Wednesday, 11 January 2006


...Is one of the first days in a while to be truly bright and sunny and lovely. After four or five days of drizzly nothingness waking up to wispy cirrus across a blue sky felt like such a treat. It sounds ridiculous but it felt a tiny bit like Mexico - a touch chilly but absolutely beautiful and clear and optimistic.

I think I might have been trotting down the road to Seasonal Affective Disorder, so I have invested in one of those alarm clocks that wake you up with a sunlight bulb that gradually gets brighter over half an hour. Let's hope it does the trick. Or that these dismal months to come are sprinkled with days like today.

Monday, 2 January 2006

New Year

We set off around 10.30am on 30 January for our Lake District adventure, with Jess and Matt driving and a car so absurdly crammed full of stuff I thought we'd never even make the M32 let alone driving 40 miles shy of the Scottish border. The journey wasn't bad... a bit of a long haul and crazy to think it would take the same amount of time to fly to New York, but we kept jolly and played games and ate bonbons to pass the time. Quite frightening that we left the M6 at junction 40, and the journey still had an hour and a half to go. Such a long way.

When we got to Nether Wasdale we dumped our stuff at the Screes Inn where we were staying for the first night and then headed for Shepherd House, the cottage belonging to Kate's people. Quite the most charming cottage you can imagine, but it made me sad to think about their wedding back in June and the horrible date clash which meant we couldn't go. So the first evening was spent welcoming and introducing and eating and drinking at the Strands.

Saturday morning we breakfasted with Ness, Rosa and Guy Fisher and had a jolly good chat about allotments, before heading back to the cottage. I made a start on the cranberry and cardamom tart for supper and then we struggled into our waterproofs and wellies for our New Year's Eve walk. (Don't we all look so old and sensible and grown up?) Such a great walk which was punctuated with stone skimming and kissing gates. Two or three hours later and we arrived back at the Screes for a soup lunch and Rosa and Guy's pub quiz. Our team, Dogs in the Bar, consisted of me, BV, Jess and Jey, and we managed to lose quite spectacularly. There was a hilarious twist of fate which meant that, due to my erroneous marking, a tie-break situation occurred and the cup had to be transferred from one team to another. Some very poor sportsmanship was on show, which added to the hilarity of it all.

Then it was back to Shepherd House for cooking and costuming. Ben and I had tried to organise a meal that would be enough for 15 people, would satisfy both meat-eaters and vegetarians, and would be easy to cook in an unfamiliar kitchen. We settled on sausages, baked spuds, lentils in red wine, braised leeks and peas, and apple horseradish sauce. The kitchen was a tranquil place to be, and visitors would pop their heads round the door to ask if there was anything they could do to help and remark on how calm we all seemed to be. We had a few helpers chopping veg and sorting out snacks and it was all most amiable. In fact, it felt a bit like a commune.

Ness had written the most incredible Murder Mystery game for us to play (she had to write one because you can't buy them for 15 people) which we began over supper. She'd even brought fancy dress items to complement eveyone's costumes, which were hysterical. Joe (Lord Snottsbury) had a monocle, moustache and tails, Matt was hilarious as Parson Cyril Parsnip complete with moustache, cardigan and recorder, Ben was Seth Scythe the grave-digger and was just the funniest with his beard and hump, but poor Guy C, aka Damson Flan, had to dress as a woman and ended up looking like Les Dawson - blonde wig, huge eyelashes, and a lot of red lipstick all in his (real) beard. Damson had to retire to bed early due to a migraine though, which was a shame as his/her accent and improvisations were terribly funny. Turns out the murderer was my husband, Rusty Tankard (Si), whose outfit was more Hulk Hogan than rustic pub landlord.

After supper we went out into the garden where Si had lit a bonfire, and we sang songs with Guy F and Rosa and Matt on the guitar, Jess on the violin, and Ben on the wine bottle/wooden spoon percussion. More fizzy wine was drunk, and just before midnight Kate managed to rouse Guy C from his headachey slumber. At midnight Si and Caroline's firework display exploded into the dark and silent hills, and a hearty rendition of 'Auld Lang Syne' was sung. I love that moment - it's just so optimistically happy. More songs were sung, and Jey and Jess played while Kate and Joe re-enacted 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' in a slightly bizarre fashion.

Then it was time to go back indoors to play pass-the-parcel with forfeits, and dance the night away. Particular highlights include 'Raspberry Beret' and 'Rebellion (Lies)', Ben's backing vocals to the latter had Jess and I bent double with laughter, especially his ingenious use of the kitchen door.

Around 3am and much of the dancing had subsided, except for Joe, Guy Fisher and Si. I thought everyone had gone to bed, and I got up for a pee only to spot the three of them in Guy's car outside the front door singing along to my ipod. This continued until about 9am...

The rest of us got up around 10.30 and hung out in front of the log fire as Andy and Emma prepared breakfast. It was the most beautiful clear and sunny day, and the sky was the brightest of blues. After breakfast we all went and sat out in the garden with the sun beating down, as Guy C set up his winter Olympics games, and an impromptu game of frisbee materialised. The games began with another glass of bubbly and a cheap biscuit selection pack we'd brought. Jess and I were on a team with Jey, Joe and Guy C, and we were determined to win this time after our shocking efforts with the pub quiz. The first round didn't bode well - a sack relay race. Our team (Wales) was doing ok until my go... skirts and sacks do not mix. Andy lapped me, but luckily Guy's incredible technique ensured that we came second and not last. This was followed by human Scrabble - another of Ness's splendid contributions. Once again, Wales weren't doing particularly well with 'Jump' and 'Mops' being the sum total of our efforts. The next round was helped along by a tot of Amaretto and another biccie. Wheelbarrow darts was won in quite a spectacular way by our team - the unbeatable combination of Guy and Jey taking it in turns to push Jess in the wheelbarrow. And the hoopla, too, was a triumphant moment for Wales. So despite my appalling efforts we eventually managed to win, which was great.

All that racing about wore us out so we headed back inside to sit by the fire. It was mainly us girls and we read and I knitted and it was so quiet and calm and peaceful. Just lovely. Si, Caroline, Jey, Guy, Ness, Guy and Rosa were all staying in a camping barn a few fields away, so they took their stuff down there while we chatted and warmed ourselves by the fire. On their return we bedded down for film, pizzas and a lovely Amaretto and lime cocktail. It took a little while to whittle down the shortlist of films, and to eventually decide on 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (with a cry of a very Bristolian 'RAIDERS!' to signify a particularly exciting moment) followed by 'Ghostbusters' (ditto 'BUSTERS!'). Two brilliant films and such a lovely end to the start of the year, all warm inside and out.
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