Packing it in!

Ah yes! The days before luggage restrictions!Packing is a bit of an art form. You’re either a natural, or you’re not. I confess to not being the world’s best packer. I start off with my empty suitcase yawning in front of me, huge and cavernous – loads of room! With careless ease, I place clothes and shoes inside – and then suddenly… it’s full! At which point I discover I haven’t got in half of what I need to take, so pull it all out and start again… after about the fourth attempt I am hot and bothered and end up cramming everything in and have to ask Richard to lean on the suitcase lid as I battle to secure it! Oh dear, Joanna, must try harder.

Like a lot of art forms you can, of course, train yourself to improve your skills and I was intrigued to read a How it should be done…list of ‘top packing tips’ online. Some of them are so very sensible (and obvious!) I can’t think why I hadn’t used them before! Anyway, here’s my selection of the best ones that I hope you might find useful…

  • If you can manage with a carry-on, do it. Try taking half of the things you need and twice the money. You can make buying a few new items a fun part of the adventure.
  • Pack a sleeping mask and earplugs. These can be very handy on a plane, train or in your hotel room.
  • Capitalise on empty suitcase space and roll your clothes, instead of folding them. Stuff socks, underwear, and accessories inside your shoes.
  • Keep a sarong or pashmina in your carry-on. They can be used as a blanket on the plane, a scarf, or a shawl on an evening out.
  • … how it is more often done!Kitchen sandwich bags can be used to hold your accessories, vacuum pack bags can be space savers, and bin bags have multiple uses (laundry bag, shoe covers).
  • If you are travelling as a couple, it is a good idea to split your clothes between two suitcases on the off chance one of them gets lost during the flight.
  • Bring a multi-socket extension lead. Although newer hotels have USB ports in rooms, it’s best to have an extra outlet to charge all of your electronics at once. This is very important if you need to work on your laptop or phone, as I often do, and (thankfully!) one of the tasks I leave to Richard!
  • Make photocopies before leaving home. If you’re travelling out of the country, make two photocopies of your passport.
  • Use your smartphone to take pictures of your car in the airport’s car park and do the same for your luggage and its contents in case it gets lost. So simple – and something I will definitely be doing… no more wandering around Bristol airport car parks at 3am wondering where we left the car!
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Easter time

So it’s Easter time again… But it’s a different date to last year. So why is it that the date of Easter can vary by up to a month? The problem is that Easter is one of the festivals that tries to harmonise the solar and lunar calendars. As a general rule, Easter falls on the first Sunday, following the first full moon after 21 March. But not always…

The problem comes because a solar year (the length of time it takes the earth to move round the sun) is 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 12 seconds whereas a lunar year is 354.37 days. Calculating one against another is seriously complicated! There are literally dozens of permutations that are way beyond me to explain, but take my word for it – it’s complicated!

Having got the peculiarities of the date out of the way, what about the various traditions we associate with Easter? Two of the most popular are the Easter egg and the good old Easter Bunny!

A lot of us may chomp on chocolate eggs at Easter but originally eating eggs was not allowed by the church during the week leading up to Easter, known as Holy Week. Any eggs laid that week were saved and decorated to make them ‘Holy Week eggs’ that were then given to children as gifts.

The first chocolate eggs appeared in France and Germany in the 19th century but were bitter and hard. As chocolate-making techniques improved, hollow eggs like the ones we have today, were developed. Unsurprisingly, they very quickly became popular and remain so!

As with so many ‘traditions’ that we hold dear today, we only need to go back as far as the Victorians to establish how the Easter egg as a decorated gift developed. They adapted the traditional egg and, with their customary lavishness, created satin covered cardboard eggs filled with Easter gifts.

So finally, where does that fluffy little character the Easter Bunny fit in? The story of the Easter Bunny is thought to have become popular in the 19th century. Rabbits usually give birth to a big litter of babies, or kittens, so they became a symbol of new life. Legend has it that the terribly industrious Easter bunny lays, decorates and hides eggs as they are also a symbol of new life. But she doesn’t do all the work alone though – in Switzerland, Easter eggs are delivered by a cuckoo, and by a fox in parts of Germany.

Happy Easter to one and all – and don’t eat too much chocolate!

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Lost and found…

I do like coming across quirky stories in the press. My eye was caught this week by a story that said more than 300,000 items of lost property were handed into Transport for London in 2015. “So what?”, you may think…

It was the next paragraph that made me laugh. Apart from the items you’d expect, like keys and umbrellas and wallets… lost items also included a prosthetic leg, a full drum kit and a large fitted carpet! I mean, how could you possibly forget or lose such things? I have left a carrier bag on a bus (many, many years ago!) and lost the odd key… but a fitted carpet? I think I’d notice that.

In another life, a job in a lost property office might be rather interesting, there would certainly be lots of material for a novel. The percentage of items restored to their rightful owners is only just over 20%, so that’s an awful lot of items that go unclaimed.

After three months, all the unclaimed items have any personal data removed before they are either donated to charities including The Salvation Army and the British Red Cross, or recycled, or sold at auction… and the income received from selling unclaimed property last year was a whopping £257,176.16!

I have visions of an enormous cupboard tucked away in some Dickensian back alley near one of the main train stations in London with shelf upon shelf stacked with weird and wonderful items. I don’t suppose it’s anything like that at all, but it sounds fascinating.

Tracking down something you have lost at an airport or on an aeroplane however is, by the sound of it, a much more hi-tech process. There is a website where passengers sadly parted from their goods and chattels can post the details, or ‘claim’ for the missing item. The list for just London Heathrow is extensive, as you can imagine, and ranges from some poor soul who has lost a Jo Malone candle, to a stuffed animal (not just a stuffed toy, which worried me a bit!) and loads and loads of mobiles, laptops and pieces of clothing.

The internet has also come into its own when it comes to lost pets. I see so many posts online (many of them heart-breaking) detailing where the family pet dog was last seen… Years ago, all you could do was put up ‘lost’ posters on lampposts and ask all your neighbours to keep their eyes peeled. Now, the chances of finding your beloved pet are much higher as you can so quickly pass on the details to so many people. I often follow posts through just to be see if there is a happy ending… and very often, there is.

I’m still worried about that person who got home and found they’d mislaid their lounge carpet though…

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Happy Christmas!

Joanna, right, with her sister Kate, left with Father Christmas.Can I wish each and every one of you the happiest of Christmas Days – happy times around the festive period and just plain happy times!

Memories are precious jewels to be collected and treasured. Then they can be brought out to look at and remember fondly when you need them most. I have had a tough year with all my family, and I’ve no doubt they would agree that the family has been tested in 2015. However the upside of this is that my brothers and sister and I are closer than we were a year ago, and that is something to celebrate.

It’s hard when sad times overwrite the happy memories of the past, and I think it’s really important to try and get past the sad memories and hang on to all the happiness that has been around you over the years.

I am planning a super happy day today with my much loved daughters and little two year old Grace who has a collection of Play-doh coming her way and a cuddly Winnie-the-Pooh so maybe we can make some Play-doh food for the bear – who knows. That’s the fun of being two – anything can happen and her innocence and naiveté sum up what matters about the Christmas message. Love, happiness and trust in the future.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Christmas past…

I was having a pleasant wallow on social media and came across… annuals! Do you know, I had completely forgotten about them and yet they used to be such an important part of my Christmas, right up there alongside the advent calendar and what was hidden in the toe of my Christmas stocking.

I used to be so excited at the prospect of receiving a ‘Bunty’ annual every Christmas. In my childhood, these were big, hardback books with comic-strip stories, none of the trendy ‘photo strips’ that came later. Bunty was full of hearty girls who played hockey or were generally just ‘jolly good sorts’ – so innocent! I had to really work hard to ration myself to only reading one story at a time and not race through the entire annual in one sitting.

Another very popular present for me was ‘The Guinness Book of Records’. I used to pore over it, fascinated by the more extreme records and would even go and dig out the previous year’s to check what had changed. Ah, the simple pleasures of life pre-internet, when we actually had to look things up in books.

Something else we have lost is the big Christmas TV attraction. I can remember when Morecambe and Wise used to get 24 million viewers for their Christmas special, yet last year no TV shown on Christmas day got more than 10 million viewers. Oh, I did love Morecambe and Wise, in fact the re-runs still make me laugh now! It was strange, but when so many people had seen the same programme it created a wonderful sort of camaraderie and I can remember overhearing people discussing sketches that had particularly amused them, or what they’d thought of Shirley Bassey’s dress or Penelope Keith’s dance routine, such fun!

So what else did we have in Christmas past and no longer have, or rarely see, today?

Angel Hair
That dreadful white spun stuff that we used to drape over the Christmas tree and get fibre glass splinters everywhere – who ever came up with that idea? And why?

Paper chains
Do people still make paper chains? I haven’t seen any for ages, but I clearly remember making yards of them at school and thinking my tongue would be permanently stuck to the roof of my mouth!

Christmas drinks
Oh, how I used to aspire to a Babycham! I loved the adverts with the sweet little deer… but I remember it being something of a disappointment when I finally tried it, rather sweet and sickly! And who remembers a Snowball? Advocaat and lemonade, usually with a cherry on the top, the height of sophistication in the 1960s.

Woolworths
Goodness, many a last minute present was bought in Woolies! I can remember clutching a few old pennies in my mittened hands and trying to find something suitable for an aunt, cousin or school friend.

January sales
Cheating really as they were after Christmas – but in my youth, the January sales began in January (not Boxing Day as now) and it was a huge source of excitement! I can remember as a teenager, fighting my way past a huge crowd to grab a green polo neck angora jumper that they had been advertising in the window for the week before the sale –  £20.00 down to £2 – I loved that jumper for years!

So, what are your memories of Christmas past? What do you miss? Or what do you enjoy now that makes it so much better? Do share!

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