The Great Pea Disaster

Two years ago I published a post which garnered a lot of likes and comments, so much so that it is still bubbling around just under my all time top ten. I’ve spent some time over the past couple of weeks doing some housekeeping on the blog – hopefully invisibly – and when I found it again I realised that many of you won’t have seen it before, so I thought it worth reworking for the more recent audience.

The story was of my becoming famous. Well, I’d been featured in public, which must count for something, I think. Andy Warhol once said that ‘in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.’ I wouldn’t dignify my time in the spotlight as being that long but hey, we can all dream, right?

Some background is needed, to help fill in the gaps. Back in 2016, a guy named Rhodri Marsden asked on Twitter for people to give him stories of family Christmases. Rhodri is an author, journalist and musician – a member of Scritti Politti, no less – and was compiling a book about what made for a traditional British Christmas. My elder daughter, Katy, shared a couple of stories with him and, following his acknowledgement, we heard no more. Until May 2017, that was, when Katy WhatsApped me to say that Rhodri had been in touch and wanted to chat about using one of her stories in his book, as it was a perfect fit. Fame at last!

I thought no more about it until the following Christmas, when the girls gave me a copy of Rhodri’s book (other gifts were available). Here it is, in all its glory:

The book is a lovely mixture of funny and sad stories from contributors such as Katy, bound together by Rhodri’s witty writing. As you can probably guess from his subtitle, he based his themes loosely around the 12 Days of Christmas song. Very loosely, actually, with chapters entitled Eleven Sherries Swigging, Ten Carols Screeching and Five Broken Limbs! which is where I come in.

Nothing broken, in my case, unlike some of the other sad cases in the chapter, but this is me:

I would like to point out that the excitement of winning a whole pound on a lottery scratchcard wasn’t entirely the cause of my sedentary gymnastics: I was ill at the time. It was Christmas, and I was always ill at Christmas, according to our family legend. But no one really wants to know that, do they? Apparently my roll from chair to floor in a semi-comatose state was quite spectacular to behold. And it is now recorded for posterity on the printed page. Am I a star, or what!

We talked about the book for a while, and it brought back many happy memories of Christmases when the girls were little, not all of which were due to my various seasonal illnesses. Katy expressed a little disappointment that Rhodri hadn’t used her other story, though to be fair, after I’d read the book, I couldn’t see where it would have fitted in. Two years on,  he has shown no signs of stretching the material he collected to a second book, and I think it is a pretty good story, so I’m going to share it again with you now.

This one probably dates to when Katy would have been around 10 and Ruth 5. My (now ex-) wife always prepared the table well for Christmas lunch, and as far as we could tell it was childproof. Yeah, right, what did we know? A plastic tablecloth was laid on the table, above which went the usual linen job, all topped off with a paper tablecloth with a Christmas theme. For the kids, naturally. Despite the fact that there were three adults present (my ex-wife, mother-in-law and me) we made the elementary error of leaving the two member Junior Destruction Squad unattended for no more than a minute or two between courses, while we were getting various puddings ready in the kitchen. Suddenly, there was a huge commotion from the dining room, and a shout that none of us was expecting: ‘FIRE!!’

As part of the table display, my wife had set out a large glass bowl, filled with water and adorned with a decorative display of tea lights, and as by now Christmas Day was getting on a bit – lunch was never early – we had also lit some candles to brighten the ambience. From what we could glean from the subsequent discussion, Ruth had been attempting to move a paper napkin to her Nan’s place opposite her own, and had somehow contrived to catch it on one of the candles. Not content with her nascent attempt at pyromania, she then managed to drop the aforementioned napkin onto the table, having missed the bowl of water and tealights. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen flames leaping a foot or so above your dining room table, but it is at once both spectacular and terrifying.

What do you do to put out a fire? You use water, of course, don’t you? Being the nearest to a water source, I grabbed it and launched it at the fire, accompanied by four hysterical female voices screeching advice. The fire was successfully doused, but what I hadn’t heard in my leap into Fireman Sam mode was the warning from my wife that the saucepan of water I was about to use wasn’t exactly as I expected it to be. My brain went something along the lines of ‘fire-water-saucepan containing water- that’ll do.’ Unfortunately my eyes didn’t take in the full picture: the saucepan did indeed contain water but, also, quite a sizeable portion of leftover peas which had been intended for use in the Boxing Day bubble and squeak. Oops!

I’ll admit to feeling very smug and satisfied at the effectiveness of my firefighter act, followed a millisecond later by a realisation that the water I’d used seemed to be very green. The ensuing panic then widened itself to checking that the table hadn’t suffered any lasting damage – it hadn’t – and to using copious amounts of kitchen towel to mop up all the water that Dad had just flung with wild abandon at the dining room table. Having done all that, we then embarked upon the Great Christmas Pea Hunt. Have you ever thrown a saucepan of peas and water at a table? The little green buggers can travel some remarkable distances, I can assure you! It took quite a while, and there was a careful balance to be struck between locating and rescuing the errant veg and not treading them into the carpet – even though it was a green carpet we didn’t want it adorned with uninvited horticultural decorations. They were the wrong shade of green anyway. Eventually we decided that we had rounded them all up, and could now enjoy our pudding, though the occasional outrider was still being spotted several days later. For some reason, my suggestion that we rinse all the peas off so that they could be used in the bubble and squeak didn’t meet with universal approval – in fact, it was the classic equivalent of the Eurovision song contest’s ‘Norvège nul points.’ Well, I thought it was helpful, even if no one else did.

Christmas wasn’t always that eventful in our house. But at least, for once, they all forgot that I was coughing and sneezing all over them. If I’m honest, though, there have been better Boxing Day bubble and squeak meals.

As regular readers will have noticed I’m quite partial to a tune or two decorating my posts, and I wanted to find something suitable for this one. As far as I know there are no songs about garden peas, apart from a few children’s songs. I thought of trying John Lennon’s classic hit Give Peas A Chance, or Big Country’s Peas In Our Time,  but on reflection, this one seems kind of appropriate. It may not be the song with this title that you would expect, though:

Anything to be different but, as the lyrics say, there was definitely something in the fire and in the water!

#ChristmasSongOfTheDay 2019 – Part Four

IT’S CHRIIIISTMAS! But that’s as close as I’ll be getting to ‘that’ song, don’t worry. This is being posted on Christmas Day but I would imagine that most readers have far better things to do today than read my blog so, on the assumption that you are catching up after the main event, I hope it was a good one for you.

This is my final post of this year’s Christmas series, and I’m grateful to everyone who has read the three previous episodes and commented on their enjoyment of my musical choices. I’m guessing that anyone who thought they were rubbish just moved on without saying so! This part takes us from day 20 up to today, which should mean six songs – but as I’ve taken to doing, I posted a bonus track today, so there would actually have been seven. No prizes for guessing which was the bonus song, as it has already appeared in another post this month. But then a new video was uploaded to YouTube yesterday, which I just had to include. So, should I drop one of my choices? No, it’s Christmas, so I went a little mad and posted the new one as well! So there are now eight songs in this collection. Oh, and another bonus one too. Are you keeping up?

On the 20th I posted a version of Silent Night. I’ve included this song every year I’ve done this (all five of them) but, as there are so many versions of it, I try a different one each year. This time, I shared a very recent live performance by Sarah Darling, from her concert at the Union Chapel in London. That is one of my favourite venues and it has great acoustics, as you can hear from Sarah’s performance:

I think that is lovely, and is why I made a break from my usual habit of not featuring the same artist twice in this series: Sarah now shares that dubious honour with just four other acts that were double choices in previous years. It’s probably no coincidence that three of them are featured in this post.

One of those was the estimable Mary Chapin Carpenter, whose seasonal album Come Darkness, Come Light is required listening for me at this time of year. I chose the title track on the 21st, as it is a beautiful song and the video that someone has made to accompany it fits it well:

A song that I have featured each year was my song for the 22nd. I try to share a carol on Advent Sundays, and as Kate Rusby has now made five albums of these I’m rather spoilt for choice, as I love her voice and her music. I’ve seen her play live, so I know that she needs no studio trickery to make her sound good. This is the title track of her first Christmas album, Sweet Bells, which was released in 2008. If I’m honest, I still think this is her best of the five, but they are all fabulous. The animated video that accompanies this isn’t ‘official,’ but it is a perfect accompaniment, and the depiction of Kate is extremely good:

On Monday (23rd) I chose one that I’ve not featured before. You may well know Santa Baby from Marilyn Monroe or one of the countless other versions, but you probably haven’t seen the treatment given to it by Walk Off The Earth. This band has also been a double entry in a previous year: you may not know them but they have a very loyal following, get multi-million views for most of their videos – which are often very inventive – and their live shows are always sold out. Here’s a rather different Santa Baby or, in this case, Baby Santa:

And just to confirm, those puppets are very good likenesses of the band members, and the baby is the child of two of them, so I very much doubt that he was trying to drink real alcohol!

For Christmas Eve (i.e. yesterday) I chose the same song I have done every year. This may sound repetitious, but I never tire of hearing it, and given its title there is only one day on which it could be shared! Mindy Smith is another of that select band who have featured twice in the same set in a previous year. I think this video shows why, as her voice is lovely and the song captures what every parent of a small child is thinking on the night before the big day:

I try to vary my choices for Christmas Day itself and, whilst this one has been a selection in a previous year, this was not on Christmas Day. As its title is Christmas Must Be Tonight I may have been missing something! It’s a great song from the best band ever to be called ‘The Band’:

I am by nature a creature of habit and have shared today’s first bonus song every year, though not always on Christmas Day. But it is a fairly obvious choice for today, and has become a pop classic in the 32 years since it was first released. I featured it in my recent post Christmas Number Twos – my Christmas just wouldn’t be complete without Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues:

I once saw a Snoopy cartoon which had the tagline ‘in every programme, Charlie Brown, there are some last minute changes.’ Courtesy of the lovely people who produce the live music show Live From Here, this is one such change. The show is fronted by Chris Thile, formerly of the excellent band Nickel Creek. Another former member, Sara Watkins, is now in a female trio called I’m With Her, with Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, and the three of them are regular guests on the show, either solo or in combinations of two or three. A couple of weeks ago they had a little bit of pre-Christmas fun with a children’s song, and it is so charming that I just had to share it. I never thought I’d hear the lovely Sarah Jarosz singing I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas, but now I have and its fabulous:

I’ve ended the three previous episodes of this series with the wonderful adverts made by Hafod Hardware, a local store in the small Welsh town of Rhayader. Made with love by the family who run the business, on a budget of around £100 each year (for the beautiful backing music by Andrea Von Kampen) these really put to shame the big budget extravaganzas of the large UK retailers. So, as another Christmas bonus, here is this year’s again:

#BeAKidThisChristmas

I think there’s something in my eye….

* * * * *

Well, that’s it for this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed at least some of my choices across the four episodes. Twelve of the twenty seven have been first timers this year: I like to refresh things but it has been very hard to leave out so many good songs that I could have included. I suppose there’s always next year…

From tomorrow until New Year’s Day the daily songs on my Facebook page and Twitter will be #NewYearSongOfTheDay choices. Unless anything pops into my head in the meantime, you’ll next see me back here on New Year’s Day with a round up post of those.

One final word from me for this year: thank you to everyone who has read, ‘liked’ and/or commented on any of my posts this year. I am very aware that we all have pressures on our time, and I’m grateful to you for spending some of it with me and my ramblings.

Enjoy the rest of your Christmas: I hope it is a happy and peaceful one.

#ChristmasSongOfTheDay 2019 – Part Three

Welcome back to my series of catch up posts for the #ChristmasSongOfTheDay that I am posting on Twitter and on the Facebook page for this blog. Today I’m taking you through days 14 to 19, which will leave one more collection to come.

Last Saturday – day 14 – I returned to a song that I have included before, as I think it is one of the most beautiful modern day Christmas songs. It is by Jackson Browne, who is one of my favourite artists and, I think, ranks at the very top of the list of singer-songwriters. I was fortunate enough to see him play live in 2010, at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It was a wonderful show but, as it was in June, i.e.  the wrong time of year, this one wasn’t on the set list. Nevertheless, as its time has now come I’m happy to share it:

I hadn’t realised it at the time but Jackson is a regular visitor to the RAH, since his debut in 1994: he is scheduled to play there again next year, which will be his 16th appearance. I think they like him too!

That was Jackson’s own version of his song which, as far as I know, has only ever been issued on the 1997 compilation The Next Voice You Hear. He did, however, do a version with the Chieftains for their 1991 album The Bells Of Dublin. In my best DJ fashion, I’m now making a segue into another track from that album, which I shared on the 15th. Smooth link, huh? I always try to post a version of a Christmas Carol on Advent Sundays, and this was always one of my favourites when I was growing up, and was a more regular churchgoer than I am nowadays. I think Marianne Faithfull and the Chieftains do a lovely job with it:

My selection for Monday 16th was one that I have included for all five years that I have been doing this. As before, I make no apology for the repetition: there is a reason for it, and that is because I like it! This is by far the best version I have ever heard of a Christmas standard which is probably most associated with the crooners in their cheesy jumpers. This version really brings out the song’s beauty, and the accompanying video is a perfect fit in creating the mood. You may not have heard of the singer – Brynn Andre – before, and you could be forgiven for this. She made an album in 2009, then another one and a couple of EPs in 2012 – this is the title track of one of those EPs. Since then she has largely been absent from the recording scene, having become a personal life coach instead. But she returned with a couple of collaborations last year, and a new single of her own this past summer. I’m hoping that she will give us more: her lovely voice deserves to be heard more widely.

Tuesday’s song was another that was returning, although only for its second appearance. I think I’m pretty safe in saying that it is the only one of these songs to be performed by a Nobel Laureate! Bob Dylan released a Christmas album in 2009 – Christmas In The Heart – and this is his version of a song that has been around since the 1940s. It was also covered recently by Bryan Adams on his Christmas EP but I much prefer Dylan’s version, with this utterly bonkers video:

Yesterday’s song was one which I have featured most years that I’ve done this. You may know the Killers from their many hit albums and singles, but were you aware that they issued a series of Christmas singles for eight years or so? These were all done to raise money for The Killers’ Christmas Charity, and no doubt they have done a huge amount of good. This one, from 2011, is my favourite, because nothing says Christmas quite like cowboys and robot spacemen, does it:

For today I chose a song I’ve never featured before, though it isn’t exactly new! Those of us of a certain age are probably familiar with Phil Spector’s Christmas album, but of a similar vintage (1964) is the lesser known Beach Boys’ Christmas Album. This sad tale of a little boy’s experience with a department store’s ‘Santa’ will probably echo with many – and it is a piece of classic Beach Boys, so is well worth including, I think:

I’ve rounded off my two previous posts in this series by sharing the wonderful Christmas adverts made by Hafod Hardware, a local shop in Rhayader, in Wales. They have produced three of these now (although I did find an earlier, more prosaic one). I began with this year’s, then went back to 2017. This is the middle one in the sandwich, from 2018, and shares all the charm of the other two, including a ‘vocal’ role for little Arthur at the end:

Isn’t that lovely? As before, the Jones family have shown excellent taste in choosing music from Andrea Von Kampen to accompany their advert: this song is on her Christmas Project EP from 2016. As I said last time, I recommend her highly: she has a beautiful voice and writes good songs of her own, too.

I’ll be posting again on Saturday, with an updated version of last year’s piece for the Winter Solstice, and then again with the concluding part of this series on Christmas Day. Hopefully I’ll see you again for both of those. And, if you haven’t already done it, a timely reminder that you should be putting the sprouts on if you don’t want to be too late…..