Christmas 2009 Mk I

It’s the very early hours of Christmas Eve and I am propped up in bed with my trusty netbook.  I’ve been reading a Margaret Atwood novel – Alias Grace – waiting for heavy eye syndrome to kick in, which it hasn’t yet.

We’ve had a hectic few days just past, a noisy, jolly weekend with two generations of offspring, culminating in a ‘Christmas’ lunch along our conjoined kitchen and dining tables.  I do like sitting down at one big table for meals with family and friends.  The afternoon was spent opening presents, then the 7 smalls had a ‘roaring around the house’ session to which we simply turned deaf ears.  By mid-evening our little three families had melted away, but not the very icy conditions which necessitated the careful turning of cars in our road on a virtual ice-rink.

They all got safely home, as did my mother, eventually, the following day.  Nick set off at 2.30 p.m. for the 2.5 hour drive to Weymouth.  Opting for the A31 instead of the M3 was mistake no. 1.  Barely an hour into the journey and the snow started to make driving conditions tricky.  They got to the bottom of the hill at Four Marks and found traffic stuck on the hill.  Nick cut away from the A31 to reach the M3 via Basingstoke.  Big mistake no. 2, as anyone who was in that vicinity could attest, it was probably the one place in southeast England you least wanted to be that afternoon.

Sitting in a tailback Nick had no idea how long this would take to shift.  Fortunately he met a Good Samaritan who took him and my mother in for tea and mince pies whilst the nose to tail trail of vehicles remained stationary.  Big thanks, then, to Tony who lives on the outskirts of Basingstoke.

Hours passed and once things started to move Nick rejoined the queue.  But it was still nightmarishly slow going to gain the M3 – a distance of less than 3 miles.  Mum and Nick eventually joined the motorway at 11.30p.m. and she was back at Chestnuts by 1.15.  Throughout the 11-hour journey home she was, apparently, never less than cheerful and gung ho!

He ate a sandwich and downed a coffee then drove straight back to Surrey falling into bed at 3.15 for a 6.00 am departure for France that morning.  Meanwhile I had worried my way through the afternoon and evening and trailed up and down the front steps, stolidly stowing the car with bags of clothes, boxes of food, the Christmas tree and leaving space for Rooney’s wicker igloo.  To this we added a trio of yellow orchids and Rooney the cat in the morning before we left.

Luckily, as members of Brittany Ferries’ club, we were able to book a cabin on the ferry at a reduced rate.  After an excellent breakfast Nick spent the rest of the 5-hour crossing in his bunk, I slept a short while then sat in the restaurant drinking tea, writing postcards and thank you letters to post on board, working my way through my magazine mountain.

Rejoining our car we were very amused to see a large spotty dog sitting in the driver’s seat of a white van, anxiously looking to left and right whilst he waited for his passengers to rejoin their vehicle.

Our house was warm, thanks to Daniel, and we quickly unpacked the car and settled in.  The next two days were spent preparing for the arrival of the Sunburys.  Decorations to go up, provisions to buy to add to our English supplies (including a veg box which was delivered to our garage about 2a.m. on the morning of our departure), the large duck ordered from M. Lemonnier to be collected.

At 6 o’clock on Christmas Eve Ted and his entourage arrived to a candlelit reception.  The stage was set for Christmas Mk II.

A Tale of Waste and White

A week before Christmas and I am readier than usual.  This is because, as a family, we will be celebrating Christmas together on the 21st when we are all in England.  There will be four generations sitting down to eat a festive feast.

Most of my shopping has been conducted via the internet, which I have to say is an absolute boon.  The service has been impeccable with one hitch for which some unknown agent is to blame.   One of my parcels arrived battered with the outer plastic wrapper torn.  The box inside, a large Lego set for a grandchild, had suffered very obvious, unsellotapable, damage.  It was in a sorry state.  (It was probably the wrong packing for such a large box.)  Nick and I checked the contents which were unharmed and resolved to keep the item and explain to the young recipient what had occurred.

But, as I wrapped up presents yesterday, and came to the Lego set I looked at its sorry state.  What kind of Granny would I be deemed to be if I gave my grandson a toy which looked as if it had passed through several hands beforehand?  I contacted the company who could not be more helpful.  I could take the item to my nearest store and it would be changed.  They even checked ‘their system’ and informed me that there were 4 in stock, it would be wise to phone and reserve one, which I did.

This morning I made the swap.  I enquired, hopefully, whether the original item would be returned to the manufacturer for repacking.  Oh no, I was told, it would be “binned”.  “Binned?” I said, “You mean thrown away?”  Apparently yes.  There is no other provision for damaged goods.  Could the contents not go to a good cause?  Apparently not.  I left the shope with my pristine box, expressing the hope that at least a member of staff could take the ‘faulty’ item home.  Even though it would be ‘against the rules’.

All that lovely pristine new Lego must be scrapped, because, no doubt, Health and Safety requires this to be so.  The only word that described how I felt as I left the store is gutted.  If it were not important to me that my grandson should feel ‘special’, if it weren’t Christmas with all that means to children in particular,  I would have run with my Plan A.

This afternoon I sat at my dining table, wrote cards, wrapped gifts.  I looked out of the window and it was starting to snow.  Beautifully transforming the views which we enjoy from the side of our house which faces our hillside garden.  It wasn’t a heavy fall, but enough to whiten the slopes and it did remind me of the snowfall which surprised us at the beginning of February this year.

It fell the day we were due to travel to France, the day before my birthday.  It was auspicious for me because I know that on February 3rd in the year I was born my brand new 13-year uncle trudged to school in deep snow, the like of which has, reputedly, not been experienced in southern England since.  This February I captured some images of the black and white winterworld that snow gives us, from the rear windows of the house.

It was lucky for us, the family, that the snow persisted long enough to provide us with some days of wonderful fun when we went to Inshriach House, near Aviemore, for half term a couple of weeks later.  Inshriach is an Edwardian country house in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. It is available to rent for groups of up to 17 people for holidays, house-parties, photo shoots, location work, creative courses and events.  Fifteen of us joined a group of young parents – we squeezed the small fry in cots into parental rooms –  friends of my son Dan.  Whilst we were there Dan, who works in the film industry, put together a Swede of Lord of the Rings.  I’d not heard of that kind of swede before, although I love the vegetative kind hugely.

We are booked to go again in February 2010.  A rather different film has been chosen to receive the swede treatment.  We improvise with props and the dressing-up cupboard which Lucy Mickelthwait allows us to plunder.  But this time, I’m advised it might be wise to rustle up a nun’s wimple beforehand.  (I just went onto the web to check my spelling of wimple – would you believe there is a website which tells you how to make one……….. for your dog?!!

Ruby and the Ketchup Kid meet Santa Claus

This post is for Emsie and Dan.

Ruby and Lola (nicknamed the Ketchup Kid by our friends the Palmers) came to stay on Wednesday.  Their dad is working in Luxembourg, their mother needs time out (but not on the ‘naughty stair’)!

The deluges of past weeks, leaving some poor folk awash, persisted during the first 2 days of their visit.  But Friday dawned – literally for us at 5.30 when the patter of feet on the stairs and sibilant, tentative invocations to ‘wake up Granny’, wrested us from sleepful bliss – to dry and eventually sunshine.

We’d promised a visit to Bockett’s Farm, near Leatherhead.  This visit will give us ‘full house’ on visits to this venue with grandchildren this year.  I’d seen on the website that Father Christmas would be in residence in his grotto, also Christmas trees would be for sale.  I was hoping that small rooted and potted trees would be available.

We set off at 10.30, thirty minutes after my target but a neighbour had needed a jump-start.  Shame they don’t have grandchildren yet…..

As we drive the M25 and turn off at Junction 9 I’m hoping the crowds will not have built up too much.  We need to book our slot with the Big Cheese at a convenient time.  I’m hoping we won’t have to park in the over-spill carpark up the hill.  We coast down the lane to the entrance – there are barely a dozen cars parked.  For a minute I think that the place must be closed and that I failed to see something to this effect on the website.

But no,  it is open, staff are going about their tasks and we walk through to buy our tickets.  Everything is as it was in July when we came with JACS.  The animals, looking healthy and contented in winter coats and in their pens under the large covered barn area, are eager to make themselves known.  We’ve bought some food for the sheep and goats.  I think Nick and I may end up feeding the animals which have a very tickly technique.  Not a bit of it, the children are both happy to have their small fingers nuzzled by soft muzzles.

We are just getting to the end of our bag of pellets when a member staff calls over that a lamb is about to be born.  We rush round to the lambing pen, in the open public area, and Nick and I are thrilled to see the new arrival.  Lola is politely interested, then hastens on to the toy car and tractor circuit with Ruby in pursuit.

It’s not long before the Christmas elf rounds up his passengers for the short ride to Santa Claus, who puts in a big performance of waking up in the gloom of his cubby-hole.  He camps it up ever so slightly for the children, all of whom are pre-school age.  He’s obviously got something right, there are no tears, no reluctant recipients.  Santa Claus has a long way to go, this is Day 2 of his duties at Bockett’s.  December 24th must seem somewhat distant.

We are all about to leave when one mother and daughter approach Father Christmas.  The daughter has seen what the other little girls are unwrapping, soft cuddly animal bags, and compared these to the cars the boys are unwrapping.  The little girl would like to swap her unwrapped present for a car please….

We make our way across to the larger of the soft-play areas.  It is deserted.  Rarely can two small children have had a network of cushioned chambers, rope walkways, slides and tunnels to range over entirely to themselves.  After a short session here we make our way to the big barn where meals are served and have lunch.  Afterwards on the way back to the farmyard and play complex we stop and buy a sweet little Christmas tree in a pot.  I’ve noticed that shape seems to matter where Christmas trees are concerned.  People can take ages choosing.  Our choice has a nice shape.

As we get back to the large shed area, there is an animal-handling session underway, where Lola meets a namesake in the guise of a white nanny goat with a Princess pink collar.  She and Ruby are also allowed to ‘soft’ Dotty the rabbit and Patch the guinea pig.  Next door there is smaller soft-play unit which provides non-stop fun when Lola and Ruby clamber up padded ramps and then slide down a windy blue tunnel over and over again.

There’s time for a session in the exterior playground where there are numerous slides and playhouses.  Lola’s organisational skills come to the fore when another child comes to play.  Georgie proves to be a biddable playmate and Lola is still in full instructive mode when Nick and I start to round up things and make leaving noises.

The girls nap in the car, but not for long, and we are able to resuscitate them with the Snowman video at home whilst we get some supper ready.  As I settle the girls down in their bunk-beds for the night, incentives are needed to ensure they stay put.  If they are good, I tell them, we’ll go to the supermarket and they can choose anything they want for lunch the next day.  “Fish and chips”, says Lola.  I’d better make sure we have a gallon of ketchup in the fridge.

Remembering Max

My online journal has been dormant and I cannot move on until I tell you why.

A shocking and tragic event occurred in our family when a young nephew died suddenly from a cardiac seizure.  He was a fit, larger-than-life, talented rugby player……… and only 29.  He lived in Mere and worked at Guys Marsh prison.  He was quite simply a lovely human being, loved and admired by all who knew him.  His life was celebrated at a memorial last Friday after a short cremation attended by family.  Five hundred people packed the church in Gillingham to honour Max and afterwards most of those packed the North Dorset Rugby Clubhouse to stay together on such a sad day.

Max’s legacy is already starting to permeate the lives of those who mourn him.  And the oft-reviled Facebook arena has played a very significant part since the hours after Max’s death became known.  Hundreds of his friends posted messages and through this have been brought together.  Not least members of Max family, notably his cousins, have found new ‘friends’ and ways of sharing their memories of Max, and there will, inevitably, be new ‘real’ friendships amongst these which will endure.  Social networking makes it easier to stay in touch.  It may not be as rewarding as meeting up to share a drink and a chat, but it keeps those connections alive all the same.

Many eloquent words of mourning and tribute have been written, and were spoken, at Max’s memorial.  I am proud that my younger son Dan, for whom Max was very much a kindred spirit, delivered his eulogy that was worthy of his cousin.  There is an embryonic film script that Max had been nurturing which is to form the basis of a project in Max’s name.  And my daughter Charlotte, whose blog ‘chez perryman‘ is linked to mine, posted her thoughts from South Africa.  Her final paragraph speaks to us all.

She has a strong sense of family, and as such, we all crossed the Channel ten years ago to view the Eclipse from the north Cotentin coast.  We rented 3 gites and had a great week together.  On ‘the day’, we lined ourselves up against the low seawall to wait for the moment.  My father, who sat in a chair on the quay above, is no longer with us.  He died at the age of 85.  We could not possibly have imagined that another of our throng would leave us at such a young age.  It is the greatest blessing that we are not privy to what our futures might hold.  It behoves us to make sure that each day that we live counts.

There’s Max, at the heart of the family, sitting next to me.

(It’s grainy because it is the only copy I have to hand)