Monday, December 31, 2012

Goals for 2013

I didn't set any goals for 2012, because I knew that this year was going to be something of an oddity, what with the whole "getting married" thing. Now that things seem to have settled down into a new status quo, I think it's time to set some goals again. And so, without any further ado, here are my goals for 2013:

  • Health: There have been various health issues that have dogged me this year, notably my neck. Enough is enough. The #1 priority for 2013 is to get that sorted out, properly.
  • Weight: Related to the health goal, I want to lose some weight (again). Specifically, I'm setting a goal of losing a stone and a half over the course of this year - a pretty modest goal that should be readily accomplished. It's just annoying that it needs set.
  • Work: Things haven't been right at work for some time. In the first part of 2012 I was distracted by other things, and throughout the year I have gone too long without a holiday (and when I did take a break in November, it wasn't the rest I really needed... and, sadly, neither has Christmas). Nonetheless, it's a problem - the quality and focus of my work has suffered. For 2013, I feel I need to refocus my efforts there, and get back to doing a better job.
  • Books: As mentoned in my previous post, the goal for next year is to read some 60 books, including 12 from The List. The standard rules will apply: it's a book if the publishers say it's a book; one set of covers is one book; and when tackling an anthology of which I've already read part, I only need to read the 'new bits' to count the whole.
  • Debt: Unlike a lot of people, we don't carry a lot of non-mortgage debt, and it's certainly a manageable amount. Nonetheless, I feel the weight of it disproportionately. So, there's a three-part goal to get rid of it, with the goal for this year to clear off the payments for our new bathroom - a task that should be done in June, all being well. It's a silly thing, but I'll sleep much easier once I know that's all done with.
  • Games: Finally, there's the gaming. The primary goal for this year is to finish off the current campaign, "The Eberron Code", and to start up the next campaign, "Imperial Fist". In addition, there will be the usual handful of one-shots. However, perhaps the more challenging part will be to avoid cancelling the one-shot events - of late, the record in this regard has been quite poor, with my two most recent games being cancelled. This makes for a degree of uncertainty in scheduling, which actually makes people less likely to commit to games in future (knowing they may be cancelled). So, the goal will be to fix dates for the one-shots suitably well in advance, get the quorum together, and then hold the event whatever happens. (It probably won't be that easy, but that's the intention. We'll see.)

And that's it: six goals for the year. Lady Chocolat also wants me to set a goal of buying her a car this year, but since she has money and I don't, I'm inclined to think she may have to buy it herself!

I probably won't have time to do my big review of the year today, as I have quite a lot else to do. Therefore, I shall sign off for now, wishing you all a Happy New Year.

Books of the Year 2012

It's the last day of the year, and I've just finished my latest book. It seems rather unlikely that I'll make it through another this year. So, that being the case, here are the books I read this year:

  1. "Great Expectations", by Charles Dickens*
  2. "Pathfinder: Bestiary 3", by Paizo Publishing
  3. "Loving Against the Odds", by Rob Parsons
  4. "Pathfinder: GameMastery Guide", from Paizo Publishing
  5. "Millennium Falcon Owner's Workshop Manual", by Ryder Windham, Chris Reiff, and Chris Trevas
  6. "Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition", by Steve Kenson
  7. "Pathfinder: Tide of Honour", by Tito Leati
  8. "Return of the Black Company", by Glen Cook
  9. "A Town Like Alice", by Nevil Shute*
  10. "Pathfinder: The Empty Throne", by Neil Spicer
  11. "Towers of Midnight", by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
  12. "A Kingdom Beseiged", by Raymond E. Feist
  13. "Silas Marner", by George Eli
  14. "The Many Deaths of the Black Company", by Glen Cook
  15. "A Dance With Dragons: Dreams and Dust", by George R.R. Martin
  16. "A Dance With Dragons: After the Feast", by George R.R. Martin
  17. "Pathfinder: The Wormwood Mutiny", by Richard Pett
  18. "Pathfinder: Raiders of the Fever Sea", by Greg A. Vaughan
  19. "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Campaign Guide", by Rodney Thompson, Sterling Hershey, John Jackson Miller, and Abel G. Peña
  20. "The Second Book of Lankhmar", by Fritz Leiber
  21. "Death of Kings", by Bernard Cornwell
  22. "Pathfinder: Tempest Rising", by Matthew Goodall
  23. "Snuff", by Terry Pratchett
  24. "Clear and Present Danger", by Tom Clancy
  25. "Pathfinder: The Island of Empty Eyes", by Neil Spicer
  26. "Pathfinder: The Price of Infamy", by Time Hitchcock
  27. "Conqueror", by Conn Iggulden
  28. "Star Wars: Choices of One", by Timothy Zahn
  29. "Pride and Prejudice", by Jane Austen*
  30. "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald*
  31. "Pathfinder: From Hell's Heart", by Jason Nelson
  32. "Pathfinder: Shards of Sin", by Greg A. Vaughan
  33. "Atonement", by Ian McEwan*
  34. "Pyramids", by Terry Pratchett
  35. "Prince of Wolves", by Dave Gross
  36. "Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers", by Grant Naylor
  37. "Master and Commander", by Patrick O'Brian
  38. "Pathfinder: Curse of the Lady's Light", by Mike Shel
  39. "Guards! Guards!", by Terry Pratchett
  40. "Winter Witch", by Elaine Cunningham
  41. "Post Captain", by Patrick O'Brian
  42. "Jane Eyre", by Charlotte Bronte*
  43. "Moving Pictures", by Terry Pratchett
  44. "Pathfinder: The Asylum Stone", by James L. Sutter
  45. "Plague of Shadows", by Howard Andrew Jones
  46. "Eberron Player's Guide", by David Noonan, Ari Marmell, and Robert J. Schwalb
  47. "HMS Surprise", by Patrick O'Brian
  48. "Sense and Sensibility", by Jane Austen*
  49. "Hartsend", by Janice Brown
  50. "Eberron Campaign Guide", by James Wyatt and Keith Baker
  51. "Pathfinder: Beyond the Doomsday Door", by Tito Leati
  52. "The Worldwound Gambit", by Robin D. Laws
  53. "Black Crusade: Hand of Corruption", by Fantasy Flight Games
  54. "The Mauritius Command", by Patrick O'Brian
  55. "Emma", by Jane Austen*

So, there it is - 55 books, 8 books from The List, 19 RPG-related books, and a miscellany of others. I think that's a pretty good showing for the year, especially given the uncertainties of the first few months.

The book of the year is "Atonement", which I found to be much more satisfying than I had expected, and much better than the film (as is almost always the case). The worst book of the year, by a long, long way, was Tom Clancy's "Clear and Present Danger". Oh dear.

I feel that honourable mention must be made of "Hartsend", this being the first adult novel by a young and up-and-coming author of my acquaintance. And which was an extremely compelling read in its own right. Recommended.

For next year, it is my hope to get into something of a sequence, and each month to read one book from each of five 'series'. These include "Books from The List", the Aubrey/Maturin series, the monthly Pathfinder books, the "Pathfinder Tales" novels, and finally those Pratchett books that I have not yet read (most of his non-Discworld novels). In theory, this gives 60 books for the year, which feels about right. That said, a couple of the 'series' don't have a full complement of 12 books to read; however, I plan to "fill the gaps" with those few new novels that I am waiting for - Bernard Cornwell's latest, Feist's latest, etc.


Time for One More...

I'm about to start my reviews of the year, but before I do so, I need to capture one last book read, so that the list formats correctly.

#55: "Emma", by Jane Austen (a book from The List)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Experimental Cookery 2012: Tandoori Chicken Wraps with Cucumber Raita & Mango Salsa

I thought it would be quite nice to try out one of my new cookbooks. However, my initial suggestion met with some resistance. Instead, Lady Chocolat selected a meal from Lorraine Pascale's "Fast, Fresh and Easy Food" for tonight's dinner.

The recipe was quick and easy to prepare. Basically, there was a lot of putting things into bowls and then mixing them together - always a pleasant change from the usual chopping of many things. That said, the lime juice stung more than a little!

I had one significant regret, though - yesterday I threw away our remaning coriander, only to find that I therefore didn't have it for the mango salsa. In effect, this meant that it was, in fact, pretty much just mango. But I guess that's fine.

The other surprise came when I served up. I had put what I thought was quite a lot of chilli powder in the mix, so I expected it to be quite hot. However, it turned out actually to be really quite mild. So, next time we'll need to turn that up a bit.

Otherwise, it was largely enjoyable, but largely unremarkable. We'll almost certainly be having this again, and it has the potential to become a bit of a favourite if I can get the mix right.

I wonder what I'll cook next?

#54: "The Mauritius Command", by Patrick O'Brian

Friday, December 21, 2012

Review of the End of the World

When it comes to apocalypses, the bar is understandably quite high. After all, Hollywood has gone to great lengths to raise expectations - if it doesn't feature incredibly photogenic people running away from dinosaurs or lava (or dinosaurs made of lava) it's inevitably going to seem weak by comparison.

Even so, and despite the hype, I must admit my expectations were high for this one. After all, with 394 years since the last Bak'tun ended, surely the Mayans must have something special for us? Could it be aliens? Zombies? Alien zombies? Who knows, but surely it had to be something appropriately epic - the hype had only ever been higher for the Millennium Bug, and that had proven to be an anti-climax of "Phantom Menace" proportions.

In the event, it seemed all our hopes were to be dashed. It turns out that the end of the world had chosen to emphasise the "traffic jams" part of "2012", rather than the "John Cusack gets chased by lava" part. And even the traffic jams were a little underwhelming, if I'm completely honest.

Seriously, this is the single worst apocalypse since the robots failed to blow us all up on Judgement Day back in 1997.

So, the baton is now passed to the Vikings, and to their long-heralded Ragnarok. Surely they won't fail us too?

(Gosh, I hope the world doesn't end later today. Otherwise, won't this post look silly?)

#53: "Black Crusade: Hand of Corruption", by Fantasy Flight Games

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Experimental Cookery 2012: Fruit Scones

(or... The Feeding of the Fifty)

Back when I did my work-through of Jamie's "Ministry of Food", I never did tackle the desserts chapter, mostly because I tend not to bother with a dessert, but also because I quit once I hit the wall of fish. Thus, I never got to the recipe used here. (It's also worth noting that I have actually made scones many times in the past, but not for a very long time - the last time would have been in my Baking module at high school. And, yes, I actually do hold a qualification in baking.)

Anyway... Lady Chocolat and I are on the rota in the church for arranging and serving tea and coffee after the service. And for the second year in a row, our turn has come up at the last evening service before Christmas, always a very busy shift. In light of this, we were asked this week if we might provide some home baking, and so we did - LC made some cupcakes and Ninjabread Men, while I did a batch of brownies and also the aforementioned scones.

As the service went on, we became increasingly concerned that we had actually under-catered - we had some 50 items to give out, and there were more people than that present. However, we needn't have worried - during the service some kind soul snuck in and left behind many other home baked items. So, everyone went home satisfied, and we collected two biscuit tins of the broken pieces. Or something - I'm sure a story of that sort might be worthy of inclusion in a book somewhere.

Back on topic, the actual creation of the scones was easy enough, and the result pretty much as expected at least on the face of it. We made 10 'regular' scones, plus one giant mutant scone (from all the leftover bits). Said mutant scone was the only one I actually tasted, and it was fine.

The rest were eaten by various other people, who seemed appropriately pleased. Indeed, I was asked how I managed the near-miraculous feat of having them rise (I don't really know; I just followed the recipe, and it never occurred to me that they might not), and they received the seal of approval from Mary, always an important mark.

So that's that. I'm not sure when I'll make these again, although no doubt I will find occasion at some point. They're certainly simple enough, and were well enough liked to warrant being done again.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Lord of the Rings: Episode One: An Unexpected Journey

Warning: this post contains spoilers. If you don't want to know, don't read it!

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is composed of excellent bits. Indeed, taken as 90%, it's absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately, taken as a piece, as 100%, I'm not actually sure I liked it all that much.

The root of my disatisfaction lies, in large part, in the transformation of these films from an adaptation of "The Hobbit" - that absolutely wonderful children's book - into a prequel to "The Lord of the Rings". Because, amongst other things, prequels suck. But also because in doing so they have significantly transformed the story, its tone and its content, into something that really isn't in the text.

Firstly, the good:

The cast are generally excellent. Gandalf is exactly as we have seen and expect him. Most of the dwarves are spot-on - capturing the slightly bumbling nature of their group while also drawing out their personalities (in a way that the novel generally didn't). Elrond is exactly as he should be, being recognisably the same character as in LotR, without being quite the same stern, forbidding presence as in that trilogy. Likewise, the returning Gollum was just right.

And Martin Freeman is perfect as Bilbo Baggins.

Likewise, the film does a really good job of setting the scene, of explaining why the dwarves are doing what they are doing, and explaining also why these dwarves are doing what they are doing. And the action set-pieces are mostly well set up and executed.


I wasn't overly impressed with Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. For the most part, he's absolutely fine, and in particular his discussion with Balin about the courage shown by his comrades was excellent. But his dislike to Bilbo really seemed too forced at times. And at times he seemed to be trying too hard to be Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn, where he really isn't. (Indeed, I hope Aragorn barely features in the next two films, because otherwise he's liable to steal the show.)

I was also largely unimpressed with Radagast, although this mostly wasn't the actor's fault. Rather, it was because of a very unfortunate chase sequence featuring Radagast and his chariot and some warg riders - a scene that was both rather confusing and pointless (and seemed designed to show off the special effects trickery), and that also featured some truly bad CGI. (I would say it was made-for-TV bad, but even that would be unfair - I would take the best of "Merlin" to beat that scene quite handily.) But then, maybe that would work better in 3D?

Speaking of showing off the CGI, I also got the impression that much of the segment in the Goblin Village was largely intended to showcase the 3D effects - it featured an awful lot of swinging about, moving camera angles, and falling off of things. In 2D, the impression I got was that they were doing level design for the inevitable "Lego Hobbit: the Video Game", because otherwise it seemed to be mostly superfluous.

Oh, and finally, one nitpick: those "riddles in the dark" seemed awfully well-lit!

But those were my only criticisms of the adaptation of "The Hobbit", and those are mostly pretty nitpicky.

My single biggest issue, though, was the additional material brought in to make this a prequel to the "Lord of the Rings". Now, this is all largely derived from Tolkien's work, being in the appendices to LotR, so it's not entirely invented. However, it suffers from the major problem of all prequels - it's concerning itself with a story that has already been told, and about which very little of any significance can truly be revealed. We don't need to see the White Council, because we already know that Saruman is a bit of an arse. The debate over whether the Witch King has returned, or where that Morgul Blade came from, is pointless - we already know.

And I didn't like the seeming need to shoehorn in so many familiar faces - Frodo, Galadriel, Saruman... This suffers from exactly the same problem as when the Star Wars prequels insisted on including R2-D2, C-3P0, Chewbacca, Yoda... Rather than expanding the canvas on which the story takes place, they actually contract it - it seems that everything of importance in that world happens to the same half-dozen people.

Fundamentally, that story has been told. I would much rather they had instead focussed on telling this story. "The Hobbit" is a great book; it doesn't need to be expanded in this manner.

I wouldn't mind the prequel-isation of the films, though, were it not for their effect on the film. As I mentioned right at the top, "The Hobbit" is a children's book. But the film is 2 hours and 45 minutes in length, and tells only a third of the story. It's too long - indeed, it really felt like I was watching the Extended Edition right there on the screen. But where the LotR Extended Editions are all genuine improvements on the theatrical versions, my distinct impression here was that this film would have been vastly improved had it been half an hour shorter.

The prequel-isation also had an effect on the tone of the film - this was a much more adult story, with a growing sense of impending doom, and a significant amount of violence (in the same vein as in LotR - it's certainly not a gore-fest). But there's barely any violence in the book, and it certainly doesn't get the sort of lingering attention as was the case here. Basically, if your children's book warrants a 12A certificate, something may be wrong.

(Not that I have anything against a more adult film, per se. But it's a question of tone - I no more want to see a kiddified "Hamlet" than I want to see sex, violence, and gore in "The Wind in the Willows". Oh, and I would very much like to see this team get a chance at "Children of Hurin". That could be a truly excellent film.)

I'm actually finding it quite hard to strike the right balance here. See, I did enjoy the film, a great deal. As I said, taken as 90% it was genuinely excellent. It's just that the weaknesses are there, are significant, and I can't really overlook them.

I'll probably be going to see this again at some point (this time in 3D), and I'll no doubt get the eventual blu-ray. So make of that what you will.

In closing, I thought I would note one final, hugely positive aspect of the film. As with the Star Wars prequels, the single best part of this film was the music. Howard Shore has returned to Middle Earth, and like John Williams before him has turned in a magnificent soundtrack - at once distinct from the original and yet clearly of the same species. Good work, and I look forward to using it for gaming purposes.

#52: "The Worldwound Gambit", by Robin Laws

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

About Physics Fiesta

The correct answer to the question "¿Dónde está el bosón de Higgs?" is not "En el acelerador de particulas." It is, in fact, "En todas partes". Because while the existence of the particle was proven using said particle accelerator, it's a sub-atomic particle found in all things.

I suspect the question Sheldon actually meant to ask was "¿Dónde se encuentra el bosón de Higgs?" Although my Spanish is not terribly good, so I might have that wrong.

Yes, it has been bugging me since last week.


I got to work this morning, only to find that I've left my mobile phone at home. Hopefully, I won't get any "important messages" about Payment Protection Insurance while I'm here - that seems to be pretty much all I get on that phone at the moment, and I'd obviously hate to miss them.

#51: "Pathfinder: Beyond the Doomsday Door", by Tito Leati

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Experimental Cookery 2012: Bikers' Lamb Hot Pot

This is another entry from the Hairy Bikers' "Perfect Pies", which is a book I rather enjoy but use only rarely. I've tried hot pot once in the past, but that was made from a sachet, and was rather bland.

The hot pot itself is pretty simple to make up - it's basically just a case of cutting up some veg, pre-cooking things a little, and then sticking them into a bowl and then the oven. And then waiting.

I did have two small concerns going in: I was forced to use lamb leg rather than neck (the neck was recommended because the higher amount of fat should mean more flavour in the end result), and I found that my bowl was rather too small for the job. In hindsight, I should really have used one of the new ones we got as wedding presents. (Actually, in hindsight that's so obvious that now I feel quite stupid for not thinking of it earlier.)

The end result was nice enough, but... It was all a little bland and overwhelming. Lady Chocolat noted that it really "needed something" just to pep it up a bit. I mean, there wasn't anything wrong with it, as such, it was just a bit lacking.

I'm going to try this one again. It's good enough to be worth another attempt, and I do think I can probably do better. So I'll experiment a bit next time - perhaps an insistence on the neck would be better, perhaps a bit more seasoning, perhaps some more thyme and rosemary...

So, a somewhat mixed success there, I think.

Friday, December 07, 2012

I Watch It So You Don't Have To

"Dungeons & Dragons 3: The Book of Vile Darkness" is not the worst film I have ever seen. It is better than both "Catwoman" and "Basic Instinct 2" (and, I'm sure, some films not starring Sharon Stone). Indeed, it is less of a betrayal than "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and at least two of the "Transformers" films. (That said, it's not as good as "Crstal Skull", solely because it at now point shows Shia LaBoeuf getting hit in the nuts with cactii. Otherwise, it would be a dead heat.)

However, BoVD is not a good film. In fact, it fails on every possible level: bad acting, a rotten script, poor direction, bad music, special effects that make the first season of "Merlin" look good by comparison...

Where to begin...

Well, I suppose the best place to start is right at the beginning. In the first scene...

No, actually, before even that we get treated to the now obligatory fantasy backstory montage, in which Voiceover-Man tells us about the creation of the Book of Vile Darkness, the most evil of all books not 'written' by Katie Price. That's actually quite cool, in a rather grimdark kind of a way.

Anyway, blah blah blah, evil empire, blah blah, BoVD, blah, knights... Eventually, to prevent it being captured, the bad guys decide to split the BoVD into components. So far, so good.

The three components are the covers, the pages, and the ink.

Yes, like "Angels and Demons" before it, "D&D3: BoVD" doesn't even get to the start of the story before disappearing into idiocy.

Anyway, on to the first scene, in which the heroic young knight Grayson finds himself being sworn in as a Paladin. Huzzah! So, he takes all the standard oaths - honour, mercy, loyalty, chastity...

The ceremony goes somewhat wrong, and young Grayson is comforted by the knight who conducted the ceremony, who turns out to be his father. He then passes on some wise words from his own father, who was also a Paladin in the same order.

Yes, it's true - Grayson has just taken an oath of chastity just like his father and his father before him. I guess the writer here had seen "Hot Shots! Part Deux", but didn't get the joke.

The rest of the plot is basically "Finding Nemo" in reverse - Grayson's father gets captured, and the young knight must rescue him with the help of a party of evil adventurers. You can tell these adventurers are evil because they all have either tattoos or piercings. Well, except for their leader; she is clearly the most eeevil, because she has both tattoos and piercings.

Oh, yeah, there is one evil guy who doesn't have tattoos or piercings. But that's okay, because he has a badass mask he stole from the Phantom of the Opera, is entirely made of bugs, and is prone to spouting fortune-cookie philosophy. He's totally an evil Yoda.

Probably the second worst single scene takes place when Grayson decides to equip himself for his Quest!. He visits Ye Olde Magicke Shoppe, called "The Adventurer's Vault", where he buys a bunch of items, including a suit of "Knight's Armour". At which point the shopkeepe asks him "Heroic or Paragon".

See, here we see that the writer was at least familiar with D&D terminology, in exactly the same way that the writer of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" was familiar with the Transformers comics and cartoons. But, as with the earlier film, the writer shows a complete lack of skill in actually using that lore. Frankly, I was surprised the shopkeepe didn't ask to see Grayson's character sheet to verify that he was high enough level to buy such lofty items.

Beyond that, the best way to view BoVD is in the style of "Mystery Science Theatre 3000". Basically, sit around 'watching' the film, but actually proceed to mock it mercilessly as it goes. Like the bit where the Masked Man makes Grayson a necklace, and they think about braiding one another's hair, but in a totally manly way. Or the bit where Grayson trips over his own sword.

Still, it's not all bad. The design of the dragon, and in particular the way it moves and fights, is pretty cool. Well, apart from being stolen from "Alice in Wonderland" and the Jabberwocky, that is. Likewise, the evil overlord is quite cool, what with his sown-up mouth and the two girls who must therefore speak for him.

The climax of the film is extremely topical. Grayson has been captured himself (in a plot twist that makes no sense at all - indeed, even less sense than Silva's plan in "Skyfall"). He finds himself strapped to the torture machine from "Princess Bride", which they are using to extract liquid pain which they will use as ink to rewrite the Book of Vile Darkness.

At this point Evil Girl, who has been turned good by... something or other... decides to help her lover by returning to him his holy symbol (a symbol that, as far as she knows, is utterly useless to him). At this point, Grayson somehow calls on the power of Pelor to send a telepathic message to the Evil Overlord, who then repeats it to all his many minions. And then their heads explode.

Now, you may be wondering how this can be considered "topical". Nonsensical, yes. Beyond even the stupidiy of the rest of the film, indeed. But topical? How so?

Well, the key here is the content of the message. What message is there that could truly cause people's heads to explode, and in large numbers? What could it possibly be?

There is, of course, only one possible answer to this. And, lo, we have verily seen the revealed might and power of this message this very week, when the most seismic of shocks spread through our media, causing exactly this sort of widespread head-'sploding.

Yes, it's true. The forces of evil were undone, once and for all, by the forbidden knowledge that KATE MIDDLETON'S PREGNANT!!! O!!! M!!! G!!!!!!!

#50: "Eberron Campaign Guide", by James Wyatt and Keith Baker

Monday, December 03, 2012

Christmas has Changed

This Christmas is turning into an ever-more worrying event. Not just because the world is obviously and most definitely going to end on the 21st, but also because all my Christmas traditions are being overturned one by one.

As you know, it has long been my policy to put up my Christmas decoration on the first Sunday in Advent. Occasionally, this has drifted to the Monday after, or perhaps even dared to occur on the Saturday before. But the key truth is this: the decoration goes on the TV, where it will remain until the end of the month.

But this year, it is not so! For this year it has been decreed that we shall have a Tree. And on this Tree there shall be Lights (in many and varied colours), there shall be Exciting Baubles, and there shall be a Star! Fortunately, the decoration is permitted to remain, although it too shall adorn the Tree, drifting down from the Star! to less lofty heights.

As you also know, I consider the greetings card industry to be my worst nemesis. (Or nemeses, it's not quite clear - it's a single organisation made up of many heinous forces.) Hence my cunning avoidance of sending cards to inform people who I'm going to see anyway that I do indeed wish them a "Merry Christmas".

But, alas, this too has been decreed to be otherwise. For there is a List. Or, rather, there is an aspiration for there to be a List, yet to be compiled, containing the names and addresses of many exciting people. And lo! all these people shall soon be in receipt of a wonderful and magnificently coloured card declaring the Nativity Hobbit. Or something.

(Yes, that was a truly terrible joke. But if I'm going to have to send Christmas Cards, I'm going to make bad jokes. So there.)

And then there is the matter of the Advent Calendar. Now these truly are a work of terror, for unless you are the only person living in the residence there is the constant fear that little fingers might find their way beyond the doors and remove the chocolate that resides within. Indeed, it's not even a question of if the chocolate will be eaten, but rather a question of when. At any time, a quantum reaction could take place leading to the consumption of that delicious chocolatey goodness. Yes, they're Schrödinger's candy.

Here too, I have been overruled. What's worse, I discovered yesterday that the chosen Advent Calendars actually count upwards to that most wonderful of climaxes, the 24th (something not quite right there), at which point you get to gorge yourself on... a Fun Size Mars Bar!!! Yes, it's true - the highlight to which this calendar is pointing is the most disappointing and ill-named of all Mars Bars.

There's a social comment in there somewhere, but I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader.

In truth, I protest too much. When LC moved in, I of course acknowledged that there would be changes. And, indeed, I welcome them. Mostly. Even then that means that I have to spend Christmas being... jolly. Ho, etc.

I'm still drawing the line at cushions, though.

#49: "Hartsend", by Janice Brown