Christmas in Bury St Edmunds - part 3
We decided we would have the in-house breakfast at the Premier Inn. There was a choice of a Continental breakfast for £6.99 and a Full Breakfast for £8.99 or something like that. The thing is that two kids ate free if an adult were having a full breakfast. Arran eats very little, so it would
save no money to have him pay just for what he wanted – 4 slices of toast and a glass of apple juice. But Natasha likes her food, and she went for eggs, hash browns, sausage, beans – as well as croissants or pancakes, etc. So she really made it two breakfasts for £4.50 each. I normally have only cereal and coffee for breakfast, and grapefruit. But if I have to pay a lot of money, I am going to eat a lot of food. So I had two coffees, cereal, eggs, bacon, mushrooms, beans, hash browns, juice and toast. I was full.
We needed to get some medical supplies, so Jeff and I went into the town to buy some calpol, some tissues, some throat sweets (also called toffies as they were really Werther's originals) and some antihistamine for Andrea. She has an allergy to cats. Blaine and Jenny have a big shaggy cat, who kept its distance from all of us, but its hairs were on the carpet and couch, etc. and that was enough for Andrea to be miserable with swollen itchy eyes, and a runny nose and all the other things that go with an allergy.
In most of the town centre, the buildings are mostly Georgian – and they form a very historic feel to the place.
Edmund was a king of East Anglia in the mid 9th century, during the time of the Viking raids. He was a Christian, and when the Vikings demanded he give up his religion, he refused and was tortured and killed (arrows first and then beheading) – and thus became a martyr. His tomb became a place of pilgrimage, and he was eventually declared a saint. For awhile he was considered the patron saint of England.
Having never been to Bury St Edmunds before, Jeff took me on the scenic route – through the cemetery of the cathedral and by St Mary's church -(we never did discover why there were two big churches next to each other. The main one is called St Edmundsbury Cathedral) and I could see the ruins of the 11th century Benedictine Abbey behind, but we didn't go into the gardens. Apparently (I haven't looked this up) King John did his main work on the Magna Carta in Bury. The Guildhall was a very impressive building. Jeff kept reminding us about the local brewery – Greene King – which has done well throughout all the recent financial downturns. We have reason to remember them more than for the taste of their excellent beer, because Natasha's great grandfather had shares in them. As well as the brothers (including my husband) getting a 1/4 each of the estate, each of the eight grandchildren (including Andrea) got a piece of the profit from selling the shares.
The town was fairly busy, but not all the shops were open – basically only the chemist and news agents and stuff like that. Jeff thought he remembered where Boots was, but each corner proved to be not the one, until we did find the right one.
When we were fully medicated and kitted out, we once again went to Blaine and Jenny's house and I once again started the rest of my day with champagne. This was the day dedicated to card games, and as that is my specialty, I was looking forward to it. I had taught Natasha in her evening with me before we left to play both hearts and spades – which were easy for her since she has been playing bridge for the last four years or so. But as most of the other children were not all that familiar with card games, we decided to start with an easy one.
Do you know predictive whist? If not, here is a quick run down of the rules. Any number can play, and it is mostly a game of chance, with a little bit of skill coming in handy sometimes. You deal out 7 (you can play with all 13 but that would limit you to four players) cards to each player. They look at them, and decide to predict how many they think they can take. We play it that hearts is always trump, but in a proper whist game, the trump changes with each hand. So each in turn has to say if they will take anything from 0 tricks to 7 – and if they get it right they get what they said, plus 10. If they get it wrong, they get nothing. First to 100 wins.
Then in subsequent rounds, the number of cards decreases by 1 each round, and then increases again by 1. The player to the left of the dealer leads a card, everyone follows suit if they can, or trumps if they don't have that suit (or doesn't trump if they don't feel like it. The one with the highest card wins the trick. The hardest aspect of the game is not taking tricks – for when you bid 0. I like doing that. I have to admit I did win, but I play this sort of game daily on the computer so I did have quite a big advantage.
Lunch was served promptly at 1, and the other brother and his fiance arrived at 1.15. Dale is the youngest, and although he has had lots of relationships, this is the first time he is engaged. His finance, Lindsey, I don't know much about. She looks a lot like Dawn French, and wasn't scared
to talk back to her future in-laws which pleased me, because Les and Jeff often make remarks that are not totally appropriate. They live in a little village in the Peak District, but Dale works during the week in Glasgow. Lindsay helps in a pub, and also runs a childrens' group. Their wedding is planned for late summer, with them taking over a hotel for the day.
Our meal was yesterday's leftovers – some reheated and some cold, with newly added chips. I probably ate less than I had the day before, but I still had a very full plate and enjoyed every bite of it.
After lunch Nade said she would like to go for a little walk. Apparenlty when Andrea and Jeff last saw her, she hadn't got out of her wheelchair the whole day – and had sat by herself in a corner and was very miserable. But now she was back to her routine walk – which consisted of going outside for a
cigarette. Les was there to escourt her outside (we had a warm beautiful dry Boxing Day, unlike some) and then he came inside and watched out the window until she signalled that she was ready to come in again.
Death and long-living were subjects brought up several times during the stay. Les had heard on the radio that somewhere in the world living today was a person who would get to be 150, and he decided it might as well be him as anybody else. This was a joke – but started us off in thinking what it would be like to live that long. But we all knew that death was very much in our thoughts. Nade's younger sister who lives across the street, has days to live. In fact, we half expected her to die over the holiday. She has cancer – but has fought it valiently for the last nine years or so. Both Nade and Les have a fear of hospitals, and have refused to go to visit her, despite her asking them to. But Nade's thoughts were on her, as she kept mentioning her as memories of past holidays were brought up.
Nade herself is far from well, although I don't think she has cancer. She had her stomach removed about 20 years ago – and since has never been able to eat much and lots of foods make her ill. So she found that her best medicine is red wine, and she partakes in small amounts regularly all day long each day. But probably because the alcohol is her main source of energy, she doesn't appear to get inebriated at all. Her voice doesn't get slurred. The three falls she has had in the last six months have not been related to stumbling from drink, but were blackouts. She is never allowed to walk unaided by her stick and a friendly arm. I certainly found her very much the same person who I
met first twenty years ago when our children got engaged.
After dinner, we got down to some more card playing – and as well as more predictive whist, we also played a game that the children enjoyed more called Pig. You start with as many sets of cards as you have players – so if you had 8 players, you would use the cards from Ace to 8. The
cards are shuffled and dealt so each person had 4 cards. You had to try to collect a set of four, and the first to do so had to put his finger on his nose – and the others followed suit. It took me a
long time to realise that the winner had nothing to do with collecting suits, and everything to do with being quick and watching the others. Each time you lost you got a P, then an I, then a G. I was the first PIG out in that game.
It was interesting as an observer to watch the dynamics of the family. Each of the brothers had a role to play – and the father too was involved each kind of wanted to be top dog. At lunch Les made a comment to someone, “You're a better man than me, Gunga Din.” And Dale said he didn't understand the reference. Instead of explaining it, Les said, “You'll have to get yourself educated.”
Dale was embarrassed and so were many of the rest of us. I piped up. “I have no idea what it means either,” which was true, but I thought it probably came from The Jungle Book. Later Les got out his phone and googled the quote, and offered it to Dale to read. “Maybe, later,” he said. “I'm not in the mood for it now.” So Les handed it to me, and I dutifully read and appreciated the whole poem and the obvious meaning of the quote – so he then was satisfied. But I felt sorry for Dale who once again, as happened often in his life I suspect, was deliberately made to look a fool by his father and brothers.
Later we did more turns with the game Tension – the team game where you had to get the
required 10 items in a category. And then lots of family photographs (which I ducked out of, spending time with the buffet in the dining room instead).
The grandchildren had been very involved in the Christmas activities, which apparently was
a new departure. The girls played all the games with us, and the boys played the charades and team guessing games, and did their own thing at other times. So Nade whispered to me, “I asked Ann how she had enjoyed Christmas this year, and she said that it had been her best ever.” What a nice thing to say to her grandmother – and it was probably because everyone wanted to make the occasion the best ever for her sake, that it turned out to be just that.
The other grandparents left the party first – but Dale and Lindsay were coming to stay with them while the others were off to France for a holiday on Tuesday.
On Sunday, we again had a big breakfast, and then took Jeff and the kids to their grandparents' house while Andrea drove me to Ely – to catch my train back from there. Luckily I had a reserved seat, and I shifted the man out who had claimed it, and a kind lady let me put my suitcase on her
chair and later put it between chairs for me, so I didn't have anything to do but read my book for the next 7 hours (2 hour layover in Manchester). Jeff found me one of his mother's books to read –
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. I will remember this (as I am sure the other grandmother will) as a very pleasant Christmas.