Christmas Links #11

"A complete set of books created as Christmas gifts has been collected by its publisher for the first time."

Doctor Who audio dramas from Big Finish guaranteed until 2030!
"Big Finish Productions, in association with BBC Studios, is delighted to confirm that its licence to make original Doctor Who and spin-off audio adventures has been extended until 31 March 2030."

"As they chase a wildly lucrative market with their new Christmas albums, Gary Barlow, Jamie Cullum, Leona Lewis and more explain the financial – and emotional – pull of a seasonal hit."

"... While tales of the beyond were originally passed down via oral tradition, the popularity of periodical presses paved the way for them to be written down."

"If you want to do Christmas Italian style, here's what you need on the table for a truly festive feast."

"There is something to be said about a truly disastrous meal, a meal forever indelible in your memory because it’s so uniquely bad, it can only be deemed an achievement. The sort of meal where everyone involved was definitely trying to do something; it’s just not entirely clear what."

"Cities such as North Carolina’s “Christmas Town U.S.A.” draw visitors by going all out on decorations."

"The battle for this year's coveted Christmas top spot is fiercer than ever."

"The booklet ‘Christmas following a young sudden cardiac death‘, features 14 short chapters from men and women telling their personal experiences of how they deal with the “festive season” when all they want to do is hide away, ignore the fun and celebrations and treat it as any other day."

"When you’re the British royal family, your Christmas card mailing list isn’t just family friends and neighbors—it’s an entire country. And now, thanks to social media, the whole world. So, some haphazard photo from a family vacation or college graduation? Not going to cut it."

Review 2021:
The Christmas Sandwich Reviews:
Boots Christmas Turkey Feast.

 Food  There's an argument to be made that the Boots meal deal has fuelled the nation.  A sandwich, snack and drink for about £3 was certainly how my lunch went for many years when working in call centres.  Anything from the triple chicken to the New York Deli to whatever's left because it's 2:30 in the afternoon and I've only just got my break so alright I'll have the flatbread thing even though it looks very dry from the outside and what do you mean the quiche doesn't count as a snack any more? 

Even sporadically still its been the mainstay of lunchtime cinema matinees when half the game is trying to find the most expensive item in each category in order to get the most savings however little they actually work together as a culinary delight.  Only when you're sat before the screen do you discover that whatever this green smoothie concoction is, it probably should not be eaten in conjunction with a chocolate brownie or beef and horseradish.

There have been disappointments along the way.  Like the time they tried a two-tier system were some of the larger packets of sandwiches like the triple chicken were put into a more expensive offer (which oddly enough is the price all of the meals are at now, £3.39).  Or when they swapped the chicken and sweetcorn sandwich in the triple for chicken stuffing removing the palate cleanser for the chicken and bacon on the other end.  Or whatever was going on with the chicken tikka sandwich which did little but induce indigestion.

Plus not all the sandwiches are particularly great and I'd include this "turkey feast" in amongst them.  There were other options, one with lower calories and the vegan alternative but I stuck with the one with all the usual stuff to offer a fair comparison and its at the bottom end of the scale.  It's not inedible.  It just doesn't have the flavour pizazz of some of the sandwiches I've eaten during this project.  The turkey is hard, the bacon barely registers and most every tastes of the stuffing.

But as I've said on previous days, the context of the sandwich is important.  Most people probably don't pay much attention to the fundamentals of this or make comparisons about dozens of them across successive days.  It might be that I'd be more accepting if I hadn't already feasted on so many similar sandwiches already.  Plus although the packet says £3.00 it scanned at £2.75 making it one of the cheaper options, a meal deal you might say.

Christmas Links #10

"Christmas time is a magical time of the year, even by anime standards. Here are some Christmas episodes that can make hearts grow up to three sizes."

"Are you — dare we say it — bored with your Christmas tree?"

"Settle in with one of the best kids' Christmas movies and a cup of cocoa. This line-up is nothing short of holly jolly!"

"From their pagan roots and brush with Nazis, Germany’s beloved bazaars are now celebrated around the world."

"Hundreds of knitted angels are waiting to be found in a town for Christmas."

"With ‘fictional’ Christmas parties in the news, it seemed only right to pick out for Boris Johnson some other festive shindigs that were figments of the imagination."

"After two and a half years of research, Operation Night Watch, the Rijksmuseum’s investigation into Rembrandt van Rijn’s iconic painting, has revealed its findings."

"The Christmas Tree Festival is now an annual event at St Eustachius’ Church opposite the Bedford Hotel (in Plymouth), and this year features dozens of well-decorated trees supplied by groups in and around the town."

"Yep. Here we are, already. The Christmas holidays are approaching and for many of us, more than unwrapping gifts and eating a gigantic amount of food, it is often the long awaited – or not, moment to go home and spending time with our family."

Review 2021:
The Christmas Sandwich Reviews:
Upper Crust Bacon, Brie & Cranberry Baguette.

Food   Until the 25th November (which is the day this is being written), I don't think I've ever been inside an Upper Crust.  Mostly a fixture at larger railway stations, there's always been a more familiar brand available so I've tended to go there for a train snack.  Plus it has a reputation for being quite expensive, so the idea of paying a lot of money for what looks like through the window from the concourse outside a very basic baguette with some filling, it just seemed easier to go to Boots or where ever instead.

Opened in 1986 by Travellers Fair, the catering division of Travellers Fare, Upper Crust now has around a hundred outlets across the world in stations, airports and universities.  It's currently owned by SSP Group, who're also the brand managers for the likes of Caffè Ritazza, Starbucks, Burger King, YO! Sushi, Millies Cookies and Whistlestop within travel locations.  If I've discovered nothing else on this culinary journey, it's that there's a complex web of companies and business agreements hidden behind a number of facades.

How was my first Upper Crust baguette?  Very nice indeed thank you.  Lovely soft bread which made it easy to bite into which isn't always the case with baguettes.  But what made it sing was the combination of this cranberry sauce with the brie, the former with its very juicy, sweet flavour complementing the creaminess of the latter.  This must be what Booths were attempting when they included brie on their turkey sandwich but where that was a bit plastic and the sauce was non-existent, I didn't want to finish eating this.  Well done Upper Crust, well done.

You get what you pay for, I suppose.  The price was £5.29 which is by far the most expensive sandwich I've had so far but as we discussed in the entry about Cafe Express at Chester station, the economies of scale in running shops which exist completely in travel venues must work somewhat differently to the high street.  Not to mention the pandemic hasn't been kind to the chain, which has had to restructure due to enforced closure for many months with many staff losing their jobs.  Nevertheless if I wanted to treat myself and was feeling a bit flush, I'd certainly consider a return.

Christmas Links #9

"Less people, cheaper drinks... and the return of everyone's favourite massive yellow Santa."

"Mary, did you know ... how that perennially divisive song got made about you?"

"A mystery knitter has been spreading Christmas cheer around a town with a variety of woollen decorations."

"Will your Christmas gifts arrive in time? We track the shortages and supply chain blockages that will affect the festive season this year."

"Get ready for literally hundreds of new festive films."

"It’s a Christmas mystery that you might be able to help solve. A 1942 film reel discovered in a Knoxville antique store has archivists hoping to identify the couple seen celebrating Christmas 79 years ago, amid World War II."

"Book-loving friends seem easy to shop for — just buy them a book, right?"

"Audible, a leading provider in spoken-word entertainment will be the home to a very special Christmas offering from Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders."

"Local authorities in several areas of France have banned the traditional serving of foie gras in school canteens over Christmas."

"Tokyo welcomes Christmas with sparkling light displays and other installations."

Review 2021:
The Christmas Sandwich Reviews:
Sainsbury's Turkey Feast.

Food  Before Asda in Hunts Cross, the real supermarket treat when I was growing up in Speke was the Sainsbury's in Woolton, probably because it was easy to get to on the 89 bus.  This usually happened around Christmas time, although I do remember popping in now and then we Mum or Dad was taking me to the matinee at the Woolton Cinema, the place were I first saw the likes of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Return to Oz (which was a birthday treat) and the Superman and Star Wars films.

The Liverpool Echo has some photos from the early 1980s which only really show how little the in-store experience of supermarkets has changed.  As I've said about other places, the difference was one of scale.  Imagine having only spent your life visiting express shops and then finding yourself in a much larger space, made even larger because you're only eight or nine years old and therefore shorter.  Anywhere which has more than one type of something will always seem like a treat, especially when the alternative has been the labeless tins stall on Speke Market.

Woolton is still the largest Sainsbury's in the south of the city, which is otherwise littered with some local versions which are otherwise drowned out by the preponderance of Tesco shops.  A few have closed in the post-COVID era, with the outlet at the top of Bold Street or bottom of Leece Street now having given way for another restaurant (it was in a challenging position slap bang between a Co-op and a Tesco.  But the shop at Central Merseyrail Station and in St John's Precinct aren't too far away if you're that brand loyal.

Their Turkey Feast is pretty average, just the already discussed standard ingredients - they also have a Pigs Under Blanket option which explains where the sausages have gone.  There is a lot of bacon, which you can certainly smell on opening and taste on biting through although in combination with the dense turkey makes it quite a hard sandwich the bite into.  It's much of a muchness, nothing that my taste buds are likely to fetishize.  Nothing to complain about for the £2.40 cost which is cheaper than other supermarkets selling roughly the same thing.

Christmas Links #8

"The reindeer is our favourite Christmas animal - but how much that we hear about it in festive stories is true?"

"A curation of photo books to buy for your family and friends, or for even yourself, this Christmas."

"In 1479 beetles were put on trial for ‘creeping secretly in the earth’"

"AJ Humbert was delighted to help her mum get a stall at the Christmas Markets, but now she doubts she will be able to cover the costs."

"Doctor Who has become a staple of British TV, and everyone has a favourite Doctor. And now the time-travelling, alien-busting show has caught our eye with its brilliant logo design."

"Well, we are well and truly in the festive season."

"Christmas time. It’s the time of year where everyone seems to be relatively happy and where nothing seems wrong with the world. A fair chunk of the population temporarily forgets the mundanity of their everyday lives and lets their hair down for some delicious turkey and copious amounts of alcohol."

"The festivities began at 5 p.m. in Luzerne County."

"Lately, I’ve started seeing all the usual Christmas decorations, books, gift suggestions, articles, foods and complaints about all the usual Christmas decorations, books, gift suggestions, articles, and foods."

"I want to do everything properly this time. When you're there, it works…" Sky Cinema has unveiled the first trailer for a charming holiday time loop comedy called Last Train to Christmas, streaming on Sky Cinema in the UK in a few weeks."

Review 2021:
The Christmas Sandwich Reviews:
Munch Turkey Feast.

Food  Munch is the sandwich brand sold by WH Smiths in its travel outlets (which I recently discovered are a separate entity to the high street stores within the larger company) (business is weird).  Previously they were supplied by the Urban Eat brand most often seen in universities and the like these days.  Smiths shifted over to Munch in 2016 which was then own by a company called Cranswick which was subsequently bought by Greencore, a catering suppliers which began as a sugar manufacturer in Ireland back in the 1920s before diversifying in the early 1990s due to some privatisation shenanigans by the Irish government.

If that paragraph looks messy, its because some brands just exist.  They don't really have a history and the company behind them aren't accustomed to explaining how any of it happened.  The third result for a Google search of "munch sandwich" is this especially mean-spirited, under researched review from 2016 (from just before the Greencore buy-out) which doesn't bother to check who the manufacturer is (assuming that its WH Smith) and makes a serious error in adding up the percentages in the ingredients block (although to be fair the reviews in the comments do mostly agree with him).

But I'm burying the lead.  This is a gorgeous sandwich.  The reason seems to be the "pork, sage & onion stuff mayonnaise" which has a slight kick to it due to inclusion of Dijon mustard which brings a whole new rich taste profile to the thing.  But you can also taste the bacon and turkey well enough to know they're there.  Whether its just like this or because its sat in my fridge for a couple of days and had a chance to marinate, I don't know, but this was perfect, bite after bite after bite.  This would rank pretty highly if was giving these things a star rating although if that was the case it would lose a star for the price which at £3.75 is a tad expensive.

Christmas Links #7

Christmas in Genovia: what exactly does Hollywood think Europe is?
"Netflix and Disney set their festive films in a made-up mishmash of France, Switzerland, Romania and everything in between. Is real Europe so hard to love?"

"The artist discusses the pleasure of directness and efficiency in drawing, and his love of Christmas in England."

"Chris Chibnall’s fourth New Year Special is bringing back Skaro’s deadliest villains. See the cast and first teaser trailer here."

"A local authority in the north of the Isle of Man has defended its Christmas lights after some residents branded them "dull and uninspiring"."

"The festive fun run took place (on Sunday)."

"The triumphant moments of healing in grief are rarely thunderclaps; they come on slowly like the ripening of an avocado."

"There is no more War on Christmas, only War on Iced Americano."

"Winter citrus is a certified treat, and we should bring back the practice of stuffing it into Christmas stockings."

"The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and Spider-Man Unravel the Mystery of Santa's Missing Reindeer."

"Part of the joy behind the gift-giving experience is finding an awesome present that's tailored to one person."

Review 2021:
The Christmas Sandwich Reviews:
Cafe Express Turkey Stuffing.

Food  The hunt continues.  Trying not to exhaust the obvious sources, I realised the other day that there'll be sandwich shops and cafes which only exist in certain places like railway stations.  Over the next few weeks I'll be checking Pumpkins, Travellers Rest and Upper Crust, all of which much surely have their offerings, but there'll also hopefully be some independents to have a gander at and that's why I found myself in the Cafe Express at Chester Station.

There's some stiff competition here.  Across the concourse is a large Costa and opposite there's a WH Smith which also sells sandwiches.  But the dates on its Trip Advisor reviews suggest its been there since at least 2015 perhaps remaining popular due to its unfussy nature.  It has small frontage on the concourse so there aren't any barriers for someone who needs some drinks and snacks but doesn't have much time to wait between trains.

This is a very basic sandwich, especially considering the price, £3.65, something you could easily make at home.  The ingredients label on the back is incredibly thorough which means we're in the unusual situation of knowing who their supplier is, a company called Brakes.  It's this brown bread, this sliced turkey, this sage and onion stuffing and  this cranberry sauce.  

Which means we're also able to calculate the mark-up.  Bread is 9p a slice, two of those, 18p.  Turkey is 10p a slice, two of those, 20p. Sauce is a 1p a gram so 2p.  Stuffing is also 1p a gram so what 5p.  We'll ignore the trade discount.  So that's 35p to make which means there's a £3.30 mark up per sandwich although obviously a proportion of that will be for staff and rental both of which must be quite high.

Given all of that, how does it taste?  Like a sandwich you could make at home.  It's unremarkable.  The bread is heavy, the turkey insubstantial, the sauce is sweet and the stuffing barely registers.  It's not inedible and I expect on a long train journey when its the only thing accessible in that moment could be quite welcome or comforting, especially with a hot cup of coffee.  It is what it is.

Christmas Links #6

Scottish Ballet revises The Nutcracker to address racism:
"For many people, a trip to the theatre to see the ballet The Nutcracker is as traditional as it gets. A magical tale of toys that come to life, dances in the snow and a majestic score by Tchaikovsky."

"A Christmas fayre at a local church was cancelled this year due to alleged objections received from Aberdare Market Company."

"The market in no- and low-alcohol drinks is booming in the UK as more people swap the festive hangover for mindful drinking."

"Spoiler: Queen Elizabeth loves a red and gold tree."

"The UK’s craft chocolate scene is proof that quality is synonymous with high ethical standards."

"The Family Kris Kindle is a money-saver but Sophie White reckons the mental distress incurred far outweighs any potential economic benefits."

Festive fans are going for a more the merrier approach.

"American artist Liliane Lijn has designed an abstract glowing Christmas tree installation in King's Cross that is comprised of multicoloured, neon light poles."

"You can now take a tour of the White House's halls decked with Christmas trees and other decor fit for the season — virtually, that is."

"For decades, people have come by the carload every December to the Beaverdale community in Des Moines to marvel at the outsize twinkling and blinking holiday displays and Christmas lights."

Review 2021:
The Christmas Sandwich Reviews:
Asda Festive Feast Sandwich with Cumberland Sausage.

Food  Back when we were living in Speke in the 1980s, visiting Asda in Hunts Cross was a bit of a luxury.  It was newly opened and our nearest large supermarket, the local shopping area, South Parade, mostly having at various times a Kwik Save, old school Iceland and somewhere popularly called VeeGee but which had Colin Sykes on the hoarding (which no one I knew could ever explain to me).  The biggest shops we ever had were at Christmas when the hamper my parents had saved for all year would be delivered and we'd spend the afternoon working through and discovering the tins.

Memories of those visits aren't strong and certainly not as strong as the Sainsburys in Woolton (we'll get to there), partly because the Sefton Park shop has become the Platonic Asda in my head since it became our main shop for the past decade.  It has such a pull, in fact, that since my Mum's death, I've only managed to get through it on a couple of occasions, both of which involved me breaking into pieces, sobbing in the ready meals, because of the weight of memories and not being ready yet.  This was bought at outlet behind the Richmond Tavern on Church Road, Wavertree.

On first glance it seems identical to the Tesco, as the packaging proclaims, this has Cumberland sausage and  beechwood smoked rather than cured bacon.  The Asda sandwich smell and taste too, with the sausages which make their mark on opening the packet and a rich cranberry flavour on eating.  The turkey and sausages are nice and soft too, as is the bread, although its difficult to judge how much of this has to do with it sitting in my home fridge for a couple of days (to be eaten on the "use by" day pictured above) (I warned you I was writing these ahead of schedule).

Six days in and there's a definite formula developing as to what appears in these sandwiches.  This typically seems to be turkey, bacon, stuffing, cranberry sauce, maybe sausage plus unique ingredients, in this case fried onion (which I didn't notice).  Of the six, this is probably in the top three.  A reviewer for Reach ranks this as her top choice.  She's a tad harsh on the Tesco, but I am a sauce lover.  Fortunately I'm not forcing myself to give each of them a mark out of five because lets be honest the point of this exercise isn't to really review the sandwiches.

Just one interesting anomaly.  The sandwich I bought was called Festive Feast, but it appears on Asda's website, with identical packaging as a Turkey & Trimmings and glancing across the web reviews, that seems to be the case across the country with it appearing under each title in various places.  I wonder why that might be, assuming I'm not muddling up some chronology.  As that website says it was £2.18 which makes it the cheapest sandwich by quite some margin.

Christmas Links #5

"As he strolled through the foggy streets of London’s East End he became aware of the footstepsfollowing him and immediately wondered if it was them. He began walking faster. The footsteps – asoft pad pad pad pad – remained close behind. Now, straining to hear them, the old man caughtsomething else. A low, velvety snarl." [pdf here]

Looking Back At The Box of Delights:
"How do you create a Christmas legend?"

"Celebrities incl from 'Carry on' films in Santa outfits at St Mary's, shopping & carol singing."

"The BBC Christmas tapes make interesting, infuriating, amusing and depressing viewing… But are they any good?"

"I remember vividly watching this on my local PBS station, KTCA, in the mid-1980s on Sunday afternoons and it has made a long lasting impression on me."
"Ho ho ho! The TARDIS team meets characters from fiction and folklore in Doctor Who: Blood on Santa’s Claw and Other Stories, released today." (December 2019)

"Indie streamer Cinedigm has picked up all North American rights to Lost at Christmas, a feel-good festival romance, and will release this holiday season."

Doctor Who: The Chimes of Midnight:
"But something must be stirring. Something hidden in the shadows. Something which kills the servants of an old Edwardian mansion in the most brutal and macabre manner possible. Exactly on the chiming of the hour, every hour, as the grandfather clock ticks on towards midnight."

"An archive interview from The Gingold Files."

"“Doctor! What’s happening?”  Rose clung to the shuddering console. It was either that or be thrown across the TARDIS control room. At the moment, she didn’t know which was the better option."

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years:
"The boy's name was Tom Wake, and he was nine years old. And perhaps because the year was 1920, or perhaps because he was the sort of boy who liked to believe in things until there was a reason not to, he believed in Father Christmas."

"Attack of the Snowmen was a December 2011 online short story published on the BBC's Doctor Who Website as part of the 2011 Adventure Calendar." [pdf here]

"Behind You was a December 2014 online novella published on the Doctor Who website as part of the 2014 Adventure Calendar.  In three parts." [pdfs here, here and here]

Jodie Whittaker on saying goodbye to Doctor Who: ‘I thought, what if I’ve ruined this for actresses?’
"As she gears up for her final outings as the first female Doctor, the actor reflects on how her life has changed, being the subject of fan fiction – and what happens when a Weeping Angel comes to life."

Review 2021:
The Christmas Sandwich Reviews:
Costa British Turkey Feast.

Food   How many Costa Coffee shops are there in Liverpool?  Trying to use the store locator on their website doesn't help.  It seems designed to somehow hide their ubiquity by only allowing the user to see whatever is in the particular area of a map when a button is pressed.  A quick guestimate is about fifteen in the city centre alone rising up for thirty or so if you include the surrounding areas and that doesn't include all of the other outlets, supermarkets and the like hosting a Costa Coffee self service machine.  There are three in the Penny Lane/Allerton Road area (which is where I bought todays sandwich alone).

Which is disappointing because their coffee is dreadful.  Actually perhaps I should qualify that.  There hasn't been a Costa Coffee I've visited yet which has been able to serve me a decaf coffee which hasn't amounted to being hot, brown water without any flavour, even when I've asked for an extra shot or a smaller cup.  I've never been able understand why this is and the shops are always full so clearly their caffeinated blends are to everyone else's taste (or their just not as picky).  Mum loved their cappuccinos and we have family friends who go often enough that the staff are already preparing their order as they enter the premises.

Other coffee chains and independents are available and arguably if you're visiting somewhere like this just for the drink you either, like me, don't have any friends or social life and just need somewhere with different walls to look at or have a coffee review blog.  But as I am in present condition unable to drink caffeine at all when there isn't anywhere else to go hide from the outside cold and any of the other warm beverages on the menu would blow my calorie allowance for the day, it just really sucks when I order a decaf, hoping against hope that it'll be ok this time then realising pretty quickly that I might as well be drinking warm water.  

All of which said, this sandwich was pretty nice.  You'll notice I forgot to take a photograph before mastication, but I'm sure you can imagine what it would have looked like within the empty packaging pictured above, thin layers of turkey and bacon framed with stuffing and cranberry sauce against the bread.  Ripping the box open reveals the usual scent of sage and onion and biting into it, a nice moist texture, albeit with slightly harder chunks of poultry.  The sandwich lent itself to my preferred method of eating the crusts first and then the middle (not always possible when there's a higher filling to bread to ratio).

One thing which inevitably troubles me is the name.  Why is it important for us to know this is a "British" sandwich.  It says so up top there and in a little circle with a union jack on the back.  Presumably there's a regulation but why be so prominent about it?  I'm also not sure it's worth £3.50, although I appreciate these things will mostly be consumed on the premises and there is rent and staff to pay (or not).  There's certainly less of it than the sub £3 sandwiches I've tried so far and its not as tasty.  Sorry the above is so grumpy, but I've been disappointed by Costa Coffee on enough occasions that I couldn't let this slide.