On The Road

Lady M and I are on our grand tour round the UK to drop off gifts and spend time with family. Like so many other people, we’re on the road in an escape from the day-to-day and Christmas podcasts are currently filling the car.

Our first leg was the longest, a six hour trip from London to Hartlepool. I handled the driving duties with a single break as Lady M was feeling a bit under the weather. Lady M’s sister lives in Hartlepool, and it’s where she grew up so it brought up a lot of memories.

Hartlepool Marina this morning

Hartlepool is receding behind us now as we head towards the West coast. We’ve been lucky so far in that yesterday’s traffic was heavy but generally moved along with only minor stopping and starting in the M1. This morning with Lady M driving seems so far to only be light traffic, so that’s a bonus.

There you go, boring journey updates logged. I suspect the next few days’ blog posts may be filtered through Christmas cheer.

A Few Days Off

And…. Relax…

I’m visiting lady s for a few days as I had more leave to book this year than Lady M. After a long week, it’s been good to switch off. Lady M and I drove down on Sunday afternoon and dropped off presents for the household, then I stayed on – much to the cub’s bemusement.

The stress levels have been slowly dropping as we’ve watched films and YouTube clips. In between, we’ve been having a tidy up before Christmassing and generally taking it easy.

Tomorrow we’ll be seeing the cub at his school Christmas play, before Lady M returns and whisks me away so we can finish packing to go visit family next week.

Amusingly, Lady M had forgotten that I was going away at one point as she was hoping I might pick her up from drinking with colleagues this week – I mention this to forestall any visions you may have of Lady M somehow languishing like Rapunzel in her tower. One of our many strengths is that each of us are equally comfortable and in need of time alone as in being with each other (as wonderful as that is)

Winding Down

I’ve done so much covering for other people with my leave that I basically have to take all of the rest of the year off after this week.

Oh no, however will I cope.

We were already planning to see my parents for Christmas, but as I have an extra week on top of what Lady M can take, I’m going to spend a few days down with lady s. As she is heavily engaged in creating a dress, much of my time is likely to be spent providing beverages, reminding her to pause for rests, and providing supportive cuddles when things don’t go to plan. It’s not unlike my routine when Lady M is making a dress to be honest.

I plan to take sketchpads, notebooks and a plethora of pens. Writing may even be perpetrated…

Anxiety Day

We’re up and around the Cleveleys/Cumbria region at the moment, and while we had a great time exploring the amazing bookshop in Carnforth, my brain has not been cooperating today.

It was bad enough we had to make our excuses after lunch with my parents to go back to the hotel to collapse, shower, and attempt self-care.

That said, if you do get a chance to see this place then do – 14 rooms of new and second hand books, plus general gifts – and wonderfully friendly staff. I found a couple of little things, and we did some Christmas shopping into the bargain.

I’m brighter now, but do feel like I’ve cast a pall on the day. Sigh. At least I’m up to date with Inktober, and will post the final three tomorrow.

Weekend Gathering of the Clan

Aaaand we’re back from the Welsh valleys, gently baked from the glorious sunshine. We’ve been to another wedding anniversary celebration – this time of my mother’s cousin – and so we’ve been meeting various relatives whose names I have no hope of remembering. (To be fair I am awful at remembering most people’s names).

Our journey had been long, mostly due to roadworks and tailbacks from accidents, but I suppose that’s normal for any travel on a bank holiday weekend. We’d all been booked rooms at a hotel in Llangamarch – which certainly broke the ice – so the first evening was spent generally catching up and welcoming people.

Saturday was quiet – we were exhausted – so we slept through breakfast and instead went down to Llanwrtyd Wells to the Caffi Sosban which we’d so enjoyed last time we’d visited. One hearty brunch later, we went back to the hotel to chill out. We knew hat a minivan had been booked to make several runs on Saturday evening to drive us down to the farm freehold itself.

And yes, there was much wine, food, and conversation through the evening. Dogs were herded, small children steered away from the alcohol (mostly), and geese avoided.

We’re generally an amiable bunch, and storytelling really plays at the heart of all our gatherings. Sometimes the stories are even true.

At the end of the evening, the minivan reappeared and made multiple runs back to the hotel. An amazing evening, and with such glorious weather we were a little reluctant to head straight back to London.

Nevertheless, we left early to try and get the worst of the travel done before the roads filled – so we meandered back without any extra drama and have spent the rest of the weekend relaxing. All in all, a great break in routine.

Switching My Brain Off

At least for a little while – its been a busy old day, with many customers needing perhaps a little bit more hand-holding than anticipated. Nothing particularly outrageous happened; its all just been a bit relentless. On the bright side however, I’m now not due in to work until next week, and there are celebrations and shenanigans to attend in the meantime. As an added bonus, it happens to be payday tomorrow as well – meaning I can breathe a bit more easily for a bit.

I think my staff may have been a little concerned for my sanity today, all the same. I may have appeared at various moments looking a bit wild-eyed as I avoided certain customers, focused on completing certain tasks, and felt steam coming out of my ears as I attempted with my fellow managers to play enough shell games to cover staffing requirements. The relaxed expression currently on my face comes at least in part from the knowledge that I won’t be called upon to have anything to do with that for five days – three of which being a bank holiday so I don’t have to feel too guilty about my colleagues stressing in my absence.

My out of office emails have been set. My morning alarms switched off. I may even have a gin and tonic shortly…

Bugs and ughs

Tis certainly the season, as they say, but if it could manage to not come accompanied by colds, muscle aches, migraines and barking black dogs that would be a huge bonus.

Still, we soldier on, and at least in our household a lot of the gift buying is complete and giving way to thoughts of decorations. I’ve already overseen the assembly and decoration at two of my libraries of the carefully packed away artificial trees and as of last night I even have an undecorated tree up in the flat.

Now begins the perennial fight to summon up enthusiasm and joy while wearing the customer services Christmas cheer mask. With any luck the black dog will mostly stay in his kennel.

A week off: Portsmouth School Runs

We’re having a rare week all together and I have been rediscovering the joys of the school run as Lady S was a bit under the weather the last few days. (She is again this morning, but it’s self-inflicted today after a little too much wine last night at a meal for the whole polycule.)

I digress.

The cub has been discovering that I am not quite so easily wrapped around his finger, but that I am also more than happy to act completely daft at a moment’s notice.

So far we’ve convinced him that his monster-like school bag is related to the Monster Book Of Spells from Harry Potter, and needs it’s spine stroking before being opened. I have also taken to occasionally lumbering and loping like a silverback gorilla to speed him up in the mornings. It sounds daft, but it encourages him to catch up and try and tickle my tummy.

He’s a bright, inquisitive, energetic boy, who tries to push boundaries as much as any normal kid just starting at junior school – and his teachers are already singing his praises. He also has a rebellious streak a mile wide; and seems genuinely surprised when most of his attempts to subvert things like putting on shoes are met with my spotting them and teasing before he’s even finished starting.

We were talking last night about how we’ve all been pitching in this week – how it spreads the load and reduces stress to know that all of us are invested in helping raise and guide him.

I just didn’t expect, as the Charleesi starts her second year at university, to be brushing off the parenting skills again. Life’s funny that way, isn’t it?

T-Shirts and Theme Parks

While I was out in Florida I was complimented on my t-shirts a few times, and each time it threw me for a few moments. I don’t know if it’s a Floridian thing or a Disney thing, or a wider Stateside habit. It certainly isn’t very common over here in the UK, outside of online geeky hastags, to compliment people’s geek references.

To put it another way, a friend might comment when meeting down the bar or unexpectedly while out and about. It might even be used as a chat-up line. What would be very odd, and a little threatening, would be a random person in the street doing so.

Not so in the Disney Parks while I was there. I’m inclined to think it came from the same sense of social inclusion that comes from #geektshirtfriday or members of the same social club or group of sports fans.

In Disney Parks there is an assumption of a certain holiday spirit or club inclusion just by being onsite. You see it once people are past the turnstiles – a certain relaxation of shoulders, a slowing of pace, the widening of smiles. It does seem to put people in a more familiar frame of mind for the most part – where little kindnesses to strangers come more easily for example.

While my t-shirts were not Disney themed, they did point to a certain fantasy/sci-fi flavour (a Lego spaceman logo, a UKCC MCM Comiccon logo, and a technical diagram of an X-Wing Starfighter) that prompts the tribal familiarity that seems to lead to unprompted comments about clothing as a point of similarity.

A slightly odd variant on that was something I noticed a couple of times in the parks where what seemed to be geeky t-shirts like superman logos were then subverted with religious references – for example small ‘je’ and ‘us’ either side of the superman logo to form the word jeSus. I saw enough of them to think that there had either been a summer Bible camp or local church flirting with copyright violations recently.

I’m still not sure what to make of it – there feels a deceitful element and breach of the geeky social contract, but maybe I’m overthinking it. I do know I didn’t hear anyone complimenting them.

So Many Photos

We may have gone a bit mad on photos while we were away at Disney – and even trying to curate a small number for a slideshow here has been a challenge – so I may do some themed ones along the way.

We invested in a Photopass too, so that the various photographers around the parks, as well as the character meets and rides could all be easily collated and downloaded at our leisure.

So on top of the hundreds of photos taken between us there was another treasure trove of memories to recover – which include some truly amazing facial expressions as we were caught off guard. Disney magic covers a range of emotions, and these photos illustrate it well.

The two biggest extremes both come from Lady M. The first was in a character encounter with Kylo Ren – and she was rendered literally speechless. She looked terrified as we were ushered by Imperial operatives into his presence, and she was abruptly interrogated by the tall dark hooded character.

She said later that it had been unnerving, even knowing it was an actor, to come face to face with the mask, abrupt body language and tone of voice. As an evocation of the character it worked amazingly, and has left a lasting impression she gladly talks about – a true emotional thrill ride if you like.

The second came when we dined at Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom one evening. During the day, it is Belle who holds court there, but the evenings belong to the Master (Beast) – and so once we had eaten our main course, Lady M went to his study to meet him.

Now, Lady M’s maiden name was Potts, so the film and characters have a special resonance for her as they recall her mother. As she told the Master this, there was a jolt of surprise. He looked to the ex-Lady M for confirmation, and then spread his arms wide to gather her in an expansive hug.

With so much floating around – the ambience, music, location, thoughts of her mum – Lady M cried, and the Beast held her, and wouldn’t let her go until she was recovered. It was totally off-script, and apparently confused the helpers who hadn’t heard the exchange – but this too has been a lasting memory that she will always cherish.

Disney magic, caught on camera.