Is it the run-up or run-down to Christmas?

Why is it that the month before Christmas, bugs and infections coupled with NHS shortages and horror stories rear their ugly heads? This year it has been no different, though  I guess I have been guilty in kicking-off this seasons ‘infestivities‘ with a dose from my Italian ‘tic‘ list. The day before I travelled to Market Bosworth on a jolly with some rugby-minded friends, I was summoned to visit my doctor. After a thorough examination, I was pronounced ‘still-alive’ and in fairly good shape, as a precaution he set up a blood test and a blood pressure monitoring session in a few weeks time to ensure that I remain so.

The party accompanying me to the Bosworth Hall Hotel in Market Bosworth was: Jim Hankers, Jeremy Brown, Paul Bissell, Sean Perry and Robin Blades. In the past we have all been guilty of playing rather mediocre rugby but always seemed somehow to surpass ourselves when on tour. We met up in the hotel car park at around 10am on the Saturday morning and after coffee in the hotel bar we had a little meander around the rather pretty but petite centre of Market Bosworth. Window shopping completed we returned to the hotel, put on our rambling boots and set off on a pleasant  3.5 mile walk through the fields to the The Rising Sun Inn in Shackerston, for lunch and to watch the England v Australia game on the TV. Lunch was excellent and along with the many equally minded locals who had also turned up to watch the match, we sat and cheered another victory for the boys in white over those in yellow. A great atmosphere that I am sure we would have continued to enjoy if our pre-arranged taxi hadn’t turned up to transport us back to our hotel.

After checking in and after discovering our rooms (some quicker than others), we met up in the bar (for much-needed refreshments) before making our way back into town to visit an excellent Indian establishment called the Simla Peppers. Stomachs satisfied with good Asian fayre we rolled into town visiting a few hostelries on our circuitous route back to the hotel to arrive around midnight. We dallied awhile with other guests in the bar watching a boxing match on the TV, before retiring gracefully to our rooms.

After breakfast we set off through the town to the railway station to catch our train to Shenton on the Bosworth Battlefield Line. This is a steam train line run by enthusiasts, but today we had to make do with a diesel engine and very few other passengers. I guess not surprising for the time of year. On arrival at Shenton we climbed the hill to the Bosworth Battlefield Centre, here we perused the information boards, discussed  similar past battles, fought  on ‘our’ field of play with the ‘odd-shaped’ ball, before retiring undefeated against the chilly elements to the Centre café for hot chocolate. A three-mile amble back to the hotel and waiting cars preceded handshakes on another successful foray against some ‘foreigners’ and a drive back to the comfort and sobriety of Harborough.

On Friday the 24th of Nov. Sue and I more-or-less enjoyed a double bill of films at the Cinema Club at the Harborough Theatre. Watching back to back films takes some concentration and not all of our fellow cinema goers were up to it. ‘Jackie’, preceded the much better ‘Churchill’. Perhaps if they had shown them the other way round, more may have stayed?

Earlier that day I had received an invitation by Sean to watch the Tigers play Worcester on the Saturday, both the England men and women’s team were playing that day and I had planned to watch the matches at the Angel with some chums, but with some reluctance I opted to accompany Sean. What a good move!

Unknown to me, we were guests of Peter Howard who is a sponsor of Leicester Tigers and the match included lunch and prime seats. We picked Peter up from Marston Trussell Hall on the way to the ground and parked in a reserved bay outside the Tiger’s office in the main stand. I sat next to a friend of Peter’s called  Barry, who happened to live in  Great Bowden. A more miserable character you couldn’t hope to meet, but I had been warned and been placed next to him specially! Miserable yes, but none-the-less a very interesting character. He was a portrait artist, among his sitters have been President Mitterrand, most of the Royal family, all of the Prime Ministers since the 70’s etc. etc. His knowledge of the game and Tigers in particular was good, but always from a pessimistic stand point. He was right about the result, the Tigers did lose the game.

After a very good three course meal, we were entertained by a question and answer session with Manu Tuilagi and Luke Hamilton, both injured and thus not available for their International duties. Manu came over as being uninteresting and not very bright while Luke appeared exactly the opposite. One is a forward and the other a back, neither giving the impression I expected!

After a depressing  half-time, more food and drinks appeared and was taken advantage of. Then again, at full-time with even more plates of nosh we were joined by the management and teams of both sides who were obviously used to the ‘corporate thing’ and mixed and chatted with their supporters. It was generally felt that the Tiger’s could have won the game, but I had to confess that I didn’t think so. The better team on the day, to my mind, won the game and the management didn’t help continuity by changing so many players in critical positions at crucial points in the play. Hey, what do I know?

The following day Sue and I drove up to Manchester to see uncle Stan. It was an awful day, the closer to our destination we got, the heavier the rain came down. Stan was in equally morose mood. He was having his breakfast when we arrived and I suppose this may have contributed to his grumpiness. As soon as we arrived he wanted a word with Sue about his funeral. We stayed and attempted to chat amiably for around  3 hours, suffering through random bouts of impatience and rudeness. By the time we left he was in better spirits and apologised for his behaviour, which certainly was out of character, especially as we had brought him his Christmas presents. His eye-sight is now considerably worse and he has difficulty in seeing the most obvious of things, I guess this has led to a great deal of frustration, I do feel sorry for him. I did sadly learn that he has been taken advantage of by one of his neighbours and he has parted with a large sum of money, which I also guess contributed to his demeanour. I listened to a classic case of ‘grooming the elderly’ and couldn’t help feeling angry with the lady in question.

As when we arrived, it was raining heavily when we waved good-bye and made our sodden way to Gisburn near Clitheroe and the White Bull Inn, here we were to stay for the next two nights. The topic of conversation throughout the journey was principally centred on Stan’s situation and we came to the obvious solution of seeing if he would contemplate us arranging for him to move down to Harborough, he can  no longer look after himself and needs to accept support of some sort.

It was dark when we arrived at our accommodation, but we still managed to have a short walk up and down the village before settling into the bar and having what turned out to be a truly surprising and superb meal. The restaurant was full and I could see why. We watched a little bit of TV in our cosy room before pressing heads on soft pillows and  floating away to the land of nod. Outside the rain clouds had cleared and the stars were twinkling on what was going to be a very frost night.

Our room was in a row of cottages at the back of the pub and it was very tricky negotiating the ice on our slide into breakfast. We were greeted by a lovely fire and wake-up grub laid out in the bar. They have a diamond of a chef working here.

We had chosen to come here because of its proximity to Pendle Hill and the Pendle Witch Trail.  The start of the trail (by car) is at Barrowford and this is where we started. It was sleeting when we entered the museum situated in a medieval manor house next to the river and dedicated to the history of the area and of course the witches. We were the first visitors of the day and it was equally chilly inside as unpleasant outside. However, it was well worth the visit, packed full of interesting exhibits and information necessary to complete the rest of our day.

Our journey took us through the Trough of Bowland. A beautiful and for my part, unknown part of the UK. Despite the inclement weather, it was pure pleasure driving along the mostly deserted road that the unfortunate herbalists/witches had to walk on their way to Lancaster Prison to face trial and a hanging. The scenery and views were as good as anywhere I have been and I would love to do the route again in the summer, though I guess I wouldn’t have it all to myself as I did that day.

Next we came to Barley, like all the little villages we visited, very picturesque, but this one was different as it lies under the foreboding Pendle Hill itself, which today had a little cap of snow on top.  Our route took us through Newchurch , here we stopped to find the grave of one of the witches before moving on to  Downham, Chatburn then Clitheroe. We climbed Clitheroe Castle, gawked yet again at Pendle Hill, now on the horizon, before engaging in a little bit of shopping in the High Street. I think Clitheroe may be worth another visit one day.

Next came Waddington, Newton and Dunsop Bridge before reaching our final destination of Lancaster Prison in the dark. We were fortunate. Parking next to the castle in which the prison is now, we entered the ticket office at 3.15pm to be greeted by a sign indicating that the last tour of the day was indeed at 3.15pm. It was cold and raining and I don’t think they had many visitors that day, we may have been the first, but we were certainly the only ones for the last tour of the day!

Our tour guide was a part-time opera singer. When we first informed her that we were very interested in the Pendle Witch Trials she visibly baulked, professed to know little of it but said she would do her best. She was brilliant. As we were her only clients she treated us to parts of the castle/prison not usually visited by groups. We visited the cells where they would have been held and  also the actual room where the trial took place, this is now where the barristers change before entering the new courtrooms. Indeed, we also visited the civil and criminal courts, the latter being where a film of the  witch trial was shot. We also discovered the armoury.

Whilst in the cells, our guide locked us in, then turned off the light to give us what she though was a unique experience. However, when she released us I mentioned that we had ‘experienced’ such a thing before, in Sydney and also Derby Gaol whilst on ghost tours. This bit of information sparked her into relating a few ghostly experiences of her own. Once, whilst in the castle she caught sight of a figure climbing a spiral staircase in the room she was in, thinking it was her co-worker she was shocked to see him walk into the room a few moments later. Though they searched the room at the top of the staircase, there was no one to be found. On another occasion she was relating the tale of a ghostly child who was said to haunt the corridor that the group she was conducting were presently occupying. There was a gasp from one of the group, who then told her that her young daughter had only moments ago described a raggedly dressed young boy walk past them. Later, she quizzed the little girl about what she had seen and was bemused to learn that she could see two elderly women standing behind her who apparently always followed her when she came into the castle. Spooky.

It had stopped raining when we left nervously in the dark to locate our car. The drive back to Gisburn was awful, driving rain and spray all the way. On such a night I had chosen not to reverse our journey through the rather bleak Trough of Bowland and opted for rather busier roads.

That night was the chef’s night off so we made our way just a few hundred yards down the road to a very Italian, Italian restaurant called La Locanda. Luckily, having visited Joan and Phil in Marche recently we still had a bit of Roman residue about us and managed to order some appropriate dishes from a menu wreaking with authenticity. Wonderful food, just a shame that I had to wash it down with bira!

Returning, to the White Bull I cleansed my innards with some proper refreshment and I and Sue chatted to a few of the very friendly locals, one of which turned out to be the Su chef.

After breakfast we drove over to Pendle Hill. It was bright and sunny, but very chilly. We parked below the hill and with walking gear on, set off up this very steep hill. There was still snow on top and quite a few intrepid ramblers, but no one dallied up there, it was far too cold. It took a couple of hours to summit and return, well worth the effort. Afterwards, we took a short drive into the village of Barley and had refreshments and a snack next to a welcoming log fire in the pub. Around 1pm we continued on our leisurely drive back to Harborough, passing through the northern towns of Burnley, Rochdale, Oldham etc. etc. I expected to see Coronation Street, endlessly repeated, and in many parts that’s exactly what we did pass through, but now divided by developments of a much more modern nature. The main difference being there were no Hilda Ogdens, or Enid Sharples to be seen, shopping bag in hand and scuttling off to the corner shop with wrinkly tights in evidence, they appear to have been replaced by citizens of a much darker complexion, tightly wrapped in eastern clothing against the harsh northern weather. A bit of colour against such a drab background.

Taken with Lumia Selfie


We called in for an hour to see Sarah and Mia, taking advantage of a warming coffee before returning to a cold Willow Bank, chilled after three days of emptiness.

On the 30th Nov. we were due to have lunch with Joan and Phil. They were on their UK Christmas visit, but on this occasion they rented a car that decided it liked Sainsbury’s so much it refused to leave the car park until persuaded to do so by the RAC. We rescheduled for the following day and had coffee and biscuits at Willow Bank and their car behaved itself. It was lovely to see them again and catch up with news, though much of the discussion centred on medical issues. I think it must be an age thing. They flew back to a snowy Santa Vittoria the following day.

December kicked off with Late Night Shopping in Harborough on the 1st! For the first time in such a long while we had both Sarah (with Mia) and Charlotte (with boys) over. It was the busiest I have ever seen it in town, the crowd, entertainers and retail stalls  seemed to occupy every centimetre of road and pavement. Within minutes of being immersed in the throng I managed to get myself separated from the rest of the family. A phone call later and we were reunited. I remember Nan doing exactly the same thing a few years ago. Oh dear! The rest of the evening went without hitch and we managed to see most things and Mia didn’t get trodden on too often. Sarah Stayed the night as she and  Charlotte had organised tea together on the following day.

On the 4th, I took a phone call from Lee around 11.45pm. It was unusual for me to still be up as Sue had retired to bed several hours prior. She had been previously feeling unwell and when she began to constantly throw-up with a severe pain in her side, Lee took her into hospital. They suspected Sepsis and had sent for the Sepsis nurse, but at the time of the call they couldn’t find her. I asked to be contacted when the nurse turned up, but after half an hour I rang and requested that Lee see a nurse and get them to give antibiotics to Sarah intravenously. If it was Sepsis, then administering antibiotics early can be a life-saver. The staff should know that without having to fetch a specialised nurse.

I woke Sue and we drove into Leicester to see our daughter. She looked ill and in a lot of pain, but thankfully she was on a drip and was indeed taking antibiotics intravenously. Morphine was being administered for the pain. It was a very worrying time. Results from urine and blood samples had returned by 4.30am and it was decided that it was Gallstones and that she should be moved to the General Hospital across town where they have a special unit. We watched her leave in the ambulance, then I and Sue returned home while Lee followed Sarah to make sure which ward they were putting her. He rang an hour later to let us know.

Over the next few days we travelled to see our rather poorly Sarah. Anything she ate wouldn’t stay down. 1.2g of Amoxicillin was being given and the morphine didn’t seem to be taking the pain away.   Worryingly, an ultra-sound scan didn’t show Gallstones. An MRI scan the following day indicated an infected kidney.

As all this was taking place, Ellis too was scheduled to be in hospital. Nearly a year ago, he had a very nasty and large lump develop behind his knee after falling down at school. It was eventually decided to operate and remove the internal fluid and this went ahead on the 5th of December. He was a brave little soldier and didn’t seem to mind the rigmarole of surgery. He was soon up and running around, proudly showing off his bandaged knee. Young bodies heal quick.

Sarah, continued to be a worry. Not being able to keep anything down, still suffering pain despite large quantities of morphine. However, after a week the hospital allowed her home.

On the 8th I drove down to Stansted airport. Earlier in the year I had spent a week in Cyprus with Jim Hankers to look at properties that he and his wife were considering buying. Selling their own place and buying the one they liked proved to be quite a convoluted affair, but eventually everything fell into place. That morning I was transporting Brigitt and two large dog crates in a transit van, followed by Jim, both dogs and his daughter in her car. All told, to transport the two dogs was around £2000 and for Jim and Brigitt, just £140. They love their dogs. It was nearly disaster at the start of the trip, I had only been on the A14 for around a couple of miles when in the rear view mirror I spotted an unmarked police car rapidly catching me in the fast lane. I indicated to move over into the slow lane to allow him to pass. Halfway through executing the manoeuvre (I had just over-taken another transit van, so knew there was room to move over) when a Mercedes flashed past my inside, followed by the police vehicle on my outside with siren wailing and lights flashing. He was chasing what I guessed was a stolen vehicle. They disappeared so quickly I dread to think the speed they were travelling, I was doing 70mph. The rest of the journey was tame in contrast.  I left the Hankers outside the cargo terminal at Stansted, keen to get home in time to see the Tigers on the box. Their flight and further transport to a rented villa in Polis went without hitch, but the expected moving in date of three days later didn’t happen. The latest news is that everything should be in place for the 21st. Fingers crossed.

The 10th was Lucas’s birthday. The Rothwell’s came over that afternoon after celebrating his birthday with friends at home and of course having the usual party celebrations. Lucas had asked to finish his day off at Nan’s playing games in front of the log burner and having one of his mum’s chili’s. Lee brought Sarah over too, but she looked unwell and I am not sure it was a wise thing to do. They returned home before we began to eat as she still couldn’t tolerate the smell of food cooking.

Despite much of the country being covered in heavy snow a few days earlier, Sue met up with Philippa in Tenbury Wells to exchange Christmas presents. They stayed over night at Sheila’s, returning the following day in heavy rain.

On the 12th I was privileged to accompany Charlotte to Rothwell School for a surprise party for Ellis. As a reward for outstanding progress and being a thoroughly nice child the school were throwing a surprise party for him and others. Parents had been invitedbut it had to remain a secret from the children. Suraj had to work and Sue was in Tenbury. Charlotte was thrilled and could hardly contain herself when she heard. The look on Ellis’s face and the other children when they were escorted into the party room and saw the people assembled there,  was a picture! It was a lovely initiative by the school and one that the children involved would remember for a long time. I know the parents will. I wasn’t quite sure why the Head dressed up as an Elf for the occasion?

Sue has not been very well over the past couple of weeks, a sniffly nose turned into cold and then into the shivers and a hacking cough with chest pains. A visit to the doctors today  resulted in a diagnosis of pneumonia, two courses of antibiotics, an appointment for a chest x-ray and several fluid tests. She has spent the last two nights sleeping on the settee in the lounge as it is much the warmest place in the house. On this run-up to Christmas, there seems to be quite a few of the Palmer family feeling rather run-down!

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