I was the first to wake up this morning. I believe this is the first time this has ever happened in the company of my family!
I spent the morning judging a composing composition for young people in Northampton, much perturbed to discover that, within the age group I was overseeing, only one entry had come from a lad. I should point out that the last competition I was asked to judge was specifically for female composers. There are quite a number of initiatives out there which are attempting to get more females composing, but I sometimes think we forget that male musicians also regularly have to deal with a large amount of prejudice. Certainly when I was young, it was highly uncool to be a male 'cellist, and I regularly had to deal with being thrown into bushes on my way into school every time I had to go in with my 'cello. My friend Tom, a violinist, used to tell his friends he had a tummy ache every time it was time for school orchestra so that he could attend without being ridiculed. Male musicians, particularly those who've been to comprehensive schools, have often had to put up with almost relentless abuse, leading them to develop thick skin, or be bloody committed to the cause! They once played my form group an "informative" film about careers in music. For some ungodly reason this film opted to list the musical instruments which were more associated with female players. These instruments included the harp, the flute and, you've guessed it... the 'cello. It took me at least a term to get the rest of my class to stop taking the piss about that! Without a large dollop of self belief, I would almost certainly have jacked it all in. My mate Tom ended up selling his violin to buy a motorbike...
We went into Shrewsbury this afternoon, which was a wonderful place to visit on Christmas Eve. The big question, of course, is how the hell to pronounce the "shrew" of Shrewsbury. Do you pronounce it to rhyme with blue or blow? I favour the former. The rest of my family side with the latter. "Shrovesbury" sounds very odd to me. Almost as odd as those who call the Nene "Neen."
Shrewsbury is a really bustling market town, which was brimming today with people doing last minute Christmas shopping. Some of the buildings in the town are stunningly beautiful. There are a huge number of timber-framed properties dotted around the city centre and a shed load more from Georgian times.
We had a lovely time shopping. My Mum was particularly taken with the clothes shops and vowed to return as soon as she has a bit of spare money.
Whilst the majority of the town centre is gloriously beautiful, one part is filled with far more unattractive shopping centres from the 60s and 70s, where the pound shops and Wilkinson's hang out. We joked about the concept of a Pound Store "post-Brexit" sale, where everything still costs £1... it's just far cheaper these days for anyone from outside the UK!
Nathan met us in Tanners, which has to be one of the finest wine establishments in the U.K. We lunched in a little vegetarian cafe tucked behind the Main Street, before heading up to St Chad's church near the spectacular Dingle Gardens where Nathan wanted to show us a bit of a curio in the form of a huge gravestone in the name of Ebenezer Scrooge. The story goes that the gravestone was badly-weathered and re-inscribed for use as a prop in the 1984 film of A Christmas Carol. After filming finished, the gravestone was left behind in the church yard. It's a very bizarre and somewhat eerie sight.
We left Shrewsbury to drive to Wrecsam, where Nathan's lot were meeting for their annual Christmas Eve Pizza Hut meal.
En route, we stopped off in Rhosllanerchrugog, the little Welsh mining village where my Nana was born. My Dad couldn't remember the actual number of the house where she'd lived, but we stopped off at the top of the road and soaked in the atmosphere. We filled the car with petrol at Tan-y-Clawdd, the garage up the hill in Johnstown which my uncle and aunt used to run. It felt rather lovely to be returning to my roots like that.
We came back to Sam's, where the house was dutifully prepared for Santa's visit tomorrow. I have to say, it didn't feel quite right to watch the mince pie and the carrot being chowed down on!