Featured post

Christmas Trees are coming! Be Prepared this December

Types of Christmas Trees

There are various types of Christmas trees available, and you must choose the one that is perfect for your home during the holiday season. There are various types, as you will see below:

Nordman Fir

The Norman Fir Christmas Tree barely drops its needles, making it the most popular choice in Modern times, due to the safety issues related to children and pets, and the sharp Christmas tree needles. They come in a range of shapes and sizes, and their needles are a lot fleshier.

Norway Spruce

The Norway Spruce Christmas tree, brings the classic smell of childhood to your home. Its needles do drop a lot more than other varieties, but it more than makes up for that with its beautiful smell, and really traditional tall and narrow shape.

Potted Christmas Trees

The Potted Christmas tree is a great choice if you would prefer your tree to last longer than just a few weeks, as potted trees are more likely to live on through the year, and be fine to use again a year later. The come in both varieties, the Nordman or Norway Spruce, and are often a little cheaper.

Where to buy a Christmas Tree

You can normally buy Christmas trees at your local garden centre, or check online for your nearest Christmas tree farm. Sapcote Garden Centre, Leicester, LE94LG, 01455 274049, (http://www.sapcotegc.co.uk/christmas/christmas-trees) has a range of Nordman Fir, and Norway Spruce Christmas trees for sale, and the price is the same as 2012.

Choir treats plane passengers to impromptu Christmas concert

By Telegraph Video, video source Aoife Gilligan

10:12AM GMT 19 Dec 2014

Passengers travelling on an Aer Lingus flight from Brussels to Dublin on
Sunday were treated to a festive surprise when a choir on board began
serenading them with christmas carols.

In this footage captured by a passenger, a group of male and female singers
perform a beautiful rendition of ‘Silent Night’ in three languages.

The Island of Ireland Peace choir was returning from singing at a ceremony in
Flanders to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, when
they decided to perform the seasonal hymn.

Now that’s what we call in-flight entertainment.

Christmas Trees

The Thinking Drinkers’ ultimate guide to Christmas beer

Festive beers: Shepherd Neame Double Stout, Orval, Trappistes Rochefort, Rodenbach Grand Cru
Festive beers: Shepherd Neame Double Stout, Orval, Trappistes Rochefort, Rodenbach Grand Cru 

christmas is coming. So you’re going to need some beer. With so many wonderful
ones available, there’s absolutely no excuse for cracking open a can of
humdrum cooking lager this year.

So here’s our list of cracking Christmas beers to bring comfort and joy during
the festive season. Buy them. Drink them. It’s what Jesus would have wanted.

Christmas Eve beers

As fish tends to be the traditional dish served on Christmas Eve, what you
want is a light Belgian witbier such as Blanche
de Namur
. Brewed with coriander and orange peel, it’s spritzy,
citrusy character suits delicate fish such as sole, trout, turbot –or pretty
much any fish dish enhanced with a squeeze of lemon.

Serving seafood? Then there are myriad beer matches to explore. Duvel,
an iconic bottle-conditioned Belgian blond abbey ale, pairs perfectly with
prawns dipped in garlic butter; lobster likes the delicate hop bitterness of
a North German Pilsner, such as Flensburger,
while the creamy combination of fresh oysters and dry stout is a classic
one. Shepherd Neame’s velvety “Double
Stout
” has enough bitterness to mellow the oyster’s metallic, briny
character. Shuck it and see.


Blanche de Namur, Jenlain Anbree, Harviestoun Ola Dubh

Christmas Day aperitif beers

It’s Christmas Day. Exciting isn’t it? Pace yourself though, ease your way in
with Taris
Boulba
(4.5%), a dry, aromatic blonde from Brussels and an ideal
aperitif ale. It will effortlessly slake a salty-snack-induced thirst yet
won’t trample all over the smoked salmon. Alternatively, fill your Champagne
flute with Pilsner Urquell, whose flint dry finish comes courtesy of the
Saaz hops. If you’re near a Majestic Wines, it’s doing a great £1 deal on
its stylish retro 500ml cans in store – bit not, as far as we can tell,
online.

Christmas lunch beers

The thing to remember here is that different birds suit different beers.
Traditional turkey is a tricky bedfellow for beer as, on its own, it doesn’t
offer much to complement or indeed contrast. You’ve got to take all the
trappings and the trimmings into consideration – stuffing, parsnips, Brussel
sprouts, roasties, cranberry sauce and all that carry on.

For this you require an all-rounder. Look no further than a Belgian-style
Saison or the Biere de Garde from France, two similar beer styles that were
historically brewed as ‘keeping’ ales in the winter so that thirsty,
scythe-swinging farm hands or ‘saisonnieres’ could drink them in the summer.

These rustic, refreshing farmhouse beers are fabulously flexible friends to
food. Generously hopped and often brewed with spices, there’s enough peppery
bitterness here fight any fatty textures, the herbal notes sit superbly with
the stuffing and the gentle sparkle will help scrub the palate clean.

The ideal starting point is Saison
Dupont
- a legendary, hazy-golden liquid hailed by many as the
world’s best saison that can be the Kofi Annan of Christmas lunch,
harmonising disparate elements and bringing peace to your plate.

Biere de Garde tends to be slightly sweeter with more malt flavours going on
and two of the most illustrious examples are Duyck
Jenlain Ambrée
and the drier more aromatic Trois Monts, both
classics that come caged and corked like a Champagne.

If you’re going for goose then reach for Rodenbach
Grand Cru
, a famous Flemish Red Ale with the funky, farmyard acidity
capable of carving through the fuller, fatty textures. Grand Cru is great
but if you can find it, the unblended Rodenbach Vintage is even better.

What do you with duck? Kwak
(do you see what we’ve done there?) seems the obvious choice and, if you
ever watched the Keith Harris Show, you could also open an Orval.
Piss-poor puns aside, both of these will dovetail deliciously with duck – as
will the slightly sour cherry notes of Duchesse
de Bourgogne
.

Christmas cheeseboard beers

This is where beer goes up a gastronomic gear or two. The cheese board is
where beer really excels. Unlike wine, it has the bubbles to lift cheese’s
rich, indulgent textures off the palate while cheese, in return, mellows out
beer’s bitter hoppiness. Citrusy, herbal hops, meanwhile, are endowed with
the flavours of fruit chutney, quince jelly and raw apple – all common
accompaniments to a cheeseboard.

The easiest and most successful rule for beer and cheese pairings is to match
their intensities of flavour. Pity the fool that drinks port with their
stilton as Harvest Ale, a
strapping 11% barley wine from JW Lees, works much better.

Brewed every Autumn in time for Christmas using newly harvested Maris Otter
barley and East Kent Goldings hops, it ages exceedingly well and stays
happily in the cellar for years. Different vintages are available, dating
back more than a decade.

With a chuck of strong cheddar, make room for Meantime
India Pale Ale
, a balanced British and bottle-conditioned IPA with
the resinous hop oils to cut through the cheese and the carbonation to lift
it off the tongue,

For something ponky and punchy like the royally ripe Brie de Meaux, you can’t
go wrong than bringing out a bottle of Rochefort
10
, a dark ruby blend of chocolate, plums, fruit cake and anejo rum.

Beers to drink with Christmas pudding and mince pies

Even though no-one actually likes Christmas cake or mince pies, they’ve got to
be eaten. Them’s the rules. Opt for something with a spiritual edge such as
the super Christmasy “Santa’s
Little Helper
”, a dark Belgian ale brewed by the Danish ‘cuckoo
brewer’ Mikkeller that’s also aged in Speyside whisky barrels.

Alternatively, try Ola
Dubh 12 year-old
- a viscous and velvety whisky-finished
collaboration between Harviestoun brewery in Scotland and Highland Park
single malt whisky – and a sublime swirl of chocolate, espresso and
cardamom.

After-dinner digestif beers

You’ve stuffed your face and loosened your belt. But, wisely, you’ve left a
little room for another beer, something special to slowly sip and aid
delicate digestion. Step forward Siren Brewery’s unique Siren
Limoncello IPA
, a tart, zesty beer inspired by the Italian digestif
and brewed by Siren Craft Brew, one of the UK’s most exciting brewers.

The Thinking Drinkers’ new book Thinking
Drinkers: An Enlightened Imbiber’s Guide to Alcohol

is out now. They are performing their new show, The Thinking Drinkers’
Guide to the Legends of Liquor, at the Soho Theatre, London in December and
January, and across the UK in 2015. For tickets visit thinkingdrinkers.com

Christmas Trees

Nigella Lawson and Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for edible Christmas treats

Annie Rigg's fudge
Annie Rigg’s vanilla and chocolate fudge recipe provides the perfect homemade nibbles over the christmas period. Photo: Tara Fisher

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Champagne chocolates

(makes about 40)

Choose the best dark chocolate you can find to make these marvellous truffles
(well, not quite truffles, since they are squarish, but that’s just a
formality). We recommend one of Valrhona’s grands crus or Amedei’s
Porcelana.

PHOTO: Tara Fisher

INGREDIENTS

60g milk chocolate
200g dark chocolate
150g unsalted butter
80ml champagne
40ml good-quality brandy
150g dark chocolate for coating
50g cocoa powder for dusting bars

METHOD

Take a cake tin roughly 14cm square and line it with clingfilm. Using a sharp
knife, chop both kinds of chocolate into small pieces and place them in a
heatproof bowl large enough to accommodate all the ingredients. Warm the
chocolate for a couple of minutes in a microwave or over a pan of simmering
water until it is semi-melted; be careful not to heat it too much. Cut the
butter into small pieces and keep it separate.

Pour the champagne and brandy into a small saucepan and place on the stove
until they warm up to around 80C; they should be hot to the touch but not
boiling. Pour the alcohol over the chocolate and stir gently with a rubber
spatula until it melts completely.

Stir in the butter in a few additions, then continue stirring until the
mixture is smooth. Pour it into the lined tray and place in the fridge for
at least three hours, until it has set firm.

Place the chocolate for coating in a mixing bowl and put it over a pan of
simmering water. Stir occasionally, and as soon as the chocolate has melted,
remove the bowl from the steam bath. Scatter the cocoa powder over a flat
plate. Turn the chilled chocolate block out of the tin on to a sheet of
baking parchment and remove the clingfilm. Use a very sharp, long knife to
cut it into roughly 2cm squares. Clean the knife in hot water after every
time you cut.

Using two skewers or forks, dip the squares in the melted chocolate, wiping
off any excess on the side of the bowl. Quickly roll the squares in the
cocoa powder and place on a clean tray. Allow the chocolates to set in the
fridge, but make sure you leave them out at room temperature for at least
half an hour before serving.

From Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ebury
Press, £26)

Nigella Lawson’s edible Christmas tree decorations

(makes 35-40 biscuits)

I couldn’t have Christmas without these, or at least, not happily. Rituals are
essential to give us meaning, a sense of ceremony, and making these peppery,
gingerbready edible decorations is how I have always marked with my children
that Christmas has begun.

PHOTO: Lis Parsons

INGREDIENTS

300g plain flour (plus more for dusting)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
100g soft butter
100g soft dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
4 tbsp runny honey

for the icing and trimmings:

300g instant royal icing (from packet)
edible glitter, or gold or silver balls

METHOD

Line two baking sheets with parchment and preheat the oven to 170C/gas mark 3.
Combine the plain flour, a pinch of salt, the baking powder, cinnamon,
cloves and pepper in a food processor and, with the motor on, add the butter
and sugar, then, slowly, the beaten eggs and runny honey, though don’t use
all of this liquid if the pastry has come together before it’s used up.

Form two fat discs and put one, covered in clingfilm or in a freezer bag, in
the fridge while you get started on the other.

Then dust a work surface with flour, roll out the disc, also floured, to a
thickness of about 5mm and cut out your christmas decorations with cutters
of your choice, which could include fir-tree shapes, angels, stars,
snowflakes, and so on.

Re-roll and cut out some more, setting aside the residue from this first disc,
well covered, while you get on with rolling out the second. When you’ve got
both sets of leftover clumps of dough, roll out and cut out again, and keep
doing so until all the dough is used up. Now take a small icing nozzle and
use the pointy end to cut out a hole just below the top of each biscuit
(through which ribbon can later be threaded).

Arrange the pastry shapes on the lined baking sheets and cook for about 20
minutes. It’s hard to see when they’re cooked, but you can feel: if the
underside is no longer doughy, they’re ready. Transfer to a wire rack and
leave to cool. Make up the instant royal icing, beating it until it’s thick
enough to be able to cover the biscuits with a just-dripping blanket of
white; but don’t beat it for as long as the packet says or you’ll have icing
so thick it will need to be spread with a spatula and you won’t get such a
neat outline.

Carefully ice the cold decorations, using a teaspoon (the tip for dripping,
the back for smoothing), and scatter glitter or gold or silver balls over
them as you like. When the icing is set, thread ribbon through the holes in
the biscuits and hang them on your tree.

From Nigella Christmas by Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus, £20)

Konditor & Cook’s Kipferl cookies

(makes 48)

These typically Austrian cookies have spread to the far reaches of the former
Habsburg Empire and are popular throughout southern Germany and in Hungary.
Legend has it that the crescent shape is derived from the Turkish half-moon.
These days Kipferl are a staple Christmas treat in Germany but can also be
found throughout the year. It is in this tradition that we bake them all
year round at Konditor & Cook – or perhaps it’s just to satisfy the
human squirrels who love the moreish taste of toasted hazelnuts and vanilla.
After baking, the warm biscuits are rolled in vanilla sugar. It is quite
handy to have a jar of vanilla sugar in your cupboard for this and other
recipes. Otherwise, just add a small pinch of fresh vanilla seeds to a cup
of caster sugar and mix well.

PHOTO: Jean Cazals

INGREDIENTS

50g ground hazelnuts
60g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
½ tsp vanilla extract
125g salted butter, cut into sugar-cube-sized pieces
200g plain flour

for the vanilla sugar:

If you start from scratch and want ‘instant’ vanilla sugar, use 1 vanilla pod
to about 250g caster sugar. It’s more economical, however, to mix
scraped-out vanilla pods with sugar and infuse it for a longer period
(ideally at least a week) in a tightly sealed jar. At Konditor & Cook we
have a big bucket of sugar into which we put all the empty vanilla pods.
There is plenty of residual flavour left in them and this is the best way to
extract it. For this recipe you will need 100g vanilla sugar.

METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Spread out the ground nuts on a baking sheet
lined with baking parchment and toast them in the oven for five to seven
minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

In a mixing bowl, blend the caster sugar with the egg yolk and vanilla
extract, using a wooden spoon. Add the cubed butter and mix until the pieces
have broken down a little. Add the flour and toasted ground hazelnuts, stir,
then knead to a smooth dough with your hands.

Divide the dough into three pieces and roll each one into a sausage 16-20cm
long. Cover with clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes. Remove the dough from
the fridge and cut each length into 16 pieces (half, then quarters, then
eighths and so on). Roll each piece into a ball, then, using the palms of
your hands, shape it into a small, tapered crescent moon. Don’t make the
ends too pointy or they will burn.

Place the cookies 1cm apart on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Bake
for about 12 minutes, until pale golden brown.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a minute or so, then push all the
cookies towards the centre of the tray and sprinkle with the vanilla sugar.
It’s best to cover them completely. Leave to cool. When the cookies are
completely cold, lift them out of the vanilla sugar. They will keep in an
airtight container for up to two months.

From Konditor & Cook: Deservedly Legendary Baking by Gerhard Jenne
(Ebury Press, £20)

Annie Rigg’s Vanilla and chocolate fudge

(makes about 50 pieces)

This fudge will keep for about two weeks in an airtight box between layers of
non-stick baking parchment or waxed paper.

PHOTO: Tara Fisher

INGREDIENTS

sunflower oil, for greasing
397g can condensed
milk
150ml full-cream milk
225g demerara or soft light brown sugar
225g caster sugar
a pinch of sea salt flakes
100g unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla bean paste

METHOD

Grease a 20cm square baking tin with sunflower oil and line with non-stick
baking paper. Tip all of the ingredients apart from the butter and vanilla
into a 2½ litre saucepan and place over a low heat to dissolve the sugars,
stirring frequently. Once the mixture is smooth, raise the heat slightly and
bring to the boil, again stirring to prevent the mixture from catching and
scorching on the bottom of the pan. Pop a sugar thermometer into the pan,
reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the mixture reaches
114-116C. Continue to stir the fudge frequently as it cooks.

Remove the pan from the heat as soon as the fudge reaches the required
temperature. Pour the fudge into a large mixing bowl, add the butter and
vanilla bean paste, stir once or twice to combine and leave to cool for five
to seven minutes without stirring.

Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, beat the fudge until it thickens,
loses its shine and starts to become grainy. Pour into the prepared tin,
spread level and leave until completely cold before cutting into pieces to
serve.

From Sweet Things by Annie Rigg (Kyle Books, £16.99)

To order any of these books at a discount, call Telegraph Books on
0844-871 1515 or visit
books.telegraph.co.uk

Christmas Trees

NHS ‘in crisis’: Hospitals at breaking point after record number of admissions this week

  • Service is being permanently run at a crisis level, doctors leaders warn
  • This week, the health service faces the highest level of emergency admissions in its history, with staff working ‘flat out’ to cope with demand
  • Patients may have to wait more than four hours and ops may be cancelled 

By

Anna Hodgekiss for MailOnline


Published:
06:19 EST, 19 December 2014

|
Updated:
08:22 EST, 19 December 2014

Hospitals in England have admitted a record number of patients this week, bringing the NHS to its knees, doctors have warned.

They say the service is being permanently run at a crisis level because pressures on A&E services ‘continue to increase significantly’. 

This week the health service faced the highest level of emergency admissions in its history, with staff forced to work ‘flat-out’ simply to cope with demand.

Last week there were 111,062 emergency admissions – the highest figure in more than a decade since records for emergency admissions began.

The NHS is being permanently run at crisis level because pressures on A&E services ‘continue to increase significantly’, doctors have warned 

Dr Barbara Hakin, national director of commissioning operations for NHS England, said: ‘Pressures on our A&E services continue to increase significantly.

‘We have admitted more people to hospital this week (ending December 14) to take care of them than in any previous week on record. 

‘I want to pay tribute to the staff dealing with that – they are doing a brilliant job.’

There were also 440,428 patients attending A&E, which was more than 24,000 on the same week last year. 

A senior NHS England official acknowledged that the service was facing ‘a tough winter’ which could see patients waiting longer than the four-hour target in A&E, as well as the cancellation of non-emergency operations.

Dr Mark Porter, the chairman of the British Medical Association, told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: ‘We’ve seen record numbers of patients waiting longer for treatment in emergency departments. 

‘We’ve seen emergency admissions at the highest they’ve been since records began.

‘But to me, the most important thing is really that the entire system is being run at a crisis basis simply in order to keep up with our existing work.

‘That means, of course, that our resilience to a further crisis – a winter crisis, or anything else laid on top of it – is reduced because everybody is at the present time working the system flat-out to serve patients.’

But Dr Hakin insisted she is ‘confident’ that the vast majority of patients would continue to be seen quickly and safely.

This is thanks, in part, to a £700 million injection of funds that will see more doctors, nurses and beds come on to the wards during the winter months.

She told the programme: ‘Dr Porter is certainly right that the NHS is under a lot of pressure. 

‘Last week we saw 440,000 patients in our A&E departments, which is 24,000 more than the same week last year.

‘But what I’m also sure of is that all of us working in the NHS, particularly all the staff out there on the front line, are working flat-out to make sure that patients get a safe service.’

She added: ‘We will have a tough winter and there may be times when patients wait longer than we want them to, or the standards we set for ourselves.’

‘It is important to remember that nine out of 10 patients in England are not just seen within four hours, but treated, admitted or discharged within four hours, which is the highest standard of anywhere in the western world.

Dr Barbara Hakin, of NHS England, has urged the public not to go to A&E or call an ambulance unless it is a genuinely urgent case 

Dr Barbara Hakin, of NHS England, has urged the public not to go to A&E or call an ambulance unless it is a genuinely urgent case 

‘We set ourselves very, very high standards for waiting times to see patients when they are urgently ill. 

‘Our standard is that 95 per cent of patients should be seen in that time, but at the moment we are only achieving around 90 per cent.’

Despite despite repeated campaigns to encourage the public not to clog up A&E, patients are still turning up in record numbers.

She urged patients to help ease the pressure by seeking help from GPs, pharmacists and the non-emergency 111 helpline, if their condition is not genuinely urgent.

She told the programme: ”Don’t go to A&E, don’t call an ambulance, unless that’s what you really need,’ she said. 

”As we come into the holiday period, it is important people continue to look after themselves and nip problems in the bud.

‘They should ensure they have proper medication, get their flu jab if they have not done so, and get advice from their pharmacist.’

Asked whether non-emergency operations may have to be cancelled, she said: ‘That’s always a possibility.

‘Our absolute priority is dealing with patients who need care urgently, making sure we prioritise, making sure that quality and safety are at the top of the agenda.

‘We hope that the cancellation of operations will be at an absolute minimum, but if we see a rise in influenza or norovirus – the virus that causes sickness and diarrhoea – then obviously we have to adjust capacity to make sure that our staff are there for those who most need it.

‘We plan for these situations. The NHS plans all year round for winter and has plans in place for when you have that extra problem like influenza.

‘We have plans in place to deal with whatever scenario arises for the NHS, and I’m confident that as the extra staff and beds come on-stream, we will be prepared, we will be ready to make sure that the vast majority of patients are seen very quickly, that all patients are seen safely and the quality is higher.

‘It may well be that some have to wait slightly longer than we would have wanted. But as I say, our absolute priority is quality and safety.’

Dr Hakin added: ‘We’ve recently put extra capacity into the system. A&E tends to be the barometer of what’s happening. 

When the urgent care system is stretched, the A&E department is where we see the waiting times longer than we would like them to be.’

She said there was ‘ lots of extra capacity coming into the system’. We’ve put £700 million into the system this year, which has bought extra doctors, extra nurses, extra beds. Many of them have come on-stream.

‘These doctors and nurses and beds have been coming on-stream for the last couple of months, but there are more to come through December, January and February because we know that January and February will be tough,’ she added. 

Xmas Holidays

England v Uruguay match at World Cup was most-viewed TV programme in 2014

  • 13.9m viewers watched England lose 2-1 to Uruguay on ITV1 in June
  • Also popular were BBC1 shows Great British Bake Off and Sherlock
  • In next two places were Britain’s Got Talent and the World Cup final
  • ITV viewing figures slumped more than any other channel this year 

By

Mark Duell for MailOnline


Published:
23:31 EST, 18 December 2014

|
Updated:
06:31 EST, 19 December 2014

England’s dramatic World Cup match with Uruguay was the most-watched TV programme of the year – although many viewers will wish they hadn’t bothered after our boys lost 2-1.

Some 13.9million people watched the game on ITV1 in June, and it was followed by BBC1 shows The Great British Bake Off in October with 13.5million, and Sherlock in January with 12.7million.

Also scoring highly for broadcasters were Britain’s Got Talent for ITV1 in April with 12.4million, and Germany’s 1-0 win against Argentina in the World Cup final in July on BBC1 with 12.1million.

Loss: Some 13.9million people watched England’s dramatic World Cup defeat to Uruguay in June on ITV1. In this image from after the game in Brazil, Luis Suarez consoles former Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard

Loss: Some 13.9million people watched England’s dramatic World Cup defeat to Uruguay in June on ITV1. In this image from after the game in Brazil, Luis Suarez consoles former Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard

Baking: The second-most popular show was The Great British Bake Off on BBC1 in October with 13.5million viewers. Pictured above are Luis Troyano (left), Richard Burr (right) and winner Nancy Birtwhistle (centre)

Baking: The second-most popular show was The Great British Bake Off on BBC1 in October with 13.5million viewers. Pictured above are Luis Troyano (left), Richard Burr (right) and winner Nancy Birtwhistle (centre)

Fictional detective: Sherlock on BBC1 in January came third on the list with 12.7million viewers. It was revealed in the episode how the character, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, faked his death

Fictional detective: Sherlock on BBC1 in January came third on the list with 12.7million viewers. It was revealed in the episode how the character, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, faked his death

England crashed out of the World Cup in Brazil one day after their defeat to Uruguay, whose two goals came from Luis Suarez, including an 85th-minute winner after Wayne Rooney had equalised.

It was the first time England had been knocked out in the group stages since 1958, with their elimination confirmed a day after the Uruguay defeat, when Costa Rica beat Italy in another game.

The figures on most-watched TV programmes came as it was revealed ITV viewing figures slumped more than any other channel this year as audiences deserted big hitting shows like The X Factor.

A disastrous 2014 saw 8 per cent of its peak time viewers leave the channel, with it faring even worse two years ago when it had the excuse of the BBC’s London 2012 Olympics coverage.

Hit talent show: Britain's Got Talent on ITV1 in April was fourth in the 2014 ratings list with 12.4million viewers

Hit talent show: Britain’s Got Talent on ITV1 in April was fourth in the 2014 ratings list with 12.4million viewers

Victory: Germany’s 1-0 win against Argentina in the World Cup final in July on BBC1 had 12.1million viewers

Victory: Germany’s 1-0 win against Argentina in the World Cup final in July on BBC1 had 12.1million viewers

In the jungle: I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here brought in 11.9million viewers for ITV1 last month

In the jungle: I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here brought in 11.9million viewers for ITV1 last month

This year’s nosedive comes despite traditional ratings winners such as the World Cup, Coronation Street and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.

BIG RATINGS: THE TOP TEN MOST WATCHED TV PROGRAMMES OF 2014

  1. England v Uruguay, World Cup (ITV1, June 19) – 13.9million
  2. The Great British Bake Off       (BBC1, October 8) – 13.5million
  3. Sherlock                                        (BBC1, January 1) – 12.7million
  4. Britain’s Got Talent                    (ITV1, April 12) – 12.4million
  5. Germany v Argentina, World Cup (BBC1, July 13) – 12.1million 
  6. I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here (ITV1, November 16) – 11.9million 
  7. Strictly Come Dancing            (BBC1, November 15) – 11.4million
  8. Call The Midwife                       (BBC1, January 19) – 11.3million
  9. Coronation Street                      (ITV1, January 20) – 11million
  10. Downton Abbey                          (ITV1, November 2) – 10.7million

Figures from trade body the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (Barb) for the journal Broadcast showed ITV was the big loser in audience ratings for the year to December 7.

BBC1 and Channel 5 remained stable, while BBC2 and Channel 4 both recorded falls. ITV’s average audience across all hours was just 1.4million viewers, a 15.7 per cent share of the available audience.

This is down 8 per cent on the 1.51million viewers – representing a 16.3 per cent share – in 2013 when it seemed to have recovered from the damage done by BBC coverage of the 2012 Olympics.

This year’s X Factor audience averaged 8.5million and a 33.2 per cent share, compared to 9.2million and a 34.8 per cent share last year when Sam Bailey won.

However, an ITV spokesman defended the channel’s performance, telling Broadcast: ‘In 2014 ITV broadcast 99.3 per cent of commercial programmes that attracted audiences over five million viewers.

‘We also had the most watched new drama series in Cilla, the most watched soap in Coronation Street, the most watched entertainment series in Britain’s Got Talent, and the highest rating comedy in Birds of a Feather.’

BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore said: ‘Whoever would have thought a show about baking would be the highest rating show of the year outside of the World Cup?’

Xmas Holidays

Fussy and Fancy

Hello and welcome to another challenge at Winter Wonderland -Lynsey here.  I would like to wish you all a very Merry christmas from me and the rest of the DT.

Thank you for all your lovely entries into last week’s challenge.


Last week’s winner as chosen by Random Org is:

And here is the winning entry

Congratulations – please email Lynsey  to claim your prize of a stamp from Whiff of Joy before the end of the current challenge. Please make the subject of your e-mail Winter Wonderland Winner and sponsor name.

Now onto the top three

Please take our top three banner to display proudly on your blog.

Now onto this week’s challenge which is 

Fussy and Fancy

 so we are looking forward to seeing lots of busy cards for your entries!
This is the start of the few months of the year where you don’t have to make a Christmas project to enter our challenge although you can make it a Christmas project if you want to. 
As this is our last challenge for 2014 it will last for 2 weeks and we have four great prizes on offer!  These are our great sponsors:

£10 Voucher from the The Hobby House
£10 Voucher from Wild Orchid
£10 Voucher for Crafter’s Companion
3 Digi’s from Crafty Sentiments Designs
Here’s the inspiration from the DT.  We always appreciate a visit so if you click the name you can hop over and leave them a comment and also find out if they have combined their challenge with any others, which could give you some ideas.

Susan
Fussy cut around holly leaves
We all hope you are able to join us in our challenge this week. We look forward to visiting your blogs and seeing your gorgeous creations. Please be sure to post a link back to the Winter Wonderland blog in your blog post in order to be eligible for this weeks prize! Thursday evening (5pm GMT) is the deadline for your creation to qualify for the prizes.
So all that’s left is for you to get creative and leave your entry here with the blue frog so we can come and find you asap.

Have fun and remember you can enter each challenge up to 3 times.

Lynsey and the WW Teamies xxx 




Christmas 2013

The Christmas I was 16 and fell in love with a woman for the first time | Julie Bindel

It was 23 December, 1978, and Slade’s Merry christmas Everybody was bouncing off the walls of the Casablanca club. I was only 16, too young to buy alcohol, so my friend David, camp as a row of tents in his bell-bottom Brutus jeans and tight cheesecloth T-shirt, and with tinsel around his neck, pushed his way to the bar to order two pints of lager and blackcurrant.

Maybe because it was Christmas, even the few straight men in the club looked gay. Spirits were high as the lesbians and gays danced and chatted, drowning out the dread of a closeted Christmas Day, during which relatives would ask the inevitable: “So, when will you be getting married?”

I had never been out in Newcastle before, and had travelled to the Toon from my home in Darlington with David, who worked in the same hair salon as me. Prior to that, I had been out only in Middlesbrough, where there was a small club that, once a week, admitted lesbians and gay men.

But on this occasion I had been persuaded to branch out and try to meet a nice girl to kiss under the mistletoe. My efforts at dating in the year I had been out as a lesbian had been somewhat unsuccessful. Aside from fiddling around a bit with a schoolfriend, on whom I had a massive crush – and who was off quicker than a rat up a drainpipe when we were “found out” – there had been only the odd snog in the back row of the cinema with unsuitable, self-hating lezzers I had met through the befriending section of Gay Times magazine.

It was not easy to be out and proud in the 1970s. It was perfectly understandable that the young women I met through Gay Times were scared and short on confidence. The stigma was intense, and being called “queer” and “dyke” in public kept us in a perpetual state of fear.

Meeting David in the salon meant I could have fun, as well as look for political activists. I was already a member of the north-east branch of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), and had been trying to meet feminist activists (which I finally managed the following year). All I needed to complete my life was a bit of romance.

Along we trolled to the Casablanca, passing Christmas party outings, carol singers, and groups of young men in shirt sleeves, despite the freezing weather. I saw a tall, red-haired woman look furtively around her before entering the premises. I could already hear loud disco music – maybe the Village People’s Macho Man, or Knock on Wood by Amii Stewart. What I do know is that Zing Went the Strings of My Heart when I bumped into the red-haired woman by the cloakroom. I fell immediately and heavily in love.

Jan was training to be a nurse, and had recently split up with her girlfriend. As we began to flirt, the Bay City Rollers’ Bye Bye Baby came on and a rather butch-looking woman in head-to-toe tartan asked me for a dance. “She is with me,” said Jan, and I melted at her words. Sixteen-year-old me was captivated by the sophistication of this 19-year-old, educated, utterly glorious-looking lesbian who oozed confidence and smoked French fags through a holder.

We sat on the steps of the club in the cold and rain, avoiding the deafening sound of Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day, which I changed in my head to “I wish I could be with her every day”. As party animals pushed past us, shouting “merry Christmas” to puzzled-looking passers by (among the many outrageous outfits, one man was wearing backless, glittery leather chaps, with no undercrackers, and a Santa beard covering his meat and two veg), we leaned in and kissed. Properly. Tongues and everything. Jan tasted of Drambuie and smelled of Charlie perfume.

I could barely breathe with the excitement of being in love. It was so different from a crush, I thought. Crushes are for girls; I am now a proper woman and a bona fide lesbian. Jan asked me to stay with her that night, and I pretended to be nonchalant. This is difficult, I discovered, when shaking from head to toe, and unable to speak.

Our last dance that night was to either Gladys Knight and the Pips or Al Green. I remember the smell of poppers as the boys prepared themselves to go on clubbing elsewhere into the early hours.

Jan told me she had Advocaat at hers and that she would make me a snowball and feed me mince pies, which she did. We had them for breakfast.

I am not a huge fan of Christmas, but every year, as soon as the seasonal songs and snowballs come out I am reminded of my coming of lesbian age. Jan and I lasted only a couple of months, but Christmas will always remind me of falling in love that very first time.

Christmas Trees

Santa’s real workshop: the town in China that makes the world’s Christmas decorations

There’s red on the ceiling and red on the floor, red dripping from the window sills and red globules splattered across the walls. It looks like the artist Anish Kapoor has been let loose with his wax cannon again. But this, in fact, is what the making of christmas looks like; this is the very heart of the real Santa’s workshop – thousands of miles from the North Pole, in the Chinese city of Yiwu.

Our yuletide myth-making might like to imagine that Christmas is made by rosy-cheeked elves hammering away in a snow-bound log cabin somewhere in the Arctic Circle. But it’s not. The likelihood is that most of those baubles, tinsel and flashing LED lights you’ve draped liberally around your house came from Yiwu, 300km south of Shanghai – where there’s not a (real) pine tree nor (natural) snowflake in sight.

Christened “China’s Christmas village”, Yiwu is home to 600 factories that collectively churn out over 60% of all the world’s christmas decorations and accessories, from glowing fibre-optic trees to felt Santa hats. The “elves” that staff these factories are mainly migrant labourers, working 12 hours a day for a maximum of £200 to £300 a month – and it turns out they’re not entirely sure what Christmas is.

Wei gets through at least 10 face masks each day, trying not to breathe in the cloud of red dust.

Wei gets through at least 10 face masks each day, trying not to breathe in the cloud of red dust.
Photograph: Imaginechina/Rex

“Maybe it’s like [Chinese] New Year for foreigners,” says 19-year-old Wei, a worker who came to Yiwu from rural Guizhou province this year, speaking to Chinese news agency Sina. Together with his father, he works long days in the red-splattered lair, taking polystyrene snowflakes, dipping them in a bath of glue, then putting them in a powder-coating machine until they turn red – and making 5,000 of the things every day.

In the process, the two of them end up dusted from head to toe in fine crimson powder. His dad wears a Santa hat (not for the festive spirit, he says, but to stop his hair from turning red) and they both get through at least 10 face masks a day, trying not to breathe in the dust. It’s a tiring job and they probably won’t do it again next year: once they’ve earned enough money for Wei to get married, they plan on returning home to Guizhou and hopefully never seeing a vat of red powder again.

Packaged up in plastic bags, their gleaming red snowflakes hang alongside a wealth of other festive paraphernalia across town in the Yiwu International Trade Market, aka China Commodity City, a 4m sq m wonder-world of plastic tat. It is a pound shop paradise, a sprawling trade show of everything in the world that you don’t need and yet may, at some irrational moment, feel compelled to buy. There are whole streets in the labyrinthine complex devoted to artificial flowers and inflatable toys, then come umbrellas and anoraks, plastic buckets and clocks. It is a heaving multistorey monument to global consumption, as if the contents of all the world’s landfill sites had been dug-up, re-formed and meticulously catalogued back into 62,000 booths.

The two men produce 5,000 red snowflakes a day, and get paid around £300 a month.

The two men produce 5,000 red snowflakes a day, and get paid around £300 a month.
Photograph: China Daily/Reuters

The complex was declared by the UN to be the “largest small commodity wholesale market in the world” and the scale of the operation necessitates a kind of urban plan, with this festival of commerce organised into five different districts. District Two is where Christmas can be found.

There are corridors lined with nothing but tinsel, streets throbbing with competing LED light shows, stockings of every size, plastic Christmas trees in blue and yellow and fluorescent pink, plastic pine cones in gold and silver. Some of it seems lost in translation: there are sheep in Santa hats and tartan-embroidered reindeer, and of course lots of that inexplicable Chinese staple, Father Christmas playing the saxophone.

It might look like a wondrous bounty, but the market’s glory days seem to have passed: it’s now losing out to internet giants like Alibaba and Made In China. On Alibaba alone, you can order 1.4m different Christmas decorations to be delivered to your door at the touch of a button. Yiwu market, by comparison, stocks a mere 400,000 products.

A Christmas corridor in District Two of Yiwu International Trade Market.

A Christmas corridor in District Two of Yiwu International Trade Market. Photograph: /flickr

Aiming at the lower end of the market, Yiwu’s sales thrived during the recession, as the world shopped for cut-price festive fun, but international sales are down this year. Still, according to Cai Qingliang, vice chairman of the Yiwu Christmas Products Industry Association, domestic appetite is on the rise, as China embraces the annual festival of Mammon. Santa Claus, says the Economist, is now better known to most Chinese people than Jesus.

The beaming sales reps of Yiwu market couldn’t sound happier with their life sentence of eternal Christmastime. According to Cheng Yaping, co-founder of the Boyang Craft Factory, who runs a stall decked out like a miniature winter wonderland: “Sitting here every day, being able to look at all these beautiful decorations, is really great for your mood.”

It’s somehow unlikely that those on the other end of the production line, consigned to dipping snowflakes in red-swamped workshops for us to pick up at the checkout for 99p, feel quite the same way.

Christmas Trees

Sweet Christmas Kitchen (Other Half), Part 9 ,Our Christmas Home Tour 2014

Welcome to Part 9 of our christmas Home Tour 2014, The Other Half of my Sweet Christmas Kitchen!!

  If you missed Part 1 of Our Christmas Home Tour, The Outside of our Home, Click HERE

  If you missed Part 2 of Our Christmas Home Tour, The Outside All Lit Up at Night, Click HERE

If you missed Part 3 of Our Christmas Home Tour, Living Room Tree and Village, please click HERE 

 If you missed Part 4 of Our Christmas Home Tour, An Old Fashioned Christmas in Half of the Living Room, please click HERE

 If you missed Part 5 of Our Christmas Home Tour, An Old Fashioned Christmas in the Other Half of the Living Room, please click HERE

If
you missed Part 6 of Our Christmas Home Tour, A Pink,White and
Gold Christmas in the Dining Room ( First Half) , please click HERE

 If
you missed Part 7 of Our Christmas Home Tour, A Pink,White and
Gold Christmas in the Dining Room ( the other Half) ,please click HERE

  If
you missed Part 8 of Our Christmas Home Tour, “Sweet” Christmas Kitchen, Tree #8 and Hutch, please click HERE

In my last post, I shared this wall in my Kitchen……

In this post, I will share the rest of my small Kitchen with you…….

I have decorated it with mostly gingerbread and candy for Christmas creating a “Sweet” Christmas Kitchen!!

Above the stove…….

One of my favorite Christmas quotes…….

I told you before that I hang ornaments from where ever I can!!

Fitting that they hang above the stove, don’t you think?????

Even though I HATE to cook!!

Next to the stove……

This is actually the top of a cookie tin…..

I love it so I hung it!!

A sweet pot holder….

A clearance buy from last year after Christmas….

Above the sink…..

If you are familiar with Debbie-Dabble, you will remember that this was once the back of our townhouse, looking out into a Patio.

When we made that patio into our Den, my Dad took the back door and the kitchen window out so this is where the Kitchen window once was……..

I have a great time decorating this area……

I bought this swag several years ago at T.J.Maxx and have added to it over the years…..

This year, I decided to hang some of my vintage copper cookie cutters on it……

I hang a piece of garland from tea cup hooks at the top of where the window once was…..

I will show you the left side first……

The garland allows me to hang ornaments from it…..

Most of the candy ornaments came from Dollar Tree…..

Vintage copper sconces hang on each side…..

A small chandy in the center…..

It is a joy to wash dishes here ……..

Wait!!

 I do not have a dishwasher…….

Wait!!

Yes, I do …..his name is Joe!!

The right side……

You can see into the Den……..

On the shelf above the sink……

On the left side……

The LED candles in the Santa mugs are on a timer.  and the Kitchen Santa was bought at BurlingTon Coat Factory years ago

The gingerbread houses also light up…..

Don’t pay attention to the plug for the lights….

I do love this area….

Around the corner up above the cabinets…….

It IS the most wonderful time of the year!!

In the corner on the counter……

 A lighted Santa in the corner…..

The “d” plate was a gift……

Moving over to the corner by the refrigerator….

 This is our Coffee and Tea area…..

 I have used Artificial Sweetner for the past 40 years and the packs are stored in the Tea for One set on the counter…..

 The mug stand holds Christmas Mugs and sits on a marble turntable…..

 The Tea area………

 Top of the refrigerator….

 Again, the gingerbread theme……

The chocolate looking nutcracker was bought at Sears last year on clearance……

This gingerbread house was a gift…..

This little house was also bought on Clearance…..

The Gingerbread Salt and Pepper shakers are from The Christmas Tree Shop……

 The cupcake dish was bought at an Estate Sale this Summer…..

 Above the door way to the Dining Room……

 The last wall in the Kitchen……

 We had this counter bar built here for extra counter space because I am sure you noticed that I have virtually none!!

 You can see that this is a small wall……

The Dining Room is on the left and the Hallway to the Living Room is on the right…….

I told you I had a small Kitchen!!

You can see the reverse side of the stained glass that I hung in the pass through to the Dining Room along with curtains creating a fake window…..

On the left…..

On the right….

 
 

 Hanging from the ceiling…..

 I filled the 3 tier basket that normally holds fruit with candy ornaments….

  I added garland above the fake window and hung ornaments from it……

This year, I took down the Galley sign that hangs there all the time and hung a smaller gingerbread sign from Dollar Tree to show more of the valance…….

On the Counter Bar…….

the left side……..

 Red mercury glass candlesticks with candy cane like candles sit on the ledge…..

 The Penguin Cookie Jar is for Joe as we have Season Tickets to the Wilkes Barre Scranton Penguins ( AHL Team of Pittsburgh) Hockey Team…….

 Vintage Salt and Pepper Shakers sit on candy like dishes……

That is a Corian Cutting Board underneath the shakers that I bought at our Church’s Craft fair…..

A few years ago,I  made the lamp shade for my tea pot lamp using a vintage tea towel to cover the shade……

 The Cooking Santa Salt and Pepper shakers are from Penney’s and the spoon drips are from The Christmas Tree Shop……

 The left side…..

 2 things I need to explain…….

1. The hot pepper and oregano shakers- Joe makes a pizza for himself every single night BEFORE bed and has for the 36 years we are married. He has a stomach of STEEL!!!!

I would be in the ED, doubled over with abdominal pain!

2. The vintage refrigerator dish holds my work stuff- pens, ID badge, nursing scissors, mini flashlight and other things that I take every night to work with me.

 The Cookie Jar was bought many years ago in Target after Christmas……

 Below the counter bar is our microwave……

For 3 years now, I have been making a red curtain to cover the bottom area…….

 Maybe next year…..

Looking back…….

The next part of the tour????????

See it??????

Through the hall way is the Powder Room…….

 I hope you will be back to visit for my next post which will be Part 10
of Our Christmas Home Tour 2014, Blue Winter Wonderland in the Powder
Room and Tree #9!!!

Hope to see you soon!!!

A Debbie-Dabble Christmas


I am linking up to these parties:

Christmas Linky Party
 Christmas Homemaking Hop
Creating Christmas – Vintage Christmas

  FRIDAY
 Simple and Sweet Fridays
Home Sweet Home Friday
 Show and Tell Friday
Friday Favorites
   Flaunt It Fridays
  What To Do Weekends
 Anything Goes Linky Party
Friday’s Five Features Party 
Fabulous Fridays 

SATURDAY
 Pink Saturday
Say G’ Day Saturday 
Friday Features Linky Party
Welcome to the Weekend Blog Hop

SUNDAY
Bouquet of Talent Linky Party
Share It One More Time Sundays
DIY SHowcase 
Sunday Brunch Party
 Snickerdoodle Sunday

MONDAY
 Busy Monday

Mod Vintage Mix Monday

 Make It Pretty Monday
 Monday Link Party 

TUESDAY
  Show and Share Party

Please take some time to visit these terrific hosts and all those joining in on the fun!

Thanks so much for stopping by today and every day that you take the time to visit with me!

Hugs,
Debbie

Christmas Trees

Santa school: my gruelling training to become Father Christmas

James Lovell instructs:
James Lovell instructs: “We need to keep the beard looking beautiful at all times” Photo: Thom Atkinson

People will tell you it is all mince pies, sleigh rides and belly-wobbling
laughter. Don’t believe them: it is not easy being Father christmas,
especially when you are doing it in one of Britain’s biggest department
stores.

I visit the Ministry
of Fun
, an events company based in south London and home to the
country’s leading Santa school. It is two days before Hallowe’en but the
staff’s attention is already focused firmly on December. Red and white suits
hang from rails around the open-plan office, and whiteboards detail where
the 30 Father Christmases on the company’s books this year are to be
deployed.

One of the first things I learn in a morning of one-on-one training is that
this elite band of Father Christmases is prepared for any eventuality. “Our
Santas always have to do their homework,” James Lovell, 49, the founder
of the Ministry of Fun and a sometime Santa, says.

“You have to know what the predicted bestselling toys are. It’s also good
if you know about the most popular computer games and TV shows so you can
ask children who their favourite characters are and tell them yours.”

This year’s predicted bestsellers are My
Friend Cayla
, a doll that can answer general-knowledge questions,
and Teksta
T-Rex
, a robotic dinosaur. “Santa never asks a child’s name
because he will have been told it by his elves.

He never asks what they want for Christmas, because of course he has already
had their letter; he just asks to be reminded,” Lovell warns.

It was a publicity coup when the first department-store Santa appeared at James
Edgar’s shop
in Brockton, Massachusetts, in 1890. The same was
the case when Harry Gordon Selfridge brought the practice to Britain with
the opening of his London shop in 1909, though Lewis’s Bon Marché in
Liverpool boasted a (Santa-free) Christmas Fairyland grotto, the world’s
first, back in 1879.

Father Christmas began appearing at Harrods during an annual toy fair from
1918, and other venues around the country soon followed suit.

We have department stores to thank for the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed
Reindeer too: a Chicago-based chain commissioned the advertising copywriter
Robert May to invent a seasonal tale to be given away to customers. (The
resulting story went on to shift six million copies.)

(Photo: Thom Atkinson)

Now Santas can charge about £150 for a seven-hour day – though this depends on
the length of the booking and the size of the shop, and it is often more for
private parties – and several thousands of pounds if they appear in an ad.
To tap into this market Lovell, who trained at the Welsh College of Music
and Drama and worked as a clown before moving into PR and events, set up the
Ministry of Fun
in 1997. For
the rest of the year the company organises other events.

All prospective Father Christmases are DBS-checked
before they are allowed to graduate from the Ministry’s Santa school at the
end of a day’s training. In the past 17 years more than 700 men – no women –
have graduated from the course and gone on to work in Britain’s most famous
grottoes.

First I have to look the part. Throughout the session Lovell reminds me that
the real Father Christmas does exist and that we, his trainees, are only
employed because the big man can’t be in two places at once. However, once
the suit is on, graduates must consider themselves the real Santa. “To
wear the red and white suit of Father Christmas is a privilege,” the
school’s training manual reads. “And with that privilege there
comes a huge responsibility… We are red. We are white. And we are proud.”

Getting into the costume, which costs £800 and is replaced every other year by
the Ministry of Fun, presents its own set of difficulties. As a
comparatively slim 25-year-old man, I need a bit of padding, so Lovell slips
two fat-vests over my head and ties them around my stomach. After 10 minutes
I start to sweat, causing a glued-on moustache to fall off my upper lip and
a precariously balanced pair of glasses to slide off my nose.

(Photo: Thom Atkinson)

Despite my expanded waistline, the leather belt will not stay in place and I
have to keep hoisting it up, moving the buckle out of line with the buttons
of the jacket – which Lovell says is the number-one giveaway of a “sloppy
Santa”. The boots, which cost £200, are too big – though this is
apparently deliberate, to give the wearer an appropriately heavy walk – and
come with steel toe-caps to protect Santa’s toes from overexcited, jumping
children.

Top-of-the-range beards, which are made from real hair stitched and weaved on
to gauze and then fitted to the individual Santa’s chin, cost as much as
£750.

A more authentic approach is to hire a Father Christmas with his own white
beard, such as Geoff Loynes, 80, a graduate of the Ministry’s Santa school,
who has taken on the seasonal role for the past 20 years at London schools
and restaurants and once appeared in an ad for Aldi. He describes himself as
a shy man, “except when I’m Santa”.

“I’ve always had a big beard so at first I was a Karl Marx lookalike,”
Loynes, who lives in Basingstoke with his wife of 45 years, says. “My
main job was as a freelance animation artist, but I had an agent for the
lookalike work, who suggested I be Father Christmas too. Even when I’m not
in my costume children will come up to me and say, ‘Father Christmas has
come to see us!’ I look forward to it all year and I would do it for nothing
if that was how it had to be. It’s harder getting into London than it used
to be, because of my age, but I still have about eight appearances this
year. I’ll carry on doing it for as long as I’m able.”

After years in the business, or perhaps by nature, Loynes has a voice that
sounds as though it is being blown in from the North Pole. The Santa voice
is something I have to work on at the Ministry of Fun, pacing the room with
Lovell, who instructs me to bring my “ho ho ho” up from my
diaphragm rather than my throat.

(Photo: Thom Atkinson)

But the hardest part is knowing how to react to the things children say. Not
necessarily the “Are you real?” inquiries, which generally come
from boys aged around 10, according to Lovell. Like any media-trained global
star, a Santa knows how to bounce a question back. Are you the real Theo?
Very well then, I’m the real Santa.

“The difficult thing is when you ask what they want for Christmas and
they say, ‘I want Mum and Dad back together,’” Lovell explains. “You
try to change the subject as quickly as possible.”

Robert Jaye, 36, another graduate and a regular at one of London’s most famous
grottoes (he cannot say which one), agrees. “The hardest question I
have ever been asked was from a child who wanted to know if I could save
their brother from a terminal illness. You have to acknowledge something
like that – you can’t just say, ‘Wouldn’t a rabbit be nice this
year?’ In the end I told them I wanted them to know that Mrs Claus and I and
all the elves would be thinking about their brother. Obviously I was getting
choked up as well.”

The working day of one of these Santas usually begins at 10.30am and ends at
6pm. Because of the heat of the suit and the energy necessary to fully
embody the role, Santa takes a break every 90 minutes or so. And while there
are stories of diabetic Santas having to keep Lucozade stashed under their
suits to keep them going, Lovell says his trainees are not allowed to eat or
drink in costume. “Water can only be drunk using a straw. We need to
keep the beard looking beautiful at all times.”

While Santa is the star of the show, those in the business emphasise that one
should never under-estimate the importance of a good elf.

“You end up relying on them for a lot,” Jaye, who for the rest of
the year plays the Fat Controller in a touring production of Thomas the Tank
Engine, says. ‘They get the children’s names and tell you a bit about them,
and generally keep the whole experience in check.”

The panel at Hamleys’ Elf Factor auditions (Photo: Thom Atkinson)

The day before attending Santa school, I sit in on Hamleys
toyshop’s Elf Factor auditions, the final stage of a process that sees
several hundred applicants whittled down to a team of 25, who will work at
the Regent Street store during the festive season, assisting Santa.

The applicants, almost all students or aspiring actors, are fizzing with
Christmas cheer. An 18-year-old business student called Gigi recites a poem,
dressed in a Christmas-tree outfit that has been made by her mother. Johann,
a performing-arts student who moved to London from Colombia three years ago,
sings “All I want for Christmas is this job” in
the style of Mariah Carey.

Christopher, wearing a T-shirt designed to look like an elf’s shirt and
jacket, says he loves Christmas so much “that at school I once said my
name was Christophermass!”

When the judges step outside to deliberate, they talk about candidates being “personable”
(good), “sparkly” (better) or “lacking that Hamleys factor”
(unsuitable). They are impressed by a drama-school student who backflips
across the floor but say they need to see more of her speaking; they are
less taken with a young woman who claims not to have prepared anything and
simply recounts how she spent last Christmas with her family.

(The presence of Mark Drummond, Hamleys’s head of web and marketing, who seems
keen to ensure the judging panel of existing employees stays on-message at
all times, serves as a reminder that meetings with Santa are big business:
the shop’s hour-long I
Met Father Christmas

experience costs £45 per child, rising to £55 if you want a picture of
your child with Santa.)

A would-be elf (Photo: Thom Atkinson)

Back at the Ministry of Fun, as my Father Christmas persona is beginning to
take shape, Lovell recalls his first time as Santa. “I remember
thinking it was going to be easy,” he says. “I heard the child’s
footsteps and thought I knew what to expect, but then they came in, saw me
and gasped. I was Father Christmas! It was amazing.”

Now it is my turn. I am sitting in a makeshift grotto in a room off the main
office when two adult Ministry of Fun employees come to visit, in the
absence of any children. They test what I have learnt during the session,
including the names of all the reindeer and how to say “Merry Christmas”
in several major world languages.

With Lovell nodding at me encouragingly from the sidelines, I soon overcome a
sense of self-consciousness and almost relax into the part. As I have been
taught, I never leave a silence, using my “ho ho ho” to cover any
pauses in conversation. And above all I never promise to bring any specific
present – just that I will try my best to get what is on their list and that
whatever is under their tree this year will have been brought with lots of
love.

I pass the test and, like all graduates of the school, receive a glass of
sherry and a certificate to prove that I have been trained in “the
magical art of being Father Christmas”. Though several decades younger,
100lb lighter and in everyday life many degrees less jolly, for a few
minutes I really do become Santa. Joyeux Noël, Feliz Navidad and Gun tso sun
tan’gung haw sun.

Christmas Trees