Friday, December 19, 2008

How often has the Christmas tree afforded me the greatest glee!

It was my birthday on Friday.  Thank-you, I did enjoy myself and got a good selection of books, chocolate and clothes, the latter two in larger sizes than the previous year.

Il Capo has a rule regarding the delineation between my birthday and Christmas.  She feels it is important to keep a separation between these two notable celebrations and therefore we do not decorate for Christmas until my birthday has passed.

Consequently, on Sunday we went looking for a Christmas tree.

I fancied the idea of cutting down our own tree.  I know this is normal American behaviour because I've seen it on Charlie Brown.  The more time I spend in America, the more I realise how true to life Peanuts is, for example the obsession with pumpkins that started in August and is still rumbling on.  I've even seen dogs that slept on the roofs of their kennels, although that was in Alaska.

I had a hunt around the Internet and found Wilkins Fruit and Fir Farm, a place where we could select our own tree and then mercilessly hack it down and drag it off to our home.

"This place will do, let's go here.  Wilkins Fruit and Fir Farm", said I.

"They do Christmas trees?", asked Il Capo?

"Yes, it's a fir farm.  It's only about ten miles away"

"OK... Um... Why do they sell Christmas trees at a fur farm?"


"Do they keep the bears in them?"


Eventually, we got our homophones in order and got in the car.

When we got there, I parked the PT Cruiser in a muddy field alongside the other cars.  I say cars, I mean trucks.  We were next to a Ford SUV which was a cross between a Humvee and a Greyhound bus.  It's what you get when the marketing department say they like the off-road ability of the Range Rover, so could you build the same thing, but with an extra row of seats and twice the luggage capacity.  All the Ford
SUVs have names starting with "Ex".  In growing order of size there is the Extirpation, the Exsanguination and the Extermination.

From the car-park, we took a hay-ride to the tree plantation.  A quick word of explanation here to my British readers.  A hay-ride is when a tractor pulling a flatbed trailer draws up alongside you, and you and your precious children sit on the trailer, legs dangling while it takes you to your final destination.

As an impressionable youth, I used to watch "public information films" in England that showed 70s children riding on trailers, before one would fall over the side and under the wheels, resulting in a grisly mess of blood and brown cords.  The other thing I learnt not to do was throw a frisbee up into an electricity pylon then climb up to get it.  As I recall, that leads not to blood but to ashes floating gently in the breeze.

The film did its job - I clung to my youngest all the way, scanning the horizon for tornadoes or other possible hazards while silently calculating whether in the event that Son Number One began to slip, it would be better to grab him and risk his legs slipping under the wheels, or push him harder so he would fall away from this whirling machine of death.

As it happened the three mile an hour journey was uneventful.

At the plantation we roamed between the firs, looking for the perfect tree.  What is the perfect tree?  Well, the trees I liked were tall and conical, Il Capo likes trees that were symmetrical and Nanny wanted something without gaps in the foliage.  Son Number One's only criterion was that he could reach the label.  Bagpuss ignored the trees and looked for mud to walk in.  Working together we succesfully dismissed every candidate until Son Number One found our Douglas.  He was a little over seven feet tall and perfectly formed.  I found an itinerant teenager with a saw who happily laid on the frozen ground and sawed Douglas down, then carried him back to the trailer for the journey back.

After another non-fatal hay ride back, Douglas was placed in a shaking machine.  Ostensibly this was to allow dead needles to fall, but I think it was really to remove the spiders.  If they can hide in a bunch of bananas, how many can fit into a tree?  Then he was netted and two willing teenagers tied him to our PT Cruiser for which I thanked them with a picture of Abraham Lincoln mind-beaming them to share it with the lad stuck back in the trees with the saw.

While all this was happening to Douglas, we were receiving free mulled cider and buying a huge and delicious apple and cranberry pie.  Cider in America isn't the same as cider in Britain.  To the British, cider is an alcoholic drink made from fermented apples that is prized by teenagers for its easy drinkability and low cost.  To Americans, cider is a non-alcoholic drink, made from unpastuerised apple juice.  The mulled stuff was pretty good though.

Back at the ranch, Douglas was stood, watered and decorated and I think he looks pretty good.

Picture taken with a 2.5 second exposure without a tripod, so apologies for the blurring.

P.S.  I went hunting for the old UK public information films and found these.  They are not exactly as I remember, but the essential horror remains.  In fact, the trailer scene is one part of a long film which was shown in schools when I was small called Apaches.  Looking at it now, it's the Alien of public information films, almost 30 minutes long and with the theme of 80s horror films, except it was made before them.  A group of six children on a farm, one by one they meet grisly deaths until only one remains.  You might think that after one child has been crushed under a trailer, one drowned in a pit of slurry and one has drunk paraquat, the parents might think to take the other children away, but horror films don't work that way.  Remember, they made us watch this at school.

Part 1, The hay-ride scene is 4.30 in:

Part 2:

Part 3:

After that, the relatively mild frisbee film is here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Live blogging the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade #12

Inflatable Horton is passing by with an inflatable clover and 56 wranglers below him.  Followed by the Care Bears.  A woman is miming something turgid about Christmas while bears ice-skate.  I need a beer.

Kermit is back, non-inflatable this time.  He's singing, but his voice is all wrong.  Bagpuss went to get her Fozzy Bear to wave at Kermit.  Meredith Vieria is announcing a group who aren't there.  The final band of the day are imminent, but first Andy Williams.

Andy is singing something Christmassy.  It's interesting how Christmas themed this Thanksgiving parade is.  There was one giant turkey, some over sized cranberries and about a dozen Christmas songs.  Perhaps someone should write more songs about pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes.  As I wrote that, the final band turned up and played Jingle Bells.

And here's Santa to wind up the parade.  He's a good Santery looking Father Christmas, with a thick but carefully groomed beard and is preceded by a long line of animatronic reindeer.

Matt Lauer is winding up, and Son Number One is reaching for the Wii remote.  The parade is over.

In conclusion, the whole thing was a little fraught - the Squeakers didn't enjoy it very much.  They would have loved it if they were there, but to see it we would have had to get up at oh-my-God-o-clock.  If we watch it on TV again, next time I'm turning off the commentators.

Live blogging the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade #11

There is now a steam-boat, populated by sailors, giant mice and a sixteen year old singer called Charice.  The captain has an eight foot head.  It represents Good Housekeeping.  I'm confused.

A marching band with a twist.  It's filled with octogenarians from Florida.  I think I just saw Lloyd Bridges playing a trumpet.

Spongebob Squarepants is floating past.

While watching Trace Adkins singing, Il Capo remarked, "Country Music's very big here, isn't it?"

Now there are traditional Iroquois dancers and singers performing - followed by inflatable Kermit.  The organisers have an interesting way of ordering this parade

They've hacked the head and shoulders off the Statue of Liberty and Miss USA is dragging it down the street!

Now this is unusual.  The Fred Hill Briefcase Drill Team.

I think what is driving me nuts about the commercialism isn't that all the floats represent various shows or products - that's fair enough.  It's listening to Al Roker and Matt Lauer reading a paragraph from each company's marketing department every time a new float goes past.  Say, the float is from Build-A-Bear Workshop, but don't give me a hundred words on how turn children's dreams into nylon reality.

Andy Williams is coming up, but the Squeakers are beginning to rebel.  I may not make it...

Live blogging the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade #10

Idina Menzel is singing on a float with the M&M men.  She's very well wrapped up with a big woolly hat.  Very energetic singing though.

Son Number One gazes adoringly at inflatable Pikachu.  Matt Lauer is explaining how Pikachu stores electricity in his cheeks.

Buzz Lightyear is floating over Broadway.  He's followed by a musical number from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends - which is interrupted by... RICK ASTLEY!  Il Capo is on her feet - she's dancing!

We've had to rewind so she can dance more... I'll be back when it's over.

Live blogging the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade #9

An Abby Cadabby inflatable, another marching band, and a giant Hello Kitty balloon. Bagpuss is happy again.

A giant pink castle is passing by. It has singing women on it.

Something that impresses Son Number One. Two jugglers juggling while one stands on the other's shoulders. They are from the Big Apple Circus.

Mr Peanut from Planters Peanuts arrives in his Nutmobile. Did you know Americans consume more than 600 million pounds of nuts every year? That's not much, they eat more turkey in one day!

The cast from Hair are here, singing Aquarius. Hair is on, needless to say, Broadway.

The huge horses of the NYC Parks Enforcement Mounted Patrol. Followed directly by an inflatable Ronald McDonald.

"Long Island's teen sensation" Push Play are singing on a cardboard bridge - someone forgot to turn off Matt Lauer's microphone. And another marching band are performing.

Live blogging the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade #8

I may be understating it, but there is a certain amount of product placement on the NBC broadcast of Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.

Now this is a little different.  Hawaiian dancers and singers all dressed in grass skirts and those flower garland things.

Shontelle is singing beside a huge rhino that people are abseiling rappelling  down...  I can't explain it.

An Inflatable Dora that waves!  The Squeakers are momentarily interested.  That is followed by a Harajuku Girls float with an inflatable Gwen Stefani and then a giant Energizer bunny.

Lots of girls in short skirts with huge skipping ropes.  They have sixty foot ropes perpendicular to each other and lines of jumping girls.  Hard to explain, think of the ropes as a grid.

Ooh, Sesame Street.  Bagpuss stops looking for a grape under the sofa to watch Elmo.

Live blogging the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade #7

Back to Harold Square outside Macy's.  The All-Star Baton Twirlers are twirling.  They each raised $2,000 dollars to appear - oh they've gone.

Peanuts characters, a giant inflatable Snoopy and normal sized Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus.

Il Capo's foot is better now.

Son Number One is asking to play on the Wii.

A marching band are now marching and playing.  More high-kicking from the band's majorettes.

The Bolt float is here.  Bolt is an upcoming film.  Miley Cyrus is miming to a song.  Miley Cyrus voices one of the characters.

Ah, now we have mounted police with a police band - oh, we are getting sponsors adverts over the top of them.  Obviously the police aren't paying NBC enough.