Dear Sophisticated Ladies Of course one must start with the obligatory ‘Happy New Year’ and I trust that thus far it is treating you well. How many of you have realized that during the course of this year three days will have a date involving only the number 1: 1 Jan, 1 Nov and 11 Nov. Why did it seem important to convey this useless piece of information to you? Curiously for absolutely no reason at all; a random fact, a conversation stopper for sure! Amongst my festive gifts I have received a range of kitchen items, all useful (given the occasion, and some attractive in a design sense (you know the ones you could casually leave strewn on the work surface when a girl friend pops in for coffee). At least three of the more beautiful are also deadly and dangerous especially in my hands. Hence I must apologise for any typos I fail to pick up as in my eagerness to get to grips with my new Joseph Joseph circular three blade palm peeler I have cut the third finger on my left hand rather badly. When I say badly the tea towel I used to stem the bleeding, so I could finish the job in hand – peeling a mango – before going upstairs for a plaster, will have to be incinerated! The deep haemoglobin rich stains obliterated the red and white checked fabric – quite a feat, one of which I’m disproportionately proud; the blood transfusion service are fools to turn down my donations! You are getting this missive a little early as I will be glued to my radio from 7 pm this evening for the extended Archer 60th anniversary episode. Passion and tension and intrigue and a whole range of other adjectives designed to increase the listener numbers have been dripping from the airwaves for days. Rather a canny strategy to get celebs to recall their most significant Archers moment – but then what else do you expect from Vanessa Whitburn! One of my most memorable moments Archers wise was the time Ms Whitburn had an accident and was away from the show for a period of time. I do so wonder what she’s like. Anyway back to the festive season and I know you will all be dying to know how Christmas Day went with our extended family guests. It was testimony to the merits, and indeed virtues, of forward planning; as a trained strategic planner I would say that anyway but it’s true. Mum and I went to M&S during our allocated time slot to pick up the food order; large boned double stuffed turkey joint with bacon lattice (oh yes the slinky strips of streaky smoked bacon were perfectly interweaved), a Wiltshire Ham Joint (well this one merits a paragraph of it’s own so see below), a Christmas Pudding Cheesecake (a decent size circumference (width) approx 30-35 cm or 12-14 inches) and a raspberry prosecco jelly panna cotta terrine (again good value and excellent presentation). A sizeable trolley full of goodies was delivered to the collection point following the exchange of rather a large number of teachers pension hard earned English pounds. Of course the M&S card was used because points mean prizes ladies! Well back to the Wiltshire Ham Joint. OK I know curing is a lengthly and time consuming process with a meticulously developed recipe of spices but quite frankly this was hard to swallow. The joint was about 4 – 5 inches wide and 8 -10 inches long, so a wee bit small. I know organic pigs are fatless fit buggers with nice slim thighs but this joint came from a large piglet at a push! For piglet’s thigh just less than 32 pounds was exchanged! My brother and I felt we should have been worshipping the orange topped bacon roll never mind eating it! It was the equivalent of putting gold leaf into a sandwich! No matter how specialist the bread was it was NEVER going to be a match for the contents leaving on one side the crime of using ‘spread’ instead of real butter! The Christmas Dinner meal was a traditional turkey dinner with some of the preparation provided by M&S and Sainsburys – I can recommend the roasting potatoes in goose fat not least because there is no washing up. Once the goodies are in the serving dish ones relationship with the cooking tray is over and it goes straight into the dustbin! Marvellous – don’t for one day of the year think about landfill guilt! Don’t start me on guilt – every time I run the tap to brush my teeth or swill out the sink I think of the waterless families in Northern Ireland.. Our Christmas day guests include the parents of my cousin’s new partner who are in the UK for 6 months from mainland China. They don’t speak any English and none of us (except their daughter of course) speak Chinese but we seemed to manage. Lots of smiling and random laughing was involved I seem to recall! My mother is like a smaller version of me on speed, OK if you don’t know me that doesn’t really help but safe to say she is a bit like an animated puppy when excited! Within five minutes of being in the house they (my mother and the other parents) have asked how old they all are. My mother is told she doesn’t look her age and has a nice personality – I suspect the way my mother has taken my cousin’s new partner to her Derbyshire bosom has been conveyed. They did open the present I had selected for them – you may remember the ceramic sheep shaped toast rack handmade in Wales I described in my last missive. I think polite bemusement best describes the recipients’ response on opening the parcel not least because in my desire not to break it in transit I had used rather a lot of cellotape and bubble wrap! Sharp scissors and a steady hand were required to get to the contents. To be fair I don’t think they had expected presents and no one had explained the tradition to them. Far more amusing was the furry brown snowsuit I had selected for baby Billy. Thankfully it fitted and actually it rather swamped him – plenty of growing room is always welcome for a first baby, in winter, I always think (the wisdom of the childless woman!). My cousin, Billy’s dad, decided to put on the snowsuit to show how cute it was. It was hilarious and proof that baby’s have malleable bones! His four month old body was put unceremoniously into the suit, hood up with the bear ears nice and proud – and yes many photos were taken to remember the moment! Billy’s dad is a red head whilst his mother has jet black hair. Apparently my cousin was relieved Billy has dark hair as his growing up as a ginger boy had not been especially happy. Baby Billy has a lovely temperament and very intense dark eyes, he smiles easily (and at 4 months I have it on good authority this is not wind) and he didn’t cry at all. It only occurred to me later that he never had his nappy changed either although we obviously discussed his bowels movements! Boxing Day we entertained 11 people from mum’s side of the family and of course this required catering of quite a different kind. No leftover turkey or cold cuts for us oh no three hot dishes and a shepherd’s pie with associated salads. Irritatingly this proved yet another opportunity for ma to extol the virtues of a freezer as of course the dishes had been made the previous week and popped into Tupperware, labeled and frozen in anticipation of the clan gathering! My job was to assemble the various dishes including making fabulous mash, by hand, for the pie. Very satisfying. It is quite amazing how women of ma’s generation can do this cooking business, it requires so much commitment and whilst I can read a receipe book like the next lady quite frankly I can’t be bothered. A well designed cookery book is surely just food porn; it is pleasing on the eye and makes you salivate; and of course if carefully placed on a coffee table when a date comes calling it can give a girl valuable brownie points! I am a failure to woman kind, I admit it and revel in this slovenly behaviour! I simply wouldn’t have time to attend to preparation of other kinds – do you know how much time and energy I put into selecting accessories! It takes a lot of effort to get to this state of presentation; heavens sake ladies I put mascara and eyeliner on even if I don’t plan to leave the house; standards must not be allowed to slip! Once you start it take ones eye off the details you don’t know where it might lead and I frankly can’t risk going there. That’s quite enough about food and family entertaining. What I would like to know is how full your present box is now? Obviously pretty much all of you would have received a gift of some sort from someone over the festive season – if you didn’t please email me and I will rectify the situation immediately! Every girl deserves to be given a treat from time to time and this time of year is the perfect excuse. The question relates to those gifts you have received for which, having wracked your brains, you have no use. These are the ones you put in your present box for future occasions – or it is only me who does this? It feels awfully ungrateful sometimes but it could be that you already have the item so there’s no problem with embarrassing questions from the giver. I often receive books I’ve already read, I did this year. But I realized that I have reached the status of maiden aunt in training given some of the gifts received from extended family this year. I thought I might have a few more years but no I am considered suitable for a talcum dusting powder set with the word ‘eau d’ ‘ in the title. I do so hate Lily of the Valley and can barely tolerate lavender so I am utterly doomed! It is so gratifying to get your presents right sometimes especially when you haven’t just selected from a wish list. Auntie has told me several times how much she loves the Telegraph offer dressing gown which I thought rather disappointing. But more curious is her delight at the extra scarf I wrapped as an afterthought; something I’d bought for myself to be honest. She loves it and has worn it several times already. So welcome sophistication fellow travelers to 2011. I am putting the final touches to the wordpress blog for Victorious Endeavours where I will post information on the forthcoming Salon programme as well as the missives. I am planning to become more technologically integrated with the purchase of a new smart phone and a wandering into the world of Twitter. There are so many opportunities to comment on the amusing things that happen in the world around me. Today leaving Morrisons I was behind a mother and her son. The son was about 7 and was eating what I thought was an over ripe pear. I was temporarily impressed with this blatant show of eating one of the recommended five a day so publically. And then on closer examination (difficult to achieve without losing my balance and falling into his snack), I realized it was a chicken leg!!! Yes should have realized how unlikely this was to be true as I was in Barry; I do try to see the best in everyone, deliciously naive is one of my less useful characteristics! Yours in sophisticated anticipation of a new year, all clean and untrodden on like pure driven snow oops nearly got away without mentioning the weather!