Christmas...Crackers...literally so!

Oh how nice it is to be sitting in my own bedroom, having slept in my own bed, with sunshine streaming in through the windows. The relevance of that statement will become much clearer as this post progresses. We have had a completely manic end to the month so I am very pleased to have some “me time” at last, so indulge me!

I’ll deal with the more sane parts of December first. It got off to a great start with our first significant snowfall of the winter with several cms lying around for a few days. It was nothing really & didn’t stop us going anywhere but it was enough to make us aware that winter had finally arrived. As usual, because we live just above the snow line we were arriving in Sauxillanges & Issoire clad in boots, muffled up to the eyebrows,& with a snow topped car which amazed all the folks there as there was not even a wet road in sight!

We made it to the carol service in Clermont Ferrand …complete with several boxes of mince pies which disappeared like...well snow off a dyke… as per usual! There was a good turn out this year including several of our friends so we all had a good natter afterwards too which was nice. I really couldn’t get enthusiastic about going to that church (its way too evangelical for me) but it is nice to be able to go & sing some carols each year & remember what Christmas is supposed to be all about. And we are always made to feel very welcome. We also made it (although it was very snowy this time so we were glad we didn’t have to drive far) to the Christmas market at the Bar le St Thomas which our friends John & Pat had organised. I took my paintings & some Christmas cards & decorations I’d made. Although I didn’t sell a painting I did sell some of the cards & decorations, but much more importantly we all had a really good afternoon chatting & having fun! Our friends Tots, Linda & Mike & several others were all in attendance...although Mike & Geoff did slope off very quickly “to take Bounty for a walk”. No stamina these men!

We have only had one lot of B&B guests this month…the tourism doldrums continue I’m afraid. This young couple were lovely mind you so they rounded off our year nicely. Although we have not done as well as we would have liked this year with the business, the people we have had stay with us have been super. The replies I’ve had from the seasons greeting e mail I managed to send out before we left for the UK trip have reflected that over & over again. I only hope that next year some of these lovely folk find their way back here again! Fingers crossed!

And now for the “fun” time! About 3 weeks ago my brother called to say that my mother had fallen at home, had bumped her head & was in hospital being checked over. Of course this then went pear shaped as they decided to keep her in “for more tests” & on day one of her prolonged stay, managed to let her fall out of bed...a fall which was several times more significant than the original! The upshot of all this was that the hospital stay became more & more prolonged & was beginning to take on the look of a battle between us & them as we tried desperately to get her home before Christmas & they became more & more entrenched, insisting that she was “confused” & “had poor mobility”. Really??? I have since come to the very cynical conclusion that there was a lot of backside covering going on here…they let her fall after all & I suspect they were (& still are) afraid that we might sue as her condition deteriorated. It really has been very difficult not being able to put my two penny worth into the discussions too…one of the drawbacks of being so far away. As Christmas approached it was becoming more & more apparent that she was not going to get home for the big day & so Geoff & I began too make alternative arrangements to our proposed itinerary so that we could go & visit her in the NE during our UK trip.

Our young Australian house & dog sitters arrived as arranged & Bounty & Maisie took to then like ducks to water! We knew the animals were going to be in good hands as we watched the dog snuggle up to Penny on the sofa (leaving the characteristic white hairs all over her black skirt!) & the cat purred happily on James` knee on the first evening they were in residence! We left them to it all & set off UK wise early on the Friday morning. Our drive went well & we crossed the Channel & got settled in to our Travelodge just before hitting the dreaded M25. We had a quick visit to Rochester for something to eat – another first for us – a senior citizen’s fish & chip meal! Le Radin was very pleased with that one..not to mention the reduced price! Next day saw us whizzing round the M25 (yes really!) before all the Christmas shoppers had got up & we made really good time despite the horrible driving conditions (rain, spray & more rain). We arrived in Preston just after lunch time & (fortunately as it turned out) decided to take Geoff’s mum to Southport for a ride out & for me to do some shopping for odds & ends to finish off Christmas stockings etc. On arriving back I received a phone call from my brother to say that Mum’s condition had suddenly deteriorated badly & the hospital were advising we come at once. So leaving a very confused MIL (she is better than my mother but doesn’t cope with changes very well) we put the cases back into the car & set off for the NE. What a terrible drive that was. It was still raining, we were very tired & of course I was very upset.I also managed to get "flashed" by a speed camera to add to the joy. We arrived at the hospital at 10pm & I was very shocked at the condition of my mother. With all my nursing experience I realised that it was not going to be likely that she would survive the night. We all left eventually at MN & we spent the night at my mother’s waiting for the dreaded phone call to say she had died. It didn’t come. Instead, at 8am, came the news that she was about to get up in a chair & have a cup of tea! Unbelievable! We all trooped back to the hospital & after seeing this miraculous recovery first hand, Geoff & I decided to go back to Preston to try & get Christmas back on track again for his mother. Several hours driving later, we made it to the carol service in her village with our kids as we had originally planned! However, my car time wasn’t finished yet as I’d decided to go up to Carlisle with my daughter that night so she & I could go back to see my mother on Christmas Eve. Hazel & I drove back to the NE on C Eve afternoon to find my mother more lucid & chirpy than she has been for a long time. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry by this time! Back to Carlisle it was then for the night & so it was there that I awoke on Christmas Day without Geoff beside me for the first time in 35 years. Not at all what we had planned & something neither of us appreciated at all!

We did, however,manage to have a good Christmas day together with Geoff’s Mum, both the kids & their partners & my brother who we had persuaded to leave my mother’s bedside after giving her her presents & come over for a change of scenery. Christmas dinner was great as per usual (although because I was there already during the morning, I found myself preparing vegs again :( )& we all managed to put all the worries over my mother out of our minds for a while. We left the kids there at Hazel’s in the evening & drove back to Preston. I slept in my fourth bed of the trip that night!

Boxing day was quiet…thank goodness! A quick trip o the shops to buy a birthday present for my soon to be daughter in law, a quick visit from Matthew & Susie on their way back to Manchester, & very little else! We were totally exhausted as you can imagine! We did watch some of the terrible TV offerings in the evening & I once again realised that I really do prefer French TV now! When the best of the festive viewing is years old Morecome & Wise clips & dancing dogs, I rest my case! And then next day, having received news that my mother was continuing to improve, we set off to drive back to France, arriving home on Friday after another 2 long days in the car again. Frankly after this trip I don’t want to see the inside of a car or a motorway or rain for a very long time!

So here we are, at the end of a very eventful & stressful month & year, contemplating the start of a New Year. New Years celebrations will be very low key chez nous this year...we are too tired! I hope that 2013 will be better business wise & family health wise than 2012...but we will just have to wait & see won’t we? One encouraging thing to end on though…as we have been driving around this Christmas, Geoff has had loads of work winging his way via his Blackberry so he, at least, will be kept out of mischief in the coming few weeks! Hopefully this is a good sign for 2013 :)

Bonne Annee a tous from all of us at Les Hirondelles, Chabanol :D