sawyl: (A self portrait)
Very gentle end to the year: exhausted, I was in bed by half-past nine and despite intending to stay up late enough to send out some new year texts, I was asleep well before midnight and barely even registered the fireworks at midnight. Even after getting up this morning, I still felt tired, dozed my way through the morning, and didn't really do much with the rest of my day other than reading and, eventually, going out for a series of interval runs.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Two final photos from Christmas which I found stuck in my email. Here's us prepping for last week's extra special parkrun. I wisely decided to limit myself to a santa hat. The others went for the full rig; an ensemable that proved far too warm for the clement Xmas Day conditions:


And here we are on the eastern end of the beach at Exmouth. It's very similar to the other photo, except that Blitz' hole is a little shallower and I'm waving — rather unconvicingly and self-consciously — at the camera!

sawyl: (A self portrait)
An early start to Christmas Day, to get down to the Exe in time for this morning's extra special parkrun. Being tired from yesterday's run, starting much further down the field than normal, and being hindered by a santa hat, I cruised it and finished in a whisker 21:06. After a quick pause for tea, we jumped in the Land Rover with the dogs and headed down to Exmouth in convoy with D's dad to take part in the alternative sea swim at the east end of the beach.

What people — crazy, masochistic people! — do in Devon on Christmas Day. For the record, the odd-looking bump on my side in this photo is actually just my tenth rib sticking out because I'm standing slightly hunched over and not the crazy alien mutation it looks like!

Despite leaving plenty of time to get from Exeter, we hit traffic just as we entered Exmouth, where the main beach was heaving with people. Although some of them had clearly been in the water, far more of them were dressed for winter and clearly only there to watch. Fortunately as a we reached the right part of the beach, we spotted someone in a very 1900s bathing suit who told us that not only were we in the right place but we even had a few minutes in hand before the big event.

Leaving shoes and bags in the car, I gave D's dad my camera and we hit the beach. Needless to say, Blitz immediately started digging in the sand and Dash, after getting a few cues, immediately started to emulate him. We stood around for a few photos to document the occasion, including this one taken by a passer by who offered to snap us all in our pre-swim power poses!

Notice the bulky sweatshirts we're all wearing...

In no time, we'd stripped down to swim gear and were running for the water. I ran far enough out to be able to manage a little bit of a swim; not much more than a handful of kicks and a couple of arm strokes, but enough to satisfy the letter of challenge. Almost as soon as a I'd got my shoulders under — following coaching from R, who is a keen sea swimmer, I went with a power scream to combat the cold — I realised the water was very chilly indeed and devoted myself to getting out of the water again as quickly as humanly possible.

P, Blitz, D, Dasher, and Yours Truly standing — although not in Dash's case — ankle deep in the rather chilly sea as proof that we've actually been in the water. In my case, I'd even gone far enough to get my head under; an experience which was nothing at all like that of swimming in the sea in Greece!

Once I was out of the water, I found the beach transformed. The temperature of the sand and that of the air, both of which had previously felt rather nippy, felt like they had suddenly risen. I somehow failed to realise I was standing around in a windy beach in December in a pair of swimming trunks until P gave me a towel, pointing out that I was shivering.

Sorting ourselves out, we got back in the Land Rover, P cranked the heater, and we powered back to Exeter in time for quick showers before P's sister and her family arrived.

P walking from the car to the house...

... D and Blitz posing for a photo on the path.

The afternoon unfolded in leisurely fashion — although not so much for P, slaving away in the kitchen — with various interruptions for dog walking. Lunch was spectacular with huge heaped plates: they were so large that only D's dad and the three of us who'd spent our mornings running and swimming, managed to eat everything.

Dash was well behaved, but Blitzen managed to open and eat a number of things he shouldn't have. Consequently, on his second or third afternoon walk, he wasn't anything like his usual happy self. He was so subdued that he didn't even try to pull me along, but just paced along the river wall with his tail between his legs.

Once everyone else had called it a day, the dogs got to open their presents. Having already demonstrated his ability to open packages, Blitzen made short work of opening his little reindeer toy even while Dasher was still trying to work out quite what to do with her parcel:

Blitz looks soulful while a frenzied Dasher tries to get the last of the wrapping paper off her toy.

Dasher looking very cute with a bit of wrapping paper in her mouth!

Eventually, with the day almost over and P&D and the dogs getting tired, I walked back home through town, taking a couple of photos as I did so.

The west front of Exeter Cathedral.

Greenery in Catherine Street.

The big Christmas tree in Princesshay. This may yet prove to be an expensive photo: while I was taking it I managed to invert my camera bag, causing my distance lens to spill out onto the ground! There were no obvious signs of damage when I carried out a quick visual inspection but there may yet be unseen damage; only time and a test with the camera body will tell. I think I'll wait until after Christmas to try because I don't need it and I don't want to put a dampener on proceedings.

Arriving home, I phoned my parents and said happy Christmas to my grandmother. The conversation unfolded exactly as predicted by my dad: she'd complain that she couldn't hear me, she'd pass the phone back, he'd tell her what to say, she'd say it, and then repeat that she couldn't hear anything, at which point the phone would be passed back once and for all.

It sounds like everyone back in Coventry had a nice Christmas, making me feel slightly better about my decision to stay down here for once.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
The relatives returned to London today, ending what is likely to be Granny's last Christmas stay. Although she'd improved towards the end she really struggled with the stairs and, at the beginning, required at least two people to help her get up and down them. It's sad but because she doesn't seem to do a great deal of exercise when she's at home — a problem excerbated by having a ground-floor lavatory, so she doesn't need to tackle her stairs more than once a day — she's lost a lot of her strength and mobility.

Still, for all that, she had a good time and managed to eat huge amounts of Christmas food, so it was worth while overall.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Traditional Boxing Day lunch, with left-overs from yesterday and jacket potatoes to bulk things out. Although my sister's in-laws couldn't make it this year, my niece and her boyfriend came and a nice time was had by all.

Between courses...

How not to open a bottle of brandy...

I think it's fair to say someone really enjoyed his helping of chocolate yule log!
sawyl: (A self portrait)
An unusually civilised Christmas morning with my sister's contingent arriving at a sensible hour to open their presents.

He can't quite walk yet, but he's got pretty good at balancing...

Presents... )

After they left to go and visit the kids other grandparents, my niece arrived to open her presents and to sort out my nephew's christmas lunch arrangements. My sister and company reappeared in time for canapes and, a scarce hour later, the lunch was coming out of the oven

The turkey resting before being served, while the industrious cook makes a few final touches to the bread sauce.

Someone liked his lunch so much he had to go and have a bath afterwards!

With lunch out of the way, the baby washed up, and the others departed, the more athletic members of the party went for a short walk in the park, returning in time for a light supper. The others finished the day with a giant box of chocolates in front of the television, while I slipped off upstairs to read.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Spent the morning pottering around and helping out in the kitchen. After years of boiling the chestnuts, we discovered that roasting makes them much easier to peel, and consequently mater finished her usual Christmas Eve chore well ahead of her usual deadline.

The relatives arrived around lunchtime and the afternoon was spent listening to the carol service from Kings. Having retreated upstairs with a book, I ended up hearing the service twice: once on FM echoing up from the drawing room and then again, out of sync a few seconds later, floating up from the digital radio in the kitchen. Not an experience I recommend.

As per our usual tradition, I made the supper — at some point in the last twenty years, we started having a cheese fondue on Christmas Eve — before knocking off early.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Early departure and easy journey up to Coventry for the start of the holidays. Apart from getting slightly lost at New Street — the stairs I used to get up to the concourse put me in the yellow zone while my destination platform was in the blue zone, so I had to go out through the barrier and back in — the journey was uneventful.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Having opted out of today's works Christmas lunch, I'd planned to leave early. But not long after the others had gone, we uncovered an unpleasant problem which seemed to be causing jobs to fail with run-time MPP errors.

After an hour of digging, we found something that looked promising. Fixing this lessened the problem but failed to resolve it in its entirety. Investigating further we traced some warning messages to a change made yesterday and decided, in the absence of anyone else, to regress it. This too helped, but it took another couple of hours to stabilise the situation, but which time I'd completely missed the luncheon shift in the canteen and was well past my usual Friday home time.

I guess it serves me right for rejecting the Christmas spirit...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Braved the cold for a run first thing. On the way back I saw an extremely large bird of prey loitering around Top Green. I'm not entirely sure what it was but it was almost entirely brown with dark feathered legs and, I think, dark under wing areas.

The bulk of the morning was taken up with an endless stream of questions from mater about the precise method used to bake potatoes — surely the simplest of things to cook, since they can be put in the oven at more or less any temperature and left until the give when you squeeze them — but apparently not. Lunch was somewhat purgatorial and I got stuck next to my niece's boyfriend while the others talked about such fascinating subjects as pensions, the merits of the local pubs and, god help me, the county's different breweries.

After an uneventful afternoon we had yet more potatoes, mostly reheated from lunch, for supper with the threat of another round of bakers for lunch tomorrow. I'm starting to reach the point, as seems to happen every Christmas, where the thought of eating another potato or slice of chewy white bread fills me with horror; I feel as though it's been a week since I ate anything else...

Non-traditional nativity
At some point in the last twenty-four hours, our nativity scene became noticeably less traditional. I certainly don't remember any of the gospels mentioning the presence of a dragon in the stable...

Just as my sister and family started to get ready to leave, it began to snow in earnest: firstly large, sleety flakes; later with fine snow that settled on the roofs of cars and in the trees; but I don't think it's forecast to last.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Suprisingly gentle start to the day, although I later discovered that although pater had got up early to put the turkey in the oven, he'd failed to actually set the temperature so the thing wasn't actually cooking for its first half hour!

My sister and all her children arrived at half-past twelve, fresh from opening presents at home and with only an hour or so before the two oldest were due at the Oak in Baginton for lunch with the other half of their family.

Charlie with the tree
My nephew stands in front of the tree watching while someone else opens a present; my sister seems pretty into proceedings too!

A opening of presents... )

The slightly frenzied opening ceremony was rather more successful than last year, when someone smashed a bottle of red wine on the cream coloured carpet, but mater was not best pleased to be given a thermal cooker — apparently she & pater had already discussed it and she'd categorically refused to have one, only for pater, in an entirely characteristic move, to buy one anyway. In a similar move my parents gave me a guide to identifying birds even though I'd repeatedly stressed that I didn't want them to even think about buying me anything, so for all her complaints my mum wasn't exactly able to take the moral high ground.

Yet more presents! )

After smoothing over another incipient flare up over whether the turkey was cooked — no a subject which greatly bothered me! — we settled down to a late Christmas lunch.

The family prepare for lunch... )

With the uncle having been ill & the mater disinclined to go into Coventry, it was a less extreme event than usual and I was spared the endless canapés that, despite repeated attempts, I've never been able to convince the others that I don't really like — obviously it's nice that they want to make a special effort for me, but it's unfortunate that their idea of what I might like doesn't match with my actual preferences!

Time to eat at last! )

With the afternoon pretty much gone by the end of lunch, my sister and her lot collected their remaining bits and pieces and went home, leaving pater and my uncle to sleep things.

Sleeping off lunch


Rather than put our feet up, Mater and I went for a short walk in the park to recover. Before lunch the sky had looked distinctly ominous, with dark clouds chasing out the blue skies.

Ominous Christmas Sky
I slipped out into the garden just before lunch and caught the sky just as it was starting to change for the worse. But the clouds didn't seem to do much for the temperature and by the time we went out for our walk it was beginning to get seriously cold.

When we got back, we fitted in some late cups of tea, I had some toast, put my laundry on, and that was the day done for another year.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
My sister and her new baby came round first thing to wrap presents while the other kids were elsewhere. She made light work of a huge pile of things for the boys and it was enough to inspire me to wrap the things mater had bought for me to give to the kids.

Bea wraps up
My sister makes wrapping up look easy...

Presents round the tree
When she was done we had a small collection of presents round the tree, but the bulk of things she'd wrapped up went in a couple of sacks to go home for the boys to open first thing tomorrow.

While my sister was wrapping up, I took a few photos of my new nephew. He was born towards the end of last month, a couple of weeks early so he's still pretty small for age, but that doesn't seem to have stopped him developing a hefty pair of lungs!

Bobbie in his chair
I think this is my favourite: the boy sitting quietly in his carry-chair. The photo isn't quite as it came out of the camera: I had to crop out the huge, very bright danger label warning against using the chair in a seat equipped with an airbag!

Baby photos galore... )

The uncle arrived in time for lunch: largely bread, cheese, and salad, but with a seriously good home-made courgette soup to start with. I have to admit to a certain scepticism about the idea of courgette soup, but it actually worked extremely well. I think I might try to locate the recipe.

After a gentle afternoon, during which the parents prepared the stuffing and listened to the carols from Kings while I sloped off to read, it was my turn to make supper. Somehow, over the years, we've built up a tradition that says that on Christmas Eve I have to make fondue while the others have some sort of nasty shop-bought fishy starter. It's not a great chore — fondue isn't much more than cheese dissolved in hot wine — but it's always a bit more difficult than normal when others are constantly asking when you're going to be finished or whether there is anything else you need.

In the end everything passed off more or less peacefully and my cooking seemed to be acceptable. Let's hope this is a good omen for things to come...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Off to Lapworth for the traditional Christmas canal walk and lunch at the Boot. Rather daringly, we reversed the usual direction and did the whole thing anticlockwise. Despite some doubts about the various turnings, this was a great success, not least because it actually gave us a decent view of Packwood House.

Packwood
Packwood House looking brooding and gothic on an overcast day. It's not hard to imagine it as a backdrop for a Sheridan Le Fanu novel...

Packwood stables
Packwood's stable block, which normally goes unnoticed because we traditionally turn east at the main drive to leave the house behind and walk along the avenue to cut through to Chessetts Wood Road.

Lunch was nice — I had courgette pancakes as a starter with a Mexican bean chilli as my main course — and our waitress was particularly good, picking up on our desire not to be placed close to a rather rowdy group of people out for their works Christmas lunch and offered to move us to a quieter table. I suppose it serves us right for going out before Xmas, but this year's date was determined by T&J's flights and Christmas falling on Thursday.

Pater in a Christmas hat
Rather than crackers, The Boot provided red and white Christmas hats for everyone. Pater wore his like some sort of Victorian nightcap — something his carried off in fine style!

At the Boot with the Coxes
Our table at the far end, away from the rowdier elements. Although the photo hasn't done J any justice and D has been completely hidden by T, I like it for the reflection, which captures pater and gives a good view of the rest of the dining room. Regular readers may notice that we're actually sat at the same table as last year...

Lunch was only slightly marred by an argument about who was going to drive home. After reluctantly agreeing, pater promptly ordered a giant glass of wine, ensuring he'd be over the over the limit. Fortunately mater had time to switch her order to tomato juice to allow her to do the driving — I'm no longer on insurance, so I couldn't offer even if I'd wanted to. But because mater doesn't like driving in poor light, we had to cut and run partway through coffee leaving the others, somewhat bewildered, to finish their lunch alone.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Up early to Finish things off before heading down to St Davids to catch the mid-morning train to Birmingham.

With hindsight this may not have been the best of choices: the train was packed to the point where even first class was full and I was required to stand the entire way. It turned out that the train was full of Royal Navy cadets on their way back from Dartmouth, exhausted because they'd spent most of the previous 24 hours setting up, hosting, and cleaning up after the naval college's Christmas ball.

But for all that, I arrived in good time for lunch and had a relatively relaxed afternoon with the parents
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Up in time to pack my stuff and get everything sorted before heading to the station at around ten to catch the train to Birmingham. Everything ran pretty smoothly — my train was very slightly delayed at New Street — even though things were pretty busy and I arrived back in Exeter on schedule.

Although I had a good time, it's nice to get back to a bit of peace and order...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
A very busy morning, starting with a run before getting home in time to make beetroot soup for H's lunch and our supper. I then jumped into the shower and got myself washed & dressed & in the car with a whole minute to spare before we were due to depart for Lapworth. Inevitably we didn't leave on time due to series of last second glitches, but despite leaving ten minutes behind schedule we arrived exactly on time to meet S&D and S.

The canal walk... )

Worried about the waterlogged state of some the fields along our usual route we altered things slightly to avoid the fields around Packwood which, we assumed, were likely to be in a completely marsh-like state, and to head along the road to the Grand Union. It was probably just as well we did: even the canal towpaths were in a pretty terrible state, with huge muddy puddles making it a bit of struggle, and I quickly discovered that borrowed wellies weren't nearly as watertight as I'd hoped.

We got to The Boot a couple of minutes late — not that it mattered because they weren't particularly busy. Lunch was as reliably good as ever. I had a goat's cheese tart — which, I'm reliably informed, I have every time we go there — and squash arancini as a main course while the others all went for fish or flesh: a burger; various types of chicken; a steak; and fish & chips.

A lunchtime snapshot )

After a throughly nice afternoon — it was good to see S again, who I hadn't seen since last year's walk, although pater had seen him a couple of weeks ago in Hong Kong — we went our separate ways.

Having watched the weather forecast and not being greatly motivated to walk down to the station to book a seat, I decided to defer my journey back to Devon until Saturday when the wind and rain situation looks more advantageous. Instead I stayed home and fussed around with a few things before a light supper of bread & soup & salad and an early bed, tired out by all my running and walking.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Woken up early by the arrival of the kids as my sister dropped them off on her way to work, only for it to turn out to be unnecessary when she got herself signed off sick. Making up for yesterday, I went for a decent length run, arriving back just in time to see them push off home.

Spent the afternoon going through my old books and dumping a load of them in the charity pile. It wasn't hard. I can't imagine I'd ever want to read the pulp fantasy novels of my teens again; even back then realised that most of them were poor enough not to merit re-reading, so goodness knows what I'd make of them these days. And there seems even less point in hanging on to all my old undergraduate chemistry texts and out-of-date computer books. So now my shelves are tidy, there are two big boxes to go off to Oxfam, and my room is starting to look a little less cluttered. It's a shame the same can't be said for the rest of the house!

Following the established tradition that I cook supper on the eves of things, I used my superpower — my ability to whip up a quality béchamel sauce — to knock up a big batch of macaroni for supper. We then watched some rather poor TV, I went off and read my book, and we were all in bed long before the chimes of midnight.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
A morning of peace after my parents and the boys took themselves off to the theatre to see a stage adaptation of Julia Donaldson's Room on the Broom. Despite the youngest's initial nerves at having to go into a large, dark, strange room, the play was a success and they all had an excellent time: the humour worked on multiple levels and the dragon, a scary moment in the book, was played more for comedy than terror!

The rest of the day was spent lazing around, reading, and listening to music. Idyllic.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
A lazy morning with the calm only broken by a panic over the near-burning of the roast potatoes for lunch. Mere minutes before we were due to arrive, an old schoolfriend I hadn't seen for 6–7 years happened to drop by only to find himself invited to join us. After lunch my uncle and my granny sorted out their remaining packing, waiting out a couple of appalling hail showers before making an early departure for London.

With the unpredictable weather making a walk a chancy prospect, pater & I spent the afternoon trying to debug the downstairs networking. Connected directly to the secondary router, I noticed that it had been configured to use a different subnet to the primary making it inaccessible without additional routing. After correcting this and putting the secondary back in place, we found that we still couldn't ping it or see any broadcasts from it.

Investigating further, we found that the ethernet-over-power adaptor it using to communicate with the primary router seemed to have lost synchronisation. When we replaced it with a properly synchronised adaptor, the router came on-line and ground floor wifi performance improved from a crawl to blindingly fast. Excelsior!
sawyl: (A self portrait)
A big Boxing Day event with my uncle, granny, my sister's family, and S&D over from Birmingham — 12 of us in total and enough to make it worth extending the dining room table with the one from the kitchen.

The Boxing Day table... )

We had baked potatoes, bread sauce, and cold cuts for those who were interested — all traditional staples — plus the radical new addition of a lentil salad.

Mater surprised while making salad... )

The afternoon was pleasant, although pater insisted on talking us through a large number of photos taken on his recent trip to Kyoto. While many of them were very good, I couldn't help thinking that they might not have benefitted from a little more editing and curation — there are only so many times you can see pictures of the imperial palace gardens before a certain weariness sets in!

A Boxing Day salon... )

After the visitors had left, mater and I went for a walk in the park leaving the less energetic at home to look after themselves for a while. We got home and cobbled together a supper of left-overs bulked out with canapés.

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