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This blog is for English actress, cakemaker and writer Jane Asher, with many pictures and accurate information of one of the most beautiful rock muses from the 20th century.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Cristmas Time with Jane Asher, 1994




"At last everything is just about ready! The cakes are iced, the decorations are in place and the presents are wrapped. I always aim to get as much done in advance as possible, so that the only things left are a few finishing touches and then I can enjoy relaxing with all the family". Jane's red dress, Sam Browne. Jewellery, Butler & Wilson.








A busy wife and mother, with her own demanding acting, writing and business careers, Jane knows that it takes careful planning and a strong sense of reality to organise a relaxed, happy family Christmas. Here she shares some of the tips and traditions that help bring about the perfect, enjoyable Christmas we all aim to achieve. 

 

I really feel the Christmas festivities have started when my husband Gerald, our three children and I all share the fun of the final preparations. However there may be anything up to twenty of us together on Christmas Day, including all my immediate family, my in-laws and various aunts, uncles and cousins. The secret of coping is to plan ahead as much as possible, do all you can before the great day, then relax and not worry about what you haven0t managed to do. Everyone will enjoy lending a hand if you give them something specific to do. After all, Christmas is a time for sharing, and in our family evryone is encouraged to help. 


I love the traditions of Christmas and, of course, the children like everything to be the same year after year, but I do also enjoy planning some new surprises, such as different recipes and Christmas decoration ideas. It's fun to plan an over-all colour scheme for everything – a sort of festive corporate image. You know the kind of thing, the tree all dressed in gold and silver  baubles, with garlands themed in the same colours. This needn't be difficult or costly as it's easy to revamp old decorations with a quick spray of gold or silver paint, a thin layer of glue, plus a sprinkilng of glitter and then just buy a few new ones that you think look rather special. 
 


"A few years ago I copied a very stylish friend who always drapes her banisters with swags of holly, which makes the hall look so welcoming. This year I've added something new – strings of dried beetroot and orange slices which contrast beautifully with the evergreen branches". Jane's shirt, Esperit. Waistcoat, The Outer Edge. Jewellery, Butler & Wilson.


Making a few additional decorations yourself can be fun and the children will enjoy helping with this. The only problem is that I'm very sentimental about our decorations and keep them all from year to year, so we now have a very large collection!

I do like to keep an overall traditional look by using holly, mistletoe and various bits of evergreen. I love the romantic idea of walking out into the countryside to pick the greenery, but as we live in the middle of London, it usually means ordering it from my local greengrocer. Adding glittering baubles and tinsel is right up in my street. My showbiz instinct comes out and I can go completely over the top with no-one objecting, fixing little tree lights along the shelves of my dresser and decorating the staircase with gold tissue paper and trailing ivy.





I usually get the Christmas decorations up and the tree finished quite early, not because I'm incredibly organised, but since both our boys have birthdays in December, it makes their parties much more exciting and special for them. I used to leave everything in place until Twelfth Night, but the tree is usually looking pretty droopy and threadbare by then, so for the last few years I've taken it down early. A good friend of mine (who is extrmely organised and tidy) takes down all her decorations at the end of December and fills the house with daffodils to welcome the New Year on the 1st January. It's a wonderful idea and every year I mean to do it, but must admit haven't quite managed it yet. Maybe this year!
I've always encouraged the children to make their own cards and presents to give to people and it's something they really enjoy doing. A homemade painting, model or box of sweets always means so much more to an aunt or grandparent than something bought with their pocket money. There are lots of simple ideas: chocolate truffles are easy to make and look very pretty wrapped and placed in a special box. One year, one of the children decorated a few plain, white pottery plates with enamel plaits to make 'personalised' presents. Simple, home-made paper decorations can be fun too and are another crafty way of keeping the children happy while you carry on with something else (or have a sit down with a cup of tea).
Colourful paper chains are quick and easy and a few lenghts strung around the room brighten it up woderfully.

"I love candles all year round – most rooms benefit from their soft, flattering light (as do most people), ut at Christmas they take on a special significance and I like to have as many as possible, especially scented ones. It's important to be very aware of safety though, especially if there are children around". Jane's skirt and waistcoat, esprit. Shirt, Oiuset.



Father Christmas sills visits all the children,and they always write letters a couple of weeks before to let him know what they are hoping to receive. The demands have got more ambitious as they grow older, and have now matured from asking for building sets or dolls to the inevitable computer games and bicycles. Father Christmas always puts nuts and tangerines in their stockings as well as some old favourite toys, such as yellow, plastic chickens that lay little eggs and Japanese paper flowers that grow in water. These, plus other bits and pieces, give enourmous pleasure on The Day but will be forgotten and left under the bed a few days later. (Father Christmas sometimes considers retrieving a few of them and recylcling them the following year, but it somehow doesn't seem quite the thing!)Father Christmas always gets a glass of port or sherry left out for him and the reindeer get a bowl of Weetabix or Shreddies. He always leaves a "thank you" letter in the children's stockings. I remember when I was at school I had a friend who used to get a letter ack from Santa, in mirror writting. I always thought that was especially magic. 





My own present buying is done in fits and starts as, like most people, I have to fit in with both my working schedulle and the everyday things required to organise the children and run a home. I start to look around for Christmas gifts in the shops in Novemer and if I see something I think is absolutely ideal for someone, then i'll buy it. However, I must admit, I usually end up going on my main Christmas shopping spree in Decemer armed with a long list! I buy the children's gifts last. they tend to want something that is part of the lastest craze and if I tried to uy their presents too far ahead they'd no doubt be hopelessly out of date by Christmas!




"It's a wonderful feeling, when everyone has arrived and you can relax with the family. We usually have a drink before lunch, with something non-alcoholic for the children. Spiralling lemon peel decorating the jug and orange pomanders on the tray all add to the sense of occasion". Jane's blouse, Next directory. Jacket and skirt, MOA. Jewellery, butler & Wilson.
It's a good idea to be as organized as pobbible, to cook and freeze as much as you can in advance. One thing that really does help for all the Christmas preparations is making lists, but these can be asily mislaid. Then I had the idea of making a chart to pop up on the kitchen wall as a quick, handy reference, instead of the occasional note pinned to the cork noticeboard. A countdown chart of this kind is in the middle of the magazine and I hope you fill find it as useful as I will this year.

I personally don't like to start preparing anything until November, as any earlier than that feels too early to be thinking about Christmas. However, where food is concerned, there are all sorts of crafty ways to cut corners. Some years, depending on how much time I have, I make everything from scratch and feel really pleased with myself; other years I uy some ready made items. I always used to make my own puddings, but last year bought some delicious ones from the supermarket, which I laced with a little extra brandy. I don't feel you should ever feel guilty about uying food that is really made – life's too short to attemps to be superwoman (or man). And with an amazing choice of Christmas foods available, it doesn't hurt to sustitute ready-made items for a few of the things you would normally make if you just had the time. It's much more important that you're as relaxed as possible so that you and everyone else can enjoy Christmas to the full.





I never worry about asking friends and familt to help with things on the day. I've actually got into the habit now of asking all those who are coming to visit to bring something with them. They are only too happy to contribute and feel part of the preparations and it means that the work loas is spread among all of us. My sister may bring the prepared sprouts for example, her mother-in-law the mince pies, an aunt the bread sauce and so on. And Christmas pudding wouldn't be the same without my mother's famous, very alcoholic brandy butter. I'm so lucky to have Gerald to help with everything too. We usually have two big turkeys – that seems easier than one enormous one – and he always takes care of the carving when the time comes.




"This is the moment we've all been waiting for. I call it ¡the lull before the storm', when I come in to the dining room to light the candles, check over the table and then make sure that everything in the kitchen is under control. Any moment now all the family will come dashing in".
After Christmas lunch everyone just relaxes and soon it's time for the cake, which has been placed ready in the kitchen! Everyone always seems to manage a slice or two in spite of having recently eaten the richest lunch of the year! I have to admit that although I always used to make the Christmas cake myself, nowadays the girls in my shop make one for us as a gift and it's always beautiful. My favourite so far was an upright Christmas tree covered in gold presents, plus red and gold garlands, which made a stunning centerpiece on the table.




On Christmas evening we all lie about comfortably watching films on television, or having fun trying to work out the rules of a new board game that someone's been given, or how to fit batteries in a new gatget or two. Then on Boxing Day, although we always havegood intentions aout going for a long, bracing walk in the park, we usually end up spending it lazily at home – it's just so nice relaxing and being with all the family at this very special time of year.



"The children open their presents as early as they can get away with it! I like to save some of mine for mid-morning when the preparations are under way and I feel more relaxed. I know Christmas is all about giving, but there's nothing quite like a little it of receiving too! It's ridiculously exciting to open a prettily wrapped parcel."



Photography: Nelson Hargreaves.
All pictures MY SCANS.

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