Sunday, 24 March 2013

A UK Xmas - part III

Final stop, North Yorkshire. I'd made it to Harrogate, where I was kindly met by my lovely sister and niece (whose first words, after a hug, were "I like your suitcase". Ahem.).

A quick drive and we arrived at my sister's house in Ripon where my mum and her boyfriend were already waiting for us. More bear hugs ensued, then before I could continue with the business of Xmas drinking, a shower was needed. By the time I got back downstairs, the living room was full of festive boozers - knocking back the champagne no less - who I happily joined in with. Eight years it had taken me to get back at this time of year, so I felt it was more than justified. By this time I was feeling pretty sleepy, and also, oh dear, a bit achy and sniffly. And yes, by the time I hopped into bed, I needed to take a box of tissues with me.

I was sharing my niece's room, and when I awoke at 5 am on Xmas morning she was nowhere to be seen. Feeling pretty grotty though, I just rolled over and went back to sleep. Unfortunately, I was to be granted only two hours more kip. My mum, obviously taking revenge for all those hideously early Xmas get-ups when I was a child, bounded into my room at 7.15 announcing that my niece could await no longer and my presence was needed downstairs for the Grand Opening of the Presents. I staggered down to the living room and curled up on the sofa while gift after gift was enthusiastically opened by all concerned, myself included (my Xmas haul was composed of, amongst other items, a very-gratefully-received box set of Outnumbered, which my sister had introduced me to the previous January, and a tasteful plaque for my wall that stated "Cats are like chocolates, you can never have just one...").

After that it was back to bed to repose for another hour. Feeling I should lend a hand, I decided not lounge in bed for too long and so shuffled down to the kitchen to help prepare the big meal. Fortunately, I was put on veggie duty so had little more to do than peel potatoes, parsnips and carrots, chop Savoy cabbage and prepare Brussels sprouts. I would've been happy with just the veg - you can't get parsnips or Savoy cabbage in Spain, and I adore sprouts - but I'd been bought a nutty, veggie bake too, my mum had made a gluten-free bread sauce and there was also stuffing. This was all served with gravy, apple sauce and cranberry sauce so I felt quite decadent sat there with a plate full of food, and more than a little guilty. Having come from Spain, where I knew thousands of families had trouble making it to the end of each month, where soup kitchens and food banks are nowadays the main source of groceries for many people of all ages, including some with a university education, I was grateful to be in a situation where I could sit down with my family and enjoy a plentiful meal together. I cleaned my plate; when I was little I was fed stories of starving children in Africa, this time I was thinking of hungry families in my adopted country.

I was brought out of my sombre, and sneezy, mood by a post-lunch photo session. It should've been a simple affair - my sister sat at the table next to me and mum played photographer. However, instead of using the zoom, she shoved the camera at us to get us in frame. We both recoiled at exactly the same time, looked at each other and burst out laughing. And we couldn't stop. The cacophony lasted a good twenty minutes, and proved to be contagious as you can see from the photos:

After we'd all calmed down mum declared "I've not laughed like that in years", and I don't think I had either.

One thing I was disappointed by was the momentous occasion of the Xmas day film. Or rather lack of it. When I was little, this was a big event. I remember watching E.T. and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on the 25th December - had you not made it to the cinema (a magical occasion in itself back then) this was your first chance to catch the blockbuster and so was a huge occurrence that I looked forward to all through lunch. However, nowadays, with Sky and other channels taking your money and using it to buy up all the best films, we were left with pretty poor showings. In fact, I can't even remember what we ended up watching. A little piece of the magic was lost. Given the state I was in,  though, I didn't last much longer on Xmas day and crawled into bed at an early hour. Boxing day was even worse. I managed a trip out to restock on tissues and that was it. The day was spent feeling sorry for myself and feeling snotty.

However, having been more-or-less force-fed vitamin C and zinc tablets (by my ever-prepared mother) for the previous three days, I was feeling much better by the 27th. Quite fortunately too as it was Panto day.  Harrogate has the best Panto I've ever seen, even though it's performed by the same company every year and contains no B-list, or even C-list, celebs (perhaps that's why it's so good). This year it was Jack and the Beanstalk (with a very believable, moving giant) and, despite my weakened state, I bravely managed to keep up the calls of "Oh, yes it is!" and "It's behind you!" until almost the very end, when I eventually went hoarse.

For my final day in the UK, I went shopping. To the supermarket. I like this type of shopping at all times, but a UK supermarket is, these days, a special treat. I had planned on filling the basket (and my suitcase) with Crabbies and Rekorderlig strawberry and lime cider (see my previous post). However, there was a last-minute change of plan and I ended up with cat treats instead. I have one extremely fussy puss, who will only ever take malt in the form of Whiskas malt bites. These, in Spain, cost me about €2.50. In the UK I got them on a 2 for 2 pound offer. And even without that, it would've cost me only 1 pound twenty per box, or about €1.50. I was furious: not only do Spanish workers earn significantly less than the British (unless you're a top footballer or one of the many corrupt politician, it seems) but we also have to pay more for our goods. And it wasn't just the cat malt, though that was the best (worst) example I found of how we're being swindled over here. There were many, not only in the supermarket, but there had been throughout my trip - the digital camera my sister had bought my niece for Xmas only cost 40 quid, and it was a good make. Something similar in Spain would cost me about 50% more. Had I had more money, I would've bought myself one before I left. I'd never before felt poor in my life, even during the 10 years I spent at university; now I did. So, I filled my trolley with Whiskas malt bites, and also the obligatory, much-missed, gluten-free crumpets (which predictably didn't last very long once I got back home) and that was about it.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I have a rather lovely sister, a fact that was confirmed when I discovered that my train back to the airport had been cancelled due to engineering work. Of course that hadn't stopped them charging me 110 pounds for it then failing to advise that it wouldn't be running. Cue my fantabulous sis, who offered to take me down to Stansted - a journey of 3.5 hours each way - without blinking. In the end, the journey was much more comfortable for me that way. A good thing too, since I arrived back home, exhausted, at about 8pm that evening, much to the delight of six, stroke-starved cats. 

I must admit, all in all, it was fun. I had a great time, despite the sniffles, sometimes unreliable train service and tiring journey to and from Spain. I also learnt to appreciate where I come from and see the many positives of the UK, for perhaps the first time ever. Having said that, thankfully I did make the most of it, because it may take me another nine years before I decide to brave it again at Xmas.

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