Christmas 2019

It’s that time again when I sit down on a November evening still stunned about how dark it has got so early. Why can’t I just accept it? It happens every year; we get round the horn on the solstice and think we can detect the extra 5 minutes on New Year’s Eve in desperation. Next we’re complaining about losing an hour’s sleep. So, I think, what is this that we called 2019? What happened? Did I use it wisely? Did I carpe diem? Well I carped quite a lot actually. As a country it felt like we were hammering our toes and then wondering why we couldn’t run.

The New Year was greeted from behind my eyelids and February’s dawn was heralded by diggers excavating the foundations for an extension. I won’t burden you with the long story as to why we entertained changing money into bricks that could have gone elsewhere. Why one decides to commit oneself to being cold for weeks whilst eating and breathing dust is a wonder to me and is on a par with deciding to have a second dog. Well, builders accepted their fate and turned up as long as they didn’t have to break any ice on the kettle itself in the field kitchen I set up in the porch. It is quite an odd feeling standing back while people you are paying belt holes in your house. It became normal to stand in pyjamas each morning discussing holes in the ground or talking in a lingo that was foreign a month back. The new room is great but there was an unintended consequence in the form of a grotesque chimney for the stove that gave me quite a fright when I first saw it at the point of no return. It could have been worse in that had we positioned it closer to the main house it would have been higher than the house itself. Answers on a postcard please for concealment ideas to help my poor neighbour.

Jan-July for the girls was the exhausting build up to exams, where one wants more time but for the pain stop as soon as possible. Holly had to more or less start from scratch in Sept after her whack on the head in year 1. It did something because she got an A in Maths, her most feared subject from birth. Thanks must go to our neighbour and her teacher both of whom encouraged her when she thought all was lost and restored that most precious of commodities, confidence. Ellie an old hand at the hermit-like existence and worrying about the ratio of knowledge to available brain capacity, did her thing and got a first in her Maths degree. Both are at home for a year now because Holly is taking a year out to dust herself off before Uni to do Environmental Sciences and Ellie is pursuing a music career unencumbered by educational commitments, laundry and cooking. Holly is volunteering at the local wildlife park while she looks for paid work after Waitrose decided she wasn’t suitable to be on their checkouts. Her days are spent in a variety of ways ranging from shovelling large amounts of poop to having exquisite animal encounters. This week she learned how to gut a rabbit and train an armadillo, but she’s not yet up to doing eye drops for the tigers and still hasn’t managed to sweet talk the female hating ibis called Sully. Normally a man goes in to talk to him bloke to bloke as distraction while Holly does the necessaries, but even then he has his favourites and can spot a newbie a mile off.

 James’s to do list at the start of the year was the same as every other year since the girls were born – Get fitter, read more, learn a language and finish off the alarming list of DIY projects that fall on their faces just short of the finishing tape. The home automation lighting project limps on like an endearingly but tragically keen and hopeful underdog that has taken on yet more responsibility in the extension lighting too. I guess it does stop us taking for granted that invention called electric lighting that comes on at a flick of a switch. My gratitude for this modern luxury fades when the lights come on spontaneously in the night however, though James will protest that he has been maligned for comic effect. I’ll let the reader make their own judgement. James managed a couple of Duke of Edinburgh expeditions where he voluntarily tries to pre-empt teenagers’ inept navigation and cut them off whilst trying to spend as much time in tea shops as possible. The idea is to make them think you are a wizard I believe. Highlights included one boy putting his head on an electric fence and a near punch up between the campsite owner and one of their upstart lads at the same pub as a Hell’s Angels wake was taking place. The said lad ended up being taken home crying by his parents with the campsite owner appealing against the harsh punishment.

The rescue dogs are slowly overcoming their issues. Their bond has strengthened but they’re not snuggly with each other, more partners in crime who don’t like being separated. Their dog characters are quite obvious now. Rory is the fearless guard dog standing on the perimeter of the flock, preferably nowhere near danger. He’s not great with stamina or athleticism and will do commands if he knows you’ve got ‘cash’ and accepts deliveries only. Marco is a complex mix of careful retriever, hunter, super speedy runner and useless killer with an ear splittingly squeaky bark. He’s a timid mummy’s boy, always by my side and enjoys housework; having a job on. After a year or so of supremacy since Tilly died, the squirrel is on the run again in spite of Rory being more of a bird man. However, the arrival of a mole provides equal amounts of frustration without even being seen. Rory will spend hours with his snoot in a mole hole waiting for that flap handed, pinhole eyed b*****d to show its face, it’s laughter echoing through its chambers.

So me – last in the list, not because I rate myself beneath, but because I didn’t know how to put it in a nutshell that isn’t dreary, so I left me to last. So I’m sitting here with a sprung rib from trying to clean behind a toilet. It’s 2.5 years since I was diagnosed with arteritis in the head and neck arteries. My whopping steroid dose is now minimal so I’m waiting for my muscles/tendons and adrenal system to slowly recover. This last year hasn’t been much fun due to not being able to do what I love, exercise and gardening. I appear to be in remission but one can never tell what will happen next, though so far so good. I did manage to enter some bits in the village show, including an arrangement to celebrate the moon landing in honour of my uncle who wrote software for that rocket. The highlight was being a steward for the food judge who was quite happy for me to have an opinion even though I’m gluten free. All my years of Great British Bake Off episodes came in handy. So, still frustrated at not being able to work, my days are filled with keeping the rest of the crew on the road and making my garden an oasis for creatures.

We did manage a Northern European Cruise for the four of us, probably our last. We took the train to Amsterdam to avoid flying and quickly realised that we really needed both strength and agility to compete with the rest of Europe for the laughably inadequate luggage storage on the Eurostar. We survived Amsterdam in sweltering heat and the cloying smell of weed and air fresheners, while dodging stoned Brits. I nearly passed out in the sex museum but I made it out due to sheer willpower because I was damned if people were going assume it was an attack of the vapours due to a surfeit of willies! We tootled round the Baltic that felt like the Med followed by seagulls that knew a gullible tourist when they saw one. In the promised highlight, St Petersburg, I was struck by the feeling of both being eyed with suspicion and begged for approval (“we’re nice really”), as we gaped at the ostentatiousness of it; I mean do you need buildings that big? My magic moment was slipping quietly through the Stockholm archipelago at 5am on a mirror sea and no wind so the sound of people in their holiday bubble on the islands could be heard like echoes of an alternate universe. Back on ship, we lazed around making judgements of each country based on a few hours and attended every quiz session we could. It was interesting pitting ourselves against large American family teams which argued pedantically about questions if they thought they were losing as the confused Brits rolled their eyes, made something up and took another swig of their beer, little realising that this was a rehearsal of things to come in December.

So, we carry on putting up our Christmas lights and symbols of the natural world in peril, hold our dear ones close and regroup in a haze of hyperglycaemia and nostalgia. But hey, I heard a great tit singing it’s spring song today as the winter sun lit up the bare bark in warm colours. Life carries on as best it can and carry on it will, just not necessarily as we planned. Now when’s the Queen’s speech and Die Hard on?