On Christmas Day, I drove the fifty-plus miles westward to Gosport to the home of G--- and C---, my ex-sister-in-law and her husband (she was married first to my brother in 1978, then re-married in 2003), to make up a family party of five, the other two persons being my niece J--- and her husband K---. Plus Sooty and Sweep, the two cats.
All I had to do was turn up with a cheerful face and a bottle of wine, and spend the rest of the day chatting and eating. In short, an easy, relaxing day free of worries and disharmony (because we all get on well). It was much quieter than the previous evening at V---'s, but small family gatherings tend to be like that. I didn't mind at all. It was cosy. The cats gave me plenty of attention. They seemed to think I had influence in the kitchen. They liked duck with all the trimmings, too.
Getting to Gosport was a journey full of freaky weather. It started off just dull, then there was a pitter-patter of rain. Then it lashed down, with hail from time to time. I'd decided that the 'fast' road, the A27, which is fairly direct and stays near the coast, would be crowded with thousands of families driving to and fro in a bid to get to a Christmas Lunch somewhere else. In fact it would be excruciatingly slow. So I was using the inland route via Storrington and Amberley. West of Amberley the road crosses the valley of the River Arun on a low causeway, just a few feet above the water-meadows that flood now and then. As I approached the causeway I saw that major flooding was in progress. The water wasn't yet across the causeway, but would be very shortly if the rain kept up. At the other side of the valley I pulled in and took these shots, looking back:
I could see that valley becoming a big lake within the hour. I've driven along submerged roads in the past. It's no fun. The sideways pressure of water is disconcerting, and it's scary not quite knowing where the road is. It's certainly not to be attempted after dark. I made up my mind that I would definitely not come this way going home! (I took the A27 all the way instead. But saw three road accidents, two of which involved fire engines and foam on the road. What a horrible way to end Christmas for the victims)
The next potential hazard on my outward journey, once back on the A27, was where that road joins up with the A3(M), the motorway coming in from London to Portsmouth. It then becomes a five-lane racetrack in both directions, with people dodging suddenly and inexplicably from lane to lane, generally without signals. The best plan is always to stay in the outermost lane, close your eyes, say your prayers, and push the accelerator into the floor with your welly. That way you can keep ahead of the pack, and may live to tell the tale. Lashing rain, pooling on the surface of the tarmac, just makes the experience more intense of course. This time, survival was a little easier than usual. The traffic was thinner, and I made it onto the M27 safely. Thenceforth it was plain sailing to Gosport.
It was so nice to see most of my 'close family' together! Missing were my nephew M---, his girlfriend C---, and Matilda, their very young baby girl who was featured in a recent post. Although Matilda is not too young to travel, they don't possess a car, and it would be a long and awkward journey by any other means, involving a train journey from (say) Wimbledon to Portsmouth Harbour, the Gosport Ferry, and a couple of buses or taxis at each end. However, I'm sure they'll be there next Christmas.
As mentioned above, we had duck with all the trimmings. It was a very nice meal. Here's my niece J--- with her Mum G--- in the kitchen beforehand:
And this is J--- with myself:
That's my late brother's daughter, you know. She and I have always got on exceptionally well.
I took two other pictures of myself that I almost threw away when editing. One was taken to record an attempt at putting my hair up, but the shot turned out way too twee:
This was the other photo, which I thought made me look way too old:
My goodness: I could see my Dad's face, a feminised version of it. Compare it to these shots, which I took of Dad in 2009, during the month before he died - one on the cruise, one in a pub:
There's such a resemblance. I wonder what Dad would have thought of me now, nearly five years on? Surely he would have become accustomed to Lucy, and no longer horrified or embarrassed?
He'd be 93. Too old and tired and achey for cruises, but still up for a pint in a country pub. Like so many a Christmas in the past. My becoming his daughter wouldn't stop us clinking glasses with a smile.