The run-up to Christmas seems to increase in intensity as each year passes. Yet, Sue and I are no longer dismayed at how early the shops and TV adverts dive into the hype and lurid sparkle of the festive period, since early October we have sighed and got on with life at our convenience. Black Friday, Cyber Monday and endless prequels of the day in question have successfully come and been ignored. With the absence of children pattering around the house and more than enough past tinsel and crackers under our belts to suppress the cheeriest of yuletide nonsense, we have slowly ‘Scrooged’ ourselves to a sensible rule: If it’s not December, it can’t be Christmas!
And now it is!!!!!!
On the 1st, Sarah and Lee kicked off the run-up to celebrations by decorating their home in elaborate style.
Jamie helped Ruth decorate her Christmas tree and Sue and I drove to Cleobury Mortimer to see Sheila (a family friend). We travelled in Sue’s little Suzuki as Jamie’s Corsa was off the road with a power steering issue and he was borrowing mine. I don’t drive her Alto very often but I am always pleasantly surprised by how nippy it is, the little engine comfortably managing motorway speeds and the steepest of hill climbs.
In the preceding weeks, the UK had been subjected to a persistent deluge from above but with Zeus taking a welcome rest to replenish his clouds, clear skies and a bitter cold descended on the country. The journey to The Talbot was a much more pleasant affair than that of a few days earlier and the 2-hour drive through moderate traffic went without a hitch.
It was around midday when we parked up behind our rather splendid looking 16th-century accommodation, sitting in the warmth of the car we ate a packed lunch that Sue had prepared earlier that morning. As usual, we had planned a walk before checking in, today this was with extra thermal layers, hats and gloves.
Our walk was just short of 9 miles, passing through the villages of Mamble and Bayton.
Though the air was chill, crisp and clear, great for a ramble, the ground underfoot was a sorry excuse, we squelched our way across grassy meadows, over fields of winter crops with each footfall collecting layers of heavy, claggy mud and through stark woods were drifts of fallen leaves hid the treacherous surface below. Twice, Sue’s rear-end hit the deck with a muddy splat, and despite my best efforts and legendary cat-like reactions I too suffered the ignominy of a grand posterior slide down the leafy slope, losing far too many points on presentation and style to remain composed.
With nothing more than pride hurt, the cumulative effect of stepping onto sodden ground giving way at each step and the added weight of thick layers of mocha mud made for a miserable final few miles. Annoyingly, I had a plan B whereby around the three-mile mark we could cut across the country and halve our route, however, we missed the opportunity through nattering too much! Served us right.
Even though it was winter, our route took us through some lovely countryside and some wonderful medieval properties.
With some way still to go, we found that we were beginning to run out of daylight, to add to our problems the route took us over the River Rea which just a week ago had been in flood and was still racing through the landscape. The flimsy little wooden bridge that was our way across the torrent was now cordoned off with a warning that it was unsafe. Now in the twilight, there was no alternative but to cross, which we did somewhat gingerly. Rather than stick to our planned route following the course of the Rea and under tree cover, I used my GPS to follow the ridge above a bridleway which in turn led to a country lane. This returned us safely back to the Talbot as the last vestiges of daylight gave way to starlight. It had been a magnificent sunset, but for once we hadn’t stopped and appreciated its beauty.
After check-in, we rested with coffee and biscuits in our room. Being a 16th-century Inn you would expect the building to have lots of character and this place did. Though our room was small it had all the expected facilities and we loved how they had exposed the ‘wattle and daub’ structure of the wall at the head of the bed.
That evening we ate in an Indian restaurant in the town, not the best Asian meal we have ever eaten but it did the job and we slept well that night.
We took breakfast in the Talbot and afterwards set off on a walking circuit of the town centre. Not many people were braving what was a very chilly morning, but it does only have a population of just over 3000. The name is believed to derive from the contraction of the word ‘clifu’, meaning a steep place and ‘bury’ meaning fortified settlement. ‘Mortimer’ comes from the Norman lord to whom the land was granted. St. Mary’s church located in the centre has a crooked spire. The area is well known for its spas and springs/wells, just off the main road in the town is a very well-preserved example of this.
In front of The Talbot are the remains of the Weeping Cross. This was erected to mark the passing of the funeral cortege of Prince Arthur on the way to internment in Worcester Cathedral, he died at the age of 15yrs at Ludlow Castle. Little remains of the cross but it is easy to find and the story is very interesting; the history of this island could well be greatly different if he had lived and taken the crown.
After completing our town tour we moved on to Ludlow. We were keen to visit the church of St. Laurence where Prince Arthur’s heart is buried. An impressive, building with a prominent tower. There is an information board near to the burial spot in the chancel to help those interested. We didn’t bother with the nearby castle as we have visited it a couple of times before, the central Christmas market held more interest.
As we left the town we took the opportunity to stop awhile in the Ludlow Brewery and purchase a few of their beverages for later consumption.
Moving on again we drove to Tenbury Wells (where Sue used to live and we were married). It had suffered badly with flooding over the last few years and particularly so just recently and there was much evidence of this. We had come to see Sheila, but she wasn’t feeling very well so we knew our visit would be briefer than usual. She has recently acquired a cat from a friend that has had to go into hospital, they have bonded strongly, I don’t think she intends to give it back! We stayed just an hour as she had a doctor’s appointment and we completed our visit to the town with a walk-through and a detour to the church for Sue to pay her respects to her parents whose ashes are scattered there. On the way back she came across a couple of old school friends and took the opportunity for a good old natter and catch up on town news.
That evening we ate in the hotel. The following morning (3rd) we returned home after breakfast.
On the 4th I had an appointment with an Orthopaedic specialist at the local St. Luke’s hospital in the morning and two appointments at the Leicester General hospital in the afternoon for MRI scans on my knee and foot. Despite the cutbacks suffered by the NHS in recent years, I don’t think I can complain about the service that I have received.
The following afternoon I drove down in the rain to Luton airport to pick up an old friend, Jim Hankers, who had flown in from Cyprus. His wife Bridget had thoughtfully booked him his flights as a Christmas present. He was staying with us and attending the Rugby Club Christmas Lunch, taking place that Saturday. We arrived back in Harborough by 8.30pm, just in time to eat a chicken casserole prepared by Sue before heading off to the Beer House to meet up with some ex-rugby teammates. As expected it ended up being a late night and with the time difference between Cyprus and the UK, I guess that Jim was a pretty tired bunny when he eventually did put his head on the pillow.
I had a physiotherapy appointment at St. Luke’s hospital at midday the next day, we kept Jim inside during the morning, protecting him from the harsh winter conditions of a British winter (3 degrees). I dropped him off in the town on the way to my appointment so that he could purchase a few items that were not easily available back home (burger maker, baking tins etc.) That evening Sue and I walked into town to experience the Harborough Late Night Shopping Christmas Fayre and to watch the film ‘Red Joan’ at the cinema club in Harborough Theatre. We left Jim watching a rugby match on the TV, grateful that we hadn’t insisted that he venture into the ‘below freezing’ conditions outside. When we returned he had retired early to a warm bed, no doubt to dream of sunny days and Mediterranean temperatures.
With Saturday now upon us, Sue drove us over to the club to meet up with old friends, enjoy a pleasant meal and watch the 1st team put in an excellent performance to beat Rugby Lions. We concluded our visit to the club after consuming a large selection of cheeses that Sean had brought and a jar of my own special pickled onions. We continued the evening by relocating to the Admiral Nelson pub by supporting one of the regulars celebrating their 50th birthday (no idea who it was!). An excellent day and another very late bedtime.
Sunday was a day of rest (and so it should be). Jim’s daughter Sarah came to visit him and have lunch. She had booked a table at the Blackhorse in Foxton for them and I drove them there for some quiet family time together. Afterwards, she stayed and chatted with us until she was collected by her husband and children who had spent the day at Twin Lakes Theme Park.
Monday turned out to be a sunny but chilly affair. I had arranged to meet John Lee in Stamford to catch up on news and swap Christmas cards, as Jim’s brother lived just a few miles away in Deeping St. James he took the opportunity to organise a meet-up. The drive through the Welland Valley didn’t go without incident as the floods of the previous weeks still hadn’t fully subsided and we had a few detours en route. We met John in a town centre pub called the Golden Fleece, situated next to Queen Eleanor’s Cross. The Eleanor Crosses were erected by King Edward I to mark the resting places taken during the journey to transport his deceased wife, Eleanor of Castile‘s body from Lincoln to London in 1290. We chatted over a pleasant lunch washed down with local refreshments and were soon joined by Jim’s brother and niece who had brought along her new baby. They only stayed a short while as his brother is a baker and had to get back to his baking. On our way back to Harborough we called in to see Jamie at work in Sutton Basset, he was busy organising the loading of the vans for the following morning’s deliveries.
That evening Jim treated Sue and I to a meal at The Bell in Gumley, it was steak night.
Storm Atiyah had ravaged the west of the country on Sunday and Monday and on Tuesday it was our turn in the east to suffer with Storm Brendan shaking the trees with ferocious gusts. Sue had a U3A ‘New Experience’ group Christmas dinner at the Mexican restaurant in town. I drove Jim into Kettering where he bought a T-shirt in ‘Sports Direct’, a bit more suitable for the Cypriot climate. We visited Charlotte on the way home via the Cherry Tree for a light lunch. It was Lucas’s thirteenth birthday and I was keen to find out how he was taking to the ‘terrible teens’, I think it is similar to the ‘terrible two’s’, but larger. Apparently, he appears to be exactly the same (so far).
On the 11th I took Jim back to Luton Airport to catch a 7am flight back to sunny Cyprus. It was a 3am start and as luck would have it the M1 was shut (roadworks), though the diversion took us down ‘A’ roads to Luton we arrived just 15 mins behind schedule. I went back to bed on arriving back home as Sue was leaving on a U3A walk around Loddington, finishing up with another Christmas meal at The Hare.
The 12th of December was a miserable day. Cold, wet and windy. The country (well, most of it) was occupied with the General Election, comparable weather to the almighty mess our mendacious politicians have placed us in, I thought. Sue and I exercised our vote during the morning, eager to get this necessary obligation out of the way. Despite the rain and biting cold our polling station was very, very busy, a sure sign that feelings were running strong. Julie Simpson, a friend and local councillor was standing outside the entrance with coated wrapped tightly around, grimly smiling at passing voters, doing her duty for the party, usually I would stand and chat for while, but not today, the issues are too impassioned for jovial banter, besides, it was not a day to be outside if you didn’t have to.
I spent the rest of the morning creating a listing on eBay, while Sue made leek and potato soup from the vegetables that I had picked from the allotment the previous day. I was selling a Hoverboard that I had bought Lucas and Ellis for Christmas. Unfortunately, I discovered that Charlotte and Suraj had already bought Ellis one and Lucas wasn’t interested in them. As I had managed to acquire it at a considerably reduced price, all may not be lost, it could make a tidy profit. If it doesn’t sell, it seems likely that Lucas will acquire a moveable sound system (the board has a Bluetooth speaker!)
Charlotte had been visiting Doreen on the other side of town that morning and came to sample the soup at lunchtime. Afterwards, she and Sue went into town to do a spot of Christmas shopping.
I spent the afternoon bottling the white wine that had been settling out for nearly two weeks. I kept around a third of the quantity back as I intend to blend it with some of the red wine that is still fermenting away. I have very high hopes for the red as it has a very pleasant taste, I am just waiting for it to reach my favoured SG1.0, which will be very soon now.
An explanation of Vin-allo’: Vin is short for Vineyard, allo’ is short for allotment or if more appropriate, vin is short for vinegar and allo’ is short for allowance. You can never tell which is going to apply.
I woke this morning (13th) to discover that the country had made a decision. The previous evening we had not listened to the news, nor had we stayed up all night (like some in the family) glued to the enfolding election results, other than braving the elements to put a cross on a ballot paper Sue and I went about our Thursday routines as usual. I believe that we have done the same on four occasions in the last five years, something I think is indicative of those who may live in the Banana Republic or perhaps more accurately an Oligarchy and whose citizens have little faith that a vote really does matter. When politicians believe themselves to be ‘more right’ than those that they represent and feel that it is ok to fabricate situations and facts in order to foster their own ends, then we get the chaos that this country has recently experienced. To be human is to be flawed and perhaps we expect too much from those that represent us; to be better than ourselves, without bias, have wisdom and be selfless. Perhaps we would be served better by another system of governance other than a democracy, but today I think the people have spoken and clearly made their views plain to those MP’s that have openly not been part of team UK. The choice was: ‘Get Brexit Done’, ‘Another Referendum’, ‘Stop Brexit’. False and ludicrous diversionary promises failed to shake the electorate from the reality of the true situation, the majority still hold the power and until that is changed, then for the good of ALL we now need to put the past behind us and start pulling in the same direction. There is much to be improved and much to be healed, I foresee a growing intolerance and a very bleak future for those that fail to accept the results of this election. Democracy does seem to be still working, but it certainly needs a service and would probably benefit from an MOT, soon.