Christmas in Bury St Edmunds - part 2
Part 2 - Other Grandma's house
Jeff drove us to Horringer, the suburb where he had grown up. He knew Bury a bit, as he had had a moped and was a regular attender at a church based youth club. But the family had always lived in Horringer.
My daughter and grandson were already at the other grandparents' house. I was very pleased to see that Nadine was much healthier and brighter than I had expected she would be – and seemed very excited with all this family related activity. Her husband, Les, who up until a few months ago when she had her first serious fall had been very much in the background as far as her care went, suddenly has taken on the role of carer and cook and shopper and cleaner, etc. and does it well and without moaning about it, which surprised us all.
My daughter did the little bit of required cooking (tuna steaks and mac cheese) and then we had our tea which mostly consisted of things precooked and bought from the supermarket – but all very tasty.
The plan was for us to come back to Horringer quite early on Christmas day – since Father Christmas didn't have the option of chimneys at the Premier Inn, and Arran at age seven, is still very much a believer.
We got to our motel in Bury about 8.30, and I went up to my room the the far end of the second floor. The others were all together in a room which turned out to be wall to wall beds, and I felt guilty when I saw the luxury of space I had all to myself.
I had never stayed at a Premier Inn before, and this one was newly opened in Bury last September. It is right in the middle of town – and I thought it such a shame that they were allowed to put a motel into a very beautiful and historical town – for the most part unspoiled by modern buildings. Nade had worked in the very building they knocked down to put up the motel – when she was involved in the local education department. She said they had made the decision to sell before they realised that the building was listed, so one wonders what rules were ignored for the thing to go ahead. Certainly there were a few ancient aspects still in view – but 99% of the building was just like all other motels of that make.
The beds are well advertised as being comfortable, and that was true. However, the duvets were thick and heavy – and way too hot for all of us. Jeff had known this, and brought his own sheets and blankets with him, but I struggled to sleep with my feet and legs half out of the bed to cool me down somewhat. And then at 3 a.m. the heating suddenly went on – even though when we looked the next day, it was supposedly off. So I dispute the guaranteed good night's sleep that Lenny Henry is always on about.
My other gripe was that the coffee was instant – and although I forced some down, it didn't really satisfy my early morning need for a nice drink of coffee.
In the night, without a book to read, I suddenly remembered that I had seen a Gideon Bible in a shelf under the little bedside table. So with Hobson's choice, took it and opened it at random. It looked as if it had never been opened before, and the ribbon was folded from one page onto another. The random page had the story of Josiah, and since I didn't know it, I read the few pages that was about him. I am a church goer, although in my church, the bible bits are pre-selected based on the time of year, and lots of the stories never get heard.
When I got home I did a bit of internet searching too, and found the dates of Josiah's reign as King were 638 to 608 BC. I found it fascinating, especially all the little homey details that were put in – like which families were responsible for music. Most of the Kings (although my passage was from Chronicles, which seemed to be an extended version of the same story in Kings) were “ did evil in the eyes of the lord” but this guy was a good one – until he took his army to war with some Egyptians and came out the worst. He had a pretty good life – making lots of reforms, and finding the lost book of rules, (mentioned on the internet as Deuteronomy from the Torah scroll, given to Moses) which is maybe why so many of his predecessors had not known how much of the stuff they were doing was bad. (His followers also did a lot of bad things, despite having the advantage of having the book of rules.)
Finally it was time to get up and get on with Christmas day.
We arrived back in Horringer and breakfast, courtesy of Les and the supermarket was laid out for us. We had juice and croissants of various kinds. Andrea sneaked a look in the kitchen, and some of the packets were well passed their sell by date, but we had no way of knowing whether they had been in the freezer for weeks or not. She made us scrambled eggs, and remembered what I had taught her years ago, “She who makes scrambled eggs has to wash her own pan.”
That being done, we got down to the serious business of opening presents. I have spent many Christmases with Jeff and Andrea and their family, and know that the usual routine is for one person to open one present at a time, and everybody else watched and then it was passed around for inspection, before they got onto the next one. This meant the procedure took hours, if not days. But we had to get to church at 11, and then out to another son's for lunch at 2, so we defied tradition, and everyone went at his or her pile with great gusto.
The kids had big presents from Father Christmas – some big technical gadget for Arran and a sewing machine for Natasha. She told me on the train that she was expecting a saxaphone – and had really planned the rest of her life around getting it. She already plays the piano, keyboard and flute – and has just started learning to play the trumpet (which was my husband's) but somehow even though she wanted a sewing machine, it wasn't quite good enough to make up for her disappointment. So her mother took pity on her, and gave her the mouthpiece for the saxaphone that they had left at home (too big to pack) which was rented for four months in order to make sure she
really wanted to play it before the huge financial commitment that it represents was necessary to undertake.
Natasha herself had “borrowed” her mother's credit card to do her family Christmas shopping, and soon the rest of the orchestra became unveiled. Arran got a drum kit, Jeff got a real musical triangle, Andrea got a real tamborine, and there were a few other bits of percussion thrown in for good measure. The drum kit was a huge success and the rest of the activities forthe next few days were accompanied with a constant beat.
My gift from Natasha was a special scrabble type game, and her other grandmother got one too as
well as a pillow made by Natasha's own fair hands. Her grandpa got homemade fudge (using the very last of my sugar) and luckily it hardened sufficiently before we left for it to be cut the right sized pieces.
It had started raining when we took a break in the present opening to go to church. Horringer church (St. Leonard's) is a fairly typical East Anglian one with flints in the square tower structure. It was large – and full – and we were warmly welcomed. The service took just an hour, with a communion service following, which we didn't stay for. The vicar got a lot of the local children and babies (only two girl babies in church but they had to do) involved in making a stable like scene, and we sang lots and lots of carols.
The rain had luckily stopped by the time we returned, but my trouser bottoms were soaked through from not quite missing the puddles but I had nothing to change into, so I had to put up with it. We opened the rest of the presents except for the ones for Jeff''s brother and his family, which we packed into the car as we drove to another Bury suburb – about half an hour away.
Jeff is the oldest of the three boys – and the only one ever in his extended family to go to University. He has a PhD in geology and is a full professor at Leeds University and is very proud of it. However, his brothers, both IT specialists, make lots more money than he does, so I don't think they are terribly worried about his educational advantages. Blaine, who is the next oldest brother married Jenny, the girl next door but one in Horringer, and they have three children. Ann, the eldest has just started at University and is taking Computing. Callie is in high school, and is very involved in horse riding with a kitchen full of ribbons to prove her prowess. Both girls have real artistic talent too. Luke, who is 10, is similar in his interests to Arran, so their entertainment was assured with loads of computer based toys available to play with.
I had met this family before, at Jeff and Andrea's wedding, and then for a day soon after Philip died, when I was left pretty much to my own. So I was pleasantly surprised when they welcomed me very warmly and made me feel very much a part of their family. The glass of waiting champagne was a big plus, and nobody's glass was empty over the next two days, unless they wanted it to be.
Jenny loves cooking and excels at it, so our full table consisted of no less than 25 delicious items, most of which I managed to fit on my plate. The third brother, Dale, was celebrating Christmas with his fiancee, and would be with us for Boxing Day. We took our time over the meal, and fully appreciated every bit of it.
Then the games began. It is so nice to be involved with a big family that values doing everything together at least occasionally. So we started out with charades – and over several hours had worked through most of the cards – with everyone taking a turn, including the other grandmother who had to borrow her granddaughter's long legs to act out her film title, Octopussy. I did Bridge over Troubled Water for mine, and they guessed quite quickly.
Then we moved onto another family game where we split into male and female groups – with us girls having a slight advantage. However, the men were quite willing to let it stay like that, having no trouble with lack of confidence in their abilities.
This game, Tension, consists of one group asking the other group to guess which of the 10 items from a particular category were listed on the chosen card. For instance – the card might say list 10 items usually found at a Christmas dining table. Another harder one was listing films that had moon in the title, or something like that. So on and on the game went – and we girls won by a point I think, in the end – when it was time for guess what? More food.
This time Jenny spread a buffet of various cheese and cold meats out for us to pick as much or little as we wanted. I didn't think I could manage anything, but somehow I had to try the stinky cheese that Jeff had brought, and some of the cold meats, and of course, the olives and pickles, and then the dips, then some bread and some crisps, and some pie and cake, and before long my plate probably had another 25 items on it.
Jeff said, “Now it's time for cards,” but suddenly we realised how late it had grown. We left about 8, so the kids would not be too late to sleep, but with the promise of the rest of the leftovers and more games to come the following day.