20.12.2010 - 01.01.2011 0 °C
Phew, I’m getting exhausted. You know – you can do too much, you really can. In some ways we have missed out on many wonders on this trip because we’ve become understandably blasé. You can visit too many cities, too many museums, have too many meals out and ride one too many buses. And that means that you can get a bit “ho-hum” the next time you have to go out to see something new. Remember that, if you think that nine months on the road is just one endless orgy of visual splendour.
We arrived at Calais and headed for Kingsnorth, a small village just outside of Ashford in Kent. Snow lay everywhere, the fields beautifully white like the tops of wedding cakes. Minor roads were hidden under lightly compacted snow, and this included the km drive up to the Broadhembury Holiday Park. It a beautiful campsite with the most clean, bright and cosy sanitation block - with underfloor heating no less!
Pam, the lady who greeted us at reception, couldn’t do enough for us, but warned us that more heavy snow was due overnight – we might not be able to drive out in the morning. No matter I thought, this place is so nice, a few days stranded here would be fine.
There was a lovely illuminated Christmas tree next to our van, which gave our pitch a Christmassy feel. The snow lay thick everywhere, it was the perfect winter wonderland. Right on cue the snow began to fall; I went outside and started building a large snowman (OK, give me a break, I haven’t had such fun in thirty years!)
We woke to a fresh covering of snow but managed (just) to drive out and get onto the snow-cleared A20 heading west. Ann and I had a leisurely three hour drive to Drayton in Portsmouth, where Elma Gibson lives (you may recall, she and daughter Fiona invited us for Christmas when we met them in Aix-en-Provence).
Curiously, as we turned into the main drag leading to Elma’s house, the snow-covered fields suddenly disappeared. It appears that, while Portsmouth had had its fair share of snow, it had cleared up quicker here than elsewhere along the south coast.
We were warmly welcomed into Elma’s large and comfortable home as though we were long lost relatives. It was the 21st December and, against all expectations, we’d made it on the planned day!
The lead-up to Christmas was spent enjoying Elma and Fiona’s company (Fiona lives five minutes away). Elma spoilt us with meals and cups of tea; we conversed animatedly about anything and everything, and enjoyed evenings watching the brilliant programs on British TV. Elma’s neighbours, Nicholas and Wendy, invited us for drinkies the night we arrived – they were both such nice, friendly folk.
Christmas Eve night Ann, Elma and I were invited to Lindsay (Fiona’s sister) and husband Stewart’s house, and enjoyed a traditional ham, egg and chips dinner.
Fiona, husband Mike, son Jethro and daughter India joined us for Christmas lunch, and stayed till late in the evening. We played parlour games, ate choccies and drank plonk. It was really enjoyable.
As if we hadn’t been spoilt enough we were invited to Fiona and Mike’s for Boxing Day dinner – cottage pie – as well as the seemingly inexhaustible supply of plonk.
For our part Ann and I tried in every way possible to reciprocate these kindnesses by supplying food for the Christmas table, cooking for Elma, and helping out wherever we could. We took Fiona and Elma out for a fabulous lunch at a lovely traditional pub a few miles out of town called the ‘The Old House at Home’, or something like that.
Ann and I ventured by bus into the city of Portsmouth numerous times during the ten days we spent there, shopping rather than sightseeing, the weather being unseasonally cold for the time of year.
Before leaving Elma’s on New Year’s Eve, I took the opportunity of washing the van and cleaning it out on the inside – it hadn’t been washed for six months and was in a sorry state.
We drove off just after midday, feeling sorry that we were leaving such wonderfully homely comforts as central heating, comfortable beds and pleasant company. I like to think that, in some small way, Elma benefitted from our company too (it would certainly assuage my fears that we might have overstayed our welcome). I’m sure that wasn’t the case, as Elma gave every indication that we were most welcome and at no time were we any trouble. I hope that is true!
Driving to Axminster to meet up again with Helen and Steve was no great hardship. We took our time getting there and rolled into their street at about 5:30pm, by which time it was dark. They seemed very pleased to see us, and we felt comfortable in their company from the word go. We reacquainted ourselves with their two lovely young daughters, Jessie and Layla.
We were here because Helen’s sister Sophie and husband Joe had invited us to the New Year’s Eve celebrations. It was a themed fancy dress party of Pub Names. Ann went as ‘The Crown’ wearing an ornately decorated one she’d made the previous night, cardboard covered in glitter and spangles. I went as ‘The Green Man’, brilliantly painted by Ann on my head and hands, and hair sprayed to match.
The party went well with loads of friends and family turning up. There was plenty of food and booze, noisy conversation and even noisier music; everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. We wished each other ‘Happy New Year’ in front of a large plasma TV showing the fabulous fireworks display centred around the ‘London Eye’. At about 1:30am after a good proportion of the guests had left, I brought my guitar out. With the help of a number of enthusiastic backing vocalists, I knocked out a good number of tunes.
At about 3am we all retired, most to their centrally heated homes, while we crawled into bed in the van parked on the street outside Helen and Steve’s. We slept surprisingly well albeit for about five hours, and we woke to a new year – 2011!