Christmas Without Alcohol. . .

On Friday 4th February 2022 I had my last glass of wine. I had answered a sort of quiz on an internet website Drinkaware — you can see it HERE if you fancy assessing your own consumption — and for the first time, I didn’t cheat with my answers. Sadly, I wasn’t at all happy with the result. You know the sort of thing they ask like, how many units of alcohol do you drink a night, or how many glasses in a week, and a few other questions too. My answers revealed the truth to me, it was a bit of a shock but, I thought that I might be a little alcohol dependent as I reached for the bottle every evening or I was having that extra glass of wine at the end of the night — that I didn’t need etc., — and this was happening all too often.

So I just decided to stop.

It’s been fine, I honestly haven’t missed the alcohol at all. I haven’t missed having a fuzzy head some mornings and I can definitely feel the benefits of living a sober life. It might be sober but it’s definitely not dull. So many people think that if you don’t drink at all then you’re boring. I’d like to think that I would never be considered boring.

We travelled to France for April, May and June, staying in the wine region of Provence for several weeks where in the past I enjoyed many glasses of their wonderful Rosé. But I didn’t even think about it this year.

What I did miss was having a grown-up drink before dinner, or sometimes when I sat down in the evening. However, during the last year, more and more alcohol free drinks have come onto the market. I find I can enjoy a ‘gin’ and tonic or a ‘martini’ and tonic. Gordons, Tanqueray and others are now producing alcohol free gin. Another of my favourite drinks is Atopia spiced citrus. All these I drink with tonic, ice and lemon or cucumber, of course.

This will be my first Christmas without alcohol. I’m not bothered. The Man hasn’t had a drink for over thirty years and it never bothers him. Also one of my sons gave up several years ago, they both drink alcohol free beer – Lucky Saint they say is a good one, but I’m not keen on beer so I’ve been testing out the wines. Nozeco is popular, cheap, about £3.50 a bottle and it’s okay. Noughty sparkling Chardonnay is good, but not cheap, averaging around £9. I’ve not seen any sherry yet…but I keep looking.

I like a drop of mulled wine at this time of year so I bought myself a bottle of low alcohol red wine (0.05%) opened a jar with bags of mulled wine spices in it. I heated the wine with water, an orange, a small spoonful of sugar, and the spice bag, let the whole thing sit on a very low heat for an hour or so and bingo — it was bloody good! When I looked at the spice jar afterwards it said on it, best before October 2011 Horrors! It was sealed, it’s spices, I’ve lived to tell the tale. We went visiting this weekend and I told them about my mulled wine experience, whereupon they produced a bottle of Vintersaga mulled fruit drink from Ikea at £2.95 a bottle, and I have to say that was pretty good too. Only thing is it cannot be bought online so a trip to Ikea looks likely. (See centre photo above).

Have a wonderful Christmas and if you, like me, have given up the alcohol, there is a lot out there to choose from . . .

Image taken from Town and Country Magazine

Note Number 63. . . A Cowboy Story for Christmas.

Note Number 63. . . A Cowboy Story for Christmas.


Wayne Hollis Jackson was driving along the old Eagle Trail on his way back from the range. He was still a good fifteen mile away from home and the snow was hitting the windscreen of the truck like a hail of Lux soap flakes. The Jackson’s had always been cowboys, but he was sure glad not to be riding a horse in this weather. After a hard day, he was looking forward to getting back to a warm fire, and a fine bit of good Texan tucker that his momma would have ready for him at the house. His watch read six-thirty, and he had reckoned to be back before seven, but with the worsening weather, he began to doubt getting home at all.

A while later he was passing the McVale place, squinting to see where he was headed, he could just make out Mary-Lou McVale standing by the side of their station wagon flagging him down. He pulled over as close as he could, drew his hat down over his eyes and gathered his sheepskin coat around his body, opened the truck door and ran to Mary -Lou putting his arm around her.

‘What’s up Mrs McVale?’ he said.

The words came tumbling out, a torrent of panic.

‘The pick-up’s broke, the baby’s coming, the phone lines are down, there’s no mobile signal and Joe’s away working on the rigs. He was getting here for Christmas, but I think that ain’t possible now. The baby’s not due for another three weeks but the contractions are coming fast. I don’t see how I’m gonna make it to the hospital. Rightly I should have had my mother here but like I said, the baby’s not due for another three weeks.’

‘Well mam, I’ve delivered a fair few calves in my time, can’t see it’ll be that much different. Let’s get you inside, out of this blizzard.’

‘Won’t your mamma be worrying ’bout you?’

‘Guess she will but there’s nothing I can do ’bout that now. Anyways, she’ll likely think I’ve stayed up at the bunkhouse what with this weather and all.’

‘There’s some stew on the stove if you need a bite to eat.’

‘Why, that’s a mighty good idea, I could be here some time.’

For the next five hours Mary-Lou paced around the living room of the one storey house, moaning and groaning and Wayne comforted her between contractions. He tried to stay relaxed and not let on how nervous he felt about the imminent birth.

‘Do you think, with it being Christmas Eve an’ all, you might have a boy?’ he asked.

‘What, you mean, like a second coming?’ Mary-Lou kinda spat the words out.

‘I was just saying.’

‘I think it’s here,’ yelled Mary-Lou before dropping onto all fours and bellowing.

Wayne manoeuvred her onto the couch.

At just gone midnight, a beautiful little baby girl bawled her way into the world.

‘Oh my,’ said Wayne, ‘a new beginning. Aint that something? What are you gonna call her?’

‘Well, I don’t rightly fancy Waynette, but maybe Holly would be nice, a bit like your middle name? And it is Christmas day after all.’

Wayne stared at the little baby.

‘Imagine,’ he sighed, ‘if Jesus had been born a girl, the world might have been a whole different place.’

cowboy stork

This story was originally created from a prompt set as homework for a writing group that I have just joined, Story Traders, in Bridport. We had to take a character or two from a Christmas Carol or Song and write a story putting them in a modern setting. I chose the Cowboy Carol, which I love and I think my kids loved it too. If you don’t know it, you can listen to a version of it here. 

Note Number 47. . .How I remember Christmas. . .1955-1960 (approx)

Note Number 47. . .How I remember Christmas. . .1955-1960 (approx)


Family Songs Around the Piano

It’s easy to become nostalgic at this time of the year. . .it was all so different when I was a kid, but is that because I was a kid? Or were things really different? Less commercial I’m sure and our expectations were way lower. . . Whatever it’s all good fun. This poem is for my brother Tony, who was often away at Christmas because he was at a choir School and had to sing on Christmas day. Also for my sister Jean,  her birthday is on the 23rd December (the day I’m uploading this). I’ve always felt sorry for her having her birthday so close to Christmas as I’m sure people used to give her a joint present. I think she should celebrate in the summertime and have an official birthday too. I’m sure I know at least one person who does that . . .

As ever, press the play button to listen or scroll on down to read. . .

When I was a kid there was much less fuss
No starting in September to beat the Christmas rush
We never got excited before the twenty-fourth
Any early preparations were of the culinary sort

Mother made a pudding and we all gave it a stirchristmasput
She’d put a sixpence in it, and a spoonful of liqueur
Nowadays the sixpence is outlawed in every pud
As you might choke, or break a tooth and that would not be good

Father carved the turkey, mother drank the sherry
Brother played the piano and we sang, all warm and merry
Sister talked about her boyfriend, though I think she told me fibs
And I laughed out loud and ate so much until it hurt my ribs

Crackers and silly hats were the order of the day
You read the joke aloud before you threw it straight away
Mother kept all the bits of tinsel and crepe paper
She always said she would find a use for it, sooner or later

On Boxing day, we ventured up the M1 in our Ford
The journey took ages, as long as going abroad
We’d visit Auntie Florence in her big house with an Aga
Tea and cakes in the dining room – it was a huge palaver

The table was enormous, full-size for playing snooker
With mahogany cover, and fancy cloth – it was quite a looker
Heaving with meringues, coconut pyramids and scones
My aunt never had a problem keeping up with the Jones

Other aunts and cousins were all gathered with us there
The kids all liked each other, we didn’t really have a care
The grown ups used to send us in the garden for a run
‘Go and see the rabbits’ they’d say, ‘it will be so much fun’

The journey home to Ruislip was done well after dark
My dad driving recklessly, thinking it would be a lark
I vowed one day I’d have an Aga so that I could make and bake
Those mouth-watering meringues and other sumptuous cake

Ninette Hartley © December 2017

christmas tree


As an adult, I did manage to have an Aga for a while and it made the most wonderful meringues. . . meringue


Note Number 46…Office Christmas Party…

Note Number 46…Office Christmas Party…


My second Christmas poem is based around a party that many of us will have attended at least once…  It’s probably not very PC but then office parties often aren’t…

Click the play button to listen or see below to read the text: –

I should just mention before I go that I forgot to bring in the Mistletoe. . . But, maybe that will be for the best, for today, a kiss underneath it could lead to arrest. . .


Office Christmas Party

When the boss popped the cork on a bottle of pop
Freda from lettings was already half-shot.
that chap from accounts, mild-mannered Jim
has got something disgusting stuck on his chin
it could be an olive – whatever – it’s gross.
that secretary Jane is getting quite close
she picks off the green thing with certain aplomb
flicks it over her shoulder where it lands, splat on Tom
now he’s had a few drinks he’ll be telling wild tales
I’m surprised he fancies that girl from sales
I rather thought he would lean the other way
and grab the chance to get close to Ray
Alison Bartlett adjusts a plentiful bust
puckers her lips and oozes with lust
the music is on, getting louder and faster
she’s looking around – who will she be after?
not too steady on the high heel shoes
whoops! She’s made a beeline for the loos
a relief for them all except poor Bert
who’s longs for Alison every day at work
each Christmas party he waits to dive
for if there’s one thing Bert can do, it’s jive
he pounces when the song is right
they’re on the floor, he’s holding her tight
but the music changes to the Christmas conga
and Alison, as ever, is his no longer
red faces a’plenty, throughout the room
taxis are called, the party’s over, what gloom
regrets in the morning will come with hindsight
as couples slope off to continue the night
the boss is delighted – the party succeeded
some, wine, food and nibbles, all that were needed
he relaxes, sits back, gives a huge weary sigh
to his employees’ antics he has turned a blind eye
as he lifts the hanky from out of his pocket
along with it comes Alison Bartlett’s gold locket
at least, he had meant it to be for her neck
instead he’d given her a leaving cheque
now home to his wife he could go without fear
he’d resisted temptation, at least ‘til next year

© Ninette Hartley December 2017


Note Number 45…Christmas is Coming…

Note Number 45…Christmas is Coming…

I decided back in September to write enough Christmas Poems to fill a small book…ho ho ho, ha ha ha, I didn’t manage it. But I did write a few, so I’ll post them here over the next couple of weeks both written and recorded. Herewith is Rudolph’s Rebellion. First performed in public at Apothecary Words in Bridport on the 13th December 2017.

Rudolf’s Rebellion

reindeer-clip-art-41 copy

You can hear me read the poem if you click on the link below – otherwise read on…

Rudolf’s had enough
he’s fed up, he’s resigned
he doesn’t want to pull that sleigh
another bloody mile

he’s over it
he’s done his bit
round the world and back
every year, forever, with Santa and his sack

now he’s sat down on his haunches
he’s refused to budge an inch
FC shouted, spat and stamped
the other reindeer flinched

Rudolf was having none of itRudolf Text
he’d worked without a break
time to retire! Go out to grass
his pension he would take

I’ve had to raise the limit
of retirement for my lads
I must inform you of your rights
or lack of them, I should add

if you were born before the 50’s
you would have been okay
but sorry to tell you Rudolf
you missed it by a day.

you’ll have to draw your horns in
work longer for your money
what? splattered Rudolf
if that’s a joke it isn’t funny!

I know that you’ve worked long and hard,
I understand you are upset
and frankly with your bright red nose
you’re more than just a pet

but times are hard, the money’s short
austerity means there’s less
you’ll have to give me one more year
and then we’ll re-assess

I’m getting old, my bones all ache
my flat feet all have corns
I get out of breath when in the clouds
and my antlers are all shorn

well, what do you think it’s like for me?
climbing chimneys and the like
delivering toys, of every kind,
every other one a bike

Dasher and Dancer looked forlorn
Vixen and Comet distraught
Cupid, Dunder and Donner were drunk
they’d finished last year’s port

don’t worry, I can sort it out
said Santa to the rest
I’ll talk to Rudolf, make him see
remaining with us is the best

Rudolf sighed, there seemed no choice,
but he wanted to leave while able
just talking about it made no sense
with no offers on the table

the leaders canvassed long and hard
should Rudolph leave or remain?
everyone had to take a vote
no-one could abstain

the outcome wasn’t decisive
with a split of fifty-fifty
vote rigging was suggested
the tellers all looked shifty

after one more round of talks –
more like shouting verbal abuse
no further progress could be made –
not in time for the evening news

they agreed to defer any action
until after this Christmas was done
but with his eye fixed securely on Rudolph
father Christmas began cleaning his gun. . .

santa-with-gun copy


Ninette Hartley© December 2017

Note Number 9…Thoughts on Christmas…

Wreath Bought Today…money went to charity. Next year I’m going to make my own but still give some money to charity.

I’ve had good times I’ve had bad times…most of my friends, present and past, have had lives that follow a similar pattern.  But as you get older it becomes more evident that we humans are greedy things. We want our cake and eat it. We want too much in the way of material things and are never happy to be content to just have what we need. It’s nearing Christmas so I suppose that’s what’s making me feel this way. The constant flow of Christmas email offers coming into my inbox is frightening. The advertising in magazines, newspapers and on the television is bombastic. The pressure is on!   There are so many people in the world with absolutely nothing. No home, no family, no food, nothing – and no prospect of things getting any better for them. It makes me angry and sad…  and I know I’m a hypocrite, because I’m not going to give up everything I have and hand it all over to the needy.

In the past I have been without, literally, I have had nothing in my handbag or pocket and searched down the sides of the sofa (at least I had a sofa) for a few coins so that I could collect enough of them together for a meal.  I’ve also had times when the table has been overflowing with food and the cupboards are bursting.   I have worried about only having 50p in my purse and I have worried about having only £50 in my purse. It’s all relative. I have had my fair share of tragedy, losing my dad when I was only thirteen and then losing my lovely son when he was only twenty-seven. But, those events apart, I have been lucky in so many ways.  I am lucky right now…the weather has been pretty rubbish but who cares?  I am free, I’m not hungry and I’m comfortable. Most days I can please myself what I do. I have grown older and wiser.  I’m a bit overweight and should try to lose it – but why? I’m healthy and happy and until I can’t actually get my clothes done up, I’m going to try not to worry about a few pounds of excess body fat.

I could never be as good as those people, who give up their Christmas Day to feed the homeless and needy before they have anything for themselves. But, I fully intend this year to try to do something helpful each day of the holiday. On Facebook I saw an advent calendar and each day it had a good deed to do, which I think is a great idea – much better than eating chocolate!  Doing something kind or helpful does not mean that you have to deprive yourself of anything, it doesn’t even have to cost any money.  Just make sure your neighbour has everything they need…whatever their age. Visit the local home for senior people…(trying to be PC) and maybe take a bottle of sherry for them to have a glass on Christmas day.  I’m sure we can all think of something charitable to do? So far in December I haven’t done enough good deeds but I am trying, honestly.

I bought a wreath for the door today, it cost £10 and the money will go to charity. I’m not going to buy a load of Christmas decorations because it is a waste of money and we won’t be here for Christmas day but with family in Bristol (can’t wait).  How lucky am I to be sharing time with my children and grandchildren and of course The Man…he’s a bit of a bah-humbug.  I’m honestly not a Christmas grump but, I’m going try hard not to be too indulgent this year.

I’m not a religious person but appreciate the part of Christmas that brings people and families together. I do not appreciate the commercial side of Christmas at all and hope that you, readers, will take time out to think of those less fortunate than yourselves at this time of year and I will do the same.



The Walking Singers…

The Walking Singers…

The Walking Singers – John, Paolo, Anna-maria, Cristina, Me, Monia, Tiziana and Bernadetta.  (I may have spelt some of the names wrong, please fogive me.) Eugenio and Barbara are missing from this photo but we musn’t leave them out!

‘Would you like to join our Christmas singing group?’ asked my Canadian/Italian friend Tiziana back in November. ‘This will be our third year and it’s just good fun, mostly the group are Italians and we sing Christmas songs.’

I love singing, I take after my mother, she always had a song suitable for every occasion. My friend Linda is also the same…at any time she’ll burst into song after you have said something like… ‘good morning’…she’ll start,

Good morning, good morning
We’ve talked the whole night through
Good morning good morning to you… etc., Gene Kelly version I think.

I don’t want to turn into my mother, or Linda in fact but it is great to sing. It makes you feel good, something to do with endorphins I expect…I do sing, intermittently throughout everyday and if I don’t, then The Man thinks there’s something wrong with me.

Back to the Christmas choir then. I accepted the invitation and joined the choir with seasonal glee…(*groan*)

There were about four rehearsals usually a 9pm start but as most of the group were Italian they actually began somewhere between 9.30pm and 10pm. They were/are a lovely bunch of people but for the first three sessions, there was only a core of about four people who remained the same! Numbers kept changing and I had to try and remember so many different names.

Our song list contained most of the popular songs, Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, (for which we donned red noses of course), Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Jingle Bell Rock and several more. Imagine was the favourite with the Italian audiences…we had to sing it twice when we performed at the old people’s home in Petritoli. Fairytale of New York proved to be a hard one to come to grips with but we managed it in the end – I love that song – we couldn’t have managed it without John Healy on guitar…or could we? hmm. Happy Christmas (War is Over) was equally popular and quite emotional to sing. It seems every year it is topical, sadly.

The name of the group is, The Walking Singers, it came about not because they walk at the same time as singing but because the first year they performed they sang in a piazza in Fermo then walked a bit and sang in a different piazza, then another little stroll and a little sing, and so it went on. This year, we did actually sing and walk at the same time and as we strolled through the streets, shop doors opened, people wished us well, smiled and looked happy. We were spreading goodwill in abundance and it felt good.

So, 2015 saw three performances one at the Casa di Riposo (old people’s home) in Petritoli; one outside Bar Primavera in Fermo (we were given vino brule, which is mulled wine, it certainly helped oil the vocal tubes. The final singing event was on Christmas Eve and took place under the Christmas tree in the big Piazza del Popolo in Fermo town. The atmosphere was…well…Christmassy…with a skating rink set up in the middle of the square, lots of twinkly lights, stalls selling Christmas tack bric-a-brac, children playing, bells ringing…all very nostalgic and magical until we started singing…J Only joking. The crowds gathered to listen, we sang our hearts out and even The Man joined in. His contribution was to play the tambourine with skill and passion especially in We Wish you A Merry Christmas…we never did get any figgy pudding though!


Olivespastavino, complete with red nose. Not that I needed one really as the actual nose was pretty scarlet at the time! (I’m looking very keen)

Happy New Year! Good wishes for 2016 to all.

December Means; Nutcracker, Nasty Bills, and New York…

The fav music, a must to singalong la la la la etc.,
The Snowflakes…my fav music, a must to singalong with…la la la la la etc.,

I was very excited to go to Pescara last Thursday 12th December and see a live streaming of the Royal Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker. A great way to get into the Christmas spirit. It was a wonderful experience and I loved the way you could hear the audience taking their seats in the auditorium of the Royal Opera House and the orchestra tuning up – what a buzz it gave me! Sadly the cinema in Pescara was virtually empty with only about twenty seats taken up. I don’t understand why that should be except that maybe the Italians are not that enamoured of the Royal Ballet or perhaps it is just not advertised enough locally. I wonder if they attend the opera productions, which are also live streamed once a month at this time of year.

My two friends and I clapped heartily, soaked up the beautiful dancing, costumes, scenery and music, it was magical. I danced out of the cinema at the end truly inspired, I probably looked a right idiot but I didn’t care. I think I’m going to pop down again in January and catch Giselle, it’s just over two and a half hours round trip, but worth it, I do love the ballet.

It was back to reality with a bump on Friday morning when we residents of Petritoli received our rifiuti,  rubbish disposal bills. I couldn’t get to the PO on Friday as I had to collect paperwork for two friends who are in the UK but the bills had to be paid by Monday, (today) not much notice then! If you don’t complete the payment on time then there’s a fine.

Poste Italiane...Happy Faces (NOT)
Poste Italiane…Happy Faces (NOT)

So, off I trek on Saturday morning to the post office with all three lots of paperwork . Surprise, surprise the other 1500 residents are also trying to pay. So the place was rammed to the gunnels. Ridiculous. Everyone mumbling, grumbling, no proper queue, no ticket to take for a turn a typical Italian experience which I’m normally happy with because I love living here and so accept that this is the way things are. However, I tried to be patient and wait but I gave up after an hour and decided to return on Monday

Roman Soldiers...we had no  javelins in the PO though...thank goodness!!
Roman Soldiers…we had no javelins in the Post Office though…thank goodness!!

I went back this morning and it was same thing a ton of people standing very close together like phalanx of Roman soldiers but with no possibility of advancement within the foreseeable future. I waited for twenty minutes then went AWOL to do some other chores and return at 1pm. The post office closes at 1.30 and the Italians all have lunch between 12.30pm and 3.30pm so I thought I pm would be safe bet. Yeah! It was a little less crowded but difficult to keep my place in the heaving throng of locals all trying to sneak in front. I had been waiting for a while when it was explained to me by a helpful neighbour that if I was paying by Bancomat card then I had to go ‘into the office with the director’, she spoke confidentially and I was reminded of Les Dawson. Anyway, I joined the other slightly shorter but equally haphazard queue outside the Postmaster’s office.

This queue moved very, very slowly, one person every 10 minutes as opposed to one person every five minutes. I tried to rejoin the first queue but, ‘No signora, devi attendere la!’ No, madam you must wait there! So patience. Patience, really is a bloody virtue and thank goodness I have plenty of it. Eventually I entered the exclusive office with the ‘director’ who to me, looked about 17 years old and just out of school, his wispy beard telling all. I had torn off the ‘tear off’ slip, as I thought I was supposed to but, alas, ‘No signora, non dovresti avuto fatto quello’ you should not have done that…I was duly told off. I had done it with all three bills! Ah well, he fiddled about and tried to put the two halves of the paper onto another plain sheet and push it through his machine. It took a bit of time, probably 15 minutes in total. I kept saying, ‘mi dispiace’ I’m sorry. He raised his eyebrows, sighed heavily and looked at me the way young people look at old people sometimes. Despairingly. Thank goodness I was in the room with the ‘Director’ and this little scenario didn’t take place in front of all those other people waiting their turn. Imagine how I might have felt then! Job done, I scurried quickly through the main PO hoping not to be seen and out into the fresh air, free at last!

Olivespastavino is off to New York on Thursday for Christmas, everyone is sooo Jealous. I’m looking forward to going but not looking forward to the journey. I can’t wait to see family, especially my lovely grand daughter 8 months old now! I’ll be blogging from the Big Apple….can’t wait to visit Sahadi’s and get some of those double choc malt balls…yum yum.

Double Choc Malt Balls..YUMMY!
Double Choc Malt Balls..YUMMY!