If there was a good defining factor of Xmas in The Gables this year, it would centre around a lack of The Gables. Partly by mutual decisions by Her Indoors and me, and partly by commercial necessity, the festive season has been spent largely in the following-
And, predictably, due to the distances involved in the commensurate travel involved, mainly on the M6 the other Saturday when due to a light snowfall in The North, the BBC practically opened up a new radio channel with the sole purpose of screaming at us to “Only Make Your Journey If It Is Absolutely Necessary” and therefore throwing the British driving public into such a panic that virtually every corner of every motorway got jammed solid, making a view of our nation from space appear that, with its brightly glowing arteries, Britain itself had had a gigantic Barium meal, much of the festive break was spent here, in The Volvo.
It’s a good job that The Volvo has such fabulous comfy seats- a lesser vehicle would have reduced the spine to jelly. Shaped perfectly to the contours of the human body, it is as if Huldra, the Norse goddess of temptation is carrying you herself. Mind you, even the mighty Volvo was looking a bit sorry for itself after Her Indoors and I had gone up to Wigan at an average speed which was only marginally faster than tunnelling, and due to the unusually long length of the journey, a high volume of pie crusts, paper coffee cups, that shit cellophane which Marks and Sparks use to package mixed nuts in, Satsuma peelings and the loose polos which seem to form naturally in the bit of the car beside the front seat where your mobile phone falls had formed a kind of hideous coral reef of guilt-grazing iconography up to eye height. As a result, the normal sparse but luxuriant pale leather Scandinavian interior was beginning to resemble a corner shop after a grenade had been chucked in.
Christmas in Wigan was a hoot. Her Indoors is one of the lucky ones to have reached the age of, er, um, er, and still have a fully functional Grandma on the go. Christmas in Wigan therefore centred on Grandma’s house with Her Indoors, Mother-In-Law Indoors and Grandma Indoors all united in joyous festive harmony, with some extraneous males such as me thrown in for good measure. Grandma is getting on for 84 these days, and has over the years developed a technique of bending the laws of physics. Back in second form science, our teacher Mr. Gallup drummed it into us that water at sea level brews at a constant 100 degrees Celsius, and if no heat is applied after this, cools down again. Mr Gallup then went on to drum it into us that if you try to make it any hotter, it evaporates and turns into steam, and then, hey presto, you can have an industrial revolution to go along with your hot beverage. We all know how hot a good hot cuppa is, and so it comes as something of a shock when you realise that somehow, Grandma is able to heat water to at least three times this. Once this has been achieved, the mystery increases as the temperature remains constant until all the liquid has been sipped away. I reckon they should wheel Stephen Hawking up to Wigan to see her. She’s probably got the answer he’s looking for.
Prior to the Wigan odyssey, the opening shots of Xmas were fired for us in Tunbridge Wells, where my folks are now in adjacent rooms in a nursing home. As it is most likely that this will be Dad’s last Christmas, suffering as he is from a very advanced case of Motor Neurone disease, and then to add to the fun Mum had a stroke this year which has left her without the use of her right side and very limited powers of speech, my two sisters and me made a special effort to all get down there at the same time. While it was a bit grim sitting in a nursing home lounge gathered around our folks whilst two other families had gathered around theirs, there was a certain sense of esprit de corps which was curiously uplifting. There was a strange aspect of Elephant in the Room to it all- family Christmas is quite a private thing where people only tend to be there by invitation. It was quite a different sensation to be doing the usual xmas stuff- champagne toasts, rude rugby club jokes for Dad, smoked salmon sarnies etc etc in the presence of others with their variations on the same theme, all interpolated with cheery greetings from the (it must be said, fabulous) nursing staff. My traditionally declamatory dad has lost his speech now, and it can be tough to see both of them in wheeled chairs. This is the first year where the family Xmas hasn’t been centred by the family home. In fact, it is unlikely that our family will have this notion again, which lent the whole day a rather unsteady veneer. Later on that day, we managed to steady everything very efficiently by the cunning use of a huge Christmas dinner and lots of drinking round at my sister’s house. Sister Sue has a theory that the only way to deal with seeing the folks like this is to stick together and do something nice after we’ve been in. I think she’s right- If we start getting congenitally miserable about this, and as the days turn into weeks and the weeks months, the temptation to go into a black fug looms larger and larger. If that was to start to get a grip, then we’d all be no use for anything, least of all visiting the folks.
As an interesting aside, in order to make the big meet-up in the morning, and to have a festive tincture with the sisters the night before, Her Indoors and I stayed in a nice spa hotel down there on Christmas eve. This is cheaper than you’d think- I guess the hotel trade gets quiet around the festive season, and as an unintended consequence, I found myself having a sauna and a swim on Christmas morning. As the hotel was practically deserted, and as immersing yourself in warm chlorinated water doesn’t, as far as I can see, figure largely in any of the mainstream xmas to-do lists, I had the place to myself. It’s a nice spa at the Tunbridge Wells Mercure, with lovely big windows looking out over the gardens straight fromm the pool. As I was floating around, I drifted into a strange fantasy world where in fact the Whitgift School Dance Band’s recording of “Jumpin’ At The Woodside” had knocked Haircut 100 off the top of the charts in 1981 and I’d been living the rockstar lifestyle ever since. A load of water up the nose soon shook me out of that, mind. The hotel wasn’t quite deserted- I’d say there were another three couples in the breakfast room, and as we were all solemnly munching away at the Rice Krispies whilst “Frosty The Snowman” was playing at that hotel breakfast volume, which is somewhere between being loud enough to get right up your nose, but not so loud to make the music discernable, It struck me that no-one was wishing anyone else Merry Christmas. I had a mild hangover, and didn’t feel like starting the Jollity crusade myself, but I did find it a bit weird that hotel breakfast room etiquette is a more powerful social motivator than the feelings traditionally associated with December 25. As questionable as the taste behind it is, this year’s Sainsbury’s ad reminds us that those feelings were enough to stop the carnage of the First World War, yet in modern Tunbridge Wells, it would appear that they don’t have the currency to interrupt a bacon and egg buffet. This doesn’t apply in Wigan. Moving forward to Xmas Sunday at Grandma’s, Her Indoors’ dad and I were despatched to the local Morrissons for supplies. This culminated in a fifteen minute chat at the till with the nice Indian lad who works there and a big spherical Wigan mum with a pushchair and a nose ring about the different kinds of hail. Wigan’s bloody brilliant.
And now, to venue number three. It has become something of a Plog tradition that I tap out an episode when I’m waiting to go on of an evening at the Sporting Club here. They give me the conductor’s room, you see, and so I get my own coffee machine, bog, shower, sofa, fridge (with stuff in) and oddly, in a backstage devoid of natural light, my own window. No-one else gets a window. I must be important. I also get my own door, and so I am able to briefly shut the rest of the world out, although I can currently hear three different loads of music pouring out of the various devices in the various dancers’ dressing room. These shows in Monaco are the hardest gigs I do, because the client requires that we put together what amounts to a West End show for them in one and a half days. This time it’s the 1930’s and 1940’s, and we have a full big band, strings, six singers, eight ballroom dancers and two tap dancers. It was an absolute bugger to get together, but at six o’clock this evening the rehearsals had to finish, so that the Russian Gazillionaires and the woman-shaped bits of botox they bring can sit down to ignore the dinner. In a couple of hours they’ll be ignoring us too. This bit of down time is where I can really relax, as I’ve been on the go since we got here- if we’ve not been rehearsing, and as it’s Christmas and all, there has been some rather vigourous drinking by the lads once we’ve been coached back to the hotel. They drink Ricard down here, you know, and it doesn’t half slip down easy!
We’ve been put up in the next town along from Monaco, which is a smashing little seaside town called Roquebrune. An enterprising chap called Bernard has opened a bar there called The Barbar, and he’ll keep it open for you as long as you keep buying drinks, some of which should be shots of Jamieson’s for Bernard. It’s magnificently French, being brightly lit and boasting a large and impenetrable machine on one wall for betting on the nags. Bernard doesn’t do any grub- this is a proper drinking room. For the full French flavour, when a gentleman finds that he needs toregulate his fluid levels, he finds that the gentleman’s facilities consist of a solitary urinal bolted to the back wall of the building, right out in the open Riviera air.
Have a lovely new year. I’m going on a unique holiday when I get home from this, so watch out for the riveting holiday diary appearing here soon.