Christmas 2021 Favourites

A rainbow made of neon lights suspended between buildings over a street, surrounded by lots of brightly coloured shimmering butterflies.

Well, we made it through another odd year. We finished 2021 in a stronger position than 2020 in some important ways, and step by step we are getting back towards a sense of normality. But we still to be careful and patient, as opposed to carefree and complacent, and hopefully the situation will continue to improve during 2022.

In any case, despite the various restrictions we endured throughout the year, along with my own battle with sciatica and back trouble over the summer, I still got out and about quite a bit and found plenty to enjoy, as you’ll have seen from all of my Favourites posts. The latter half of 2021 was particularly busy, as I was interviewed on RNIB Radio’s Happy Hour by fellow blogger Holly Tuke from Life Of A Blind Girl, had the opportunity to interview visually impaired actor Gillian Dean about the premiere of a new play, finally got to attend a live performance of the Rocky Horror Show, and had an audio described tour of London Zoo, among other things. And being able to meet some of my friends after so long apart has naturally been the biggest delight of the year.

This Christmas has also marked my 5th anniversary of living in London! Granted, much of the past couple of years has been a bit of a write-off, but that just makes it all the more amazing how much I’ve achieved and crammed in so far, with public speaking, TV and radio interviews, podcast appearances, student documentaries, theatre visits, museum tours, the charity abseil, so many new friendships and connections, the attention my blog’s had in general, and many other things that I would never have imagined happening or being successful at before moving here. So in that sense, the lockdowns have been strangely beneficial for giving me a chance to relax and reflect on all of that, as well as giving me all the more impetus and confidence to expand my horizons even further going forward. So if you’ve played any part in my London journey so far, whether it’s just reading these blog posts, or chatting with me, or getting together with me in person, thank you so much! It always means a great deal that people take such an interest in my adventures and my ramblings.

So before I find out what 2022 has to offer, it’s time to wrap up 2021 with a traditional bumper post and video looking back at what I’ve been doing and enjoying during December and the Christmas period. As usual, nothing here is sponsored and all opinions are my own. I hope you enjoy!

Contents

Festive Food

Mum and I indulged ourselves nicely as usual this year, and we feel we earned it! I’m not going to list everything we had, obviously, but I’ll pick a few highlights.

As always, we treated ourselves to various things from Marks & Spencer. Their online Christmas Food To Order range was somewhat limited this year, which is totally understandable in the circumstances, but there was still plenty to tempt us. So we ended up getting a Free-Range Stuffed Turkey Crown topped with bacon (which we got 6 days worth of dinners from), some pigs in blankets and stuffing balls, and a Triple Chocolate Yule Log, all of which was very tasty as you can imagine!

Marks and Spencer British free range stuffed turkey crown on the bone, with pork, chestnut, bacon and thyme stuffing, weighing 3.14 kilograms.
A large triple chocolate yule log from Marks and Spencer. It has the realistic appearance of a thick tree trunk, with edible decorations of leaves and twigs, all covered with a dusting of sugar like snow.

We also bought other things from M&S during the month, including a slow cooked turkey with turkey gravy, and even a pack of turkey feast sandwiches, but we also had nice beef and gammon joints too. Their beef dripping roast potatoes were also a lovely accompaniment. And we had plenty of their nice mince pies of course, along with another chocolate yule log and a Christmas cake.

Marks & Spencer British Oakham Slow Cooked Turkey, boneless, with a rich turkey gravy. Brined with buttermilk for tenderness and sweetness, pork and cranberry stuffing, signature dry cured bacon, and ultimate turkey gravy. Overn cooks in 55 minutes.
A box of 6 Marks & Spencer Puff Pastry Mince Pies.

On top of all that, we got lots of nice things in our regular grocery deliveries from Sainsbury’s too. They’ve served us very well throughout the pandemic, it must be said, with very few substitutions for unavailable items and very friendly drivers. We enjoyed their Easy Carve Turkey Joints and a Three Bird Roast, for example, plus various treats including their delicious Belgian Chocolate Roulade, mince pies and a Tunis Cake.

Sainsbury's Easy To Carve British 3 Bird Roast, consisting of chicken, turkey and duck, with pork stuffing, and topped with bacon.
Sainsbury's Belgian Chocolate Roulade, a long chocolate meringue dessert with whipped cream inside and layers of Belgian chocolate on top.

We also bought lots of sweets and treats to nibble on, as we bought some Cadbury’s Roses and Celebrations, plus a shortbread selection from Sainsbury’s, and a fudge selection I bought on my recent trip to Rochester. Meanwhile my colleagues in Devon sent up a box of Cadbury’s Heroes that I won in the office Christmas tombola, and my Aunt bought us a nice M&S hamper and a Thorntons Christmas Selection box. So we haven’t been short of treats!

The contents of the Marks And Spencer Classic Hamper, including spiced tea, all butter mini shortbread trees, cranberry and orange cookies, a dark chocolate bar with clementine, a small Christmas pudding, a jar of Merry Berry Preserve, a jar of Apple and Fig Chutney, and a top-iced Christmas cake bar.

Finally, on one weekend I also treated myself to The Festive One, the limited edition yuletide pizza from Domino’s, topped with sage & onion turkey, sausage, smoked bacon, onions and mozzarella cheese. That was really nice too!

Festive pizza from Domino's, topped with sage & onion turkey, sausage, smoked bacon, onions and mozzarella cheese.

Walks

My main outing during the month was a lovely day in Rochester with fellow visually impaired blogger Emily Davison from Fashioneyesta. It’s a town that was loved by Charles Dickens, and we can see why, as we enjoyed exploring the cathedral, Guildhall Museum and shops. So I came away with a few sweet treats from there as well. Check out my blog post about our visit to find out more.

Lots of sparkling yellow lights adorning the window frames and over the archways of Café Nucleus.
Below the huge ornate pipes of the cathedral organ, 8 statues embedded in narrow arches stand in a line, separated halfway along by a larger archway into another room. Decorated Christmas trees stand on the far left and right of the row of statues.

I also went out for various strolls around London as usual, getting some fresh air and attempting to offset at least a little bit of all the festive goodies we’ve been eating! That naturally included a look at some of the Christmas lights and decorations, and once again the display in Carnaby Street was particularly nice, with lots of pretty butterflies all lit up.

The busy Carnaby shopping street in Central London. In the air, along the length of the street, are lots of colourful, shimmering butterflies of different sizes. In addition, an archway across the street says Carnaby Kaleidoscope with a small heart underneath saying Choose Love, and there's another archway further along designed like a rainbow.

It was also fun to catch the Ebony Steel Band performing Christmas tunes on Oxford Street, as they do every year, to raise money for the NSPCC.

The Play That Goes Wrong

It’s been so wonderful to return to the theatre again recently, and my favourite show this month was an audio described performance of The Play That Goes Wrong at the Duchess Theatre. This is the first and longest-running of the fantastically farcical productions by Mischief Theatre, but one of the last ones I’ve got around to seeing. Here the cast and crew of the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society valiantly try to put on a murder mystery play, but their sheer incompetence means that nothing goes to plan. There are issues with the script, people over-acting or not paying attention, the wrong props being used, bits of the set falling apart or not working as expected, actors having to perform whilst trapped in difficult physical situations, people being knocked unconscious and having to be hurriedly replaced by unrehearsed stand-ins, and so on.

Many of those problems, and the jokes resulting from them, also build on one another as the show progresses. So what initially appears to be a minor faux pas can often escalate and have far-reaching ramifications, especially when combined with other faults. And while many jokes are quick visual gags, some are also slow and milked for all their worth, in the most entertaining of ways – such as a dead character who’s forced to leave the room by himself, and his attempts to be slow and discrete just draws everyone’s attention to him. And there are some clever stunts and physical sequences – especially with the study on an upper platform that very gradually collapses, leaving the actors in increasing jeopardy, while they also try to stop the furniture falling on to the stage below. Everything is so well choreographed, it’s really impressive how it all comes together – or how it all falls apart to be precise!

Poster outside the theatre for The Play That Goes Wrong, showing 3 of the characters desperately trying to pull an unconscious lady in a red dress through a window. The poster has been cut to fit around a ventilation grate on the theatre wall, so the head of the character on the left has been cut off.

The audio description from VocalEyes was therefore vital, and it worked very nicely, ensuring that I was well aware of everything that was happening. I knew where to point my monocular to look closer at certain things if I wanted to, and I could understand what I wasn’t able to see. There was going to be a touch tour before the show as well, but it was unfortunately cancelled in light of concerns about the Omicron variant that was emerging at the time. Which was a shame, but it didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the production. And it just gives me another reason to go and see it again one day, as if that temptation isn’t already there with Mischief’s productions.

So I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s consistently hilarious from start to finish, and the members of the Drama Society are a great set of very different characters. I definitely recommend it if you enjoy silly, slapstick comedy, it’s wonderful escapism.

Photos from The Play That Goes Wrong on the outer wall of the theatre, including a lady poking her head through a circular hole above a fireplace while holding 2 candles through the rectangular holes next to her, and a photo of 3 characters that has been printed upside down. A review quote among the photos says there is no funnier play in the West End.

A Pissedmas Carol

The other production I saw this month was A Pissedmas Carol – parodying the classic festive story by Charles Dickens as the name suggests – and it was performed by a group called Shit-Faced Showtime at the Leicester Square Theatre. It didn’t have audio description, but I didn’t need it as I was sat in the front row and had a decent close view. There were a few details and props I couldn’t make out of course, but nothing critical.

Basically, they got the lead actor playing Scrooge drunk before the show to make things interesting. Then they kept him topped up as it went along, by getting members of the audience to indicate when they felt he was starting to sober up and remember his lines, by shaking a jangly toy, pulling a cracker or, at the end, pressing a button to unleash a shower of confetti.

View of the stage for A Pissedmas Carol. A lectern on wheels, decorated top and bottom with tinsel, has a red book on top called A Pissedmas Carol. The backdrop of the stage shows the very decorative walls and fireplace of a Victorian house, with a banner at the top saying Shit-Faced Showtime, bathed in rainbow coloured lighting.

As a result, things were very unpredictable and very rude from the outset, and it was hilarious. Put it this way, he greeted people in his first scene using the “Yippee-ki-yay…” line from Die Hard, which set the tone straight away. The other actors, all of whom were also very good, helped to steer the basic story along, but they improvised their lines as necessary in response to whatever nonsense Scrooge was coming out with. And there were also a variety of fun musical numbers, with nicely performed adaptations of Christmas songs. One guy in the front row (just 2 seats to the right of me) was even brought into the story a little bit by one of the cast in the second half, and persuaded to stand up and sing a bit of Stayin’ Alive! He was a good sport, and the whole show was a lot of fun.

It’s a nice little underground venue too, which I’d never been to before, just down a short street off Leicester Square, next to the Prince Charles Cinema. You go down the stairs as you enter, at which point the toilets are ahead on the right, or you can turn left to get to the stalls, which have a bar on each side. So it was easy to find my way around. I’m already looking forward to returning there later in 2022 for the stand-up shows I’ve booked by Maisie Adam and Chris McCausland, again with front row seats, and I may well check out other shows there too.

The stage at the end of A Pissedmas Carol, covered in a confetti. A desk and a rocking chair are on the stage, along with a drinks trolley and a bucket to one side. A screen up in the corner of the stage invites people to donate to the Shelter charity to help the homeless.

The Thursday Murder Club

Mum and I have finished listening to Richard Osman’s latest murder mystery, The Man Who Died Twice. It’s the follow-up to his first book, The Thursday Murder Club, which we also had another listen to before hearing the sequel.

They’re both very well written novels about a group of elderly residents at the Cooper’s Chase retirement village, who work together to solve murders and associated crimes. So there’s plenty of mystery, intrigue and drama, with twists to keep you guessing, and a lot of gentle humour mixed in too. Things can be a little bit slow moving now and again, but it’s good that Richard takes his time exploring the characters so we really get to know them, and that the story alternates between the perspectives of different people. That includes Joyce’s diary that we’re privy to at regular intervals, and I am of course now following her on Instagram, at the username she creates in the second book.

The audiobooks are very nicely read by actress Lesley Manville too. Just as Richard has clearly settled further into his writing style with the second book, Lesley’s narration has also improved as she’s got used to the characters and the whole audiobook recording process. There’s a very interesting 40-minute chat between Richard and Lesley at the end of the second audiobook as well, where they talk about Richard’s process of writing the stories, and Lesley explains how she’s new to reading and recording audiobooks. The first book, meanwhile, also has an insightful chat with Richard at the end, where he’s interviewed by a rather over-enthusiastic Marian Keyes.

Lesley is also keen to do the third book in the series that’s due out next September, and have another chat with Richard at the end of it. He already has a fourth and fifth book in mind beyond that as well. Plus there will be at least one film at some point in the future, as the rights were bought by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin production company last year. So there’s plenty more to look forward to from The Thursday Murder Club.

In addition, Mum and I also enjoyed listening to Richard Osman on Desert Island Discs over Christmas. We very rarely listen to this show unless it’s someone we’re especially interested in hearing from, as in this case. Richard was really open about his life and gave lots of interesting insights into his journey over the years, including his nystagmus, the departure of his father at a young age, his food addiction, his roles behind and in front of the TV cameras, and his current series of mystery novels, among other things. His musical choices were a fascinating and surprising variety too, split pretty much evenly between tracks I knew and liked, and others I wasn’t so familiar with. So it was well worth a listen.

Other Audiobooks

While we were having dinner each day during Christmas week, Mum and I listened to a reading of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens on BBC Sounds. Although we know the basic story of course, and have seen the play at The Old Vic in the past (which we must do again one day), along with the parody version I saw this year, we had never actually read the book. So we thought it was finally time to get around to it. And we enjoyed it, naturally, as it’s a lovely story, and it’s not very long either at just 3½ hours. It’s very nicely narrated by Sean Baker, who puts the character of Scrooge across really well, and it’s great that Dickens’ excellent use of language is easy to understand, compared to authors like Shakespeare who I struggle with sometimes. So we’re glad we finally listened to that, and we’ll probably do so again in the future. It’s also available to download as part of a BBC Classics Suspense Collection on Audible, for anyone who wants to own it.

And then I also listened to a book that my friend Claire had very kindly gifted me, called The Second Sleep by Robert Harris. It’s a novel about a priest who’s sent to do a funeral on Exmoor, but gets drawn into a much deeper and intriguing mystery about the history of the area, and indeed the world. And that’s because it’s set in the future, long after our current civilisation has been decimated by some kind of apocalypse. The human race has been rebuilding itself under the control of the Church, who declare that any attempt to discover, share and resurrect our history is heresy, yet naturally there are those attempting to do just that. It is quite a short book, that ends quite abruptly after they make the final big discovery, so it only really scratches the surface of the whole concept. But it is quite a thought-provoking and sobering look at how fragile our society is and how we might be viewed in the future, if all our digital assets and disposable architecture are destroyed, such that future generations struggle to ascertain exactly how we once lived.

Action Movies

This month I bought Daniel Craig‘s final James Bond film, No Time To Die, as a 2-disc Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray. I hadn’t got around to seeing it in the cinema, so I enjoyed watching it for the first time. It’s nothing exceptional in terms of the Bond franchise or action movies in general, and is perhaps a bit too long. But it’s still good entertainment, with an interesting story about an infectious microscopic killer, some good action sequences and beautiful scenic locations.

Rami Malek (who played Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody) is good here as villain Lyutsifer Safin, and it was fun to see the cameo by comedian Hugh Dennis that they’ve been talking about so much on Mock The Week recently. The title song by Billie Eilish is awful though – granted, it does fit with the tone of the movie, so it makes sense in context and is tolerable enough when you watch it, but I’m still not a big fan of it. We haven’t had a really good Bond theme for quite a while though, so that wasn’t a particular surprise.

As for the ending of the film, I knew what would happen, as it was impossible to avoid it being talked about online. But I didn’t know how or why it happened, so fortunately it wasn’t spoiled too much. But I thought Daniel Craig played it well, and he’s had a good run as Bond in general. Again, not the best perhaps, but still decent. It’ll be interesting to see who they choose for the role next, and how they reset the story.

The Blu-ray also includes excellent audio description, just like the releases for the previous 4 films. And the second disc has a few behind-the-scenes bonus features about the action sequences, locations and the overall design of the film – which are interesting, but they only last just over half an hour in total, so there’s a lot of wasted, unused space on that disc really.

Then over on Amazon I decided to check out Spiral, the latest horror movie in the Saw franchise, having bought the Legacy Collection box set back in May. This new film stars Chris Rock & Samuel L. Jackson among others, and is about a killer who is copying the style of Jigsaw from the original movies. It’s nowhere near as good though. There are fewer traps, which aren’t as interesting and there’s pretty much no chance of escape from them, and there’s nothing particularly exciting about the characters or the story either. So it was ok to see once out of curiosity, but I won’t be rewatching it.

Musical Films

Also on Amazon this month I watched the blockbuster musical The Greatest Showman for the first time, which has been on my watchlist for a little while after my friend Simon highly recommended it to me, and I can see why. It’s based on the story of businessman and showman P. T. Barnum (played by Hugh Jackman), who is keen to showcase weird and wonderful attractions and performers with his own museum and then a circus. But there are those who don’t approve, and he neglects those around him in his unending pursuit of further success and interests, before tragedy forces him to re-evaluate his priorities and rebuild the show.

And it’s good fun. I wouldn’t buy it, but it was an entertaining way to spend an evening. The story moves along at a good pace so it never lingers or gets boring, and the characters are interesting. Indeed, as someone who is a bit different or can perhaps seem a bit odd to some people due to my sight impairment, I can empathise to some degree with the performers who have particular conditions they’ve had to try and live with, often trying to hide away from society as a result.

Most importantly, there are a good variety of catchy and moving songs, all very well performed with fantastic choreography and gorgeous visuals. My favourite is A Million Dreams, in large part because I’d already fallen in love with it without knowing its context in the story, thanks to the stunning cover version on the album Feels Like Home by Kerry Ellis (who had already sung it with a student choir in aid of Childline prior to that). It’s a glowing testament to any song from a musical when it can be enjoyed in isolation without any knowledge of the original production, and pretty much all of the songs here have grabbed audiences in that way, with the soundtrack album achieving huge worldwide acclaim.

Meanwhile, the BBC showed 2018’s A Star Is Born for the first time over Christmas, which had been recommended by my friend Tina, so I decided to give that a go as well. I’ve never seen the previous films of the story either (dating as far back as 1937), so I have nothing to compare it to. But this version stars Bradley Cooper (also making his debut as director here) as heavy-drinking, drug-taking, country rock star Jackson Maine, who discovers and falls in love with singer Ally (played by Lady Gaga in her first big lead role in a movie). She goes on tour with his band, where she is soon talent-spotted by a record producer and has enormous success. But Jackson’s fortunes, as he continues to battle his addictions, go very much the other way to a tragic end, leaving Ally distraught. So it’s not a story with a happy ending, but it’s still interesting to watch.

As with Greatest Showman, it’s not something I’d buy, but it is a very nicely made and sometimes moving film, with some lovely musical numbers, including Shallow (also covered on Kerry Ellis’ album) and I’ll Never Love Again. I’m not a big Lady Gaga fan particularly and I don’t know a lot of her songs, but I don’t dislike her either and I have a lot of respect for her talent and originality. She’s not one of those dull, repetitive, manufactured artists, that’s for sure. Plus she’s named after a Queen song, which is another plus in my book! And she’s quite good at acting in addition to her musical performances in this film.

Harry Potter Reunion

On Sky I saw the Harry Potter 20th anniversary reunion show Return To Hogwarts, where lots of the surviving cast members and directors and other people who worked on the films got back together again. JK Rowling was conspicuous by her absence, only briefly featured in extracts from a 2019 interview, but then given the controversy and offence she’s caused among the trans community in recent years, I’m not surprised. All the other important people were there though.

It was predominantly everyone saying that they loved working on the films and they love each other, often getting emotional about it, and most of the behind-the-scenes insights and footage wasn’t new. So in that sense it wasn’t earth-shattering. But they still made it look good and squeezed a lot into 2 hours, and above all it was lovely to see everyone happily reminiscing with one another, as the films are well worth celebrating.

The show also featured a lovely section paying tribute to the many cast and crew members who have passed away. It is a great pity that they couldn’t be there to share their memories, and to see just how popular the series has continued to be. For a long time now one of the saddest and most intriguing losses for me has been comic actor Rik Mayall, who played Peeves the poltergeist in The Philosopher’s Stone – a fact that many people don’t know because his scenes were completely cut, and none of his footage has ever been released. But by all unsurprising accounts he was a lot of fun on set, making filming difficult as he kept making the kids laugh. Director Chris Columbus has recently said that he would love his original 3- hour cut of the film to be released, which would include those scenes, so there is reason to be hopeful that we might finally get to see them one day

Only Fools & Horses Blu-ray

Watching a feature-length edition of Only Fools And Horses has long been a Christmas tradition for millions of the show’s fans, including myself, and the BBC’s new Blu-ray box set of their 5 specials from the 1980s illustrates why.

This is the first time that any episodes have been remastered and released on Blu-ray, and they do look better than ever now. What’s more, they’re also fully uncut at long last, as there had been several edits in previous releases, usually due to music rights. The only copyright edit that remains in this set, as noted in the enclosed booklet, is the removal of a Greater London Radio jingle in the last 2 episodes, which has no noticeable impact so isn’t anything to worry about. The booklet is very interesting too, giving a few little insights into the making of the episodes, which are:

  • To Hull And Back – Boycie enlists Del to help him with a diamond smuggling operation, which results in the Trotters sailing to Amsterdam. But things don’t work out as they expected, thanks to Chief Inspector Roy Slater. It was an ambitious special to film, and the absence of a laugh track doesn’t really feel right. But it is a fun episode, it still works well.
  • A Royal Flush – Rodney becomes good friends with the daughter of a Duke, and Del leaps at the chance to help him make a good impression, with disastrous results. Various issues forced the production to be rushed, and so, whilst the episode is good with some funny moments, it’s widely regarded as one of the weakest Only Fools episodes. The big dinner scene in particular showed Del being more nasty and offensive than usual. Consequently, writer John Sullivan heavily re-edited the episode for the 2004 DVD release, cutting out 18 minutes of material and adding a laugh track. So this new release contains both the original broadcast version and the writer’s cut for the first time, allowing viewers to compare them. I think the edited version is better, as several scenes have been tightened up to improve the flow of the story and remove weaker jokes, and Del definitely isn’t quite so mean. But the full version is still interesting to watch as well. And on a related sad note, Jack Hedley, who played the Duke of Mulberry, recently passed away on 11th December aged 92.
  • The Frog’s Legacy – This is an enjoyable episode where Del & Rodney first learn about criminal Freddie ‘The Frog’ Robdall, and go on a hunt for the stolen gold bullion that he had hidden before he died. It also starts the rumour that Freddie might have been Rodney’s real father, after his mother had an affair with him. That was later confirmed in the show’s final episode in 2003, Sleepless In Peckham. Freddie’s character was also explored in more depth (and also played by Nicholas Lyndhurst) in the comedy-drama spin-off Rock & Chips, which was interesting to watch once out of curiosity but I wasn’t a huge fan of it.
  • Dates – A brilliant episode where Del first meets Raquel through a dating agency, only to be humiliated at Uncle Albert’s birthday bash when she turns out to be a stripper, while Rodney is tricked by his mates into being a macho date for ‘Nervous’ Nerys. There are lots of great moments in this episode, including Del at the dating agency and his subsequent meetings with Raquel, and the stunt where the three-wheeled van flies over a hump in the road. And all the different story strands for Del, Rodney & Uncle Albert come together perfectly at the end. This and the next episode in the set are two of the best examples of what a superb writer John Sullivan was.
  • The Jolly Boys’ Outing – This is one of the very best episodes of Only Fools, where the Trotters and their mates from the Nags Head pub go on a day trip to Margate, and get stranded when their coach blows up! Again it’s really well written, it’s really funny, and the cast and crew clearly had a wonderful time filming it. And the great news here is that they’ve restored the 4-minute nightclub scene featuring Lee Gibson singing Just The Way You Are in the background, which had been cut from previous releases despite being included on TV repeats. The conversation between Del & Rodney here has important relevance later in the episode, and we also see a few of their mates turning up to the club to join them, so it’s great to have it back in. There’s also a brief compilation of silent deleted scenes added on to the disc as a bonus feature. It’s less than 2 minutes long, and not very interesting on the whole, but it is worth looking at to see a bit more of the gang enjoying themselves on the rollercoaster.

Each disc also contains an impressively extensive gallery for each episode, with promotional shots of the cast, images taken during filming, photos of the sets & locations, and other behind the scenes glimpses. And the first disc also includes a massive selection of alternate and unused photos that were taken for the opening titles, including background shots of London taken in 1981, and the character profile shots taken in 1985. So there are hundreds of photos across all of the discs, and they’re absolutely fascinating to look through, as there are lots of enjoyable little surprises in there.

All of the galleries are accompanied by the opening and closing theme tunes, which are very clear quality. They’re played slightly faster than in the TV show, but the fade-outs are a tad longer as well, so you get to hear a tiny bit more of them. And in between those two themes, most of the galleries add in the music from the final scene of the 1996 special Time On Our Hands, when the millionaire Trotters saunter off into the sunset, occasionally playing it twice if the gallery is really long. So it’s lovely to hear a clean version of that, even though it bears no relation whatsoever to the episodes in this particular collection.

So it’s a great set all in all. It would have been nice if they’d found some interviews, outtakes, deleted scenes with audio, or other behind the scenes footage to include. But with uncut remastered episodes and excellent photo galleries, these are still by far the best releases these episodes have ever had. I really hope it sells well, so the BBC are persuaded to bring out the rest of the series in uncut remastered form on Blu-ray with extra material. It deserves to be treated properly after all these years.

And on a related note, I also enjoyed listening online to a BBC Radio Bristol show about the 40th Anniversary of Only Fools. As the sitcom grew in popularity, it became increasingly difficult to film in London with the public flocking to get glimpses of the cast, so they used Bristol locations to represent London instead, and they’re rightly proud of that down in the Westcountry. So this was a fun hour-long programme presented by Andy Bennett, following on from a massive 4-hour tribute show he’d presented for the anniversary in September. As well as playing a few songs that were used in the series (Our House, 2-4-6-8 Motorway, Crying, etc), he interviewed a few people who had worked behind the scenes on the show, talked to a resident of Whitemead House (the block of flats that represented Nelson Mandela House where the Trotters lived), chatted to Tessa Peake-Jones who played Raquel, and interviewed John Challis who played Boycie, in what is believed to be John’s final BBC interview before he sadly passed away weeks later.

Other Sitcoms

As well as Only Fools, I naturally watched a few other classic festive specials from the past, from the list of sitcoms in my Christmas Q&A. So I won’t bother mentioning those. But in terms of new stuff from this year I enjoyed:

  • The Goes Wrong Show – I bought the very funny Series 2 on DVD this month, which I wrote about back in September. There aren’t any extra features or audio description, but the episodes are brilliant as always.
  • Not Going Out – This was quite a strange episode, where Lee finds himself dreaming that he’s trapped in a Cinderella pantomime, featuring guest star Jason Donovan, and a cameo by Rick Astley. And before all of that kicked in, it was nice that they took a moment to acknowledge and pay tribute to Lee’s absent father, as this was the first episode they had made since actor Bobby Ball passed away in October 2020. So it was odd in various respects, but still fun, and I’m looking forward to Series 12 in 2022.
  • The Cockfields – Simon and his fiancée Esther were back to visit his parents on the Isle Of Wight for a day over the Christmas period, and despite being irritated by them his love for them won out again as usual. And in that sense there was nothing really ‘special’ about this new episode, it’s been largely the same as the rest of the series really, and there weren’t any big laughs. I think it is starting to feel repetitive, in terms of the general story and the way the characters behave. And, like Not Going Out, it also doesn’t feel right not having Bobby Ball around any more, as his replacement here isn’t as good. But if they do make another series I’ll probably take a look to see if the story evolves.
  • Worzel Gummidge – Following on from their Bonfire Night episode last month, we had two more nice episodes of this fantasy comedy over Christmas, one with a large group of twitchers invading the farm to see some rare choughs, and the other involving a travelling fair coming to the area, with Bill Bailey as fair owner Mr. Peregrine.
  • Staged – We haven’t had a new episode of this, but David Tennant, Michael Sheen and the other main cast members have posted a special Happy New Year sketch hinting at a third series, as well as slipping in a reference to the upcoming second series of Good Omens as well.

QI Audience

I was actually part of the virtual audience for this year’s Christmas episode of QI, when it was recorded way back in March. So I really enjoyed watching it again on TV after all this time. The guests were Bonnie Langford (who got involved really well considering it was her first appearance), Joe Lycett and Sally Phillips, while Alan Davies was there as always of course.

I had got my free tickets by applying through the Applause Store, and the recording lasted 2½ hours. There were naturally a few pauses to take away little props and bring in new ones, and occasional retakes of lines by host Sandi Toksvig, but it all flowed really well. The recording included running jokes about sheep (thanks to one of Sally’s several rude stories), Priti Patel (thanks to Joe humorously providing ‘balance’ after mentioning lefty snowflakes by saying how great she is) and Timmy Mallett (again thanks to Joe who had randomly mentioned him!). Some of that made it into the final edit, but there was inevitably a lot of good banter they had to cut.

And there were lots of great facts as usual. For example, snowflakes are mostly made of air, so a large amount of snow can form from a relatively small amount of rain. It also means that snow is a great insulator, far better than ice, so if you’re in an igloo, your body heat is enough to generate a good amount of warmth, as is lighting a small tea-light. We also learned the origins of phrases like slapstick and claptrap, and found out how sipping red wine can make sprouts taste less bitter, among many other random things. Sandi also performed the trick where you blow out a candle and then put a lighter into the smoke, which conducts the flame down to the wick again, which I’ve seen done before but it’s still very cool.

Sandi Toksvig sitting in her hosting chair for QI, with reels of film and tape cluttering the desk. She holds up a reel of tape and prepares to cut it with scissors as she smiles at the camera. Text around her says Thank you for joining us, hold tight, not long now until we join the studio live!

Before the show began we were also presented with a slideshow of QI facts and bits of advice, like wearing headphones if possible to prevent echo, and laughing loudly so you’re contributing to the 700 sound feeds of audience members that they’re mixing together. Upbeat music was played throughout as well, to get everyone in a good mood. And interspersed amongst all of that was an interactive quiz, where we were given multiple choice questions about all sorts of random facts, and could click to submit our answers. Whoever got the most points got one of the QI books as a prize, and Sandi announced their name during the recording. It wasn’t me, but I did better than I expected to considering they were nearly all guesses!

Then just before the show began the floor manager reminded us that we shouldn’t talk, and messages popped up throughout the recording to remind us (and presumably also to thwart any attempts to record it, as that was strictly prohibited). But they did want to hear us laugh, cheer and applaud loudly at appropriate moments, as if we were in the studio for real. Which is a strange thing to do when you’re on your own, as people don’t laugh out loud at home as much as they would in a studio. But it was easy to get into the habit of doing it, as the show was genuinely funny anyway. And it helped that we could quietly hear other audience members laughing in the background, so we still felt like part of a crowd to some extent. So I really enjoyed the experience all in all, it had a great atmosphere to it. And it would be great to attend a recording of the show in person one day.

Even though the S series has been on for a while, this festive edition was the only episode I had seen on TV by the end of the year, because I was waiting for the extended versions of the others, just like many other people do. The QI team had confirmed on social media that they were ready, but the BBC have become very slow and random with their scheduling of the longer editions in recent years, which is really frustrating. However, I’m delighted that the S series QI XL has now finally got underway in early January, so I’ve happily started watching that.

Other Comedy Game Shows

Stand-Up Comedy

  • On Netflix I enjoyed the new specials Jimmy Carr: His Dark MaterialRussell Howard: Lubricant, both of which have audio description available. They’re both very funny, and fans of each comedian will know what to expect. Jimmy’s show isn’t for the easily offended as usual, with the title being a perfect descriptor of its content, but there are plenty of clever gags and some fun interactions with the audience. Meanwhile Russell questions the state of the world with his amusing observations, and stresses the importance of laughter as a universal language and shared experience. Both of them also inevitably make reference to recent issues like Covid, anti-vaxxers and Black Lives Matter, with one or two inevitably similar jokes as a result. In addition, a bonus documentary with Russell’s show takes a very interesting look at how he became a comedian, highlights his close relationship with his family, and looks at the impact the pandemic has had on his comedy career, after trying to organise gigs in unusual circumstances and locations.
  • And we can’t mention stand-up comedy without paying respect to Jethro, who passed away aged 73 in December after contracting Covid. I never felt inclined to buy any of his video or DVD releases, but I did enjoy some of the TV appearances and online clips I saw of him over the years, plus he was born down in the Westcountry like me, and was very widely respected by other comics. So he is a big loss to the comedy scene.

Other Shows

  • Doctor Who – The latest New Year special, Eve Of The Daleks, was fun as usual, with the Doctor, her companions and guest stars (including Irish comedian Aisling Bea) stuck in an ever-decreasing time loop while being attacked by Daleks, as a result of the Doctor rebooting the Tardis to clear it of Flux debris. There are just 2 more specials to come for Jodie Whittaker later in the year, with her final episodes marking the BBC’s 100th anniversary, so they should be exciting too.
  • One Night In… – As well as enjoying The Last Leg‘s Christmas & New Year specials as always, I also saw its co-hosts Alex Brooker & Josh Widdicombe getting together for this new series, where they were let loose with some of their fellow comedians to explore a few of England’s biggest tourist attractions after the public had gone home. And it’s good fun, as it’s basically a bunch of mates getting together and having a laugh, while doing some silly challenges along the way. As a keen visitor to The Natural History Museum and London Zoo (including my recent audio described tour of the latter), I particularly enjoyed those episodes. They had an amusing game of hide and seek in the museum, and even got to poke around a normally off-limits area with fish stored in jars, while at the zoo they got to feed the camels, play with the pygmy goats and make friends with the penguins, as well as seeing lions, giraffes, mongooses, spiders, etc. But I also enjoyed their visit to Alton Towers, and there’s one more episode in Legoland coming up in January. The series is a follow-up to last year’s One Night In Hamleys, that starred Romesh Ranganathan, Rob Beckett & Tom Allen in the world-famous toy store. So I watched that again on catch-up too and it’s also fun, but I prefer Alex & Josh’s adventures overall.
  • Morecambe & Wise – BBC2 aired a lost episode of their show from 8 October 1970 (Series 4 Episode 6) that Eric Morecambe’s son Gary found in 2020. A few clips had been shown on an ITV documentary earlier in 2021, but BBC2 showed the fully restored version. So I’ve recorded it, but we haven’t watched it yet. Mum and I have only just started going through the DVD box sets I bought in November of all their surviving TV shows from ITV & the BBC, so we’ll slot it in at the appropriate point while watching their BBC episodes later this year.
  • Royal Variety Performance – This was hosted very well by Alan Carr for the first time, in the beautiful setting of the Royal Albert Hall. As always with this show, I recorded it so that I could skip various acts I wasn’t a fan of as well as the adverts. But from the world of theatre, I enjoyed the medleys from the casts of Moulin Rouge (which I must go and see one day) and Matilda The Musical (which celebrated its 10th anniversary by bringing in 4 of the original and now grown-up actresses who played the title role). Plus there was a nice performance from Cirque Du Soleil, and music from veteran legends Elvis Costello and Rod Stewart. And I enjoyed comedians Chris McCausland, Josh Widdicombe & Bill Bailey, with Bill bringing in a small choir to help him with a fun medley of Christmas carols in a variety of styles.
  • Royal Institution Christmas Lectures – I don’t watch these every year, as the subjects and hosts don’t always interest me. But this year’s lectures – entitled Going Viral: How Covid Changed Science Forever – were presented by the recently-knighted Sir Jonathan Van-Tam, who in his role as Deputy Chief Medical Officer has been excellent at giving clear information and reassurance in press conferences and interviews throughout the pandemic. In this series, however, he was speaking in his capacity as a scientist, not as a government advisor. So it was interesting to watch him and a variety of other professors as they educated the audience about viruses and how we protect ourselves against them. Everything was explained simply and clearly, and there were lots of visual demonstrations with the aid of audience members. So the subject was very accessible, fun and easy to understand, and we did learn a lot beyond the basics we already knew. Definitely well worth a watch if you want to find out more in relation to the pandemic.
  • Death To 2021 – This is the sequel to last year’s darkly comic retrospective Death To 2020 on Netflix, again featuring a mixture of real news footage and spoof interviews looking back at the year, featuring people like Hugh Grant, Tracey UllmanDiane Morgan, Laurence Fishburne and more. It focuses heavily on America, but other countries including the UK and Afghanistan also feature prominently. It’s very rude and very funny, while also highlighting just how scarily crazy the world is and how polarised sections of society are at the moment.

LadBaby

They’ve only gone and done it again. Fellow Youtubers Mark & Roxanne Hoyle, known as LadBaby, have become the first ever act to have 4 consecutive Christmas Number 1’s. They’ve overtaken The Beatles and The Spice Girls who each had 3 consecutive festive chart-toppers, and have drawn level with The Beatles for the most Christmas Number 1’s overall.

While they are quite irritating to some people, LadBaby’s silly songs about sausage rolls are ultimately harmless, catchy and fun, and way better than the parade of mediocre and forgettable X Factor winners who used to top the charts. And by far most importantly, all of the profits from each song have gone to food bank charity The Trussell Trust, whose work has been vital, especially during the pandemic. Of course, it shouldn’t be necessary for food banks to exist in the first place, if the underlying issues causing people to be in such poverty were dealt with, and the government has a lot to answer for there. But because there are so many people in need, it’s lovely that these charity singles are raising awareness and giving people the opportunity to offer their support in a fun way. At the end of the day, a lot of people would have had little to no idea about the vital work of food banks and The Trussell Trust without this kind of publicity, as we can take the supply of basic essentials very much for granted.

The duo had previously had success with:

And now this year’s Number 1 single is called Sausage Rolls For Everyone. They went big this time as well, teaming up with Ed Sheeran & Elton John. In addition they also released an alternate version, where they perform a nice rendition with The Food Bank Choir, providing a solemn reminder of why they’re doing this.

The song is an adaptation of Ed & Elton’s own song for this year called Merry Christmas, which itself is raising money for the Ed Sheeran Suffolk Music Foundation & Elton John Aids Foundation. But the megastars released it early so they could team up with LadBaby for this record attempt. And their song still got to Number 2 in the same Christmas chart, so they’ve featured in the top 2 festive songs this year.

So congratulations to Mark and Roxanne on their success and fundraising. Will they go for the big 5 in a row next year, to give them the most Christmas Number 1’s ever, beating the record set by The Beatles? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they tried, they’re capable of achieving it.

There isn’t anything else to mention on the music front this month, but I have naturally been listening to lots of my favourite Christmas songs and albums in recent weeks. And if you want to find out more about how I celebrate Christmas in general, you can check out my Christmas Q&A too.

Conclusion

And that’s it! After another year of mixed fortunes, it has at least concluded with a much busier and more enjoyable Christmas than last year. So well done if you made it through this post, and indeed 2021 overall. And thank you again for being a part of my past 5 years in London so far.

In 2022 I’ve already got bookings to see the We Will Rock You musical and a classical Queen concert (both with front row seats), along with stand-up comedians Sarah Millican, Dara O Briain, Chris McCausland & Maisie Adam (the latter 2 also in the front row), all of which I’m really looking forward to, and I’ll be booking plenty of other things too I’m sure. And here on my blog I’ll be continuing to publish my current Favourites, old journal posts and detailed reviews of Queen’s albums, all of which I’m pleased to see people are still enjoying.

But beyond all of that I have no idea what 2022 has in store, and indeed nobody is quite certain. I’m looking forward to finding out though. Once we all get through this bumpy winter I’m very hopeful I’ll be able to do quite a bit over the next 12 months.

So all that remains is to wish you a very Happy New Year! I hope it’s an enjoyable and comfortable one for you, and much better overall than the last two. Have fun and stay safe! 🙂

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

One thought on “Christmas 2021 Favourites”

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