Top 10 things that signal Christmas is near in the UK

The Coca-Cola advert
The merry jingle and red lorry and lights really start to get us thinking that Christmas festivities with wine, cocktails and the inevitable soft drinks for the designated drivers are nearing. Its strange to think that its a marketing campaign that was thought up by Coca Cola because it has become so integral to the Christmas is nearing feeling.

Jamie Oliver Christmas cooking specials
Watching Jamie Oliver make incredible, tasty festive dishes is a sure-fire way to make you feel in the mood for Christmas. The only down-side is that whilst watching you will always feel hungry, so make sure you have some food to hand. Thankfully almost always shown on channels with adverts, so you can run to the kitchen for food top-ups every 15 minutes or so.

Mulled everything
If you can drink it, mull it. Mulled wine is the tip of the mulled iceberg when it comes to seasonal drinks in the UK. Cider? Is it December? You don’t want that cold do you? Of course not! You want warm mulled cider! If you can add cinnamon and orange to it, then its mulled. Yes, you can even get mulled beer. Re-enforce the mulled-ness by watching Nigella get tipsy when adding liqueurs to everything!

Cinnamon scented candles
Every supermarket and corner store becomes filled with Yankee Candles, and walk down any high street and you are sure to smell the wafting sparking cinnamon and winter berry combo’s. Ah the smell of Christmas.

Christmas jumpers
Seeing people walking around with woolly jumpers with snowflakes on them? That signals its November or early December. Everyone walking around in loud, green, red and sparkly wolly jumpers – its December, and if you haven’t started your Christmas shopping you should really get a move on.

Little oranges
Ah, the time of year when the fruit bowl empties of those summer fruits and is 90% clementine, satsuma and easy peeler oranges. Nothing signals Christmas so clearly as rejecting all other non-christmassy fruits in favour of the mini oranges.

Spiced coffees
In every coffee shop across the land you can now add flavoured syrups of everything cinnamon and berry related as well as other festive flavours. Dear help any coffee loving diabetics at this time of year as a single festive coffee or peppermint hot chocolate can contain twice the sugar of a can of coke.

All the dried fruit
Mince pies, mincemeat slices, mincemeat squares, mincemeat pastries, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding…. need I go on? If you don’t like raisins or dried fruit, good luck getting any baked goods that don’t contain them in the run up to Christmas.

Pigs in blankets
Mini-sausages wrapped in bacon. At no other time of year do we suddenly make little small portions of food we normally eat and then wrap them in another food. The variations are now huge, especially in hipster haunts where you can get small bowls of all different festive variants of these scrummy  treats.

Tins & tubs of sweets
Quality Street, Roses, Minature Heroes and Celebrations. If you don’t know what these are, then you have been living under a rock if you live in the UK.  There are lots of other new entrants too from Marks & Spencer, but the core 4 by Cadbury and Nestle are the staple sneaky snack and “I don’t know what to get you” gift. Every office and every home fills with these large tins of moorish sweets every December. Its almost like you can do a countdown to Christmas based on the number of tins/tubs that are around. Spot 1 tub somewhere every day, its the end of November or Early December. Spot 2 tubs per day, its most likely mid-December, and when there is one of each of the main 4 on the side, its Christmas Eve and you should be ready for the main event.

Sunday Afternoon Comic

I decided to try to document our Sunday afternoon in a series of cartoon images

Me, waiting for League of Legends to load, and having a lovely coffee
Its rather cold and wet outside, but our painted outside wall still looks fantastic
Nathaniel is loading a game of League of Legends too
Julian, being effortlessly cool as always chilling out and watching Rise Of The Guardians
Barbara relaxing, drinking a coffee and reading 
The corner of the living room, no fire lit today, everywhere still warm after it was lit yesterday
Thomas mid-game in League of Legends too – playing using the trackpad rather than a mouse. Yes, its ridiculous that he can do that.
Our cat “Meaow” – he is outside all night hunting so sleeps most of the day
The front lawn, showing pirate ship, catwalk, castle and swings.

iPhone X Review

I’ve had it for a week now, the phone that was anticipated to be the greatest smartphone yet designed, and have to say that I am extremely impressed. It really does match the expectations. FaceID is wonderful, and works so much better than I ever thought it would. It just seamlessly unlocks, even at night time, where it uses the limited screen brightness to unlock the phone. (It really surprises anyone who sees you use it with Apple Pay), the screen is incredible and the overall build quality is outstanding.

The main highlights for me in terms of day-to-day use are definitely the camera, which is without doubt the best I have ever used, and gives others the impression that I am a much better photographer than I really am. Photo file sizes are extremely large (one portrait photo can be almost 100Mb).

A low-res version of a portrait photo of our cat taken with the iPhone X

I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the battery life,  now I understand that it is still brand new, but it is so lovely to have a phone that I don’t have to charge every night! After moving from the iPhone 6S running iOS 11 where I was lucky to get to mid-afternoon with any battery left to now getting to the end of the day and still having 70+ % remaining is wonderful. I’ve been only charging it every other day. Finally not having to worry about if there is enough battery left to display boarding passes to get on flights at the end of a work day is fantastic.

Another favourite feature I’ve found so far – Bluetooth. I’m not sure how Apple has achieved it, or if it is just a side-effect of the faster processor in the new phone, but Bluetooth pairing seems to take a fraction of the time that it used to. The Bluetooth sound quality seems slightly improved too, the only minor down-side of the speed increase appears to be that the range is slightly decreased from the older devices.

As a test I tried going back to the iPhone 6S for a few hours, and having to have a physical button to press feels positively clunky, as does the iOS 11 experience after seeing how fluid and vivid it is on the new phone.

In summary, it is insanely expensive, but this is the Concorde, the CD in the world of cassettes, sliced bread, the revolutionary iPod, and like me, I suspect that once you have used one, you won’t ever be persuaded to go back to a lesser phone.

Carnanmore – October 2017

Click to enlarge

When
Friday 6th October 2017

Travel
Meet at the ferry port car park in Ballycastle to DEPART there at 5:45pm sharp. Please ensure that you have already had dinner before we depart.

Click to enlarge

Parents & Siblings welcome to come along too.

What to wear
Walking boots or Wellington boots, strictly no trainers or lightweight footwear. Waterproof coat, woolly hat.

Bring with you in a lightweight rucksack
Small bottle of water
Torch / Head-torch

Predicted Timeline
17:45 – Depart Ballycastle Sea-Front Car Park in convoy
18:00 – Arrive at Flughery Bridge from Ballycastle.
19:00 – Reach the summit of Carnanmore.
19:30 – Walk to summit of Cushleake Mountain North
20:30 – Arrive back at vehicles at Flughery Bridge
20:45 – Arrive back to Ballycastle Sea-Front

New server

After several years of a slow blog site, and consistently running out of space on the old VPS server that was hosted by Webfusion UK, I have finally taken the plunge and have moved my site to a new AWS instance meaning that for the first time ever it is not on a physical managed server but is now on a virtual cloud server.

The new AWS cloud instance is running Ubuntu Linux, has 1Gb RAM and a 16Gb Hard Disk. Its more than enough to host the site, but means that (hopefully) the 500-600 daily visitors will find it a bit faster to load!

Feedback on your thoughts about the loading times appreciated – please do leave a comment!

Homemade fruit cordial (Fruit Acid Royal)

For: Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Elderberries, Blackcurrants etc.

This recipe makes a minimum of 6 pints (usually more depending on how juicy the fruit is) of fruit cordial / concentrate / squash.

Day One:

  • Place 5lbs of fruit (with stalks on, or off, it doesn’t matter) into a large plastic container
  • Dissolve 2 1/2oz (70g) of tartaric acid in 2 pints of cold water
  • Pour water (& tartaric acid) over fruit
  • Seal container with an air-tight lid
  • Stand for 24 hours and then strain through a fine-mesh sieve (with muslin on top if you want to ensure zero small parts of fruit get through)
  • Place juice in mixer bowl, and with mixer on slowest speed setting, add 3lbs of sugar and continue stirring until fully dissolved.
  • Bottle in glass bottles (a funnel helps a lot!) and then store in a cool place (or fridge).

Day Two

  • Repeat the same as day One using the fruit left over, but only use 2oz (55g) of tartaric acid and only 2 1/2 lbs of sugar.

Day Three

  • Repeat the same as day One using the fruit left over, but only use 1oz (30g) of tartaric acid and with only 2 1/2 lbs of sugar.

Rathlin Adventure Camp 2017

Our summer camp this year is on Rathlin Island!

Travel
Departing Ballycastle on the 13:30 ferry on Friday 14th July 2017

Returning to Ballycastle at 15:25 on Sunday 16th July 2017

Please arrive in Ballycastle for 1pm on Friday 14th July having already eaten some lunch.

Activities to including caving, scrambling, beach fire building, swimming, nature exploration and fishing.

Camping

We will be camping on Rathlin.

Everything you bring must fit inside a large rucksack that you can carry on your back.

You will need to bring:

  • A tent (or organise someone to share with)
  • Torch
  • Sleeping bag
  • Carry mat
  • Weather appropriate changes of clothing, underwear, sleepwear etc. (including warm jumper)
  • Waterproof coat and trousers
  • Sturdy boots
  • Mess kit (Cup, Bowl, Plate, Cutlery)
  • Toiletries
  • Towel
  • Sun Cream
  • Insect repellant
  • Hat (both for sun and cold)
  • Toilet paper (not a whole roll!)
  • Matches, or some way to light fire
  • Swimming costume
  • Small snacks / marshmallows for toasting
  • Safety knife (collect from Richard at Ballycastle docks before departure)
  • Trangea (only if you have one, don’t buy one specially)
  • Fishing line (hand or rod) – not essential, but will be fun!

£25 per person, please let Richard or Patrick know if you can come by the latest of Friday 7th July.

Please download, print and complete this form for each scout attending and bring with you on the 14th July.

FS120081 Activity Information Form 2nd Page

Tent Allocations

Tent 1
Richard
Julian
Thomas
Nathaniel

Tent 2
Patrick

Tent 3
Hester
Naimh
Alex

Tent 4
Michael
Zach

Tent 5
Kathryn
Megan

Tent 6
Matthew

Tent 7
William
Sharon
Jack
Aiden

Tent 8
Jamie
Sam

 

Food

Friday
Have lunch before coming
Evening meal: Irish Stew

Saturday
Breakfast: Cereal & Milk, Orange Juice
Lunch: Sandwiches, Crisps, Fruit & Chocolate Bar
Dinner: Pasta and Sauce

Sunday
Breakfast: Cereal & Milk, Orange Juice
Lunch: Sandwiches, Crisps, Fruit & Chocolate Bar