Saturday, December 31, 2011

12 Predictions for 2012

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Somehow I managed not to make any predictions for this year, but I thought I'd dust off the old crystal ball and see if it's still in good working order. Here are a dozen things that might happen in the year ahead.

1. The SNP will wimp out on full equal marriage, allowing it in civil ceremonies but not for religious.

2. Obama will win the presidential election against Romney, but it'll be a close run thing and our hearts will be in our mouths for most of the time between Labor Day and 6th November.

3. A Liberal Democrat Cabinet seat will change hands, and will not be a resignation on principle.

4. Jo Swinson will become a minister.

5. The coalition will last the year, but there will be more public differences of opinion between ministers particularly over immigration and human rights.

6. The Eurozone will limp on, narrowly avoiding catastrophe on a weekly basis, but with real hardship for people as many economies, including ours, go into recession.

7. The Government will not win the vote on time limiting Employment and Support Allowance in the House of Lords and will have to rethink the policy. 

8. A date for the referendum on independence will be set.

9. British sportswomen will outperform British men in the Olympics, which will have plenty of rows and the odd cock up attached to them.

10. Labour will not make up any ground in the polls and Ed Miliband's position will be at best under threat by the end of the year.

11. The 2012 F1 World Championship will be decided on the last race between Vettel, Button and Webber. Raikonnen and Schumacher will both win races and challenge for podium positions during the year.

12. Steven Moffat will relent and give Karen, Rory and River a happy ending.

McCartney in Liverpool - what You Tube has to offer

Ok, nothing beats being there, but You Tube has a good selection of videos of the evening and they bring back some memories and some goosebumps. Here are some of the best I've found so far.

Specifically for my friend Allan and fans of George Harrison and Ukelele playing - Ram On

Here Today - including the Cilla Black story and booing

Penny Lane

The Word - All you need is love

The pyrotechnical Live and Let Die

Band on the Run

The fabulously trashy Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da

Wonderful Christmastime

Mull of Kintyre

Thanks to all the people with better recording facilities than I have.

My 2011 in Blog Posts

With just 11 hours of 2011to go, I thought I'd give you a flavour of my year. It's had huge highs and horrible, horrible painful lows.

Now, we have enough notice of when the year's going to end. Maybe next year, I'll have the end of year post pretty much in the can by the beginning of December and not rush to complete it at the last minute. Yeah, sure that'll happen.

Let's get the horrendous bits out of the way first.

Heartbreak and Big Girls Do Cry written the day after the worst election night ever. And this is my analysis of how those pesky Nats pulled of their overall majority.

But then if we thought that was the worst thing that was going to happen in 2011, we were sadly mistaken. Just 4 weeks later, came shock and deep sadness when we lost our friend and Campaigns Director Andrew Reeves.  The First Day without Andrew Reeves was a post that was incredibly painful to write and if there are typos in it, they lie uncorrected as I still can't get all the way through reading it.

The start of the year was all about the election and the run up to it. Themes that continue, though, and will be debated in the year ahead, are the shockingly bad idea of merging all Scotland's police forces.

There was a brief lull in preparations for Andrew and Roger's wedding.

I like to take on the Daily Fail when I can - and they got it badly wrong in domestic violence in January.

Bill Aitken showed misogyny was alive and well in the Tory Party.

If you have a pet rabbit, you may one day have cause to be grateful to me for telling you how to dose one.

When Dave found his Dog Whistle, I was there to report it - and the differences between the PM and his deputy.

It was good to have been at a hustings, for Breakthrough Breast Cancer,  where everyone performed well.

2011 was the year I branched out into other media. In March, I went on Callum Leslie's Freshair radio show. and later on did two lots of Radio Scotland interviews, one in the immediate aftermath of the election and another when Willie became leader. I also wrote for a proper grown up paper too, as well as Liberator magazine.

After the election it was time for a rebuild.  We had a nice shiny new leader and the papers said nice things about him.  The party talked - and listened to wise people like sadly former MSP Robert Brown. We fought a parliamentary by-election with a fabulous candidate, Sophie Bridger,  who played a blinder in the tv debates getting the Tory to admit we'd made the UK Government fairer. By the end of the year, we were back to winning ways. That's a lesson to all our candidates in the Council elections  - where we work, we win, so get out on those doorsteps.

The things I was concerned about most during 2011 were welfare reform, specifically Employment and Support Allowance. I really want the Government to change the time limit aspect and their silly plans for cancer sufferers.  I spoke to a fringe meeting at our conference on the subject and was "insulted" by no less a person than the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Government's consultation on Equal Marriage took place and I was really proud that our leader enthusiastically supported the idea as a fundamental issue of liberalism. I had some advice for our MPs and leaders, too - give us some passion, not just common sense and not letting anyone put us in the corner.

Personally and family wise, we hit some milestones. Bob turned 60. my baby started High Schoolmy lovely sister cycled all the way from Land's End to John o'Groats, we went to London and saw Wicked and daleks and Buckingham Palace. Anna sang at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow along with 700 other kids to celebrate NYCOS's 15th anniversary.

I'm hopefully going to beat last year's record out put of 703 blogposts, only just and I'll look forward to keeping this going through 2012.

My 11 most read blog posts of 2011

Thanks to the wonder of Google Analytics, I can tell you that my most popular blog posts of the year are....

1. The sad, but happy for her, news that Claudia Winkleman would not be doing It Takes Two this year.

2. When Eamonn used Twitter to crow about Sky's supremacy over the BBC - without much respect to a young, dead girl and her family.

3. Simon Hughes, bless him, copped a rant from me for a crassly worded e-mail. He was so sorry that it didn't take long to forgive him, though.

4. Braehead shopping centre called the police on a dad for taking photos of his daughter. They soon had to back down and change their policy, though.

5. The First Day without  Andrew Reeves

6. Sexy MP  - just a bit of harmless fun?

7. Nadine Dorries accuses Evan Harris of blackmail

8. For Maplins, the social networking team were much better than their store staff

9. My Federal Conference Dilemma - to submit to accreditation or not

10. No doubt Gareth Epps is a pain in the arse as far as the leadership are concerned, and that's not a bad thing, but there was a moment when they almost didn't let him into our Conference

11. Nick Clegg made me cross - or at least whoever wrote his e-mail did.

Willie Rennie's New Year Message

“In May, we were nearly wiped off from the Scottish Parliamentary map. I got it. I understood why that happened.
“But equally I am convinced that liberalism, not nationalism, will dominate Scottish political landscape in the years ahead.  Our values are embedded in a rich seem of Scottish history and endure despite political setbacks.
“Our small team in the Scottish Parliament has shown over the last six months why we need strong liberal voices. 
“On centralising of the police, places for college students, housing for those in need, the Supreme Court, equal marriage, riots, prison reform, sectarianism and so many other issues we have struck a strong liberal note whilst others have been silent or ineffective. 
“Without that liberal voices Scotland would be a poorer place.
My liberal vision is a Scotland which politicians in Holyrood give power away to local communities rather than horde it for themselves; makes decisions for the long term interest, not quick fixes; is socially mobile where people from all backgrounds get a chance to get up and on in the world; and is outward looking, maintain strong alliances with the rest of the UK family, Europe and the world.
“Nationalists believe that Scotland is not strong enough to stand tall in the UK. But I believe, and history has shown us, that Scots are confident, intelligent and able enough to prosper in the UK and beyond.
“I find that most Scots share these strong liberal values.  Most are not narrow nationalists, only interested in what advances a parochial ideology, but open to dialogue and diction which serves the wider national interest.
“I appreciate that the UK Coalition has been difficult for many to accept.  It’s counter intuitive that progressive Liberal Democrats can be partners with the right of centre Conservatives. But however uncomfortable it is for me, for Liberal Democrats and for many of our supporters and former supporters, I know it was the right thing to do. 
“We came together in the national interest to tackle the economy and our fiscal position would even more difficult if we had not taken that action.  We’re also acting as a moderating influence over the Conservatives and have had a number of significant achievements including tax cuts for those on low and middle incomes; the largest ever cash rise in the state pension; reforming the banks and ending child detention at Dungavel.  I know we have put country before self interest and party interest.
“For generations, Liberals and Liberal Democrats have advocated Home Rule for Scotland with a Parliament that has the power to determine Scotland’s destiny on the home agenda whilst sharing risk and opportunity with the United Kingdom family. 
“We have worked constructively with others to deliver the Scottish Parliament and now a significant transfer of financial power to the Parliament through the Scotland Bill. Once we have built the case and drawn up the blueprint we want to go further so that the Parliament is responsible for raising broadly what it spends. When we finally come to debate and determine Scotland’s future in the UK, Liberal Democrats will advocate our Home Rule goal. 
“One of my great predecessors Russell Johnston once said: "You can stand at the bottom of a mountain, look up and say: ‘This is so high and precipitous, so rugged and intimidating that I can never dare to challenge it.’ Or, you can begin to climb. And, if you do, one day you may see the summit.”
“The party started to climb in May and we’re now able to look back to where we started.  I am determined to keep on climbing in 2012 because Scotland needs strong liberal voices.
“I wish you all a very happy New Year.”

Friday, December 30, 2011

Michael Moore - handy with a hoover, a pie and a cello

I can't let the Festive Season go by with out posting this hilarious cartoon Christmas card, featuring Michael Moore, Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander, Vince Cable and Chris Huhne as elves. It makes me howl with laughter every single time.....

Thanks to the Lovely Mr Dr Chocaholic for sharing.

I can tell you the secret now......

Six weeks or so ago I tweeted that I was more excited than the most excited thing on the planet, but I couldn't tell you about it. You all knew that it had to be something really special if it was going to top my McCartney excitement.

The reason I had to stay quiet was because it was one of Anna's Christmas presents, the one from us rather than Santa.

But now I can tell you.

She and I are off to the first Official Doctor Who Convention at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff in March. Not only have I never ever been to Wales before, but we're going to see, among others, Matt Smith, Steven Moffat and Arthur Darvill.

Definitely something to look forward to. A lovely girlie weekend in Cardiff with my gorgeous daughter. I can't wait.

As a matter of interest, the guesses I had on Twitter showed just how well people know me. It was SNP activist Grahame Case who sussed it out almost immediately, though,  because he and his fiancee had just booked the tickets for the same event. I'd done it within 10 minutes of receipt of the e-mail telling me about the event, so we were both pretty quick off the mark.

If you were amused by my wide eyed excitement about Liverpool and McCartney, imagine what I'm going to be like in the run up to this........

Review: That Paul McCartney Concert

The adventures of 2 Beatles obsessives and a Responsible Adult in Liverpool, Part 3

You may also want to read Parts One and Two of this happy tale.

As you can see, our seats were really good. They should have been at £105 a go, certainly, but you can tell how quickly they were going by the fact that I literally bought them seconds after they went on sale and these were the best I could get.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The last instalment ended as Laura and I were being dragged from the Beatles Story by the Responsible Adult. We went back to our hotel with just enough time for a quick change before heading back to the Arena. Our plan had been to go to Pizza Express just outside the arena, but it was mobbed. I remembered that the nearby Jury's Inn did good carveries, so we decided to head in there and they managed to squeeze us in. Now, I don't want you to think that this was entirely without guilt. It did feel a little bit wrong to be savouring a delicious piece of perfectly cooked lamb before going to see a committed vegetarian.

Doors to the Echo Arena apparently opened at 6, but it was around 7 that we actually joined the queues outside in the rain. It was quite clear that the concert was not going to start on time as it was nearly 7:30 by the time we found our seats and the 11000 capacity arena was only about a third full. Our wait was made easier by meeting the girl from the Beatles Story right in front of us and chatting to her and reading our programmes. Usually these things are overpriced and you don't feel like you're getting value for money. Not this time. Not far off being the best £15 I ever spent:

It's crammed full of interviews with Paul McCartney, the band, his family and has all sorts of information about the tour and about the things Paul cares about, like his campaign for Meat Free Mondays. He talks about how he spoke to the European Parliament about it. There's loads of pictures old and new, a big plug for the book of Linda McCartney's photos.

Even thinking about this event still gives me goosebumps. One of the images that will stay with me for a very , very long time is the look on Laura's face when Paul finally came on stage, a fashionable 45 minutes late. It was a really emotional moment for her and it was very special to see her so happy.

It was quite hard to take in that his iconic figure was literally a few metres in front of us. I tended to focus on the small figure on the stage rather than look at the huge screens at the side, just to reinforce the reality of it all.

It really made me smile to see his very shiny new wedding ring from his recent marriage to Nancy Shevell. He was wearing a two piece grey suit, but the jacket was ditched after a few songs and he rolled up the sleeves of his pink shirt to make it all a bit more relaxed and less formal.

Paul McCartney had precious few of the stunts and special effects commonly used by many artists today, but he did have himself and five decades of fantastic music and anecdotes to share. There were a few pyrotechnics round Live and Let Die but that was pretty much it.

He went straight into one of my favourite songs, Hello, Goodbye which, understandably, is a bit of a traditional concert opener for him.

You got a sense of how long his career had been going on and how many of the truly great musicians he'd worked with and been friends with. He talked about how humbled he'd felt when Jimi Hendrix had played Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band just three days after it had been released. He went on to describe how Hendrix had been showing off and had made his guitar go out of tune. He apparently asked Eric Clapton, who was in the audience, to tune it for him and Clapton told him, basically, to go and get raffled. That song came out the year I was born ,which is a very long time ago.

He talked about writing Blackbird not as a crusading, political song, but to bring comfort and hope to those fighting for civil rights in the States.

He shared a joke he'd had with his little girl, Beatrice about the Royal Wedding (and was quite taken aback when some booed the mentions of the royals). He'd said he wanted Prince William to say "I, Will." A typical Dad joke, I think,

I can't remember what song it was, but he went wrong at one point and they just stopped and started again. He mentioned a prior occasion when Cilla Black had been in the audience and thought it was all part of the script. I was really surprised to hear Cilla being booed by the audience, though, a good Liverpool lass that she is. I'm not sure what she's done to offend her home town. A bit of a search on Google suggests some resentment towards her for at one time being less than hostile towards the Tories as the reported spat between Cilla and Ricky Tomlinson shows.

What was utterly remarkable is that this man at the date of the concert was 69 years, 6 months and 2 days old. He was on stage for over 3 hours, singing 43 songs and he never even stopped for a drink. You can see from the set list below just how diverse a performer he is with songs ranging from Helter Skelter to Oh-blah-dee, from Back in the USSR to yesterday, from Band on the Run to the seasonally appropriate Wonderful Christmastime.

So many of the songs on this list are so engrained not just in the minds of fans but as a soundtrack to everyone's lives. Hey Jude, the song McCartney wrote to comfort Julian Lennon when his dad went off with Yoko had as all standing singing our hearts out, as did All You Need is Love and Give Peace a Chance.

Paul McCartney Setlist Echo Arena, Liverpool, England 2011, On The Run Tour

Edit this setlist | More Paul McCartney setlists

The second encore was all about contrasts. We were jetisonned out of our Yesterday and Mull of Kintyre mellowness (complete with band of piping children from the Loretto school in Edinburgh) by a lively, raucous and loud performance of Helter Skelter. Not that that song could ever be anything other than loud of course.

By the end of the evening, the Responsible Adult had turned. She was still Responsible, but Paul had won her over.

All of these songs, are, of course, available on You Tube to watch any time, but there is no substitute for being there, in the epicentre of that cauldron of emotion, with 11,000 others enjoying, revering, getting lost in the music every bit as much as you are. I'm so glad I took the opportunity to go while I had the chance. One of the themes of this year for me has really been about how important it is to appreciate what you have while you're lucky enough to have it, to seize the moment while you can. I'm glad we seized this one.

Update: How can I have forgotten the part where he sang "Here Today" an imagined conversation he'd have had with John Lennon, written shortly after his death.

 And if I say I really knew you well, 
What would your answer be? 
If you were here today. 
Uh, uh, uh, here today. 

Well, knowing you, 
You'd probably laugh and say 
That we were worlds apart. 
If you were here today. 
Uh, uh, uh, here today. 

But as for me, 
I still remember how it was before 
And I am holding back the tears no more. 
Uh, uh, uh, 
I love you, uh. 
[ Lyrics from: ] 
What about the time we met? (what about the time?) 
Well, I suppose that you could say 
That we were playing hard to get. 
Didn't understand a thing, 
But we could always sing. 

What about the night we cried? (what about the night) 
Because there wasn't any reason 
Left to keep it all inside. 
Never understood a word, 
But you were always there with a smile. 

And if I say I really loved you 
And was glad you came along. 
Then you were here today, 
Uh, uh, uh, for you were in my song. 

Uh, uh, uh, here today.

And I should also mention, in contrast to that which had us all in tears, the jubilant rendition of Penny Lane, an addition to the set list for that concert alone.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Former MP John Barrett speaks out against ESA assessments for Cancer patients

Regular readers will be aware of mine and George Potter's campaign against the Government's proposals to put Cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy and chemotherapy through work capability assessments.

At the moment, if you have Cancer and are undergoing IV chemo, you don't have to undergo the assessments, but if you're on oral chemo, you do. Macmillan Cancer Support and others highlighted this discrepancy and the Government decided to make the system the same for both groups. Unfortunately, they've done it the wrong way round. Instead of extending the exemption to the people on oral chemo, they've taken it away from those on iv chemo.

Now, both types of treatment are pretty hardcore. Cancer cells respond only to the most heavy duty of toxins. Anyone undergoing chemo is unlikely to be able to work while they're having the treatment because of the nasty, debilitating, dramatic side effects which can range from ulcers to vomiting to exhaustion and just about everything in between.

Just after I launched the petition, John Barrett, our former MP for Edinburgh West contacted me and said that he supported what we were trying to do and said he was happy for us tell that to the world, or at least the small part of it which reads our blogs.

Many of us in Scotland knew at the time that John had just undergone surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from his colon and was waiting to hear whether he'd have to undergo chemotherapy himself. It turns out that he does and will be starting this next month. Two weeks ago, he told the Scotsman about what he'd been through and how he wanted to tell everyone to use the NHS bowel cancer screening kit and not leave it gathering dust.

John has now told the Edinburgh Evening News that he wants the Government to rethink its plans for ESA. After objections from Macmillan, they were already undertaking a further consultation which will hopefully lead to them issuing an automatic exemption to everyone while they are undergoing treatment for Cancer.

He said:

“I’m speaking to my former parliamentary colleagues to say when this comes up they need to stop it.
“Macmillan are the experts. We should listen to what they and other charities are saying.”

I was not encouraged by the response from the DWP spokeswoman, however. She said:
“However, we do believe that assuming work is not an option for all cancer sufferers is not the right way ahead.”
Let's be realistic here. Cancer sufferers in the middle of treatment are unlikely to be able to work. They have enough to do dealing with the effects of the treatment. A medical certificate from a GP saying they're undergoing Chemo or Radiotherapy at the moment is all that should be needed for them to claim ESA. Once that treatment has finished, then, ok, resume the normal assessment system, but for goodness sake leave them alone while the toxins are doing their thing.

It bothers me that failure to return an ATOS form on time could mean that people lose their benefits. If that deadline falls at the wrong time in the treatment cycle and someone's too ill to complete the form, they will get a nasty shock next benefit day and they shouldn't have to go through that stress, and the stress of having to sort it all out, when they are so sick.

We also know that ATOS make mistakes. There's every possibility that they could decide that someone in the midst of chemo is fit for work and make them lose their benefit. Appealing that takes a long time and is also very stressful - not to mention they'll be expected to show evidence of job hunting if they're put back onto Job Seekers' Allowance or lose their benefit completely.

Asking for an exemption is not about writing people off forever, it's about recognising the debilitating effects of Cancer treatment while it's happening. Hopefully most people, once their treatment is over, will be fit enough to resume work and get on with their lives. If you agree with us that Cancer patients undergoing Chemo or Radiotherapy should be automatically exempt from these extra assessments, please sign our petition here and if you're a Lib Dem member, write to Party President Tim Farron ( and tell him how you feel. I know he's already looking into this, but I want him to be able to go to Nick Clegg and say he's had thousands of e-mails from party members who want us to stop the Government's proposals.

 Can you do that today, please? Also please spread the word as widely as you can. I'm hoping that this should be winnable because there is literally no sense in wasting time and energy putting people through assessments when they're clearly too ill to work by the very nature of what's happening to them. It's the right thing to do.

BBC misogyny is so 2011

You would expect, wouldn't you, that a public service broadcaster with a deserved reputation for quality as the BBC has, would be very careful to make sure that it didn't discriminate against any one group of people.

Unfortunately not. This year, the Corporation has fired off one insult after another at women and seems to be enjoying it.

The Corporation is more than happy to put together all or mostly male panels to discuss the issues of the day. Question Time is the biggest offender, but other current affairs programmes are as bad. How often have I watched Politics Scotland and not seen one female voice on it?

And what does it matter? Well, actually it does. Take, for example, the offensive and appalling way in which Chairman of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee Ian Davidson treated SNP MP Eilidh Whiteford. I'd say that the women across parties that I spoke to were almost all on Eilidh Whiteford's side, as I was. The boys, however, were allowed to brush it all off as inconsequential.

I wrote earlier this year about my complaint to the Corporation over the way its reporters spoke about Miriam Gonzalez Durantez during our Conference this year. More than three months on and after a follow up, no response has been received.

To add insult to injury, the shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year was 100% male, cos women just don't do sport do they?  I mean, I don't even know that much about sport and I managed to suggest a good few names. Our own Jo Swinson, along with some other MPs, protested and the BBC was sniffy in its response.  Apparently allowing a virtually all male cast of newspaper sports editors, along with lads' mags such as Nuts and Zoo is fine by them.

And then yesterday, not having learned anything, BBC Magazine publishes its faces of 2011 - the women. They couldn't even think of an actual woman for December, so they picked Edinburgh Zoo's new panda Tian Tian, or Sweetie. Now, heaven knows I love that panda. She is gorgeous and I'm looking forward to seeing her snuggly little face again next week. Her place in that list, though, is completely inappropriate. I accept the list is women who have made the news rather than achieved highly, but even so, being human should be a pre-requisite.

Why pick the panda when in December you could have had Mona Eltahawy, the fearless and feisty journalist who's been reporting on Egypt's troubles for much of the year. At the end of November, she was beaten and sexually assaulted by the security forces there, an experience she wrote movingly and angrily about in the Guardian.  The Times' Caitlin Moran, who recently won the Galaxy Book of the Year for her brilliant How to be a Woman,  could also have featured there.

In October, rather than pick a Spanish Duchess who got married, why not choose one of the Nobel Peace Prize winners, Tawakul Karman, who has put herself at great risk to champion the cause of women's rights in Yemen?

And why no mention for Elisabeth Sladen, the actress who played the character so many girls of my generation wanted to be: Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who?

You would also think that Angela Merkel would figure somewhere in that list. She is, after all, one of the key leaders in the Eurozone.

I was, however, pleased to see Gabrielle Giffords in the BBC's list. The Arizona Congresswoman's remarkable recovery after taking a bullet through the brain has been one of the most inspirational stories of the year. Sarah Burton, too, for designing Kate Middleton's wedding dress, showcased the Alexander MacQueen label to perfection and deserves her place.

But there's no place for either woman who wrote the stories behind two of the biggest films of the year, the final instalment of the Harry Potter series and Breaking Dawn Part 1.

Nor our excellent sporting champions like gymnast Tweddle, swimmer Rebecca Adlington or triathlete Chrissie Wellington.

But why does all this even matter anyway?

Sure, we have relatively decent rights for women in this country, but there are those who would limit maternity leave and employment protection given half a chance. We see from around the world what happens when we're not vigilant in advancing the feminist cause. Many of us were shocked to see Egyptian security forces viciously beat a female protestor the other week in footage. Well, that was nothing compared to what, according to yesterday's New York Times, they  had in store for some for other women.  It's pretty obvious that these women's rights were violated - but we need to get to the stage where the violations don't happen in the first place.

But that's Egypt, not even a democracy. Nothing to do with us. Let's have a look at the USA then. This is a place where women are arrested for murdering their babies if they miscarry.  And there seems to be even more pandering to the religious right than usual in the race to be the Republican Presidential candidate as Digby's Hullabaloo wrote yesterday. It made me feel a bit queasy to see a report in the Daily Fail about a young girl who chose not to have chemotherapy when she was pregnant and who died when her baby was a few days old. These are heartbreaking choices, but it worries me that women who make the other choice risk disapproval and public censure. The pressure on women in the Bible Belt of the USA in that circumstance must be immense and I wouldn't like to think that women were pressured into choosing certain death for themselves.

We need to be talking much more openly about things like the effect of the free availability of internet porn on the behaviour of young men and their expectations from a sexual relationship. The potential for the sexual and violent abuse of young girls is clear.

Many girls and women spend too much time obsessing over their size and shape because a misogynist, male dominated media implies that finding a life partner is all that matters, and you have no chance of doing that if you don't conform to what they say is beautiful.

It's about time women were given their rightful, equal place in BBC coverage. Their misogyny is so last year. Let's hope that 2012 is the year when they start to wake up to the realities of life.

One hundred and ten years ago......, my lovely Granny, Annie Souter, was born.

Here she is with me when I was a few months old.

I've written about her and her wonderful influence on me many times before.

When I was a little girl, every day she and her cairn terrier Cheeky would meet me from school and we'd walk back to her and my grandad's flat.

There, she would make endless cups of tea in a china cup with a saucer, poured from a metal teapot. I actually decided to sharpen up my ideas a few weeks ago and bought a proper teapot, although I don't think I could actually go the whole hog and have loose tea. The bags are much more convenient.

With the tea I'd have a mouthwatering array of pancakes, scones or cake. Granny loved to feed people and she always did it really well. Many years later, when Bob and I would go to visit her, she'd bring out more food than even we could eat.

If it was the holidays and I was there for lunch, her tattie soup, or mince and tatties or fried fish on Fridays were fabulous. I've never been able to recreate that particular joy in a bowl that was her tattie soup. It was one of the best things I've ever tasted in my life.

It was at Granny's that I had my secret stash of comics - it started off with Twinkle and moved on to Mandy, Judy and I'm sure there was one called Jinty at one point, but I may be making that up, and finally Blue Jeans and Jackie.

She always had stories to tell about the "olden days", about dogs she had had, about all sorts of things fascinating to a young child. When you think about it, she lived through 4 monarchs, 2 world wars and changes in technology that were incredible. I wonder what she'd make of a phone that carried round all your photos and music and could fit in a tiny pocket in your handbag.

She was well past retirement age when I was born and it must have been quite a challenge to have a baby and toddler full time when my parents were working, but she never showed it. By the time I went to school, she was in her 70s, but picked me up every day and looked after me in the holidays. And not just me  - in the Summer holidays, my six cousins would be there for at least half the time.

Every day in the holidays we'd go to town to buy provisions. Those were the days when you'd go to the greengrocer if you wanted to buy vegetables, and you got them in a paper bag, then you'd go to the fish shop, which smelled properly of fish, and then you'd go to the butcher and the baker. You get my drift. To this day I love the indoor market in Inverness.

It's 16 years since Granny died and I miss her. I wish Anna, whose name had her in mind,  had had the chance to know her. She was a lovely, kind and gentle lady and I feel so lucky that I had her in my life.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hume reveals heartbreaking homelessness statistics

I've long said that I want a Government to decide that it's going to sort out housing. During my years working for Willie Rennie as his caseworker, by far the biggest tragedy I could see unfolding before me was housing. Every week we'd have around 5 new families wanting, no, needing to be rehoused.

Maybe their family had grown or two families had amalgamated meaning a current property was too small. Maybe they'd had to take a private let, sacrificing their priority on the local authority list, but paying out more than they could afford in rent. Maybe a relationship had ended or they'd been put out by family. Maybe illness had meant that their current home was impossible for them. I remember returning once from holiday to the awful news that one person who'd been waiting for a long time to be rehoused had actually died.

The problem is, of course, that the supply of social housing has never recovered from Margaret Thatcher's "right to buy" policy. Forcing local authorities to sell houses at knock down prices and not letting them build any more has had horrendous consequences for people needing affordable housing today. There simply is not enough to go round.

In Scotland, the Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition between 1999 and 2007 passed legislation aimed at ending homelessness by 2012.  Figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament show that we are still some way from meeting that target.

It's horrifying to think that a minimum of 2000 families are living in temporary accommodation. This might, if they're lucky, be a flat, usually in the sort of area nobody would choose. However, they could be moved out of this to another part of their local authority area at any time. Imagine, for example, being made homeless in Dunfermline in the south west of Fife. You could be put in temporary accommodation in St Andrew's, a good hour away. How do you get your kids to school? How do you get to work if you do shifts at unsocial hours if you don't have a car? And you could be moved to another part of this pretty big kingdom at any time.

And that accommodation, like I said, might not be a flat. It might be bed and breakfast, in which case as a family you'd be expected to leave during the day. Where do you go? It might be a homeless hostel, where you have to share with strangers.  Can you imagine how horrendously difficult it would be to live in those circumstances? Most people reading this will wake up in a warm house, with a washing machine to hand to clean their clothes and cooking facilities they can use when they feel like eating and space to rest and relax. There will doubtless be enough room for people to escape from each other when they've had a row. Imagine your whole life, your whole family in one room with possessions that you can carry. How would that affect a child?

Have a read of Shelter's article on what it's like to be homeless and you'll get an idea. The horror of the reality is being experienced now by far too many people and particularly children.

The Liberal Democrats' housing spokesman at Holyrood, Jim Hume, has today released the findings of his Freedom of Information requests to local authorities about the number of children and families in temporary housing. Glasgow, Aberdeenshire and South Lanarkshire aren't included, so this is a minimum figure. Basically we have 2073 families in temporary accommodation and this is at 1st October. 1271 had been there for more than 3 months and 779 for more than 6 months. By anyone's standards, that's just wrong.

Housing affects so much else, your health, your ability to work, your sense of security and it's vital that someone has the political will to sort it out. This is too important an issue for the SNP just to blame the coalition government for cuts or say that independence would sort everything out.  They have £30 billion, the entire Scottish budget, to spend as they please. If they want to, they can build more houses with the powers they currently have rather than halve the budget and forget their pledge to build 6000 new houses every year. If they want to.

We need to have not just an intelligent debate, but actual action now to make sure that everyone in need has a roof over their head and a long term strategy in place to make sure it stays that way.  It's not just about building new houses, it's about making better use of those we have. Ewan Hoyle has some ideas over at Lib Dem Voice about elderly people in larger houses sharing with younger people, maybe students, who help out with jobs around the place in a mutually convenient and non exploitative way.

It's not just homelessness we have to deal with, though, it's poor quality social housing with damp, condensation, leaky doors and windows and with appallingly bad energy efficiency so that they're difficult to keep warm. Something has to be done about them, too, and fast. There's no point in investing in education if kids haven't got somewhere warm to do their homework or they lie freezing in their beds at night.

I'll give the final word to Jim Hume:

“Thousands of families with children are facing a hard Christmas in temporary accommodation. We can only imagine how hard this is, especially for the 779 families that have been without a permanent home for over 6 months.
 “January marks the beginning of the year in which Scotland’s homelessness commitment is due to be met. “The SNP Government must ensure that it’s fully committed to ending 2012 with every homeless person having access to a permanent home. “A good start will be looking again at its planned 50% cut to the affordable housing budget and Alex Neil needs to face up to his government’s U-turn on the 6000 new socially rented houses each year
 “We also need to see a more innovative approach to tackling homelessness across Scotland. “We cannot afford to leave so many families out in the cold this Christmas.” 

Review: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe #doctorwho Christmas Special

There are spoilers in this, so if you're likely to throw a Twitter tantrum and block me if you find things out you don't already know, DO NOT read any further.

In recent years, one of the highlights of Christmas Day has been to gather round the television in the early evening for the Doctor Who Christmas Special. It's certainly more essential than watching the Queen in our house.

We've gone from the Sycorax running amok while the Tenth Doctor sleeps off his regeneration to the searing poignancy of the final build up to his farewell with a futuristic Titanic with Kylie as a waitress, an unwitting Doctor imposter and flying fish soothed only by Katharine Jenkins along the way. 

What would this year have to offer?

Let's put it in context first. The last series saw the Doctor's public murder and private escape. Of course, it's an open secret amongst those close to him that he's still alive, but he's keeping a low profile and staying away from them. So, it's a lonely Doctor who's wandering around the universe getting himself into scrapes. He starts the episode by falling from a spaceship. If it were River, he'd be waiting with the Tardis swimming pool roof open or something, but there's nobody to catch him. He has to make do with fighting his way into a space suit, back to front, before crashing to earth in some sleepy little English village. Didn't he do that before and leave a  little girl heartbroken?

Anyway, he finds himself at the bottom of a crater in 1938 and he's rescued and driven by Madge Arless, who seems to be a very accepting soul. Not many of us would casually help a spaceman from the future with a suit on the wrong way round - especially one who criticised their driving. 

Three years on, Madge, played by Outnumbered mum Claire Skinner, receives the awful news that her RAF pilot husband has been killed in action just before Christmas. She decides not to tell her two children, Lily and Cyril, because she doesn't want them to forever associate Christmas with their Dad's death and packs up the family to spend the holiday at the unseen Uncle Digby's home, run by a mysterious and slightly bonkers caretaker - our Doctor. He's clearly going for the Mary Poppins style. The children's room, complete with hammocks has all sorts of magical treats. 

However, typically, all that magic within their bedroom is not enough to keep young Cyril occupied. He just has to open the huge present under the Christmas tree downstairs - which is a portal into a magical world, just like Narnia. Like all good Who adventures, the main protagonists are separated and each work out bits of the story. A good idea of the Doctor's, to give the kids some happiness and fun, goes awry, as you might expect.

From flying fish twelve months ago, we've moved on to trees with little starry souls seeking escape before the landscape is plundered for energy. No parallels with anything modern there, then.  Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir are absolutely brilliant as hapless representatives of the company destroying the forest. It just goes to show that there are jobsworths alive and well in the 24th century. Weir wrote about her experience for the Telegraph last week. These characters' contribution was quite brief but very funny and I want the Doctor to meet them sometime.

The way the story unfolds, which amounts to the ever accepting Madge carrrying an entire planet's worth of tree souls in her head and thinking them to their new home, is both funny and poignant and has an unintended consequence. However, Moffat did make a huge howler in an effort to shoehorn a superfluous plot line into the script. I'm fine with our heroes illuminating the time vortex at exactly the right spot to guide our RAF heroes home, but I'm not ok with stalking being shown as an appropriate courtship ritual. We learn through flashbacks that Madge's husband followed her home every night until she agreed to marry him. I'm sure it wasn't meant to be as offensive as it was, especially as he didn't much seem to mind having a wife who was as open and accepting of strange, futuristic concepts as Madge. However, it is simply not right for a bloke to repeatedly follow a woman through a lonely, dark, scary forest at night until he gets his way.

Earlier in the episode, the Doctor tells the children that the TARDIS is his wardrobe. A casual glance at the clock as the wartime story concluded told me there was more to come. As soon as Madge claps eyes on the TARDIS, she knows that the caretaker is the man she helped out all these years ago and when he tells her he can't see his friends cos they think he's dead, she basically tells him not to be so daft.

He then turns up at Rory and Amy's TARDIS like house. I have to say I'm not convinced that our Amy is so po faced that she'd take a water pistol to carol singers, but what was undeniable about that scene was the amazing on screen chemistry between Karen Gillan and Matt Smith. I know that there probably wasn't much further to go in the whole Amy-Rory-River story arc, but last week's news, announced by Steven Moffat, that Karen and Arthur Darvill would be leaving in the new series, made me very unhappy. I wouldn't have minded if they were to disappear but remain contactable, like Sarah Jane Smith did, but it seems that there will be some heartbreak involved. Why? It's just not necessary to do that to much loved characters. I wonder if it'll involve them going back to the library to try to get River out of the computer. You never know.

But back to the matter in hand. The Doctor's Christmassy indulgence in going back to Amy and Rory's will surely have alerted the Silence that he's still alive. After all, even the most incompetent group of people would keep an eye on their enemy's associates, just in case. 

The Doctor, the Witch and the Wardrobe was searingly sad in places. Watching Madge having to experience that emotional pain to the maximum was really tough but, unlike last year, we know that the pain ends there. There were moments of comedy gold and some good old sentimentality. Moffat took the idea of Narnia and, as Louis Walsh would say, made it his own. I'm not quite sure he'd remind anyone of a young C S Lewis, though. It wasn't my favourite Christmas Special and, to be honest, I think I preferred the flying fish last year, but it ticked all the boxes it needed to tick.

It's going to be a long wait for the new series.

Nick Clegg's New Year Message 2012 - the economic rescue mission continues

He's being slated in some quarters for being too gloomy. How we'd all have mocked, though,  if he'd come out and told us that it would all be fine and 2012 would see the economy turned around. We're not daft, he knows it and he's not in the business of spurting out the old bovine scatology.

He's right to point out the changes we're making in the Government regarding pensions, the Pupil premium and raising of the tax threshold. These things are in effect now and he also throws in some longer term Lib Dem gains like the Green Investment Bank and ensuring that our economy isn't based on the highs and lows of the City of London but is on a much more sustainable footing.

What's also good is that he's taken each Liberal Democrat achievement and linked it to a cherished value of ours.

I am not sure that he's quite got the language right yet. There have been some improvements in communications this year. We started the year with the wince-inducing "Alarm Clock Britain" which seems, thankfully, to have been put out of its misery. What Nick says is perfectly sensible, but not yet emotional enough to engage people.

In the original draft, there was an apostrophe missing. This is not a good thing. I had to edit it, otherwise I'd have come out in hives.

The text in full is here:

This time last year I spoke about how the most important job for Liberal Democrats was dealing with the economic problems we inherited. 12 months on, that task remains the number one priority for our party and the Coalition.
We have had to make some very difficult decisions, but they've been the right ones for the long term good of our country.
But that economic rescue mission is not over yet. That's why, thanks to the Liberal Democrats, the Coalition has been helping people get through these difficult times with measures to make life fairer and easier.
2011 was the year we lifted nearly a million low paid workers out of paying income tax altogether and cut taxes for 23m people - because I believe putting money back into people’s pockets makes all the difference.
It was the year more than a million children got a fairer start in life, with extra support at school through our Pupil Premium and free early years education for toddlers - because I believe that helping the youngest take their first steps in life makes all the difference.
It was the year we guaranteed pensioners a decent increase in their pension - because I believe dignity in retirement makes all the difference.
Throughout, we have taken big long-term decisions that will change the way our economy works for the better - rebalancing it away from the City of London towards stronger, more sustainable growth.
And next year we will do more. The world's first Green Investment Bank putting millions into green jobs and growth; our youth contract to get every young person out of work earning or learning;  more apprenticeships than this country has ever had before; and we will take further steps to make our tax system fairer too.
What we're doing as a party, and as a Coalition, it's not easy, but it's right. We are putting the interests of the country first, and we have taken the first steps towards building a fairer, greener and more liberal country.
The next year will be one that poses many great challenges for everyone in Britain, but I know we must continue to do what's right for our country.
And with that, I wish you all a very happy New Year.

An afternoon at the Beatles Story

The adventures of two Beatles obsessives and a Responsible Adult in Liverpool, Part Two

(Part One of this merry tale is here)

After a suitable break for Christmas, I thought I'd continue telling you about our adventures in Liverpool last week.

The first thing I want to say is that we all pretty much fell in love with Liverpool. It's such a warm city. I don't mean in climate, as although the papers all said it was unseasonally warm, we spent most of the time freezing. The people are incredibly friendly and open, though and the cabbies don't try to rip you off. Slightly frustrating was a trip to the Liverpool One shopping centre and finding that those toys which you can't get for love nor money up here were piled high. This was after I'd sourced a particular Moshi Monsters thing from the internet and paid over the odds for it for my niece. If only I'd known....

When we arrived we walked from Lime Street station through the beautiful town centre. We loved the fact that it was pedestrianised from the station right to our hotel.

We were peckish after we'd checked in at our hotel, so we went in search of lunch. We ended up eating from street stalls pretty inexpensively. The Responsible Adult and I had mustard chicken and garlic potatoes from the French themed one. It was absolutely delicious, piping hot and well cooked. We loved it.  Laura had a Thai Green curry from another stall which also looked fresh and appetising.

We then decided to head down to the Albert Dock. I was old enough to remember the days when This Morning was broadcast from a studio there and weather forecasts were broadcast from a map of Britain floating in the water. It annoys me now to look up and discover that it's 15 years since they broadcast there. I surely can't be that old. The studio itself is now a bar called Pan Am.

We then headed to the Beatles Story, which describes itself as an "atmospheric journey into the life, times, culture and music of the Beatles". I guess we've become quite accustomed to very interactive exhibits, but in this place there's none of that. You have an audio guide and there are thousands of things to look at that. You can make your way round at your own pace. We had a couple of hours in there and for Laura and I it was nowhere near enough. Like wide eyed, excited children, we pored over things like the programme for the fete where Paul McCartney first saw John Lennon (though they didn't actually meet until the gig that evening), letters written by Brian Epstein,a suit donated by John Lennon for his waxwork at Madame Tussaud's. Now, while every single object was a delight to be examined from every possible angle for us, the Responsible Adult soon got bored. She was very patient and, to her credit,  it took her nearly 2.5 hours before she snapped and hustled us out of there lest we be late for the concert.

The exhibition took us on a chronological journey through Beatles history, starting with a mock up of the Casbah club - a right dive if the formica table and packets of Marlboro are to be believed. We went through the Cavern years, the Epstein years, sat on a mock up of a jet while watching footage of them arriving in the USA and looked through the periscope of the Yellow Submarine. There weren't many places to sit down, but the exhibits provided some opportunities before we unfit people almost collapsed from exhaustion. We lived through the psychedelic era and the pain of the eventual split before the celebrations of the 4 as separate artists since.

I want, actually need,  to go back there, because I only managed to properly pore over about 10% of the exhibits to my satisfaction. The staff there are also really friendly and knowledgable, probably because they are fans themselves. As it happens, one of them, the lovely Charlotte, was sitting right in front of us at the concert and her devotion to Paul was very clear, shall we say?

A place run on Charlotte's level of enthusiasm and love for the Beatles can't be bad.

And now, a wee test. Two photos of the Cavern Club stage. Which is real and which is the mock up in the Beatles Story?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wise words from Willie Rennie at Christmas

This is Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie's Christmas message, released last Friday. I put it up on Lib Dem Voice then, but thought I'd let you have another chance to see it here.

“As we gather with friends and family this Christmas, it is important that we, both individually and collectively, look back, take stock and reflect on the last year. "There is no doubt it has been an extremely testing time for political leaders with falling budgets, economic turbulence, growing unemployment and social problems that threaten to rip the fabric of society.

“Making decisions when there are no easy answers is difficult but those problems are nought compared with those who are unemployed, face the threat of unemployment or are struggling to make ends meet.
“To be fair, this is the focus of all politicians I know and work with daily. We may disagree on the decisions but share the objective.
“Robust debate, however, is required even in the most challenging of circumstances. To simply agree even if we have a different opinion would be wrong as people need politicians who test, debate and inquire so that ultimate decisions reflect the best possible option.
“Over the last year Scottish Liberal Democrats have focussed on building strong communities across Scotland that offer opportunities for all; from people who want to set up their own business to young people who want to gain the skills and education needed to get up and get on. “While the Coalition Government works to get the economy back on track from the mess that Labour left behind, here in Scotland we have to make the right choices with the resources we have to support people through these tough times. “That is why, as Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, I have engaged in vigorous debate to ensure we get the best deal possible.
 “While the Nationalists play a game of political poker, bluffing their way from one missed opportunity to the next, I am determined to focus on what matters to the vast majority who just want a fair shake in life. “To those looking for a new job, a more secure job or to create more jobs, Scottish Liberal Democrats have pressed for the £500 million of extra investment from Westminster to be spent on an economic boost through investing in improving train services and some of the most dangerous roads in Scotland. “To those looking for skills, training and education opportunities, Scottish Liberal Democrats have argued that college places under threat from SNP cuts must be protected. I have started a campaign to save the 9000 student places that could go in Scotland next year if the SNP continue to dither and delay. “And to the 150,000 Scots who are languishing on housing lists and the 2000 families with children who will be spending Christmas in temporary accommodation, Scottish Liberal Democrats have been forthright in our view that eradicating homelessness should be a top priority in Scotland. “I believe that on jobs, on skills, on housing, the SNP have made the wrong decisions as they are too focussed on splitting Scotland from the UK.
 “Scotland needs strong liberal voices to make the right calls that benefit communities in Scotland in the long term. “We must not fail in this task. With one eye on the future we say farewell to the challenges of the last year and look forward to the opportunities that the next could bring if the right choices are made. “Wherever you are, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas."
I thought this was very serious, reflective and grown up, acknowledging that all politicians here have the same goal, to improve jobs, education, housing, but different ideas on how to achieve those ends. Interestingly, not one single word about independence, the referendum or the Scotland Bill. This year, he's rightly raised some serious issues on these matters, but his priorities always have been the things that matter to people in their day to day lives.

Next year, I want him to think about putting his Christmas message out on You Tube.  It's not hard these days to do. His Facebook is also full of how he's been all over the country visiting carers, homeless and drugs projects, businesses, all sorts of places. I think we need to have more video of him talking about these things.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas chez Caron

I'm feeling mellow from a very quiet but lovely day yesterday. The house is full of that glorious aroma of the turkey stock being made and my mouth is watering at the anticipation of a hearty plate of broth at lunchtime.

I've been a bit knackered since our exertions in Liverpool so after 3 hours in the shops on Christmas Eve, I wondered how on earth I'd manage to get all I needed done by the end of the day. The good news is that barring the writing of a few cards (sorry, friends, I do love you, really) and a lot of tidying, I pretty much made it. By the time the Outnumbered Christmas Special came on, the mince pies and stuffing  were both made and we were pretty much organised.

We woke up late even for us on Christmas morning. I rose at 9, two hours later than usual, to get intimate with the poultry. As if by magic, as the last streaky bacon rasher went across its breast, Bob and Anna awoke. That's pretty impressive, you have to admit.

Anna was delighted with the contents of her stocking which included some very funny t-shirts. I'm not sure Santa was thinking straight when he gave her stuff with small writing across her chest, mind you, even if they were genius. The traditional satsumas were replaced this year by grapefruit., which she really enjoys.

Downstairs, the old man had left pretty much exactly what she wanted. She hadn't given us much of a clue as to what she'd asked him for this year, but we were glad that her wishes were fulfilled. We've finally been dragged into the 21st century with an xBox. That's quite convenient because in the Summer she won a Harry Potter xBox game at the Dare Protoplay event. I am very proud to have a daughter who hasn't found it hard to wait 4 months for the console to play it on. In fact, even yesterday, she was much more interested in getting stuck into her stash of John Green books.

The one remarkable thing is that for the first time ever, no music changed hands in our house. We usually have loads of new music to listen to, but absolutely nothing this year. However, I did download the Military Wives Choir song later in the day.

I love my family for many and varied reasons, but yesterday it was for the general excellence of the presents they gave us. Harry Potter Cluedo from my sister, a very funny book of politically correct bedtime stories from my niece and a thing that you can programme to defrost the car for you in the morning from my parents. If there's anything I can't stand, it's an iced up car so I'm looking particularly forward to using that one.

After the present opening, I got on with making the dinner. We tend to have one massive course at around 3pm and then let it settle for several hours before we have our pudding. I used to make absolutely everything from scratch but have not been quite so clever the last few years. Glandular Fever and two horrendously snowy Winters put paid to that a bit but this year was quite a good balance between home made and shop bought.  Here is a list of everything we had:

Turkey (Tesco finest free range effort, bought for 2/3 of its original price) cooked the Delia Smith way;

Gravy (this is immodest, I know, but it was pretty awesome. I have never made it with giblet stock before, but that's definitely the way to go.

Grandma's stuffing - very simple, sausagemeat, loads of onion and 5 teaspoons of English mustard;

Honey, chestnut and rosemary stuffing ball things from Sainsbury's. A tad over seasoned, but very good.

Marks and Spencer beef dripping roast potatoes - yes, I know, home made are probably better but not that much and we all love them.

Marks and Spencer maple, honey and mustard roast parsnips - they do all the chopping for you, why not?

Sainsbury's red cabbage with apple

Marks and Spencer Cranberry and Port Sauce. A mistake - Delia's Cranberry and Orange is a zillion miles better.

Steamed brocoli and brussels sprouts;

Mashed turnip ( some of the cooking water went in the gravy also);

Mashed Potato;

Delia's bread sauce.

Sainsbury's sausage and bacon garnishes. Seriously, why would you waste time wrapping a chipolata in bacon when someone has done it for you?

Even though I say it myself, it all combined well to make it one of my best ever efforts in 25 years of cooking Christmas Dinners. It's a meal I really enjoy preparing.

We didn't have our pudding until almost 10 pm. I made Eton Mess for Anna. Why on earth I felt I had to whip the cream by hand when we have a perfectly good mixer, I don't really understand, but never mind. We had a Sainsbury's Christmas pudding with Brandy Cream. It wasn't the best, to be honest. Maybe 2012 will be the year when I finally make my own.  I'd found a 7 year old Sauternes dessert wine in the cupboard the other day and we wondered if it would be ok to drink. Sadly, it wasn't, but we had to try.

Even though it's delicious on the day, for me the real joy of a turkey roast is leftovers. Cold stuffing and bread sauce on sandwiches, a healthy broth that will fight off anything for Boxing Day lunch, and the whole thing again for dinner.

We passed the rest of our day with books and less television than usual. The Doctor Who Christmas special was excellent bar one appalling moment. Strictly wasn't quite so delightful. I couldn't believe the marks that were being given for what was essentially a week one show - did the producers think we were all too drunk to care. However, the re-appearance of Russell Grant and seeing Ian Waite back as a competitor made up for any of these shortcomings.

I had been a little sceptical about the re-appearance of Absolutely Fabulous after so long. Could it really be as good? Actually, it could. It was absolutely hilarious, complete with a typically brilliant Jennifer Saunders dream sequence which was not the most unrealistic part of the show. The efficient and helpful service by a certain Government department was way more incredible. Although, to be fair, that one, in my experience, was always much better than the rest.

And so, after despairing at Steve McDonald's stupidity in Corrie, it was time for bed where I read all about the co-dependent Goats Gruff and Red Riding Hood setting up effectively a hippy commune with her Grandma and the wolf before falling into a very chilled out sleep.


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