With Glen working over Christmas, he selflessly suggested I head over to the UK to see my sister and the various family and friends I have on Old Blighty. Dad also came too to join in the festivities.
Originally we were going for only ten days but, with me giving up full-time employment a few months back, we extended the trip. And while I think Glen was initially happy to have some time to himself (and a trip to Melbourne for New Year’s Eve), three weeks can seem like an awfully long time – especially when you have to make your own dinner.
We splurged and flew business class on Etihad, going through Abu Dhabi and landing in Heathrow on the Friday before Christmas. As always, it was so nice to be able to lie down the whole flight and get a bit of a sleep.
I watched a bit of TV across the two flights – The Secret Life of Pets (meh), three episodes of Sarah Jessica Parker’s new drama Divorce, and three episodes of the new season of Cold Feet – but much of the rest of the time I spent flight and trying to rest.
The stopover in Abu Dhabi was short, yet long enough to have a shower, which was heaven. The final leg, from Abu Dhabi to Heathrow, was on an A380, which was the first time I’ve been on one in business. It’s pretty swish, there’s even a lounge, not that I used it.
We landed in London at 6:30am, rushed through border security thanks to both of us having electronic EU passports, collected our luggage and headed to the Heathrow Express to get out to Southend where we stayed.
Jet-lagged and in Westcliff
We stopped into Leigh-on-Sea to see Sheila and collect the key to the flat we were staying in in Westcliff-on-Sea. We chatted for about an hour or so before Sheila had to go to work at the gallery (she’s an artist), and we had a half hour nap on the couch.
Dad and I then fretted over how to get a taxi in a small town to take us the fifteen minute car ride to the next town over. Google was useless but luckily, when we got to the high street, we saw a taxi and I called the number on the side. (Thank you, Donna, for the sim cards.)
A taxi arrived shortly after and, being in desperate need of a proper sleep, we were glad to have paid the expense to make this last leg of the journey as short as possible. The flat we stayed in belonged to a friend of my sister’s who was away over Christmas. It was big, warm (when the central heating was on), convenient, well-priced and comfortable.
We denied ourselves a bit of a nap and instead went down the road to find some food for a late lunch. Donna left work to come see us and it was so good to see her in person again after it almost being a year since her departure.
She had to return to work soon after but in the evening she came by, picked us up and we tackled a 24-hour Tesco’s so we could prepare for Boxing Day lunch. Shopping is never high on my list of pleasurable activities, grocery shopping even less so, but right before Christmas? Bordering on the hellish.
We managed to get nearly everything from our list without getting into an argument with each other or anyone else, and by doing it on the 23rd, we avoided doing it on the 24th, which would have been an even greater hell.
Donna had to work part of the day so that left Dad and I with time on our hands. I wrapped the presents that I’d ordered from Amazon, which had been delivered to Donna’s flat a week or so before. I put them under the Christmas tree and then Dad and I caught the bus to Southend as I was desperate to go the gym.
Lately, I’ve become hooked, going 5, 6 or 7 times a week so the prospect of going on holiday and not going to the gym was a little anxiety-inducing. Also, considering how bad diets get while on holiday, I needed to balance the equation somehow.
I picked a gym that was in the centre of Southend and got a five-day pass. I hit the weights while Dad wandered Southend High Street for an hour and a half. It felt really good to be back in the gym, even though it had only been two days.
After my workout and a spot of lunch at an Asian noodle place, Dad and I went back to Westcliff. We were both still suffering the effects of jet lag but pushed on through. After Donna finished work, she picked us up and we went back to her place for home-cooked chickpea curry.
We met her housemate, and Donna’s friend, Denise, who’d just arrived in London, came down as she was spending Christmas with us. We then watched, as Donna and I try to do every Christmas, The Muppets Christmas Carol, which was then followed by Love Actually.
Donna and Denise came around to our flat on Christmas morning so we could open presents. Over the years, like most adults I think, we’ve given fewer and fewer gifts. In fact, last year I don’t think we gave any. This year, Donna suggested it and I jumped on the idea. Dad, however, misread the email but gave us gifts nevertheless.
Donna bought the two of us tickets to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum. I’d wondered if it was on as I thought it usually took place at this time of the year; excellent gift. She also gave me two new shirts – one that makes me look very buff – and a box of Shreddies, something of a family tradition.
After the presents and general sitting around, she drove the four of us to Ipswich where we spent Christmas lunch with Mum’s sister and her family. A feast awaited us, much like the traditional turkey dinners we had back home, though this time with the benefit of the English cold weather.
We stuffed our faces, had helpings of dessert, opened some presents (we’d bought for them and they’d bought for us) and then played some games, including about eight rounds of the very loud Pit (another family favourite). Meanwhile, William and I won the other game, the name of which I’ve forgotten.
At about 8, I was ready to drop and we bid our farewells, especially as Donna didn’t have her glasses and had asked me to drive home instead. Luckily it wasn’t raining, it wasn’t foggy and it wasn’t snowing, however, it was still a harrowing drive. There are very few street lights on country roads (and country highways) and the reflectors on the roads were rubbish so it was a tense hour and a half drive back as I attempted to follow the cars in front, which kept disappearing! Horrible, but we survived and crawled into bed sometime after ten.
It was our turn to cook. We were having lunch with the four of us (Denise was still in town) and had invited Sheila and Ian too. We had a brand new, big oven to use and it was just large enough to accommodate the two chickens, nut and lentil loaf, pumpkin, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, potatoes and Yorkshire puddings. Carrots were steamed on the stove.
Everything was timed pretty well, ready for when Sheila and Ian arrived at about one. We had mimosas and wine, tucked into first and second helpings, with Donna and I congratulating ourselves on a lunch well done.
Mary came around sometime after two for dessert, which consisted of store bought Christmas pudding (still really good) and Donna’s homemade chocolate fudge brownie thing. Delicious and very filling.
Lunch wrapped up about six. The four of us then plonked ourselves in front of the tv and watching the David Brent film and then one of the British celebrity quiz shows.
Thus was a pretty good Christmas.
After a very much needed morning workout at the gym in Southend, Dad and I caught the train to Leigh-on-Sea to meet Donna. I lost a glove when getting off the bus, which was just so annoying. I haven’t yet replaced it, relying on keeping my hands stuffed in my jacket pockets to keep them warm.
The three of us went for lunch at a burger joint and then Mary and Eric picked us up. We headed to Hadleigh Castle, a ruin on the hill just before getting into Leigh. We decided to take the long way around, going anti-clockwise from where we parked instead of going clockwise and hitting the castle straight away.
The walk was very English, heading through forest and field when the sun was sitting low on the horizon. We saw a fox in the distance and a bunch of birds as we head along the tracks, from on high to down low and then back up the hill to Hadleigh Castle. The sun set while we were there, providing a good opportunity for some nice photos.
Mary and Eric dropped us back home where we chilled out for a bit before Donna drove us back to their place for dinner. We ate risotto (for the carnivores) and pasta (for the herbivores) and then gooseberry crumble for dessert, made with fresh gooseberries they grew themselves. Delicious!
A Quiet Day
Wednesday we had no plans to do anything so I went to the gym and then spent the afternoon working on my next book. I needed to get some planning done as a deadline approaches. This made for a very quiet day on the couch. In the evening we had Indian takeaway delivered and watched Poirot.
Thursday I borrowed Donna’s car and drove to Woodham Ferrers to catch up with a high school friend, Ellen, who lives there with her husband and daughter. Thank god for Google Maps or else it would have been a lot harder to get there.
The last time I’d seen their daughter, she’d only been about six months old, if that, so to see her walking, talking and interacting was really nice. We went for lunch in the town and then Dan and Freya went to play in the kids playground place next door while Ellen and I caught up some more.
After a few hours, we headed back, took a photo and said our goodbyes until next time.