That Festive Feeling

The nights have drawn in and the days have gotten shorter. With a speed even Usain Bolt could only dream of, Christmas has snuck up on us again. That’s right, it’s almost Christmas again! In fact, there’s just 3 more sleeps until the jolly fat man in red squeezes down the chimney, steals all our milk, mince pies and carrots for his red nosed buddy, and leaves a few treats under the tree.

My inner child has been in overdrive this year, with this being my first Christmas in my new house. Since late November it has been screaming louder than Buddy the Elf at the thought of Santa’s arrival. Without a shadow of a doubt, Christmas is my favourite season of all – as if you hadn’t already guessed that yet.

The obligatory, hideous Christmas jumper gets an airing ahead of its annual appearance. My car has been a cacophony of seasonal tunes with my yearly playlist getting played on repeat. And who can forget all the wonderful Christmas films. And it doesn’t seem to matter how old these films are (Home Alone was released 25 years ago this year!) they never loose their charm. I have seen plenty of them every single Christmas, and I never tire of them.

And it also means the Christmas adverts start in earnest on our TVs. For the last few years, here in the UK the mantle of best advert has pretty much fallen squarely on the shoulders of the department store John Lewis. First they had their snow people adverts, then last year they brought us The Bear and The Hare. In both cases the company managed to play on the emotion of the season to impressive effect. This year they have given us Monty the Penguin. While last year’s ad was a tall order to best, they have at least managed to once again strike the emotional cord again.


But this year, another UK supermarket has jumped on the band wagon. Sainsbury’s have stepped in to the ring with their attempt at using emotion and the depths of human sentiment to get us rushing through their doors. The approach here was to tie in with the centenary of the beginning of World War I. More to the point, they have played on the well-known account of a ceasefire between both sides on Christmas Day 1914. Both sides met on the battlegrounds once again, not as enemies, but as humans. Stories where shared, laughter, even a rumoured game of football between German and British men. In the story painted by Sainsbury’s, a British soldier embraces the spirit of the season in giving a German soldier his coat, knowing his Christmas gift of chocolate from home was still in the pocket.

While it makes for a wonderful idea, I cannot help but feel there is something slightly wrong about the idea of selling Christmas off the back of a heart-warming story during one of the most horrifying events in History, but that’s just my opinion. And while these work on the heart strings, you can never beat the age old classic: glimpses of a red lorry through the trees while the now-famous “Holidays are coming” chant is repeated. Nothing comes close to the brilliant Coca Cola adverts.

But before I go, the geek in me wants to share this fantastic spin on a Christmas song from the crew of the USS Enterprise, enjoy!

Well all that leaves me to say is have a very Merry Christmas everyone! I am off to listen to some Christmas songs, while settling down to read that all-time classic, A Christmas Carol, and make some new Festive traditions in my first home.

Do you have any Christmas traditions – new or old? What are your favourite songs, films and adverts at this time of year? Or more importantly, what does Christmas mean to you? Let me know in the comments section! 🙂

The Longest (D-)Day

“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”Winston Churchill

D-Day1944

Image credit: Robert F. Sargent/U.S. Coast Guard

On June the 6th 1944, one of the most audacious, strategically important military operations, Operation Overlord, was put in to action. An attempt to gain a foothold in Continental Europe and launch an assault on Nazi forces. The operation started with the single largest naval invasion ever, Operation Neptune. 6939 sea-faring craft including Naval attack vessels, Merchant Navy ships and some 4126 landing craft crossed the English Channel with an aerial support from 11,590 aircraft.
With the French coast coming in to view, the landing craft pressed on under the intense bombardment of the German heavy artillery installations depositing 156,115 soldiers into the waters of the 5 beaches – Sword, Gold, Omaha, Utah and Juno. The aerial invasion dropped some 23,400 airborne troops behind enemy lines in the French countryside, launching an assault on the German troops and free the surrounding towns and villages.
Numerous soldiers died as they disembarked their landing craft, not even making it out of the surf, all the while a salvo of heavy artillery being exchanged between German installations and Allied Naval craft. As men made landfall, there was no time for celebration. The beaches, littered with barbed wire and immense metal structures designed to scupper the landing craft, causing them to drop their men in waist-deep swells, became killing fields.
Those that made it to land were faced with a stretch of beach, and a rising sand bank littered with armed German soldiers and fortified concrete gunnery bunkers, not to mention hidden mines. Against all odds, Allied forces broke down the enemy lines, and after intense, brutal and bloody fighting, the beaches were won. The strategic bridges at Benouvile and Ranville were captured, and the German forces were pushed back. The beaches were safe enough for amphibious vehicles and tanks to land for the ground assault.
Operation Fortitude succeeded in its job of diverting German attention and masking the true location of the assault. Without this success, the Nazi forces would have been far stronger. Operation Overlord was a success. But it was not without heavy human cost.
Having been lucky enough to visit the beaches of Normandy, see some of the German artillery placements, and have the moving experience of visiting military cemeteries for both sides, I am left in no doubt how important this day was. How vastly different would the recent past, present and future of Europe, and beyond, be if the day ended in failure?
70 years on to the day, and we still honour and remember the sacrifice, the losses, and the importance of what those hundreds of thousands of men have done for the world. And may they, and their actions, never be forgotten.

Does charity really begin at home?

Turn on the telly or radio and you’ll here adverts for numerous charities helping people both at home and in far-flung corners of the world. Walk in to any town, city or shopping centre and you will be hard pressed to find someone asking for your money on behalf of one charity or another. They can be found positioned tactically on a busy thoroughfare or in the doorway or entrance of a large shop or store. It isn’t exactly a rare site to walk past a homeless person hoping for any spare change.

A great many of us are too quick to pretend we have a call on our mobile phone, to be suddenly engrossed in something else, or even to just plain look the other way and hurry past. And this isn’t meant as a criticism, with so many people seemingly in desperate need of our money – which, let’s face it, is stretched ever thinner at a time of rising costs. Lots of people have a charity or cause closer to their hearts than others for one reason or other, and they tend to donate exclusively to these. No problem there, I would be the first to admit I do this – I can’t afford to help all charities, so I drop my spare change to those I want to.

But how many of us mutter and mumble under our breath about being hassled by charity collectors on a busy, rainy day in town? I would wager a good number of us do, I have done. But after seeing a video doing the rounds on the World Wide Web, I will certainly think again about how I react. In the video, a man sets out to test our reactions under certain circumstances, by standing in a busy town centre in the all-too-familiar sandwich board. Take a look at what happened.

Ok, so this guy takes things to an extreme with his choice of language clearly intent on provoking a deep feeling in people who he accosts. And rather pleasingly, most people he encounters (including a police officer) reacts with disgust and indignation at his attitude and offensive sentiment. But it’s the second half of the video that certainly makes me think. Once he swaps the sandwich board and flyers for something far less offensive, and tries to drum up support for the poor, things completely flip on their head. The masses of people walking by him appear to not even notice he is there, completely ignoring him and walking on past.

The video hasn’t made me decide to donate to every charity collector I pass, I simply cannot afford to. But I will think twice before I grumble and moan under my breath about the number of collectors after my spare change on a cold, wet winter day in town. Many charities are worthy of our support, and while they may not be my charities of choice, they still do good work for those they help.

So what’s this blog all about?

Yes, I know, I have had this blog for some time now! But isn’t it too late to add a “what’s this blog all about?” post? No! Ok, so some of you have read bits and pieces on this blog and probably have a vague idea what’s going on here – though that isn’t a given. Some of you are new followers, and are probably none the wiser as to where my mind is going as I expand this little blog of mine.
I’ll let you in to a little secret – this is the way my mind works. Welcome to my world! So I have my share of interests. Films, sports, music, reading, writing, travelling, trying new things. I also love photography, but you’re in the wrong place for that. Head to my photography blog here to see my photos! This is my little retreat where I will share my thoughts on all these and more. Sometimes my posts won’t have a theme; they will just run along with my train of thoughts. Hopefully you are all thinking “I want to see where this goes” rather than “definite fruit loop!” – if you are the former camp, pop your email address in the box and follow my blog as I take you through my world! 🙂

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

So with only 3 days to go, it is definitely starting to look very much like Christmas! Since November shops and supermarkets have been playing Christmas songs. TV adverts have taken on a festive feel. DIY stores and garden centres undergo a massive transformation – out with the potted plants and cans of paint, in with the real trees and string upon string of Christmas lights, decorations and ornaments.
Many grow tired of the ever-increasing build up (it seems to start earlier each year!) to Christmas, and with an abundance of commercialisation to it, that’s easy to understand. But once the twelfth month of the year rolls around, the inner child sits up and takes note – just 25 little days until the big day. That said, there’s still always so much to do. Gift shopping. Food shopping. Card writing. The joys of wrapping any gift that doesn’t come in a nice square box. Sticky tape that shreds, or whose end always eludes us!
Yet for all the frustrations, I for one love the build up. Suddenly the Christmas songs that have invaded my ears from every store, coffee shop and TV advert become a pleasure. Turning on the radio and catching a favourite festive tune becomes a joy. While a great many of the commercials at this time of year are crass, overly-commercialised tripe designed purely to sell you products in the most blatant and shameless manner, a few manage to capture the magic (and still earn a tidy profit for the companies in question!). No Christmas season would seem complete without the now-classic Coca Cola advert. While Coca Cola didn’t actually invent the image of Santa we all picture, their lorries driving through a snowy landscape have become a staple of Christmas TV advertising since 1995! And British department store chain John Lewis have had their run of success with TV adverts that play on the emotion of Christmas rather than telling us explicitly to buy, buy, buy! They gained big success in their adverts featuring a “Mr and Mrs Snowman”, where he heads out on a journey to find the ideal gift for Mrs Snowman. 2013’s advert carries on the emotional theme, with their big budget animated advert featuring “the bear and hare”. It very cleverly targets the emotion of the season, not the cash to be made. If you haven’t already seen it, take a look here.
Christmas isn’t just about the money spent and gifts given, though (honest!). It’s about sharing time with friends and family, and the sense of kindness it brings. Some big, seemingly-faceless corporations have even found the charitable spirit of the season. WestJet, a Canadian airline, carried out a Christmas miracle that has since gone viral. In airport terminals, passengers scanned their boarding cards, only to see a purple-clad Santa appear on screen, knowing their names. He spoke with every passenger, asking what they wanted for Christmas. Needless to say, there was a surprise for passengers at the baggage carousel in their destination airports. Take a look at the video below. Now I am not so naive as to think this was done entirely from the kindness of their hearts, it is the most amazing bit of PR they could wish for. But this doesn’t change the fact that it was an amazing thing to see from a big company.

So while you are all sat around on the 25th, lost in a sea of discarded wrapping paper, gifts, rich food, turkey, festive songs, Christmas films and toys without the necessary batteries (doesn’t this always seem to happen??), remember to enjoy the moments, and spend quality time with friends, family – the people that matter the most!

Let me know what your favourite things about Christmas – films, songs, food, activities –  are in the comments section.

All that’s left to say is that I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!! 🙂

MerryXmas

A Busy Year

Well this year has been pretty busy! 11 months in, and I still have a fair bit to come, with a month to go. Plenty of things have happened, including a few firsts for me, so here’s just a little ramble about my 2013.

In March, I had a fantastic day out in London. The day started out with a trip to comic book heaven, Forbidden Planet. After wandering around and gazing at the many things I couldn’t afford, we joined the queue outside to meet Robert Llewelyn (of Red Dwarf fame). He was there to do signings for a couple of his books. Great guy, very welcoming! After a stop for a much-needed coffee and snack, it was off to The Shard. An impressive building from the outside, it was all the more impressive once you got all the way up to the 72nd floor. The views were spectacular, especially as the sun set over London.

The last week of June brings about the start of the biggest of the 4 tennis slams – Wimbledon, and with it, my first (of many I hope) visits to the hallowed turf of SW19. The first impression on walking in is the size of the place! The show courts are all fairly close together, but the outside courts are what makes the place so massive. With the traditional English strawberries and cream in hand, we took up a spot by one of the outside courts to watch a bit of doubles tennis involving Lleyton Hewitt. There was time to catch a bit of Novak Djokovic warming up for his match later in the day, before heading to the famous Henman Hill (or Murray Mount). The atmosphere here is amazing, but nothing compared with being inside Centre Court. With Del Potro, Radwanska and Djokovic on the schedule, it was a fantastic day to pay my first visit.

Cinderella's Castle, Magic Kingdom

Cinderella’s Castle, Magic Kingdom

September saw a family holiday to Florida. It may have been my fifth visit to Orlando – Theme Park capital of the world, but this place never gets old. And you are never too old to enjoy the wonders of Disney and Universal. The Disney Parks are a highly magical place, where old and young alike get to indulge the inner child. With the fantastic themes of the parks lands, to the music, larger than life characters and the world-famous parades, Disney’s parks are a must. And coming back after dark for the electrical light parade was an amazing experience – fantastic costumes, vehicles and great music made it true Disney.

The Universal parks bring the world of cinema to life. Seaworld has its own charm, fusing the world of animals and rides together. The new ride – Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin was something special. Part ride – a faster version for big kids, and a tamer version for little ones, and part walk through, it gave a fascinating insight into the world of penguins. Couple all of this with the awe-inspiring shows featuring killer whales and majestic dolphins, and it is a fantastic day out, with a slower pace.

The highlight of the holiday came though from two attractions. A trip to Seaworld’s Discovery Cove is beyond words. A tropical oasis in Orlando, this place exudes relaxation. The opportunity to swim with bottle nose dolphins was something I will certainly never forget. The trainers took the time to teach us so much about these wonderful, intelligent creatures while allowing an unforgettable experience. The main reef is spectacular, too. The warm waters were teeming with tropical fish, and snorkelling amongst them as a variety of huge rays glide by is out of this world. The park is finished off by the aviaries. Being able to go in and learn all about the tropical birds there was fascinating, and only enhanced by having them come and land on you as they literally eat from the palm of your hand. The day finished on a real high note with an evening trip to see the quirky Blue Man Group. A funny, thought-provoking and massively entertaining show by the silent men in blue is something I cannot wait to experience again.

The NFL came to London for two regular season games at Wembley Stadium. First up was the Minnesota Vikings playing host to the

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Minnesota Vikings, Wembley Stadium

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Minnesota Vikings, Wembley Stadium

Pittsburgh Steelers, with the second tie seeing the Jacksonville Jaguars host the San Francisco 49ers. I may be a Patriots fan, but living in England, I’ll take my live gridiron action where I can. Both days were a real spectacle. The whole day on both occasions had a party atmosphere, with cheerleader displays, various competitions and a chance to see the Vince Lombardi Superbowl trophy up close. Though the first game was a closely fought affair,  the second more of a one-sided match up, both provided a great opportunity for me to see my first NFL games, so here’s to the 3 games in London next year!

Throw in a fantastic Alter Bridge gig at Wembley Arena, and 2013 has been pretty awesome to date! But there’s still more to come for me before the year is out, so I look forward to the rest of this year!

What has been the highlight of your year so far? Let me know in the comments section! 🙂

Almost the weekend!

So following a brilliant weekend last weekend, I have another weekend to look forward to, one of ups and downs.

Well, more like a 170ft up, and hopefully a calm, controlled and pain-free down! Saturday sees me take on an abseil down an office building in sight of the iconic Wembley Stadium. With the added incentive of having raised a nice chunk of change for a wonderful charity – Rays of Sunshine (https://www.raysofsunshine.org.uk/) – this is going to be a great experience. And once completed, will make the first post in a section on Adrenaline & Experiences!

Beyond that, some chill out time is on the cards, especially with my purchase of the brand new Tomb Raider game! Only put in an hour of button bashing so far on this, but it already it has a dark, grown up feel that I hope revives the brand, minus the cheesiness! Wait a minute, there’s another blog section – Games & Films! This blogging is addictive once the creative juices start flowing…!

Anyway, enough for now! Next post will be once my feet reach Terra Firma after my abseil! 🙂