Fw: Christmas Preps and Early Presents

Sun 31 Dec 2017 20:31

Christmas Preps and Early Presents

Like my late father I have always loved the coming together of families at Christmas and certain traditional preparations including making festive food like Christmas cake, mince pies and Sloe Gin.

Preferring to shop for presents through the year as the ideas come to mind and we come across perfect solutions, joining the masses in malls and High Streets is not for me. Although High Streets for other uses is just fine, like the little four pub crawl Rob and I did together in Oakham. Three pubs have closed in Oakham since we left so we thought it essential to support the rest lest they go the same way. We warmed ourselves by a real fire in the Hornblower, lunched on thin pizza style garlic, mozzarella and caramelised onion bread in the Lord Nelson, washed it down with port infused mulled wine in the Wheatsheaf and finished the round with a pint of micro brewed Three Kings in the Grainy, a few minutes’ walk from Charly and Tom’s home, perfect.

Before arriving in Oakham I ‘helped’ Henry and Ruby take mince pie making very seriously and Henry and his year 4 school friends all contributed to their Carol Concert in a small church near the school. We had to arrive early to drop Henry off with his class and sat three pews back from the front as the pews infront of us were reserved. In filed the children and took up those empty seats, they then turned and faced us and sang their hearts out, the four of us getting the full volume, taking it in turns to say their part of the well-known story from the pulpit and open the windows onto the 12 days of Christmas around the wooden stage panels.

Such confidence they showed was a reflection on some good teaching in the school and must have satisfied at least one National Curriculum literacy requirement.

Us wise old adults can have whatever beliefs we have arrived at over the years and I was not surprised when Henry asked if we believed in Father Christmas. That he recognised the story as a belief and not a fact meant he is on the right train of thought. To me I can see it has historically been an essential winter festival from times when people did not know if the sun would come back north the next year and ripen the crops. That the Christian faith smothered Paganism has never obliterated those ancient ways.

In answer to his very honest question I love to see children enjoy the belief because we all need to have faith in something and I said I believe in the ‘story’ of Father Christmas. The rest can come later. St Nicholas really existed and helped the poor so that element of truth makes the story a myth, a story with an element of truth. Just the same as Jesus really existed makes the festival relevant despite the intervention of mankind in turning his life into a faith riddled with human failings.

The season could not pass without a film and the six of us trundled off to see Paddington 2 in Poole before lunching at Pizza Express. Full of beans we then met up with a friend and her two children for a walk through beech leaves in Upton Park just behind Poole Harbour. I came across a little pebble with a face painted on it resting in the cleft of a tree. I took a photo and returned to the children. As they grouped around me I showed them the photo, “When you find it up ahead you can make a wish and re-hide it for the next person.” Off they dashed and only after they had all made their wish did we make our way home.

Approaching the front door we were singing ‘knick knack paddy whack’, and when we came to ‘this old man came rolling home’ I turned to Rob and said, “You’re not old darling!” only for Ruby to shoot past through the doorway saying, ”But you are Granny!”

One final pleasurable job left to do before we migrated north for Christmas was to help the children make their first mince pies. With concentration and attention to detail their slim fingers busied the pastry and spooned in the filling, cut the pastry stars and gently laid them on top. Even the cooking process was carefully monitored for the 20 minutes it took for the pies to brown and bubble.

We took about the same time to get to Oakham from Broadstone as it would have done in the days of a coach and six with its dalmation lamp dogs running alongside, that was because we halted first in south west London to see Sue and again in Leamington Spa to visit youngest son, Jonty and his lady Jenny and Elsa their house bunny, after a short stop on the world’s biggest car park (M25).

It was icy cold as Sue led us by foot from her lovely 1909 home for a walk beneath blue skies in Richmond Park, dotted with herds of flourishing deer and happy dogs. In through Sheen Gate and home through Roehampton Gate. After lunch we ventured right across the park by car and in the centre took a quick detour in to Isabella Plantation which we imagined would look beautiful in the spring when the sleeping trees and bushes would burst into colourful blossom.  From King Henry’s Mound we witnessed one of the most famous and protected vistas in the world. Planners and developers are not allowed to alter its skyline and with only one exception so far this rule has been kept. In the far distance through a well-groomed corridor of trees one can see central London, well-loved roof shapes including historical St Paul’s dome.

The story goes that Henry VIII stood here and waited for a rocket to be let off from the Tower of London on May 19th 1536 to confirm Anne Boleyn had been executed so he would be free to marry Lady Jane Grey. However, killjoys suggest he was in Wiltshire at the time. He wouldn’t have seen St Paul’s anyway as it was built 133 years later.

Isn’t it just typical that disasters happen on Fridays or Bank Holidays and most especially near festivals when everybody and his dog are off work! Sue’s central heating control panel decided the cold spell was just too much for it and decided to operate the heating for about ten minutes in every twenty minutes. Fortuitously nearby neighbours had invited the three of us to their Christmas Party so off we went for a social evening that was warm in both senses of the word.

Just inside the hall of this house, that itself was the mirror copy of Sue’s, was a real fire that crackled, glowed and smelled divine. We met some of the friends Sue and Christopher have made during the half century they have lived in the street and it was a real pleasure.

We awoke in our cosy attic room to a clear view over the roof tops of London towards the spike of the Shard, airliners descending towards Heathrow from the east every two minutes or so. I love to stay overnight as it gives so many more opportunities for good chats with one’s host.

The remnants of old snow remained in shady spots as we wound our way around the estate of houses near Leamington Spa searching for number 27. Just inside the living room door was one of the prettiest real Christmas trees in the UK carefully decorated by Jonty and nibbled into shape by Elsa the bunny whose work continued while we were there.

The weather dampened, literally, our plans for a canal side stroll and instead we explored Leamington’s 18th century pump rooms, the baths now housing the fascinating museum, a haven of warmth from the cold. A quick walk around the Christmas street market sharing Jonty and Jenny’s churros we left with some mulled gin tucked away for the evening and went for lunch in a converted barn where, because our table was not ready for us, our drinks were free!

On arrival at Charly and Tom’s Darcy greeted us and we set off for a welcome walk up Manor Lane where Darcy did his usual puddle trick and chased sticks.

Later on the weather turned mild for a spell and four evenings on we joined Santa Claus and his Lions Club helpers as we all walked briskly around a small section of Oakham.

Rob joined the run for ten years before I met him and I remember the night he invited me along. It was to be the first of four runs we would take part in that year and the temperature was around 7 degrees below freezing for the duration. The runs would take about two and a half hours each and by Christmas Day I had lost 5lbs, brilliant, indulgence with a clear conscience!

We rounded into one street and in the corner of a garden, in its own space and illuminated by two street lamps was a perfectly pyramid shaped tree covered in new frost and glittering with a billion tiny, natural diamonds. I so regretted leaving my camera ‘safely’ at home.

This year and I can say that because we still have 6 hours left in 2017, it was as much of a joy as ever. A very disabled lady slowly came to her front door, apologised for taking a while, slowly went to her kitchen to fetch some coins and then watched as young children sat with a warm and kindly Santa for their secret chat while parents took photos. A little boy walking towards the sleigh while sheltering under his dad’s coat, “Going to see Santa” he confided.

I even had a Scrooge, brandishing his psychedelic hanky, crumbs popping out of his mouth as he complained loudly, “no, No, NO, I haven’t got any cash and I’m in the middle of my TEA!” He didn’t have to tell me the last bit.

Now you know Darcy don’t you, well he’s usually a very good boy at Christmas despite all the temptations. Charlie had a wrapping session and piled all Darcy’s presents on one side of the living room carpet. They were there undisturbed for a few days until two days before Christmas, while Rob and I were having a quiet chat in the kitchen, when from the living room came Charly’s anguished tones, “Darcy you naughty, naughty boy,” she came into the kitchen, trying to control her amusement torn wrapping paper in hand followed by Darcy, head hung low in mock remorse, new green treat ball in mouth. Fait accompli!

So we had had our early non-monetary presents, Darcy had opened his early present so it remained only for Rupert to enjoy his presents on his third birthday appropriately three days before Christmas.

True to a constant English tradition Richard and Juliana had hired the nearby recently refurbished village hall and installed a bouncy castle. A recipe for success and the enjoyment of children and grownups. After clearing up ready for the evening event we retired up the hill to Rupert’s home where he could enjoy some of his new toys including a ride-in Mercedes battery operated car. His little brother George took a liking to the idea of a ride in the new car himself, but understandably Rupert was not ready to give him a turn.

A few moments later Rupert was otherwise busy on someone’s lap and George saw his chance, with frequent furtive glances at his big brother he sidled over to the prize, climbed in and sat down, a look of astonished triumph on his face. Eventually his and Rupert’s eyes met and we waited for the disapproval but none came, Rupert did not mind and we learned a little more about our grandsons.

So here this missive comes, with three and a half hours left before midnight, the end of 2017.

A Happy and Peaceful New Year to you, my dear readers.


Sent: Wednesday, December 27, 2017 12:00 PM
Subject: Christmas Preps and Early Presents

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