A Strange Small Town – Week 48 of the 52 week short story challenge

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It was a funny little place; lacking the charm of the nearby yachting village or the charismas of the larger and well-know yachting town upstream. As teenagers involved in the sailing scene, we were dismissive of the place. It was ‘touristy’; shops decked out with brightly coloured buckets and spades, inflatable rings and airbeds, rock with a generic county name through the inside and boxes of fudge and toffee bearing pictures of grazing ponies.

It was a place for passing through and rarely stopping. A place inhabited by holidaying grockles and nouveau riche who had bought their holiday homes without realising that the town was quite a way from the sea. Our village, the village where we stayed in the summer, sailed out to the castle and camped in the boat park. Apart from the yacht clubs and the pub, there was nowhere else to spend your money and any other entertainment or supplies good be acquired in the big town – without having to pay over-inflated tourist prices.

I remember one summer in particular. I still have the photographs of us all lounging outside OUR yacht club – there was great rivalry between the two clubs. Hair stiff and bleached from hours sailing, half-worn wet suits (it was easier to leave the bottom half on and wriggle out of the top).  Clutching half pints of rough cider and feasting on freshly made crab sandwiches. Nothing else really mattered that summer.

One of our group had very rich parents who owned a holiday cottage across the road from the pub. We took it in turns to sleep there or in hastily erected two man tents in the boat park once the clubs were closed. We knew that we weren’t supposed to be there but provided the tent was packed away before the morning sailing started, the older members of the club turned a blind eye.

Not that it was peaceful sleeping in the boat park; people ignored the sign ‘Frap your halyards’, and a s a consequence the night was punctuated with the sound of unfrapped halyards tinkling against masts. Hedgehogs and foxes rustled their way round the boats, looking for dropped sandwich crusts and half-empty crisp packets. The sun disturbed our fretful dozing and spurred us on to collapse the tent and stagger across the road to the cottage for coffee and toast.

The summer came to an end – as it always does  – and we departed to our various courses and jobs. That summer could never be repeated anyway. In moving on, we jolly sailors lost touch with each other and other entertainments replaced the joys of sailing.

The village never lost its charm for me; enhanced by discovering that one of my favourite authors had written a trilogy of books loosely based on family life in Little Village and Big Village, with the Island across the sea playing an integral part. I made subsequent visits; with friends, with groups of children I was responsible for, and ultimately with my own husband and family. It became a place of pilgrimage; somewhere to go and lose the troubles or celebrate happiness. There was a stark contrast between the still quiet waters around the harbour and the crashing waves out on the
Spit. Waves that were so ferocious that year in and out, new methods of prevention had to be found to prevent the sea encroaching on the houses nearby.

I found out very early in our relationship that my husband had also sailed from the village – though at a different time from me – and that he loved it as much as I did.

 

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Winding the time clock on, our children became adults and needed less entertaining on holidays, so when the opportunity arose to spend two summer weeks in a cottage in ‘my’ village, we jumped at it. Part of me was worried that the village would have changed, that it would no longer be the magical place I remembered – that we both remembered.

It was like stepping back into a time capsule. The pub was still there – although it had added an extra wing and a conservatory – but the cider was just as good and the sandwiches – made from freshly caught crab – was wonderful. We could see the boat park from our bedroom window; people were still neglecting to frap their halyards, and although we didn’t have the credentials to venture into either of the yacht clubs, we didn’t need to sleep in tents either. I had my favourite author’s books on my Kindle and delighted in spotting thinly disguised landmarks as we walked the dog along the harbour side and around the various beaches.

It was a wonderful fortnight. We caught up with family and friends; the tiny backyard was the ideal venue for a family get together in the sunshine. The dog loved his seaside walks and I achieved a lifelong wish. I had sailed out to the castle on many an occasion – and  came back the same way, but I had never walked the mile and a half along the shingle bank, nor taken a ride on the little ferry boat that tied up at the harbour wall.

The strangest revelation of our holiday was the exploration of Big Village.

It wasn’t full of grockles and holiday shops anymore. Charity shops rubbed shoulders with a wine bar and a delicatessen. The Co-op was stocked with normal food and there was no sign of sticks of rock or boxes of fudge. At the suggestion of friends, we ventured further to the beaches further away from Little Village, and found some beautiful examples of Art Deco architecture along the sea view.

Big Village wasn’t such a bad place.

On our last day we met up with our lovely friends for a long and leisurely brunch in the sunshine at a cafe on the beach. A very happy start to the process of packing everything back into the car and heading North for home.

It was good to go back to Little Village and find it just as beautiful and enchanting as I had found it before. Better to still was to roam around Big Village and find that it wasn’t such a strange small town after all.

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Ending at Sunrise – Week 28 of the 52 week short story challenge

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As the sun sinks down below the horizon, she picks up her bag and checks that all the contents are there.

She already knows that nothing is missing. She has a list and checks it several times as she packs her bag each day – just in case.

Order is paramount.

Her flat is small and immaculately tidy. A place for everything and everything in its place. The cutlery and crockery from her evening meal have already been washed and put back in the cupboard.

She does this every day.

As part of her routine, she looks in the mirror, making sure that her hair is brushed and that she has no lipstick on her teeth.

Not that anyone would notice if she did have lipstick on her teeth.

Her lipstick is pale. She tried a brighter colour once but her mother told her that she looked like a tart so she wiped it off quickly.

Her mother is gone now and there is no one to comment on her lipstick or how she dresses, but the spectre of her mother’s past stops her from making any changes – ever.

No one looks at her as she walks in through the staff entrance; she has become invisible to her customers and fellow workers.

She knows them all though.

She listens to their conversations but ensures that no one catches her eavesdropping. That would be against the rules. Her rules.

The rules are for her own protection. That was what her mother told her years ago when they first came to live in this tiny flat. A flat that was paradise compared to where they had been before.

They are a motley crew, her customers. Some are old and lonely, using the warmth of the place to stave off the return to a cold home. Others are young; student types with their eyes glued to their mobile phones, giggling at something they have seen and sharing it with their friends. Often they have been drinking; loud and jolly, filling the place with noise and energy.

Her colleagues are less varied. They are all younger than her, and carry out their work with a levity born of the knowledge that this job is just a stopgap; a step on the way to something so much better. Except for the manager. He is tense and angry, feeling that he deserves better than this.

Her coat and bag are put neatly inside her locker after she has extracted her uniform and laid it carefully on the wooden bench. She has two overalls and when she gets back from work each day she washes her uniform and hangs it up to dry in the tiny bathroom of her tiny flat.

Taking one last look in the mirror by the door, she smoothes down her overall and pats the pocket where she has put her keys to the staff cupboard.

The shape of the keys reassures her. A token of normality in a frightening world.

Out in the corridor, she keeps her head low as she passes the manager.

‘The disabled toilet needs cleaning and some uni kid has thrown up all over one of the tables. Get it sorted – the staff have been waiting for you to come in.’

She nods obediently as she unlocks the cupboard and takes out her work tools; the mop and bucket, disinfectant and catering size cleaning roll.

Waiting for her to come in?

No one ever waits for her to come in.

Like a spectre herself, she moves quietly round the tables, mopping up messes, clearing away the detritus of a fast food diet, not even wondering anymore how people can waste so much food when there are people starving all over the world.

The tables are clean now; the toilets too.

She surveys her work with pride although she knows that she will have to start over again in a few minutes.

As she takes her mop bucket out to empty it, a young man bumps into her as he leaves the toilet.

‘Watch where you are going old woman!’ he says as he brushes invisible dirt from his ripped jeans.

‘Sorry, so sorry.’ she whispers and then regrets opening her mouth as he looks at her with something far worse than disdain.

‘Get back to your own country you dirty Paki. We don’t want your sort here stealing our jobs.’

Hearing the sound of raised voices, the manager appears and pushes her into the kitchen whilst apologising to the youth. He offers him a free drink by way of appeasement.

On automatic pilot, she throws away the soiled cleaning roll and empties her mop bucket, wiping them out carefully before returning them to the cupboard.

As she pulls another bin liner from the roll, the manager reappears. He does not look happy.

‘How many times do I have to tell you not to wind the customers up? This is your final warning.’

He turns on his heel and goes back to the kitchen. He does not realise that the other staff laugh at him behind his back, or that he is about to be moved to another branch in a less salubrious part of town and will never get the opportunity to deliver that warning.

She knows the signs. She has seen it all before. Another day draws to an end.

As the sun rises, she takes her bag and coat out of the locker and heads home to the safety of her tiny flat again.

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Rising to the Challenge – Week 2 of the 52 week challenge

My kitchen is a wreck. I am a wreck. Used bowls and every wooden spoon that I own  teeter in a tower of washing up on the draining board.  Flour floats in the air and makes me sneeze violently. The dog, sporting a totally inappropriate white halo, sneezes in sympathy.

Regrets. I have had more than a few today and as I watch the tea-towel covered bowl for signs of life, my anxiety builds.

It had seemed such a good idea at the time. The ideal way to finally get one over on Caroline. Caroline the (allegedly) perfect mother and housewife. Caroline whose smug smirk has been irritating me for more years than I want to remember. Caroline whose hair and skin were perfect, whose dress sense was impeccable and whose children never, ever, ever misbehaved.

Calm down. This is nothing to get anxious about. Famous last words.

I cast an evil glance at the bowl before fighting my way to the sink.

The phone rings and it is my friend Sarah. Like me, she is in her kitchen and about to tackle her washing up too. We commiserate. We compare the mess level but neither of us is brave enough to lift the edge of the tea-towel and peek.

The call refreshes my flagging spirits. Both Sarah and I  are more than aware that our skills are inferior to Caroline’s, and that we are heading for an embarrassingly epic fail, but we are beyond caring now.

I tackle the washing up with gusto, dry it all up and stow it away in the capacious kitchen drawer – ordered specially to accommodate such rarely used but necessary implements when we had the new kitchen fitted.

The fruit goes back into the big biscuit coloured bowl; identical to the one my mother owned but much less used. I really want to take a sneaky peek but I force myself to clean up the worktops first and shake the flour from my ‘Domestic Goddess’ apron out of the back door.

According to my watch I have only used up twenty of the allotted sixty minutes. How on earth do the professionals cope with such fettered curiosity?

Shutting the kitchen door firmly, I sit down on the sofa next to the dog, and try to lose myself in a banal quiz show on TV. Either the questions are very easy or I am the unofficial Brain of Britain. Either way, the contestants are making heavy weather of it and my tolerance for their stuttering replies has vanished.

The dog and I return to the kitchen. I pick up the grimy pieces of paper so recently printed off from the Internet. The rules stated that certain ingredients had to be used and both Sarah and I have spent hours researching recipes that contain them. We are using different recipes however, in the hope that one of us will have found the definitive way to finally vanquish Caroline.

Caroline always wins our Bake Off. It is only a small competition; open only to a group of women whose children have grown up together, but whether it is a Victoria Jam sandwich, profiteroles, apple pie or – this year – a wholemeal loaf, Caroline always wins our Bake Off.

The kitchen timer rings and startles me from another memory of crushing defeat at Caroline’s ever-competent hands. Her children were always the most imaginatively dressed – whether it was for the Christmas play or a children’s fancy dress party. Nothing ready-made; no straggly tinsel wings or halo, and definitely no tea-towel head-dress for the shepherds.

Tea-towel!

I gingerly lift the tea-towel’s edge and gasp at the dough-monster filling the bowl. It is HUGE!

According to the recipe it is time to give this beast another thumping before it can go in the oven.

Oven!

The cooking times and temperatures on my recipe sheet don’t include those for a fan oven!

Calm down. You have already managed to convert the American cup used in the recipe to ounces – grams were too complicated.

You could just use the ordinary oven but then why did you buy an oven with a fan if you are too scared to use it? You love it when Mary Berry says ‘170 fan’. It makes you feel as if you are a member of her exclusive club.

You decide to risk things and go for the fan. Mary would – wouldn’t she? Caroline undoubtedly has a fan oven in her squeaky clean kitchen.

Oven on. Baking tin lined and ready.

Ten minutes of dough kneading and the beast is subdued enough to be put into the oven.

Timer set. Time to clean the worktop again and wash up the bowl before the remnants of dough set hard and have to be chipped off.

The dog has his head cocked to one side and gives a small but heartrending moan because I have forgotten his dinner. He can hear the sound of the six o’clock news and knows that I should be feeding him rather than messing around in the kitchen.

Thoroughly penitent, I give him his food and add a few treats to make up for my negligence. We sit down together to watch the news.

As time ticks on, the smell of freshly cooked bread creeps round edge of the kitchen door; an irresistible odour that reminds me of my childhood. I should have made two loaves, then we could have eaten one and used the other for the competition. This thought sparks a fear that someone may creep into the kitchen in the night and ravage my bread before it can be presented.

It will have to be hidden; not from my husband who can be relied upon not to touch it or the dog who is locked out of the kitchen at night, but my children…

The scent of my bread is being overthrown by a horrible acrid smell of smoke. I rush out to the kitchen and peer through the oven door. The loaf is cooking nicely. The smell is coming from outside the house.

Making sure that the dog is safely indoors I go into the garden where I can hear sirens and see a thick pall of black smoke on the horizon. The phone rings and I dash back inside.

It’s Sarah again and she isn’t checking on the loaf’s progress.

‘Did you see the fire?’

‘See it! I can still smell it, and I’ve been deafened by the fire engines. Where was the fire?’

‘It was at Caroline’s.’

‘What?’

‘Caroline’s here at mine. She went out to fetch some butter from the corner shop and her oven exploded. The fire brigade got there very quickly and put the fire out but the kitchen is totally gutted. So is Caroline.’

‘What was she cooking?’ I ask this although I know what the answer will be.

‘Bread.’

‘Oh dear.’

‘I think we should cancel the Bake Off – I’m ringing round to see what everyone else thinks?’

‘I totally agree. It wouldn’t be a Bake Off without Caroline’s contribution.’

There is a moment while Sarah has a quick conversation with Caroline. I take the opportunity to don an oven glove and remove my handsome brown loaf before it burns as well.

‘Caroline’s going back to the house now – a rather lovely fireman just came to get her. I’ve just taken my loaf out.’

‘Me too. How does yours look?’

‘Gorgeous. Too good to eat really. Not that I’ll be stopped by that.’

‘Me neither. I have plenty of butter too.’

‘Damn! I’m all out.’

‘Come round then Sarah, and we’ll compare loaves. We met the challenge anyway.’

‘I’ll be round as soon as I’ve made these calls.’

‘Sarah?’

‘What?’

‘Make sure the oven is turned off…’

 

 

 

‘The End of the Pier’

 

 

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Thirty days of blogging.

Stories, memories and a very small poem that crept into my head in the night.

Dominated somewhat by the saga of the Krappy Kitchen and the process of acquiring the food preparation and dining area of our dreams.

Over the past day and a half we have watched the last vestiges of the Krappy Kitchen disappear.  I let out a small cheer as the lump hammers hit breeze blocks that have dominated the middle of the room for the past fifteen years.

The electrician was the last of our visitors to leave today, having drilled out the holes for my brushed chrome spotlights (I had a choice between white, shiny or brushed chrome).  My mind scurried back into virgin kitchen mode when asked to make that choice.  Then I asserted myself and after opting for brushed, was strangely proud to be told that I had made the right choice.

Hub and I wandered around after our visitors had left today. Our kitchen is an echoing shell now, with dangling wires and the huge double RSJs lurking in the ceiling.

We have found out a few things about our house.

It’s a miracle that Gap Boy hasn’t fallen through the floor when stropping in his bedroom because the existing RSJ only went across half the ceiling – the bit where he sleeps, not the bit where he regularly shouts, guffaws and giggles on his computer.

It’s another miracle that we haven’t all been killed in our beds due to the shoddy wiring put in by the first owner – who was (surprisingly enough) a qualified electrician.  Perhaps he trained st the same establishment where the subsequent owner did her artexing course. There will be no more skin scraping artex in our kitchen either .

The builders have sorted out the dodgy building bits and an inspector is coming to check it all  out tomorrow. Another stranger at the door.

The nice electrician is going to have a look at the rest of the wiring when he’s finished in  the kitchen.  He very gently told me that progress will slow down a bit now because the plasterer is coming in and it will take a couple of days for the walls and ceiling to dry out.

I smile that silly smile and remind him that after waiting fifteen years to be able to afford this kitchen a couple more days won’t worry me.

Talking of compromises, the work top won’t be quite as sexy as planned.  With the wisdom of Solomon I had to make the choice between waiting another three weeks for the Star Galaxy worktop or cancelling the order and getting the slightly more down-market black granite with just silvery bits in it which can be delivered when the builders need it because it has been sourced locally.

It is still a sexy worktop and with any luck, my kitchen will be done much quicker (and a bit cheaper too!)

Washing up in the downstairs bathroom is a bit challenging but having the temporary kitchen on the dining room table is easier on the legs.

After rebelling about the use of plastic cutlery and paper plates, we bought GB a set of his own cutlery and unearthed some plates.

More compromise.

I was in a bit of a quandary about the old gas cooker yesterday.

It had to sit outside all night until the big lorry came to collect the rubbish. I really should have given it a bit of clean before the builders came but it is being junked anyway and we ran out of time.

Trouble is, it sat in the garden in full view of the manic mothers on their school run (they slowed down to have a look – not quite to 20 miles an hour but not bad).  Now they all know what a dirty  cooker I had.

GB has been quite sweet today but that goes hand in hand with his lecturing and hectoring about every single subject under the sun.

My idea of snoozing gently with Scoob whilst Martin and Lucy wax lyrical about three-bed semis in Clapham has been shattered  due to the fact that GB cannot sleep upstairs whilst all that banging is going on. So he talks and talks and talks.

Mind you, he told me about the hose incident last night.

Apparently one of our elderly neighbours was watering his garden yesterday evening when someone drove up the road at speeds in excess of 60 miles an hour (I doubt it) , so my neighbour remonstrated with him.  The neighbour remonstrated back and my neighbour hosed him.  More naughty talk and another shot of hose.  I expected to hear the our neighbour had been bopped but apparently the drive chose to zoom off instead.

Perhaps it was the sight of my neighbour’s hairy, brown and extremely pregnant-looking belly that saw him off.

I know it’s been warm over the last couple of days but that belly would certainly frighten the horses. Put it on!

Poor Scoob had just got used to the chaps who chipped of the seventies brown and white tiles  yesterday when there was a change of personnel and he had to come to terms with three more of them.  Luckily the poor young boy in the hoodie who got so badly wuffed at yesterday was off on another job today.

They are a smashing bunch though.  I can hear their conversations through the wall and the range of topics is impressive and very informative.  GB asked me if I minded all the swearing. I hadn’t actually noticed it.

The kitchen singing is even better than the banter though.  The lads brought along their old, dusty, paint-spattered ghetto blaster and they sing along to Radio One. – although they may have wandered into Radio Two yesterday afternoon when I heard one of them singing falsetto to ‘Too shy, shy’.

My attitude to our builders is very positive therefore.  They don’t seem to mind the awfulness of the tea I make them (being allergic to tea makes this a very hands-off process and the fumes make me retch a bit). The biscuits I sent Hub out to buy have been a great success, and the fact that I really don’t mind them using the downstairs toilet also went down well.

“I don’t mean to be cheeky but can I use your loo/have a cup of tea/ smoke in your garden/ eat these lovely biscuits?”

They are such polite boys.

I have a feeling that today’s blog won’t really be the end of the pier as planned thirty -one days ago.

Making the effort to write something every day is a discipline I learned when participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which is held every November. http://nanowrimo.org/

It may not be easy to stop now although I’m not sure if I’ll continue to blog every day.

I have a kitchen to dress in the next week or so (that’s what they say on DIY SOS isn’t it?)

 

 

 

‘The welcome arrival of the Chilly Twins’

Thanks to the help and support of our Dear Friend and her lovely Hub, we broke the back of the Krappy Kitchen clearing yesterday.

Boxes were packed, bread, cheese and Danish parties were eaten and there was a steady flow of good conversation.

Hub and I did some more packing up last night and out main aim for Monday Monday was to empty the fridge freezers and get them outside to defrost so that our beautiful Chilly Twins (Frosty and Freezy) could be temporarily installed in the room that Uni Boy used to live in before he fled to York, and which provides accommodation for Bezzie Mate when he stays.

There were a few other jobs that needed doing but hey – the kitchen wasn’t coming till Wednesday and the builders did n;t start till Thursday – no worries.

I woke up this morning just after six am and lurched out onto the landing to come face to face with Gap Boy, fully dressed and coming up the stairs with a mug of coffee.

“Bet you thought I was a burglar.” he grinned.

Do burglars often stroll up the stairs with a mug of coffee in their hands?

Of all the thoughts that passed through my mind ‘oh look, a burglar!’ wasn’t one of them.

GB was champing at the bit. He desperately wanted to go to the supermarket for munchies but was under the impression that nothing would be open till 0700.

Being a good mummy, I checked on the web and advised him that although Tesco shut at 1600 on a Sunday, it reopened just after midnight  – so there was no need to hang around teasing me after all.

Off he flew on his trusty steed.

Scoob greeted me with much enthusiasm. GB soon returned with his rucksack stuffed with goodies and I was just about to give Scoob his breakfast when he went into big scarey wuff mode.

“There’s two blokes with a van outside.” quoth my darling boy as he wrestled with the growling beast.

I pulled up the kitchen blind and was confronted by the grinning face of my builder and his mate.

A vision in my old blue flannel nightshirt, naked morning face and scruffy plaits, I opened the door to them.

“Morning Boss.”

“Umm, good morning.  I thought you were starting on Thursday.  The kitchen doesn’t arrive till Wednesday.”

“Yeah, but we’ve got to gut your kitchen first.”

Outwardly I remained calm and negotiated a twenty-four hour reprieve. I waved them bye-bye with a smiley face that turned rapidly into Munch’s ‘The Scream’.

I decided to have breakfast. After all, it wasn’t eight o’clock yet.

After breakfast I broke the news to Hub. He does outward calm so much better than I do.

The imminent arrival of the builders made the fitting of the door that would separate the hallway from Scoobyland was more urgent now.  GB took Scoob for a walk, Hub had his breakfast and set about the door with such renewed vigour that he killed the drill bit.

Cue GB “What’s that burning smell?”

Hub was just about to embark on a journey to B&Q to get a new drill bit and more boxes, when the phone rang and it was the KNOWHOW boys, who wanted to deliver the Chilly Twins between 1100 and 1200 instead of between 1300 to 1700.

Hub said  “Yeah, that’s fine.”

I said “AAAAAAAAAARGH.”

He went off to B&Q.

I began packing frozen food into frozen food bags and packed them into the downstairs bath. Then I packed the fridge stuff into freezer drawers ad put them in the bath too and shut the door.

The Chuckle Brothers had nothing on Hub and me as we dragged both fridge freezers out into the courtyard so that the men could take them away to the great fridge freezer heaven in the sky.

I Dysoned – yeah, I know I don’t do it often but these were desperate times.

I dog sat whilst Hub organised the undressing and placement of the Chilly Twins. Scooby s desperately wanted to help – well he might have wanted to nibble at the delivery men.

My Twins are beautiful; all shiny and white inside with shelves and compartments for EVERYTHING. Their outsides are Manhattan Silver and they  have blue lights on them.

I sorted out the fridge side and Hub did the freezer and it all fitted in. Yay!

Bezzie Mate and I had been texting so he knew of our predicament.  He offered his support and  drove the hundred miles to come and help us; he made us both laugh, mucked in and packed boxes and bags, and even took the Scoob out for walkies so that Hub and I could safely put all the junk into the garage.

The sound of Hub and BM laughing as they blithely wrecked the Krappy Kitchen was music to my ears.

I sent Hub to bed; early shift beckons so I will be dealing with the builders on my own in the morning.

Can’t count GB. He slept all day (after winding me up atrociously and causing me to make the ultimate empty threat of “if you don’t help out you won’t be allowed in the kitchen”). Yeah right!

BM has embarked on his long drive back home.

I am off to bed.

Scoob will be wuffing and I need to be dressed and with my face on before the builders arrive tomorrow.

Thanks to brilliant friends, things have not been too bad, but as another friend has pointed out – they can only get better.

GB says that we are rubbish. His particular gripe is that despite setting up a temporary kitchen on the dining room table, I have failed to leave out any cutlery for him.

I bought plastic cutlery and paper plates in case the water went off.

The Chilly Twins are packed full to bursting.

Ah well, tomorrow really is another day.

 

 

 

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 🙂