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Christmas Eve

Review my review of Swindon’s pantomime Cinderella with Keith Chegwin.

Each year in Swindon we go to the pantomime as a family – often on Christmas Eve – and it’s become part of our Christmas experience.

This year it was Cinderella with Keith Chegwin as Buttons. It was extra special for me as I’d had the privilege of interviewing Keith months before for Wiltshire Life magazine and found out more about him than I’d known previously. He’s an astute businessman, family man, entertainer, presenter – a man of many facets.

For people of a certain age Keith means Swap Shop as Noel Edmunds‘ sidekick, an associate of Mr Blobby and other childish fads for today’s grown-up children. But, of course, he’s much more than that. He’s a committed musician with his own studio, who often works under a pseudonym.

Great entertainment to invoke the Christmas spirit.....

I think my favourite comment from him was that pantomime is not hard work and when he hears actors’ complaints about it, he reminds them that others work much harder for far less money. Keith has a perspective of life that’s real, he appreciates good fortune and understands that many don’t have it – at least not in terms of money.

So I came to the pantomime, excited to see it. And it was very, very entertaining. My measure for this is to look at my four-year-old and my ten-year-old to see how much they are joining in. They were mesmerised, shouting, waving those light stick thingies, and jumping up and down when required. When the Fairy Godmother (played by Alex Young) wanted us to do something rather too complex every time she came on stage, only a few got it every time and my daughter was one!

Buttons (Keith Chegwin of course) talked to the children all of the time and they loved him. Parents were peripheral (though he did tell me my pathetic attempt at a star jump was well, pathetic) and the little people lapped it up. I did feel a bit sorry for him, as he’d clearly lost his voice and was struggling to sing. But this is pantomime,  where much can be forgiven. And he kept up a patter of jokes (much like he does on Twitter) so there was a stream of laughter all of the time.

The singing all round was exceptionally good this year – there was no sense of people who couldn’t deliver. Especially Cinderella and Prince Charming – played by Sasi Strallen & Adam King. Perhaps the slightly weaker singer was Jenny-Ann Topham who played the Wicked Step-mother but her acting more than made up for that. She was a fantastic baddie.

For me, the stars of the show were the Ugly Sisters Wendy & Gail – played wonderfully by David Ashley & Neal Wright. One about seven feet tall, one much, much smaller but both big in personality. When they first came on stage, for us adults, they commanded the audience, you just knew that every time they appeared it was going to be a scream. They were fantastic, funny and saucy – all that’s required of the pantomime dame. And their audience victim? The man they pick on throughout the show? My lovely husband Steve – who apparently was off to Old Town for a night out with them! He’d go too, if they were paying!…..

Christmas cookbooks – a big turkey?

Christmas is fast approaching and the cookbook industry is selling hard. The season is used as a marketing tool to sell the perfect lifestyle and provide a guide to the perfect day. What is bothering me is the profusion of Christmas cookbooks. There’s one by Nigella, Delia (of course), Gordon, Jamie, The Hairy Bikers, and the WI, just to name a few.

Since when has Christmas become a foodie event where we are sold the idea that we have to deliver the perfect meal day after day during the festive season?

I understand the need to plan and want to provide a decent, tasty meal. We usually end up with eight to ten people at my house all expecting meals for three to four days. That amount of food supply doesn’t appear out of nowhere. However, I refuse to play the game where as well as hosting Christmas, I’m expected to produce restaurant standard food at each meal.

It’s the family coming for stay – not a Michelin judge!

I like food from different countries and am more than happy to indulge in a little cake baking. To cook like this using different techniques and ingredients I would need a cookbook. But the Christmas cookbooks are selling an image, a need to create something out of the ordinary, because most of the recipes give or take a few twists would feature in a classic British cookbook.

Somebody is obviously buying these books else new ones would not be released each year but I wonder how many people actually use them. Magazines frequently give away potted recipe guides for Christmas EveBoxing Day. I know because I’ve read them. I don’t think I’ve ever cooked anything from them though apart from one year when I felt I really had to try to find something to make sprouts taste a little more pleasant. Other than that, and varying the choice of roast occasionally, I think most of the country cooks the same meal, and there are only so many ways of doing that.

Is it just a British obsession?

Maybe people in countries all around the world are busy pouring through recipes planning their ideal Christmas menu.  If you find them really useful, let me know. If not, and you’ve succumbed to the hype in previous years, there’s always the charity shop.

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