30th December 2021 I really wanted to call this ‘Sleepless in Settle’ for a better pun, but in the interests of authenticity, i thought I’d better stick to my local area. And while I do know Settle as a lovely little market town in North Yorkshire, it isn’t where I live, so I’ve never been sleepless there!
I’ve had difficulty sleeping the last couple of nights for reasons unknown, so in the early hours of this morning, wide awake, I got to thinking about the Festive Seasons I’ve had in the past.
My last blog this year – and what a year it’s been! I won’t be sad to see the end of it as the year I almost died, although it has had its good moments too. And even at its lowest, there were still good things that came out of it. The old adage that every cloud has a silver lining is true indeed. One of the good things that came out of being ill, was that I got to find out how much my friends and relatives care about me. And then, of course, the start of this new career as a writer, which I think might be the saving of me. I just have to stop being so bone-idle and get stuck into it; treat it like a proper job.
How do you see in the New Year? Do you party with your mates, and let fly at midnight with the fireworks and a jolly rendition of Auld Lang Syne? Or quietly toast your significant other with champagne and a kiss? In the years since Glyn died, I have been mostly alone on New Year’s Eve, as I will be tomorrow. I tend to get very nostalgic – some New Year’s Eves I remember very well indeed. Some of the happiest – and busiest – times were when I was a pub landlady, running managed houses with my ex-husband, Trevor. Christmas and New Year were always hectic, and some years saw us working into the early hours of New Year’s Day whilst our customers partied hard all through the night. In the various pubs we ran – always village pubs, which I preferred, we would be packed to the rafters with villagers all intent on making merry. Happy times and wonderful people that I remember with great fondness.
When we had the Ship Aground, in Talsarnau, North Wales, we had one eventful Christmas that I remember very well. On Christmas Eve, the place was full of all of our regulars, and some who weren’t so regular but still celebrated with us, when at around 7:30 pm we suddenly had a power outage. This was quite a frequent happening in that part of the world at the time, so we were always prepared, having a plethora of hurricane lamps and candles at the ready and the mood created by that dim light was cosy and happy. The only problem was that the electric beer pumps did not work well without electricity! Driven by the gas only, the beer would pour but only at a trickle, so it took about 10 minutes to fill a pint glass – not a very satisfactory rate of service with a crowd of thirsty revellers wanting to order. Undaunted, our locals switched from lager to real ales which were hand pumped without a problem, and fortunately Trevor was a good landlord, with plenty of barrels in our well stocked cellar, tapped and ready to go at a moment’s notice. We soon sold out of bottled beers from the fridges, but the crated bottles were also kept in the cellar so were cool, if not chilled to perfection. The power did not come back on that night, but we fully expected it to be back by the next morning – Christmas Day.
Usually on Christmas Day we only opened from 12 noon until 2 pm, for drinks only, then the rest of the day would be ours alone. While the blackout continued, we assumed that nobody would be bothered should we remain closed, because of the problems with serving pints. We still prepared the pub for opening, but it was a long job cleaning up from the night before; no vacuuming, so floors had to be swept instead, and all the glasses we’d left from the previous night because the glass washer wasn’t working, had to be washed and dried by hand, after boiling countless kettles for hot water. It was a bit chilly too, since, although the heating was oil-fired from an Aga in the kitchen, the electric pump that circulated the oil wasn’t working either.
Noon crept up on us, and we debated whether or not to open the doors – but the decision was not ours to make. Soon there was a hammering on the door, and when we opened, people were queueing into the road – no one wanted to miss their Christmas Day drink (traditionally, the first drink on Christmas Day was free to every customer)! After an exhausting couple of hours, we finally closed the doors – still no power. Trevor and I ended up having bacon sandwiches for our Christmas Dinner, in the bar, where there was an open log fire over which we could hold a frying pan to cook the bacon! As darkness overwhelmed us again, we sat, trying to read by candlelight. Gradually, a few very good friends came and knocked at the door, asking if they might join us – it was just too boring sitting in the dark at home! So, in the end, we had a sort of private party for about 10 people and had a lovely evening after all. The power was finally restored at about 7:00 pm on Boxing Day!
Not long after that, we left the Ship Aground – Trevor went back into his trade of shopfitting, and I went to Coleg Harlech in order to learn how to use computers. The plan was that I would try to find an office job, as I had a clerical background, but it was at that time that computers started to appear in every business, but I had no idea how to use one. A year at the college soon put that right, and at the same time the Diploma Course I passed gave me entry into university, so I applied and was accepted at both Bangor and Lancaster; I opted for Lancaster, since it was closer to my roots in Barrow in Furness. However, my husband was against the idea of my attending university for three years and issued an ultimatum. It was either education or him.
I opted for the education and found myself attending a Computer Science and Software Engineering course and sharing a student house in the village of Galgate, a few miles from Lancaster University. I enjoyed the learning, and the freedom of being a student again – even at the age of 42! I vividly remember that New Year’s Eve, in the year 2000. My housemate, John, and a few of our student friends, decided to go to a New Years Party at a local club – lots of drinking, loud music and dancing, and a very good evening. Until midnight loomed. I suddenly became overwhelmed – this was the first year in a long time that I was single, and had no one special to kiss as the New Year came in. I found myself sitting on the sidelines, crying buckets of tears, thinking that I would never again be loved! After wallowing in self-pity for a short while, I decided that it didn’t matter. I was my own person, and didn’t need anyone else to make me happy. The rest of the night I partied (in the words of Prince) like it was 1999.
It took a few years – so many men, so little time! – but of course I did eventually find love again, in the shape of a talented poet and writer called Glyn Hughes.
Glyn was non-committal about the Festive Season. His family hadn’t celebrated that much when he was young – born in 1935 he lived through the hardships of World War II. He was not a very materialistic person – a minimalist, if anything. There was nothing in our home that was not beautiful or useful. I, on the other hand, love Christmas and everything about it, so it took a bit of getting used to for him when I wanted to decorate and get excited over making a festive Christmas meal. He was very tolerant of me though – mainly because he loved my cooking, I think! We got into the habit of inviting close friends to either join us, or we would go to them for the holiday. Like Glyn, our friend wasn’t a great fan of Christmas but his lady was, so we were in the same boat as it were. The best part was the celebrating with our friends – which was good at any time of the year! Loads of good food, good wine and good conversation. But sometimes it was good to get away too especially one year when we went to Cornwall. We had friends there – a gay couple, one of whom was Glyn’s oldest friend from Altrincham Grammar School, and the other his American husband. The American, Michael, just went all out, American Style, for the occasion, which was a bit much for Glyn’s tastes, but I loved the flamboyance of it all. I remember that Christmas very well indeed, and am reminded of it every year when I put up on the hearth the two hand-sewn stockings that Michael made for us and filled with small trinkets and delicacies.
The Festive Seasons since Glyn’s passing have been a much more low-key situation. Just before Christmas 2010, my mother had phoned and said that Dad didn’t have much longer to live, and if I wanted to say goodbye, I should come soon. Glyn was ill at the time too – his cancer had come back and he just wanted a quiet celebration, just the two of us. So, I booked a little cottage for a few days in a village called Lindale, in Cumbria, about 25 miles away from Barrow. I stocked up with everything we could possibly need, and Glyn was pleased, hoping that we might be able to drive around and look at the scenery, if the weather was at all good. The Lake District was a new area for him, after living so long in Yorkshire, and he wanted to become familiar with it before it was too late. We had Christmas lunch with Glyn’s grandson and his mother in Manchester, and then I drove us up the M6 to where our cottage awaited – the only thing was that the weather was abominable! Still, we made it, and once we’d started the log fire and opened the wine, we were happy enough to stay cosy inside reading and talking the night away. On Boxing Day, I had arranged to go to my parents’ house in Barrow to see Dad and Mum, after dropping off Glyn at a friend’s house in Ulverston.
Dad was happy and comfortable enough, but we could tell it wouldn’t be too long. Although there were carers coming in each day to take care of the physical stuff, I could see my mum was under a lot of strain too. I discussed it with Glyn and we came up with a plan. When our time in the Lakes cottage was up, I would drive him back to Sowerby Bridge, and then go back to be with my mum until the inevitable happened. Dad died on 4th January 2011, so each year since, that has been an emotional time. Then five months later Glyn passed too. I probably don’t need to describe how that was.
Christmas 2011, my first after Glyn died, I think I’ve described in an earlier blog, so I’ll suffice to say that my sister, Mel and her six children got me through, with all their fun and laughter.
The Festive Seasons that followed became routine – I would drive up to Barrow on Christmas Eve, take Mum out for lunch on Christmas Day, then drive up to Scotland on Boxing Day to be with my sister and her brood – who would very kindly hold back on the celebrations until I arrived! I would then stay with them until New Year’s Eve when I would go back to Barrow to see in the New Year with Mum very quietly over a glass or two of Baileys. You may be wondering why Mum and I didn’t both spend each Christmas with Mel and her family? Mum suffered from Phonophobia – the fear of loud noises. She could not bear shouting or loud noise so to subject her to a number of days in the company of six teenagers would have made everybody miserable!
When Mum’s Alzheimer’s became worse, I brought her over to Yorkshire and our Christmases were celebrated without too much fuss until she died in February 2018. Since then, I have stayed home alone – very happily, so don’t feel sorry for me! – except for last year when Covid-19 struck. My upstairs neighbour, who also acts as one of my carers, spent Christmas with me then – it’s just as easy to cook for two as it is for one after all. In fact I ended up catering for three, as another neighbour, the young man from across the hall, was self-isolating, so I served up a three course meal for him too! My friend simply took a tray loaded with plates to his door, rang his bell and left it for him to collect. He was very grateful and couldn’t thank us enough, which was very sweet. Sheri and I pushed the boat out back in my flat, and had a lovely time together. When things opened up again this year, she was able to follow her usual routine of visiting one of her daughters who lives in London.
But I had a wonderful day anyway – I cooked a small turkey crown with all the trimmings and had something lovely and gooey made from meringue and cherries for dessert. The afternoon was spent watching everyone’s favourite Christmas movies – White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life, to name but two – with a litre of Bailey’s at hand alongside a tin of Quality Street. I got some gorgeous presents and thoroughly enjoyed myself – I even bought Toni the cat a new red bling collar for the occasion!
Tomorrow night I’ll continue with favourite movies and wait for Big Ben to strike the hour and make a little toast that 2022 will be an improvement on the last, and hope for the coming year to be one of Hope and, at the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, Peace and Prosperity for everyone.
After the celebrations, I’ll be working my socks off, writing, reading, editing and repeating the whole process for the next few weeks until the first instalment of Monday Is Washing Day is complete and ready to be sent to the printers, before being released out into the world. That’s going to be the biggest rush ever! And I hope you will all be with me. Look out for invitations and posts with reminders of the publication and launch dates – 4th April and 9th April respectively.
Until then – I wish all my family, friends and readers the Happiest and Most Prosperous of New Years and that you experience peace and joy and love in your lives.
Happy New Year!
A fascinating read as always, Liz. Very best wishes for the New Year – whatever it brings! Are we skipping our usual ZOOM meeting on the first of the month? Haven’t heard anything from Lenise since I sent her the edited three chapters so wondering if she has taken offence at some of my – what I believed to be constructive – criticisms.
Good to hear from you. I hope you and yours managed to celebrate the Festive Season in your desired way! I hope your pinky finger is all better by now and you’re back at full tilt with your writing – or do I remember you saying you were busy with other projects at the moment and will come back to your book when you’ve cleared the way a bit more?
I haven’t heard personally from Lenise since before Christmas but I do know she posted in the Winter WTB page that somehow she had lost all her work on her computer and was at a loss about how to find it, so she was asking for advice. Otherwise it would mean she would have to transcribe the whole thing again from her printed MS onto her computer!
I also know that her Facebook account was hacked and she is in the process of setting up a new FB page and will be sending out friend requests as soon as she gets that sorted. It may be that her Messenger account is up the spout too, but since our current accountability group uses WhatsApp for messages, I can send her a note and ask her to contact you, if you’d like me to? I’m sure she won’t be offended by any of your suggestions, as I know she was hoping for great things from you to bring her work up to scratch!
I will put a message out to our AwesomeAuthors group and see if anyone is up for a Zoom tomorrow, but I guess most people will be busy with family and friends celebrating the New Year, so I don’t hold out much hope.
I wish you a very Happy and Prosperous New Year, and am looking forward to meeting you (hopefully) at my Book Launch in April. It sounds a long way away right now but it’s actually only 12 weeks! That’s a very scary thought!