Late afternoon of Christmas Eve saw all the Palmers sat in the dining room of Willow Bank enjoying what was the first of many meals before the festivities would be over. The decorations were up, the tree twinkling with lights and the logs blazing away in the wood-burner. Despite savouring the delights of freshly made chestnut soup that I had so enthusiastically made that afternoon as a starter, Charlotte, Jamie and Sarah decided to overdose and roasted even more throughout the evening (all digestive consequences spurned). Later, Jamie walked into town to meet up with some friends, and no doubt took advantage of the chestnut effect to clear his passage through what I gather was a pretty packed Harborough.
After playing a game of Beetle and watching a bit of TV, Lucas and Ellis were surprisingly in bed for 10pm and fast asleep. The ‘grown-ups’ let things settle down until 11pm before giving Santa a helping hand in distributing the presents around the tree then made their way into their own sacks. Overnight, Jamie appeared in his bed in the study and the ‘young uns’ slept on in dreamland until 7.30am!
Tradition dictates that stockings are opened first (in bed) and the contents then shown excitedly to all (also in bed). A trip is then made to see the tree and what may lay underneath. After much moving, lifting and rattling of those presents on the periphery of the avalanche by excited little hands and after many subsequent cautionary warnings, breakfast is made, consumed, washed up and put away in double quick time. After the other adults had found a comfortable seat I gathered my two elves together and one after another I read the labels and tags and them passed them on for delivery. When the piles of discarded wrapping paper became too hazardous for little feet to thread their way without accidentally stepping onto already opened delights, we broke for festive drinks and a clear up. Back to the serious business of picking, transferring and opening of packages of all sizes (Sue’s bike and Suraj’s table proved a problem for the elves) more mounds of discarded festive wrappings appeared alongside an ever increasing pile of contents. Incidentally, I couldn’t help notice that the height of the piles of presents was the inverse of the height of the recipients. By midday, wrapping paper was safely in boxes and bin liners in the garage, presents and been sorted into rational piles and some removed to bedrooms. Batteries were being sought, and other electronic devices cannibalised for them. Even a trip to the Spar was made in search of fresh supplies.
The smell of Christmas dinner began to emanate from the kitchen. This year Jamie had provided us with a Turkey crown that looked truly magnificent, Sue had been worried that it would not fit in the oven, but she squeezed it in. Afterwards, feeling rather satisfied and full we all agreed that Christmas dinner is the only meal that surpasses that of a traditional English Sunday roast for perfection on a plate. Well done Sue! After washing up, it was down to the serious business of trying on clothes, building structures, putting together bits of machinery, flying helicopters, racing cars and of course, charging batteries. Some even found space to scoff some delights.
All too soon Christmas tea was upon us and another table laden with salad , meats, cheeses and chutneys was laid bare. Again, cutlery and crockery were cleared away, washed and placed back on shelves in readiness for the evenings entertainment: DOCTOR WHO. The projector and screen came out for the occasion and those still young in heart settled down for an hours viewing of hopefully the best of the BBC. Unlike last year, which turned out to be a bitter disappointment and utter nonsense, this was better. At least the storyline could be bought into and the characters didn’t overplay the humour. The rest of the evening was spent consuming a variety of drinks and flitting in and out of playing with technology (even Nan on her new mobile), watching TV or careering around the house in hide and seek (Ellis & Lucas).
Boxing Day saw Sarah and I rise early. Her boyfriend Lee, had opted for a most awkward birth date and as today he was 21 yrs old she was keen to join him in Cottgrave for a surprise family celebration. On a very foggy morning I drove her to Melton Mowbray where Lee was to pick her up and transport her onwards. He wasn’t at the rendezvous when we arrived, but as time was tight I left her there waiting in the drizzle and gloom and crossed my fingers. He turned up shortly afterwards. On return to Harborough I took on new passengers, Sue, Jamie and Harley and with the Rothwells and Nan in the 4X4 set off to Peterborough for a days dog racing.
After queueing for 15 minutes or so to get into the stadium we found a couple of tables in our desired location, Sue and I ordered the meals and Suraj got the drinks from the bar. Like a well oiled machine, the Palmer Team were the first to be tucking into food, which left us sufficient time to peruse the form and select our potentially winning woofers. This year there was 14 races, and tradition has it that we stake £1 per race (give or take from the winning pot). I guess that watching 6 dogs race around a track at regular intervals can have the same effect as watching sheep jump over a fence. Well it did on Nan as for around 15 minutes she decided to have a nap. This year I opted to stick to a TRIO bet for all races, that is picking the first three dogs in the correct order. The odds are against you, but if you do win, it will be big (in theory).The TRIO winnings on most of the races was between £390-£890. I did win one race. £18.60!!!!!! We all broke more or less even on the day, except Harley who walked away with a profit of £38.
The following day Suraj went to look at some laptops that he was considering buying, Nan decided that she wanted a day of rest and we returned her to her apartment. The rest of us drove into Leicester and visited the Newark Houses Museum.
We parked in a multi-story car-park nearby and walked to the museum, as the sales were on, the roads were very busy, not surprising the Museum itself only had a few visitors and we nearly had the place to ourselves. They (we) had recently spent over £1 million on its exhibits and it was much changed from when Sue visited many years ago when she took her class. It was my first visit and now I wish I had discovered it whilst I was teaching, I would have made it an annual event linked with the New Walk Museum. Ah, too late now. There was a stimulating mix of eras and attractions that kept your interest, without considering the history of the building itself. The day itself was cold damp and miserable, but it didn’t prevent us from exploring the Tardis like walled gardens and exploiting quite a few photo opportunities. I had hoped to do a bit of window shopping in the town, and Sue had hoped to visit a park in Oadby, but dusk was rapidly approaching and we settled for a quiet journey home. Suraj wasn’t impressed with the laptops on offer and rejected them.
Sarah arrived back home by train the following morning. Jamie had been requested to work but managed to negotiate the day off. We were off to the Pantomime that afternoon. Sarah had invited a friend, Abi’ and her son from Uni’. They arrived at lunch time and had a meal with us before driving to the Lighthouse Theatre in Kettering to see Snow White. The main star was Russell Grant (astrologer). It was a much more professional production than the usual Pantomimes we see in Corby, and because of this the inclusion of the talentless Russell didn’t detract from our enjoyment of it. Ellis and Lucas had flashing light sabres bought for them by Nan and luckily Sue and I sat two rows back on the other side of the theatre. A highlight was when Suraj was spotted by Muddles, playing with a sabre and was referred to as Mr Grumpy throughout the rest of the performance.
That evening we got out the Wii Family Trainer that Sue had bought me for Christmas. Sarah managed to work out how it was used, and she, Ellis, Ellis and I had a go at the various activities. Suffice it to say that I quickly got exhausted. We played for an hour and then packed it away. I slept well that night.
The following day saw Jamie at work and Nan exhausted and happy to spend the day lounging on her settee, surfing the sports channels. The more intrepid of us set off to Shackerstone Station near Market Bosworth to Catch the Mince Pie Express to Shenton and back on the Battlefield Line. We hoped to catch the 11.15am train and by luck, we did. Despite the SatNav directing us to the wrong side of the track, the train was held for us when we were spotted by the eagle-eyed station master making our way along the lane. The 11.15am left at 11.30am, but the 26 other passengers didn’t seem to mind and the ticket collector (not possessing a transaction card reader) accepted what cash we could cobble together by making the boys disappear and Sarah an under 5. The mince pies, sherry and wine tasted all the sweeter for being such a bargain. It was a lovely journey through the Leicestershire countryside, much of what we saw, Sue and I had walked during our days away at the Bosworth Hall Hotel. During the 15 minute stop at Shenton, we photographed the turnaround of the engine and then boarded the carriage for the return journey. On return the ticket collector pointed out that our tickets qualified us to travel the line all day if we wished to do so. After a quick family conference it was decided to do the journey again, in kindness to the him and his colleagues. It was just as enjoyable the second time as the first. We must do it again in the summer. I wonder if the tickets are still good then?
From Shackerstone we drove to the Bosworth Battlefielde Centre. After a wander around Ambion Hill and reading the information boards we stopped for a warming drink of hot chocolate in the cafe. The day was sunny but bitterly cold and now the sun was getting low in the sky. The return journey was uneventful and we arrived in darkness.
The following day, the Rothwells packed up and left for home. Peace once again resided over Willow Bank and strangely, it seemed odd. And, when Sarah left to travel to Nottingham to see the New Year fireworks display with Lee, it made it even quieter. So quiet in fact, that when the New Year did arrive, Sue had been in bed for two hours and me for one. The usual detonations around Harborough at midnight woke me briefly, but I resisted the temptation to watch through the window and pulled the pillow over my head. Some would say sad, but at 7.30am the following day I was as fresh as a daisy and cycling through the fields of Leicestershire enjoying the peace and solitude, secure in the knowledge that all was well with the world, because I was looking at it!
That lunchtime the clan gathered together again (less Sarah) and were treated to a New Years Day dinner that was in the words of a usual grumpy Nan as, “The best dinner she has ever had.” And I agree.
Thursday night is the night I play pool at the Catholic Club. There had been quite a few burglaries in Harborough over the Christmas period and David Tomlinson (one our band of players) had been the victim of such an event. His family had been robbed of cash and goods while they slept on Boxing Day night. As a co-incidence, I spent all Thursday morning testing out our alarm system and fixing the external siren that had stopped working.
This year I decided to give Charlotte, Jamie and Sarah money for Christmas and transferred the funds into their bank accounts on the 25th. Jamie has been having problems with his car and has had to do quite a bit of work on it recently, so he has decided to sell it and get another one (more reliable). Sue got a surprise when I gave her the tickets for a couple of days in New York, travelling there on the Queen Elizabeth. We journey to Southampton by train to catch the boat and fly back from JFK, after looking around what is at present a very cold and snowy NY. I tried my DJ on yesterday and though the jacket fits fine, I no longer have any chance of getting into the trousers. An over indulgent Christmas! I have arranged for Nan to have afternoon tea at the Sedgebrooke Hotel in Northamptonshire with Charlotte.
Jamie has been offering to be chef on previous Curry Nights and yesterday he was. He had arranged with Sarah to help him, but she was still in Cottgrave, suffering from the New Year celebrations or a stinking cold as she prefers to say. Charlotte agreed to step in and help, but she and the rest of the family were in Coventry visiting Suraj’s sister, so Sue and I were not all that sure that it would happen. However, the Rothwell’s arrived late in the afternoon and around half an hour later Jamie appeared with 2kg of lamb mince, and all the necessary ingredients for a Mexican Night! I briefly helped by chopping the onions and then left Jamie and Charlotte to it. Under instructions from Jamie, his elder sister did as she was told (that doesn’t often happen) and around 40 minutes later the bell was sounded for dinner. We made our own fajitas from the ingredients presented on the table and there was also a tangy, cheesy Taco side dish to tuck into. It was lovely. Luckily, Sue had advised using only 1kg of the mince as that was sufficient. We still had a quarter of a pot of fajita filling left over at the end, and though I did my best to help out I couldn’t fit anymore into my stomach. Any thoughts of being able to fit into my DJ have now truly evaporated. To cap a wonderful evening, everyone went home just in time for me to watch Saints beat Harlequins on BTSport!