This Christmas time I went back to the UK much earlier than I usually do.
This is a good thing because I was able to spend lots of quality time with my Mum – even though she slept so much! Also my brother Mark came to visit for a couple of days with his two children, Honey and Ted and it was so good to see them all again! As always, it is good to catch up with Karen and Mike, while I base myself at their beautiful home.
When Mark, Honey and Ted were here, we all had such fun playing Sjoelen – a Dutch game that Mum introduced us to, when we were kids. This game has been in our family for over 50 years and after pulling it out of an almost 30-year hibernation, it was great to see the younger generation enjoying it as much as we did! To describe it – it’s like a giant ‘shuffle’ board. Measuring about 7 feet long and 20 inches wide, it has 4 evenly spaced channels behind a bank of four large and flat-shaped slots, at the end of the board. The slots are individually numbered 1-4 and there are approximately 32 large flat wooden discs which are about 2 inches in diameter. The idea of the game is to slide the discs down the length of the board, aiming for the slots at the bottom. You can look it up under ‘Sjoelen Dutch Board Game’. I should have taken a photo but I was enjoying the game too much to interrupt it! With practice you can become quite skilled… and as it all came back to us – Mark and I got consistently higher scores than Honey and Ted! There are techniques you can learn to accurately aim the discs and it was fun to see which ones Honey and Ted decided to use! Sjoelen was such fun to play and Mum loved watching us all. I hope it brought back many fond memories for her.
Incidentally, Sophie and Hannah loved Sjoelen so much that they borrowed it for their New Year’s Eve Party! And Karen and Mike’s close friends, David and Deborah – also loved it so much that they bought one of their own! Amazingly, they are still making these boards, although we have noticed that the new ones are nowhere near as slippy and smooth as our old original one. The result of many years of playing, I have no doubt!
On 20th December Mark dropped me off in Manchester where Zoe was just finishing work for the Christmas break. She drove us back to their home in Huddersfield and together with Rich, we went out for a scrumptious meal in a lovely old pub in Huddersfield town. The next day Rich drove us down to Bury St Edmunds and the base where Emma and Ash live. This is where we were going to spend the next 5 days over Christmas – all of us together with my gorgeous Grandchildren, Ralph and Baby Neve. I cannot begin to describe how excited I was to be spending 5 whole days and nights with my close family. It was an absolute joy to have so much quality time with Ralph and Neve!
On Christmas Eve morning, Rich drove Zoe, Emma and me to the wonderful Spa in Elvedon Forest. All three of us were booked in for a full day of pampering, including lunch, whilst Ash and Rich looked after Ralph and Neve. This was my wonderful Birthday present from Zoe and Emma and gave us all a rare opportunity to spend the day together… in the most relaxing of environments. I have never experienced such a day so this was a real first for me and was also much-needed TLC for all of us!
What a gorgeous place this Spa was – all wooden-built and set in the forest with a huge open-air Jacuzzi in the centre. All around were countless different Steam and Sauna rooms, areas of very comfortable lounging and water beds everywhere! We found a large wooden open air balcony which had a massive water bed on it. Of course we all immediately got onto this bed and smothered ourselves under thick fleecy blankets! The air was crispy cold and the view and scent of the trees all around was sublime. It was so peaceful and comfortable to lie here and just contemplate… time and space to reflect and to think. We also enjoyed a couple of treatments. I had a facial and a hot stone massage, both of which made me feel ridiculously pampered!
We were back at Emma and Ash’s for about 5.30pm and after Emma had cooked yet another wonderful meal for us all, we helped Ralph get carrots for the Reindeer and a mince pie and sherry for Santa. He carefully placed it on the hearth by the chimney and was so excited! Sadly, the photo I took was blurry – I’m a lousy photographer and it’s so difficult to get children to keep still! Later and after Ralph had gone to bed, Ash made snowy footprints with flour, leading from the fireplace to the wonderful real Christmas tree! Then after we had finished putting out all the presents and carefully arranging them all around the tree, we settled down to watch a movie.
Ralph has just turned three and it was just magical to witness his excitement and joy on Christmas morning! To see his face light up as he noticed the snowy footprints leading from the chimney to the tree! Ralph loved all of his presents and remembers who they are all from. We enjoyed a very leisurely few hours, opening presents and playing with Ralph and Neve. I couldn’t have wished for a more magical Christmas! Needless to say – the dinner was scrumptious! Emma was a superb hostess and served us with such fine food and drink, throughout the 5 days we stayed. We all had a thoroughly good time and yet another Christmas to cherish for always!
So it was such a wrench to say goodbye to Ralph and Neve on Boxing Day… I miss them more than ever, especially after I have spent so many days with them! This is only the second time I have been able to spend time with my new Granddaughter. She is amazing… so vocal and trying to talk to you with lots of bubble blowing and cute little sounds. She adores her food and is a bonny little thing, always wanting to stand up, arching her back so that you can’t sit her down! I took some amazing videos of her and wish I could share them with you. What can I say? I just feel so wonderfully blessed to have Ralph and Neve in my life!
Rich drove us back up north and Emma and Ash left for their long drive to Shrewsbury and Ash’s parents’ house. On arriving at Karen and Mike’s, Zoe and Rich popped in to say quick hello’s to everyone, before driving back to Huddersfield. During the next few days I went out on the Friday evening, for a few drinks with Ange, and both Jill and Caroline called round for catch-ups on separate occasions. Albeit brief – it was great to see my friends again and find out what’s been happening in their lives, since I last saw them in September.
By complete contrast – New Year’s Eve was without doubt – the quietest I have ever experienced! It was just me and Mum with long-standing family friend, Gaynor. Mum was sleeping most of the time and Gaynor and I chatted, drank Baileys and snacked on nibbles. Very uneventful… but then such is life… you never know what it will throw up next?
I flew back to Crete last Thursday, with a sad and heavy heart at leaving all my loved ones… yet knowing I’ll be returning again soon.