close of the fifth episode of Flux as though it's a hint of something finally being resolved in the middle of everything else next week.  Will it turn out that the Governors are a branch of the Division?  Is April still stuck in the body of Corakinus, the Shadow King of the Shadow Kin and leader of the War of the Underneath?  Class was a weird show and the fact it's part of the Doctor Who universe is even weirder.

No proper review of the episode this week.  I'm knackered and Martin Belam over at The Guardian's done a bang up job of covering all the toings.  But there are a couple of things I want to talk about and it's you or the wall so here's a couple of paragraphs.  Like everyone in my Twitter timeline, I've been watching Get Back, Peter Jackson's exploration of the footage recording during the recording of The Beatles final couple of albums and amid the passive aggressive fun and mid-morning toast eating, there's a real message that noodling around with some unfinished ideas can be just as rewarding and useful as trying to create something which is fully formed from the start.  At one point John Lennon sings the whole of Jealous Guy but with a different set of lyrics which are a non-starter.

To the point: can we calm down about The Timeless Child, please?  If I see one more tweet or review suggesting that it's "ruining Doctor Who" and "destroying the series" with every new revelation treated as though its retroactive going to wreck our enjoyment of Timelash (as if that would ever be possible).  Apart from the Doctor herself tonight giving enough escape clauses as to how her childhood self ended up at the bottom of that tower next to that vortex, the whole notion of her working for the Division just adds another layer of potential stories, just as the introduction of the Time Lords and their whole boring society increased the number of potential stories (for better or worse) and eventually gave Big Finish a reason to keep Lalla, Louise and John employed when Tom was too grumpy to co-operate.

I love it.  Flux has now reached the point of absolutely batshit Virgin New Adventures, BBC Books, Big Finish, Doctor Who Magazine not giving a fuck in relation to adding to Doctor Who's origin myth, in other words when I became a fan, at the turn of the century and the programme wasn't even on the air.  To suggest that this has nothing to do with Doctor Who, is to take a very television centric approach to the franchise (as opposed to television centre which has now been turned into flats) not to mention pretend that when Russell T and Moffat destroyed Gallifrey then didn't, they weren't doing much the same thing.  You could make a similar argument that the Time War was much more interesting when we didn't know what happened, but did it really matter when we did? 

Despite what Chris Chibnall is doing now, a new writer will be along soon to give us their own version and we know this because it's happened dozens of times before.  It's right there in the opening sentence of the TARDIS Datacore entry about the early life of the Doctor: "There were a variety of different and contradictory accounts of the Doctor's early life before their travels with Susan."  Throughout its life, even though the question of were the Time Lord comes from is literally in the title, Doctor Who has forever been using the revelation of the Doctor's origin as a story point with almost every iteration, especially in the Wilderness Years when there was a tendency to believe that it didn't really matter because the show was probably never coming back to television anyway.

It's pointless me creating a synopsis here when Tim Berners-Lee created hyperlinks so you can have a look yourself at how the "Timeless Child" origin is just one of a number of ways in which the Doctor came into being.  A number of in-universe reasons for the variance are also offered, the key one being that "the many contradictory accounts of the Doctor's early life were equally and paradoxically true due to the Doctor's biodata being retroactively manipulated by a number of factors such as; Omega, Faction Paradox, subconscious regeneration influences and the impact of the Doctor's own adventures through time" (although to be fair a lot of that is the authors of the Eighth Doctor novels trying to tidy up what many of the same authors had been doing in the Virgin New Adventures.

Probably when the likes of Andrew Cartmel, Lance Parkin, Paul Cornell and Lawrence Miles were writing this stuff they too were receiving brickbats for trying to ruin the mystery.  There's also little doubt that Doctor Who is usually at its most entertaining when the TARDIS lands somewhere, its inhabitants have an adventure which is consistent in and of itself and then leave after anywhere between one to thirteen episodes for another another one.  But that only goes so far, especially with something of this longevity.  Every now and then it has to do some existential stocktaking so that it can refresh its narrative shelves, refurbish itself a little and then re-open, especially when its under new management.  That's all The Timeless  Child is really, adding to the existing material, to the show we love.

Not Christmas Links #28

"Peter Jackson does love a good epic trilogy … and so, now, do Beatles fans. When it was announced in June that a change in plans for Jackson’s “Get Back” documentary was afoot, and it was now going to be three times as long as originally announced — a three-part streaming docuseries on Disney Plus, instead of a single theatrical feature — aficionados who’d long hoped to see outtakes from the 1970 “Let It Be” realized they were going to get their own multi-part quest film."

"More than 2,000 old and iconic mobile phones are being showcased in a new online museum."

"The artist insisted he did not paint Standing Male Nude, but three specialists have concluded it is his work."

"A statue to commemorate Canterbury's famous playwright - Christopher Marlowe - is planned to be installed in the city centre."

"It was a relatively peaceful Sunday morning at the Fortin household in Scottsdale, Ariz. Around noon, though, chaos struck."