Thursday, 12 January 2017

10 new things in 2016

The year I can't find 10 new things I've done for the first time, will be the year I'm officially past it. Thankfully, I managed it this year (although it was a bit tight). Here's my list:
  1. Played Santa
This is probably the most scary thing I've done for a long time. I took over from Pauline as chair of governors in September and so, when I was asked if I would be Father Christmas at the school Christmas Fair, I couldn't really say no. I was able to borrow an outfit from Amanda at The Lovely Little Tearoom, which was a great help as I think the one used by PFSA is a little threadbare.
Testing out the Santa suit in the kitchen
Anyway, I turned up, nipped into the disabled toilet and came out as a full Santa Claus. I didn't have a grotto, just a space in the corridor leading to the library and my collection of elves was gleaned from Year 6. Some of the elves needed keeping in check but, apart from forgetting to collect money, they didn't do a bad job.
Despite my worst fears, no child disputed that I was the real Santa. One said he'd seen me at the garden centre in Spalding that morning and he seemed a little disappointed that I hadn't recognised him. There were just two terrified children – one I was able to cajole into not crying, but she wouldn't look at me, and the other was my granddaughter, who refused point blank to go anywhere near this odd chap. She had to have her book delivered by a less-threatening elf.
The children didn't seem very mercenary. Most said they'd be happy with anything; a few had some specific wishes (including some things I hadn't heard of); one little girl was hoping for a SIM card for her mobile phone and one boy wanted a drone so he could take aerial videos and start his own YouTube channel.
2. Walked coast to coast
I've covered this in a few blogs already and it was a major undertaking. It took two weeks out of my year and I also did a few practice walks in Rutland, Norfolk and around Toneham. The walk is really unusual because the terrain is so varied. It's massively popular and brings in lots of foreign tourists. It's a shame the paths aren't better maintained and also better marked (route finding was sometimes difficult). David and I had a very companionable walk, drank far too much beer each evening and finished with a sense of achievement and relief. Glad I did it and would recommend it to anyone else.
End of the walk at Robin Hood's Bay.
3. Played Telefunken
Telefunken is a card game beloved by Lucy's family. It's a form of contract rummy that's really popular in South America where is was possibly introduced by Germans working for the electronics company Telefunken, that was setting up a factory. There are a number of rounds in which you have to achieve certain groups or sequences of cards. The winner of each round is the person who gets rid of all their cards first and the other players accumulate points for the cards they are left holding. Lucy loves the game and is very competitive.
We played it first one evening in Baldock and I scored fairly well, but Lucy won. Over Christmas we had another go and I got such a big score in the first round that I was never going to win. Tom won that one because I unloaded some cards that he wanted and Lucy has still not forgiven me. For me, it was third time lucky. I won my third game of Telefunken when all the cards seem to fall right for me. I even got a “Batatarso” at the end, which is where you put down all your cards at once without anyone else having put any down. In that case, the other players get double scores for the cards they are holding. I've always enjoyed card games, so it's one to play when people come to stay. Margaret hates playing board or card games, so it's not one we can do together.
4. I joined the Lib-Dems
This is a fall-out from the EU membership referendum. I've previously been a member of the Liberal Party (so I could drink in the Gladstone Club in Northwich), the Labour Party (so I could attend discos at the Labour hall) and The Conservative Party in recent years. I think I'm a natural conservative, but the referendum result really shook me; I discovered that I didn't live in the country I thought I did. A negative “out” campaign, full of lies and misinformation, preyed upon people's fear of immigration, racism and xenophobia and was countered by a pathetic “remain” campaign, who were convinced they were going to win and concentrating on scaremongering. What's done is done and who knows where we will end up? What is clear is that the values we care about don't protect themselves, so the imperative is: get involved (and that's why I'm in the Lib-Dems).
5. Went to Tolethorpe Hall.
The Stamford Shakespeare Company has built an open-air theatre at Tolethorpe Hall and they put on a couple of Shakespeare plays each summer and also one family-orientated performance. Richard Harrison, from my Probus club, has a brother in the company and this year they were putting on Alan Bennett's version of Wind in the Willows (Richard's brother was playing Badger). We had a picnic on the lawn beforehand and the performance was really good. It would be a great location for Shakespeare, especially something like A Midsummer Night's Dream or The Tempest.
6. Grew raspberries
When I took over the allotment, I wanted a soft fruit section. I've got gooseberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants, which we always struggle to eat, but no raspberries (which we would never struggle to eat). Sometimes I just don't think things through properly. Anyway, this year, I bought 12 canes of late raspberries and put them in not really expecting to get a crop. They did really well, shot up and produced a small number of berries (just enough for your breakfast yoghurt) well into October. I've cut them right down now and I'm hoping for a really good crop in 2017.
7. Jumped over an año vieja
Tom was booked by AP news to shoot the fireworks in London for new year's eve and was going to take Lucy along to see the show. We said we'd look after Julia. However, the job was cancelled a few days beforehand as AP were taking a Sky News feed instead, so Tom, Lucy and Julia came to ours for new year. I often get a little maudlin at new year and I have an inclination to dwell on the past rather than look forward optimistically. So Lucy's latest South American tradition that we were invited to try suited me rather well. It's an año vieja (old year in Spanish) and the tradition is that you build a doll (a guy) and it contains all the bad things from the past year. You then have a few drinks, set fire to it and jump over the burning embers of the previous year. In Ecuador, they would also stuff the doll with bangers to add an extra thrill as you perform your jump. The doll normally has the face of an unpopular politician or celebrity stuck on and we chose Theresa May and Nigel Farage as our 2016 baddies.
8. Became chair of governors
Pauline Coakley stood down as chair of governors at the school after 13 years. I don't think it was an easy decision and it was hard to find someone to replace her. In fact, I think I was the only governor willing to do it so, unsurprisingly, I got the job. I am not sure how long I'll do it; so far it seems quite hard work and pretty thankless. I don't think I'll manage 13 years, but perhaps three would be a reasonable contribution. I need to start considering some succession management or, perhaps, if we take academy status, the role will become redundant.
Apethorpe Palace
9. Visited Apethorpe Palace
Until a year or so ago, I didn't realise there was a palace at Apethorpe. I think my sister and I walked past it on a training walk I did with her when she was tackling a 25-mile walk for charity at Blenheim Palace and she was wondering if we'd get a glimpse of the place. We didn't – it is very well hidden. This year John Douglas from our Probus Club organised a visit to the palace. There's a short period each year when it is open to pre-booked groups, so it was a good opportunity to see the place. It's an amazing old house, with rooms still pretty much as they were when Elizabeth I visited the place and when James I stayed there on a regular basis. Amazing to walk in the footsteps of history.
The palace has no electricity and no plumbing. It had been bought by a Libyan businessman, who was denied entry to the UK after the shootings at the Libyan embassy, so it stood empty and deteriorating for years. The caretaker stayed on, unpaid, and it was his work that saved the place from ruin. Eventually, his story became known and English Heritage was able to acquire the building, stabilise its structure, do some renovation and have no sold it to a French businessman who lives in part of the building. The covenant with the sale means he has to open it to the public for a certain period each year when English Heritage guides take you round. It's a fascinating place.
10. Saw the Albion Band.
When we were young (in our 20s), we had a couple of LPs by the Albion Band, an electronic folk rock group, a sort of 1970s version of Bellowhead. There was one song that we and the children used to dance around to. I think it's called The Primrose, but we knew it as Whip Bum because our dance was more like a chase where you got a gentle kick up the bum if you weren't fast enough. The Albion Band long since broke up, but three of the original members and a woman singer get together each Christmas to release a CD and undertake a short tour. Some years back, they were playing at the Key Theatre and I booked tickets. On the night, Margaret didn't feel well enough to go, so we gave them to my sister. This year, for our Christmas present, she bought us tickets to their Christmas concert at Stamford Arts Centre. It was a nice evening, just the thing to get you into the Christmas spirit.