A Christmas Story – Week 51 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

little-women

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.”

― Louisa May AlcottLittle Women

 

When I came across ‘Little Women’ at the age of seven years old (I was an advanced reader) I found it difficult to understand the situation that Jo and the other March girls found themselves in. We always had presents at Christmas; we weren’t rich but neither were we poor. We weren’t particularly vain – especially not my older brother – and we too had a Mum and a Dad.  The thought of taking breakfast to a poor family confused me. Did we know any poor families? We lived on a council estate but everyone on our street, everyone at school, on our estate. They all seemed quite comfortably off – except perhaps one woman who lived in the flats and got quite cross when my friend and I babysat for her and didn’t eat all of the shop bought scampi and chips she left for us – she was only gone for an hour and in those days young girls often babysat babies for an hour or so.

As for breakfast – would a poor family really appreciate my bowl of Shreddies or  Ricicles? My brother’s Cocopops or the porridge my Mum sometimes made (until the advent of Readybrek – but more of that later).

I was aware of the fact that not only did the March family live in another country, they also lived in a different time. A time when long frocks and white gloves were the accepted mode of dress. A contrast to my own – tee-shirt and shorts in the summer, jumper and cord jeans in the winter. I was only ever dragged into a posh frock on special occasions. Ah, but Jo and I did have something in common – we were both tomboys.

My Christmases as a child were much of a muchness; although a couple of occasions stick in my mind. The year when I still believed in Father Christmas – especially after he brought me a shiny blue scooter. I must have been at school then because my Mum kept the diary entry I wrote for school – complete with a reasonably good drawing of said scooter.

The year when everything went wrong. It started with my Dad having problems with the Christmas tree (not a real one) lights malfunctioning. Whilst he muttered at the lights, twisting each bulb in an effort to find the dead culprit. The rest of us kept quiet as we hung up paper streamers and dusted off the Chinese lanterns that came out of the special box every year. On the day itself things went VERY wrong. My Mum cooked the turkey without removing the giblets; she melted the plastic colander with the Brussels Sprouts, too much brandy was put on the Christmas pudding and it ignited rather too well. Mum cried, Dad shouted, the dog got excited and bit Mum because she was hitting Dad with a rolled up newspaper.

Another memorable Christmas was the one when Dad brought home a bottle of Advocaat and a cocktail mixer. This was a large glass container with a battery-powered whisk in its silver metal lid. We had Snowballs that Christmas – and not the cold and wet ones that you chuck at each other either. After Christmas when Mum and Dad had returned to work and I was left to the not so tender ministrations of my older brother and sister, I decided to utilise the cocktail mixer and make my own Snowball. I hadn’t actually seen what my Dad put in the glass container – so I worked my way through our depleted alcohol stocks and put a bit of everything in. Then I whizzed it. Then I drank it. Then I felt a bit funny – and hungry.

This is where the Readybrek comes in. I wasn’t usually allowed to make my own because of the  kettle (not electric but the whistling type that sits on the hob – our house must have been a health and safety nightmare) but my brother and sister were still asleep. I was too impatient to wait for the kettle to whistle so my Readybrek was rather stodgy but a spoonful of honey helped.

I put the empty bowl in the sink and went back to playing with my new Christmas toys. There was a knock at the door and despite having been told NEVER to answer the door on my own – I did. It was only the milkman. As I bent forward to pick up the milk bottles I was very, very sick  – all over his shoes. His cries of disgust brought my siblings running. My brother cleaned the milkman up and my sister cleaned me up.

My cocktail experiment was discovered and I was banned from the alcohol cupboard. We swore each other to secrecy but the milkman grassed us up. I never liked him. We used to take it in turns to go out to his milk float and pick some nice biscuits for tea. My brother and sister always seemed to come back with chocolate digestives or custard creams but I came back carrying a packet of plain-looking sugary biscuits that I wouldn’t eat. My Mum was puzzled by this and accompanied me to the milk float, standing by as I asked for a packet of nice biscuits. Without a thought the milky picked up a pack of the hated biscuits and handed them to me. I looked at my Mum sadly. She laughed and handed them back.

‘Those are NEECE biscuits. Not nice biscuits. Which ones do you want really?’

I pointed at the milk chocolate digestives. Success.

I wonder what the March family equivalent would have been?

ceri-ann-steve-and-dad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nostalgia – Week 26 of the 52 week short story challenge – halfway there

brat

The scene in the photograph is idyllic; a long garden with flowered borders and a neatly mown lawn. At the end of the lawn is a large tree and under it, a group of children cluster around a young girl. I am one of those children and looking back up the garden to the house, I can remember seeing all the grown-ups looking out at us with glasses of champagne in their hands.

The house belonged to my grandparents. The celebration was for the twelfth birthday of my cousin Caroline, it is she that is sitting like a queen in our midst. She is chubby for her age and the pink be-frilled party dress that my aunt has dressed her in makes her look like one of those crinoline ladies that people put over their toilet rolls.

She is an only child and spoiled rotten. We are a large family. Our grandparents had seven children and nineteen grandchildren ranging in ages from my cousin Andrew aged fourteen, down to our newest cousin Rachel. She is only a few months old and is back in the house with the grown-ups and half a dozen other under-twos who can’t be let loose in the garden.

One of my aunts emigrated to New Zealand; she and her husband don’t think that Caroline’s birthday party merits uprooting their four children in order to make a long and very expensive journey to England. They are off the Christmas and Birthday card list as far as my grandparents are concerned.

We’ve only had a twenty minute drive to get here and I didn’t think it was worth it either. It was my birthday a month ago and my grandparents didn’t even turn up at our house on the day; they were busy doing something or other with Caroline.

Caroline’s father jumped ship when she was three years old. His wife, my Aunty Suzy, had spent every last penny he earned on Caroline and herself. He had grown exhausted by Suzy’s excesses and, finding a sympathetic ear, went off with his secretary. Suzy and Caroline came to live with our grandparents and the rest of the family were knocked back into insignificance almost immediately

My Uncle Charlie fell out with Suzy some years ago, so he, his wife and their two children are absent as well. Like all his other brothers and sisters, Charlie felt that Suzy and Caroline were running through the family inheritance as fast as they could but he was the only one to stand up to her. Suzy is the apple of her parents’ eyes; she could do no wrong and Caroline has inherited all of her most toxic traits.

My grandparents were not bad people. They loved all their children and grandchildren – just not equally.

I am back in the present day. I am tired and tetchy. I have to juggle a demanding job, a neurotic ex-husband, two daughter at universities and my mother. I don’t want to look at photographs but it is the only thing that makes my mother happy nowadays.

My mother, her memories faded by time, looks at the photograph and smiles.

‘That was such a happy day.’ she says as she touches the faded photograph with her forefinger and turns the page of the album.

‘Was it?’ I say, doing my very best to keep my voice even. ‘Don’t you remember what happened after that photograph was taken?’

She shakes her head and I am in a quandary. Dementia has robbed her of her memories and although I want to shake her and share my memories, I can’t and I won’t, but I remember it all so clearly.

Caroline presided over our group because she did that in everything, but as today was her birthday she had even more special powers. She had been given a book on palm reading – when I say given – I mean demanded from her grandparents. She had decided, after reading a few pages and looked at some pictures, that she was now an expert and would read all our palms.

She started with Andrew; technically the eldest but we all knew that he was different. He was quiet, fascinated by insects and animals, and today we would probably say he was at the lower end of the autistic spectrum, but in those days he was just different.

He very reluctantly held out his grubby hand. Caroline looked at it with disgust and made some pretence at tracing the lines without actually touching them.

‘Hmmm, your lifeline isn’t very long. Can’t see you living past your mid-thirties. No children and a failed marriage. You really haven’t got much to look forward to have you?’ Caroline smirked and motioned Andrew to move away from her.

I was the next oldest.

‘Come on Trisha. You aren’t scared surely?’

‘No thanks.’ I managed a brief smile and backed away.

‘Coward! The twins next then.’ She beckons Sally and Tom over, knowing that at eight years old they are still under her power. She fails to find anything interesting in either of their hands and waves them away to join Andrew on the outskirts of the group.

She deals with my four year old cousin Alice in a very imperious fashion, knowing that her mother and Alice’s mother aren’t on speaking terms at the moment either.

Apart from myself, that leaves one child – my beloved baby brother Gerald. He is three years old and a beautiful but frail child. He has spent much of his short life in hospital and we are devoted to each other. Unfortunately he has yet to realise that the golden-haired, pink-clad Caroline is to be avoided. He breaks free of my grasp and runs to her when she offers him a sweet.

Grabbing his hand, she looks up at me triumphantly.

‘Gerry’s lifeline is very short Trisha. No marriage and no children but then he was never expected to last very long was he?’

I pull Gerry out of her grasp and with him under my arm, I carry him back to the house. My mother can see something is amiss and takes me aside. When I tell her what Caroline has said, she calls my father over and he starts gathering up our belongings.

‘Leaving so soon?’ Suzy purrs. The other children – and Caroline – have come in from the garden and Caroline has lost no time in telling her mother HER version of the incident.

‘It’s just a bit of harmless fun darlings. Caroline didn’t mean to upset Trisha, but you have to accept, she does get upset SO easily.’

Nevertheless, we leave, followed speedily by the rest of the family visitors. The birthday tea untouched, the birthday candles on the cake have not even been lit. Yet again, Caroline and Suzy have split the family.

My darling brother Gerry died a month later, and whilst we knew that Caroline was not the cause, I still blamed her for his death, and went on blaming her whenever anything went wrong in our lives.

My cousin Andrew got married just before his thirtieth birthday. We all thought there was a chance of success because she worked with adults with learning difficulties and seemed to understand him. She certainly understood the benefits system. Andrew became very depressed when his bride of a year left him. A neighbour found him unconscious after overdosing on the pills that were supposed to help. He never regained consciousness. Thanks Caroline.

My grandparents were so wrapped up with Suzy and Caroline that they barely noticed our absence. As they grew older and more frail, Suzy put them in a care home. She had very cannily arranged power of attorney for both of them, and had them change their wills so that she was the sole beneficiary. We didn’t even know where they were until they died – within a few days of each other. The solicitor contacted us to tell us the outcome of their wills.

It was just a formality.

It didn’t take Suzy long to run through the money, and then the house had to be sold. Caroline was in private education and the bills for her dance classes, elocution and etiquette sessions had to be paid.

Caroline lost weight; she became willowy and glamorous courtesy of costly nips, tucks, breast augmentation and a nose job. She treated her mother with contempt, especially after their inheritance was no more. Suzy aged badly after this, sold up the smaller house that she and Caroline had moved to, bought a small retirement flat for herself and rented an apartment for Caroline up in London.

‘Caroline has so many good friends in London and she needs to finish her courses if she wants to settle there.’

Famous last words Aunty Suzy. Where were Caroline and her good friends when you were diagnosed with terminal cancer?  If you had gone to the doctor sooner; if you hadn’t spent all your money on Caroline and her wonderful lifestyle, if you hadn’t raised one of the most selfish, hateful women I have ever met.

Suzy died penniless last year and we clubbed together for her funeral; her remaining sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces – even those who still live in New Zealand.

My mother sits in the armchair in my front room. She spends much of her time there in a rosy cloud of nostalgia, looking at pictures of the old days.

The old days.

The days before Caroline got involved in sticking cocaine up her nose.

The days before she got involved in drug smuggling for her ‘good friends’ to pay for her nasty habits.

The days before she was found dead in her rented apartment. The police broke in after the landlord advised that she hadn’t been paying the rent and there were a lot of flies around. No sign of those good friends now.

It is time for another funeral. We have had to club together again. Caroline wanted a pink hearse with horses but we can only afford the basic package. I’m hoping that my mother will have forgotten about the pink hearse and the death of her only son when she cries at my cousin’s funeral.

 

Pink Hearse

But now I know the things I know And do the things I do, And if you do not like me so, To hell, my love, with you.” Dorothy Parker

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I am fast approaching my Heinz beanz birthday and I can’t help wondering – how old do I have to get before people stop telling me who and what I should like?

I am embarking upon another ranty blog –  so look away quickly if you are easily offended.

No one and nothing on earth will ever make me vote for a political party that targets the poor, the sick and the elderly in order to put money in their own  pockets and those of their already well-off mates. I was brought up as a socialist (thanks to Lovely Mum) and have yet to see anything that will make me change my mind. I will post and share what I like on FaceAche and if you don’t like it – ignore it. No amount of unfriending, blocking or emotional blackmail is going to turn this woman.

Toxic people have no place in my life. If the only way you can be happy is to make others unhappy then I don’t want to know you.

I finally unfriended someone who has irritated the hell out of me over the years with whines, complaints, envy and spite. I helped this person out some years ago when the police were threatening  prosecution over something done in this person’s name. A policeman turned up at my place of work to take a character reference in support of the person. I never even got an acknowledgement from them,  just some snide FaceAche comments accusing me of making a fuss about nothing after I had an accident at work.

This rant was sparked by Biker Boy and I having another of our stimulating conversations about W-O-R-K. He cannot understand how ANYBODY can spend all day in an office in front of a computer. Some of us had no choice.  Before you read this next bit, please let me point out that as per my blog disclaimer ‘All characters in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, live or dead, is purely coincidental.

So ner.

There have been people who I thoroughly enjoyed sharing an office with. I’m still in touch with most of them – so you know who you are and you have my undying admiration for having survived sharing an office with me. There were others possessed of such tunnel vision that they had no awareness of how their behaviour impacted upon others – and probably would have burst into crocodile tears if anyone ever dared challenge them.

  • Miss Trivia – our Boss gave this female a week of undeclared leave when her pet dog died whereas I was told that I had to take annual leave to look after my children when Hub was in hospital with kidney stones. I didn’t bat my baby blue eyes and simper enough obviously. Miss Trivia also became so obsessed with buying a house with her long-suffering boyfriend that every day the office was bombarded with updates on what kind of kitchen scouring pads she had bought, the colour of her washing up bowl and what excellent taste she had. She made such extravagant plans for their impending nuptials that said boyfriend broke off the engagement and moved out until she could be persuaded to scale things down
  • The ‘Not-in-my-Day’ tyrants – older women who would kick up a fuss if anyone in the office with children was allowed time off to deal with a domestic crisis. ‘I was never allowed time off with MY children – it wouldn’t have happened in MY day’. Strangely enough they made no complaint about Miss Trivia’s leave …
  • Smokers – as an extremely ex-smoker myself, I have every sympathy with those who cannot give up the evil weed, but all understanding went out of the window when they hung their smoke-ridden coats on top of mine – leaving me to travel home stinking of stale tobacco
  • Football fans – having a ‘discussion’ with a colleague who doesn’t support the same team as you so loudly that no one else in the office can hear the person they are trying to have a conversation with on the phone. I tried asking them to keep it down once and was told off for being rude
  • Those with ‘ungrateful’ grown up children – who, when they weren’t being berated on the phone during working hours, were the burning topic of endless office diatribes
  • Infinite beverage makers and washers up – one of the most effective ways of avoiding work is to make endless cups of tea and coffee for your colleagues, and ensure that you also do the washing up afterwards. People will think that you are kind and helpful without realising that they are doing all the work while you are swanning off to the kitchen area in your Marigolds
  • Fridge pilferers – they creep into your office in the gap between staff leaving at the end of the day and the cleaners coming in – sometimes they are so brazen that they carry out their dirty doings while the cleaners are there. Tins of biscuits that were half full are  empty the next day. Cans of fizzy drink left in the fridge mysteriously disappear – even foodstuff stored away in your own drawer isn’t safe unless you lock it away. One pilferer was so determined that he had a method of unlocking drawers with a penknife. I left him a very rude note and a piece of ripe Camembert once. The drawer was a bit smelly for a while but it did seem to put him off 🙂

Of course, at the root of all office-based conflict is the manager. I have worked under good managers and bad. I had thought that laissez-faire management was the worst but I had to invent a new category for one manager – flaccid-faire. If the man couldn’t shout you down when you asked him to do a bit of managing, he would shrug his shoulders, put on a wimpish face and bleat ‘Give me a break’.

Senior managers are often a bad joke. They are merely for show, get paid an extortionate amount of money and are classic examples of people who are so adept at avoiding dismissal that they just keep getting promoted up the ladder into jobs with titles that no one really understands. There is usually a very loyal and intelligent administrator lurking in the shadow of such senior managers. This person has to make their dental, doctor and hair appointments, rewrite their badly written reports and lie about their whereabouts to family and colleagues – as in ‘No, he’s not back at his desk yet. I think he had to see someone else on the way back from his meeting.’ Said manager can usually be seen outside the building in smoker’s corner. Lesser mortals have to clock out and back in again when they need a cigarette but not managers.

I made the decision to become self-employed in July 2013. I was somewhat forced into the decision but I only have regrets about it at Christmas time when I don’t get an outing to Wetherspoons for a cheap roast dinner or a Secret Santa present that only goes to show that Santa couldn’t really give a monkey’s about what I might have liked as a present. No one ever bought me a cattle prod or a taser. Even comedy ear muffs might have eased my office-based burden.

There are no arguments over beverage making in my home office. I don’t drink tea and only drink coffee made by the penguin coffee maker that was a present from Hub (Scoob and the boys) on Mother’s Day. Hub and I take it in turns to wash up depending on whether he is at work or not.

No need for smart, sensible office clothes. I am typing this wearing my nightshirt and it has gone midday! Such decadence. Scoob is sitting next to me and providing moral support. My chair is my own and so is my computer. No one from IT moans at me because I mouse left-handed and I don’t have to answer the house phone within three rings because it is usually some dork trying to sell me a boiler, new windows or wanting to run a health check on my pc.

Nob off!

Important calls and texts come in on my mobile, which rarely leaves my side.

The downside is that I haven’t actually earned any money yet, and my intolerance of other people has increased now that I don’t actually have to suffer fools any more.

BB is just as intolerant and even less forgiving than me but he will find his way in life I have no doubt – I managed to get this far without actually killing anyone (in reality anyway).

But hey, haven’t I had enough of being dictated to now? Am I old enough to meet someone – online or off – and decide that I don’t want them in my life? Am I old enough to have my own political and social opinions yet? Am I old enough to wear purple and a red hat that doesn’t go? (Thank you Jenny Joseph.)

You bet I am.

This is the beginning of anything you want…

 

Flying Eagle

Well, I’m back on the blog again.

New beginnings.

I have new lenses in my eyes – replacements for the old ones cluttered with cataracts – and can see like an eagle (can cause issues in the supermarket especially in the raw meat section).

The podiatrists sorted out the right big toe – it looks much prettier than the left big toe but then it hasn’t had a crate dropped on it. Happier toes have had a positive effect on my achy breaky legs and back so that I can walk further (with my Nordik walking poles), sit at the computer, and study with much less pain. Oh, and colouring. Now that it is an acknowledged adult pursuit I no longer need to colour in secret.

I completed NaNoWriMo again this year – my eighth win – and now it is time I finished editing it all that work and found an agent.

Gap Boy – now known as Biker Boy – has finally had his tonsils removed and is better company as a consequence. His ability to mend and remake BB guns has now extended itself into the realms of motorbikes.  Ah well, they cleared out the garage enough to fit their bikes in. Biker Boy now wants to turn the garage into a man cave…any sorcerers need an apprentice?

Uni Boy is now a Young Master of the Chemical Universe, and remains at York University doing a PhD that has something to do with antibiotics and amino acids. Don’t ask me – it still goes way over my head.

Apart from scoffing a potentially lethal amount of chocolate (wrappers included), biscuits and a Lindt bear when we had the temerity to go out for a meal, Scooby remains our faithful hound and my constant source of solace when Hub is at work. The vet bills were pretty horrendous though.

BB’s bad influence caused Hub to find his way back to motorbikes too. He was a biker when I met him and he does look very good in leathers.

A new year and time to put the unpleasant past behind me for good. I stopped blogging last year for a couple of reasons.

  • I knew that some ex-colleagues were watching the page and waiting for me to say something negative so that they could run and tell tales. Sorry to disappoint them but I really can’t be bothered any more
  • I also discovered some that people who I thought were friends had used and abused that friendship for their own ends. Blocked, un-friended for ever and banished
  • There was so much negativity after this that I didn’t particularly want to share it – especially with those people who were mad enough to say that they actually enjoyed my ramblings

I don’t know how often I’ll blog but I’ve forked out for another year so I may as well inflict my money’s worth on anyone who wants to read this. It’s good practice as far as touch typing is concerned – the last three years of enforced lassitude have eroded my administrational skills.

It’s been a quiet Christmas for us – from choice – but we still managed to spend time with many of our nearest and dearest. BB actually ate duck for his Christmas dinner – instead of his usual smelly bacon noodles liberally laced with Tabasco sauce. I cooked roast parsnips (yuck) for Hub and the YM, and had a success with recreating Mutti’s red cabbage – who knew juniper berries would be so hard to source – should have gone to Waitrose I suppose but Sandbach, Northwich or Southport are a bit too far to go just for a berry or six. The Scoob was not offered another enormous knuckle bone this year – the after effects were too horrendous to discuss. I found him some less smelly Christmas chews that kept him reasonably occupied while we were eating.

We had some wonderful Christmas presents – from those who know and love us well. A huge thank you to all those people who make my life happy; my family, my old and new friends. Some of you will have got Christmas cards. Some will have seen Scooby’s card on FaceAche. We were finishing writing them and going out to make deliveries when Scooby stuffed himself, and it threw us out of kilter.

The YM was returned to a very wet York on Boxing Day – the Tang Hall brook was bubbling up through the manhole covers but YM lives on higher ground fortunately and is very nimble on his feet. He smiled and shook his head when I offered to buy him wellies or flip-flops.

Our New Year’s Eve was blissfully quiet too; just me, Hub and the Scoob – once we had finished ferrying the boys to their respective parties. We went to bed around two am.  BB rumbled home and stomped up the stairs at around four am, and YM around six am – my Scooby intruder alarm was triggered but only a few mild wuffs were uttered. YM had warned me that he might not go to bed if he was still wide awake (inebriated) from his celebrations but would pack up quietly and get the train back to York.

There was a message on my mobile when I emerged at ten am – at eight am YM was in Manch and on his way Yorkwards. At least while he was here I fed him and lent him my phone charger and iron (my ironing does not meet his standards any more – oh dear).

Hub has gone back to work today after a happy eight days off together. We saw Star Wars VII – in 3D – on our own. I want to go and see it again, and I want another Star Wars cup.

A word of warning before I sign off. There are some unscrupulous people who make a tidy little sum from selling email addresses to companies who then inundate your inbox with badly spelled beggings for their crap products – at the least – or try to trick you into responding so they can access your account. The person I gave my address to said she wanted it so that she could keep in touch, but she never used it – she then passed it onto one of her simple satellites so I got spammed twice.

My junk mail box is usually quite full these. I don’t need to open or read them before sending them into the black hole where they belong. The spelling and grammar in the subject matter and first line alone is enough to make me giggle.

I’m studying proofreading and copy-editing now that my eyes are mended. Another string to my bow and a fascinating skill to acquire.

BB has just emerged from his upper man cave and  disappeared laden with red pepperoni sticks and shortbread – an interesting mix.

Hub phoned to make sure I was missing him – I was and he knew I would be but in a good way – but he will be back by nine-thirty pm.

Finally, a sad farewell to Terry Pratchett and Lemmy Kilmister – your legacies live on in your words and music long after the rubbish novels and tone-deaf singers have faded into obscurity.

Let’s get on now and make 2016 a good place to be. XXX

‘No Yo Ho Ho! – Not For Another Month at Least, Please?’

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We all love Christmas.

Well, most of us love Christmas.

Erm; a decreasing number of us love Christmas.

I loved Christmas as a child.

I still love it.

I cherish the story that I wrote at infant school about how I got a scooter from Father Christmas – with pictures too.  I can remember the bright blue paint, clean and unsullied. I rode that scooter round the streets until it eventually fell apart and was beyond repair.

I think that may have been the Christmas that I got a Teeny Tiny Tears too – considerably smaller than Tiny Tears but she still had the capacity to cry and wee once you had filled up the water reservoir in the middle of her back.

This could have caused me to grow up with some very strange notions about how babies took on and expelled water but luckily I had baby cousins who dispelled those notions the first time I watched my aunt changing a nappy.

There were rules about Christmas in our house.

We didn’t start it too early – usually around the weekend nearest the tenth of December – the Chinese lanterns and crepe paper streamers were unearthed and strung around the room.

Christmas wasn’t a real Christmas without the tree lights malfunctioning.  A vivid Yuletide memory is of my Dad swearing quietly under his breath as he tried to track down the wayward bulb. We knew instinctively to keep out of the way until  the tree lit up, at which point we would all appear and make noises of glee and approval.

Christmas Eve was special.

We used to go to the house of one of my aunts; it started off in a quiet way with sandwiches and nibbles.  Giggling with our cousins at our great-aunt when she took her false teeth out and flicked fag ash into the peanuts (given a very wide berth by us knowing children but we didn’t tell the adults – cue more giggling).

Over the years, as their family expanded and they moved to a bigger house, my aunt and uncle’s pre-Christmas celebrations grew as well.  My uncle was Polish and introduced much of his heritage to the rest of the family at their parties.

Polish sausage, pickled herring, Bigos (ham and sauerkraut stew) and (shudder) brawn.

The sight of the pig’s head boiling away in the kitchen to make the brawn left me reluctant to even sample a tiny bit.

The peanuts were safe from fag ash now, the great-aunt had smoked her way into another place.

I miss those Christmas Eves; the joy of meeting up with the family and putting presents under the tree, buffet browsing Anglo-Polish style and pinching the odd glass of sherry when no one was looking.

Blessed as I am with a bevy of beautiful and talented cousins, I think that the reason we are so close – despite geographical distances – is because of those Christmas Eve parties.

It was usually Christmas Day by the time we left, tired and giddy and clutching carrier bags of presents that we weren’t allowed to open till the morning with the other presents that Father Christmas would be bringing.

Of all the Christmas Days I enjoyed as a child, the one that sticks in my memory is the Christmas When Every Thing Went Wrong.

The day began with the sprouts (eurgh) melted the plastic colander.

Then it was discovered that my Lovely Mum had forgotten to take the giblets out of the turkey before she cooked it. They were in a plastic bag. Mum invented an early form of shrink wrap.

Dad put too much alcohol on the Christmas pudding and rather than burning with a bright blue flame, it incinerated to a black shrivelled lump.

Needless to say, tempers were frayed.

My Dad shouted.

My Lovely Mum hit him with a rolled up newspaper.

We howled.

The dog, unsure if this was domestic violence or just a playfight, decided that it needed to be stopped.

So he bit Lovely Mum on the arm.

Things went very quiet after that.  The dog went out in the garden very quickly and Mum’s arm went under the tap – bruised but not bloodied.

There was also a strict rule about when the decorations came down.

I know a lot of people take them down as soon as they can – after New Year’s Day usually  – but as Lovely Mum’s birthday was on the 4th January, we left them up for her and had a mad dash to get them down and put away before Twelfth Night. Although Lovely Mum has left us, I still leave my decorations up till after her birthday.

I do like Christmas really.

Christmas carols make me cry; in my semi-religious phase I couldn’t get through Midnight Communion without blubbing – ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ gets me every time and ‘Silent Night’ – I’m welling up just thinking about it..

Little school choirs singing in shopping malls turn me to a gibbering wreck .

I never managed to stay dry-eyed during either of my children’s nativity plays and had to make sure that I always wore a large scarf to absorb my tears and hide my quivering lip.

“Oh Mother – you are SO embarrassing!”

So why the grumpy title?

It’s only the 28th October!

Just under two months till Christmas.

So why are the shops full of Christmas stuff?  Poor old Halloween is being shuffled into a side aisle.So unfair to think of skulls, witches and ghouls being ousted by snow-persons, fat robins and Father Christmas.

Shops are beginning to play ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas’ on an endless loop that drives the salespeople bonkers and does not encourage a festive spirit because we’ve all heard the tunes SO many times before.  Even the starving poor across the world will know that it is Christmas because of that flipping song!

Now this is the bit where I show myself to be a hypocrite. Having moaned about the early incursion of Christmas into the shopping arena – I cashed in on it.

Two years ago we got rid of our huge holly berried and fir-coned false Christmas tree and bought a nice fibre optic 1 metre high tree that needed very little in the way of decoration and took less than ten minutes to put up.

I loved that little tree.

We had to get the decorations down a bit sharpish as, for the first time ever, we were flying off on holiday for the New Year and couldn’t face the idea of unpacking, washing and undecking the halls.

I don’t know what happened to my little tree.

We hunted high and low in the run up to last Christmas but it was nowhere to be found so we went off to the garden centre to get a replacement.

All the nice trees were gone and a real tree was out of the question, as Scooby had come to live with us and we weren’t quite sure if he could differentiate between an outside tree and an inside one.

We continued our search but by this time it was mid-December and they were beginning to set out the Easter egg displays.

We settled for a slightly larger tree that appeared to be fibre optic and looked as if it could stand the vigors of tail lashing and large-male bashing.

It was a hideous monster tree and what I thought were fibre optic lights turned out to be translucent globs on the ends of the branches.

Every branch had to be fluffed out and attached  to one of the three stems that made up the body of the tree. The fake fir was rough on the fingers and I broke two nails trying to insert the branches. When we finally got it upright it was HUGE and very drab, so we had to go out and buy MORE decorations for it.  Of course, by this time there were hardly any decorations left, just a mish mash of broken or ugly coloured baubles. We could have used Easter eggs I suppose.

Bezzie Mate and  went for lunch at my favourite garden centre a couple of weeks ago  and I noticed that they had the mock-Christmas trees on display.  Against my better judgement but fuelled by a decent lunch, we had a rummage in the festive section but they didn’t have the tree I wanted.

Undaunted we drove down the road to the bigger  garden centre (more choice but the cafe is more like a transport cafe and always seems to be full of screaming kids).

My heart leapt; we had barely got in the door when I spied my long-lost tree shimmering amongst its larger (and uglier) fir-y brethren.

BM toddled off for a browse amongst some boots and I combed the centre desperately seeking an assistant.  I found one but he was having an intense conversation about bulbs with a very demanding woman who kept grabbing his forearm.  He didn’t seem to mind though.

I waited.

And waited.

I got bored then and had a competition with myself to find the most tacky Christmas decoration in the store. It was a toss-up between some very ugly opaque white rigid plastic trees of about 6 inches and an array of ‘fibre-optic Christmas tapestries’. Closer inspection revealed them to be printed material pictures with lights in funny places. They were the winners but they were all hideous I couldn’t choose the worst.

My assistant was free!

I took him to my tree and asked if he could find me one that was boxed up.  He took the tag and disappeared.

I went in search of BM who was in the process of falling for some stout walking boots that were half-price.

My assistant returned toting a long white box. He turned it round to look at the picture and check that he had the right one.

He had the wrong one and disappeared again into the bowels of the garden centre.

We carried on browsing but feared the worst when he returned with a furrowed brow.

“I can’t find it.”

“But you have one on display. You can’t have sold out of them yet? “

“No, they’ve only just come in but it wasn’t where it should have been. If you want to reserve one, we could call you when we find it?”

I’ve been caught like this before. I reserved something then turned up to find that another member of staff had sold it because they thought it was a returned item.

“Can I pay for one now? Then I can come in and collect it when you find one.”

“Oh – erm – okay.”

So I bought it and filled in all number of forms with my name, address and telephone number.

By this time, BM and I were exhausted and had to test out a range of conservatory furniture before toddling home for homemade curry.

I got a phone call a couple of days later to say that they had found my tree. Hub and I went to collect it and found that with his (not-very-constant) gardener card, they could knock off a further eight pounds! We also bought BM’s boots and sent them off to him because they weren’t on sale online. They rub one of his ankles.

Bargain.

I admire people who get all their Christmas presents in the January sales – almost as much as I admire those who dash around the store on Christmas Eve snapping up ‘bargains’.

Hub is notoriously hard to buy for. He only really wants paintball bits – although now he and Gap Boy are sharing a motorbike there might be some mileage there. GB has already started demanding his Christmas presents. Uni Boy is home this weekend but I doubt that he will come up with anything helpful.

Ah, but I am blessed with good friends who like silly things, and an adorable bunch of small children and babies who can revitalise my Christmas spirit.

Mine’s a very large sherry please.

‘Christmas is only eight months away’

 
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The work top is an essential part of any kitchen.

My new kitchen work top is black with sexy coloured glittery bits in it. I can have Christmas all year round in my new kitchen especially when the pretty blue lights under the units and near the floor are on.

I have had two phone calls and three letters reminding me that my new kitchen is being delivered next week, to blow up the blue balloon and tie to my gate (the party will be later) and make sure there is a space 2m x 3m to store the stuff in until my builder is ready for it.

We are SO ready for the new kitchen.

We know that we will be eating takeaway off paper plates for a couple of weeks and that personal hygiene and clean clothes may fall by the wayside when the water is off.

We have broken the news to Gap Boy that he may find himself separated from the PC when the power is off – Minecraft battles may have to wait.

Uni Boy and Bezzie Mate are staying away until the new kitchen has been installed.

Scoobs may spend the next couple of weeks wuffing and whining at the strange men who will be demolishing part of the house and rebuilding it again (I hope).

This afternoon I got a call from a six year old (well maybe ten – okay then a sixteen year old ) work experience girl who had issues with her fs and ths.
There ‘as bin a nerror at Haitch Q apparently. My kitchen has been ordered – bu’ sum1 forgot tuh order yer worktop. Sumfing muzt ‘ave gonn wrong sumwheh – dunno wot ‘ appened, or oo didit but it woz sum1 ‘ere – not sum1 at the shop.
Enough of the junior jargon – they are going to supply us with a temporary work top until my sexy work top arrives, then my builder will be coming back to take out the temporary one and fit the new one.

At no cost to us.

Well, that’s a relief then!

Today we have been mostly clearing out the Krappy Kitchen.

Hub and I are dirty and dusty, and now I am disheartened too.

GB has thudded down from his bedroom every now and then to bark at the dog (who is wuffing a lot because he feels insecure), snarl at me and Hub and tell us what a lousy job we are doing.

Go on then GB – set us a good example to follow – thought not.

His one contribution to Operation Chuck It Out so far has been to take his clothes mountain out of the bathroom and dump it on his bed so that we could swap over some bookcases and books (our upstairs bathroom is a very dusty but literary place).

I really should not have chosen basic black to wear when sorting  out dusty but much-loved books.

On the plus side, I have found many favourites that I thought I’d lost – and have now purchased and installed on one of my Kindles – I can’t throw books away though and the charidee box looks rather sparse.

I was given a medicinal sherry to cheer me up after the phone call – I had to hand the charmless teen over to Hub before I said something extremely rude to her.

Spit that gum out!  Spit it out NOW!

It wasn’t so much the news that she was imparting; it was the lethargic ‘so what’ manner with which she delivered it.

I could almost see her examining her cuticles with disinterest as she dropped the bombshell on me.  I wonder if they drew lots in the office as to which of them should break the news of their incompetence to Mrs Angry?

Who the hell orders a kitchen and forgets to order the work top?

Doh.

Easter is over but I am still one Hot, Cross Bunny.

Fingers crossed that I have my kitchen for Christmas – only eight months to go.

‘Wholly Day – mild religious references contained within’

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To some people, Easter Sunday is a holy day.  A time of religious rejoicing, spending time with the family and probably going to church at least once.

A bit like the Sainsbury’s Easter advert – I can’t help thinking that the man is going to run amok and slaughter his family now that he has found the hammer and screwdriver though.

To others. the day is a nuisance because all the big shops are shut, the TV is full of religious stuff, and everyone feels sick from eating far too many Easter eggs, bunnies, and anything else you can make out of chocolate – oh use your imagination – I’m trying to keep it clean here.

For me, religion is an extremely personal thing.

I respect the right of all other people to observe their own religions – and I expect them to respect my right to tell them to do one when they knock at my front door trying to co-opt me.

They must have all been busy today because I was blissfully undisturbed whilst munching on the chocolate bunny given to me by my Best Mate. I’m saving the giant Walnut Whip for tomorrow afternoon when Hub goes off to work.

We were regularly exposed to religion as children; the vicar had a goat that I was very attached to so going to Sunday School was never a chore.  My Mum used to deliver the parish magazine and I can remember the front room being tidied because the vicar was coming round.

When I got older, a friend and I decided to sample the delights of different churches in our area.

Probably the best was the one with the swimming pool because they gave you 50p at Christmas and 50p on your birthday.  Our attendance was short-lived; being January babies we joined in December and left in February.  Discovering that the swimming pool was used to dunk people in whilst fully clothed was a bit of let down too. Okay, so we were mercenary but 50p bought a lot of sweets in those days.

Religious studies in senior school were an eye opener.  We had two teachers: Reverend Double-Barrelled Surname (who had a very cute son) and Mr Groper, a lay preacher in more than one sense.  Not surprisingly, I preferred the Rev’s lessons as he was rather sweet and could be easily diverted into telling proud stories about his son.

The Groper would work his way round the room massaging shoulders as he preached fire and brimstone about impure thoughts whilst trying to find out exactly what kind of thoughts we had been having – it was an all girls school so he had plenty of shoulders to grope.  He only did it to me the once.  I snarled at him and he gave me a very wide berth after that.

Someone complained (not me) and he was replaced by an earnest young lady fresh out of teacher training college who tried to get us to sing hand-clappy songs but had to stop when the grumpy human biology teacher next door complained about the noise (we were not singing nicely).

In my twenties I flirted with religion to the extent that I got confirmed and for a while, was the anarchic leader of the church youth club.  Said youth club had been set up to occupy the time of the unruly choir, a rather wonderful bunch of teenagers whose company I found far more acceptable than some of the so-called Christians who’d push you out of the way in their haste to get communion before the wine ran out and had to be watered down and re-blessed.

The vicar and his sub were extremely nice people who were well aware that many of the congregation were less than Christian in their attitude.  If I learned anything about Christian charity, it was from them, not from the bigoted family of churchwardens who looked down on anyone who didn’t conform to their norm.

As the worst member of this particular family was going down for communion one Sunday morning, a spotlight fell from the ceiling and JUST missed him.   It may well have been an accident but I always felt that it was the old man up the lady flexing his muscle.

The vicar and his sub were also understanding when the youth club had a children’s tea party with jelly and ice-cream; a ham sandwich was found in a light-fitting some weeks later.  Food Fight!

They had the common sense not to come over to the church hall on Sunday evenings expecting us to be involved in bible study; more often than not the lights would be dimmed and we would all be bopping around to ‘Rocking the Casbah’ or ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’.  The bad taste Hallowe’en party at the Vicarage was perhaps pushing the boundaries a bit too far – especially when the head chorister turned up in a blood-stained loincloth as the Risen Christ.

Life moved me away from the church but the vicar’s sub got his own parish later and baptised both my boys.

For a while we did Midnight Communion at our local church because it made life more Christmassy;  especially the late comers who had lurched over from the pub in search of forgiveness or a sip of wine.

When the boys reached school age we moved on to Christingles.  Uni Boy quite enjoyed them but Gap Boy got told off because he started eating the dolly mixtures off his Christingle and wouldn’t blow his candle out when asked.

We made our own Christingles at home after that, and after extreme exposure to alternative religions at high school, both our boys are now decidedly atheist – but at least they are consistent in their attitude to religion.

I love old churches though.

I love the carved  wood, the cool stone and the solace that can come from a brief moment of quiet contemplation.

Not all churches have it unfortunately, and I know as soon as I walk in the door whether that something special is there or not.

If not I beat a hasty retreat.

I suppose I must still be a bit religious because I still can’t get to sleep without saying the Lord’s Prayer to myself. It is a bit like a mantra that keeps my beloveds safe I suppose.

I must be growing up slightly however, because I still have three Easter Eggs left and two hot cross buns that I forgot to have for lunch.

Happy Easter – and it is wholly up to you how holy your celebration is – just keep your hands off my Easter Eggs.

I shall go back to being unwholly tomorrow when Hub and I join the Bank Holiday throngs to buy exciting things for our new kitchen – but more of that to follow.

Volcan-Toe meets the Volcano – we’ve been to Lanzarote for New Year and now we are back – the DeVere Grand harbour first though

The Volcan-Toe or V-Toe as it is now known – since it has very kindly stopped erupting – has graciously allowed me to take over the reins of this blog page for a while on the strict instructions that I write about our holiday in Lanzarote and that I MUST write fact – not fiction.  I’ll do my best but there hasn’t been much motivation for fact for the last three months – unless you count OU essays – which I don’t because they are largely regurgitated references to obscure publications by groups of people with unpronounceable names that send your spell checker running for the hills.

I know that the V-Toe has already written about this but my viewpoint is somewhat more elevated.

It may take me a few go’s before I finally get to the Lanzarote bit as I have to do the Christmas bit first.

Back in the summer, Lovely Hub hit on the idea of going away for New Year – going somewhere hot and totally different that we hadn’t been to before.  Christmas without my Dad – and the smelly cat – was daunting enough but New Year’s Eve presented fresh challenges and an impending feeling of fed-upness (not depression – I won’t do depression because it is like sulking – you can’t do anything else at the same time and it gets boring).

My experience of sunnier climes has hitherto been limited to Mallorca but Hub said it wouldn’t be warm enough.  Bowing to his superior knowledge of weather and al things abroad I let him choose our destination.  Lanzarote seemed to fit the bill and many hours were spent trying to find accommodation that would suit me, Hub, Uni Boy, College Boy and two of his friends.  One of the friends had to drop out courtesy of a clashing skiing trip but I found the ideal villa at last with four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a heated swimming pool (UB and CB won’t share rooms any more – CB didn’t want to share with anyone – sharing does not come naturally to him – sometimes it doesn’t come at all).

Hub took the reins after this and did all the arrangements giving us something to focus on – and to look forward to.  In the interim we decided to head South just before Christmas and visit the folks to deliver presents and cards – which would have been a great idea if I hadn’t left a pile of cards on the floor at home.

We collected UB from Uni – with most of his worldly goods and came home to prepare for two nights in our favourite posh hotel and intense exposure to some of the family – couldn’t fit everyone in unfortunately.

Looking back, driving 250 miles the weekend before Christmas and driving back on Christmas Eve may not have been the wisest of decisions but we were feeling slightly reckless and ready to break with all previous traditions.

Talking of which, for some years we have ordered the Christmas food from M&S; braving the onslaught of gold handbags and matching shoes wielded by grey-haired old ladies who descend like a plague whenever you need to buy something in a hurry.   Every year it gets worse as you queue to pick up your boneless turkey (with stuffing and bacon lattice), an alternative to Christmas Pudding and the red cabbage (not as good as Oma’s).  One year we opted for an eight am collection that resulted in the boys being late for school, me being late for work and Hub grinding his teeth in frustration.  We went for the evening collection after that – the queues were just as bad but at least you got a thimble-full of mulled wine (or two – or even three on one occasion) for your pains.

This year we were down-sizing as there were only three of us; CB won’t eat Christmas dinner at the table, he prefers to swoop in and grab a few spuds, a bit of meat and fly back up to his room – or make his own delightful concoction of smoky-bacon flavoured super noodles, hot pepperoni and lashings of Tabasco sauce – both my boys are hot stuff.

Whilst sampling the delights of the new Sainsburys that opened just up the road on the new ‘urban development’ (lots of houses in a very small space) we discovered that they too did Christmas food ordering, with very similar items at a considerably lower price.  We booked with glee and paid with cold hard cash, arranging to pick up the goodies first thing Saturday morning before we made our journey Southwards, so that the food would be waiting for us to cook it when we returned on Christmas Eve.

So eight am-ish on Saturday saw Hub and I arriving and expecting hoards of other Christmas shoppers to be in attendance too.  Nah!  Just us and another lady.  In and out in ten minutes AND I whizzed round and picked up a couple of other essential items as well.

So, food stowed n the fridge and freezer, bags packed, boys in the car and plugged into earphones so that they wouldn’t have to talk to each other – or us, presents loaded and accessible, cards left lying on the floor and we were off to meet up with family at a riverside pub that we remembered from years ago.  Only ten miles from our eventual destination and a good place to bring us all together and swap presents.

I’d been having trouble connecting with Christmas; V-toe had made anything but very brief shopping sojourns almost impossible – especially if it was wet – so on-line present-buying featured heavily.  Yes, it is convenient but it doesn’t have the tangible enjoyment of picking something up and realising it is just right for so-and-so.  Our decorations had been scaled down too; in fact most of the decorations from Christmas Past stayed in the cupboard and garage whilst we went off to the garden centre and bought a three-foot fibre-optic tree with balls on (it takes five minutes to put up and doesn’t require tinsel).  We may decorate a bit in Christmas Yet To Come but – who knows what the fates will allow.

The pub was almost as I remembered it – except that last time we went there it was a blazing hot day in May and  I was heavily pregnant with UB.  Dressed in its Christmas best, with the River Test swollen by the recent heavy rains, The Mayfly took on a whole different aspect.  It was packed with pre-Christmas revellers and we were sandwiched  between a group of very imperious old-money Hampshire folk and a loud, tattooed, perma-tanned bunch of Test Valley nouveau riche (they annoyed CB especially as one of their number – mega loud and wearing a huge bunch of keys dangling from his belt –  kept squeezing past CB to get to the bar – and had the temerity to touch his shoulder – TWICE).

It was a lovely lunch though; full of talk and laughter and good food.  It made me feel like there was a Christmas Present after all.

Gifts and cards were exchanged with hugs and kisses in the muddy car park, and we were on our way to The DeVere Grand Harbour.

When we were young and living in the South, Hub and I watched this hotel being built on the waterfront.  The huge pyramid-shaped glass atrium at the front of the building made it stand out even then and the idea of ever being able to afford to stay there was just a pipe dream.

Hey – here we are living the dream!

We stayed at the hotel when the boys were small enough to still tolerate sleeping on the same sofa bed in the same room as us.  In the intervening years since our last visit this has become impossible and very unwise – getting them to stay civil in the same car is hard enough.  So we had three separate rooms and I dispensed stern instructions about only ordering room service if they checked it out with us first and under no circumstances were they to access the playstation or the adult TV channels.  UB looked at me with disdain because he is a Nintendo man.  CB just looked at me with disdain and thinly veiled disappointment that I had second-guessed him.

Tired and still stuffed from lunch, UB retired to bed.  We had planned to visit the vegetarian nightmare of a steakhouse that we discovered last time we were down but CB was tired and grouchy so Lovely Hub was sent off on a pilgrimage to get kebabs from Zorbas – yes, yes, we ate kebabs in a four-star hotel (used to be five-star but they lost a star when they gave up the valet parking).

Zorbas is a legend.  We have been eating kebabs from there since 1989 and their chilli sauce is one of the reasons our boys are hot stuff – they were weaned on it.  Good to be back home again – again.

That’ll do for today.  We have a new bed being delivered this afternoon and need to dismantle the old one and discover the things that have been lurking under it for many years. Bring on the Dyson and stout (ish) foot wear.  I must protect the V-toe (and myself) from any eight-legged marauders.

Toodle-pip.

By the way – it is my birthday tomorrow 🙂

‘”Bah, humbug!” No, that’s too strong ’cause it’s my favourite holiday. But all this year’s been a busy blur, don’t think I have the energy’

Well, the PAM has brought new meaning to ‘that’s you off my Christmas List then!’  The list has been cut by half due to circumstances beyond our control.

Not that I’m complaining – she has to sit still with this poor old foot up when she’s writing Christmas cards – and to some extent when she’s wrapping up presents – though she tends to wriggle and fidget a bit more with the latter.

The last two days have been difficult here in V-toe land.

On Friday the teen had to be taken to his Muay Thai lesson as the teacher had no transport (some weird sort of martial art if you must know).  This entailed a trip to the outer reaches but the PAM’s face lit up when she found that these reaches touched on the Trafford Centre.  Truculent teen was dropped off and PAM and the other half hit the TC – she with glee – but not he.

It wasn’t too bad to start off with but the other half had to go to collect the teen and left the PAM in a queue a million miles long.  Goods bought and paid for eventually, she lugged me off to that newsworthy coffee shop where, after some suitably comic moments, she finally managed to heave us all up onto a bar stool with an excellent people-watching advantage and a venti gingerbread latte.

The other half and the teen were supposed to meet her there, they’d go for lunch and have another little spot of retail therapy.

Ha!

The world descended on the TC at lunchtime.

The other half and the teen had a falling-out which resulted in both of them phoning the PAM separately to complain about the other. I sat smugly tucked up under the bar stool (I was wearing one of my little black WWs with sparkly black trim and a white ribbon bow – so cute).

It was a race to see who was the most cross and therefore walked the fastest.  The teen won but in his haste completely overshot the coffee-house and had to be texted to bring him back.

The PAM and I were captive; all the effort that it took to get us up on the stool was sapped by the animosity being expressed to each other by her menfolk ( the rest of the toes and I NEVER fall out with each other – although there have been occasions where we’ve been more than a little squashed and tetchy).

The other half helped her down and the consensus was to get the flock out of there; the TC is no place to be with an over-sensitive toe, grumpy husband and deeply morose son.

Usually the car is a safe haven but not on that day.  It is a large car but not with two miserable men in it.  Food was essential to restore the equilibrium and after a long and winding route back into civilisation, sustenance was obtained from the other fast food place with a drive-thru (not the chicken-y one).

After the morning’s traumas, I thought the PAM would be kind and tuck me up on her cushion whilst she tackled the ominous essay.  No such luck.   Some of the other half’s temper was caused by an achy-breaky back but luckily the physio with the magical fingers had a five o’clock slot and so we were off out into the rain again in the rush hour.  Plenty of over the top Christmas decorations to be appalled at on the way though.

The other half  had his back cracked and was more cheerful but still no chance of going home.  They have run out of food again and a trip to the supermarket is the only solution.

I’m getting used to the cold – changes in temperature will cause the stinging stuff and occasional jab of white-hot pain – but RAIN!  The holy boot I wear is no protection against rain and on the way back from the car, hands full of shopping, the PAM went straight through the water feature that gathers on the paving stones outside the kitchen door.

Cold!  Wet! Pain!  My chic little WW was soaked as was my boot.  Thank heaven for radiators (although not for drying wet clothes on  – you get that horrible rank false-dry odour that often wafts past you in the office, or supermarket, or TC).

Everyone was talking to each other again and the evening was spent in cushion cuddling bliss for me – essay-agitation for the PAM.  Don’t know why – she should be an expert on corporate harm and negligence by now – ooh – controversial!

Up with the lark on Saturday to collect the other one from Uni. Various issues conspired to make us all late – as usual; my outfit for today was the giant Christmas WW which allows me to peek cheekily out of the boot in scarlet splendour and has apparently caused male envy due to it’s size (the one that accommodates me AND the the other four toes).

It was a long drive North but the heat was ON – and I was content.  The PAM and the other half were singing along to 80’s hits and all was reasonably well with the world – especially when it stopped raining.

The other one is in a shared house now but  there was no frantic cleaning of the communal kitchen or washing up flamingo-style this year  – his housemates are tidy ladies and he meets their exacting standards.  There was a huge pile of recycling to take, but the other half likes doing this and the PAM and I merely sat in the still-warm car and made silly comments.

What looked like several weeks worth of washing and ironing, together with enough equipment to supply a small independent office, was packed into the car and we stopped en route for home to have a late but extremely civilised lunch.  We all avoided alcohol – well nearly – the PAM was seduced by a coffee laced with Tia Maria and was therefore a tad merry when clambering back into the car – hey  – it is Christmas nearly!

Homeward bound and the roads weren’t too bad considering.  A slight detour to buy more fast food for the teen – who had been left home in bed with strict instructions to clean up his mess – instructions that were ignored of course.

Getting his priorities right – the other one unpacked his computer gear first and ensured that he had Internet access before he touched  anything else.

I’d like to say that we all had a peaceful night – I’d like to – but the teen was playing with the other kids in America and the yattering went on all night so that it was almost a relief to get up with the other half who was heading off to work at some ungodly hour.  It should be mentioned that his bad back was caused by a combination of crouching ready to pounce at paintball and spending most of Thursday sitting in the jump seat of an Airbus 317 whilst it went to Madrid and back via Valencia.

The PAM was suitably sympathetic and the other half had a nice time despite his back.

Oooooh, time for Christmas wrapping – but not the waitress sort.

“Take off your shoes and pat your feet, we’re doin’ a dance that can’t be beat, we’re barefootin'”

Way-hay!  The other half has gone on a flight to Madrid (and back again) today leaving me, the PAM and the sleeping teen in the warm – after yesterday we deserve to rest but the PAM has been horribly active this morning in an effort to avoid writing her sociology essay – only 7 days to go PAM!

So far we are on our second lot of washing, the old flowers have been thrown out and fresh freesias (go Tesco) have replaced them.  We also have a bucket of blue hyacinths ready to bloom for the old Crimbo celebrations.  A box of bits has been gone through and stuff that has been dumped in the big teen’s bedroom whilst he is away has been moved to a pile in another room  – it’s true – this place IS known as Haemorrhoid House (because of all the piles – doh!)

There is washing up still to do – oh and lunch – my idea of day spent curled up on my cushion under her ironing board cum desk whilst she battled with the differences between social harm and criminalisation has effectively disappeared.  Her to-do list keeps getting longer and longer.

Still – a quieter day than yesterday.

My lips are sealed about the morning (yeah – I know – toes don’t have lips – but this is all fiction anyway so who cares?)

Lovely to see our Breath of Fresh Air though and catch up over hot chocolate afterwards. It took me some while to recover from the changes in temperature – no matter how much the PAM wraps me up there is always a cold draft that cuts through and stings like billy-oh.

Home for lunch and a trip to the good old garden centre where a time-limited shopping was remarkably successful – unless you are a cold, stinging toe that wants to be home in the warm.  Christmas  – Bah Humbug!

But the worst was yet to come…..

……The POD!

This was the fourth pod we’ve seen in 6 weeks (I don’t count the student pod – who was very sweet but was remarkably cack-handed when she tried to dress me). This appointment was to check my other nine toe-mates and the feet they are attached to.

So – the good news is – the PAM still has beautiful pulses in her feet (of course) and no sign of any sensory damage anywhere else – just moi. We passed the tuning fork test and ‘shut-your-eyes-whilst-I-poke-your-feet-with-a-ball-point-pen’ test.  Hoorah!

Then it was my turn to have the starring role – gulp – he got out a scalpel!

He poked and it hurt.  He prodded and it hurt; he stuck his scalpel into places where no one has ventured before without the PAM having to be scraped off the ceiling – the other half let her squeeze his hand – hard.

Contrary to the last pod’s opinion – this one reckons my toe will have a nail – eventually – and that there are signs of regrowth – but it could take up to 12 months and (I love this bit) it may come out warped (tee-hee just like me!).

So – overall – the feet are okay but I have to go back again between Christmas and Lanzarote time for another appointment.  We have purchased tons of dressings, bandages and sticky stuff because the pod says I have to be kept covered at all times – EVEN in the swimming pool – but at least I can go paddling.

None of the pods we’ve seen seem to agree with each other but perhaps that is because my prognosis is so uncertain – it looks as if I shall be hanging around with my nine mates for some while to come yet – but no barefootin’.

Come on PAM!  – eat some lunch – wash up and get on with that flipping essay!