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Christmas as it should be

Here is the cosy scene on board Cirrus this Christmas.

We had arranged to visit Mike at his Yeovil home, to spend a few days over Christmas then return at the weekend to prepare for work on Monday. Little preparation was needed for this and we set off fairly empty handed with just the clothes we thought we’d need, some presents, and little more. Travelling down by train and negotiating the London underground is not the same as having a car of your own and being able to load the boot with everything including the kitchen sink, whether it is needed or not. Train travel needs a little more planning but we are used to this and enjoy the freedom it gives us. There are at least two things you can do on a train that are not possible when driving: reading a book and having a drink. As it happens we did both.

It was only a short visit, two nights, and given that we carried little food with us I suppose we sort of expected to find something we would be able to eat when we got there. But knowing this would be our son’s first Christmas in his own place we did not place any great hopes on this. It was not, after all, why we were going.

We arrived late on Christmas Eve, about 10 pm having taken a taxi from the station, to find Mike in a similar state of unpreparedness to us. He had been working right up to Christmas, somehow losing track of the days in the week, and with living just over a small supermarket which gives him everything he needs, any day of the week and through into the evening as well, he tends to live day by day and buy what he needs when he needs it. He has never before been in the situation of having to “do” a Christmas himself as a sole householder with family visiting him so had not succumbed to the panic many families fall victim to. He had food in, enough so that we would not starve, but not what many might call enough to make a Christmas.

We had brought two bananas with us and might have had a few odds and ends, leftovers we did not want to leave on board Cirrus, but thinking it was rubbish, Kate had neatly disposed of the plastic bag containing these back in London. The local Asda supermarket, Mike’s last resort for food, has always been open for him in the time he has lived alone but this time it let us all down; like everywhere else it had closed for the Christmas period. So here were three people with a box of breakfast cereal, some rice, a packet of cheese paninis and some pasta. Clearly this was gong to be an unusual Christmas although we did, to be fair, have a TV to watch.

But then we thought, well what had we come to Yeovil for? Was it the food and drink? No. We had come to be a family together and to enjoy our own company, plus maybe the odd Christmas movie. We were warm and we were dry, we had water and enough food to sustain us for the next 36 hours or more at least, by which time some enterprising local shopkeeper was bound to open their doors again. So for our Christmas we missed the overstuffed belly feeling, the drunken aftermath with the Christmas hangover all afternoon, the party hats, the false jollity and the chestnut stuffing and it felt good. I woke up the morning after suddenly realising what we had achieved. We had broken completely with tradition, with convention, broken the pattern of a lifetime, enjoyed ourselves and Kate woke up with her knitted hat almost finished.

Mike is, on his own admission, not a Christmas person, which maybe explains his lack of preparation (if not ours). Anyone else might have felt greatly discomforted by the situation but to all present the lack of a traditional Christmas dinner meant nothing. The lesson for us all here was that there need be no rules about how to behave when you are with those you love and cherish. Take away all the props of convention and habit and somewhere beyond there is life as it should be lived. The simple uncomplicated pleasures are what really counts.

By the time we left Yeovil the climate across southern Britain had gone from rather mild to colder-than-the-Arctic. An easterly wind coming to us from Europe lowered the temperatures by some 10 degrees and the clear night air brought a vicious frost to the ground. Just standing for 5 minutes waiting for the train brought tears to the eyes and we were beginning to be concerned for our unheated boat in London which we had left unprepared for this level of cold. Our water heater is most at risk as it has a water jacket that would be destroyed if it froze up.

We needn’t have worried. Central London has its own micro-climate anyway and then there was cloud cover at night so the temperature had not dropped as it had across most of the rest of southern Britain. The cold wind does not have anything like the edge here that it did in Yeovil, something that we were rather grateful for.

Curiously, this cold weather has made us start thinking about where we might be next winter, and where Cirrus might be. We now feel we need to make some loose arrangement for a winter berth for Cirrus as a fall-back plan in case we get to the end of the sailing season and find it too late to get her in somewhere. We have a couple of options up our sleeves now and this sort of forward planning gives us more freedom to go with the wind or to stay put as we please. We now have only three more months left in our jobs.

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