Sainsbury’s Get Involved in this Mince Pie War to End all Mince Pie Wars (It’ll be over by Christmas)

I hereby present Sainsbury’s with the award for best looking pie. Very dainty details. Good job everyone involved.

As for the taste? Not that memorable. But not as bad as Marks and Sparks. Obviously.


How do M&S fare in the battle of mince pies?

These Marks and Sparks mince pies are a bit of a let down to be honest. They say all-butter on them, but that isn’t very evident from the taste. The recommended time they have to put them in the oven is too long, so the mincemeat was too hot. They look alright, with a simple incision in the top to give that old-school look, but I think that’s what leads them to let all the heat in an burn my tongue. Sibyl said too much mincemeat too. Oh dear Marks and Sparks.

What are the latest developments on my mince pie tasting endeavours?

Good news first. I’ve found my favourite so far. Waitrose strikes back. These little all butter ones. Pack of twelve. Amazing pastry. My Mama-in-law bought me those.

Before those I was bought other really posh fully organic ones! They were great for a home-made taste.

Then there was the other end of the spectrum, the most commercially lucrative cake company out there… Mr. Kipling of course. Why he stopped writing the Jungle Books I don’t know, those ones aren’t really recommended, bog-standard, tasty, nice pictures on it them too, of two turtle doves too.

18 things I do not regret my parents doing with me

Inspired by when Anti Catrin showed us that Challies article when he wrote the 18 things he doesn’t regret doing with his kids.

1. Praying with us before bed.
That was part of the everyday routine for us, and that’s remained into my adult life. Praying with Sibyl before sleeping goes along with brushing my teeth and putting on my PJs.

2. Giving us pocket money.
Dad borrowed a method from the de Jongs in our church; we would receive our age squared (in pennies), every Saturday. Enough to buy sweeties (or da da as we’d call them in Welsh), but we had to save some for collection in church the next day.

3. Talking with us about theology as we walked
On the way to the sweet shop every Saturday, Dad would ‘teach us diligently when we walked by the way’. I remember the freedom to talk about any theological concept, ask any question. “How do we know if God even exists?” “Who is the Holy Spirit?” “Can God sin?”

4. Playing us Christian songs.
I still remember every single Steve Green Hide ’em in Your Heart song, along with great family hymns like Holy, Holy, Holy. I was even helped when Dad tried to get us all to sing Keep on the Sunnyside from the Oh Brother Where Art Thou OST.

5. Leading us in family devotions
Not a day went by without us having a mealtime (sometimes breakfast, sometimes dinner) when the Bible was read to us. I’m indebted to those times for a huge chunk of my Biblical knowledge now.

6. Prioritising a family meal everyday
Leading on from that, we always ate together. I remember a school-friend moaning that his Mum forced them to have a meal together once a week. I remember thinking “Once!? Who else would you have a meal with the rest of the time?”

7. Feeding us amazingly tasty food
Yes, I’m dwelling on these mealtimes, but that’s because they were so good! Roast potatoes, homemade chips, roast chicken, sausages, turkey bake, quiche, tuna pie. And then there’s the puddings… chocolate brownies, chocolate pudding, chocolate bread and butter pudding, millionaire shortbread (with chocolate), little pastry pie things with brown sugary raisin stuff in them, fridge cake, flapjacks, cookies, and shop-bought battenberg was always a hit too.

8. Disciplining us
We knew when we’d been naughty and often had to learn the hard way. But those smacks could well have saved my life, they helped me honour my parents, and I know that that means I can now enjoy long life on the earth. However the downside is I do have a phobia of all wooden spoons…

9. Taking photos and videos of us
There’s a great VHS of me when I was a baby which is amazing to watch, and there’s lots of photos which I love looking at, people who’ve died that I now have images of to look at, memories of birthdays and Christmases, great stuff.

10. Taking us to church
That was just normality on Sundays. Morning and Evening. What’s come home to me recently is that I heard the gospel so many times before I listened to it, God gave me (literally) thousands of chances, and so much time, this helps me to have patience with others who have not grown up with that privilege, and who are not converted as soon as I tell them the gospel.

11. Sending us to schools
Firstly, the Welsh primary school solidified my contact with Cymraeg and Cymru, a language and place where much of my heart is with, so I’m thankful for that. As for the secondary school, I’m grateful for the socialisation and contact with the secular world that that gave me practice in.

12.Teaching us how to decipher what they were teaching us in school and the Bible
Dad would often ask us after school, “Did they mention God even once today?” The answer was usually no. I went to one of the most humanist schools around, but I’m glad I went home and was given the tools to engage with all of that.

13. Telling us to watch things critically
Along the same lines, these were the tools that we were to use when watching TV and films. Dad’s catchphrase was indeed “are you watching this critically?” And from speaking to my fifteen-year-old brother this week, he still says that.

14. Giving us time to play outside in our garden
Hours and hours and hours spent in our garden, mostly playing football, but also making a treehouse with our friends the Barnses, and also digging holes, even making fires sometimes! And the tree-swing was amazing too. And the climbing frame. And the paddling pool in the summer.

15. Encouraging us to do household chores
Lay the table, clear the table, empty the dishwasher, tidy your room… all things we were encouraged to do, but I must confess were very poor at even those few tasks. Poor Mam. I’m still working on that one. But I’m glad I was shown the importance of them.

16. Telling us how important books are
I was a terrible reader as a child, Dad at one point even offered to give me £2 for every book I could finish, it still didn’t work. He is a voracious reader, and that example has served me well as I’m slowly growing in my love for books. So even for the times I was forced to read boring Enid Blyton books about inane supernatural teddy bears, thank you.

17. Encouraging a love of music in us
There was more often than not music playing in our house. From Mam it would be The Carpenters and Lionel Ritchie, from Dad it would be Focus and The Beatles, and on Sunday we’d have Classical music. Did you know, I still love music?

18. Deciding to have loads of kids
I love having four brothers. It’s so fun. It’s also mad. But I can’t think of a better community to grow up in, one in which you are in a house with four other kids who all share the same parents and space as you, and are all so different from you, but also share so much in common with you too. That’s been great.

Sibyl’s Travelblog – Issue 12

January brought with it the winding down of teaching, only two weeks of it. It was a very strange feeling as we began to have the last of everything…

  • Our last Phở.

  • Our Last Vietnamese Coffee.

  • Our last Bubble Tea (most amazing flavoured tea thing with squishy tapioca balls at the bottom).

  • Our last gin and tonic night together.

It was really sad slowly saying goodbye and knowing we would probably never all be Hanoi together again! Hopefully there will be a reunion one day.

Towards the end we all got close to some of the Vietnamese waiters at Le Pub. We also got to know the manager who is a very cool Londoner called Matt – every time anyone had a birthday and every one of our ‘last nights’ he gave us a free stuff. Very sweet of him.

We went out with Tiếp, Tương and Long (which means Dragon!) quite a few times which was so much fun. However it resulted in unwanted drama involving Long declaring his love for me and giving me his scarf “to remember him by.” [Hmmm-Ed] Oh dear.


Here seems a good place to write about Tết. It’s the celebration of the lunar calendar. The Vietnamese have lots of rituals that go on around this time. It mainly affected us because Hanoi got a lot busier with people visiting family. Traffic somehow got even scarier! On Tết eve (the Sunday before I left Hanoi) we went to see the fireworks over the lake. They were beautiful and I was very emotional because it was symbolically the end.

In the last month we also made friends with our hotel people. I have mentioned Mr. Sinh in particular, he always wanted us to come and drink with him – the Vietnamese drink a lot and a lot of really strong rice wine which they buy really cheaply. It was fun sitting around a table outside the hotel at night though – he would let me drink tea instead (sometimes) and eat dried watermelon seeds which I (and every Vietnamese person) am addicted to cracking open and eating. We also sat with them on Tết eve. I felt very privileged that they wanted us to be there. It was so sad when I left to start traveling – Mr. Sinh was crying as he said goodbye and gave me a massive bag of dried coconut!

9th of January.

We had a big weekend for Emily’s birthday – going out on the Friday and then Glenn and Craig threw her a party at theirs on the Saturday. It was fun and a good chance to say goodbye to some of the other gappers that were leaving. We got her an amazing iced cake and had a cake fight as mature 19 year olds do. She also got her tongue pierced for her birthday! A very eventful weekend.

I had the weirdest thing happen to me on the Friday of her birthday – we were talking to Matt (the owner of Le Pub) who was being interviewed for a magazine The Word so naturally we got talking to the guy interviewing him. Weirdest thing ever – the guy (Nick Ross who runs The Word a Saigon magazine) is Ms. Brophy’s cousin. Ms. Brophy was my chemistry teacher and our exam co-coordinator at school! Scariest woman ever but an amazing teacher. Apart from meeting a guy from Golders Green nothing else like that had happened!

The end of teaching…

…brought mixed emotions for me. A sort of relief that I had done it and that I could now travel and enjoy Vietnam but I was also so sad to say goodbye to my kids! They were lovely – I got lots of presents and pictures and cards from them. All my presents were so sweet but some of them were so impractical that I had to leave them behind. My school actaully got us engraved crystal paper weights that must have been about 1kg. Which we had to leave! The babies were the cutest because I did not tell them in advance that I was leaving so they would give me whatever they could to say goodbye. One of my cutest tiniest 5 years olds frantically rummaged in her bag and ran up to me holding out a piece of gauze strip like it was the most precious thing in the world!

I had also got to know my teachers well and taught with a few of them outside school at the kindergarten and private tutoring so it was sad saying goodbye to them. Two of them invited me to their homes for Tết but I did not have enough time to take up the offer which would have been lovely. Two of my teachers knitted me scarves – one bright yellow and the other bright green. I looked like the Big Bird in Sesame Street.

My saddest goodbye was with a little boy in one of my baby classes that has special needs. These sorts of things are not often recognized in Vietnam, he gets told off a lot for things that he cannot help. He drops his pencils and takes a lot longer to understand things than other children. He also can only colour in the colour orange(?). The Vietnamese teacher would shout at him and (as is acceptable in Vietnam) hit him. I would always spend longer with him making sure he understood and give him extra praise and encouragement. When I told the class I was leaving he burst into tears and got very angry with me. I did not know what I could do – at least his mum was there to comfort him and I gave them all lots of sweets to cheer them up.

Peace seems to be the message here.

Our school co-coordinator suddenly got friendly at the end as well (which seemed to be the trend with everyone). She invited Emily and I as well as Glenn and Craig (who also worked at our school) for lunch, but only me and Craig could make it. She took us to a very posh place and made sure we knew that only rich people could afford it (money seems to mean everything in Vietnam) it was a nice gesture.

Tuesday the 20th

Lucy arrived! It was lovely seeing her again – I had really missed her. It was a hard time to be a tourist in Hanoi because of Tết – everything was crazy before the 26th and then afterwards everything was dead. We still managed to have some nice day trips and we did a one night stay in Ha long bay. Unfortunately it was freezing and both Lucy and I got very ill. She still kyaked though – extremely brave.

My last Sunday at church…

…was lovely . I went out for lunch afterwards with Finja – one of the younger girls I had met at the church. We had a great time of fellowship – I got to know how she was converted and I talked about my conversion. We also talked about problems and we both had our bible out the whole time reading passages that helped us. It was such a blessing and so needed – God really answered my prayers.

On my last night in Hanoi is was Tương‘s birthday so we went to do Vietnamese karaoke. Lots of singing and dancing! Me and Emily had our last sing along to the Moulin Rouge love medley (our favourite!) [not my favourite – Ed].

I was very stressed packing my bag; of course I left it until the last hour before getting the bus down south. It really did feel like I was packing up my life. Very hard to fit everything in a backpack and very heavy. Being stressed added to the emotion of leaving Hanoi and all the Aussies. In classic Sibyl style I was extremely emotional. But really that is that only way it could have been!