Tracking down a new hobby

ON a Monday night I leave my warm house and set out into the Ipswich night. I walk the town's streets, stop off for a cockle-warming bourbon and eventually find my way to my evening class at Suffolk College.

ON a Monday night I leave my warm house and set out into the Ipswich night.

I walk the town's streets, stop off for a cockle-warming bourbon and eventually find my way to my evening class at Suffolk College.

To be honest I wanted to make an ashtray.

But since I gave up smoking - well except on Saturday nights - I thought better of it.

So when the 'enrol now' signs started to pop up and I got my hands on a prospectus I had to make a decision.

Should I throw a pot? Should I buy an easel and paint bananas? Should I discover the clown within? I was seriously tempted with ballroom dancing - but I don't want to show up the other celebrities when I get asked to appear with Brucey live on a Saturday night.

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Deciding on which course to take wasn't easy.

I already know enough Latin to order a beer, Opera: not as boring as it sounds - I'll be the judge of that thank you - didn't tempt me, neither was I keen on identifying gemstones and their origins, God preserve me.

I have no interest in buying a house in Poland - too much cabbage - and I certainly wasn't going to get to grips with office 2000 if I could at all help it.

Tempted though I was by How to be slim, I think a ten week course might be a bit ambitious and though I considered fancy dress making the timing was wrong and I'm not at all keen on Lycra in a public place.

In the end, after more than a week of indecision, I had narrowed it down to entertaining guests at home-fine dining or criminology.

Entertaining guests at home-fine dining sounded ok until I realised that not everyone likes chips and I don't have enough nice glasses and so it was almost by default that I opted for Criminology: An Introduction on a Monday night.

Now in week five, the course is going well.

Despite that horrific moment where you have to go round the class and introduce yourself with a 'special feature'-I kicked off by saying “My name is James and I like visiting stately homes and once danced on a table in Alice Springs,” so God knows what they thought of me - the group is now bonding nicely.

I can remember a few names and we are a little more relaxed now we know what to expect. The best bit is when we get to do group work.

This week during a discussion on the finer points of the English criminal justice system we pretended to be magistrates.

We brought back the death penalty, doubled the prison population, introduced chain gangs, put a policeman on every corner and sent everyone who let off fireworks and dropped chewing gum on the street to prison for life.

Next week's lesson is on serial killers. I wonder if we get to pretend to be one of those?

OH God it's Christmas.

A strange glittery snow grotto has mysteriously appeared in the Co-op window, wrapping paper is going cheap, chocolates are three for two.

Over the years I have managed to get away without too many unpleasant shopping expeditions by leaving it to my sister.

This year though, I can already tell she isn't having any of it.

“No longer shall I buy on your behalf. No more shall I sweat and struggle around the shops, oh no.” I was warned via brusque email.

“But I thought you liked it and you are so good at it! What the point of both of us suffering?”

My protests, however, have been in vain.

“I do but you're not getting away with it, not this year.” was her final word.

I am distraught.

Not only do I have to face the onslaught of awful queues, screaming children, (I sometimes wonder if there are there any well behaved children anywhere) not knowing what to buy, not giving a flying fig, and not wanting to be there, in the name of Christmas spirit I have to pretend I have enjoyed the whole experience of finding that 'extra special' pair of socks, when in fact I would have rather faced the rack. Help.

I am not going to wax lyrical about russet coloured leaves, angry purple shies and dark and stormy nights, but the rages of winter are on their way.

I know this because I suddenly fancy a sherry, a drink I, for no reason other than habit, reserve for the months of winter.

Last Friday I got home after a hectic day at the cutting edge of the coal face of Suffolk journalism that is The Evening Star and needed a drink.

A bottle of sherry was winking cheekily at me from the shelf.

I reminded myself that the clocks have gone back, so I shimmied over to the sideboard, poured myself a small one and relaxed with The Archers.

Three more sherries and a particularly interesting agricultural plot device followed. The bottle was half empty, my legs were no longer attached to my body and I when I tried to make a phone call I realised I had lost the control of my mouth. Bliss.

Warm rooms, strong sherry and sweet mince pies make an Ipswich winter so much more bearable.