...and a bunch of stuff has happened so I'm going to chop this entry up into a couple of chunks.
The New Year was pretty spiffing. There's a new Chinese restaurant in Doncaster (where my family comes from, and where my brother still lives). And it does dim sum.
So 15 of us descended on the place and ordered one of everything on the menu (it was a proper menu too, all in chinese so it was point and pray...)
Mmm... tripe, potsticker dumplings, chung fun, duck noodle soup, chicken feet. We shall be returning.
The week after the new year the whole extended family (on my father's side) converged on Manchester to indulge in the family tradition of watching my uncle Richard playing a dame in panto.
Uncle Richard started his career as a dress designer doing serious haute couture including dresses for the likes of Lady Diana Spencer (if you saw the pink number she wore as she set off on her honeymoon you've seen one of his designs), then he won a cookery competition and morphed into a food writer and eventually ended up as one of the original cooks on Ready, Steady, Cook!, which went to America as Ready, Set, Cook!. This meant that he got offers to do panto (something he's always wanted to do anyway) at Christmas, which he does very well and has done for the last five or so years.
This year it was Cinderella, uncle Richard was one of the ugly sisters (Boo! Hiss), there was an Australian soap star playing Dandini the prince's valet and various other soap actors in the cast. There was the requisite amount of "Oh yes it is!" "Oh no it isn't!". There was the traditional scene where a ghost scared the cast off one by one whilst the audience screamed "It's behind you!" and the cast didn't believe them. There was a magic coach pulled by a really cute pony. There was the bit where a bunch of birthday boys and girls (including a gloriously shy four year old girl in a fairy costume and tiara) were brought up on stage to sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm in exchange for carrier bags full of goodies. Sadly there wasn't the scene were the heroine walked through the London docks late at night shouting for Dick (that was a couple of years ago in a production of Dick Whittington). And, of course, there was a happy ending. If you live in a country that doesn't have pantomime then you are missing out.
But the best bit was watching my young nephew Bert, who was completely and utterly enthralled by it all. He's only just over a year old and spent the almost the whole show stood up on my brother's lap staring at the stage and occasionally dancing during the musical interludes. Sometimes I wish I had kids. But being able to borrow/babysit is pretty good too. And I get to give them back.
The next day we went to the Manchester museum of Science and Industry. If you ever find yourself in Manchester with a couple of hours/days to spare then go. The textile hall was brilliant, showing the whole process of cloth manufacturer from the raw bales of cotton through to the finished stuff, using working machinery. Gill, who was a factory inspector was fascinated; she never had to inspect a cotton mill, but large chunks of the history of health and safety regulation and of her profession were tied very closely to the development of mills and the other products of the industrial revolution.
Then we went and looked at various engines in the 'power hall' which was full of wonderful old engines, mostly in working order, including a fantastic double expansion steam engine that had Bert (and the rest of us come to that) completely fascinated.
We will be going again.