Christmas at anchor

It was a bit of a risk. Would Santa find us at anchor on a lonely stretch of river, a couple of miles north of Sanlúcar? The girls had had three days off school during the first week of December, giving us a rare and decadent five-day weekend. I had wanted to get away from the villages for some quiet time at home aboard Carina. We found this spot upriver and, although we only stayed for two nights, it was enough to convince me I wanted to come back again for Christmas.

During those couple of days we’d met no-one, had no Internet access and not enough battery power on my old laptop to even watch a movie. We went ashore and walked the riverside trails, or stayed home and read, did jigsaw puzzles, drew pictures and coloured in. The girls had school tests the following week – Lily in Maths and French, Katie in English – so Julian spent much of his time devising ingenious and fun revision exercises. I cooked all the foods I haven’t cooked in the months since Julian’s become full-time boat husband.

The peace and silence on that stretch of river was balm to my body and soul, as I sat on deck leisurely reading a book by day or engrossed in the star-filled December sky by night. As we set off down river and back to the routine of school and work, I said to Julian, ‘I want to do this again for Christmas’.

I live an excessively sociable life. It’s the way I like it. These days I teach English five days a week, mostly to loud raucous fun-loving primary school children. I am involved in a lot of school and parent association activities, and I have many lovely friends in both villages with whom I love spending time. My online life is busy too. I have two academic editing jobs, and when I’m not working, I like keeping in touch with far-flung family and friends, observing and participating in the political world I follow through Twitter and, with increasing guilt, pondering how little time I devote to my blog. I live an intensely sociable life, because that’s what I like and that’s who I am.

But now and again a holiday from all that sociability is required to remember who I am and to recharge my batteries. The lead-up to Christmas was action packed. There were parties and carol services, school events, and gatherings throughout December with friends who celebrate different Christmas and winter traditions. And I can rarely say no to an invitation to join a friend in a bar for a coffee or a drink. So, there were impromptu glasses of wine and port, cups of hot chocolate spiked with brandy, plates of grilled chorizo, oysters and prawns. A few days before Christmas, with all my teaching and editing done, I cleaned Carina to within an inch of her life, so we could invite passing friends aboard for wine and beer, tea and hot chocolate, and Julian’s home-made tiffin.

Three different people invited us to spend Christmas Eve with them, and we considered a tour of Sanlúcar, going from house to house to sample the traditional prawns and chorizo, while we shared my Christmas pudding and Julian’s tiffin. The plan, therefore, was to leave the pontoon early on Christmas morning and return to that quiet spot upriver. After a heady build-up to Christmas, Christmas Day onwards would be quiet family time.

But the bug that’s been doing the rounds of the school finally caught up with Lily and Katie. They both woke up on Christmas Eve with headaches, stomach aches and high temperatures. It didn’t stop Julian or me from socialising a bit (separately) throughout the day, but we knew that, given the girls’ illnesses, we wouldn’t be sharing prawns and Christmas pudding with anyone that night.

So we decided to head upriver early. With only an hour of sunlight left in the sky, we slipped the pontoon on Christmas Eve, Lily and Katie feeling sorry for themselves in their respective beds. We motored upriver, Julian and I singing Fairytale of New York at the top of our lungs and calling out to friends on boats and landing stages as we went past.

Before long, we were back on that lovely lonely stretch of river, the place all to ourselves except for a heron on one riverbank and a herd of sheep on the other. We were expecting rain, so we prepared Carina for a wet night ahead and snuggled down inside, Christmas candles scenting the air. Before leaving Sanlúcar, Julian had downloaded Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and, as I made dinner, and then did a jigsaw with the girls and prepared a plate of food for Santa and his reindeer, Julian read to us.

The girls were still unwell at bedtime, so I administered paracetemol, and took over the reading from Julian as lightning lit up the sky and thunder rumbled. Rain fell long and hard into the night and I hoped Santa and his reindeer wouldn’t give up the search for us up the river.

The girls didn’t sleep particularly well and I was out of bed a few times ministering to their needs. But, somehow, in the middle of it all, Santa came and, when we awoke on Christmas morning, the plate was empty and the table and Christmas stockings laden with presents. The girls were both still unwell and, although they mustered the energy to open their presents, they soon returned to bed, and spent Christmas Day between their beds and wrapped up in blankets in the saloon. I read the concluding two chapters of A Christmas Carol while Julian prepared dinner. It was an overcast but mild day, and sitting in the cockpit on that peaceful stretch of river was perhaps the best Christmas present (but please don’t tell the girls. They think the three Planet of the Apes movies and box of Milk Tray they asked Santa to bring me were the best presents. They come pretty close!).

With the girls unwell, there was no chance of us going ashore for a walk, so we focused our attention on enjoying good food, good wine and each other’s company, and trying to make the girls feel comfortable and cozy. After a delicious dinner and while the Christmas pudding was boiling in the pot, I took to the dinghy and rowed downriver for half an hour, the Rio Guadiana equivalent of my post-Christmas dinner walk from Ballygibbon to Carrick graveyard when I’m back home.

For the next few days we did much the same. The girls remained under the weather, sleeping lots and eating little. They found it difficult to even muster up interest in their presents or in the mountain of chocolate we had onboard. Rather than the walking and picnics I had imagined, we indulged in quieter pastimes – reading, drawing, writing. Julian and I even became engrossed in studying Spanish. With a new battery in my laptop we could watch some movies. Outside, the wind howled for much of the time, tossing Carina about on the stormy river. When the girls and weather conditions allowed, Julian and I took turns to go out alone – walking along the smugglers path on the Portuguese side of the river or rowing up or down river.

It wasn’t quite the Christmas I had imagined. But then Christmas rarely is. It did, however, have all the elements that make for the best Christmases – being with the people you love most in the world, enjoying good food, relaxing. It was traditional in its own way, and maybe we have created some new traditions this year. And, although the girls weren’t in top form, they certainly made the most of having lots of time to snuggle with Mummy and Daddy.

Belatedly, Happy Christmas everyone xxxxx

 

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‘Tis the season of confusion, tra la la la la la la la la

The girls arrive home from school one day a couple of weeks ago brimming with excitement. They are going on a school outing, to the cinema. The next day they both bring notes home, which explain the outing and which have permission slips for us to sign. There is to be a trip to Happy Land and the cinema in Lepe on the 17th of December, details of departure and arrival times of the bus to follow.

A few days later Lily comes home tasked with learning by heart the first verse of a poem (or maybe song – I still don’t know), which she will recite on her own at the Christmas play. Julian and I can’t be sure we understand what the poem (or song) means, so we reach for the trusty dictionary to help us translate. In English, it goes like this:
The Limping Camel
The camel was pricked
By a thorn in the road
The mechanic Melchor
Gave him wine

When she showed us the accompanying actions a few days later I almost fell off the boat!

The notes home from the teacher come hard and fast after that.
There will be a dinner to which all pupils, teachers and parents are invited, and everyone is asked to contribute a dish. Papa Noel will be there, with gifts for the children. This will take place on Friday. Or maybe Monday. In the afternoon, or at 6pm or at 7pm.
There will be a Christmas concert on Monday, or maybe Friday, or maybe half on Friday, half on Monday.

One of the mums from the PTA gives Julian raffle tickets which we are expected to sell before Wednesday. But they are unlike any raffle tickets we’ve seen before, so we’re not sure how to do it. In the end, we buy all the tickets ourselves, because the prize is a huge hamper of food, currently on display in the foyer of the town hall.

Lily next comes home with the news that she needs a shepherdess outfit. When do you need it, I ask. Maybe tomorrow, she suggests. I ask around. The other parents think maybe Friday. Or maybe Monday.

A note from Katie’s teacher says that she needs to dress in brown clothes on Friday, as her class will perform ‘Rudolfo el reno’. On Tuesday some parents go along to help sew the Rudolph costumes that will go over the brown base layer. I can’t make it to the sewing session because it coincides with us needing to move the boat. But when I go to school later to pick the girls up, the other mums tell me Rudolfo is no longer on Friday. He’s been moved to Monday.

The days are ticking by and still no news of the departure time for the school trip to Lepe. The official note said we have to send the girls with a sandwich and drink each, but one of the other mums tells me to ignore that and send them with sweets, chocolates, cakes – things they can swap and share with their classmates. It’s the one day of the year the strict healthy eating guidelines are waivered – or ignored by the parents.

Still no-one knows when the dinner will take place for which we have all been asked to contribute a dish. The other English parents don’t know, nor the Dutch parent, nor the Japanese parent, nor the Spanish parents. We’re all in a state of confusion. Even the teachers seem confused.

On Tuesday Lily comes home with a hand-written note – in Spanish and English – informing us that the next morning she will need to bring a half kilo of rice and one white sock to school. In the back of Lily’s notebook is written, in Lily’s new loopy handwriting, ‘sok’, ‘sokc’, ‘sock’. Lily tells me the teacher asked her how to spell calcetine in English and she had to write it out to see which spelling looked correct.
‘What on earth do you need those for?’ I ask her.
She has no idea. Nor do any of the other parents. Julian searches their underwear bags and finds a relatively white sock in Katie’s bag. I weigh out 500g of rice.
When she comes home that evening I ask her what she did with the rice and the sock.
‘I gave them to the teacher’, she says.
‘And what did the teacher do with them?’ I ask.
‘She put them on a shelf’.
Well that clears everything up, then!

They both bring home identical notes with the bus arrival and departure times. 8.45am departure on the excursion and 2.15 to 2.30 return. One of the mums tells me the bus never gets back on time. All the parents hang out in the bar across the road from the school, apparently, waiting for the bus to get back.

Two more notes arrive. Katie is to arrive in school on Monday dressed as a reindeer, and Lily as a shepherdess.

Finally, the morning of the excursion arrives. Parents crowd around Lily’s teacher, trying to ascertain the details of the dinner, the Papa Noel visit, the Christmas concert. At last we seem to have confirmation. The dinner, the Papa Noel visit and half the concert will take place on Friday at 7pm. The other half of the concert will take place on Monday, time to be arranged.

I wave the girls off and head back to the boat, currently on the Sanlúcar pontoon. I stop to chat to Ellie on a neighbouring boat.

‘Have you been invited to Clare’s?’ she asks me. Clare has invited us around for mulled wine and mince pies next week.
‘Oh yes’, I tell Ellie. ‘On the 23rd’.
‘She told me the 24th’, Ellie says.
‘And what about Rogerio?’, she asks. ‘Have you heard about his Christmas dinner? I’ve heard the 24th or the 25th’.
‘Oh no’, I say, ‘I heard the 23rd’. We promise to keep each other updated on developments.

If nothing else, I’m reassured that everyone else is just as confused as me!!

Homemade Christmas

The Christmas season is well and truly upon us. A couple of weeks ago the streets of Sanlúcar were decorated with three strings of lights (!) and last week a light-tree was placed in the village square at Alcoutim, and local businesses decorated with lights. The lights of Alcoutim haven’t been lit yet, but as we took the dinghy upriver back to Carina last night (after a wonderful evening aboard the boat of newfound friends) we saw the lights of Sanlúcar for the first time, and very pretty they looked too.

The girls have been doing Christmas activities at school, learning about the Three Kings (who, in Spain, are far more important than Santa Claus. It is they who come on the night of January 5th with presents for children, which is great for Santa, because it means a little less work for him). Lily and Katie have been colouring in Nativity scenes and pictures of the Three Kings and I hope they’ll learn some Spanish Christmas songs soon.

There is an ex-pat choir in Sanlúcar which is preparing for carol singing events on both sides of the river in the coming weeks. And the local shops are now selling small selections of Christmas foods.

The girls and I made Advent calendars last weekend and are planning on making decorations for the boat this weekend, to add to those we made last year. My mother and sister are joining us in Alcoutim for Christmas, so there is great excitement as we anticipate their arrival.

On Wednesday I took the early morning bus down to Vila Real de Santo Antonio for a day of Christmas shopping. In this larger town down by the coast the shops were decorated for the season and well stocked with Christmassy things. I bought the presents I wanted to get for Lily and Katie and I stocked up on baking ingredients. I love baking for Christmas!

What I am enjoying about this Christmas season already is that it feels more understated than usual. Here on this remote river there are few opportunities for frenzied Christmas shopping. No Black Fridays here, no 8th of December shopping madness, that’s for sure.

I’ve written before here and here about my unease with the material excesses of Christmas. This year, given the hundreds of thousands of dispossessed and desperate people who have come to our shores seeking refuge, families who have lost all their worldly possessions, children without even one comforting toy or memento of home, the material excesses of Christmas sit even more uneasily with me.

Santa Claus will come to my girls on Christmas Eve. He is part of the magic of Christmas. But the magic of Christmas also lies in making decorations and home-baked gifts to give to our neighbours and friends, carol singing and community events, special foods and time spent with family. I don’t want the loot under the tree on Christmas morning to be the focus of Christmas for my children.

Who needs the material excess of Christmas with its stresses of running around in overcrowded overpriced overheated stores, running down your bank account and running up debts, worrying how people will react to the presents you’ve given them? Other than the shop owners and the banks, no-one needs that sort of Christmas.

Instead Christmas can be a time for family and for reaching out beyond family. For spending time not money; for giving of yourself, not your bank account; for enjoying, not stressing; and for being grateful and thankful for the many riches in your life, rather than feeling disappointed by the unwanted presents under the tree.

My Christmas shopping, what little it was, is done now, and I’m looking forward to a weekend of making felt stars and snowmen and Santa Clauses, writing cards to far-distant friends, making the first batch of tiffin, and drinking lots of hot chocolate with my girls.

I wish you all a gentle and relaxed Christmas.

New Year curmudgeon

Girl Power on New Year's Eve! Is Julian to be pitied or envied?

Girl Power on New Year’s Eve! Is Julian to be pitied or envied?

It’s New Year’s Eve. 10.15pm. I’m sitting in the saloon, wrapped in a blanket, my hot water bottle snug at my back. Julian’s snoring from the aft cabin is almost matched by Lily’s snoring from the fore cabin. Only Katie sleeps quietly. Now this is a New Year’s Eve of my dreams. The last time I ended the year with such little fanfare was in 1996 when I was on a McCafferty’s coach travelling overnight up the east coast of Australia. I can’t remember which leg of my solo trip from Sydney to Cairns fell on the night of New Year’s Eve, but I think it was somewhere in mid-Queensland. I remember waking up when the coach stopped at a road side service station. All the passengers had to alight. Bleary-eyed, I went in search of toilet facilities and then to get a bottle of water and a bag of M&Ms from the counter. Standing around in the night-time heat, waiting for the driver to let us back on the bus, a wave of relief washed over me when I realised it was 2am and, for the first December 31st in my adult life, I had avoided kissing or hugging anyone on the stroke of midnight.

My dislike for New Year’s Eve is the inverse of my love for Christmas. Partly it’s because by the time December 31st rolls around I’ve simply had enough food and alcohol and dressing up. But a bigger reason is that I despise the forced jollity and camaraderie of it all. Christmas is all about family, about being surrounded by loved ones, people with whom I have a shared history. All too often, on New Year’s Eve, I’ve found myself in a crowded noisy pub or club, standing beside someone I barely know, or worse, someone who every other day of the year wouldn’t even speak to me, and because it’s midnight I’m grabbed and hugged and kissed and wished a Happy New Year. My eyes scan the room to find my friends in similar unwanted clinches.

Since the kids have come along I’ve had an excuse not to go out on New Year’s Eve and at least my past five December 31sts have been spent either at my mother-in-law’s or my mother’s house, often with extended family. But then there’s the hassle of staying up past midnight. And when your kids wake you up at 7am every morning, staying awake past 10pm requires stamina. Conversing, wearing uncomfortable party clothes and keeping a smile on your face until midnight is an endurance trial.

Here, right now, is the perfect way to see out the year. The three people I love most in the world are safe and snug and close-by. I got my kisses and hugs before they went to bed. And, despite the Moroccan music that is blasting around the marina right now, I have time to quietly reflect on the year that has passed and prepare for the year that is to come.

Unlike 2014, when we set our sights on sailing from Plymouth to the Mediterranean, we have no definite sailing goals for 2015. Now that we are in the Mediterranean, our intention is to hang around here for the next year or so, sailing for wherever the wind and our mood take us. We have no destination beyond some vague ideas about our first port of call when we depart Aguadulce. France, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Morocco – who knows. We certainly don’t, but the possibilities fill us with great excitement.

I finished writing Book #1 in 2014 and submitted it to a publisher and, hopefully before I go back to work next week the first draft of Book #2 will be complete, and I plan to spend the first three months of 2015 revising that and getting it ready to submit to a publisher. Book #3 currently exists as a very flawed first draft that has been in cold storage for about a year and a half. I’m resolving to complete it by the end of 2015. Meanwhile, I carry on with smaller writing projects, and I am resolving to pitch a certain number of publication ideas to magazines and newspapers each month. I am thrilled with my new 2015 diary, an experimental move away from the same filofax I have used religiously for the past fifteen years. And I am thrilled with the new multi-coloured pens to which I have treated myself, in order to colour-code my to-do lists. (I am, folks, a woman of very simple pleasures!)

I resolve to be more patient, kind and empathetic; to eat less chocolate and get more exercise; to care less about the messiness of four people living in a tiny space; to read more; to make a greater effort to keep in touch with loved ones; to become a better sailor; and to once again fit into my favourite skirt!

I wish you all a happy and healthy 2015 filled with love and fun!
xx

Christmas homebird

In forty-one years, this is only my sixth Christmas away from my home in Ballygibbon. Despite not living in Ireland for most of my adult life, I have a Christmas homing instinct that, at this time of year, generally finds me packing my bags, rooting in the drawer for my passport, and getting on a plane bound for Dublin airport. So you’ll understand that my Christmas traditions are deeply embedded.

There’s the Christmas Eve ritual of going out for a massive family lunch (it used to be that only the lunch was massive, but in recent years, participation has extended out beyond my immediate family). After that lunch, we visit my Nana and other relatives. These are people who, as a child, I saw almost every day of my life, and Mammy still sees every day. But on Christmas Eve we used to visit with the purpose of exchanging Christmas presents. One year, when I was in my late teens, and after Daddy had lost his job at the shoe factory, we made a pact with our extended family to not exchange gifts any more. But the tradition of the Christmas Eve visit continued and, as the years have gone by, the gift-giving has gradually crept back in.

Who's behind the mask?

Who’s behind the mask?

After tea on Christmas Eve, my family would stand together in our hall, light the Christmas candle and say a prayer. Until I was in my late teens we always opened our presents on Christmas Eve but, for some reason, we gave up that family tradition and now hold off until Christmas morning. Once the candle was lit, and the presents opened, it was time to make a trifle, chop up the potatoes and vegetables for the next day’s dinner and, from my early 20s on, accompany Mammy to midnight mass in Edenderry and afterwards go to Byrnes pub with my friends.

On Christmas morning when I was a child, my sister and I would sneak into the sitting room as soon as we thought it was safe (i.e. when there would be no chance of running into Santa) to see what presents were under the tree. After breakfast we would get ready for Mass, visit the Tyrrell family grave, and then home to get in Mammy’s way as she prepared the biggest dinner of the year.

More recently I’ve fallen into the tradition of popping across the road an hour or so before dinner to visit my cousins Michael and Theresa and their kids. Theresa is a terrible woman who spikes my multiple coffees with Baileys, so I walk back across the road rosy cheeked and tipsy!!

Me, aged three, with Mammy, uncle Tom and some spectacular decor.

Me, aged three, with Mammy, uncle Tom and some spectacular 1970s decor.

Oh, the Christmas dinners Mammy makes. I don’t know how we fit around the small kitchen table when I was a child – Mammy, Daddy, me, my sister, Nana, aunt Cissie, aunt Lillie and uncle Jerry and my three cousins Sean, Declan and Colette, and our uncle Tom. Over the years the cast changed, and my strongest memories of Christmas dinner involve my parents, my sister and my uncle Tom. How we stuffed ourselves on plates stacked high with turkey, ham, roast potatoes, boiled potatoes, Brussel sprouts, celery and carrots, bread sauce, stuffing and gravy. It was heaven. It was served on the best plates, only brought out for this one day of the year, in portions big enough to kill a grown man. We always went back for seconds. For dessert we had Christmas pudding or sherry trifle (or both), and somehow there was always a little room for Mammy’s Christmas cake at the end.

Those who could, walked the mile to the graveyard to get some fresh air. Those who couldn’t, loosened the waistband of their trousers and sat in front of the turf fire in the sitting room, watching television. Before long the next round began. Christmas night in our house has always been a crowded noisy affair. My uncles Jimmy and Mike came to visit with their children (all much older than me), and some other relatives. It was time for making and drinking copious amounts of tea, cold turkey, ham and stuffing sandwiches, cake, biscuits and sweets, all while talking, playing cards, and telling stories.

In the small hours of the morning, when most of the guests had returned home, Sean, Declan, Colette, my sister and I would get ready for bed. The boys slept on the sofa-bed in the sitting room, and Colette hopped in with me. It took us a long time to get ready for bed, laughing and messing around, deciding that we still had room for a bag of Tayto or another biscuit from the biscuit tin, while the tired adults washed a mountain of dishes.

Over the years the cast of Christmas changed. We lost some precious family members and gained some others. In the past decade my maternal aunts have played a greater part in our Christmas Day. And through it all, our traditions have evolved gradually, and probably don’t bear much resemblance to the Christmases of my childhood. But in my mind, I like to think that my Christmases are indistinguishable from each other. And in a way they are, because the thing that binds them together is that they are about spending time with the most important people in your life, eating good food together and laughing until your sides ache.

A little reindeer found her way onto Carina!

A little reindeer found her way onto Carina!

This year it feels a little like Ballygibbon Christmas on tour. My cousins Sean and Yvonne are living in Spain now, just a few miles away from Carina, and in a few days, Mammy and Antoinette are flying over from Ireland to join us. Yvonne’s cooking the turkey and Mammy’s home-made Christmas pudding is coming with her on the flight. I think a big Christmas Eve dinner is in order, and a trip to the Almeria Christmas market.

Though we’ll be spending much of Christmas off the boat, the girls and I have spent a lot of time decorating Carina. We’ve strung stars, angels and bells around, together with some decorations I had stowed. We made a Christmas ‘tree’ and this past weekend we made a mountain of cakes and gingerbread biscuits for the little Christmas parties I’m having with my English language students all week.

Only two more days of work and then I’m on holidays. The weekend will see more baking. This is the first year in about ten that I haven’t made Christmas cake, pudding or mince pies. But attempting them on our small on-board oven just seemed to be more trouble than it’s worth. So, instead, I’m attempting tiffin and truffles for the first time, made from my mother-in-law’s recipes. Christmas would seem all wrong without a lot of baking and making.

So my traditions evolve. But at the heart of every Christmas, whether at home in Ballygibbon, in the UK with Julian’s family, in Arviat with the Mains (Hi Martha!), or here in Aguadulce, lies a heady combination of good food and good fun in the companionship of people I love.

A very very happy Christmas to you all.

Hooray for Christmas!

The Christmas season is well and truly upon us, although I’m finding it hard to be convinced that it’s not still August. December on the Mediterranean is all sunshine and palm trees, blue skies and sandy beaches. The daytime temperatures hover around 20˚C, so different to the cold, wet, windy Decembers I am used to in Ireland and England. But, Christmas weather in southern Spain is, I’m sure, more akin to the weather in Bethlehem on the first Christmas.

2010 - a rare snowy Christmas Day at home in Ireland

2010 – a rare snow-covered Christmas Day at home in Ireland

Spain, like many countries, has adopted the pre-Christian Northern European symbols of mid-winter – the decorated pine tree and the flying reindeer. Still walking around in short sleeves, skirt and sandals, I am amused to see shop windows decorated with snowmen and snowflakes. But these symbols of Christmas are no more alien to Spain than they are to Ireland and the UK. I have only rarely experienced snow at Christmas, and the reindeer, decorated pine tree and jolly gift-giving fat man are as much a syncretic import to my Irish Christmas as they are to the Spanish Christmas.

Perhaps because of the (for me) unseasonably warm weather, or because this is our first Christmas living aboard Carina and we are somewhat removed from the frenzy, I am less aware this year than in previous years of the manic consumerism that accompanies Christmas. But I know it’s there. I was shocked to see images of Black Friday on the Internet and in the UK newspaper we treat ourselves to each Saturday. People fighting, punching each other, pushing each other over, generally being mean and nasty, for the sake of monster wide-screen TVs and other such unnecessary junk. The only people amused by this are the CEOs and shareholders of the multinational companies that make and sell this stuff. They’re laughing all the way to the bank.

This year I feel more removed than ever from the pressures to consume at Christmas. I’m removed from the pressure to buy gifts that I can’t afford, to receive gifts that I don’t want or need, to line the bulging pockets of multinational producers, manufacturers and retailers, and to contribute to environmental degradation and social inequality. Instead, I’m free to get on with a more low-key Christmas that focuses on giving and sharing and being with family.

2010 - Lily, aged one and three-quarters, posing under Granny's tree.

2010 – Lily, aged one and three-quarters, posing under Granny’s tree.

Last week we started to decorate Carina. We made and hung up a few decorations, and more will follow over the next few days (pictures to follow, when Carina is decked out in her Christmas splendor). The girls and I have come up with lists, not of what we want to receive, but of what we want to give. We have plans to make sweet Christmassy treats to give to our neighbours in other boats and to the staff who work at the marina. And I’m planning a mini-Christmas party for each of my classes at the English school. Making Christmas treats with Lily and Katie and visiting our neighbours is something I’m very much looking forward to.

This year, gift-giving is thankfully curtailed by necessity. We live in a confined space 11 metres long and 3.4 metres wide, so big unwieldy gifts are out of the question. Mammy and my sister are flying over from Ireland and, with their limited airplane luggage allowance, they can neither give nor receive lots of gifts. Spending Christmas with them will be the best gift. We are all spending Christmas with my cousin and his wife in Almeria. With the pressure to give and receive gifts removed, we can all concentrate on enjoying each other’s company while we share some good food.

I have done all the Christmas shopping I am going to do. I spent about half an hour last week buying crafty, creative gifts for the girls on behalf of their grandparents in the UK. (I found even that half an hour immensely stressful). Now we can get back to the fun stuff – singing Christmas carols and hymns, decorating the boat, baking, reading Christmas stories and looking forward to seeing Granny and Aunty Antoinette in a couple of weeks time.

Now…let me think…where did I stow Julian’s Santa costume?

Bloody Christmas here again.
Let us raise a loving cup:
Peace on Earth, good will to men
And let them do the washing up.