January Odyssey 1

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January in the UK is my least favourite month. Gloomy, often cold and wet and with the remnants of Christmas and New Year celebrations clinging like grey cobwebs, it seems to go on too long.
In an unaccustomed surge of January optimism, we’ve heaved ourselves out of the post-Christmas languor to pack up the van, load it with our warmest and most weather-resistant gear and head northwards towards Scotland, a trip we’ve been meaning to do for a few years and only now decided to tackle.
The van, having languished unused for a couple of winter months needed a little de-moulding in its nether regions, otherwise it felt purposeful to be loading up and re-acquainting ourselves with our little holiday-home-on-wheels. There are enough sites open to enable us to travel up [first to Gloucester relatives, giving us a head start] and get around once we arrive. The weather was set to be manageable and Husband assured me that at the first sign of snow we would return, since I was somewhat nervous about getting ‘snowed in’ and unable to return in time for the next [contrasting] excursion in February.
Motorways have conveyed us here and while there were works being carried out almost everywhere the journey was incident-free. Our first, uneventful day took us to ‘Whittingham Club’, a site near Preston and not too far from Blackpool and a perfectly acceptable overnight stop. I assume this is an ex ‘working men’s club’ as it has a club house with a bar, large screen TV, snooker tables and darts plus a bowling green outside. The site facilities are an add-on but serviceable.
Next day we covered the remaining miles to Glasgow by early afternoon, arriving at the holiday park in time for a quick excursion into the city; two stops on a small train from the nearby station.

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Glasgow is just as a city should be; elegant, decadent, grand and squalid. It is busy and vibrant, the architecture both beautiful and innovative, with ugly inserts. The honey and rose sandstone buildings dominate and there is no shortage of galleries, museums and historic sights-too many in fact to see in a single visit. There are areas of development as well as hideous, high rise blocks. The shopping streets are packed with all the usual stores, from up-market fashion to restaurant chains. There is a vast a number of theatres and concert venues as well as lively clubs and pubs.

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Next day we returned in full daylight to take in the award-winning transport museum, the modern art museum, the Necropolis, [a steep hill crowded with mausoleums, obelisks and fancy gravestones] and the cathedral [sadly closed]. From the summit of the Necropolis the tower blocks of outer Glasgow can be seen as well as the grey ribbon of the Clyde. We had no time to tour the art museum, People’s Palace or botanic gardens.
Next day we drove north west towards Lock Lomond, out through suburbs of impressive Georgian sandstone terraces and while I felt it must be a pleasant place to live, I also realised we’d given the more depressed areas such as Paisley a wide berth. It feels good to travel to the outer reaches of the UK and understand that all life does not revolve around the London and the south.

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Christmas is not for Life-it’s just for Christmas.

Christmas is almost upon us again, returning with almost indecent speed. With a couple of weeks to go I’ve begun to turn my attention towards gathering up some gifts and writing some cards.

As I stood at a till yesterday the cheerful sales assistant enquired as to whether this was the end of my Christmas shopping quest [we were waiting for the card issuer’s response]. It made me smile. “No!” I told him. “This is my first go.” His eyebrows shot up. “I did all of mine in September. I’ve followed my mum’s example. She always begins in January and does it all throughout the year.”   I explained that in September I would just be going off on holiday and still in summer mode but his behaviour is not unusual. What kind of lives do people lead, that their entire year from January is devoted to preparing for the one day that is Christmas?

Husband is at the other end of the extreme, proclaiming each year that he will begin on Christmas Eve and reminding me of the time-honoured male boast that ‘the garage will be open late the night before’.

Christmas, however is changing. It takes on elements of other cultures and evolves like other celebrations and festivals. In my childhood my mother made Christmas puddings months in advance to allow the flavours to develop and we undertook the magic ‘stir-up’ process of making a wish. I am sorry to say that I haven’t perpetuated this tradition due to the fact that none of our progeny can stand the sight or smell of Christmas pudding. The same applies to mince pies and Christmas cake. Having been brought up in a similar way, Husband and I are more partial to these treats than is good for us, so I’ll be purchasing a tiny, delicious pudding for us to share and some chocolatey, indulgent desert for the next generation. I will, however be making some mince pies because it is an activity and an outcome that I cannot resist.

As a child Christmases followed a routine-from the arrival of one or other maiden aunt to the strict recording of who’d given what [in preparation for the hated ‘thank-you’ letters]; from the division into three of the pound or ten shilling notes [a tricky business] given by aunts and uncles to the round of Boxing Day visits and evening party games. If we’d seen Santa Claus it would have been in a department store with a sparkly grotto.

We woke on the morning to feel the weight of a crackly, knobbly, woolly sock filled with the expected items [a tangerine, a sixpence] and some unexpected ones. I can still remember the excitement of finding a hardback copy of ‘The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe’ next to my stocking, the gift I had longed for more than anything on earth.

Christmas is no less exciting for small people these days but I do wish it didn’t have to start cranking up in September!

 

January revisited

                It is unreasonable to expect much to change within a one year time frame. When I look back at the first three posts of last year the immediate thing that strikes is that they were much shorter-by about half! So either I could not think of much to say at the time, and have become more practised at writing dross, or I have become even more verbose; or a combination of the two.

                The beginning posts were somewhat grumpy. I set out my case for disliking musicals, citing ‘Les Mis’ as a prime example of everything I did not like. This is still true; although following this diatribe I did download the novel [gloriously free for classics] and made a worthy attempt to read it. I have to say now that having tried several times to wade through this famous and admirable classic novel the musical comes across as a little less awful. Never let it be said I cannot climb down a rung or two when proved wrong. You have to admire the makers of said musical, to have constructed a universally popular, understandable tearjerker from such an incomprehensible narrative.

                The Christmas and New Year season is the only holiday period which features [for us in the Northern hemisphere, at least] reliably ghastly weather, no more so in the UK than this year, when we have been battered by gale force winds and squally downpours consisting of rain, sleet and hailstones for about a month now. It is not conducive to going out, for taking bracing walks or winter bike rides. Unless your heart’s desire is to while away the hours in the sales [see previous post, ‘Boxing Day-a Daft Party or a Bun Fight?’] you are stuck with a choice of a good book, getting on with a project [Novel 2 for me] or the dismal TV schedules. The TV planners appear to save all of their dross for the winter months, as if their only objective was to make viewers as miserable as possible. The screen guide is peppered with reality shows, manically overwrought ‘comedy’, ancient movies from the year dot [trotted out every year] and re-runs. I found the only viewable items-‘Death Comes to Pemberley’-a barmy idea but a good romp, and ‘Jane Eyre’-a new adaptation of a reliable yarn. These I recorded, only to discover that Jane Eyre’s recording had been interrupted by a signal failure fifteen minutes before the end [and was no longer available on i-player]. Great…

                It’s not all depressing. We made an overnight trip to Gloucestershire for a birthday party, travelling back through the gloomy rain and the cold today. There are already catkins covering the hazel trees and fluffy buds on the willows, the first signs that the year is turning. Light at the end of the January tunnel! Happy New Year!

Reasons to be Cheerful…[part 1]

January is a gloomy month. Once the gluttonous, exuberant, over-consumption of Christmas and New Year is over there is little to recommend it. TV channels have exhausted their supply of money and ideas. It is long, cold, dark, often penurious…in the aftermath of all the spending…, and frequently marked by periods of nasty weather. Many are prompted to comment, ‘We are always caught out in this country’, ‘why aren’t we prepared?’ etc when airport runways and motorways are unusable, or ‘look at Norway’, ‘look at Canada’; ‘they don’t get caught out’! They don’t. But the reason we aren’t prepared in the way that they are, is that our climate has always been unpredictable, and getting more so.

                In January we are bombarded with alluring offers: ‘Two for one on main courses for dining between 11 am and 12.30pm, choosing from the 2 for 1 menu’ [ie ponyburger and chips with garlic bread].

‘One extra night free during weekdays’ [at the Travel Inn Express, Uttoxeter motorway services…on the M6…you might be lucky and get a 2 for 1 at Little Chef [see above]].

‘Ryanair’s £8 winter seat sale’; [fly from Stansted, Luton or Manchester on a Tuesday or Thursday morning at 5.20am to an obscure airport fifty miles from eg Barcelona, Alicante or Marbella].

‘Cruise in the Med’ [I’ve made my feelings clear about cruising in the previous post], ‘from £199 [for two nights] or upgrade to an ‘exterior’ cabin for just an additional £50 each’. This extra £50 each is for a window. For two nights!

                No, I’m not tempted by any of this. When I venture out into my back garden and scrape away some of the grey slush that is covering it I can detect some new, green spikes of growth where bulbs are beginning to show. There are fat buds on the camellia bush. It is all there, waiting in the wings of winter. In a couple of weeks the snowdrops will be up. I come back in and warm up with the wood burner. I make vast pots of soup. Curl up. Read.

                At this time of year there is nowhere in Europe that is truly warm. So I prefer to wait, accept the vagaries of the weather and plan what we will do when the weather does, finally come out of hibernation. And be glad…because despite the miserable, cold, dark and wet conditions this is winter, doing what it is supposed to do. With any luck, then it will be spring. These are the seasons and we are fortunate to have them!