I am now back in Wivenhoe after my annual cross-country trek to visit various family members and suchlike over the Christmas and New Year period, clocking up a hefty 840 miles in my trusty Mini. I warn you now, the following is a pretty lengthy run-down of what I’ve been up to, so unless you have a good half an hour to spare or you’re a very fast reader, you may not want to read it all!
Phase 1: To Paignton
The first leg of my journey started with the drive from Wivenhoe (which is just outside Colchester, Essex) to Paignton (which is just next door to Torquay, Devon). This happened to be the day the whole country had fog, which made driving conditions a little more interesting. The A12 was pretty plain sailing, and I kept up a good 60-70 mph all the way to the M25, and all the way round to the M3. The A303 was where things got interesting though; while normally this is one of my favourite roads (especially when it gets into Devon) I found it extremely difficult on this journey. Going past Stone Henge, a stretch where I normally zip along at a pleasurable 60 mph, I was struggling to do 40 on account of the fog, which was made worse by the oncoming traffic making everything extremely white.
To add to the stress, as I passed one particular service station I noticed too late that I needed to pick up some fuel. It didn’t seem like a huge problem at the time, except that it turned out that I had at that moment entered a black spot, completely devoid of service stations for miles on end. Not good. After far too many minutes of going very easy on the accellerator and rather a lot of prayer, I finally saw the sign for Chicklade, which I remembered had a petrol station at the other end of the village. Crawling through the almost-stationery traffic I finally made it to safety and filled up, taking the opportunity to find out why my headlights had been appearing so dim – I had to wipe off a thick layer of dirt and grime collected from driving through the fog before they shone properly! All in all, over the entire journey I saw only two breaks in the fog, one at the top of the Blackdown Hills coming down towards Exeter, and another along the M5 passing Exeter. I have never come across fog like this before – isolated fog I’ve seen, large stretches of fog in the morning are not too unusual, but for the whole south of England to be swathed in thick fog all day long is something I never thought possible.
Phase 2: Christmas
Christmas in Paignton was fantastic. It was so good to see my family again after so long – being at opposite ends of the country is not exactly condusive to frequent visits! Unsurprisingly I was asked to play at church on Christmas Eve, for which I had to borrow a cello to play in the evening service. The Christmas Morning service was packed, as per usual, and there was a vibrant feel to the whole morning, whilst also keeping the true meaning of Christmas clearly central. It was also good to meet up with old friends, most of whom I have not seen or even been on contact with since last Christmas!
After the service we all went back home for our delicious Christmas roast, for which Grandma and Grandpa Dawkins and Auntie Julia joined us. There was a plethora of food, and we were all rather bloated by the end of it. Another Christmas tradition upheld!
In terms of presents, there was a good spread on offer. My biggest (and heaviest) present was a trolley jack, which means I can finally jack my car up and get underneath to check things out. I also got a Mini calendar, a 15 function pen (difficult to explain, but it has various different attachments you can slot into each end), a hefty hammer drill, a portable beach (small box of sand and some tiny sand castle moulds), plenty of chocolate, and much more.
The presents I got for other people seemed to go down well too. I bought a job lot of Skype phones for various family members, which will allow them to keep in touch for free – especially useful for communicating with our American family. I have also today ordered one for myself, not wanting to miss out on the fun, so hopefully before long we shall all be making phone calls across the net. I gave Ellie a necklace with a nice blue topaz stone, Christopher got a funny T-shirt and Peter got a nice brown jacket. I tried to do a fair amount of my Christmas shopping online this year, which meant I had put slightly more effort into my present choices, and that seemed to work out very well. All in all a very successful Christmas!
Phase 3: Boxing Day (or Christmas mark 2)
Boxing Day morning was spent on the roads again, this time travelling up to Gloucester to see Ellie and her parents. Although it had only been a matter of a week or so since she left Colchester I missed her quite a lot, and it was good to spend lots of time with her again. In fact, we were together every day from then until yesterday, which was wonderful. We exchanged presents, visited various people in the area, and started a Wasgij puzzle we’d been given – 1000 pieces making up a jigsaw for which we didn’t know the intended picture. If you’ve not come across these inverted jigsaws before, I’d really recommend having a go – they’re time-consuming, intriguing, and highly addictive!
Phase 4: Draisey Day
The annual meeting-up of the Draisey side of my family (Mum’s side) took place in Woking again this year, and saw 22 of us all crammed in one lounge. We had a lot of laughs, opened yet more presents, had plenty of food, went for a walk in the dark, and generally enjoyed being together again, if only for a brief day.
Phase 5: Venturing up north
On the 28th Ellie, me and Ellie’s mum went up to Sheffield to visit Ellie’s brother and his family. The high feature of the trip was undoubtedly their latest addition to their family, Fraser. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take some photos of the cute bundle of babyness, and despite the low-light in the evening some of them came out rather well. We had a nice walk round the local park in the afternoon, which was a good opportunity to catch up on what people had been up to, get some exercise ourselves, and check out the various toys that the local youngsters had got for Christmas – there was a wealth of new bicycles, scooters, radio controlled vehicles, skateboards, and the like.
I particularly enjoyed the visit, mainly because they are members of Ellie’s family, and thus will soon become part of my family too, so I was pleased to meet them at least once before the wedding! They are lovely, and we all got on very well. Just a shame they’re so far north.
Phase 6: New Year
Our New Year celebrations were actually extended over four days this year, as Ellie and I met up with some of the leaders from the Ventures camp we had been to over the summer. It was great to see people again and spend time socialising with them without having to worry about time and looking after people. We had booked a lovely large house in the countryside outside Oxford, a beautifully decorated converted farm house. Ellie and I (and others I suspect) fell in love with it immediately – just the sort of house we would quite like to live in!
Most of our time was taken up with playing games and eating chocolate. Most people had brought a board game of some description with them, and whatever naughty nibbles we had had for Christmas, so there was plenty to eat and do while we were there. There were no trips out as such, no strict timetable to keep to, we just did whatever we liked with the day, which normally meant playing games and eating chocolate. There were some traditional games we had to play too, like Extreme Charades, Mafia, Vlad the Impaler (also called Empires) and the Name Game. It was the longest, tastiest and most exhausting New Year party I’ve ever been to!
Phase 7: And finally
Yesterday morning Ellie and I went to see the vicar of St Catharine’s to talk about the wedding and go through the legal side of it all. There was just one form to fill in, the details of which will be entered in the Marriage Register, and then we had a good chat about some other aspects of the wedding. We’ll be meeting up with him at least twice more before the wedding to go through the service itself and also to go through some important aspects of life after the wedding.
Then it was a three and a half hour drive back to Wivenhoe, which was actually a pretty easy journey. The roads were fairly clear, no hold-ups all the way, and Neddy zipped along at 70 without so much as a grumble of complaint. I had had to top up the oil before I left as it was running a little low, but everything seems fine now and I got back in very good time.
Once home I quickly set about installing the digibox that Ellie and I had been given – unfortunately we still have to get another scart lead so that we can use the digibox, VCR and DVD player all at the same time, but it’s working for now. The quality of digital is noticeably better, if a little more complicated due to more buttons to press and yet another remote to understand. ITV channels are currently unavailable on digital in our area, so I’ve got it set up at the moment to use terrestrial for ITV and channel 4. No doubt when ITV gets round to upgrading its signal in this area things will get even better.
So that’s all from me on this Christmas and New Year. Bit of a mammoth post, for which I apologise, and now I really must get back to work and get back on top of things here!