Hello, 2021, do come in and take a seat

The de-la-Haye Girls look ahead to 2021…

How many words have been written about 2020 and the disastrous year it turned out to be for many thousands of people. For us, 2020 brought huge disappointment, a near-permanent feeling of being unsettled and ennui: life feels very different when there’s little to look forward to. But flip that coin, and 2020 also brought us more time with family, new ways of pursuing our careers, a chance to enjoy the quotidian pleasures of an alfresco lunch in the sunny back garden, local walks, chaotic family video calls and good books. It’s highly likely that at least the first half of 2021 is going to be much the same, and here are some of the things we are looking forward to this year.

E ~ I’ve long enjoyed a good walk and home-based working in 2020 gave me lots of opportunities to explore the neighbourhood we’ve lived in for the past 23 years. Sure, we’ve walked here before but have never explored the way we did last year. I want to continue this in 2021. One of my favourite Christmas presents is a framed, 1-metre square, bespoke Ordinance Survey map, with our cottage slap-bang in the middle. In the week since Christmas, I’ve already spent several hours perusing the map and plotting future walks. I’ve also recommitted to Country Walking magazine’s 1,000-miles in 2021 walking challenge and any number of Strava walking challenges. And I’m just under halfway through a virtual Lands End to John O’Groats challenge I joined with some friends last summer. I will complete that challenge at the beginning of July. I am as far from an exercise enthusiast as it is possible to imagine but I adore walking: the perspectives – literal and metaphorical – it gives me; the space to think; the chance to chat about the unfolding day with Steve (who accompanies me almost every day); watching the hedgerows change with the seasons; snapping away on my phone camera as something catches my eye.

We are a friendly lot around here and a cheery “good morning” as we pass, at a two-metre distance, other walkers always raises a smile. I’ve found it heartening to be wished a “happy new year” by several fellow walkers over the last couple of days. Naughty dogs, and their owners, also make me smile and two in particular stick in my mind. “Annabel! Annabel!” being called, over and over again, by a male voice deep in the woods near the station. Steve and I looked at each other and wondered if the male was shouting for his wife or perhaps a child. A few moments later a little Jack Russell came barrelling out of the trees pursued by her owner, an older and rather unfit looking chap, who was still shouting “Annabel!”, but in vain. Annabel was having none of it and was off down the lane at quite a lick for one with such short legs. We saw Annabel and her owner a few weeks later, at the same spot, and he was still calling to her, and she was still running away. I hope I see them again in 2021. And just this week we met another terrier who was utterly ignoring his owner’s calls to “come here! Come here at once!” and was much more interested in us as we walked along. I couldn’t quite hear what the owner was calling the dog as first, I thought he was saying “Keiran” but as he came closer to retrieve his dog it became clear: “Tyrion! Tyrion, come here now! Tyrion!”. Ahh, good old Game of Thrones. Terrier Tyrion’s disdain for his owner’s commands was magnificent and the owner looked suitably mortified. I hope I get to meet Tyrion again too.

The joys of walking the byways of my ends

I’ve enrolled for some new online photography modules and am looking forward to completing these and practising what I learn. I have several DSLR cameras but over the past couple of years have been focusing more on my iPhone photography. My “proper” cameras are brilliant, but they can be a bit cumbersome to carry around and some of the lenses are heavy and really need to be used with a tripod for best results. Carrying all the kit can be off-putting. The liberating joy my iPhone gives of a pretty reasonable camera in my pocket never tires and I will continue to play with this in 2021. On 18 March 2020, when the realisation of the extent of the upheaval Covid 19 was going to mean fully dawned on me, I started to post one positive image a day to my Facebook feed. I called it my daily uplifting pic. I’ve enjoyed spending a few moments each day capturing, selecting, editing and posting a photo and will continue with this until 17 March 2021. And I’ll continue to enjoy posting a wider range of photos to my personal Instagram feed too.

Like so many people, what I wore in 2020 changed drastically, as the formality of work attire was dropped in favour of more casual working-from-home gear. For my work I spend hours and hours most days on Zoom, Teams, WebEx, Skype, Blue Jeans and any other video-conferencing platform you care to mention. Some takeaways from this video-conferencing experience for 2021: I’m going to invest in brighter tops as they look much better on camera, and ditch the “neutral lip” that’s been something of a hallmark for me for years. Covid 19 demands a bright lip and I’m going to oblige much more often in 2021.

Zoom loves a bright lip, thank heavens E was prepared!

And what about shoes? No one can see my feet when I’m on Zoom, at least not the way I do it! I have several pairs of “work shoes” – cute-yet-stylish courts and pumps – purchased this time last year for my client-side days. They remain unworn. They are literally still in the box. But with hours and hours of standing in the same spot in front of my web cam, I have found trainers to be a godsend for my lower back. So, as 2021 hurries in, I’m planning fewer court shoe purchases and am on the lookout for snazzy trainers. And, I’m thinking, cool, colourful trainers with a smartly tailored trouser when I return to face-to-face client work a bit later in 2021. Well, why the heck not; if Trinny can do it, why not me?

Who would have thought this time last year that this would have been standard work attire?

Short-term, what I’m most looking forward to in 2021, is Veganuary. I’ve been a plant-based eater for years and love how Veganuary has taken off over the past five years or so. I have a few vegan acquaintances who are sniffy about Veganuary and mutter disapprovingly about “part-timers” under their breath. I don’t hold with any of that. As a long-time vegan, I love all the new products the supermarkets introduce each January and with a birthday in January too, it means I can indulge all month in lots of new (often sugary and convenience) foods. Vegan Ginster’s Cornish Pasty you say? I don’t mind if I do! And if M&S Food could introduce a vegan Colin the Caterpillar cake by mid-month it could be assured of pride of place on the table for my (no doubt Zoom-based) birthday tea-party.

L ~ For me, 2021 was supposed to full of travel. I was due to be heading abroad for work in early January and this has understandably all been put on the back burner for now. Having been struck down with Covid at the end of this year, I think my biggest take away from 2020 is that my health is my wealth and I plan to honour that as much as I can. Like my mother, I love a ramble. I’m really looking forward to becoming more familiar with our local area and have already discovered some wonderful hidden gems! The landscapes are wonderfully stark and moody in these wintery months, I can’t wait to watch them come to life during the spring.

Discovered en route

E and I share January birthdays – thankfully a week apart. This year is a big one for me as I lovingly wave goodbye to my twenties. I was due to be spending this milestone birthday in quarantine, but I’m delighted and a bit relieved that I won’t be on my own for this one. I’m hoping for: breakfast in bed, a socially distanced stroll outside with a Bailey’s-laced coffee, a takeaway and some sort of a Zoom quiz.

I did dress up for NYE in the lounge and will probably do the same for my birthday

The New Year always heralds an influx of excellent TV programming and new cinematic releases. I must confess, I have missed a visit to the pictures terribly this year. There’s something so exciting about settling into a dark theatre, rich with the scent of popcorn, ready to enjoy a film shown in the best possible way. Despite this, I have enjoyed watching cinema releases from home and undoubtedly there is a certain luxury in not having to change out of your pyjamas before you watch. I’ve been on a recent period drama binge, re-watching Greta Gerwig’s marvellous Little Women, The Queen’s Gambit‘s Anya Taylor-Joy led me to the 2020 remake of Emma and of course, like everyone else I devoured Bridgerton. I’ve been catching up on my Disney too, with Onward and the wonderful Soul being two of my favourites. The Great, following the life of Catherine the Great is on my TV hitlist, as is the The Serpent, a true crime drama coming to the BBC on New Year’s Day. A word of advice though, don’t bother with Black Narcissus, read the book instead.

Blankets and coffee – also something only an at home cinema will provide

This down time at home will also give me the chance to continue with our interior design projects. A welly rack and a laundry line are the latest improvements we need to tackle and we’re keen to add the pitter patter of tiny (kitten) feet to our home as soon as we can!

Of course, we’re hoping for a swift vaccine roll out, theatres to reopen and French cheese a plenty post Brexit, but our list here are the little things we’re hoping for. What are you looking forward to in 2021?


Why music plays such a big part of our Christmas celebrations.

Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you with complete conviction, my favourite parts of Christmas are as follows; the decorations, the food and the music. E and I have both spoken of our love of “getting the decs up” before and food remains a passion of mine all year round, but few things bring me more joy than hearing Christmas music on the radio.

Christmas jumpers on the big day in 2015

I was lucky enough to grow up in musical household. My Dad is like a magpie, listening to every and any genre of music in his man cave of floor to ceiling vinyl. E and her mother are Welsh and therefore have music flowing through their veins, happiest when potching about the house, humming a tune to themselves.

One of my earliest memories is Christmas ’93 and hearing Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody being played on repeat, my lovely, mad (and loud) family shouting over it.

Taken on my Polaroid camera, which I received as a present that year.

Growing up, I honed my singing skills in the local church choir and was often asked to sing the Once In Royal David’s City solo. A few years ago this got me into terrible trouble with my brother. We had decided to chaperone my Nan to midnight Mass, who knows what trouble she’d get into on her own! I was delighted when the opening to John Rutter’s Star Carol echoed round the abbey and I really went for it. About halfway through my rendition, I received an elbow in the ribs from Will, who chided me through gritted teeth; “shut up and stop showing off”. Not wanting to spoil the evening for my Nanny Val and being in a church, I resolved to sing the descant up the octave and add even more warbling.

I can’t be held accountable when Rutter is on the playlist

I love Christmas music so much that in the early noughties, my Dad created my brother and I a “mixed tape” of all our favourites to play in the car in the run up to the holidays. But this wasn’t your average playlist, oh no. Tracks included: South Park’s Eric Cartman singing Oh Holy Night with all the wrong lyrics, Rusty Chevrolet, a spoof on Jingle Bells and a prog rock version of Hark The Herald Angels Sing. The CD only came out for December each year but it’s arrival never failed to get me right in the festive feels. E tells me this CD still exists and she had the pleasure of listen to the eclectic compilation of delights earlier this week.

Christmas music is still a key feature of my home as an adult. A couple of weeks ago, after a couple of Peronis, me and Vince decided to play DJ on Spotify, streaming endless Christmas songs through the TV. Our very own living room disco. We took it in turns selecting our favourites, Vince opting for Crosby and Bowie’s Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy and the King’s Blue Christmas, whereas I’m partial to Kelly Clarkson, The Jackson 5 and The Ronettes.

Christmas Wrapping

If, like us, you had tickets to productions and live music events that have now been cancelled thanks to our patchwork Tier system, I can’t recommend enough seeing if the production is streaming online. You can often exchange tickets for streaming passes and it will really help to lift your spirits. Door-to-door Christmas carolling is permitted in all Tiers this year and is a fantastic way to get out and spread some joy in your neighbourhood. We were lucky enough to watch some from our upstairs bedroom window this week and it was magical.

I’ve also linked my Ultimate Xmas Playlist in case you want a home disco of your own! Happy listening. ~L.

Deck the Halls

E explores the traditions and stories behind our favourite Christmas decorations.

We bought our “real” Christmas tree yesterday, and I spent a couple of very enjoyable hours decorating it. This got me to thinking about the traditions, habits and even, perhaps, rituals we have at this time of year. The whole of the Advent, Yuletide, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year period is replete with heritage and lore, whether you practise an organised religion or not. I’m going to leave the commentary on the BIG events and symbolism of this time of year to much more accomplished writers and finer minds than mine; I want to share with you the finer points of tradition of my Christmas decorations. That’s right, you can always rely on me to get us down to the level of prosaic by then end of the first paragraph!

Red and gold details

Growing up we always had an artificial tree as I had dreadful hayfever as a child, which included reacting snottily to spruce. Our Christmas tree was beautiful, full of twinkling fairy lights, pretty baubles and swathes of tinsel. Tinsel was also draped across the top of all picture frames in the lounge and dining room, and the reams of Christmas cards we received straddled a string tethered to either end of the curtain pole above the lounge’s large window, with the overflow being taped to the back of room doors. A shelf in a small alcove, which for 11 months of the year was filled with knick-knacks, small ornaments and, as I recall, some pieces of Welsh slate, was transformed each Advent into a pretty Nativity tableau. In my evening FaceTime calls with Mum this week, I’ve been thrilled to see a couple of pictures on the wall above her right shoulder sporting their golden tinsel flounces.

The boys are back in town: decades old nesting Santa Claus on the window sill in the office

Mum and Dad always seemed to treasure the (frankly slapdash) Christmas decorations my brother, Ed, and I made at primary school: poorly painted stars, skew-whiff mangers and wonky pipe-cleaner angels. All these works of art were given pride of place in our home. Perhaps this accounts for the moment of sadness I felt a couple of years ago when Joseph came unstuck from the Müller Corner Nativity Lily had created at nursery, 25 years earlier, and which had been proudly included in our Christmas display every year since. We still have lots of decorations that hark back to days gone by: a set of flashing fairy lights where, for the past 15 years, only half of the fairies have flashed but, with great reverence, they are fastened to my dressing room window to demi-twinkle until Epiphany. Why? Because they came via my (late, beloved) Dad. There’s a portly Father Christmas on an elasticated string, who was once gaudily resplendent in his natty velour suit although he is now a little dusty. When you pulled down on his string, he bellowed: “BOING! Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas” and this used to frighten the bejesus out of toddler Lily. It is many years since this Santa has boinged, but get rid of him? How could I even think of it? There’s an Advent Christmas tree purchased for Lily by my Mum and Dad. It has 24 little drawers in its base, each drawer containing a tiny ornament to be hung on the tree. It’s also clockwork and rotates to a trebly rendition of We Wish You a Merry Christmas. I adore this little tree and gently dust it each Advent as it comes out of its storage box. I don’t mind that it now has a Pisa-esque lean or that some of its branches are balding; I figure these things happen to us all with time and we don’t deserve any less love because of them. This year, my Advent tree (its ownership transferred to me when Lily went to uni – them’s the rules) has pride of place on one of the bookcases.

The infamous “boing”-less Father Christmas

Although I love my children dearly, there is a rite of passage as a parent in respect of Christmas decorations. It can be summarised as the moment that you judge your kids are sufficiently well-grown that their school-days’ art works can be relegated to support act, and you can splash out on some decent decs for yourself. The moment this occurs in any household will vary hugely. I’ve heard from some friends who reached this milestone when the child moved from primary to secondary school, and for one, when the kid moved up from infants to juniors. In our family, I reflect that there must have been quite a bit of attachment parenting going on regarding the Christmas decorations and schism was only achieved when the younger sibling left Sixth Form.

Various baubles that L has collected from her performances over the years

Today, thanks to advances in medicine – cheers Clarityn – me and Steve enjoy a real tree in the lounge, bedecked with elegant baubles and dainty lights. On the first floor landing there’s an artificial trees, toting flashing multi-coloured lights and groaning under the weight of all manner of gaudy, mismatched, but well-loved and utterly treasured festive paraphernalia. It’s taken the best part of three decades to get reach this balance, but I think we’re just about there. ~ E

The support act Christmas Tree, on the upstairs landing, in all its gaudy gorgeousness