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I woke latish, feeling very strange. Eventually I realised that I was feeling the absence of Niamh in the house, pulled myself together, and went back to sleep. I felt so ill! I've had a bad cold for a while (couldn't sign on on Thursday the 20th because I was so ill). Rob tidied the house while I slept in, and he made me tea and fed me Lemsip and so on.

In the evening, Becky and Darrell were throwing a very tiny party in our house, because we have space. Everyone was late, thankfully. Gideon and Jen had only just got back from Ireland after Christmas, and Darrell's car broke down while they were out trying to buy methylated spirit for the fondue set. This meant we had time to get the house semi-civilised.

Vast amounts of food and alcohol arrived in the house, and a Bill Bailey DVD. And people. It was great; the women all dressed up, we all ate a lot, Gideon made hot ports for everyone, and someone dropped their piece of bread in the fondue.

Rob already knew what fondue was; he'd read Asterix in Switzerland. I knew what it was because I'd eaten it in the nonsmoking wine bar in Blackrock, Co. Dublin.

At midnight Darrell walked in to the library where we were watching the DVD, toasted the New Year, and walked out again.

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Today Niamh went back to Dublin. She travelled to the airport alone, because frankly £30 is a lot of money. We saw her off onto her train to Bristol and then headed into town. It felt... blank, dead, and empty. So we went shopping in the sales.

We got a cutlery tray for our kitchen drawer, and I got a pair of green corduroy trousers. There were some amazong purple tie-dyed trousers, too, but none of them would close over my hips, so I had to give up. The green ones gape a bit at the waist, and are too long, but I love them anyway. They're not black, grey or blue! Wow, what a colour-change for me... I haven't owned cords for ages.

I also got a purple satin water-padded bra, which is a bit odd but definitely adds cleavage. Then we phoned Niamh to make sure she was ok; she was, she had got to the airport without incident. The house feels stragenly empty without her, though it is lovely to have it to ourselves again, just the two of us. And the cat.

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Today Janice went to Canada for New Year, so it was just the three of us again. We went out; I showed Niamh what I bought for Mum's Christmas present, and bought a hat and some gloves, and we bought glue and things at HobbyCraft, and had a very relaxed day.

We watched 10 Things I Hate About You again, again. I'm getting to really like that film. We also watched Wicked, another Julia Stiles movie, which made me feel really sick and weirded us all out so much that we had to watch Shrek to get over it.

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Boxing Day? Not where I come from. Today we vegged quite seriously and ate food. Darrell and Becky came over in the evening and helped us eat leftover potatos and carrots-and-parsnips and turkey and ham and trifle and pudding and chocolate and biscuits and they also as well in addition gave us a disposable camera that we'd given them. They'd taken pictures of our new kittens with it; two females, to arrive in January, and two of their siblings that are going elsewhere. Mmm, cats. They're so cute!

I can't remember what else, if anything, we did. Slept, I imagine.

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This is where I remember all the things I forgot before.

We spoke to our sisters in Ireland, and Rob spoke to his family in Sweden, and Janice spoke to her parents who weren't in Canada.

Janice liked our trifle; apparently she usually doesn't like trifle, because of not liking cream, but the rest of ours was so good that it made up for that. Lots of people who don't like trifle like our trifle. It has no jelly in it (that's Jello, as distinct from Jam, for you North Americans!) and not too much sherry.

We liked Janice's Quebecois pies. One of them is pure sugar.

The cat got used to his new collar eventually.

We watched DVDs. Shrek, 10 Things I Hate About You (my goodness, a teenage romantic comedy that I love!), Save the Last Dance (pretty good, but I prefer Strictly Ballroom), Galaxy Quest, um, And Lots, Lots More. I may review some of them at some stage.

We didn't stay up very late. We were all exhausted from staying up until 2 am having that Cultural Experience.

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We ate. We ate vast mountains of food, and small hillocks, and drank Amé and water and apple juice. We pulled crackers and wore silly hats, and eventually we gathered to open presents.

From our eldest sister, Niamh and I got mugs. They say "To the World's Greatest Auntie". Wow. The shock almost killed us.

Janice got a pair of purple dungarees from us.

Purple dungarees

When I was 15 and depressed and running away from home and refusing to go to school and being generally miserable, my sister Gráinne brought me out to Dublin's Temple Bar (a pedestrian area that used to be full of wonderful poor-student alternative-lifestyle places and is now yuppified) and told me solemnly: "There comes a time in every woman's life when she needs a pair of purple dungarees." Then she bought me some; I still have them.

When my sister Niamh was 16 or so and being horribly bullied at school and going through a similarly awful period of her life, I told her the same thing, and bought her a pair of purple dungarees. She got her life sorted out and stopped needing them, so I have them now.

A friend in New Zealand had a teenage daughter going through a tough time. I emailed her some sage advice, and her mother bought a pair of purple dungarees.

Janice is now officially a member of the Purple Dungarees Family. I think she was pleased. She's had a tough 18 months or so.


So we opened the rest of our gifts, which took a while (one gift at a time is our tradition, so that everyone gets to see what everyone has). Rob got slippers and pyjamas, among other things. I got some lovely clothes, which I'm very pleased about, as I have been getting incredibly tired of the ones I have. My old clothes were all terribly respectable.

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Well, I think I woke at about 9:30 am, which wasn't too bad considering we'd been up until after 3. Rob made tea, and I went downstairs and sat on Niamh's bed in the dining room waiting to wake up. We put the turkey in the oven and turned the oven on. Rob went and looked at the stockings laid out in the library, but didn't open anything (good boy!). Niamh had woken up twice in the night feeling sick with excitement!

Janice came downstairs and we all had some tea and woke up a bit more. Then we trooped into the library. My stocking was laid out on the wing chair, Rob's and Janice's were on the two folding armchairs, and the Mustard's was on his scratching post.

The stockings were really good. There was enough stuff that everyone had some presents piled up outside the stocking. Everyone got socks, and I got knickers. There were little cars, and plastic diggers, and diaries, and chocolate and toffee and sweets. Everyone got a Terry's Chocolate Orange. I got a Fiona Apple CD! or maybe it was the soundtrack to 10 Things I Hate About You that was in my stocking, and the Fiona Apple one was under the tree. I can't remember what everyone else got, but it was all good.

We had breakfast then - Kellogg's Variety Pack, as is traditional in our family. Believe it or not, some people will eat Corn Puffs, or whatever they're called.

Um, after that we cooked - carrots and parsnips, mashed potato, roast potato, baked ham, stuffing, gravy, breadsauce, the aforementioned turkey, brussels sprouts, mixed frozen veg. . . sherry trifle (sponge, raspberry jam, fruit cocktail, sherry, custard, whipped cream, glace cherries to garnish) and steamed pudding.

Then we laid the table beautifully again, with crackers and so on.

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Midnight Mass, C of E style

The local C of E church had a midnight mass at midnight, and it's a pretty building, so we went.

Wow, those guys are religious! I mean, I was brought up Irish Roman Catholic, and I have never seen pomp and piety like these guys did it. The incense permeated the church and our larynxes, which made singing a little difficult; my voice dropped a register during the service. They chanted or badly sang the first reading. They put their hats on, they took their hats off. It took 90 minutes. Communion was brief, though. The congregation was at least 25 strong, and only 6 went for communion.

We sang carols though, and there was a great sermon about how Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and Narnia are all basically about Good and Love and things, and that their message - now showing at a cinema near YOU - was important to all humanity and things. Er, there was a bit about Jesus, too. And things.

Two priests shook hands with us on our way out. We felt very churched, and thoroughly religionned.

Santa Claus

We (me and Niamh) sent Rob and Janice to bed and then we got ready to Be Santa. We had the stockings all ready (Niamh and I have red stockings with teddy bear heads at the tops, and Rob and Janice had the green ones Mum made ages ago. The cat's one was a little one from Niamh's Christmas in Cork, so lots of sentimental value was lying around looking like goodie-bags) and the gifts in various plastic bags - mostly wrapped gifts, this year, to make secrecy easier.

First we did Rob's and Janice's and the cat's stockings, and then we split up to do each other's. Then we bounced up and down a bit and squealed in excitement and hugged and it was lovely. For the first time in ages, Christmas was really exciting. Then I found Niamh a book and a candle to read it by, and left her to sleep on the inflatable bed in the dining room (Janice was in the spare room for Christmas).

Then I went to bed and inflicted cold feet on Rob's warm shins.

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Oh, the food!

Today is Christmas Eve, the day that Christmas is traditionally celebrated in Sweden. So we had planned to have a great Christmas Eve dinner tonight, as traditionally Swedish as we could make it.

There were pepparkakor, baked in shapes by Inger (pigs, hearts, stars, men and women; I like the pigs best). There were meatballs, with Lingonberry jam from Orjan (he handed me the jar at the Hogswatch meet and it took me ten minutes to work out who he was and why he was handing me a jar of jam). There were two Canadian / Quebecois pies. There was shortbread, baked by Janice too (obviously she baked the pies, the rest of us are Yurpeens). There was rice pudding, and potatos, and vegetables.

There was mulled wine. There were leftovers. There were Christmas crackers and party hats. There were decongestants for those of us with bad headcolds.

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I don't know what happened today. Dave left, and we discovered after he'd gone that he'd left us a present. We cooked a little and cleaned a little and probably went out and shopped a little. Was it today or yesterday we went to the HobbyCraft place and all ran riot?

HobbyCraft is wonderful. We bought coloured pipecleaners, beads, and glue. Essential Christmas fare, in other words. Also, we snuck arond buying things for each other in secret. Yay!

Other than that, we toddled around town admiring life and then started on the baking - sponge cakes for trifle. Janice had already bought the pudding at the Christmas market.

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I slept incredibly badly last night, partially due to stress (a project I'm working on is going badly, mainly because I refuse to do a half-assed job when I am perfectly capable of doing a damn' good job).

This morning we all went out shopping. That's me and Janice and Rob and Niamh. We met Dave while we were out. It was a good day; we split up and converged and split up again and had lunch in Sweeney's, where the pies are amazing. Then we all came home and did more decorating and sleeping and eating and so on and so forth, et cetera...

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Today is the day Niamh arrives for her Christmas holiday. Our first Christmas in our new house, and Niamh's first Christmas without either of her parents there. She seems to be looking forward to it :)

I started by getting a train to Bristol Temple Meads in plenty time for the bus to the airport, so that Niamh wouldn't have to wait around for me. That was fine; I got my Young Persons Railcard discount and headed off. As we pulle dinto Bristol, the woman opposite me said "Wow, look at the sky!" and so I looked. What I could see between the buildings (prefabs, warehouses, factories and garages, mostly) was spectacular.

It was easy to find the bus stop outside the station, and I met a lady going to Ireland for Christmas. "Going home for Christmas?" I asked her. "No," she said. "I've been in England 40 years and this is my home now." It's lovely to meet someone who says that; so many Irish people abroad seem to spend their time lamenting their exile.

When I reached the airport, I was early for Niamh's flight, so I bought a book (Witch Child, which is actually much better than the title suggests) and a Radio Times and a cup of tea and a croissant. The tea was ok, the croissant was awful.

Niamh's flight got later and later. I finished the book and bought a horrible sandwich. Everywhere in the airport closed at 7 pm (half an hour after her flight was due to arrive) and the check-in/arrivals hall was cold. Oh, and the only smoking section closed at 7 pm too. So it was cold, and boring, and badly lit. Never travel to Bristol airport. I ended up making notes of possible good telly in my Visor, and reading the adverts in the Radio Times.

Eventually, she landed. 90 minutes late. When she finally came through the gates, I almost ran to give her a welcoming hug, and we immediately went outside for coffee and cigarettes. I called Railtrack to find out about travelling home. If the bus was on time, we could get home for about 10:30. Otherwise it'd be after 1 am.

The bus was on time. We got home without much ado, and even the queue for taxis was quite short. Niamh said how lovely the house was as soon as she got in the door, and Rob made us tea and toasted sandwiches. Ahh, recovery!

Sick

Dec. 20th, 2001 12:34 pm
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I'm too ill to update. My friend Aoife was here and I'll write all about that sometimes soon. Meanwhile, Rob and I are both at home, sick, at the same time, just in time for the holidays.

Later update:

I had to phone in sick for signing on and for my "New Deal" appointment. Apparently there's nothing I need to do about it, though. Just show up as normal on 03 January.

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Aoife's last evening with us; we all went out to dinner and happened upon a tex-mex type place attached to a pub that was doing buy-one-get-one-free drinks. Woo.

*Hic*.
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Gifthunting. Someone else got Niamh's planned Christmas gift for my mother, so she had to rethink. I suggested something that Mum had admired when she was here in November. So today Aoife and I went out and got it. It's delightful, and not extortionately expensive.

I can't remember what else we did; we went to Homebase and bought Christmas decorations, and at some point we bought a Christmas tree and partially decorated it. I gave Aoife her Christmas present, which isn't as nice as what she gave us (a lovely statuette for the library, which happens to have some of the same shades. It's three people, moving together in a dance or an embrace, and it's very lovely).

In the evening we went 'round to Janice's and met Darrell and Becky there, and exchanged gifts, and decorated Janice's tree, and watched Janice and Becky playing Thud!

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Emma left this morning - well, this afternoon.

After getting home late last night, sobering up while walking from Reading train station, and collapsing into bed after much forced rehydration, I woke comparatively early and headed to Janice's house to see Emma off. She is moving back to Canada to be a grownup instead of a student. Turned out I woke too early and woke her up, too. So we had tea and wandered around digging through some more of the stuff she wasn't bringing back with her.

That'd be the New Scientist with the Anthrax cover, a lipstick case that wasn't big enough for her Swiss Army knife, her bicycle, and some stationery.

Yes, a bicycle. It's a racer, and will probably fit Rob.

Janice came home from Slimelight at about 11, and then we all just, well, waited for Emma's friend to arrive to drive her to the airport. The morning was feeling somewhat surreal and distant at that stage, due to lack of sleep (Janice had been awake all night), so we bade her goodbye and staggered off to bed.

I have no recollection of what we did for the rest of the day.

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My very oldest friend, and the woman who agreed to be my bridesmaid when we were both about 12 years old, came to see me. We met her in Heathrow at lunchtime and travelled home on the bus, then pottered about a bit getting ready to go out in the evening.

Aoife has finished her B.Obs. now, I think it is, and has only Surgery and Medicine to go, or Chemistry and Geography, or something. Then she spends a year as an intern. Soon she'll be Doctor Aoife. That sounds awfully grown up; I feel kind of left behind. I'm only about to start a degree with the Open University and it'll take years to finish, part-time. But I suppose I have a house, and she hasn't... for what that's worth. It's not a competition, but I sometimes envy the people who did things in the usual order . . .

Hogswatch

Aoife, Janice, myself and Rob all travelled in to the Green Man together. There we met many people and drank many drinks. Among the people we met was Marina.

I first met Marina in August 1998 and again in September 1998. We have spent the past 3 years disliking one another. No, I don't know why. We each thought that the other disliked us, which was . . . strange and confusing and a little fucked up.

At the meet, I got unsober enough to talk to her about this. Is good. 3 years' worth of low-level hostility, real or perceived, cleaned up and dusted off. We actually like one another - at least, we have no reason to feel otherwise, and we have many mutual friends - and may in future get along better. At least the first impression has been undone.

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Toddled down to the Benefit's Agency office today for my interview. The letter said "Be there, be on time, or we will possibly revoke your Job Seekers Allowance and other dire things" so I went.

The person I was supposed to see wasn't in. I have another appointment for next week.

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I just updated for every day since and including Saturday, December 8th, 2001
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I finally managed to buy holly! It was stupidly expensive, I thought, but I bought a good deal of nice berried stuff with sharp prickles, and there was some not so good, non-prickly stuff, too. I had to get five bunches to get enough long, prickly bits.

So then I made a wreath. I'm told that you need a round base to work from, but I didn't have one, so I just wound the holly into a circle. I used cable ties for the initial structural fastening, and then thread and coloured cord for the adding-bits-so-it's-not-bare fastening. Then we tied on some lovely scarlet ribbon and hung it outside the door, where it is swaying and turning.

Janice arrived halfway thorugh the making process and was very useful at pointing out bare bits. Then we put the leftover holly around the dining room, apart from one glorious, dark, sharp and scarlet branch, which we propped up behind the nativity scene in the library.

We even have holly around the candlesticks (which I washed during our housework fest on Sunday; they look lovely now) which we got from Sweden. They're very dark blue, and the dark green looks wonderful. And Janice stuck some in an elegant, slim winebottle, and tied the remaining red satin ribbon around the neck of the bottle. It's all getting very festive downstairs.

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