On Christmas Eve we attempted to clear a bit of space and put our Christmas tree up on the coffee table in what currently serves as the corner of the living room. (This was the ‘proper’ green one which hasn't been out before — we also have a 12-inch high silver one.) smallclanger helped us hang some silver baubles on it. In the evening after he had been put to bed we put the lights on and arranged all his presents under it.
We woke up slightly too late to make it to church, but once we had hauled ourselves downstairs there was opening of presents. For some reason we tried to encourage smallclanger to open all of his presents whereas he would have been quite happy to carry on playing with whatever he had just opened (particularly the set of little construction vehicles, i.e. diggers and lorries and so on, and the IKEA train track with a little engine and eight carriages). Once everything was open I slaved away over a hot stove and we had a traditional Christmas dinner (only slightly cheating by having one of those boneless turkey joints rather than a real turkey). Later in the afternoon we went over to my brother-in-law and his wife's house and saw lots of people and had nibbly things for tea.
On Boxing Day we made use of the newly completed bit of the M25 (six lanes wide and still at a standstill) to get to bopeepsheep's aunt's house and see various more members of the extended family. smallclanger found lots of things to play with, including some toy cars and a dancing hamster which sang "kung fu fighting" ad nauseam (which fortunately he wasn't allowed to bring home with him). Before setting off, we had put a casserole in the slow cooker for tea; but in the end we didn't need it so we left it on to eat the next day instead.
On Tuesday we went to investigate kitchens at B&Q. After fighting with the computer booking system to arrange us an appointment for their designing service, the assistant told us we could come back at 1pm the next day, despite the system appearing (to our untrained eyes) to say that appointments were available all day Tuesday as well as Wednesday. So we went home, had casserole for lunch and decided to venture out to IKEA's grand opening at Milton Keynes.
We spent the first hour at IKEA attempting to design a kitchen using a computer with a stainless-steel version of the ZX Spectrum keyboard and the same software we could have used at home. I think we'd been under the impression that there would be someone there who could advise on the design, but instead the staff there were only qualified to show people which buttons to press and weren't any help at all. So I made a view of our kitchen with no furniture and bopeepsheep dragged some boxes into it. We printed off the details of our design and then didn't actually do anything else with it. In the meantime smallclanger was busying himself at a nearby kiddie-play-station which had a steering wheel so he could sit and drive for hours. It also had a touch-screen with several games on it, including finger painting, which was fun. And there were also some mix-and-match rollers (where you can select a head, a body and some legs to make up an oddly-dressed person) but they were boring. The display of handles was quite fun too; although it wasn't really designed as a toddler game, he discovered you could take off the perspex plates with the handles mounted on them and switch them around.
We moved on, with a slightly uncooperative smallclanger in tow, to collect a bag full of stuff and go to the checkouts. Then bopeepsheep went across to the food hall and collected another bag full of stuff, and then we drove back home to some more casserole.
We arrived at B&Q on Wednesday at a couple of minutes past one, but the staff were busy so it was some time before we were able to tell them we were there for an appointment, and then even more time before the designer arrived. He appeared to be having problems operating his design software, and we ended up with a plain U-shaped design with the proviso that we could imagine some of the units pushed back into the recess in the corner and that we had to measure up to make sure the units would fit into the actual kitchen as opposed to the idealised version that he had drawn out. I had to chase smallclanger around the aisles throughout, so bopeepsheep assisted with the design. She came away with the impression that the chap hadn't really known what he was doing, and so we pretty much ruled B&Q out for our kitchen even if it's cheaper than Homebase.
As we were about to leave, we noticed (actually someone else came and told us) that the car's nearside rear tyre was down. We limped to the air thingy at Tesco's garage (which miraculously was working) and pumped it up, and also put about 7 psi into the other three tyres. It seems to have been fine since, so I'll just blame my dodgy parking (that is, I'd probably bumped it up on to the kerb one time too many).
That night I re-measured everything in the kitchen (and miraculously got several of the measurements the same as last time) and scribbled the numbers on to the printout of our empty kitchen from IKEA.
Thursday saw our appointment at Homebase, after a brief detour to Argos to get a nest of tables (<Spiffington-Manse>Just what we need — some more furniture</Spiffington-Manse>). We went armed with a Thomas the Tank Engine annual, a magazine and some chocolate, and they had there a large one of those beads-on-wires play thingies, so smallclanger was very good while the design was sketched out. bopeepsheep was pretty pleased with the result, and the designer had actually come up with some useful suggestions (including putting the fridge in the corner with the recess, and a tall slim larder unit next to it to fill up the remaining space), but the quote for the finished design came out to slightly over twice what I had initially imagined paying. We also got a quote for the same thing in a slightly cheaper finish.
Now Homebase was having a sale, with all kitchen units half price and an extra 15% off, but it was due to finish on January 2nd. (The figures used for the quote were the half-price ones but not the 15%-off ones. I can't imagine who would have paid the full price, given that the halved prices were pretty similar to full prices elsewhere, but never mind.) We were off to Bolton that afternoon, so while we packed we decided that this was it. And we decided on the original cherry veneer finish. (It would probably have been cheaper at IKEA, but some of the wall units we want aren't available in the same styles as the floor units, so we would have had a non-matching kitchen. Also bopeepsheep didn't fancy having to deal with a shop which is 75 minutes' drive away if anything happened to go wrong with the delivery.) And so we walked back into Homebase with a sleeping smallclanger slung over my shoulder to order our expensive kitchen. We switched the handles in the design for some slightly less expensive ones (because they were the ones we liked best of all the ones on display), left out three ‘kitchen installation kits’ (which we were told weren't necessary, though I've still no idea what is in them), and got our 15% off, and the total was a mere 1.5 times what I had initially imagined paying. It seems that the computer knew about the 15% off and had reduced each item accordingly (without making it obvious), but the cashier had also knocked 15% off the total. Result!
From there we made it to Bolton in about 2 hours 45 and had cottage pie for tea after saying hello to my parents and brother (shadowphiar).
On Friday afternoon we went for a brief shopping trip at Middlebrook while leaving my mum and dad to look after smallclanger. I decided to go to Scan since I had noticed they have a showroom there and it saves postage if you buy things in person. However, we drove right round the warehouse without finding an entrance. I later found out that they were closed from Christmas right through to January 2nd. So we braved huge traffic jams to get to the car park for Asda. Just as we got in, an assistant mentioned that several baskets full of books were about to be marked down to 20p each and she just had to go and get the labels. So we piled books into our basket and then had to wait 20 minutes for the assistant to return with the labels. We ended up with 21 books at 20p each. Another result!
When we finally got back we invited shadowphiar to play Settlers. Then it was time for tea, and after that it was time for him to drive back home to Cambridge. During the course of the evening we managed to bed smallclanger down in the back room, so we had some more games of Settlers.
On Saturday afternoon we went to visit youngbloke. (Oh, and k425 and oldbloke too). He demonstrated his new marble run and his play-house with a slide, while oldbloke demonstrated his Geomag. We stayed until teatime, then drove back towards Bolton while wondering what we might find in the way of food. The prospect of pizza seemed to appeal to smallclanger, and when we arrived back at Middlebrook (for the third time in two days) we found a Pizza Hut open. So that's where we had our last meal of 2005. And then we slightly confused my parents by bringing the leftovers back. By some coincidence it turned out that we were down to have pizza for lunch the next day (by which I mean that that's what was on the list that my mum keeps on the inside of one of the kitchen cupboard doors). We didn't manage to persuade smallclanger to go to sleep, so he stayed up to see the fireworks that seemingly everyone in town set off during the period from 23:59 to 00:15 or so. It made quite a pretty display, of the kind you don't normally see on November 5th because then the whole town's fireworks aren't concentrated into a 15-minute period.
On Sunday smallclanger accompanied me to church with my mum and dad and then we came back to pizza (and Pingu on video). smallclanger had an afternoon sleep, so we played Settlers again, though we had to leave the board half way through the last game for dinner, and it never got finished as smallclanger decided he wanted to play while the rest of us were busy eating. We finished only a couple of minutes late to catch the repeat of Doctor Who (which we had missed earlier). And, not that a theme is developing or anything, later that night we had some more Settlers, including a closely-fought game in which I noticed that one of our white roads has gone missing. (But bopeepsheep managed to finish the game just before I had collected enough resources to use the missing piece of road and steal two points off her.)
On Monday morning we set off back to Oxford, went shopping for some food, and had a late lunch back at home.
And that's how things stood on Tuesday when I went back to work, thus ending the Christmas holidays with a dose of real life. Then I had a bad run on WRGPT and by Friday evening I was out. Only one more hand and I'd have lasted to round d. The person who knocked me out is currently fourth overall in the contest and there were two more of the top twenty players on our table. He had a hand better than any I've had in the entire contest. I finished 559th out of 1286, which isn't bad for a rookie I suppose, but I feel I didn't have the best luck in the world and I'm disappointed to be out. There will be no more WRGPT for nine months now. I want more life, damnit! What I like about WRGPT is that (a) it's free, and (b) it only requires a few minutes at a time (though admittedly something a little bit faster than WRGPT would be better). I'm tempted to code up an email poker server, but I know that would take me more than nine months…