Pepper, Boilers and Christmas.

With Brexit dominating the news 24/7 it was a refreshing change on the 28th Nov. to get out into the Leicestershire countryside on a ramble with John. I had plotted a circular route from the Royal Oak in Great Dalby into my GPS using some new software, it had indicated the distance as being 9.9 miles but in reality, it turned out to be a little over 12 miles! However, the weather had been forecast to be foul, but except for a brief shower we had a relatively easy journey with a strong wind assisting us up several steep inclines towards the latter end of our trek. Lunch was most welcome and was washed down with a very unusual plum porter.

The following day the central heating boiler decided to die. It is under a service contract with HomeServe and I was pleased to be informed that the contract provided for a free boiler, I would just have to pay for its installation. A fitter called a few days later to survey the site and provide us with a quote for installation. Wisely,  I had already asked a friend (he owns a local building and heating company) to give me a quote on replacing the existing boiler and I was surprised to find that the two quotes were exactly the same, less 60p!!! One with a FREE boiler and one without. Of course, the ‘FREE’ boiler could only be fitted by one of the company’s own accredited fitters, not surprisingly I preferred to pay for a new boiler and have it fitted by a company that I trusted not to try to rip me off. I conveyed my thoughts to HomeServe when they enquired as to why I had not chosen them.

Sadly, on the 1st of December Pepper passed away. Pepper was Charlotte’s cat. It was on the same date that her other cat Murphy passed away a few years ago, though in much more tragic circumstances. Pepper was loved by all in the family, his rasping growl would always greet you AND let you know when he was hungry. He spent much of the last few years inside the house, not caring to venture out into the big wide world, preferring cuddles and sleep to adventures and fuss. I for one shall miss that skinny little bundle of fur.

Now that Charlotte is on the road to recovery we have started to resume our habits of the past. On the 4th Dec. Sue had her U3A walk cancelled due to muddy conditions so she accompanied Charlotte and me for lunch at the Red Lion in Clipston. Though she can’t as yet drive she has taken to catching the bus into Harborough to see friends and of course her mum and dad.

On the 7th the Rothwells came over to Harborough for ‘Late Night Shopping’, this annual event is popular in the area, more for street entertainment, free mince pies and mulled wine rather than yet another opportunity to purchase late Christmas presents. There didn’t appear to be as many people or entertainers as in the past, but the shops and stalls did seem to be very busy.  The following day I attended the annual Christmas luncheon at the rugby club, meeting up with old chums and catching up with the latest rugby gossip. It was a pleasant and reserved meal and for once I arrived home early and under my own steam. How life changes as you get older (and wiser?)

Lucas had his twelfth birthday on the 10th and met up with his friend Hamish from Newark to celebrate.

On the 15th Sue drove to Tenbury Wells to meet Philippa and swap Christmas presents. They both stayed the night at Sheila’s, celebrating Philippa’s birthday with a meal at a local hostelry on a Saturday night, before returning home on Sunday. That Saturday morning I had an early appointment at the Eye Clinic at the Royal in Leicester. I caught the 6.40am bus from Harborough as driving after an eye injection was not an option. Annoyingly, I lost my long-distance glasses at some time during the day. I had only taken them in case they needed to be checked and ironically they weren’t. Fortunately, a replacement pair only cost me £15.

My second Christmas dinner of the season was on the 20th with my Thursday night pool-playing chums. We took a taxi to Loddington and dined at The Hare. It was another quiet affair among good company in pleasant surroundings.


On Christmas Eve the family arrived for the start of the festivities. Sue had unfortunately contracted the chesty cough that was apparently working its way through the population of the town. While the Rothwells went for the traditional afternoon walk into town I stayed with Sue to keep her company and also keep an eye on her. Sarah, Lee and Mia arrived after work later in the afternoon, bringing with them a pre-ordered selection of hand-made pizzas from Asda, and very tasty and very filling they proved to be.  After munching through their personalised Italian Cibo, Charlotte and Sarah set about preparing the vegetables and turkey in readiness for the following day’s meal. Sue took to her bed.

By 8.30pm all had been scrubbed, chopped, sliced and seasoned and we set off (minus a sleeping Sue) to Kettering for an evening of tenpin bowling. It was an activity that in the past we did each Christmas, but it was put on hold when Lucas and Ellis made an appearance as it does make for a very late evening. We bowled until 11.30pm with lots of family fun and wind-ups going on. However, I was surprised to see that the majority of lanes were empty, when we have been in the past on Christmas Eve the place was heaving with families and groups of friends having a great time. You would have to book months ahead to get a lane.  The bar was open and food was available, where were the good people of Kettering?

Returning to Harborough it was off to bed and sleep, though Ellis did take time to check on his tablet the current location of Santa and confidently announced that he was presently in Spain, it would be a while before he got here. That was lucky, we wouldn’t want to miss him, would we?

I have it on good authority that Mr Claus had arrived before 5am, but Sue and I didn’t rouse ourselves until 8am, when all the family assembled to look on in wonder at the mound of presents around the tree. That must be some sleigh Mr Claus has, you have to feel for Rudolf and co, they certainly earned their carrots this year.


After breakfast, Suraj and Ellis were the delivery elves, they did an efficient job with no one seemingly short of things to unwrap for an hour or so. Gratefully, we all appeared to get what we had wished for, and more besides. Though the suppressed excitement of opening a brightly coloured festive parcel is hard to beat (even if you do know what is inside), watching the curiosity and then the surprise of others opening theirs is what Christmas is all about. Oh, and we mustn’t forget the birth of baby Jesus too!


The rest of the day went thus: Sarah and Charlotte with the occasional help of Sue cooked a splendid Christmas lunch while the rest of the family attended to their presents. Satisfyingly gorged and with pots, pans and crockery washed and temporarily put away,  toys, gizmos, electronics etc. were again perused and ‘sorted out’. Late in the afternoon, all except Sue took an invigorating walk around the Farndon Fields estate to give Mia some much-needed exercise and also to aid the passage of freshly digested turkey with trimmings. After preparing and then consuming the evening meal, the family all sat down to watch the film  ‘Mowgli’ on the lounge cinema system. An excellent film, very enjoyable. Sarah, Lee and Mia departed to travel up to Lee’s parents in Nottinghamshire to celebrate his birthday.


From my observations, the majority of households (those with children) in our neighbourhood (at least), seem to follow the same tried and trusted procedure. You can’t beat it. Only 364 more days to go to savour it all again!

Boxing Day started with an appointment for Sue at the walk-in clinic at the local hospital. The diagnosis was that the cough was viral and antibiotics would be of no use, it may take a couple of months to fully recover. Chesty cough remedies were advised.

Afterwards, we drove to Peterborough Greyhound Stadium to continue the festivities. We had pre-booked a couple of tables to ensure that we were not going to have to stand for the afternoon. At £30 a table it is expensive but there is always the chance that our winnings may cover the cost, though it hasn’t been done so far and it didn’t this year! Suraj and Lucas were the only ones to show a significant profit, the rest of us crashed and burned to a variety of degrees! As usual, we took advantage of the bar and fast food outlet to top up our already inflated breadbaskets. There was a little bit of excitement early on in the afternoon as during the 2nd race the hare continually refused to be chased by six eager greyhounds but eventually after much cajoling by the technical staff and lots of practice runs he played ball and the afternoon went smoothly. As usual, he didn’t get caught, despite wearing a bright orange jacket that seems to upset the canine population, he is far too fast.


Due to the delay, it was a late return to Harborough for tea and another evening film session. Ashton joined us briefly to say hello and confirm that she would be joining us on tomorrow’s traditional Christmas celebration.

Sue and I looked after Lucas and Ellis while Charlotte and Suraj took advantage of the sales and did some shopping. Later in the morning Lee and Sarah arrived and we added Mia to our shepherding duties while they too went off in search of bargains. We all met up again at 5pm in the Lighthouse Theatre, Kettering to watch the pantomime Aladdin. It was by a long way the best production we have seen to date. An absolute magical evening that captured the festive fun of Christmas perfectly. The flying carpet routine left us mesmerised, how did they do it?

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We returned home to traditionally finish off the rest of the turkey with the obligatory chips and salad. You can’t beat yuletide food!

On the 28th everyone left. Sara and Lee to prepare for their move to Newbold Verdon on the 7th of January, Jamie and Ashton to do likewise for their move to Desborough on the 24th of January and the Rothwells to look after Mia for a week in practice for acquiring their own dog in the near future. I think they may possibly be homing a greyhound as I saw Charlotte pick up a few leaflets concerning retired greyhounds. We shall see how the dummy run with Mia goes. Owning a dog is life-changing and not just for Christmas (so the advert says).

Over the next few days, Sue struggled on with a worsening cough and bouts of coldness and high temperature. Early morning on New Years’ Eve day she had an appointment with her GP who confirmed that she had an infection in her right lung and prescribed antibiotics and rest. On return, she took to her bed and remained there for the rest of the day.

The Rothwells celebrated the New Year at home, watching the London fireworks display on the TV, Sarah and Lee travelled to Cotgrave and Jamie and Ashton booked into a hotel in Nottingham and partied there. Sue and I (as in past years) were in bed and listened to the ‘friendly fire’ detonating outside.

New Years Day saw no improvement in Sue (but no worsening) and she remained within her quilt cocoon, letting the medication do its work. We were both due to travel to Rothwell to have lunch but Sue wasn’t well enough, so I travelled alone, bringing back a plate for her to consume in bed. The Rothwells had been looking after Mia for nearly a week now so I was not surprised to learn that they had already picked out a replacement for when she is returned to Sarah. Pinned to the kitchen door was a poster of ‘Mate’. Mate is a retired sandy-coloured greyhound and soon to be re-homed in the next two weeks in Rothwell. Charlotte informed me that his racing days are now over because he ‘looked at’ the other dogs during his last race. This apparently is a ‘no, no’ as it puts the other dogs off. A pretty good tactic if you ask me, a dog that has learnt to psych out the opposition should be kept and raced, not re-homed. I didn’t know, but greyhounds are trained not to look at other dogs, I guess their telepathic skills must be awesome. Perhaps Charlotte, Suraj and the boys may just have invited a canine psychopath into their home?


This year I acquired a Google Home mini as a Christmas present. A fascinating bit of technology that (I am sure) will soon infiltrate the whole of society for the better or worse. Being one of the ‘good guys’ I don’t see myself having to worry about the little sphere sitting in the lounge listening into what is happening in the Palmer home (no matter who is surreptitiously in control), but I certainly wouldn’t have one anywhere near me if I had criminal tendencies, but then it is my experience that the majority of wrongdoers aren’t the brightest of cookies and would most likely possess one.

On the 2nd of January, Sue felt a little bit better and managed to leave her cocoon and came downstairs, we had the central heating on and also lit the wood burner in the lounge to warm her passage around the house. During the morning we denuded the Christmas tree then I dug the large suitcases out of the loft to pack in readiness for our (fingers crossed) imminent cruise. Frustratingly we are still waiting for the cruise tickets to arrive. I have emailed attachments of their scan, but the actual tickets have been sent by special delivery and should have arrived by now. I feel a critical review is in the making!


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