Christmas 2009

Like a lot of people, I was looking forward to the end of 2009. Though both Sue and I are now officially retired and in receipt of our teacher pensions, we are apprehensive of a new government being elected in the spring and a probable reduction in the benefits we have accrued or maybe an extension of the date at which they can be claimed. Weatherwise, the whole summer of 2009 was a disappointment, dull damp days that did nothing to raise the spirit.  However, the end of the year was at least seasonal and British by being crispy, and cold with occasional days of snow.

Sadly, Aunty Anne died the week before Christmas. She was over 90 years old and had been in a home for the last three years. Towards the end, she had become quite confused and didn’t recognise anyone anymore. I liked Anne, I saw more of her than many of my other relatives on my father’s side of the family. She used to live in a row of houses that we often saw regularly in the BBC TV long-running sitcom, ‘Last of the Summer Wine. When we visited, as a young child I would roam around many of the locations used in the series. I was always pleased when I knew we were going to see Aunty Anne. Regrettably, our visits never coincided with the BBC filming and I never caught a glimpse of Compo or Foggy.

I was planning to take Nan to the funeral on Tuesday and had travelled to Thurcroft on Monday, however, heavy snow arrived over Monday night and we woke to a 30cm+ carpet of snow and a weather warning of not to travel. Unsurprisingly, the funeral was cancelled as much of South Yorkshire was at a standstill. We were later informed that all funerals would be delayed for a couple of weeks. The forecast was for yet more snow overnight so I decided to attempt the journey home before it arrived. The usual journey of an hour took four and a half hours, the snow had begun to fall again as I arrived at Willow Bank. Annoyingly a few days later, I heard that the funeral was to go ahead later that day. The forecast was for yet more snow and the motorway conditions were not good, Nan had to rely on one of our relatives to take her to the funeral as I did not want to risk the drive north.

As usual, we had a very busy Christmas. Everyone arrived at Willow Bank the day before Christmas Eve, so there was no great rush to drive to Kettering for our traditional Christmas Eve activity of tenpin bowling. I had collected Nan from Thurcroft a couple of days before and she stayed home with Sue who was still recovering from her operation, watching TV. Usually, I have to book our bowling session a month or two ahead as it is a very popular evening, however, this year we could tell the recession was having an effect as half of the lanes were empty. Nonetheless, Lucas loved it and was a live wire despite the lateness of the hour. It wasn’t until the clock approached midnight that he visibly began to weary (I used to have that amount of energy, once).

Here are two memorable moments:

1. Several young and excitable women were playing in the lane next to ours, as one of them attempted to bowl, she forgot to let go of the ball on the outward sweep and released it in on the backwards action. I watched in great amusement the panic as her friends scattered in an attempt to avoid the Barnes Wallace Bouncing Bomb. I found it so funny that I was beside myself with laughter and had tears streaming down my cheeks, much to the mortification of the unfortunate girl. I tried to stop, but the look of horror on her face just seemed to make it even funnier.

2. The younger members of the Palmer family always seem to get up to mischief whenever we go anywhere, though I have to admit it is always harmless and usually very funny. On one occasion when Jamie needed a strike and was concentrating on bowling his next ball, Charlotte quietly stalked him down the lane and as he was on his run-up, shouted, ‘Jamie!’ as he released the ball. We all laughed as Jamie spun down the alley after his ball. He didn’t get a strike, but he was gutted when he and his ball were guttered.

As planned, Lucas fell asleep in the car on the journey back to Harborough, with Lucas snuggly tucked up in bed we quietly placed the Christmas presents around the tree before retiring ourselves with fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be too much of an early wake-up.

Christmas morning went to script. As dawn broke, from our rooms we could hear the delight and energetic enthusiasm as Lucas opened the large pillowcase stocking carefully placed on the foot of his bed just a short while before. We joined him as he made his way downstairs to discover that Santa had indeed visited and we marvelled with him at the mountain of presents spread beneath the decorated fir. It was then back to bed (for a short while) while the grown-ups attempted a little more sleep and Lucas quietly pretended to join us.

With breakfast made and each sat in their designated chair, the passing of parcels began. I read the labels and Lucas carried the packages to their waiting recipients until eventually the task became a little too boring for the little one and he sat down and concentrated on opening his growing pile of goodies.

Lunch was exceptional this year, Nan had brought a Turkey Crown from the butchers in Thurcroft, it was carved perfectly and was so tasty. In the afternoon while everyone was occupied playing with their presents or reading important instructions, I disappeared into the garage and made Lucas a sledge out of some old wood and a curtain rail. However, on his third test run down a very icy driveway, his excitement was dampened slightly when he slipped and squashed his nose on the hard surface.

The evening was spent watching TV: Dr Who (rubbish) and Top Gear (very funny).

On a cold and crisp Boxing Day morning, we drove to the ancient oak woodland Salcey Forest, located near Northampton. It has a tree-top walkway (22m high) through the trees with spectacular views over Northamptonshire. The path to the walkway was lethal!!!! Sheer ice. Nan bravely managed to navigate her way by grimly hanging on to my arm, I didn’t tell that I too had very little grip on the slippy surface. The rest of the family enjoyed themselves with a convoluted snowball fight! It was a lovely morning walk and we thankfully made it safely to the cafe without any mishap, other than a few sore exposed areas from the sting of a slushy missile. We all chose large mugs of hot chocolate with mini marshmallows sprinkles, what a brilliant and warming combination. It was decided that we would return in the summer. With drinks quaffed, Nan, Sue, Lucas and I made our way back to Harborough while Charlotte, Suraj, Jamie and Sarah went to the sales in Northampton.

The following day was another Palmer family tradition, we went Greyhound racing in Peterborough. Jamie’s girlfriend, Harley, came with us. Unfortunately, I couldn’t repeat last year’s massive win, it was the turn of other family members. In one race, Sarah and Harley had decided to have a ‘Trio bet’ (pick the first 3 dogs in the right order), they both picked the same dogs in the same order and they won. The whole stadium was nearly brought to a standstill from their squealing celebrations when they realised that they had each won £64. It was several minutes before calm was achieved and the squealing subsided, much to the amusement of our fellow punters.

The next day, Nan Lucas and I went on the train to Leicester to see the Dinosaur Exhibition at New Walk Museum. It was an exciting first trip on a train for Luca and despite only being able to observe the Dinosaurs from the doorway as they were being cleaned, the size of the creatures was truly impressive.  We could tell that Lucas was fascinated with the Natural History exhibits,  his questions were endless and I am glad that Nan and Jamie were there to share them. For him to remember his visit, Nan bought him a plastic dinosaur from the museum shop. When we returned in the afternoon, the others were out sales shopping again.

The following day, Suraj had to return home to look after their cats, kindly, their neighbours had been caring for them but were now about to go on holiday. Charlotte and Lucas stayed for another day and then too returned home. Nan stayed until after New Years Eve before a few days later I took her back to Yorkshire, via Newark to drop Lucas’s sledge off. Luckily, it snowed over the next few days, and my homemade sledge got a good workout.

Later that week, one snowy afternoon, Roger Woolnough and I went for a walk around Pitsford Reservoir. It was a particularly enjoyable ramble as we only saw one other couple doing the same. Roger informed me that he had only left the house twice over Yuletide, once for his Christmas lunch at the local pub, where during the main course had broken a tooth. The only other time was to have the tooth pulled out. I wonder if he kept it for the Tooth Fairy?

Nan and I went to see David and Genya at the Unit in Rotherham. Link: They had failed to phone or visit during the Christmas period and explained that some youths had thrown a brick through their van window as they were passing under a bridge. Though David managed to chase and catch them, they denied it and the police were powerless to do anything without other witnesses. He had been without transport until a few days ago. Even so, Nan told him off for not phoning and letting us know. He mentioned that he may be returning to Bulgaria in February (could be chilly).

Fingers crossed that 2010 will be a better year for everyone. My New Year’s wish: Shoot all bankers, MPs and OFSTED Inspectors

And finally, Sue and I were treated to an especially nice Christmas present.  Charlotte and Suraj broke the news on Christmas Day that we are to be grandparents again. Having had practice at this sort of news, it wasn’t such a shock. Life will be getting quite interesting next August.

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