Week 574

Sunday, 22nd December, 2019

Twas the week before Christmas…… Oh please let it end.

Phil Tuffin in Salles-Lavalette

I am completely in sympathy with cousin, Sue Wilson’s partner, Phil Tuffin as depicted in this photograph. We visited them in the Dordogne a couple of Summers ago and I can testify to his wit and sanity in normal times.

Of course, the Shortest Day has ended with the Winter Solstice. For my part, they mean little although I can easily understand why they stood out and were marked as momentous events by people who lived in a world without electricity, the light bulb and gas central heating. Surviving this low point means one may live to see another Spring, enjoy another Summer and reap the bounty of another harvest. I can see why it could be invested with religious significance through the reliance on the vicissitudes of the weather. 

My ancestors lived here in the Repton Mill.

I can only imagine how my ancestor, pictured above outside their home of the Repton Mill in the second half of the 19th century, coped with the cold and darkness of these days. How did they manage with non-flushing, outdoor toilets, a water supply trough just outside the front door and almost no access to medical help?Their life was dark, cold, hard working and with few comforts and yet they were some of the wealthiest of the village blessed with home ownership, with a regular income from the flour mill and farmland and animals to almost guarantee a reasonable diet. Imagine the position of the labourer with unstable employment, income, lodgings and provisions.

Our house has been pervaded with cooking smells throughout the weekend as Pauline prepares food for one meal on one day this week. We had the luxury of downloading and reading electronic newspapers, watching football matches on huge televisions, exercising and pampering ourselves in the gym and spa facilities at the Health Club and then returning home to griddle Tuna Steaks in the garden. Even our toilets flushed, our taps ran hot indoors and the central heating was switched on and off over the web. It is only in retrospect that we fully realise how good life can be.

Monday, 23rd December, 2019

Bloody Christmas. It takes normal life over. Have you noticed that people exiled from their culture such as ex-pats are even more desperate to try to revive old memories than people living here currently. I’ve noticed British ex-pats in Greece are desperate to relive their past Christmas experiences by recreating elements of home abroad. Some of them even voted for Brexit which suggests a distinctly loose grip on reality. Here, we are playing it low key. We’ve even been to the gym while others are exercising in Sainsburys.

I quite enjoy watching Premier League football. I think we can lay claim to one of the better competitions in European football. It is still debateable whether Brexit will affect British team make-up. We will have to see if it becomes a points-based system, those at the bottom of the League may struggle. I watch mainly through Sky but also BTSport which I get by dint of my Broadband subscription. Now, there is a new contender on the scene. Amazon has bought the rights to all the post-Christmas week games. That involves 9 on Boxing Day and another 2 on Friday. To access them, one needs to be a member of Amazon Prime. I’m not a member of Amazon Prime……..

………..I am now! I’ve got access to 9 Premier League games on Boxing Day and another 2 on Friday. I’ve taken out a ‘free’ 30-day trial of Amazon Prime. Oh life is good! Must remember to cancel before January 22nd, 2020!

Tuesday, 24th December, 2019

Christmas Eve? Oh no! This whole saga isn’t over yet. Still, keep your head down and it soon will be.

We send about 70 cards each year and I’ve just been through and ticked off all who didn’t sent us cards this year. It comes to 17. A few have let us know in advance that they are cheapskates and are not sending cards this year. One or two have died and the rest have just gradually fallen away. Mike who retired from work about 20 years ago has stopped writing. Trevor, who we last worked with 13 years ago, has suddenly stopped sending cards. Mabel, who taught Pauline in the 1960s and must be approaching 90, has suddenly stopped contacting us. We haven’t been told that she’s died. Our rule is that we don’t stop however many people do. We continue to be faithful to our friends.

We’re driving up to Surrey tomorrow morning with a Christmas Dinner for 9 in our car. It has all been sourced, prepared and packed ready for finishing off on the day when we arrive. We will set off around 7.00 am. The turkey, which is the only thing we don’t provide and we are told weighs 6.5kg, will need to go in by 9.00 am  if it is to be ready for 2.00 pm. All the starters are ready, the puddings are ready and the vegetables are pre-prepared for finishing. Two types of stuffing is cooked in advance and ready for the big reveal. Two, large Christmas Cakes are ready for transportation. Presents for the kids are bagged up. It should all be over and us back in the peace of our own home by 9.00 pm.

The meter in the room ….

For some one who is obsessed with data capture and logging, I was surprised by my wife this morning. Our power smart meter was flashing red this morning. It sits under my computer and has done for over 3 years. I have become a bit complascent about it but I still regularly check our daily usage. Today, instead of green, it was flashing red. I had no idea why until Pauline pointed out that she was boiling the kettle. She’s known for a long time that high usage forces the light to turn from green through amber to red. You learn something every day!

The Health Club was quite busy today but it’s closed tomorrow. No idea why. Back on Boxing Day to work that Turkey meal off.

Wednesday, 25th December, 2019

My 68th Christmas Day. It has been one of my least favourite days in the year since I was about 5 years old. There is nothing you can do about it but keep your head down and wait for it to end. We were up at 6.00 am and drinking tea. It was dark outside and my phone said just 3C/37F.

By 6.30 am, I was filling large plastic boxes with all sorts of food including the Christmas pudding which was made about 18 months ago plus a steamer to cook it. All the vegetables were pre-prepared, stuffing was already cooked. Fruit flans were cooked and just had to be assembled. Custard/Crème Anglaise was boxed up for reheating. The starters – smoked salmon pate with melba toast and duck terrine with garlic bread were packed in too. The more delicate foodstuffs went into the car’s fridge.

By 8.00 am, we were off on the drive up to West Byfleet, Surrey on the most beautiful morning. The drive itself is always delightful and was even more so on very quiet roads. More than anything, the weather was delightful and sunny. Soon after we arrived, I took a photo at the bottom of the garden. Compare this with all those ghastly, stereotypical images of Christmas Day pedalled perpetuated in popular culture.

Sun on the water at the bottom of the garden.

Compare this with all those ghastly, stereotypical images of Christmas Day pedalled perpetuated in popular culture. More like this will do well for me.

Pauline’s meal went well and the turkey was the best I can remember. We experimented with not stuffing the turkey and not covering it with foil but basting it regularly. It proved wonderfully moist and flavoursome. Of course, a lot could be down to the turkey itself. The Christmas Pudding was made in Autumn 2018 and had definitely improved with age. I had two helpings. Well, I had gone out for an hour’s walk while others were cooking, etc.

We started for home around 7.30 pm and were back an hour later. However nice the people are, I always heave a sigh of relief when I re-enter my sanctuary and so it was this evening.

Thursday, 26th December, 2019

The day has opened dark and wet. Not at all inviting. After breakfast, we drove to Sainsburys because we had used a lot more milk than expected and needed replacement. The store has an underground carpark which is perfect when the weather is wet.

When the weather is wet in the South, it tends to be cold and wet in the North which means snow. And so it was 10 years ago. We brought Pauline’s Mum over the Pennines from Oldham. She couldn’t face being driven all the way to Surrey. It was a beautiful time. Our last Christmas with her.

Our last Christmas with Mump.

Just look at the snowy, Yorkshire background to the shot above. Actually, it isn’t typical of Christmas Day anywhere in UK but it is a wonderful memory.

Worlds apart and a decade later, we are here in West Sussex – both parentless. It is a strangely, rootless feeling. We are the limit of each other’s microcosm.

At the bottom of Sea Lane.

We went down Sea Lane to the coastal path. The tide was turning and the sea was fiery in the cold, light rain. We only stayed long enough to take the air and blow the times away. Home and hot coffee and we are back on an even keel. Christmas is over and we are on to New Year.

Friday, 27th December, 2019

If I was called in for my Dementia Test today, I would fail.

Question 1 – What Day is it?

Question 2 – What is the date?

Absolutely no idea. Failed!

Today started off beautifully bright and sunny and cold but turned warmer and grey. We were going to the gym but got caught up in jobs – I cleaned the interior of the car while Pauline made about 2 litres of Turkey stock in the pressure cooker which I set up outside in the garden.

We have a 2-ring hob which allows us to do this outside and save the house being permeated with the smell of fatty, turkey stock. This stock will serve us for quite a few weeks as the basis for soup. 

The Thinker

In the early afternoon, we nipped down to the beach to blow the cobwebs away. Actually, there was no breeze at all and the temperature was mild and calm. Back home, Pauline recreated Christmas Dinner but this time with sprouts and bread sauce. It was absolutely wonderful.

Saturday, 28th December, 2019

Heard this morning via my lifelong friend from America that my old friend and mentor, Dave Beasley’s wife has died in her sleep of a heart attack at the young age of 76. These things come as such a shock to the system. One is faced with the stark reality of life and death immediately. Pauline keeps reminding me that we should do what we want to do NOW and now prepare for a time we may never see. I’m more cautious and like to prepare for scenarios of longevity.

On that theme, we’ve already booked November in Tenerife. Unfortunately, Easyjet flights are not available until April 2020. I’ve put it in our calendar to remind me. We’ve been looking at booking a week in Athens at the end of August.

Acropolis Suite, Electra Palace, Athens centre.

The hotel is available and cheaper than last year. The flights are available so we will tie that up in the next few days. We just have to confirm a property for June/July in Spain and book ferry crossing Portsmouth – Bilbao and foreign travel for most of the year will be blocked out.

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