So, that’s it. Christmas, the New Year, and the whole bally lot of it is now over and done with. I apologise for not blogging last week, but it was a strange week which somehow got away from me. Fitting really, given how strange the whole year has been, that it ended with a week of mixed blessings. Last time we spoke, it was the weekend before Christmas, and I was unsure exactly what was going to happen. I knew I still had to work on the Sunday and the Monday, but really didn’t expect to be busy. Well, I was proved wrong. Sunday, we did see quite a few people – but they all said the same thing – we thought we had better place our order before Christmas, because we think you’ll be closed afterwards.
Why were they thinking that? Well, on Saturday afternoon at 4pm, our prime minister announced that London was going into a new tier – Tier 4 – a hitherto unheard-of tier, and that all non-essential shops would be closing that evening. Mass panic ensued, as shopper rushed to finish Christmas shopping in the scant couple of hours left before most shops closed. Now, yes, it was awfully short notice, but I have never understood people leaving their present buying until the weekend before Christmas. What about if you can’t find what you want? It is dangerously risky in a normal year, but during a global pandemic … I’m sorry, all my Christmas shopping had been done well and truly before then.
We heard the news on the car radio as I drove home from collecting Miss F from work. It caused us both no small concern because our young lodger had gone up to London only that morning to see his brother. I wasn’t very impressed when he told me he was going. Even before the announcement, London was a petri dish of infection, and this new, twice as infectious, strain of Corona seemed a very scary development. I just couldn’t understand why he was going. Sure, he wanted to see his brother, I do get that. But, to travel all that way on public transport, only to have to stay in a hotel and meet his brother in a park somewhere, stand 2m apart from each other, shout their greetings and then throw presents at each other – it all seemed risky and not worth the effort.
But I am not his mother nor his parole officer, ultimately, I could only express my concern at his plans – which he ignored and went anyway. Then came the news about London, and the stats about how the infection and death rates were rocketing in the capital. As soon as the announcement was made, thousands of concerned parents contacted their offspring attending colleges and universities in London and told them to get their arses home. So, they did. In their thousands. They crowded onto trains, buses, and fled the capital – bringing the virus and the new strain – home with them, to all corners of the country.
So, there we were at work on Sunday – all very concerned, and none of us knowing what was going to happen to us. With no other option, we soldiered on as planned, serving customers, and reassuring them that even if the shop were closed, we would still be able to deliver as arranged.
Monday came, and all members of staff were supposed to be in but when I got to work, one of my male colleagues was absent. His stepdad had died from Corona over the weekend, which he had contracted when he had gone into hospital a couple of weeks earlier for a non-related issue. Shocked, we discussed the matter at length, before my boss gave us tasks to do to clean the shop and put up all the promotional material ready for the big sale commencing on Boxing Day.
We didn’t see a customer all day but kept busy with our tasks. I am not sure any of us believed we would be open on Boxing Day, although I thought we would be. I imagined that the consequences of the mass exodus from London and the mixing and mingling over Christmas – now reduced from five days to one day only – would take a couple of weeks to affect us.
I came home at 4pm, expecting to find the lodger had arrived back from London. We had sent him a rather lengthy text expressing our concern at the latest developments, and requesting that when he arrived back, he use the sanitiser by the front door, put all his clothes in the wash, shower, and generally disinfect and clean everything he had touched on his way in, and everything that had gone to London with him. It was probably a futile effort, because if he had contracted the virus in London then just living in the same house as him, meant we were bound to catch it. But I thought if he were carrying in on his clothes or in his hair, at least these precautions might prevent it being passed onto us.
To my surprise when I got home from work though, he still hadn’t returned. I wondered if perhaps he was finding it hard to return – there had even been talk of preventing anymore people from leaving London, although this seemed like locking the stable door after the horse had well and truly bolted. As the evening wore on, I became more concerned so text him asking if he was still coming back that day? He replied that he had decided to stay another day. Hmm, would I choose to stay any longer in a plague city that was locking down fast? No, I would have returned Saturday afternoon as soon as the announcement had been made. But then, I wouldn’t have risked going at all.
Tuesday was a busy day, preparing for Christmas, then came a further announcement from the prime minister – other areas of the UK were going into tier 4, Suffolk included – and twenty minutes later my boss rang. It was official, my store was closing so we would not be going back on Boxing Day. He was unsure how long we would be shut for, but the government would be assessing the situation mid-January.
I had mixed feelings about it. Yes, I was concerned about my company, and annoyed that I would be missing out on all the overtime I had been booked to work and all the extra commission I would potentially earn. But I must admit, I was also relieved. I had been very concerned to the point of being scared about going back. Although many people would be sensible and not mix and mingle on Christmas Day, I knew a lot of people wouldn’t be. And that it was those people who had exposed themselves to the virus that would be piling into the shops to take advantage of the sales, potentially transmitting the virus to the sales staff.
Wednesday was our Christmas Eve, so we had a pleasant day relaxing and carrying out last minute preparations for the 24th – which was when we were celebrating Christmas due to Miss F having to work on the 25th – I laid up our Christmas table ready, and prepped dinner as much as I could. The lodger offered to buy us a Chinese takeaway as a thank you for inviting him to share our Christmas, which was an unexpected and lovely treat, and we ate it in front of the fire, watching films.
The 24th dawned, and Miss F came and got into my bed early in the morning so we could open stockings together. Then we went downstairs, and she ploughed her way through the huge pile of presents awaiting her. I think I did well this year, because she loved everything, and all “non-list” items I bought her were thankfully all okay.
After breakfast, I got the meat in the oven and then we skyped with my parents so they could watch Miss F open her presents from them, and we could watch them open ours. Thank heavens for modern technology. Just think how much harder this year would have been without Zoom and Skype and all the other ways of communicating with people that exist now. How much harder it would have been for parents, teachers, and children without online schooling, and how frantic with boredom we all would have been without Netflix and Sky and all the other entertainment that is available to us at the touch of a button.
We had lunch at 1:30pm, a full Christmas dinner with all the trimmings – although we had lamb, not turkey. Then we played lots of games, which was fun, and spent the evening watching films. It was a relaxing, peaceful, and very quiet Christmas which, after the year we’ve all had, was probably what we needed.
Next day was the real Christmas Day, we had breakfast and then I had to take Miss F to work at 11:30am. I think she had mixed feelings about work. Yes, she wanted to earn the double pay and receive the good tips, but she was anxious about the worsening situation with the virus. It had been raining steadily and heavily for two days, and the roads I take to get her to work are through very low-lying ground. Turning a corner just outside the village where the restaurant is located, we encountered a very large flood right over the road. Water was gushing from the adjacent fields and it looked deep – very deep.
Slowing, I drove into it. Halfway through I felt my engine stuttering but kept my revs up and kept going. I think that is a good motto for life – when the going gets tough, keep your revs up and keep going! The road was on a slope and as I drove through on the left-hand side, I could see that the flooding on the other side of the road was much more severe. Driving back after dropping her off, I slowed at the flood, waited until an oncoming car had driven through it, then carefully drove through on the wrong side of the road. I only have a little car and the flooding on the other side was now so deep, I honestly thought I would get stuck halfway if I attempted to drive through it. Behind me another car, bigger than me, almost sneered at my cowardly decision and plunged arrogantly into the flood on the correct side of the road.
The water had got deeper in the few minutes it had been since dropping Miss F off, so I slowed and just kept going, keeping as close to the right-hand side of the road as I could. Halfway through, I heard the car behind me splutter and rev its engine – next moment it sheepishly crept across the road and fell into line behind me. Obviously, the driver had found the flood a bit too deep even for his higher vehicle and had then realised the thinking behind my actions.
Home – I was facing the prospect of over four hours alone on Christmas Day. I tidied away Miss F’s presents and stacked them into less wobbly piles. There was a lot of roast lamb left over from the day before, and I had deliberately cooked way too much veg and made too much gravy. I boiled up a big pan of finely diced potatoes whilst I chopped the lamb into bite sized pieces and mixed in a large bowl with all the leftover veg, gravy and mint sauce. I drained the potatoes well, seasoned them, and then mixed them in as well. I had got some puff pastry out of the freezer the night before and had enough to make seven giant Cornish pasties. A complete meal in themselves stuffed as they were with roast lamb and mint sauce, potatoes, peas, carrots, and green beans, along with gravy and a few finely chopped roast potatoes and stuffing. I left one out for the lodger to have for his dinner, then froze the others in pairs for future meals.
Then I settled down for a nice long video chat with an author pal of mine who was also on her own on Christmas Day. I had to collect Miss F at 5pm, so planned to leave just after 4:30pm as I was concerned about the state of the roads – particularly the flood. At just gone three though, I had to cut my chat short when Miss F phoned. They had finished serving food, most of the diners had gone, and her boss had told her to leave off at four instead of five.
I was quite relieved to be collecting her an hour earlier though, especially when I reached the flooded part of the road and realised how much deeper it was now. Gingerly I crept through. The water was halfway up my hubcaps and I knew if it got much deeper, I wouldn’t be able to get through. I reached the other side, drove to the restaurant, and waited for Miss F to come out. The drive home was a little hairy, just in the ten minutes it had taken me to collect her and drive back to the flooded part, it had got significantly deeper. It was also dark now, the rain was lashing down, and it was windy as well. Halfway through, my engine tried to stall, but again I kept my revs up and managed to keep going. It was lucky I wasn’t doing this an hour later, as I’m sure it would have overwhelmed my little car.
Our treat for dinner on Christmas Day was sirloin steak and all the trimmings, which was delicious, then we flaked out in front of the TV until we went to bed.
Boxing Day – I was supposed to be at work, but of course I wasn’t. We decided to have a relaxing, chill out day. The lodger joined us for a late lunch of whatever we had in the fridge – and we all flopped in front of the TV and watched films until his phone rang and he went downstairs to take the call. I assumed it was his family, and thought nothing of it, until a bit later that day – when he dropped his bombshell that he was moving out on the 3rd of January!
Talk about a blow coming out of the blue. He only moved in at the end of October, and we had been confident of him staying for at least a year, probably longer. His parents were concerned about the worsening situation in the UK and wanted him to return to France – which I understand. They were afraid if he didn’t go now while the borders were still open, he might not be able to go home at all – which I understand. They also thought if he was going to be doing his course online, then what was the point of them paying board and lodgings when he could do the same course for free at home – which I understand.
I do understand their reasons – and in the same position might have made the same decision – but it has really left me in a very precarious position. Having a lodger move out just after Christmas any year is not ideal. I don’t go mad with spending, and I especially hadn’t this year, but it is still a very expensive time and a drain on my income. This year my company is closed, I’m not working so am only receiving my furlough pay and a percentage of estimated commission. Because I am not working in January – our busiest time of year – I will miss out on receiving at least 60 hours overtime in my pay packet, not to mention all the extra commission I would make from all the sales.
Add to that how hard it was to find a lodger last time and we weren’t then in tier four, with infection and death rates rising rapidly and facing another probable lockdown. I have a feeling finding a new lodger is going to be hard, if not impossible, and there is also the question of whether I should even be looking for one in the current circumstances. Do I really want a bunch of germ-ridden strangers trooping through my house? Then there is the fact that my lodger has paid up until the 28th of January so technically is entitled to come back if the Corona test that he must take before they will let him return to France comes back positive. It’s not a nice thought, but logically if he has Corona then he will have picked it up in London so by now we would have well and truly been exposed to it and will almost certainly have it.
I have decided to delay a decision until later in the month. There is an assessment being made mid-January, and if numbers are dropping and it is deemed safe to put us into a lower tier, then my shop will open and maybe the sales can be salvaged somehow. But I don’t think that’s very likely. In the meantime, I will scrub his room and get it viewing ready. I will look on the spare room website and see how the land lies. Are people looking for rooms right now? Perhaps if I see someone whom I really like the look of, I could email them and arrange a virtual viewing of the house and room.
I seem to be starting 2021 the way I lived most of 2020 – in a state of anxious uncertainty. I know things will work themselves out, because they usually do, but it is worrying, nonetheless.
New Year’s Eve – another quiet evening in with the lodger watching films. He is annoyed at being forced to go home, and I think he is very aware of the difficult situation he has left us in. He keeps apologising, even though it’s not his fault. Because it was sprung on him so suddenly, he had only just done a large shop-up, so we have inherited a lot of pate which was a present from his parents, and a few other grocery items. He left at 7:30am on Saturday morning. I gave him a lift to the station because he had a ridiculous amount of luggage and I seriously doubted his ability to carry it all, said goodbye, asked him to keep me posted re the test, and then he was gone.
And now I am sitting here, writing this, while my freezer is defrosting. I hate this job, there is no easy way to do it and however you do it, it’s always wet socks time. I am so, so bad about doing it as well, in that I leave it, and leave it, until suddenly I’m struggling to get the door shut, and so much ice has built up at the back that it’s pushed that flat plastic tray thing in the top so far forward I have to take it out. I have a collection slot booked for Sunday afternoon for a month’s worth of shopping, including loads of frozen food, so it had to be defrosted today – no more excuses.
I blasted it with Miss F’s hairdryer, but I am always a bit worried when I do that, in case I electrocute myself, and as the big chunks of Antarctica started to fall away from the top, there was a clunk – and something long and plastic was lying on the shelf. I took it out and examined it. It was a long plastic casing of some description. Getting down on my knees and peering into the frozen depths, I saw that where it had obviously come away, a coil of what looked like copper wiring was now exposed. Now, I’m not a mechanic, but I’m pretty sure that wires and water don’t mix, and I wondered how long it had been hanging off, and if maybe that was the reason why the freezer had iced up so drastically and so quickly – it wasn’t that long ago since I’d last done it, during the big lockdown at the beginning of last year.
There was a small hole at the thinner end of the casing, with a plastic plug thing pushed through. Looking in the freezer again I could see the hole where the plug was supposed to go in to fix the casing over the wires. Only trouble was, the end of the plastic plug was shredded – it wouldn’t even go into that tiny hole, let alone hold the casing up. I needed to replace it with something. That meant I had to pull everything out of the cupboard, drag out the toolbox and see if I had anything similar. I didn’t, the closest thing I had was a tiny rawl plug designed to go into plasterboard so that meant it had tiny spurs which might be enough to hold it in place. Worth a try. I crawled back into the freezer, fixed the casing in place, and threaded the rawl plug through the hole – and promptly dropped it. Could I see it anywhere? Of course not, so back into the toolbox I went.
This time I found another rawl plug that was smooth, and then I found a short, tiny screw that fitted into it. Back into the freezer I went. The plug went perfectly into the hole and I hoped this was going to work, because there was no way I would ever get it back out again. The screw fitted perfectly through the hole in the casing – only problem was, I didn’t have a screwdriver small enough to fit it. Much stomping around the house in frustration, tearing my hair out and moaning – “why is nothing ever easy!” – before I remembered a set of tiny screwdrivers that I had won in a cracker several Christmases before and thrown into a drawer somewhere. I was sure I still had it, well, pretty sure…
Much searching ensued, with pulling out of drawers, accompanied by much heavy breathing and muttered curses, before suddenly I found it. There was a teeny tiny phillips screwdriver in the kit which fitted the screwhead perfectly. Back into the freezer I went, kneeling on the floor – feeling the icy water that had sloshed out onto the kitchen floor seep up the knees of my jeans – and trying to see what I was doing. The top shelf was so close to the casing that I couldn’t look directly at the screwhead so had to fumble and fiddle by touch for ages before it finally clicked into the grooves and I was able to screw the casing back up flush with the top of the freezer! Yay! I’d fixed it! I was ridiculously proud of myself and when Miss F wandered into the kitchen in search of food, I boasted to her of my achievement.
She rolled her eyes, shook her head, and left without saying a word.
All the ice had by now melted – all over the floor, of course – and almost every towel we possessed was being used for mop-up duty, I cleaned and dried the inside and all the boxes that sit on the shelves, switched it back on, and packed all the food back into it. The kitchen was a mess, water everywhere, escaped peas all over the floor, and I had sopping wet socks and jeans, but it’s done. Now I can fill it with enough food to see us through the apocalypse.
Sunday is earmarked to take down all our Christmas decorations. I wasn’t feeling it when I put them up, and I’m definitely so over the festive season now. I want to pack it all away, clean the house, and move onto the New Year … whatever it may bring.
I hope wherever you are you managed to enjoy your Christmas, and that the New Year is a healthy and peaceful one for you and yours. Remember – when the going gets tough, keep your revs up and keep going.