Nadolig Llawen

The day started well when I recorded into my Fitbit app my latest weight – which after at least a month of hovering just over 13 stone – finally dipped down to 12 stone 13 3/4 lbs!

Now I haven’t been in the 12’s so to speak since the late 1980’s and I stopped cooking for myself… All I can say is that a combination of healthy vegetarian eating, little or no alcohol and regular exercise is really paying dividends.

Of course with Christmas coming up this might prove challenging but we’ll see and in any event I won’t become a Grinch for sure and in that spirit Debbie, Emma and I went into town this evening to pay a quick visit to James in the Blue Cross and then head off to the town hall for the mayor to switch on the Abergavenny Christmas lights.

It was a very chilly evening but somehow that reinforced the festive spirit and the streets were packed with young kids and their parents jostling to get a good view of the dignitaries and what looked like a family of Father Christmases on bikes joining them!

Lights on was scheduled for 4.30pm which meant it was still quite light as dusk slowly took over and the countdown started. Now unlike Brecon’s switch on there was no celebrity present but it was still a great atmosphere and the lights were probably a lot more impressive if I’m honest.

Off…
…on!

As the crowd dispersed we headed back down the High Street towards a Welsh language” happy Christmas” sign which reminded me that one day I plan to learn a smidgeon out of respect for this beautiful country I’m lucky enough to call home.

Just to prove that the Christmas spirit extended to the thin blue line I took this rather amusing snap with the full cooperation of the local rozzers!

Book (’em Danno) early!

As we left town we decided to head up the A465 to Brynmawr Asda and complete the Xmas gnome family with the missing elf to complete the two of Mr and Mrs Christmas that will be unveiled on the 1st December when we put the tree(s) up!

The gnome is the one dressed in green in the trolley…
Nadolig Llawen

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Call me old fashioned but I love the anticipation of Christmas and as I get older it seems even more special.  Now of course we don’t go mad and put up our Christmas decorations before the 1st of December…  Well the only exception was the first Christmas after Debbie & I got married, when I put them up on mine and James’ joint birthday on the 20th November 1990 in our little end of terrace home in Southcote Avenue Feltham!

I currently writing this blog listening to Bing Crosby singing various Christmas songs on the Echo Dot next to my keyboard in the den.  I wonder what he’d have thought of all this new technology?  I maybe called the “Old Complainer” by SWMBO but Bing’s nickname to his friends was the “Old Groaner” which makes me smile.

I love the Bing Crosby “White Christmas” film and when I sit down and watch it each year it reminds me of my own old army buddies and it brings a tear to my eye without fail every time he sings “What can you do with a general?  Somehow general has a better ring to it than “regional vice president” or indeed “corporal”…

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Anyway the title of this blog is a festive song made famous first by Perry Como back in 1951 and here in Abergavenny it really is starting to feel a lot like Christmas!  It helps having two-thirds of the children still living with us, with the eldest Alex and his wife Emily keeping in touch via FaceTime until they come to stay with us on Christmas Day.  With Emma’s boyfriend Josh also making his way to Wales from Suffolk again it looks like we’ll have a full-house!

Of course children now equates to young adults, although I can’t believe James will be thirty in less than two weeks time, counterbalanced nicely by Emma who has already bought at least three advent calendars (including one for her hamster Hugo) and possibly more for the two hounds!

The weather here is rather bright and cold, interspersed with some fantastic Welsh rainstorms, but apart from the regular canal dog walks, swims and sauna, I still get up most week days at 8am to spy on the builder’s progress in the courtyard playground area in front of our house and the estate roads that are finally having tarmac laid around the numerous raised iron works this week.


For me completion of all this will make an excellent early Christmas present and put an end to a rather worrying snooping habit!

Bah humbug indeed! ūüôā

 

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Glyndwr Vineyard Tour & Lunch 

After the awful terrorist attack news from London Bridge & Borough Market in London overnight, it was a welcome relief to visit Glyndwr Vineyard at Llanblethian near Cowbridge on Sunday.

We’d booked on¬†a vineyard tour and lunch thanks to a fantastic Christmas present from the “kids”, they’d also included¬†a ¬£40 voucher to spend on their wine¬†too! ¬†ūüôā

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The event was scheduled to start at 12.30pm, but we arrived early just before noon, so after parking up in the vineyard car park we walked the short distance to the Cross Inn for a “snifter” to kill time.

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We looked to be amongst the first to arrive!
Good trip advisor feedback on the restaurant…
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Start as you mean to go on!

The barmaid was very complimentary about the food we could expect at the event and after a bit of banter from the locals we headed back to the vineyard past a now full car park and into the dining area in the detached barn overlooking rows of vines.

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Oak trees before the conifers planted with black truffles

We were served a glass of sparkling wine to start with and a warm welcome speech from one of the founder’s sons called Louis. ¬†Following¬†a lull in the rain coupled with the sun making an appearance for the first time we were thoughtfully given blue plastic overshoes for the walking tour as we’d forgotten our wellies!

The packed agenda!

Louis talked enthusiastically about his father’s idea in the 1970’s to start the first Welsh vineyard and how he and his brother had given up their “normal” jobs now their parents were in their seventies and gone full time as vintners.

We learnt why there are rose bushes at the end of each row (they have a lower threshold for disease so can act as an early warning system) and how as an organic vineyard they only added sulphur to prevent the spread of any disease like mildew.

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Not sure why Debbie’s eyes are shut!

There is a lot of manual work needed to pinch out excess leaves to aid air flow and improve light to the vine, any buds lower down have to be removed to concentrate growth on the higher horizontal branches.

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Miniature grapes on the way!

The vineyard has a flock of “short” sheep which are not tall¬†enough to eat the grapes but are used to eat the grass and any weeds in the rows between the vines. ¬†The sheep are a very small breed which are vulnerable to attack from wild animals such as foxes and the vineyard has three llamas that act as “protectors” to the flock following their natural instincts.

After an interesting walk round the two fields of vines totalling six acres, we headed back to the awaiting organically produced local food which was delicious and served with a small glass of rose and white wine, all made from their own grapes.

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Profiteroles, strawberries and ice cream!

At the end of the meal we eagerly part-exchanged our £40 voucher against a case of 2015 Glyndwr dry white wine by topping up £15 in cash and then we headed back to the car park, stopping for the following photo at a small bridge alongside a pond near the Norris family home.

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By this time the weather was lovely and hot!

It was a great day out so many thanks from both of us to Alex, Emily, James & Emma for one of our best Christmas presents ever and a perfect antidote to all the bad news coming out of London.

After getting back home we chilled the wine then sat down to watch the 23 year old Ariana Grande¬†concert at the One Love Manchester¬†event on TV. ¬†We both agreed it was a fantastic uplifting response to the awful Arena bombing on the 22nd May. ¬†Made even more poignant by the tragic events the night before in London. ¬†ūüė¶

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Take That, Robbie Williams, Parrs Wood High School Choir, Little Mix, Katy Perry, Black Eyed Peas, Coldplay, Liam Gallagher & a dancing policeman were excellent!
Glyndwr Vineyard Tour & Lunch 

A Welsh Christmas 2016

I can hardly believe a year has gone by in what was, in many ways, a tough Christmas 2015.

All I can say is that this year it seems to have gone really well, last night we did our traditional family “Night Before Christmas” aided by FaceTime for Alex and Emily to join in. ¬†Today we’ve had an invasion of elves as can be seen from the following pictures!

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Andy and Helen dressed for lunch….
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The Llanfoist Four…
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Don’t drop the turkey mum, but of you do, two little Santa’s helpers…
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Emma & Josh at the piano singing carols…
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Pre-serving Christmas table
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James asking Molly if he can have some of her food…

For everyone out there reading this blog I hope you have a merry Christmas 2016 and a very happy New Year in 2017!

Walter Mitty 25.12.16

A Welsh Christmas 2016

Tinsel and Turkey

Debbie and I had never even heard of “Tinsel and Turkey” short breaks until our friends from the cruise earlier in the year, George and Thelma, invited us to join them on a festive break in Weymouth.

Little did we know what to expect but we booked for three nights from Friday 25th to Monday 28th November through Gibbons coach holidays.

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Friday 25th November “Christmas Eve”

The day started at 7.45am when we got up without waking James and Hamish, got Molly her breakfast and put her in her crate and drove in the Freelander up over the Blorenge Stumble to Blaina avoiding the Heads of the Valleys road due to the unpredictable construction & commuter traffic.

We arrived at George & Thelma’s house¬†around 8.30am only to find our companion’s suitcase standing in their parking space. ¬†As I parked up we saw them looking worried coming down from the house in the freezing cold which seemed way too early as we’d been told it was booked for 9.40am!

It transpired that Thelma had thought it was 8.40am so after a bit of relieved banter, I put their luggage into the Freelander next to ours and fixed our Gibbons luggage tag to our suitcase, before we all went back up to their house to warm up.

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A cup of tea later I went down and got all our luggage out onto the road and waited for the taxi which arrived bang on time to take us the short distance down to Blaina workmens club, where the feeder mini-bus arrived almost as soon as we did at the scheduled time of 9.50am.  The driver was really friendly as Deb and I sat at the front and he took us on a journey of about 20 minutes down the valley to a lay by where the coach was to pick us up for the journey down to Weymouth.

Nothing was too much effort, our luggage was transferred for us and we settled into our reserved seats ready for the 4 hour trip down to to the Jurassic coast. ¬†This included a 15 minute comfort break at a service station in Wales and a more leisurely hour at another in England for lunch. ¬†Although you could buy drinks on the bus very cheaply we elected to get a shared Costa coffee at the latter while enjoying the rolls, flan, tomatoes etc. we’d brought with us back on the coach.

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Our first coach selfie
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Gibbons coach holidays – highly recommended – a very comfortable modern bus!
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A slightly concerned George & Thelma finally en route to Weymouth!

On arrival mid afternoon the hotel manageress came on the coach and briefed us on the schedule each day which was breakfast at 8.30am, evening meal at 6pm.

At the end of each meal it was also explained that you ordered your choices for the next meal and that the bar downstairs opened at 5.30pm then following dinner there would be a quiz, with bingo at 8pm and the night’s entertainment on at 9pm.

Saturday was to be a free day with Sunday having an optional coach trip to Poole.  Monday morning our return home was to start slightly earlier with us leaving our luggage outside our rooms by 7.30am, breakfast at 8am and departure at 9am!

Apparently Friday was to be our Christmas Eve, Saturday Christmas Day with a present for all from Santa with the evening meal of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange as it happened. Sunday was scheduled to be New Year’s Eve closing with us all singing¬†Auld Lang Syne¬†and a fancy dress competition!

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Room 109 overlooking the seafront, George & Thelma were to our left in room 110 and we watched two windsurfers one with a wind kite riding the waves too & fro outside the hotel

We were all very pleased with our rooms, the radiators were so hot in ours we switched them off and the sea views were well worth the extra we’d paid. ¬†Debbie and I decided to stretch our legs before dinner and well wrapped up against the cold and wind we walked into the old town shopping area passing on the way the distinctive clock tower we remembered from our last visit of nearly 20 years ago.

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Queen Victoria clocktower selfie

We also passed a World War Two war memorial commemorating the sacrifice of many America soldiers killed on and just before and just after D-Day in 1944 and the friendship established with the Royal Navy personnel supporting them.  Dad would have been very proud and of course very sad at the same time.

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After a brief shop in M&S for some snacks and wine for later in our room, we had our first waitress served three course dinner of the holiday.  It was delicious and served hot, from memory I had mushroom soup followed by pork, gravy, veg main and ice cream pudding washed down with a bottle of Pinot Grigio secured from the bar for £14!

After a quiz on animals and 2 games of bingo we settled down for the evening’s entertainment and a very good singer who used to play drums in a band but had gone solo. He turned out to be very good and of course my dear wife tried to persuade me to join her in being first to dance but alas I hadn’t consumed quite enough of the old “el vino” and so she got Thelma up instead!

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I wish I could remember the chaps name but he was very good.

Eventually, with most of the coach party going in the dancing, myself included we headed off to bed for a well deserved first night’s sleep.

Saturday 26th November “Christmas Day”

This was our free day so Debbie & I walked back into town to see where we could go out to lunch later with George & Thelma.  This time we went past the shops as far as the harbour and inner marina where loads of pubs, restaurants and souvenir shops were open.  On the way we passed even more War Memorials such as the ones below remembering the Anzacs and the other family remembrances laid by private individuals.

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RNLI lifeboat in background

After buying a Father Christmas snow globe for our house & finding the local taxi firm Bee Cars office where I took one of their cards for later, Debbie and I decided to have a drink in the Old Rooms Inn.  Finding the ambiance and prices to our liking, but knowing it was too far away for George to walk, we decided to book a taxi back to the hotel to pick them both up pick up and return for lunch together.

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Taxi was driven by a South African driver who had been a shooting victim of a “car jacking” back home. He told us he likes the Christmas Day swim across the harbour as it’s safer!
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I had 35 day aged rib eye steak that was a bit chewy…don’t know why Debbie is putting her tongue out at me though…

Later we took another taxi back to the hotel and I had a short nap, readying myself for the evening activities.

Christmas dinner was a salmon flan starter, followed by turkey, pigs in blanket, mash, veg & gravy, finished with Christmas pud and custard, delicious!

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Later the quiz this time was on TV programs and then we had our usual bingo challenge. ¬†With lucky number 24 being called Thelma won the full-house prize of ¬£40! ¬†Very generously she shared her winnings and we celebrated with yet more Pinot Grigio, but nothing was to prepare ourselves for the Allen Howard show on next who amazingly seems to be quite popular in the Weymouth area…

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“Playing all the right notes, not necessarily in the right order”

Things didn’t start too auspiciously when he came on stage looking really nervous &¬†I was convinced he was wearing a wig! ¬†Some of the audience muttered they weren’t sure if he wasn’t a woman, but all agreed his voice was flat and he often forgot his words once he started. ¬†It reminded me of a television program Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer used to host called Shooting Stars where teams have to guess what song is being sung in “club style”. ¬†Hilarious! ¬†ūüôā

His repertoire thank goodness included Dance the Night Away¬†by the Mavericks, Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus which were the only two songs anyone got up to dance a bunny hop to the whole night! ¬†The rest were so bad it was actually funny, he murdered all my dad’s favourite songs from Glen Campbell’s “Gentle On My Mind” to Jim Reeves “Put Your Sweet Lips a Little Closer to the Phone“. ¬†His rendition of the Elvis masterpiece “Treat Me Nice” brought me to tears of laughter and Debbie was speechless as were the rest of the Welsh audience with his Tom Jones “Green Green Grass of Home“…

We had found ourselves sat next to “General Montgomery” lookalike, aka Roy and his wife Lil, both aged 89 and from Bargoed. ¬†He was really funny all weekend and made jokes about me being English and ex Intelligence Corps.

His comment about the Sun newspaper was “I wouldn’t even wrap my fish & chips in that” while¬†holding his copy of the Daily Mirror which he called “a working man’s paper”. It reminded me that he’d served in the army in 1945 aged 17 and¬†spent the rest of his working life as a coal miner down the pit. ¬†A very smart couple and good company throughout.

One rather oversized chap near us got stuck in his wooden chair as he got up with his bum firmly fixed into the arms, which he was eventually pulled out of although alas it broke apart. ¬†I deftly hid it outside in the bar area and he transferred safely to a metal chair…

Eventually we collapsed emotionally exhausted into bed ready for the next day.

Sunday 27th “New Year’s Eve”

As promised after breakfast we headed of at 9am by coach to Poole. ¬†As we left the hotel a lady from another coach that we’d been talking to over breakfast told us that she thought she’d left one of her new shoes she’d bought in “Pavers” the previous day in a small Italian restaurant opposite and could we see if it was there? ¬†We agreed although thought it unlikely and to be honest didn’t find the shop until we’d done a lot of walking down to the harbour area.

After spotting some Sunseeker super yachts at the Poole factory opposite (which to my surprise was advertising vacancies) we both felt hungry and smelled some beautiful Italian cooking coming from the Da Vinci restaurant and although pricy we decided to reward ourselves and splash out!

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Sunseeker Motor Yachts, Poole
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Let battle commence!
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One of the best meals we’ve ever had! ¬†Pinot Grigio (¬£22.50) Bistecce Ai Funghi (¬£19.60) Tournedo Da Vinci’s ¬£23 Veg ¬£3.45 plus ¬£10 tip to Marco!
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Selfie of Da Vinchi’s from “Sea Music” sculpture created by Sir Anthony Caro
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Another memorial of D-Day on the wall to the right of the Da Vinci restaurant

After paying the bill and feeling sated we headed off to the other Italian to see if the missing shoe could be found and to my amazement it was!

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Feeling rather pleased with ourselves we headed back to the coach which was scheduled to depart at 2pm, stopping off briefly to get some newspapers and another T shirt from M&S for me as I was running out with all my unexpected dancing at night!

On arrival I snapped the leaflet below showing the night’s entertainment was not thank goodness Mr Howard from the day before, but Barry Hobson, although I do believe the photograph might have been taken a few decades before or well photoshopped!

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Dinner comprised of¬†roast beef, yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes and swede followed by creme br√Ľl√©e¬†which was excellent, so good in fact that George polished of Debbie’s too!

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As we moved into the entertainments lounge we realise that many of the turkey and tinsel regulars were in fancy dress, the coach driver of one looked fantastic as Pavarotti!

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General Montgomery (Roy) looks on in amazement at the Italian opera star!
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Thelma dancing with Levinia who lost (and found) a shoe!
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Ghostbusters – from the other coach – that’s their driver again standing next to “Stay Puft” – interestingly he only had one tooth which seems quite common in Wales…
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Congratulating Stay Puft on a superb fancy dress!

Monday 28th November

Alas all things come to an end and having set the alarm early the night before Debbie knocked on Thelma’s door to make sure they were both ready for the early breakfast and the coach home. ¬†For the first time the three of us (excluding Debbie who always had grapefruit segments and corn flakes for breakfast) decided against the full English and went for scrambled eggs x 2 and fried egg x 1 on toast.

The journey back had one stop at a service station before transferring back on the feeder minibus at Magor and heading for home via Blaina without any hassle. ¬†All in all it was a great few days holiday that I think we’ll repeat in future years!

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Home Sweet Home in Blaina!
Tinsel and Turkey