Space in the fridge? Don’t panic!

Is it possible to avoid the stress of Christmas? This once jolly festivity has become an increasingly manic occasion that puts extraordinary levels of pressure on families. Do you know that the first Monday in January is known as Divorce Day in the legal community? There’s much discussion on whether Christmas is the final straw for many couples.

I have been listening to the radio this morning, to many conversations with families in cars travelling hundreds of miles to be with loved ones, with passengers laughing (hysterically) at the thought of the traffic queues ahead. I’m sort of glad that I am staying put in Devon.

I managed to quietly get on with organising the event this year. I’ve scaled down brusselsthe (naff) Christmas decorations so I didn’t get as grumpy as usual putting them up. I bought presents along the way rather than have to make a mad dash into the madness of late night, last minute Christmas shopping. I wandered into Tesco for a quick shop at the beginning of the week and managed to buy everything for Christmas dinner as all the ingredients I needed were dated 26th December. Except for the Brussels sprouts which should have been used by the 22nd. I’m sure we’ll cope if they don’t make it to the 25th.

tree-1489-x-990Even so, I haven’t been able to avoid the panic entirely. My Christmas tree went up much earlier than usual when I saw so many Facebook posts about decorating trees that I just had to (had to) go and get one.

I know I’ve bought more tat than I should have done. If I totted up the actual amount I have spent on stocking fillers and presents for the dogs, I would probably be able to book a holiday to the Bahamas.

I’m currently worried that my fridge isn’t as packed to the gunnels as it should be. With just two days to go to the ‘Big Day’ there is still space for more food. Panic! I must get to Tesco/Sainsburys/Waitrose and buy more, more, more. This morning I checked on chestnuts – yes, I’ve got them – and they’re in date! But no red cabbage. Disaster. Armageddon. Christmas is ruined.

Reminiscing for a moment, I can remember when Christmas was a cosy affair. When carol singers knocked on the door and we listened to musical renditions of Silent Night and gave them a penny or mince pie – until we were old enough to sing ourselves at which point Silent Night became anything but a silent affair.

We were so excited about our selection boxes, more chocolate than we’d seen all year! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPresents were Lego for the boys (not expensive sets, just red, yellow, blue or green bricks), and Tressy or Sindy for me. No stereotyping in our house. The Christmas stocking was filled with not a lot apart from a satsuma and a nut. I watched an Amazon advert this year featuring a small boy playing with a robotic dog that cost £160. £160. Good golly, Miss Molly.

However, it mustn’t be all bah humbug. At its heart, Christmas can still be an excuse for downtime, for family time, for eating, drinking and being merry. So – Merry Christmas and I’ll try not to be grumpy again until the New Year.





Pheasant Plucker

When I was a student in Winchester, we had a pheasant in the grounds of our student accommodation. My friend Harry and I named him ‘Eric’. The name has stuck throughout the years, and my children now call male pheasants Eric, and female pheasants, Edwina. Pheasants have always made me smile – they are beautiful birds that seem ever so slightly dim.

Now to divide the pack.

It’s that time of year when carcasses start to litter the Devon roads as pheasants fly into the path of passing cars. Perhaps this is their vain attempt to flee to a place of safety, or maybe a suicide mission to avoid the worse fate of being winged by shot and left to die slowly in the undergrowth.

You may have guessed I am not a fan of pheasant shooting. I have never understood the pleasure someone can get from blasting these poor birds. It’s not a ‘sport’, it’s a massacre. There’s nothing clever about it. I believe shoots are referred to as ‘driven’ or ‘walked up’. How much more pleasant a ‘walked up’ shoot sounds, but at the end of the day to the terrified birds it doesn’t matter much what it’s called, it’s the ‘shoot’ bit that matters.

I have friends and acquaintances who raise pheasants, host shoots or even go on shoots themselves. I just don’t know what to say to them. Is there anything remotely ethical about this activity?

pheasant-1337901-639x958I’ve read that over 35 million pheasants are released each year in the UK. 35 million. Bewildered, befuddled, beautiful birds that don’t stand a chance. 35 million birds that aren’t, in fact, native to this country. How many of them actually get eaten (which I admit at least offers a reason for killing them)? Not 35 million, that’s for sure.

Who owns the pheasants that escape from the shooting area, and who is responsible for the accidents caused by soft-hearted drivers, like me, swerving to avoid birds in the road? I remember clearly the first occasion that I did this, on my way to Warwick on the A46 in the 1980s. Thank goodness there was no-one behind me as I did a first-class emergency brake. I was told later that I should have just carried on, that the bird’s life was worth less than mine. But it’s hard to fight instinct, and, for me personally, hard to contemplate killing any creature (see ‘Slugs & Snails‘).

I’ve seen on more than one occasion, a female pheasant that has managed to raise pheasant-and-chickschicks in the wild. Like any bird, they are protective of their young. I was walking my collie once, when a bird leapt into the path and made a fearful racket, taking an attacking stance that threw the pooch off entirely. It wasn’t until I got close that I noticed the tiny baby pheasants on the path. Suffice to say we took a wide berth and left the mum to care for her little ones.

But this raises another memory, of a friend whose partner rears pheasants for a local shoot. I remember her saying ‘He’s got to go and check on them, he takes such good care of them.” Really? I don’t call releasing thousands of young pheasants to be blown away by stupid, inept people taking ‘good care’.

Two years ago, I ran over a pheasant for the first time (and I hope, the last). It ran out into the road and straight under the wheels of my car. There was nothing I could do about it, and I was mortified. The only solace I could take was that at least death was instantaneous and the bird would never be blasted by incompetent idiots, possibly wounded and left to die in agony.