Week 522

Sunday, 23rd December, 2018

A very wet and grey morning. All my political programmes have finished for the festive period – just one of the reasons why I hate Christmas. There are many others. However, one benefit is hearing from people from my past who get in touch at this time. So many lives that touch in crossing and move on. Yesterday, I also heard from my fairly reclusive brother, Mike, for the first time for a couple of years. That was nice.

Pauline is preparing things for the ‘family’ Christmas meal. I’m contemplating my navel (when I can find it) and wondering why the hair on my chest, etc., is going snowy white but the hair on my head is not. I’ve always had a strange body but that is unfathomable. Perhaps I’ll have to look around the changing rooms at the Health Club this afternoon to see if I am ‘normal’. I won’t hold my breath. I’m a bit shocked to find that the Health Club will be closed on Christmas Day. They’re giving the staff a day off! What am I paying my fee for? What is the world coming to?

As we left the Health Club this afternoon, the temperature had reached 13C/56F although still fairly grey. We felt good after our 6th day of exercise out of the past 7 and drove home to a meal of smoked salmon and prawns with salad. It was wonderful and I ate too much. Have to work harder at the Health Club tomorrow.

Monday, 24th December, 2018

Tsunami Christmas 2004

Time is a strange thing and it plays havoc with the human mind. On Saturday, a tsunami engendered by the eruption of volcano Krakatoa hit the Indonesian islands of Java & Sumatra. People around who heard the news, remarked that it was even more shocking happening in Christmas week. Although I don’t really think that, I understand the sentiment. It really can’t make drowning in a tsunami any worse if it coincides with others, elsewhere, celebrating. However, media reports included a reminder of a previous tsunami which devastated Sumatra at just this time of year. What was really shocking for me was that it occurred 14 years ago. I remember it well.

Tsunami Christmas 2018

Setting aside both of those tragic events for one moment, let’s concentrate on me! 14 years ago, I was only 53! As far as I knew at the time, I had another 7 years to go until retirement. Our Greek home was not quite completed. I would not be diagnosed as Type 2 Diabetic nor suffering from Atrial Fibrillation for another 5 years. Our Mums were still alive. We would move house 3 times. I would lose 10st. in weight and start to get fit again. We would buy 5 new cars, visit 7 different countries and I would start this Blog.

14 years ago! I can see it like it was yesterday. I remember sitting in Pauline’s family’s lounge trying to avoid the jollity of Christmas, reading a book about political philosophy on my iPad and glancing at a television report about the devastating effects of the tsunami. People affected were starving and homeless at just the time we were filling our faces with food and drink.

How can so much happen in 14 years? What it does teach one is the difficulty of projecting forward 14 years and predicting what will have happened. The one thing we can be certain of is that we will both be 81 if we survive. Now that is seriously scary. And just think of 14 more Christmases to get through!

Tuesday, 25th December, 2018

I was brought up in a Roman Catholic household. I objected, made it clear that I didn’t believe but it was insisted that, unless I complied and genuflected, there was no future for me. I hated it but acquiesced. From the day I left home in October 1969, I rejected the nonsense of organised religion and became a fierce opponent of it. Long before I left home, I was convinced that the Roman Catholic Church was a weird and sinister organisation but it wasn’t until later in life that the edifice truly become crumbling down. The scandal of Paedophile priests and the Magdelane Laundries are just the tip of a shady and selfish organisation more caring for its self than its followers.

My Mother fervently believed that it was her, God-given mission to bring up her children as practising Catholics. She even enlisted nuns to cajole my brother and I to attend a Seminary in an attempt to encourage us to train as priests. All 7 of her children rejected this and it was predictable. Nobody with a brain gets bullied in to believing anything. In fact, if you are pushed one way, the natural reaction is to go the opposite. And so it was.

How much of my early life was wasted in the meaningless symbolism of a failed belief system? The Sunday morning masses? The nightly prayers? The barmy rituals of Fish on Fridays, Fasting for Lent, daubing burnt palm leaves on the forehead for Ash Wednesday, manufactured sins to be ‘confessed’ on Sunday, etc.. Remembering makes me shudder and that is not how one should recall one’s childhood. I remember reading James Joyce’s A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man in my teen years and being hit between the eyes with such an epiphany of understanding. I was not alone! Stephen Daedalus, aka young James Joyce, was rejecting the Catholicism of his Mother and his Country. He was rejecting the narrow and cramping beliefs of Southern Ireland. On his Mother’s deathbed, she begs him to reaffirm her beliefs and he repeats the refrain of Lucifer, Non Serviam. I swore there and then to make those my watchwords.

These plaster figures must be at least 80 and, maybe, 90 years old.

Christmas was a ritual in itself. An Advent calendar and the setting out of the Crib were pre-requisites. The crib, which Mum had brought from her own childhood, was laid out in the Lounge or ‘Front Room’ as it was known. The Front Room was somewhere that children were not allowed apart from highly controlled, special occasions. Otherwise, it was Mum & Dad’s private space. They had their own ‘Parker-Knoll’ arm chairs, a polished beech wood radiogram sitting on a polished walnut, splay-legged ‘occasional’ table and an inglenook fireplace now housing the latest, coke-fired stove. Bookshelves with copies of Art History books, religious-based fiction and reference books stood against the wall. Christmas Eve was always marked with the festival of Carols from Kings College, Cambridge and Christmas morning began with an early walk up to Mass before walking home for breakfast and presents.

My sister, Skinny Liz, tweeted today a picture of the crib that had come from Mum’s childhood to our childhood in our family home. Obviously, Liz had snatched it like some ‘ruin-bibber’ (Philip Larkin’s description) of her past. It works. I was quite shocked how much those paltry, plaster figures evoked emotion in me. I found myself weeping for a lost time I once longed to leave and now can never retrieve. At least Catholicism, organised religion in general, is all but beaten in the developed world. I will not live to see its total abolition but feel confident of its complete eradication – like polio and malaria ultimately.

Wednesday, 26th December, 2018

Our 67th Christmas has passed. Actually, we quite enjoyed yesterday. We were up at 6.00am, tea and juice and then packing the car with food for 9 people. Drove to Surrey taking about one hour on surprisingly busy roads for 7.00 on Christmas morning. Pleasant, warm day. Well, actually, we left Sussex in 8C/46F and drove to 0C/32F in Surrey. Pauline & I quickly began to prepare the turkey and the day began.

We all exchanged presents. The children are children no more. They are young men and have all grown bigger than me. I used to beat them all up. Now they all bully me. I still try but come off worse. They went out to play tennis at the Nuffield Health Club while we completed the cooking. At 3.00 pm, we sat down to a meal of:

Starter – Anti Pasti

Prosciutto, Bresaola, Parma Ham, Pancetta, Mortadella, Salami, Smoked Salmon, Olives, Artichokes, Baby Peppers stuffed with Mozzarella, Cherry Tomatoes stuffed with Humous. All accompanied by Rocket Salad and home made Chive and Parmesan bread. Might have slightly overdone it because everyone needed quite a rest before the main course.

Main Course

Turkey with Sage & Onion Stuffing plus Sausage Forcemeat Stuffing. This was accompanied by King Edward Potatoes roasted in Goose Fat, Roasted Carrots , French Beans with Garlic, Baby Sprouts with Bacon & Chestnuts plus Gravy and Cranberry Sauce.


Pauline’s Christmas Pudding with Double Cream Custard  and/or Lemon Meringue Pie plus whipped cream.

Pauline’s Lemon Meringue Pie

Anyone who was hungry after that must have hollow legs. Even though I didn’t feel that I ate so much, I felt ‘stuffed’ for the rest of the day. By 7.30 pm, we were just leaving the Dining table and thinking about packing up the car. The drive back was reasonably quiet and we were home for 9.00 pm. We live in quiet, anti-social isolation and spending a day with other ‘people’ is extremely tiring. We had an early night. Only 12 months until our 68th Christmas.

This morning, we didn’t get up until 8.00 am. We spent the morning festively re-organising the garage and then went to the Health Club to work yesterday off. Our meal today was leftovers from yesterday’s starter. Never let me look at food again!

Thursday, 27th December, 2018

Supermarkets after Christmas are great places for bargains. Today in Tesco we bought two, huge salmons for £13.00/€14.50 each. I bought two, large packs of smoked salmon for reduced price. I then went to collect another Christmas present – a pressure washer from Halfords. What more could a man want?

I’ve had umpteen pressure washers over my adult life and I always mistreat them and find myself replacing them fairly quickly. The most recent one was bought 3 years ago as we moved in here but the pressure hose has almost burst and needs replacing. Halfords have a reasonable one for £160.00/€180.00 so I bought it. Now, of course, I’ve got to clean the car. I wonder how many times I could have had it cleaned by somebody else and still have saved money. Still, the exercise does me good.

The Health Club was quite busy today as people worked off their Christmas food. As regulars, we soon get to know regulars. Today, there weren’t many people we recognised. The turn of the year is always the time when reluctants come out on a mission. It doesn’t last long for many. We look forward to them all going back to work and education and leaving the facilities to the old wrinklies.

Friday, 28th December, 2018

Well, I opened the box of my new, Karcher pressure washer this morning. Taking 25 pieces of plastic and metal out of the plastic wrapping, I thought I had better read the instruction booklet. I couldn’t. There were some incredibly badly drawn diagrams and some unintelligible text in Arabic.

IQ test for this morning.

Three cups of coffee later, my wife had constructed it. I, proudly, took it out to the garage. Exhausted, I decided to try it out tomorrow. Today, I went on line, with my fourth cup of coffee at my side, to register my new product with Karcher and to set up the 3yr warranty.

That done, I set the pressure cooker up in the garden to produce stock from the turkey carcass and to drive the local cats mad. It will all be done by the time we go to the Health Club.

The gym was full of people working Christmas off. Adverts suggest new members might like a cheap. three month starter membership to attack their resolutions. The club, of course, hopes they will stay and pay their £1200.00/€1335.00 per year on an annual basis. In our experience, it increases every January without fail. Once you’re hooked, you swallow the increase and move forward. For many, however, the first throes of ambition fade and April sees a quieter period. Our membership is off-peak because we don’t need the busy time of post-work. Even so, it still costs us £2000.00/€2230.00 per year for a couple.

Friday, 28th December, 2018

A grey and uninviting morning. Having done 10 of the past 14 days at the Health Club, we decided to take the weekend off. We have a special celebration on Sunday which we will mark by going for a walk by the seaside early in the morning. Today, I celebrated early by valeting the car including using my new pressure washer. What fun!

Pauline had the pressure cooker up in the garden to produce more stock from the turkey carcass. It’s getting to the point where we haven’t enough storage space in our freezers for all this stuff. This evening, I watched Liverpool thrash Arsenal and boost their hopes of winning the Championship for the first time in 27 years. That would be good to see.

This time, 40 years ago at 11.30 pm., I was polishing Pauline’s tan boots ready for her big day tomorrow. ….

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