Christmas Observations

Sniffles looked most unimpressed on Christmas Day when both of his usual spots in the living room – in the corner of the sofa, and on the armchair – were filled with people. He sat malevolently glaring at me sat in the armchair for at least five minutes before stalking off to plan mass murder.

After lots of me mentioning that having a trebuchet to expel unwanted pests (pets, family, people at work etc.) would be a great idea; I now have one. As a Christmas present. Granted, it is only model size and flimsy balsa wood, but I now have plans for how to build one, and it is just a case of scaling up to industrial size usage. Plus I got a bright orange t-shirt adorned with the slogan ‘Don’t make me get the trebuchet’.

Came downstairs Boxing Day morning to find people watching Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker, and my first thought was how much more interesting it would be if it was Jason Bourne’s Nutcracker. (I love Tchaikovsky’s music, it’s just the ballet bit that doesn’t interest me.)

It’s been agreed that Sniffles will be palmed off on Helen’s mum when we go away. And she is already on about getting him a harness to take him for a walk whilst he is with her. I dread to think how little of her arms would be left after an attempt to get a harness on him. Let alone trying to take him for a walk.

Sniffles has been out a lot more over the past few days. I’m sure that the correlation versus the words per minute being spoken in the house by Helen’s mum is only coincidental. As is the increase in cauliflower ears in the house.

After her saying that she likes listening to old things it did make me wonder if that is the reason she speaks so much. Even when eating. She said that the reason she eats so slowly is that she was told to chew each mouthful twenty times. But that isn’t the reason at all, it’s the twenty minutes of chatting between each mouthful that is the problem. It shouldn’t take anyone two hours to eat a plate of food. One such snippet was that she had suggested to some of the other single pensioners in her estate that they take turns in cooking meals and having them together, so they aren’t cooking for themselves, but no one else was interested in doing so, as they were too lazy. Again, I don’t think it is laziness that is the issue here, but who wants that many meals with cauliflower (ears)?

It was back to work this morning, it was only working from home, but it is nice to be back to the relative peace and quiet of a working day. I usually have music on in the background, but it is nice to sit in silence and throw v-signs at the cat as he paws at the window to be let back in now the talking woman has gone home. It is difficult to appreciate just how many random snacks and goodies there are around the house, but there are little bowls of such delights as chocolates, peanuts, pigs in blankets flavoured crisps, chocolate and cinnamon tortillas, etc, etc. I’ve only left the house to go to football on Boxing Day (don’t even ask about that one), and we are due to be going for a walk tomorrow, always assuming I can get out of the door.

Hello 2021

It was back to work this morning, and it was a bit of a culture shock after twelve days off. Especially since I’ve moved to a four-day week and it means an 8am start. At least with the lockdown it did mean I didn’t have to travel to my new office location in Portslade (they can call the office Hove all they like, it’s next to Portslade train station ffs). It was a dull cold morning and not fully light as I was setting up, and it was dark by the time I logged off.

Since I last did a usual update, I’ve had my last day in Atlantic House, a day earlier than planned, a bit of a retrospective is below

The last working day for me before Christmas was worked from home, as Helen needed the car to take Charlie to the vets for a scan / blood test. It was a strange and sad day as Charlie didn’t make it home.

It didn’t take long for the local cheeky fox to work out there was no dog in residence, as when loading the car, the fox kept poking its nose in the house between my trips to the car.

We were travelling north to spend Christmas at my mum’s in Morecambe, but were looking to leave at a reasonable time to then stop at Stafford overnight on the way up. With the events of the day we were later than intended and ended up having dinner at home before setting off. It was ridiculously windy and rainy as we drove up, and it was after eleven by the time we got to the hotel for the night.

At least the weather Christmas Eve was better and brighter as we did the second part of the journey. We had left a tier 2 Crawley for a Christmas bubble in tier 3, but found out before going that we would be returning to tier 4 Crawley.

Christmas at my mum’s was a lot more relaxing than expected. We got out a couple of times for walks, once sneaking over the border into Cumbria to Arnside, and once to the end of the world at Sutherland Point.

The journey back started in bright sunshine, but it became overcast as we travelled south. From just after Lancaster down to Birmingham the whole of the surrounding countryside had at least a thin layer of snow on it, and in places the fast lane had a thick layer of dirty grey slush in it. Oxfordshire was a different matter, the whole county appeared to be an inland sea, there was no defining where the banks of the River Cherwell was the three times the motorway passed over it.

We got back to Crawley about the same time as the darkness. We’d no sooner parked up than Sniffles ran and hid under the car. The fox was back now unchecked by a local dog and had to be chased off twice before Sniffles could get into the house.

A house that was leaking, a slow steady drip in the kitchen ceiling. Inspecting the bathroom gave no indication where the water was coming from. It was a late night as we tried to figure out where the water was coming from while Helen rang the insurance company, and we tried to work out how to turn the water off. By the time the plumber turned up the next morning the leak had stopped. The plumber confidently told us it was coming from a gap in the sealant around the bath and shower.

Therefore after 36 hours of not using the shower it was a surprise to get up the following morning to find the drip had reappeared. Home Sense sent a second plumber out, who diagnosed the leak was actually coming from the toilet and running along boards to get to the point above the leak. He fixed that and its been drip free since then, and we’ve redone the sealant around the bath just in case.

New Year’s Eve saw us having a few quiet drinks and a takeaway curry, and then at a quarter to midnight we were out on the front to have a socially distanced gathering of neighbours. However, I suddenly had an urgent need for the toilet and was sat there as the new year came in and all the fireworks around the town started going off. It was quite literally a case of same s#&*, different year.

As a final insult from 2020, the vibrations of the very load Bluetooth speaker we’d acquired recently forced Helen’s iPad off its surface and onto a concrete step, smashing the screen.

Some fizz, some shots and a lot of chat saw it become a late night, and no sign of anyone surfacing until the afternoon of New Year’s Day. It also appeared that we had used every glass in the house, and most of the plates and cutlery as I washed up. We had takeaway pizza that night, which we ate from the box, so I was confused and dismayed as to how on earth so much washing up there was Saturday morning.

The decorations all came down and were boxed away, although as I type this and look up, I can see a remnant hung over a lamp that we missed.

The new year has come in and I’m not sure that I have any real resolutions. I had thought about trying to be a bit less miserable and more engaged at work, but that lasted about two minutes in to a half eight call this morning. I suppose I should try and do some more proper writing this year, go back and do the novels that are works in progress, rather than only ever writing blog posts.

Away from that, what I really want for 2021 is for Dave to finally get a new sponsor for their primetime programming and so we never have to see another of their three dreadfully repetitive Dacia adverts. They’ve changed their sponsor on all their other segments, but the ones for the main time we watch live TV are enough to drive anyone insane after at least two years of them. I can guarantee they have put me off of ever buying a Dacia car in my lifetime.

I’ve bought a month of Now TV’s Sky Sports pass, as it’s NFL playoff season, and there is no RedZone now. It does coincide with Spurs being in a cup semi-final tonight, so may brave watching a match under the footballing antichrist. However, despite playing opposition from the Championship, I fully expect us to do what we always do nowadays and lose a domestic cup semi-final. At least my mate Jimbo Up North would be happy.

Meanwhile, Sniffles is a confused cat. He doesn’t understand why there is no dog around, and he can’t quite get a grip on the fact his feeding bowl is now on the floor instead of up on the side. For the last two years he has looked up at the worktop mournfully pretending he can’t jump up there to get his food. Since the food has been on the floor he has on a daily basis managed to jump up to the side by himself. Today he managed it three times, each time to jump back down when he saw food going in his bowl on the floor. This is after I heard him whining outside. I opened to backdoor to let him in, but there was no sign of him, just a wail coming from under the cover of the garden furniture. He had gotten under it to keep himself dry, but hadn’t managed to work out how to get back out until I lifted a corner of it up and let some light in. He had been whining to come and sleep in our room, but now the dog has gone he’s always whining and pawing at Nathan’s door instead, despite the other two bedroom doors being open. Contrary little sod.

A Welsh Christmas

Christmas away with lots of family would be a new one on me. A farmhouse in Pembrokeshire means a long journey to get there, and I’m worrying before we start. Mainly at how we are going to get everything in the car. Four people, luggage, presents, food etc., but thankfully no pets. We have people checking on and feeding the cats, and Charlie’s been put in a kennel for the festive period. A whole host of new people for him to bark at randomly.

We just about manage to cram everything into the car and start off. As far a Maccy D’s for brunch, before heading for the motorways – M23, M25, M3, M329, M4 and then the A roads from where the motorways stop, and then to B roads, and then the paths between hedges before we arrived at the farmhouse in the dark and the rain.

Twenty seven trips between the car and the house to unload (that may be an exaggeration, but not by much), and we were there. It’s a nice large house and it all looks good, but as the week goes on there are signs that the house is a bit tired.

The top oven only works as a grill. The main oven maxes out at 200 degrees C. The dishwasher struggles when filled anywhere near capacity. There are three games rooms, with a total of two pool tables, table football, table tennis and two dart boards. Sadly, neither of the pool tables are up to much. The larger slate bed one has a sagging slate as if someone has been pogoing in the middle of the table for years and is only really suited to 9 ball as the cue ball is the same size as the rest of the oversized balls. The other table is a wood one with foldaway legs and balls slightly too small for the table. There were a lot of rolls on that table and definitely no Royce. The cushions were dead and absorbed all the speed of the balls with no bounce at all. The place had been advertised as having broadband. The old dial up connection of the 90’s would have been quicker. Either that or they need a new horde of hamsters to turn the wheels.

Then there were the beds. A strange collection of different styles and mattress types. On the first night I turned over on the poor attempt at a memory foam mattress and suddenly the middle part of the mattress sank into an abyss. It was a low base bed with thin slats. Now, I know I’m a fat git, but just turning over shouldn’t dislodge three slats. Investigation in the morning suggested it wasn’t just me that has had this problem with the bed. There was evidence that the slats popped out more often Captain Oates. I put them back in and spent the rest of the week trying not to move as I slept for fear of disappearing into the abyss, but they didn’t pop out again.

There’s always a first time for things to happen to you. And so it was when there I was, lying in bed when I realised it was raining on me. We’d left a slight crack open in a couple of windows to let some air in to the room to counteract the stifling heat of the central heating from hell.

I had woken once when the curtain had knocked the lamp onto the bed. The crack had changed into chasms and the curtain behind the headboard was being blown well into the room, whereas the curtain to the side of the room was being sucked out into the night. I got up and closed the windows back to their cracks not thinking a lot of it and went back to bed.

I’m not sure how much later it was, but the windows were wide open again, and the curtain behind the bed was now pretty much floating horizontally over me in the bed, and the rain was driving in through the hole it should have been covering, all over me and the bedside cabinet, and the carpet next to the bed and all the bags of presents lined up against the far wall.

I got up and closed the window again, all the way to this time, with no crack at all, and then closed the window on the other side of the room after wrangling the curtain back in from outside. By the time I’d done this and got back to the bed, the wind had opened the window behind the bed again. I pulled it shut and locked the thing, before heading back to a somewhat damp bed. Meanwhile not a drop had made it to Helen’s side of the bed.

Being rained on whilst sleeping was something that I hadn’t even encountered whilst camping numerous times whilst in the scouts.

Although the farmhouse is in the middle of the wilds, it’s not that far from some good places to visit. Haverfordwest was the nearest large town to do all the shopping. Our car load went the more scenic route (yes we went the wrong way), past Carew Castle to get there. We saw two large buildings whilst in the town. Aldi and Tesco. And got some very long souvenir receipts (together they were nearly as tall as me). There was another (intentional this time) detour on the way back to the farmhouse to see what the nearest large village looked like. We did a lap of Narberth, and it looked very nice, but we didn’t manage to get back to walk around it. It’s funny how times flies like that. Speaking of which, that was pretty much Sunday wiped out.

Monday saw five of the six of us already at the farmhouse head over to Pembroke Dock. Some of us passed Carew again, before we got to park up near to the castle. Run by a private trust it meant we couldn’t use our English Heritage cards as we can for any CADW sites.

I hadn’t been to this part of Wales before, and all I knew is that the whole area is festooned with castles. What I didn’t know is that Pembroke Castle is one of the most impressive ones anywhere in Wales. Or that it was the home to some of the most important families in medieval history. It had been built by the de Montgomery family, and changed hands through the Marshall’s, de Clare’s, de Valence’s, Hastings’, and Tudor’s. An impressive list, with at the end of it Henry Tudor was born at the castle. And he ended up becoming Henry VII.

There is a lot of the castle intact. Lots of the barbican and gatehouse buildings are complete (if a bit leaky), and the outer walls are about ninety percent complete. Parts of the keep still stand, including the grand tower and dungeon tower, but most of it is now roofless and in ruins.

It is an impressive structure and I managed to climb (and squeeze) my way to the top of all six of the towers that are open to the public. I’m not sure how William Marshall would have coped inside the castle though. He was reputed to be six foot six tall, extremely rare for the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and with armour and a helmet on he would have had to walk in a crouch around most of the passages and staircases. I know this as I, who is only six foot two without a helmet, managed to clout my head on ceilings four times as I wandered around. In fact, I could have done with a helmet, as I still have a headache as I write this four days later.

After exploring the castle and the cave beneath that has been used since 10,000 BC called Wogan’s Hole (not named after Terry, but the other way around, despite how old he was), and the exit through the gift shop (yes, pen, fridge magnet and guide book) it was time for a pub lunch. We found the King George, sat on the waterfront, the water in question being the moat to the castle, which still surrounds two sides of it. It was one of the friendliest pubs I’ve ever been in. And the food was really nice and cheap as well.

The remaining four family members turned up that evening. Two by car – with what I’m sure were actually twenty seven trips to unload all their stuff – and the other two picked up from Carmarthen coach station – with two small bags each. We were now at our full complement of ten for the rest of the week.

Christmas Eve saw a leisurely brunch before two car loads of four headed off to St David’s, the smallest city in the United Kingdom. Built around what had originally been a sixth century monastery to St David, a village had grown up around the site. From the eleventh to fourteenth centuries a large impressive cathedral was built on the site of the monastery, and the now ruined Bishop’s palace was built on the other side of the small river. The village with a cathedral then became a city, but never really expanded much after that.

Originally the whole holy site had its own city walls with gatehouses at strategic points. A lot of the walls are still there, but only one of the gatehouses survive, an octagonal tower that stands above the churchyard to the cathedral, at a level with most of the rest of the current city.

The cathedral itself is impressive in size, and although there are some touches of grandeur, a lot of the old stained glass had been ruined by the puritan pompous prick, Oliver Cromwell. What is amazing all the way through were the ceilings. Patterns, symbols, detailing and so many different styles. As always, it’s definitely worth a look up. It is bigger than it looks from the outside, and there is a lot to take in. The corner of the south aisle houses the gift shop, and the trinity of standard tourist tat were purchased.

Helen and I took a wander around the outside of most of the Bishop’s palace, which was a CADW site, but wasn’t open to the public. It would have been a magnificent building when it was complete.

Outside of the cathedral grounds it doesn’t take long to explore the rest of the city, it really isn’t much bigger than some villages, but it is well worth visiting. It also houses another large church. The back can be seen from the path on the way up from the cathedral and has a distinctive window with the star of David in it. It is the Tabernacl Presbyterian Church of Wales, and was unfortunately closed to the public.

For the third day on the trot there was a stop at a supermarket on the way back, I’m not sure what for this time, but it probably added to the pile of stuff that needed to be carted away on the Friday.

Christmas morning came and people gradually made their way to the living room. The whole day seemed to pass in a haze, there was some moaning that people had got dressed before the opening of presents as it was tradition to open them in “jammies”. A bit difficult to do when you don’t own any “jammies” or have the room in your car to bring dressing gowns (again which I don’t own anyway). It was much better that I was dressed to open presents, as the alternative was being sat there in just my pants, which no one wants to see.

The sub-standard ovens meant that Christmas dinner took a lot longer to cook than was initially thought and so it was already dark before it was ready. I’ve never seen so many Christmas films in a day before or at least parts of lots of films that I have managed to avoid for years before. There were at least half a dozen films I’d avoided for my entire life before they were on in the miscoloured little screens in the corner of the living room and kitchen.

There were games played by some people in some rooms, whilst others found solace in being in the hot tub, which wasn’t a time machine. If it had had been then I might have actually used it at some point.

Boxing Day started slowly, and it was afternoon before two carloads headed off in different directions. Some headed for Carmarthen and the sales, whilst other headed for Saundersfoot and a walk along the coast. It was unconfirmed whether those walking to Saundersfoot passed Saunders’s head or Saunders’s backside on the way.

These trips out showed an issue for the Friday morning journey home. Six people needed transporting in a car with five seats and lots of luggage. I tried to ignore that one whilst everyone else was out as I enjoyed the tranquillity of solitude and took the opportunity to try and make a dent in completing the Christmas jigsaw. Which despite my best efforts wasn’t going to be completed before heading home, as it needed to have been started on a few days earlier.

When everyone got back from their excursions it was games time again. First up was Trump Cards, not Top Trumps, but a game to guess whether the quotes on the cards were made by idiot in chief Donald Trump or not. This was followed by Cards Against Muggles, a Harry Potter version of Cards Against Humanity. I had never played any version of the game before but having played this for a couple of rounds I think I need to get a set as it is right up my street.

A concerted effort to work through all the previous days’ leftovers was the plan for dinner. Despite knowing I wasn’t going to finish the jigsaw I went back to it after dinner as there was no way I wanted to see any more dire Christmas TV. I’d been subjected to enough of it to make up at least a decade’s worth. I’d lost count of the number of times someone had come into the living room, put the TV on, put some rubbish on, and then buggered off leaving the trash playing with just me in the room.

The journey home.

We knew it was going to be difficult getting home. We had two extra people to fit into cars who had arrived after the initial influx of people to the farmhouse. Neither of the other two cars had any space either because of the amount of stuff they had brought with them. Six people in to a five-seater car, with six people’s luggage for over two hours to Cwmbran train station wasn’t going to work. With two people needing to get there to get a train north from there due to it being the first station open for people trying to get north as most of South Wales from Swansea eastwards was on rail replacement services it was going to be difficult.

Something needed to give, and that was going to be me. I volunteered to get the train and rail replacement from Narberth to Cwmbran with my luggage. When sorting out the night before there was a train from Narberth at 7:48, about a ten-minute drive away from the farmhouse. A half six alarm was set and off to bed it was.

Only to be woken up to find that Transport for Wales had cancelled all trains from Narberth in any direction before two in the afternoon. It was time for plan B (not the rapper). There was an 8:58 train from Carmarthen to Bridgend, and rail replacement from there straight through to Cwmbran. It was however a half hour drive each way for Helen to drop me off at Carmarthen.

As I paid for my ticket (which in hindsight I didn’t need to as it was never checked), the train time changed to say it was going to be late and would not be going until 9:15. Impressive for a train that was starting at Carmarthen. To add to this, it stopped at more stations that originally planned, and the train felt and sounded like it was going to blow up each time it slowly pulled away from a station.

When the train eventually chugged into Bridgend there was only a couple of minutes to catch the Cwmbran replacement bus service. Which was full so I couldn’t get on, which I would have been able to do if the sodding train had been on time.

Then the imbeciles manning the rail replacement service at Bridgend then advised me, and a number of others to get on a replacement bus to Cardiff, where there would be more buses to Cwmbran than the one an hour from Bridgend.

So, we did.

And there weren’t.

In fact, the only Cwmbran replacement services were the one an hour ones starting from Bridgend. So, when the next one arrived at Cardiff it was already full of people who had got on at Bridgend, like I would have done if the morons there hadn’t told me (and the others) to go to Cardiff.

So there was now a crowd of quite irate – mainly Mancs – who wanted to get to Cwmbran, so when the next coach pulled in and was unloaded, instead of sending it off empty to Newport, they wisely decided to send it to Cwmbran. And it was full in a couple of minutes and we were off.

On the journey a kid (I reckon about eight) who was sat two rows in front of me puked on his seat and then turned and sat in it. Before his dad got the chance to clean it all up, their dog had helped itself to the puke and so there were only fumes left. Fumes you don’t need on a coach packed with people.

Meanwhile, the very cramped car was caught in slow moving traffic along the M4, and it only just beat me to Cwmbran even with me being an hour later than planned.

Lunch was at Harvester, where after twenty minutes sat waiting for a table (with menus for us to browse), we were shown to a table and then made to wait another fifteen minutes to be able to order. We were waiting so long that the couple who needed to get the train from Cwmbran had to end up taking their food away to eat so that they could catch their train.

There were now only four people and luggage in the car which gave slightly more breathing space for the journey the rest of the way home. We took a detour along the M48 and over the old Severn bridge as traffic reports had the M4 bridge as choc a bloc. It was foggy over the river and unlike on the journey to Wales, it wasn’t possible to see the other bridge as we passed over the river.

We crawled again once we re-joined the M4, and after a pit stop and change of driver, we came up against more crawling traffic pretty much all the way along from Swindon to Reading. Turning off at Bracknell sped things up, and we had free flowing traffic all the way back to Crawley, where we arrived some eleven hours after I’d left the farmhouse that morning to start the journey.

Overall it was a good week, but I’m not sure I want to be doing this kind of thing every year at Christmas. Give it at least a couple of years before we try this kind of thing again, and when (or if) we do then one thing is for certain. We need to hire a minibus.