Christmas 2018

It is unprecedented that I find myself writing this on New Year’s Eve, though not unprecedented was the hopeless optimism that lead to this. We believed the bathroom fitter who said a complete gutting and re-fitting of our en-suite bathroom would take 12 days, allowing a short break in Munich to sample Xmas to the max. We would return a few days before The Day, fuelled with festivity, laden with traditional market wares, ready for our well planned Yule. However, I struggle to convey the madness that comes from three weeks of tasting and sleeping in dust, laying at night next to a hole in the wall with smells of sewage wafting through.

Never having a minute to think, procuring biscuits like military logistics sustaining a marching army and fretting about whether I really should be putting that much sugar into teas as requested. Radio Christmas tunes being roared all day long in between hammers and drills provided the score. That was aside from the cock-ups, dead rat falling from the ceiling and an ancient poo lake under our vinyl floor. To cap it all the boiler broke down twice and our phone number was spoofed which meant that one day I had a caller every 1-2 minutes all day asking if I’d called them. I got a tirade from Maureen from Wiltshire who said we’d been calling her for months and leaving silence. She had plucked up courage to confront her stalker before calling the police and got me. Once Maureen had vented months of upset we had a chat, much as I’d liked to have told her to sod off because I too felt a little mental. This letter and any cards went unstarted as my stress levels rose and nights became sleepless, ending up with shingles, but luckily no flare of my illness; a Christmas miracle. We left for Munich, bathroom still unfinished, but the night before our flight, James contracted food poisoning. He bravely walked the Christmas markets that reeked of Gluwein and sausage while I shuffled about in pain. We were all uplifted by the atmosphere but after only 3 days, we all felt a break from pork based food was in order.

The year for all of us has been a different experience. James finally saw the new work premises become built, furnished and populated after overseeing it. He’d been fretting for many months, cursing useless telecommunications providers and furniture companies. I have yet to see the project that rendered my husband incapable of making a decision at home. I’m happy to report that that stunted the domestic DIY output, though I think it went ‘underground’ in the form of electronics judging by the components that got stuck in my vacuum cleaner. As I cooked the last meal of 2018 I was marvelling at this lack of home improvement mayhem and honest to goodness the lights went out and a rant of dismay came out of the darkness.  I carried on cooking by echo location (had lots of practice) while James tried to work out what on Earth he’d done previously with this home automation project to make this apparently impossible situation occur. “Ah”, he said, “oh, damn, damn, damn, damn…” So, New Year’s Day has been punctuated by chiselling concrete, frequent power cuts while the air is the blue with expletives and arcing electrics; business as usual. Apart from that it’s been the usual trying to get fit, read more books etc etc.

Holly had a rough first year of her A levels due to two bouts of post viral depression, the flu and a head injury that has taken months to improve. She is working so hard to try to make up the lost time and has decided to take next year off before deciding what to do next.

Ellie is in her third and final year of her Maths degree and having an absolute ball thanks to a brilliant set of housemates and digs that are not likely to give her a disease. With less time spent ill and sitting on slow buses, she has been able to dive into her music much more. She would also like to take next year off to develop her music as much as possible without the demands of academic work, for the first time ever. She longs for the luxury of saying, “yes, I’m free” to gig offers.

I am still not working thanks to being on steroids for Giant Cell Arteritis, an unpredictable autoimmune condition. It’s 20 months now and although I am not on the crippling high doses as before, the low doses present their own challenges. This has meant most of this year has been spent just getting through the day. My strength is returning slowly and so far I’ve stayed in remission, but still unable to make big plans. Apart from keeping the domestic plates spinning I’ve been trying to keep the garden and veg patch alive in severe drought, plus enter the village show with precious few flowers in rude health. I have to confess to going to the same dark side as my village show nemesis and could be found skulking in Waitrose cut flower dept. I was not alone. The flowers of my ‘honest’ arranging exhibit were so tired, it was embarrassing and the judge’s note praised the pot but oozed pity.

Dogs – I apologise for the large proportion of this missive to be dedicated to dogs but it illustrates the percentage of our lives that they occupy. I can’t even throw in any cat anecdotes to make this more inclusive. Poor Tilly came to her end at the age of 13 when I took her to the vet to be put out of distress, evident in the way she looked deep into my eyes panting. I sat with her, as with all our past dogs as she breathed her last bit of oxygen lying on a faux sheepskin mat as the vet, nurse and myself sat on the floor quietly talking about her life. I believe our animals find us and not the other way round, so we didn’t push the search, but this time it would be carefully chosen for ease of ownership. We promised ourselves a break from dogs, enjoying months of freedom and more money in our pocket – 4 weeks later Rory arrived from Romania. A cock-up meant that his sister with a waiting adoptive family in the U.K. had to unpack her suitcase because an identical Rory was on the happy bus instead, already in Belgium with no fixed abode. Cue a panicked begging call from the charity. We’d only seen his photo as a small pup, so why not? A 5 month old, shut down, limp rag of a rescued dog arrived scared of everything that wasn’t a person or another dog. He settled really well but was clearly not a lone wolf and seemed a bit lost. Sigh, time for a buddy, an older calm dog because having two teenage dogs would be stupid. 3 months later the Universe gave us Marco an 8 month old; it’s so good to have a well thought out plan to stick to. What breeds you ask? Suggestions invited, but Rory looks like a stunted Carpathian sheepdog crossed with a feather boa whose pastoral breed genes mean he loves to sit at the bottom of the garden ‘guarding’. Shame that as soon as the threat says hello, he becomes a furry fun factory. Marco, oh dear Marco, a cross between a staffie, a dachshund, an otter, a sideboard and a nervous breakdown. Say no more other than he’s a super pal to his pack but lacks confidence during interactions with other humans. He’s a work in progress but he clearly wants to be friendly and has a real talent for agility and holding his head under water, hunting. The garden squirrel, so loathed by Tilly can’t believe it’s luck because the only prey they recognise are birds and fish. Am I imagining a bored look on its face as it feeds unchallenged, no ball of furry fury tanking down the garden intent on its destruction?

So, I apologise to those whom we know have had a tough year and for whom we haven’t been any help. I do hope you are doing ok. We could also win a Most Antisocial in 2018 award, something we regret but look back and think, it wasn’t going to happen. So, we hope to share the white knuckle ride that 2019 is shaping up to be and hope to keep sight of the goodness around.