My Christmassy Destinations

Many people complain that Christmas starts earlier each year. I never complain. I love looking at the shops and buildings dressed up in tinsel and decorations while listening to Christmas songs. I’ve put together a list of my favourite and not so favourite Winter destinations I’ve visited over the years.

Disneyland Paris

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My favourite destination anytime of the year. During the Winter wonderland season they spray fake snow into the main street (not the cheap foam stuff) and everything seems to jingle. After a chocolate crepe and mulled wine in Fantasyland its time for a quick turn on the Mad Hatters Tea Cups.

Manchester Christmas Markets

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Best time to visit is late afternoon/ early evening. Its one of the best city Christmas markets in England with the right mix of traditional German stalls, local artisans, unique gift stalls and a variety of regional, international and seasonal food and drink stalls. Make sure you try the roasted chestnuts (St Annes Square) and a mug of mulled wine with cognac (St Anne’s Square for ambience, King Street for taste).

Vienna Austria

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I visited Vienna a few years ago in early December. Two words. Bloody freezing. I would advise taking extra socks, thermal underwear, big jumpers and a bigger overcoat! But don’t let the cold put you off, Vienna is a beautiful city, especially when its frosted in ice and snow. My favourite bits, every morning the church bells of the cathedral would wake me, room service delivered a complimentary hot chocolate to your room and the maid left a chocolate on your pillow after cleaning. The royal palace is beautiful and a must see. The Christmas market is traditional and delightful, and on every street corner there is a hut selling Gluhwien. Austrian mulled wine is not like anything I’ve ever tasted, one very small serving nearly knocked me off my feet.

Winter Wonderland Hyde Park

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I met friends here a couple of years ago and was suffering from a tremendous head cold. It was quite a warm day and dry so I risked the trip and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The Christmas market was small, the food and drink stalls plentyful and the fairground rides really good fun. After partaking if several hot spiced orange juice with whisky (for medicinal purposes) I went on every ride twice. Best was the downhill tabogins, the merrygoround and the great wheel. The great wheel moves slowly, is best done in daylight for the view and isn’t for anyone with a fear of heights.

Winter Hill and Lever Park Lancashire

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When it snows the only place to take your sledge/old tyre/black bin liner/upturned old car bonnet/tea tray is up Winter Hill. There’s a pretty clear slope at the foot of the hill in Lever Park where you can get some speed up before crashing into a sheep. Afterwards a quick visit to the pub for a warming brandy to nurse your cuts, bruises, and breaks is a lot more fun then A&E.

Bath Christmas Market

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This year we met up with friends at Bath Christmas Market. Bath is a beautiful city and I’m planning to go back in the summer. Unfortunately I did not like the market, it was huge but all the stalls were very much the same. Its was very busy with tourists as well as shoppers, even at 6pm. I ambled from one stall to another sampling cheeses, nuts, liquors and ciders ( I’m noticing a pattern in my activities at my winter destinations) but nothing tickled my fancy. My friends enjoyed the market so it may have been me. I thought it lacked atmosphere.

Lytham Fylde Coast

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I love seaside towns. I even like them in winter, the grey skies, the grey sea, the wild winds and waves all have a magic of their own. Lytham is one of the few seaside towns which doesn’t look dismal in winter. The mix of independent shops and charity shops means I always find a bargain. Stop off at the Lytham Kitchen for hot chocolate fudge cake with ice cream. The mulled wine is okay but a little sweet for me.

Do you have favourite winter destinations? Have you been to any of mine?

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My Favourite Christmas Songs

Many of my memories are made during the holiday seasons, the happy and the sad. Perhaps because I spend more time with my family, and notice those who are no longer with us at these festivities. A song can bring these memories vividly to life, whether its a slow smooth beat evoking the lazy summer holidays or a creepy tune bringing out the ghoulish ghosts at Halloween. With this in mind here is a selection of my favourite festive Yuletide songs which conjure the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

White Christmas – Bing Crosby
The ultimate Christmas song and it can only be sung by Bing Crosby. The first two lines of the lyrics conjures up every good memory of every snow covered Christmas gone by.

Driving Home for Christmas – Chris Rea
This song brings back a lot of memories. On Christmas Eve in my younger and wilder days, my sister and I would go partying with our friends, wish everyone a Merry Christmas at midnight then set off home. Guaranteed this song would be playing on every radio station. When we got home my Mum and Gran would be waiting with a freshly roasted ham (part of the Christmas Days feast). We would have sandwiches, sherry, mince pies and one present to open. My Gran is sadly no longer with us, I don’t keep in touch with my old friends as much as I should, and my clubbing days are over. Whenever I hear this song now it makes me cry.

Merry Christmas Everyone – Shaken’ Stevens
Its fun, its corny and they played it at every children’s party I went to. And at the ones I still go to.

Fairytale of New York – The Pogues & Kirsty McColl
One of my all time favourites. Past, present and future. Full of laughter, tears and hope.

The Nutcracker Suite – Tchaikovsky
This has been one if my favourite classical pieces for many years. There is one part which sounds almost mechanical, I can imagine all the toys under the tree coming to life and moving in time.

Baby’s its Cold Outside – Tom Jones & Cerys Matthew
I’ve heard many versions if this duet, my second favourite is by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Although someone recently suggested the song is about date rape which has marred my enjoyment of it.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas – Christmas Carollers
Christmas isn’t Christmas without carollers and this is my favourite carol. Lately carolling has gone out of fashion except in church. I hope it becomes popular again soon and I can listen to carollers wishing me a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year while I’m browsing the shops for gifts.

Silent Night – Christmas Carollers
Another favourite carol of mine. Christmas isn’t just about presents, or snow, or family getting together. Its about Jesus and the love, joy, hope and peace he brings us now and for the future. God bless us everyone.

Merry Christmas x

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The Night Horseman by Max Brand – audio book review

I’m a big fan of Western films. I like the black and white corny classics of the 30s, the big screen Technicolors of the 50s, the spaghetti westerns of the 70s; I even liked the recent and very strange movie ‘Cowboys and Aliens’. So it’s surprising that I haven’t read any western novels. Having a pile of unread novels waiting by my bedside I decided to try some free audio books.

This is the first book I’ve listened to by Max Brand, the other two were by Zane Grey but I think Max Brand is the better storyteller. The Night Horseman is the second book in a series but it works well as a stand alone book. Its a complex story with many layers and subplots all centred around the main character Dan Berry. It begins with Dr Byrne attending the sick bed of old Joe Cumberland, the man who raised Dan Berry, and his subsequent advice that Dan Berry should be brought home to see the dying man. An event which would be both a blessing and a curse.

The novel is very Gothic mixed with a traditional western style story, but it is the range of secondary characters and the subtle wit which I really enjoyed. My favourite character must be Dr Byrne and his gradual character progression from ‘bookworm’ to ‘participant of life’. I also liked Buck Daniels as a person and the difficult decisions he has to make. The author did a good job with the female lead character, Kate Cumberland by not making her pathetic or weak, even though she had all the sense and reason of a woman hopelessly in love with the wrong man. The main character of Dan Berry isn’t a complex one but he is surrounded by mystery and his motives are sometimes hard to understand. This is probably the authors intention as he is portrayed more like a wild animal then a human being. I’m not sure if I like the main character Dan Berry, but maybe Ive known too many wild men with glowing yellow eyes!

Overall I really enjoyed this novel, for me it had the right mix of adventure, drama, love and human spirit topped of with a gothic atmosphere and witty dialogue and I’m looking forward to reading more of Max Brands novels.

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Audio Books vs Print Books

Recently I moved house so I’ve had no broadband connection for the last two weeks. Because I use a free app to stream audiobooks I used up my remaining mobile phone data, bought another 1GB and used that up during one afternoon listening to a The Lone Star Ranger by Zane Grey. Distraught at not being able to listen to a book while I went about my daily chores I took half an hour off in the garden with a printed book and a cup of tea. Was it more enjoyable to take time out and read a book or listen to someone else reading it while I worked? Its a question I’ve been pondering over the last few days.

When reading a printed book there is nothing between the author and you, the author has written the text and you are the interpreter. When listening to an audio book the authors ideas and words are being interpreted by the reader and expressed through their tones and expressions of voice. Sometimes this is a good thing, especially when it comes to creating a mood, culture or period setting.

I’ve struggled to read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, I found some of the characters annoying. I tried listening to several audio version with no success until I found one read by Karen Savage, she brought the characters to life with a variety of comical voices. I’ve experienced similar with Raymond Chandler, his use of slang words has left me baffled at times but listening to his book read by someone who sounds eerily like Humphrey Bogart (swoon) has me hooked.

Unfortunately some readers just can’t cut it or maybe some books are not meant to be read out loud. My latest book craze is westerns but I’m undecided if I’m a fan. The short stories I’ve read I liked, but the novels I’ve listened to are sometimes annoying. Possibly I don’t like Texan accents.

While audio books are convenient, taking time out to read is more satisfying. Audio books can demonstrate a different view of a book, one you may not have seen. But you are using your second most sensitive sense, smell being the first. Sound can influence your mood and enjoyment so even the most well written book can be rendered terrible by an unpleasant voice.

I’m still undecided. I like the convenience of audio books but I can appreciate an authors voice through reading with my own eyes. Which do you prefer? Have you ever had a good book ruined by a bad reader?

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Loyalty Crisis

How do you review a novel or piece of work written by someone you know?  On one hand you want to be honest for the sake of the reading public, on the other hand you don’t want to offend the writer and possibly harm their review ratings. If you enjoy the novel then all’s well. But what if you didn’t.

I’ve been put in this position a few times and have so far managed to avoid giving a definite review. The problem is I think I’m a born evil critic. If something doesn’t hit the right chord with me I will pull it to pieces looking for all its tiniest faults. My solution to my major personality flaw is to avoid things I don’t like or keep my mouth shut.

I’ve broken both those rules today and reviewed a book I didn’t like written by someone I know. I gave it a more generous rating then I would have as I know how much hard work went into it but I couldn’t in all honesty give it a 5 star review. I’m now suffering from post review guilt. Reviewing a book written by a stranger is easy, you will never see their distressed face.

If anything the experience has taught me to be more thoughtful when I review a book, slap the evil critic in me and remind her that people have feelings. Better yet, only review books written by dead writers.

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Wind in The Willows in Chester

Wind in the Willows is quintessentially English and I have forgotten how much I love it! I was first introduced to Mr Toad and his friends in the 1980s film and TV series. At the impressionable age of 10 I wanted fast vehicles like Mr Toad, to mess about in a boats with Ratty even though I cannot swim and who doesn’t like picnics. The weasels and Wild Wood terrified me and I was desperate to go there. A few years ago I bought the book by Kenneth Grahame, it’s gathering dust on the book shelf.

The Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre is certainly an experience to remember. Unlike other outdoor venues I’ve attended, this one has been purpose built for theatre productions. It reminded me of the Octagon theatre in Bolton only with sunshine, picnics and pollen. We purchased picnic space tickets, a small grassed strip (astro turf, no mud) at the front of the circular stage. The theatre only holds 500 people so its quite small but you also get a good view where ever you are seated. Tickets sell out quick, we bought ours three months prior to the date.

In the short space of three hours the cast and crew of the Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre has made me feel 10 years old again. Mr Toad, brilliantly played by Daniel Goode, is as adventurous and self-centred as ever. The Weasel, though no longer terrifying, was villainous enough. But I couldn’t get my head around Badger (played by Sarah Quist) being female. Regardless of this minor adaptation I laughed, I cried (but that was probably due to hayfever) and I ate my picnic. Tomorrow I shall mess about with boats, most likely drown, and sit in a fast car (because I can’t afford to drive one). Or I may dust off the book and rediscover Toad Hall, the Riverbank and Wild Wood.

On a practical note, the theatre is accessible to the picnic spaces, but bring your own chairs, the picnic terraces are quite deep in places although they are covered if it rains. The toilets are a short walk and there are two disabled. There is a bar, and coffee and ice cream during the interval but its more fun to take your own picnic. Or if that’s too much trouble you can buy a VIP ticket and get a nibbles hamper and a bottle of bubbly. We got a voucher for a free bottle of Prosecco. I’m not a fan but it wasn’t bad.

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Review of Disneys Cinderella

The only good thing I can say about this film is the acting was impeccable. I maybe prejudice against the film as Cinderella is my one of my least favourite Disney animation. The problem is I can never figure out way. The ‘live’ film is true to the animation and although there are some added layers it hasn’t changed my opinion. The characters are shallow, the plot thin and the heroine a doormat. The only improvement was the prince and I suspect that is because in this version he has a speaking part.

Lets start with Cinderella, she is kind and brave but not brave enough to leave her life of abuse and start a new and better life. Its would be possible, she’s honest, hardworking and clever. So what’s stopping her? Even Snow White found a job as a housekeeper! If she did leave she would never meet the prince, right? Wrong! She met him at the ball not in the kitchen. Which brings us to the plot.

If you are good and kind and believe in magic your fairy godmother will whisk you away to a party where you will meet the One. Ahem (one eyebrow raised). I am a big believer in fate and luck but this one surpasses even me. This sort of reasoning leads to spoiled and manipulative children. Yes be good because you can, be kind for kindness sake and believe in magic because it makes you smile, don’t do it because you expect a reward.

Finally the wicked stepmother and stepsisters. Cate Blanchett was thoroughly wicked as some people are, unfortunately Disney felt the need to give her a flimsy excuse for her wickedness which sort of spoiled the effect.

So what about the fashion. Honestly, I’ve seen better.

Perhaps the question I should be asking is why don’t I feel this way about other Disney films. Aurora was a dreamy romantic but Sleeping Beauty is one of my favourite Disneys. Belles bravery and kindness led her to love and she’s one of my favourite characters. After much analysis I have decided it must be the talking mice.

Here’s my top favourite five alternative Cinderella adaptions.

Roald Dahls Cinderella – our heroine discovers a happy ending isn’t just about pretty frocks and handsome princes. And it gets pretty gruesome in places.

Ever After – Drew Barrymore gives Cinderella some fighting spirit in this adaption, her reason for putting up with her miserable existence is a child need for a mothers love. Angelica Houston as a believable reason for her mistreatment, bitter jealousy of her fathers love and ambition for her favourite daughter. Leonardo di Vinci is the ‘fairy godmother’.

The Slipper and the Rose – What can I say, its a musical. I love a musical and this one’s comical as well.

Ella Enchanted – Anne Hathaway of ‘The Princess Diaries’ fame gives Cinderella a whirl. I like the twist where Ella is given the ‘gift’ of obedience by her well meaning but drunken fairy godmother. A gift which makes her unable to say no to anyone’s request. She breaks the spell herself.

Sapsarrow – one of the earlier versions of the Cinderella tale. Through her own folly she becomes a victim of the law of her kingdom and must marry her father the king. Using only her wits she escapes her impossible fate with three dresses she hides herself as a kitchen maid in a neighbouring kingdom. During a three day festival she wears a different dress each night, dances with the prince and the rest you know.

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Never judge a book by its cover?

It’s an old saying, it’s applied to many situations, but does anyone take this good piece of advice? Our first judgement is always based on sight, until we can explore the ‘object’ of our interest further. Even if our other senses first experience the ‘object’ we still form a mental picture in our mind. Imagine the smell of freshly baking bread on a Sunday morning, a golden loaf crisp on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. But what if there is something unexpected inside the loaf? Disappointed, upset and angry that life has cheated you out of an enjoyable breakfast you wouldn’t eat bread for a while.

With the increase of self published novels and ebooks, authors need to make the right first impression with the right book cover for their novel, something which stands out, grabs the ebook reading populace while still conveying the essence of the story. A friend of mine recently read a self published novel which he had chosen because of the front cover, a woman waving a sword above her head. He thought it was an action-packed vampire story, it turned out to be more a love/drama vampire romp. He was disappointed because it was not what he had expected, and although he did not rate the book as bad, his disappointment reflected in his review. Self publishing authors need to pay as much attention to their book cover as they do to the blurb and the book itself, otherwise they may attract the wrong readers.

But sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the essence of your story in one image. I did an interesting writing exercise with my local group this week. We each wrote a single sentence to sum up a short story we had been working on, another member then read the story and wrote a sentence which they thought summed up the story. The result was surprising for me, my ‘reader’ saw the story in a very different way. This was a short story of 1500 words with three characters, a full novel with all its complexities is open to many interpretations.

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Issue 5

Bibliophilia Magazine

Our ‘Spring’ themed March issue is now available to read and download.

We hope you enjoy it, and submission are open again for our next issue which be along the theme of ‘guilty pleasures’.

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Writing, Dieting and Exorcise

I have organised my day so that I have half an hour to spare before breakfast. More if I can drag myself out of bed earlier. I’ve made sure this is spare time, so no housework, no work, no facebook. The purpose was to take a walk every morning to improve my fitness and hopefully lose weight. After two weeks my legs stopped aching, but I’m waking up with a headache and I’ve gained 2lbs in weight. My sister reckons tree pollen in the park is causing my headaches but I’m not sure if that can happen in winter. My mum says the 2lbs is just fat turning to muscle, her previous theories about puppy fat doesn’t work anymore because I’m getting too old.

I didn’t go for a walk on Sunday as that meant getting dressed and I was very cosy on my PJs, so I laboriously wrote 500 words of a short story. Over the course of the day my headache disappeared and I didn’t appear to gain any more weight. This morning I erased the 500 words and laboriously wrote another 500 words. Tomorrow I shall probably repeat this chain of events.

I could spend the extra half an hour catching up on my beauty sleep as my other two activities appear to be fruitless if I wasn’t being haunted. It’s the usual stuff, creaking floorboards, rattling pipes, doors banging in the night and the occasional groan. I fear an exorcism would have no effect as these manifestations are not caused by any spectral visitation but by my insomniac relatives. Then again…

ghost funny

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