I'm one of those who gets himself entirely worked up trying to get everything sorted before I go off on leave. As a result I'm totally unliveable with. The wife threatens divorce and the children threaten to thump me once they're big enough to do so which looking at my eldest son will be in about 6 months time. Sometimes one wonders whether going off on leave is worth it, but perhaps that's the sign that one really does need to get away. I get six weeks leave a year and having only moved to Majorca a year ago I've not quite worked out how to spend my time off. For years we've always gone for a three week holiday to Menorca but that now seems an absolute waste of time when we've got equally good beaches literally just down the road from where we live in Palma. The daughter is there to meet us at East Midland's Airport and within half an hour we're back in our old house which had been mothballed for the last year. The weeds are thriving, there's a layer of dust everywhere, we have a list as long as your arm of people we've got to see and this is meant to be a holiday!
A tough old bird
The first weekend is my mother-in-law's 90th birthday party in Leicestershire. She's a tough old bird and certainly doesn't look her age. Until recently she could cover the distance in her car on the M1 quicker than I could. Although I jokingly refer to her as the-dragon-in-law I couldn't ask for a better mother-in-law and I can only remember a couple of occasions in 27 years of married life when things have got a bit gritty with her. All the family are there for the lunch party and the sun condescended to shine upon us so it was just about warm enough to be outside for the whole event. My brother-in-law made what is probably one of the shortest speeches in the history of mankind but mother-in-law rose to the occasion and very confidently thanked us all for coming and we all solemnly put the date in our diaries for the next gathering for her 100th. I'm quite committed to family gatherings and it's not for nothing that the whole genealogy business has so taken off. We need to know where we've come from and where our roots lie. It seems such a shame that the usual occasions when families get together are at funerals. Perhaps we've got to learn to party more as families whatever the excuse; whether it's baptism, marriage, birthday or yes, even funerals, there is something about the clan getting together.
My wife decided that she wanted to spend a day with the children from the school where she used to teach, who were on a camp in Whitby. Although it meant a 3 hour drive, I tagged along as well. My brother has a holiday home there on the Yorkshire coast, so we decided to stay over night. Whitby is famous for many things. The abbey up on the cliff top was the venue for a synod centuries ago that decided the date of Easter. Caedman, the father of English poetry, is buried there and Dracula is traditionally set within the context of the winding alleys of that seaside town. The big bonus at the moment is that a replica of Captain Cook's ship Endeavour is visiting the town as was reported in The Daily Bulletin a few weeks ago. It was from Whitby that Captain Cook, a son of the town, set off to discover the New World and at the moment the streets are heaving with school parties and visitors who have come to see the replica ship. Good fish and chips are an art form. So I was looking forward to a freshly cooked bag of starch and cholesterol eaten on a bench overlooking the sea. I walked up and down the front examining the various eateries and their price lists. The famous Magpie Restaurant, which is the only restaurant in Whitby that is listed in the Good Food Guide, had a queue a mile long and one needed a mortgage to eat there. I opted for the cheapest takeaway I could find (I am, after all, a Yorkshire man and together with the Scots our financial reputation is not for nothing!) and this was the big mistake of the hoilday. They were foul and the disappointment was palpable, as I had really been looking forward to them. This fish and chip shop was obviously an establishment where the ancient custom of regularly changing your cooking fat was an entirely new phenomenon. Even ample lashings of salt and vinegar did nothing to camouflage the taste of old fat and my tightness was galling. Well known phrases such as you only get what you pay for came readily to mind. As with fish and chips so in life, you only get out of it what you put into it. There has to be a sermon there somewhere but perhaps it's too Alan Bennett and Beyond the Fringe.
A right-sized bottle
I always forget to take my urine sample when I go for my Well Man Clinic check up. Furthermore, we never seem to have the right sized bottle. Somehow a one pint milk bottle seems over ambitious and a mustard jar with a narrow neck has its own difficulties. So I'm sent off by the nurse into the surgery toilets to provide the necessary. Height, weight and blood pressure are all checked, together with a discussion about regular exercise but I know the crunch is yet to come. So how much do you drink then? she asks brightly. I try to answer honestly and I know that I'm in for the usual annual lecture. Firstly the lecture begins with what constitutes an alcoholic unit and what the limit is for a man per week. As usual I'm way over and my wrist is gently slapped and I promise better. It's clear that she has never lived on Majorca and has certainly never wandered around Mercadona marvelling at the price of good quality wines, being a fraction of what they are in Tesco or Asda back in the UK.
The honeymoon period
A lot of things have changed in the last year. We went to see my brother's new baby who was born in January and we have a new vicar in the village who everyone appears to be doting on. He's obviously in what we in the profession call the honeymoon period. Everyone thinks you're marvellous and you can get away with murder. The numbers in the congregation go up because people want to go and have a look and see what the new priest is like. It usually lasts about 9 months and then reality sets in. He's not perfect, he's got his blind spots just like everyone else, he's good at some things but hopeless at others and he's got feet of clay just like the rest of us. The next six months are then spent readjusting so that a way of working together can be achieved. It's there in all walks of life; from the Prime Minister riding in on a huge tidal wave of public acclamation, to the newest school teacher who can charm instant good behaviour from a class full of trainee terrorists. The best advice I was ever given for such an occasion has always stood me in good stead. Never promise what you cannot deliver, never create an expectation that you cannot fulfil, always take your day off and even if it's not a permanent contract, try to imagine and pretend that you're there forever otherwise the lounge never gets painted and the mundane job never gets done.
So it's now back to reality. After a 3am arrival home it's a case of cleaning out the fridge and freezer because the trip switch has gone on the electricity and we seem to be the proud possessors of a fur-lined fridge which smells atrocious and looks even worse. In 12 hours time we've got the big Steve McManaman wedding in the cathedral which both my sons, who are Liverpool supporters, are very envious of and are very disdainful of me because I can't tell one international footballer from another. In the end the service itself went very well and Steve and his new wife Victoria had the event they had both carefully planned, surrounded by their family and friends. Fame is a two-edged sword and when you want some privacy it's not always achievable because of the media coverage that we, the public, demand. My first Sunday back was a delight. We had the baptism of two children from a Nigerian family who have lived here for a while. He is an architect by training and she is about to start post-graduate work. The whole family arrived in their luminous, bright national costumes. It was a happy occasion, all carefully recorded by two keen videographers who could get a job any day with the Passport to the Sun team who are presently on the island. It's nice to be back!