Christmas Eve, Sunday, December 24
Christmas Day fell on a Monday. I went to regular Sunday mass on the 24th in the morning. In the tussle between the (lovely) newish choir mistress and the (severe) retired choir mistress, the latter won out with traditional numbers including “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. A perennial Advent favourite.
I zoomed home to watch “A Muppet Christmas Carol” with Michael and anyone else who was interested. As I say, year after year, an amazing Christmas film and Michael Caine’s best work.
My sister, in exile from Cork (the builders are in her house), was up with her partner’s parents in Dublin for Christmas. This was a source of some bitterness. It was her first Christmas ever out of Cork and it was not a concept that had a great deal of allure for her. However, we were all glad to see her and exchanged Christmas presents. Hers, as ever, much better than ours.
We had her to dinner and I got to deploy my Christmas ware; colour me delighted.
Due to an unfortunate miscommunication with chef (Mr. Waffle), dinner was roast beef and not chicken so the mountain of Christmas stuffing I had made the day before was not deployed. Never mind I have been working my way determinedly though it ever since. Stuffing for breakfast anyone?
I am pleased to announce that the Christmas pudding went up in very satisfactory flames (part of a Lismore Christmas hamper which I recommend). In fact in a development which I can only describe as unusual, everyone got a flaming little piece as it took quite a while to go out. Tasted grand too.
Our Christmas crackers came with a guessing game which nearly killed my sister as she collapsed in paroxysms of laughter at my utter inability to guess the name affixed to my forehead.
She then came with us to midnight mass (9pm, confusingly). Those of you who have been counting will realise that it was my second mass of the day which, honestly, felt like a lot. Herself and Mr. Waffle guessed what poets would be covered in the sermon. They got points for Patrick Kavanagh and John Betjeman but no Seamus Heaney. Hymns were broadly good (severe older choir mistress holding out) but we had “Love is Christmas” for communion which definitely came from the younger choir mistress (who is a saint and very talented but whose musical taste, sadly, does not chime with mine). “Because there are so few Christmas hymns,” I whispered to herself bitterly. “Don’t be churlish,” said she. Fair, but honestly, mass went on for so long that it felt like midnight and didn’t I deserve a “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” having been to two masses? Apparently not.
Christmas Day, Monday, December 25
We didn’t get up until 11 – recommended – and then exchanged presents which were broadly a success, I think, though hard to know whether Santa really did deliver for the children. I was pretty pleased anyhow.
We went off across town for Christmas dinner with the cousins. They had also invited Mr. Waffle’s aunt and uncle, their daughter and her children. So we were a big crowd and a good time was had by all. I did feel for my sister-in-law when the uncle and aunt were ill and unable to come but their grandson came (much admired slightly older second cousin to my guys) and brought, surprise, his girlfriend, who, double surprise, we discovered five minutes before sitting down to eat, is a vegan. My poor sister-in-law began anxiously listing the things the vegan could not eat: not the meat, not the potatoes done in duck fat, not the sprouts with bacon, not the parsnips with parmesan…”Do you eat mushrooms?” she asked. Fortunately the vegan said yes and my sister-in-law whipped them up. The rest of us got to eat the amazing Christmas dinner. Santa had brought Michael “Poetry for Neanderthals” and it was great to see almost all the cousins playing from the sophisticated 21-year-old with his vegan girlfriend to the 15 year old hostess. Only the eight year old was a bit shy and stayed chatting with the grown ups.
Then we packed ourselves up and came home where the children did Mr. Waffle’s Christmas treasure hunt which they love. He thought it would be really hard but it took them about 20 minutes. More challenging material required for 2024. It slightly reminds me of a six-year old’s birthday party where you have all these games prepared but 10 minutes in they’ve passed the parcel, played musical chairs and musical statues and ten six-year-olds are looking up at you hoping that you have something prepared for the next hour and fifty minutes.
We had a three way video call with my sister in Dublin (who, ironically, was eating her Christmas dinner at her partner’s sister’s house, a ten minute walk from where we were having our own Christmas dinner but the logistics of meeting up were a bit beyond us), my brother in the Canaries and me. He seems to be having a good time. “Did you go to mass?” I asked him because I enjoy torturing him. “Yes, yes,” he said, “we had the loaves and the fishes.” “On Christmas Day?!” I asked. “Ah, is it the same everywhere?” he asked. “I mean you couldn’t even make a guess for today of all days? I despair,” I said. Just as well I went twice I guess.
It was my father’s third anniversary but I had thought about him on the solstice and that seems like a better day to remember him for a lot of reasons.
St. Stephen’s Day, Tuesday, December 26
Herself made her Christmas breakfast which was deferred from Christmas Day due to logistical challenges and very nice it was too.
Mr. Waffle and I went for a walk in the park. This made me think “Windows has caused a general protection fault.”
I had a quintessential Christmas snack. Yes, yes, that is spiced beef.
That evening, herself and Daniel went out to visit friends. When I was collecting herself she asked, “When are we going to Cork?” This is the reason why I repeat logistics ad nauseam though, in fairness to her, herself is not usually the one caught out. “Tomorrow morning,” said I. Surprise, disquiet etc. I collected Dan as well and he, at least was aware of our plans. I’d told him loads of times apparently. Sigh.
Wednesday, December 27
We left for east Cork at 9.30 in the morning. Our friends’ house there where we have stayed many times over the years and for which we are very grateful has a fatal winter flaw. The heating is very eco-friendly and, for reasons I do not understand, this means that the house takes hours to heat up. The teenage neighbour was supposed to go in the day before and fire up the heating for which service we were to pay her a tenner. Money which we would more than gladly have paid had she done the job, but alas, you just can’t get the staff.
We turned on the heat and went out to a local hotel for lunch. Golf course view but, you know, grand.
Mr. Waffle and I went for a walk on the beach leaving the children behind. Bracing.
There was a portable sauna (it’s far from etc.) and people left it to swim in the sea. Extraordinary. And people were out surfing as well.
When we came back to the house it was, alas, still baltic. We tried and failed to get the stove to work (it is a capricious beast, I emailed our friends – in Madrid for Christmas isn’t it well for them etc. – and got this reply “No special tips for the stove but follow instructions. And then do so again. It is like prayer. It will be warm by morning.”). I had neglected to bring a hat from Dublin so I spent the evening with a tea cosy on my head. This must represent some kind of new low but it was warm. I discovered in the morning that poor Michael, who is far thinner than me, had gone to bed with his jumper, coat and trousers on over his pyjamas. Yes, yes it was warm in the morning.
Thursday, December 28
We had a further walk on the beach for enthusiasts in the morning.
We drove up to Cork and had a nice lunch in the city. Then we went to my sister’s house where she needed to deploy us moving boxes and furniture in advance of the arrival of the electrician scheduled for early next month. The builders have done a lot of work and the house looks pretty good if absolutely filthy and covered with builders’ dust. We worked away and then the boys went back with my sister and her partner to their temporary accommodation to play Magic (if you don’t know, lucky old you) and Mr. Waffle, herself and myself went into town for a poke around. The Crawford Gallery was open, always a delight; I will be sad when it closes up for a couple of years of works – in 2024, I think.
I have been nominated family keeper of photo albums. When we were moving boxes we found another photo album. The first half of the album is devoted to pictures of my father and his mates sailing and climbing mountains.
The second half is devoted entirely to me – on my own, with various relatives etc. – as, needless to say, it should be. Here I am with my Granny, my father’s mother. Note cigarette, a classic touch. She actually gave them up when I was 3 or 4 so I never really remember her smoking. She’s wearing the diamond engagement ring that we found earlier in the year when we were cleaning out Aunty Pat’s upstairs. I’m wearing it now. Herself suggests I should sell as with the development of such excellent lab grown diamonds, I am losing thousands every day I fail to dispose of it. I will not be disposing of it.
That evening we all went out for dinner in Blackrock castle. Honestly, in the past I have been underwhelmed by the food available but it was actually quite nice, handy for the road back to East Cork and a lovely setting. Herself got us talking about what minor super powers we would like to have. She wanted to always be able to order the things she would most like on the menu in a restaurant or maybe to know what clothes would suit her best just from looking at them on the rack; Daniel wanted to be able to avoid sporting injuries; Michael wanted to always know when the bus would come (the commute to college is trying for him); Mr. Waffle wanted to always be able to sleep at night (that’s actually my super power, it’s grand but not as good as he thinks it is); I wanted to be able to always find something to watch on TV that would appeal to all the family; my sister’s partner had the best answer though, after a moment’s pause he said, “I want to be able to answer questions like these.” Meta.
Friday, December 29
The morning brought further obligatory walks on the beach and between that and packing up and cleaning up, it was nearly 11 before we got on the road to Dublin.
Unusually enough, we decided to stop on the way for lunch. The road is so good now that unless we start quite late as we did this time, it’s hardly worth stopping. On this occasion, timing suggested that Abbeyleix would be a good place to stop. There is a really lovely old pub there called Morrissey’s and my strong memory is that I have had a sandwich there in the past. However, although the pub was otherwise unchanged from my last visit 20 odd years ago, there was no food to be had. A cafe across the road turned us away as they were fully booked though annoyingly enough almost entirely empty when we went in (I don’t doubt that they were fully booked for lunch but it is galling to be turned away from a largely empty establishment). We ended up schlepping about a kilometre out of town to “the hotel”. The hotel does not do lunch but there was a kind of trailer thing in the yard with a heated enclosure. Beggars cannot be choosers but I would not call it a vintage lunch experience. We went back to Morrissey’s to warm up and sat beside the stove (installed when the pub was opened in 1775 and still, I can attest, delightfully toasty). I had forgotten just how nice a pub it is but the absence of food in Abbeyleix is definitely off-putting for the casual visitor.
The rest of our journey was accomplished without further incident. Herself read us aloud extracts from the Farmers Journal. She reads it a couple of times a year and is a big devotee. I’m sure her great-grandfather would be proud of her knowledge of mart prices but we’re all a bit puzzled by her enthusiasm.
I returned to a threatening email from the library. In fairness, it was my third overdue reminder. I had taken out David Copperfield but I was finding it hard going and had only got to page 50. Since the library abolished fines, Mr. Waffle has been wondering how they are going to deal with useless people like me who occasionally (not always, not always) return their books late. Well now, I know, unless I return David Copperfield pronto, they will suspend my account. I would have returned it on the morrow but, of course, Monday being a bank holiday, the library was closed on Saturday (I love the library service and use it all the time but like the rest of us, it has its idiosyncrasies that you have to get to know).
Saturday, December 30
I finished my Christmas jigsaw puzzle. Delighted with myself. Time well spent.
New Year’s Eve, Sunday, December 31
Herself went off to England by ferry at 8 in the morning (flights too dear) to go to a New Year’s Eve party in London. You have to admire her dedication. She’s back tomorrow (by plane, return flight is cheaper but at 9.40 from Gatwick, alas for her). Hurrah.
Today is the feast day of the Holy Family. The priest went all out in his sermon which went on forever and, slightly bafflingly, encompassed the role of the family in resolving the war in Gaza. A fifty minute mass and no singing. Alas. The second reading was from the reliably irritating St. Paul and included this paragraph, never my favourite:
Wives, give way to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands love your wives and treat them with gentleness. Children be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, never drive your children to resentment or you will make them feel frustrated.
I remember my parents particularly enjoying the “children be obedient to your parents” line and us countering about driving children to resentment before extracting money to spend in the penny sweet shop across the road from the church. What a long time ago that seems now.
I really love this time of year but I realise that as I get older, it will always be tinged with a little melancholy. And perhaps, after all, this is a nice way to remember those who have died.
Anyhow, enough melancholy, onward and a very happy 2024 to you. Tell me, have you made any resolutions for the new year?