Sunday, 17th December, 2017
Week 469 marks the start of The Blog’s 10th year. If I focus on that fact, I can hardly believe it. Of course, it has encapsulated and chronicled some dramatic moments in my life as well as many very mundane ones. Often, I have completely lost sight of who it is written for and, currently, I still don’t know. When asked, I always say that it is for me and my memory but I hope it has, at times amused or enraged some others who, like me, enjoy viewing the minutiae of others’ lives. I have always been an ‘observer’ rather than a ‘joiner’, on the edge of the party rather than the life and soul of it. It suits me which is why my chronicle – The Blog – has made me comfortable in its construction and development.
Today, Pauline has been decorating her Christmas Cake. I have rarely seen her so tense in a kitchen. Everything has been stressing her from concerns about a North Korean attack to her icing being too sticky to roll out. Fortunately, North Korea held off today and trial and error produced a sheet of the correct colour icing that could be cut to fit a template and successfully laid over the cake. After all, World War was avoided for another day.
I was watching a programme which allowed people to describe the place of their origin. Naturally, they invested pleasurable memories in their description and love to return to their origins to rediscover childhood memories. I often hear of people making a final relocation in their lives to return to their childhood roots. I was reflecting on the journey that my own life has taken from a small, East Midlands village to a Lancashire town, a Yorkshire town, a Surrey town and a Greek island and now a West Sussex village. I was desperate to leave my small village for the anonymity of a town. I don’t mind going back as an ‘observer’ but I could never contemplate returning to be part of a community.
It is a strange phenomenon in my psyche and my life. I can enjoy reviewing past events and places in my timeline and the Blog is a good place to start but I can’t face the commitment of really returning in any meaningful way. It may explain why I like moving house and why I have really enjoyed leaving all or many of my possessions behind when I did. In Yorkshire, we sold all our furniture with our house and gave away most of the rest of our possessions. In Greece, we sold or gave away all our furnishings and most of our other belongings before we left. In Surrey, we sold our Duplex fully furnished and started afresh in a brand new house in Sussex. There is something enjoyable for me in a tablar rasa and the chance to escape old mistakes and to build on acquired experiences. The Blog allows me to revisit times, places and experiences on my own terms without having to compromise my isolation or ‘observer’ status. This, in itself, is a raison d’être.
Monday, 18th December, 2017
Beautiful salmon pink skies both morning and evening bathing the surrounding buildings with a theatrical glow. In between, we had plenty of blue sky and strong, low Winter sun. The day was reasonably mild and windless making our outdoor swim really enjoyable.
Pauline has been planning the Christmas Day meal that she is going to cook for her family. Every element has to be the best she can source. I’ve written before of our long held determination to only eat food that we could prepare from good, natural ingredients. We went out of our way to make things from scratch that others, with less time or inclination, would just take from a supermarket shelf. Pauline would make all her own bread – in the days when we ate bread. We bought a pasta maker – in the days when we ate pasta – and a sausage maker to make what was once one of my favourite foods. We don’t eat cake and biscuits but, when we did, Pauline would make them much better than shop bought ones.
We didn’t take the home-made principle too far. For example, we used to love bacon in the past but never attempted to cure that. I love smoked salmon and Gravadlax. I love kippers and cold, smoked mackerel. These are examples of processed foods that we have continued to buy. Recently, however, I have been finding it difficult to source good quality smoked salmon at reasonable prices. I am currently considering trying to smoke my own fish and I’ve been looking for Smokers that I can use in the garden. I think I will start small and, if successful, scale up. Too much smoked food is not particularly good for one but, if I can produce smoked salmon and mackerel to eat once or twice a month, I will be pleased. I hope it will be a rewarding experience. Could be a New Year Resolution.
Tuesday, 19th December, 2017
A lovely day which started off with bright sky and sent shepherds their traditional warning followed by delightful sunshine but a hint of frost on the lawn. We’ve been out shopping for Christmas Lunch items in Littlehampton. Later we went to the Health Club. After an hour in the gym, we changed for the pool. As I put on my swimming boxer shorts and pulled the ties, one snapped and withdrew into the waistband. There was nothing I could do to retrieve it and I certainly felt insecure in swimming without it. I settled for 20 mins in the Jacuzzi/sauna and then came home.
Pauline roasted salmon with pesto topping accompanied by salad and we relaxed in to a glorious evening which, in contradistinction to the morning sky, suggested shepherds should be delighted. The temperature didn’t get above 9C/48F but it certainly felt pleasant in the sunshine. This evening, at 8.00 pm, it is still 7C/45F and is forecast to remain around that throughout the night. Certainly, there is unlikely to be a ‘white Christmas’ thank goodness.
Wednesday, 20th December, 2017
Quite a mild day. Swimming was really enjoyable outside today and we both felt wonderful after our gym & swim session. The rest of the day was spent by Pauline in cooking for Christmas. She managed to roast a couple of duck legs which we ate with salad for our meal as well. This evening, I’ve watched Man.Utd. being well beaten by Bristol City who I found myself cheering for.
I love political turbulence and it is not difficult to find. I received a Christmas card from Superfast & Blue Star Ferries this morning and you can be sure why. I’ve looked at a potential booking that we used to do – Leaving around Greek Easter in April and returning at the end of September, travelling in a Luxury cabin with our car. The cost has come down hugely. At the end, we were paying around £1000.00/€1130.00 for that return crossing. Today, I could buy it for £630.00/€715.00. For all the bullish data coming out from a Greek government who are way behind in the opinion polls, the actuality is very different. Kathimerini tells us today that joblessness is continuing to soar. The forced appropriation and auctioning of mortgage defaulters’ properties and the population’s pessimism about avoiding the need for a 4th bailout with its attendant external supervision means the economy is not as Syriza would want us to believe. Add to that the other members of the EU’s growing reluctance to take the immigrants building up on Greek Islands and reluctantly being resettled on the mainland and it is not a happy society.
Of course, it is not all sweetness and light here at the moment, thank goodness!
Thursday, 21st December, 2017
The shortest day is a glass half full time in which we can look forward to longer, lighter days. Went out early – 8.45 am – under grey sky to Tesco for our final shop before Christmas. One of the joys of retirement is to be free to beat the crowds. Even then, we didn’t totally succeed. So many people were out shopping to beat the crowds that none of us really succeeded. I am absolutely convinced that some people just love the frisson of busy shops and lots of people to get a genuine sense of being involved in the festivity. There is nothing like a bit of pushing and shoving to make one feel part of the real world.
I used to try to persuade my aged mother that 10.30 on a Saturday morning was not the best time for a retired old lady to be driving to town, looking for parking, walking the supermarket aisles when the rest of the working world were desperately using their hard earned weekend to do the same. She insisted on doing it though and I have since realised, in my own retirement, that being amongst the land-of-the-living makes one feel less marginalised in the aging community.
Why does it take a Christmas celebration to get supermarkets to stock excellent and well priced smoked salmon? I have been trying to source it for weeks but only found small packs at extortionate prices. Today, packs of 300-500 gms appeared priced only slightly ahead of the 100 gms packs that had been on sale until recently. The fish mongers was stocked to flowing with whole, fresh salmon. We just bought one which cost only £21.00/€23.70 but will feed us for five, gluttonous meals.
Incredibly mild today even if it has been grey and dull. As we left the Health Club at 4.00 pm, the car read 14C/57F. It makes so many of these television adverts full of fake snow look depressingly false. We’ve done 4, consecutive days of quite hard exercise and we were both feeling it today. We are going to try one more tomorrow and then have Saturday off. We will go again on Sunday and then have two days off as long as Boxing Day is nice enough for a coastal walk.
Friday, 22nd December, 2017
A relatively mild – 10C/50F – but dark, damp and gloomy morning on what is said to be the busiest of the Christmas period. A couple of things that Pauline had found unable to get in Tesco yesterday had to be sourced in Sainsbury‘s today. We were out at 8.00 am and the roads were fine. The supermarket was rather busier than usual but we were in and out quite quickly. I will be pleased to see no more shops for months. I was going to clean the car but the weather is very off-putting and it would soon be wet and filthy again so I am putting that off.
We have decided that we will definitely do one more gym session today and one on Sunday which will mean we will have done 6 out of the 9 days over the holiday period. Usually, the Health Clubs have a spurt of new memberships and activity at the start of the New Year in line with resolutions but that quite quickly tails off. The state of the economy also conditions membership and there is some uncertainty around here with younger families concerned that stretching themselves with mortgages has left them vulnerable to rate rises. That may deter some from taking on more commitments. Fortunately, that is not a problem which affects us nor has it done for almost 10 years which is reassuring. We even received an advisory letter to say our cash ISA’s rate had increased to a massive 1.06% which forced me to sit down for a while.
After a quick call in to a very busy Tesco carpark en route to the Health Club, we found that so many workers had finished early for Christmas that the gym was very busy as well. In spite of that, we did our 5th, consecutive session plus swim and felt all the better for that.
Saturday, 23rd December, 2017
It was the night before the night before Christmas ……. Please let it be over soon. Everywhere I go I hear that terrible musak about a white Christmas that I haven’t seen for so many years. In fact, I can’t remember seeing snow on Christmas day since I retired in 2009 and there have only been 4 really white Christmas Days in the past 51 years. Even if there had been snow every Christmas, I would still hate that bloody musak! Thank goodness we are heading for a mild and grey day of monotone and calm.
Now Greece might be a different matter. They have snow already. Hundreds of drivers have been stranded on the main Athens to Thessaloniki highway, as a snow storm hit central Greece today. A woman is reported dead in the snow-bound northern Peloponnese. Beaufort 9 winds have stopped ferries to the Cycladic islands and streets of Santorini have been turned in to rivers by torrential rain that has wreaked terrible damage and exposed the poor state of the island’s infrastructure. All those in UK wishing for a white Christmas should think themselves very lucky to get a boring, grey sky.