Monday, 21st December, 2020

[Day 280]

Today is a day to which I have been looking forward for a long time! That is because it is the longest night/shortest day and after today, I can tell myself that it is getting lighter by about a minute a day during January. This might not seem much but I must say that as the years roll by, I do appreciate the fact that the days are lengthening, even if ever so slightly and we have the spring to which to look forward. Today was going to be of a ‘special day’ for reasons that I shall explain later so we decided to take the car into town and were fortunate indeed to get a car parking space. The combination of a wet Monday, Christmas only a few days away and the fact that the local authority has suspended normal car-parking charges (in an attempt to stimulate trade?) meant that that the car park was under severe pressure and we were fortunate to get a space. Having collected our newspapers, we made our way along the High Street because it was one of those (rare) occasions when we needed to access an ATM to get some money out. Then the main purpose of our journey which was to visit the stationers to get a supply of the stick-on labels I particularly like in order to label my bottles of damson gin. As it happened they had a supply of the labels I like in stock and so I bought five packets of the same which ought to keep me going for this year and next. These labels carry the appellation ‘Chateau Le Cerf‘ and then Bromsgrove, 2020.

Then it was time to start preparing the communal Christmas meal we were going to share with our son and daughter-in-law. The younger generation had generously supplied a magnificent leg of beef whilst my role was to prepare the vegetables. As I have the reputation of providing myself too many vegetables for the Christmas meal, I confined myself to roast potatoes, roast parsnips, carrots, peas, and broccoli. We treated ourselves as a pre-dinner drink to a Waitrose special gin which we might have bought for ourselves last year and somehow never got round to consuming. This was then followed by a rather nice Rioja so all in all we had a magnificent meal. Afterwards, we were treated to some absolutely stupendous ice-cream. Our daughter-in-law had been loaned an ice-cream maker because the whole contraption seemed a little difficult to put together. Nonetheless, we succeeded in getting it working and the overall results were a marvellous way to end the Christmas meal.

In the late afternoon, we ‘Zoomed‘ one of our Hampshire friends who actually lives in Oxfordshire but the postcode might just be Reading. Anyway, we were amazed to discover that our friend had suddenly found herself catapulted from Tier 2 to Tier 4 and this had made all kinds of re-arrangements necessary to make sure that the Christmas meal fell within the correct ‘boundaries’. As it happened we had both picked our damsons at approximately the same time (first week in September) and I had a prodigious quantity of fully ripe damsons this year (9.5 kilos which was approximately ten times as much as last year). So I finished up making about 16 litres of damson gin altogether this year. Now came the time for bottling and I bottled just sufficient for my Pilates class members and one or two friends down the road. This evening, I labelled up the bottles I had prepared and wrapped them in Christmas paper – a particularly fiddly job I have to say. But now all I have to do is to write a few Christmas cards and hunt out my Santa Claus outfit for my class tomorrow. However, everything has to be done in a ‘socially distanced’ way and I shall have to think hard about the logistics of tomorrow. Of course, Santa won’t get his customary Christmas kiss and hug which is one of the perks of the role at this time of year. (Incidentally, one of my ex-colleagues often wondered why the Santa Clauses whose knee he sat upon every year as a child had nicotine-stained fingers and habitually smelt of gin) One of the sights that I remember from the 1970s was the occasion when all of the Santa Clauses in the department stores along Oxford Street came out on strike and paraded in a long line, complete with placards, the length of Oxford Street.

The new strain of COVID-19 which appears highly infectious has caused countries all across Europe to close their borders to the UK. The resultant queues outside Dover are a foretaste of what may well happen when a Brexit ‘no deal’ occurs – there are already predictions of shortages of salad crops within days. In addition, Government scientific advisers have argued that a new national lockdown is urgently needed and have warned that inaction could cost tens of thousands of lives and risk an ‘economic, human and social disaster‘, with the new strain spreading across the UK and overseas. But on the brighter side, there are hints that a deal on fishing might now be on the cards…