12 December, 2017

The run up to Christmas

We are having a very busy run up to Christmas this year. We have had so much on -- both festive and otherwise -- that it feels a bit like we might hit Christmas somewhat unprepared!

The weekend before last we enjoyed our annual Christmas shopping trip to London. This involves traipsing along Oxford Street, admiring the lights, and spending inordinate amounts of time browsing the John Lewis food hall for Christmas stocking gifts. We also had a lovely lunch in Cafe Rouge Kingsway. This was a good find because, while relatively close to central London shopping, it is located in Holborn, which, at the weekend, is nice and quiet. Perfect for a hassle-free meal with family.

We're off to London again this Saturday to see Pinocchio at the National Theatre with my parents-in-law. We're all a bit old for it now -- the kids included -- but it should be great fun! Sunday will be dedicated to buying the Christmas tree from our local Peachcroft Farm and dressing the house ready for our celebrations.

This week I have two -- yes, two! -- Christmas lunches at work. One with my immediate team and one with my 50-strong department. The first will be a curry at a local curry house and the second will be a full-blown, three-course lunch at St. Hilda's College. Both should be delicious.

On the less exciting front, we have been organising the replacement of our leaking hot water tank (two days this week without heating or hot water in the freezing cold!), having the drains under our house cleaned, sorting out Duke of Edinburgh volunteering and braces for our youngest, supporting our eldest as she revises for her mocks. The list goes on...

Only two more weeks of work and then we'll be there! I'm really looking forward to the break and to enjoying our traditional German celebrations with family on Christmas Eve!

07 November, 2017

Busy weekend

We had a packed -- and fun -- weekend last week.

First off, my husband returned home from a business trip to the US. Even after all these years together, it's still lovely when he comes home! We celebrated his return (and attempted to stave off his jet lag) by eating lunch out at Abingdon's newest cafe --  Annie's at the Boathouse. We enjoyed brie and cranberry sandwiches and coffee and walnut cake. It will be particularly pleasant here in the summer, when you can sit out at a table overlooking the Thames.

In the evening, we marked the 5th of November by attending the firework display at the Baldons. We attended this event a couple of years ago and enjoyed it both times -- we particularly like the huge bonfire, which is quite unusual at public events these days, and a really good addition to the fireworks.

On Sunday, we visited Abingdon's annual craft fair. This takes place in the Medieval abbey buildings and is a great opportunity to find unusual Christmas presents in a beautiful setting. Later on, we went to see "Murder on the Orient Express" at Cineworld in Didcot. I've been looking forward to this film coming out and we all thought it was very entertaining -- dramatic with good cinematography. We know the story well, so weren't surprised by the ending -- but you can't have everything!

31 October, 2017

Half term in Shropshire

We spent a very happy half-term weekend in Shropshire. Some of our friends had been to the area a few years back and recommended it for a short break, so we decided to follow their advice.

We stayed in a cottage (a converted mill) -- in the hamlet of Vennington, about 30 minutes from Shrewsbury. It was lovely -- lots of wooden beams and floors, white walls and a wood burning stove, just perfect for cosy nights in.

As for sightseeing, we visited Ironbridge -- to admire the iron bridge, of course. It is quite hard to imagine that this now picturesque, steep valley was the heartland of the Industrial Revolution -- but it was.

There are several museums to visit in and around Ironbridge, but being on a short break, we visited just one -- Blists Hill. This is a living museum, which recreates a small Victorian town, complete with mine and working steam railway. The 'residents' (staff who are dressed in the clothing of the day) are very knowledgeable and eager to answer any questions that you might have. We really enjoyed our visit here, finding the museum both informative and entertaining. This is a really good way to engage young people with history.

We also visited Shrewsbury, which is a lovely medieval market town. We spent a long time wandering round the abbey, which is beautiful, and enjoyed lunch in one of the cafes on the market square.

Finally, we managed to fit in two National Trust properties -- one on the way there and one on the way back. Attingham Park is a Palladian mansion -- we particularly enjoyed the extensive and very interesting 'below stairs' area here. Wightwick Manor is a Victorian manor house, built and furnished in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement.

We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend in Shropshire and, if you are looking for a short break somewhere in the Midlands, would certainly recommend it.

09 October, 2017

Chinese State Circus

We had a great evening out at the Chinese State Circus in Oxford on Friday.

All the artists were very impressive, but we particularly enjoyed the foot juggling with parasols and the group cycling. You could really see how much skill and how much practice were involved in these two acts.

The Monkey King was the circus clown. He was amusing and extremely acrobatic in the way that he moved, so was good to watch on various fronts.

The circus welcomed one guest act -- Duo Extreme from Bulgaria. This act was excellent -- two aerial artists who incorporated both water and fire into their repertoire.

The only thing that surprised us was how empty the big top was -- only about a quarter full. Perhaps 7.30 on a  Friday evening isn't a good time for circus attendance (too late for the kids, and not yet the weekend when people have more time on their hands).

In any event, if you enjoy watching really good acrobats and gymnasts perform, I would highly recommend seeing the Chinese State Circus -- and at just £16 for reasonable seats, it's pretty good value too.

02 October, 2017

Things I Know to Be True

We went to see an excellent play at the Oxford Playhouse on Saturday night -- Things I Know to Be True by the theatre company Frantic Assembly.

This outing was at the instigation of our eldest, who is studying the play for GCSE Drama, and has in fact now seen it twice -- once with school and once with us.

The play tells the story of a family -- mother and father and their four grown-up children. It explores the dynamics of family relationships and examines how those relationships are affected when really significant events happen to members of the family.

The play is funny, moving and intensely sad, all at the same time. The style of delivery -- plenty of monologues and narration coupled with Frantic's physical style -- means that the watcher is drawn right it; it is as if you are there, a part of the action.

I loved this play and would recommend it highly. It deals with some very difficult issues, and the ending is shocking, but it really makes you think and provides excellent conversational material long after the curtain has fallen.

26 September, 2017

Grey's Court -- and autumn

We had a lovely afternoon out on Sunday.

We decided to take advantage of the sunny weather and visit Grey's Court, a National Trust property near Henley-on-Thames. We have been here many times before and it really is beautiful -- the Tudor house is set in charming grounds with lots to see and do. Particular highlights are the kitchen garden (full of fruit and vegetables, which are used in the on-site cafe), the 125-year-old wisteria, and the house's kitchen (spacious, homely and surprisingly modern).

After wandering round the house and grounds, we popped into the cafe. It had been very busy, but we managed to pick up some Victoria sponge cake and brownies, which we enjoyed with a cup of tea. We finished up with the ubiquitous trip to the National Trust shop -- filled with tempting things, which we managed to resist buying.

When we got home, we had a candlelit supper, which got us talking about how much we love this time of year -- cosy evenings, the autumn sunshine, pumpkin hunts, Advent treats, the run up to Christmas... The list goes on and on!

03 September, 2017

Rainy Sunday

We had hoped to go blackberrying this afternoon, but unfortunately the rainy weather put paid to that idea. So instead, we travelled into Oxford and had a look at the St Giles Fair, which was largely set up prior to opening tomorrow.

The fair comes to St Giles in Oxford every year and we normally do wander round it before it opens. There's something rather relaxing about examining the rides in the peace and quiet at your leisure. Many of these rides also come to the street fair in Abingdon, which takes place every October, and is the fair that our kids attend proper, enjoying the rides, hook a duck stalls, and street food.

Today we finished up with coffee and cake at the Jericho Cafe, which has been a fixture in Oxford since before we moved down here, over twenty years ago. This was also a bit of a celebration, since my eldest daughter, already a black belt in karate, double graded and gained her red belt in Jeet Kune Do this morning. Hurrah!