‘Jingle Bells’ is an absolutely bonkers Christmas carol…

A few days ago, I was at an informal carol-singing event (in a barn, which seemed appropriate for the season). Amongst the gentle fun of singing carols and other Christmas songs, I discovered just how dirgy many of the later verses of a lot of these hymns and songs are (and goodness knows what sort of a downer Christina Rossetti was on when she wrote In The Bleak Midwinter).

Then we got to Jingle Bells. It’s traditional, isn’t it? It’s cheery too.

Of course, we only usually sing the first verse and chorus, so naturally it’s an upbeat festive tradition. I actually wasn’t aware that there were two more verses until that evening. And they are beyond mad.

Verse two recounts a horse ride with a friend. Miss Fannie Bright (I refuse to comment further on that). They have a lovely horse which rides into a bank of snow leaving them feeling somewhat down. The verse even manages to fail to rhyme at one point…

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Verse three is even stranger. It recounts how the singer went out in the snow and fell over. To compound his misfortune, a man rides up in his sleigh and laughs at him lying on his back (and presumably not making snow angels). By this point, it’s probably no surprise that the sleigh rider doesn’t offer the stricken singer any help, but just rides away.

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Here are the actual lyrics to the offending verses:

A day or two ago
I thought I’d take a ride
And soon Miss Fannie Bright
was seated by my side
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And we all got upset

A day of two ago
The story I must tell
I went out on the snow
And on my back I fell;
A gent was riding by
In a one-horse open sleigh
He laughed a there I sprawling lie
But quickly drove away

I can only hope that your Christmas will be happier than this!

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Quick thoughts on the Star Trek Beyond trailer

Yesterday, the first trailer for Star Trek Beyond was released.

I’m really not sure what to make of this.

My first impression is very much ‘oh no, looks like the Enterprise is being destroyed, so much for the five year mission’, followed by ‘whatever happened to Star Trek’s mission statement?’

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

My understanding of Star Trek, both the original Kirk series and the 80s/90s ‘sequels’ was that it was about exploring the universe, whilst having something to say about us as humans.

Yes, it had drama, action, fights and comedy, but there was a sense of something more.

Obviously, you can’t judge a film on a 90 second trailer – and I recognise the need to appeal to a broad audience, but I’m not sure this feels like Star Trek. It feels more like an action-packed science-fiction comedy. In fact, it almost feels as if the makers of the trailer are appealing to those who were grabbed by Guardians of the Galaxy (a pretty fine film in its own right, I might add) rather than showing what is distinctive about Trek.

Maybe Trek in film has always had to fight the battle about ‘not being Star Wars’ (the first films in both franchises came out within a relatively short time of each other).

Well, we’ll see.

For the meantime, I think Wil Wheaton, Star Trek alumni himself, sums up my feelings with this tweet.

Giving push the push…

A couple of months ago, I realised my smartphone was starting to rule my life.

Ping! A new email has arrived. Ping! Someone has replied to you on Twitter. Ping! Someone liked your WordPress blog. Ping! Someone has mentioned you on Google+.

Okay, to be fair, the last one of those almost never happened (I like Google+, but I get that most people aren’t interested). But you get my point. Because, of course, the second the phone pings, you’re drawn to pull it out and check out whatever new notification has come your way.

But why? It’s not as if a Twitter like or a new email isn’t something that can’t wait a few minutes or maybe even a few hours, is it? Do I really need to know straight away that someone likes this blog entry? (assuming anyone actually does 🙂

It’s very easy for me to be drawn into the digital world, anyway, but that immediacy is a whole other thing. I almost began to wonder if I am the master of my phone or it of me.

So… I decided to turn off so-called ‘push’ notifications. Now if my phone makes a sound, it’s a text or a phone call – and that’s likely to be more important to answer.

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Has it changed my life? Have I become less of a digital slave? Yes and no. I still carry my phone everywhere, I still use it frequently and often during the day. But I feel more in control. If I want to check my Twitter notifications, my Instagram likes or whatever, I can. It’s when I choose to.

It’s also had the knock-on effect of making me question my thoughts about getting a smartwatch. My understanding is that one of the key uses of them is to receive and act on push notifications. Without that function being used, is it any more than an expensive digital watch? And frankly, my much-worn ordinary watch doesn’t need frequent charging.

How much are you led by ‘push’ notifications from apps? Have you ever turned them off? Let me know your thoughts on this.

Australia trip – one year ago today: Friday 28th November

A year ago today was the final day of our month in Australia…


Sydney (and then leaving…)

I woke up pretty early this morning so went for a walk across the Harbour Bridge again. The weather was sunnier today, so got some different photos and enjoyed seeing the harbour from above.
We spent some time this morning exploring the CBD a bit more (and yes, doing a bit of final shopping). We then headed down to the Royal Botanical Gardens (site of the original landing and first colony farm) for a sit in the sun with some great views across the harbour.
After this, we headed to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, a spot where the wife of an early governor used to enjoy visiting and where there is a lovely view (and photo opp) back towards the city, plus the Opera House framed by the Harbour Bridge.
I’m writing this at Sydney Airport – we’ll be flying out later this evening. We have a 14.5 hour flight to Dubai, a couple of hours to interchange and then another 8 hours back to Manchester getting us in on Saturday morning.
Feeling very sad to be leaving Australia, as we’ve had an amazing time here.

View from the Botanic Gardens

A few last shots around the Opera House/Harbour Bridge

Our plane at Dubai airport, with the city in the background

Australia trip – one year ago today: Thursday 27th November

That weird moment a year ago when we were seeing Christmas lights and decorations in summer…


Sydney

I got up early again for a walk by the harbour and round to Farm Cove to get a different view.
Once we both set off later, we decided to view Sydney from a different angle, namely using public transport.
We started by train, choosing to take a train which went over the Harbour Bridge and heading up into the north Sydney suburbs. This gave us a chance to ride on a double-decker train (and for me to admire the seats, whose back can be tilted so they face either way). We spent a little while exploring the town of Hornsby (some of the streets were quite Ramsay Street).
After heading back into Sydney (and having a little break), we then used the light rail (tram) line, which is fairly new, to explore in a different direction.
This evening we headed into the Oxford Street area before walking back through some of the ’ Christmas lights turn on’ events.
It still feels odd seeing and hearing Christmas stuff when it’s been so warm (although today we had intermittent drizzle and the temperature only touched 20 degrees).

Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge from Farm Cove

We spotted this fellow on someone’s front lawn in Hornsby

Sydney sights

Sydney trams

Australia trip – one year ago today: Wednesday 26th November

A year ago today, we were in our final week of a month exploring parts of Australia.


Sydney

While Rob had a lie-in this morning, I got up early and went for a walk. I was aiming for the Harbour Bridge but took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up exploring an area called Millers Point, an area with a good share of early colony buildings and a lot of character. I then found my way onto the bridge and walked across to the north Sydney suburb of Kirribilli, near the far end of the bridge and a lovely point to look back across at the city.
When I returned, and we’d breakfasted, we set off to explore The Rocks, the original area where the colony developed and full of historic buildings. We joined this up to Circular Quay, where we took a ferry to Manly. A short walk up its main street, the Corso, led us to the main beach, where we walked barefoot in the edge of the Pacific Ocean. We enjoyed a good wander around the town before heading back on an early evening ferry.
We decided to take some time out of sightseeing, so watched the film Interstellar before having a late tea and a circuitous wander back to the hotel.

Views of (and from) the Harbour Bridge from my morning walk

Historic buildings from The Rocks and Millers Point

Manly

Night view of the Harbour Bridge

Australia trip – one year ago today: Tuesday 25th November

Another fantastic day in Australia one year ago today…


Blue Mountains

An early start today, but it was definitely worth it. We were picked up at eight to head out to the Blue Mountains.
After an hour or so’s drive and a comfort break by the Nepean River, we began to ascend the mountains along the Great Western Way. It took nearly another hour to reach the first of our lookout points at Lincoln Rock, which was marvellous.
A short drive later and we climbed down 240 steps to another lookout over the Wentworth Falls.
By this time, we were in need of lunch and were bundled into the fairly pretty town of Leura and found a nice cafe.
Our guide was a little regimented, so 50 minutes later we were herded into the minibus again to travel to Katoomba, and more specifically Scenic World.
We first rode the Scenic Skyway across the canton, before entering the complex and descending to the rainforest via the Scenic Cableway. We had a wander along the boardwalk on the first floor before returning via the Scenic Railway (you may spot a trend in the names here…).
The railway is the steepest in the world at 52 degrees – it was originally built for taking miners to the coal mines below. It’s certainly a thrilling ride.
The bus took us back off the mountains pass the Olympic Park, where we boarded a ferry to take us in a cruise back along the Paramatta river into Sydney.
We hopped off in Darling Harbour as there was an Indian restaurant we had been planning to go to (a good range of vegetarian options for me!), before coming back to the hotel.
A very enjoyable day!

Views of the Blue Mountains (and us, of course)

Views from the Scenic Skyway (including through glass floor) and Scenic Cableway

Walk along the rainforest floor, an entrance to the old coal mine and The Three Sisters (a famous Blue Mountains outcrop, about which there is an Aborigine Dreamtime story)

Views from the river cruise

Some additional photos which Rob took