Advent 24: A British Christmas Eve

Everyday things suddenly become festive
Everyday things suddenly become festive
Scarce in Britain the last decade, mild weather this year has meant an abundance of mistletoe
The town gets crowded with men, who get drunk, do their final shop and harass the shop assistants for kisses with mistletoe. Listen Sisters! You don’t have to do it and get their germs  –  Just tell them Pagan is so Yesterday!
Buy a poem written by Budgie the Homeless Poet as a unique gift for your loved one rather than anything off the shelf.
Buy a poem written by Budgie the Homeless Poet as a unique gift for your loved one rather than an uncomfortable, sexy underwear set
Petrol (Gas) stations, where disorganised people can get pull up and fill up, get cash from the machine and buy what ever is left on the shelves for presents.
Petrol (Gas) stations open late on Christmas Eve while other shops close. Disorganised people can pull up and fill up on high-priced fuel, get cash from the machine and buy milk, logs for the fire, flowers and what ever is left on the shelves for stocking fillers as they have left it all to the last minute. “Sure she’d like this steering wheel cover!”
Brits tend to have high tea on Christmas Eve or party food followed by lots of drink as we have our main Christmas meal on the 25th at lunch time.
Brits tend to have high tea on Christmas Eve, a buffet which might include mince pies, prawn filos, mini beef wellingtons, salmon paté followed by a night of assorted cocktails, fruits and chocolates. We have our main Christmas meal on Christmas day lunch time.
accompany pianist for singers of carols at the pub
accompany pianist for singers of carols at the pub
carol singing in pubs is usually in aid of a charity
carol singing in pubs is usually in aid of a charity
On Christmas Eve stockings are hung by the fireplace and a mince pie and small glass of brandy is put out for Father Christmas - sometimes also a carrot for his reindeer. Though many British still hang their stockings at the end of their bed.
On Christmas Eve stockings are hung by the fireplace and a mince pie and small glass of brandy is put out for Father Christmas – sometimes also a carrot for his reindeer. Though many British still hang their stockings at the end of their bed.
Ssssh! Merry Christmas
Ssssh! Merry Christmas



Advent 9: Christmas Crackers

Specially illustrated stamps are printed each Christmas this one is of Father Christmas with a cracker. The cracker has an illustration of a Pantomime Dame

christmas-cracker-drummerIn Britain and Ireland we pull Christmas crackers at the dinner table which we have at lunch time on December 25th.

Victorian illustration of pulling a Christmas cracker
Victorian illustration of pulling a Christmas cracker

Crackers may have caught on in other countries too and I’d be interested to hear from your part of the world if they have.

When pulled it activates a firecracker that makes a loud ‘crack’.

Whoever gets the longest end, gets the prize. Prizes can vary from cheap plastic charms to gold tie-pins depending on how much you can afford.

Coloured paper crown can get quite wrinkly by the end of dinner © Southampton Old Lady
Coloured paper crowns can get quite wrinkly by the end of dinner © Southampton Old Lady

One is set at each dinner place. Each will contain a paper crown, which is compulsory to wear at the table and there will be a lot of cajoling to get a grumpy Grandad to wear his. There will also be a joke to read out – usually a pun on words that will be so corny it makes everyone sigh. It is essential that the joke is corny.

Here are some examples:

Q: What kind of sweet goes swinging through the jungle?  A: Tarzi-pan

QWhat do you call two robbers? A:  A pair of knickers

This then starts the reminiscing  old jokes and funny tales. Often there are enough crackers left to pull the next day “Boxing Day” which is also a holiday in Britain.

Advent 6: Christmas Birds

Two Turtle Doves © Southampton Old Lady

Birds feature heavily at the British Christmas table.

The Victorians always carved goose at Christmas, but later ate turkey when Charles Dickens wrote about it in A Christmas Carol, adopting it from the New World (America).

“Christmas is a-coming, the goose is getting fat… Please put a penny in the old man’s hat… If you haven’t got a penny a ha’penny will do… If you haven’t got a ha’penny then God bless you!

A few years ago celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall featured his 10-bird roast. Multi-bird roasts are different types of birds each stuffed inside a larger one, and the more birds involved the better.

12 bird roast as depicted in The Mail Online
Seven swans-a-swimming © Southampton Old Lady

Whittingstall was harking back to Tudor times when stuffing birds this way was fashionable. Or a different bird was eaten each day of the 12 days of Christmas (the 12 days between 25th December and the 5th January – the eve of Epiphany or Kings Day)

” 7 swans-a-swimming – 6 geese-a-laying – 4 calling birds – 3 french hens – 2 turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree”

Since then the  3-4-5-7-10-12 bird roast has made a big come back – there is a very interesting article about it in: The Mail Online

However the most popular bird at Christmas in the UK is still Chicken – possibly because it is the cheapest yet tastiest – and the bird of choice with British Hindus, who marinade it in spices for days for slow roasting it.

The Dodo bird was eaten to extinction by Victorian sailors. Photo taken at The Bristol Museum © Southampton Old Lady
My three gals!
My three gals!

Buy Nothing Friday  


Upstairs in the Art House

Black Friday is a recent consumer sales hype adapted from North America which takes place after Thanksgiving Day (the last Thursday in November) despite the fact that the UK does not even celebrate Thanksgiving.

Buy Nothing Day is an annual event in Britain to highlight the issues around consumerism, especially in the lead-up to the festive season.  It’s a day where you challenge yourself, your family and friends to switch off from shopping and tune into life!

Curb giving away food at a recent festival

To mark Buy Nothing Day in the City of Southampton, this Black Friday, the Art House Café is partnering with Curb, The Real Junk Food Project, Clothes Swap and Books for Free!

They will be taking over The Art House until 6pm on the 25 November, offering food on a pay-as-you-feel basis, clothes to swap or pay-as-you-feel and books by donation!

P1130006Food will be available until it runs out – a big part of waste reduction is challenging the notion that there is always ‘plenty’.  Be sure you get a plateful of delicious nosh made from food diverted from landfill.

Drop in any time to enjoy some nosh, swap your clothes, pick up a book and have a chat about the ways you can reduce waste in your own home.

178 Above Bar Street, Southampton, Hampshire, UK SO14 7DW

Copyright © 2016 The Art House Southampton CIC, All rights reserved.



Sotonians & Fish Fingers

Cover of Goodwood Revival Meeting 2015, sponsored by Birds Eye - logo used with kind permission.
Cover of Goodwood Revival Meeting 2015, sponsored by Birds Eye – logo used with kind permission.

American inventor, Clarence Birdseye, developed industrial fast-freezing in 1925. After making his fortune in the USA he launched fish fingers in Britain in 1955. Of all the places to trial his ‘cod sticks’ he chose my home of Southampton. They became a sensation here.

Cap'n Birdseye
Cap’n Birdseye

For a small group of islands surrounded by sea, the British do not eat that much fresh fish, most of it is exported. We rely on battered white fish with chips, tinned fish – and those Birds Eye fish fingers which are a real hit with children – I grew up on them!

Challenge: What’s in your Shopping Basket?

March 2016 © Southampton Old Lady
March 2016 © Southampton Old Lady

My deep freezer broke down a few weeks ago and although I had to throw some away, we managed to give away lots and live off the rest. We are currently doing some serious de-junking as we will need to move somewhere smaller, so the freezer will not be replaced and we have to get used to shopping on a smaller scale. I am always intrigued when I go into a supermarket what people put in their baskets. Some do their whole weekly shop and others just get a few special offers, including gadgets, that brand has to offer.

I have been inspired by a few other wordpress blogs as to what foods people buy. Firstly Frankie Bean showed us what a corner shop sold in Halifax, Nova Scotia, then Third Time Lucky showed what was in her fridge in Hampshire, England.

So here’s a photo of my most recent shop at Aldi – basics really. I am not a loyal customer. I shop at all the stores near when passing. I live with a family of good cooks, so we hardly ever  buy ready-meals unless they are ridiculously cheap after reaching their sell-by date.

Shopping: Corn Flakes (bargain 33% extra free), Weetabix, plain poppodoms (ready to eat, though we often fry our own. Although of Indian origin, these are officially part of a British diet these days just as Italian spaghetti is), malted bloomer sliced loaf of bread (my husband usually makes ours in a bread-maker but we sometimes buy a loaf too if we have guests), one dozen free range eggs (I really miss my chickens), cat food pouches and a box of dried cat food (our semi-wild cat came from The Alhambra in Spain after quarantine and is 13 years old), half a dozen hot cross buns (well this was just before Easter), British Cos lettuce (2 in a bag), tin (English for can) of baked beans, bunch of fair trade bananas, punnet of cherry tomatoes (I try to support British but the Spanish ones taste so much better), 2 litre bottle of semi-skimmed milk.

So what’s in your shopping basket?

Let me know or post a photo or/and a list and perhaps leave a pingback: ‎






Address to a Haggis – Robert Burns

P1150418I love Burns’ Nights – I have no Scottish ancestry whatsoever, but love the poet Robert Burns (since studying him for my ‘O’ level English Literature) – and the whole festive evening with toasts and Scottish country dancing in kilts. We also go to St Patricks, St Davids and St George’s events, thus celebrating all four countries that make up United Kingdom. My husband lived in Aberdeen for a while and can do such a good accent that many Scots who listen to his “Address to a Haggis” are convinced that he is the “Real McCoy.” I sometimes get asked to do the “toast to the laddies” at the last minute, as often this is the last thing people remember to ask someone to do. My husband goes over-board with the actions to go with the Ode and has so many pleas for this task that this year we will be attending six dinners throughout the week before and after January 25th – the official Burns Night.

Nowadays Haggis is available at nearly every butchers or supermarket in Britain around this time, there are even vegetarian versions. Served alongside tatties ‘n’ nipes (potatoes and turnips) it makes a wonderful winter meal. The Haggis has become a symbol of Scottish pride and Robert Burns address to it is worth attention, I have posted it beneath here with an all new English translation from an anonymous Scotsman which had to be toned down a little bit.

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ Sou
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace
As lang’s my arm.

[Fair and full is your honest plump face
Master of all non-specific sub-premium meat products!
No other non-specific sub-premium meat product compares to your tastiness
Regardless of which part of the digestive system it has been harvested from,
Therefore you are most worthy of this poem
Which is quite ridiculously long (given the subject matter).]

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

[You fill the serving-dish to the brim
And your buttocks looks like a hilltop in the distance,
That little wooden stick could be used for major structural repairs
If I were hallucinating and there was nothing else to hand,
While unidentifiable liquids ooze about you
Resembling the whisky that I’ve already drunk half a bottle of.]

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin’, rich!

[Watch and marvel as a man, so drunk he can barely stand up, attempts to clean a knife
And stabs at you wildly with the least of precision
Eventually making a gash in your nondescript innards
Like a makeshift latrine in the woods,
And then, O! what a glorious sight,
The only thing in this godforsaken country that isn’t absolutely baltic!]

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
“Bethankit!” hums.

[Then, gobful after gobful, they scoff it down,
Brawl over seconds, and continue scoffing,
Until all their clinically obese bellies
Become a gluttonous parody of human flesh,
Then the fattest of the lot, on the verge of puking
Mutters “Jesus that was good.”]

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

[Are there any people who, over their fine French food,
Or Italian cooking that would make a pig wretch
Or haute cuisine that would surely make it physically sick
In total and utter disgust,
Look down with a sneering and scornful attitude
On a dinner like this?]

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

[Unfortunate fools! See the eating cultured food that I would bin!
They are as feeble as withered stalks,
Their skinny legs as thin as rope,
Their hands are tiny and effeminate,
When it comes to travelling through peaty bogs and Bathgate
They’ve got no chance!]

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.

[But look at the haggis-eating Scots,
So great that the earth literally shakes beneath them as they walk.
Give them knives,
They’ll stab pretty much any enemy!
They’ll chop off legs, arms, and heads,
Like the tops of the thistles they bizarrely revere.]

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer
Gie her a haggis!

[You powers-that-be, who watch over all humanity,
And determine its fates and appetites,
Give to Old Scotland no healthy and nutritious stuff
That gets stuck in the throat!
But remember, we are proudly the ‘sick man of Europe’
And give us more Haggis!]

Mayor Burns