25 December 1998



WELL another year has gone by and its Christmas again.

Goodness knows where the months went to. It only seems like a few weeks since we were taking down the tinsel and the holly from last year, and here we are putting them up again, only this time in our new home.

Then again, perhaps it isnt that long since we finally finished clearing away last years decorations. I seem to recall that the tree stood in the corner of the not very often used front room until almost Easter before we decided that it had seen much better days and consigned it to the dustbin.

December is the season for parties and presents, but also for remembering those less fortunate than yourselves. Were very choosy about which charities to support. There are so many begging letters at this time of year and you cant hope to give to them all. I have to admit to feeling a little annoyed at all the envelopes that fall like confetti on the doormat and resolve to say no to them all, except my regulars. One of the half a dozen that we do donate to is, of course, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution. As Fred often says, you never know if you might need them one day – its really more of an insurance than charity!

Anyway, to that end, we took ourselves off to an Arctic supper and talk – I dont see any reason why you shouldnt make giving to charity enjoyable wherever possible and in this case it was a lovely evening and parting with our money was quite painless.

As we sat round the table at the start of the evening I was very much put in mind of the nativity story, or to be more accurate, of Bethlehem. Many years ago people who were considered to be "cerebrally challenged" were locked away in asylums. (Nowadays a lot of them would be given a single parents allowance and encouraged to find a job, but thats another story.)

One such establishment was the Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem in London. The name of this dreadful place was soon shortened, colloquially, to Bedlam and before long this word came to be used to describe any extremely noisy uproar and confusion, where one sound is indistinguishable from any other – such as when a large group of farmers get together in one room for a social occasion!

I thought, hopefully, that when the delicious venison stew (the closest the organisers could find to reindeer) was served, the volume might reduce enough to stop the ringing in my ears. How on earth do people manage to keep conversation going in full flow while quickly demolishing a plateful of raspberry meringue and cream?

Still, I suppose its all good practice for the serious eating that accompanies the festive season. One advantage (?) of having two jobs is that I have two firms Christmas meals. This year these consisted of an evening dinner in the barn and a lunch at the nearby National Herb Centre. My mouth should be watering at the mere thought of it, I suppose, but right now I couldnt face another crumb – and its not even Christmas day yet.

I dont think that I dare even glance in a mirror. Im sure I must have all the lithe silhouette of a kelly doll; push me over and Ill just roll straight back up again!

Oh, well. Ive got a whole year to get back into shape.

And, in the meantime, Id like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy and, hopefully, prosperous New Year from the Quartlys.


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