The really nice thing about spending some time with far flung family and friends over the holiday is that it seems so much nicer than being at home.
The houses are invariably larger, warmer and tidier. The televisions are immense and the fridges and freezers are packed with quality goodies without an “own brand” in sight. Log fires crackle, the Aga exudes aromas of delight and after a tough year, the intake of good single malt becomes palliative rather than a social nicety. Envy is not a terribly festive emotion.
Six inches of snow fell on the Yorkshire moors during the early hours of Christmas Eve but we were still able to drive across the wuthering moor to take lunch at the Black Bull in Haworth. The narrow hill top lanes had been ploughed and gritted without consideration of metropolitan boundaries and walls of drifted snow towered above the car either side of the bone dry road. These days, Heathcliff drives a snow plough.
On Christmas morning, after presents, eggs Benedict and bucks fizz, we tobogganed on the hill behind the house. Seeing that our party outnumbered the available sledges, teenage boys in hoods and burberry caps leant us theirs and guided the children over “devils leap” with shrieks of joy.
Fourteen sat down to Christmas lunch that could have fed fifty and after the dishwasher was as loaded as the guests, the inevitable “political” arguments ensued. The strength of family discussions fuelled by heroic consumption of Chateauneuf-du-Pape is that they defy all logic. Outrageous statements are agreed with for fear of offending a loved one and provocative stances are taken that bear no relation to the real views of the proposer. The drunken hustings usually descend into fits of giggles and the pop of another cork. If only real politics were that benign.
On Detoxing Day, cheerful bin men arrived to take away the recycling. Stocky Yorkshiremen in Christmas hats cleared snow with shovels to collect the green bins from isolated cottages. Their arrival was greeted as if they were the last American chopper to leave Saigon. Guests and hosts scrambled frantically to gather cardboard boxes, empty quince jars and an alarming amount of bottles. The bin men helped us compact our by-products into the wheelie and did not seem intent on mutilating rats.
Christmas away with family and old friends is a rum truffle delight, but one more wafer thin mint could redecorate the dining room and, after all, there is no place like home. Normally, the drive back to Walsall takes about three hours, on Monday it took seven. There were no accidents, the snow had been cleared from the motorways and although there were some road works, there was nothing to impede the flow of traffic except the traffic itself. The vast majority of motorists behave sensibly and if the sign says 40 mph they comply. There are, however, a small group of morons who constantly switch lanes in an attempt to gain a car length advantage before the next standstill. These are the guys who, when joining the motorway, drive like the clappers down the slip road and cut in at the last possible moment causing everything to stop. If only they realised that 40 mph is just as macho as 90 mph and that the thing between their legs is a brake as well as an accelerator. Clearly, they are compensating for something that is missing.
Crawling south towards junction ten, the scale of the M6 widening can be fully appreciated. Narrow lanes, cones and concrete barriers protect the vast road chewing machines from the traffic and just beyond the Christmas lights and Christmas cards of Beechdale living rooms can be seen. Only baby Jesus must know the misery that these folks are going through and only Father Time will judge the consequences of huge trucks roaring across their patios.
Finally off the motorway and we know we are nearly home. The pot holes wake the sleeping children and alarm the elderly passengers and the roads appear to have swallowed up the grit. If we make it safely across the Arboretum junction, we may live to see in the New Year. Drat, no parking space outside the house so we park in Wolverhampton and walk. It is pleasing to note that so many people in Walsall entitled to disabled parking bays outside residential properties are owners of Mercedes taxis. Dodging the overflowing, uncollected bins and rubbish sacks and sliding on the ice, we arrive home and close the door on 2009.
Envy is not a terribly festive emotion.