Mornings can be strange when winter sea swimming is a regular habit. The times we swim are predicated by tide times and anticipated weather. The weather is the least important. It has become entirely normal to wake up, look out at frosty cars and know that all we actually need to put on for breakfast is a pair of swimming knickers and a wetsuit. The contrast is even madder when we realise that only twelve hours before we had felt cold dressed in several layers of thermal underwear and winter clothing to walk the dogs at the same location.
Sea swimming is a massive, positive, side effect of the pandemic. We have formed an informal group of swimmers and watchers so that anyone who wants a swim can find a swim buddy on our Whatsapp group. Everyone in the group knew someone but before winter swimming most of us did not know each other. We have never seen each other with our clothes on!
Equipment is the thing, in the balmy days of October we rocked up in normal clothes and congratulated ourselves on this wonderful free hobby that we had discovered. Incrementally winter started biting at our resolve to ‘keep things simple’. Birthdays and Christmas came and went and with it the gifts of accessories for our new hobby. One person gets something new and others fancy getting the same. Recently this took us to a strange place. Researching Sinx gloves on line is not for the faint hearted. Coupled with the phenomenon of jabbering like crazy beasts when the endorphins hit, our post swimming ‘ bobbing’ chats are far reaching and without the usual social restraints that you might expect in a group of people who don’t know one another well. Over-sharing might be the correct term. To onlookers it probably sounds like the random squeals and hoots of a seal colony. Social distancing doesn’t help matters but I think we would be loud even in a close knit huddle.
Organising life around just being allowed out for one hour a day takes a bit of planning. Some days I’m really lucky that the whole hour can be spent just walking the dogs somewhere local and beautiful or doing a sea swim. But other days, like today, require rigourously timed visits to achieve everything. Oh goodness it was a mundane hour today. Essential dog food purchases, farm honestly box shopping for eggs and a quick wizz round a supermarket before a scamper round a park. Just as I got home I noticed this feather resting on a geranium.
It was caught in the leaves and then whisked a little further onto a wind damaged bloom.
Such a lucky find on a day mostly filled with domestic chores and a bit of really dull knitting.
The wonderful bonus of dull knitting is that it is perfectly possible to watch television at the same time. You might think that a BBC Politics channel would be as dull as my knitting but we live in strange and dangerous times. With a strange and dangerous government. People used to knit while watching executions or great events. Within the restrictions of a pandemic I am carrying on that underated tradition and not a stitch dropped. Also photographing feathers. Lockdown in January. February is going to have to work hard to keep up with these excitement levels.
Merryneum continues, as do the leftovers. Turkey Pie, fresh sausage rolls and smoked salmon quiches were created @theoldmortuary baking session yesterday.
Under normal circumstances the above plate of food would have been hoovered up in half a day. Not so this year, on a positive note that is all the left overs gone from Christmas day food. I’m not sure how many calories Zoom meetings consume but that was our peak activity yesterday. Books were also consumed in large amounts. An activity not usually listed as a fat burner.
Dog walking in abysmal weather was also a feature of the day. Not satisfying to the body and soul of human or dog. The dogs now have thermal coats to pop on when we stop for coffee, so they can warm up. There are unlikely to ever be cute photos of them walking in their thermals. Because they refuse to walk in them but stationary dogs in thermal jackets might appear.
Like so much, our doggy thermals were made in Shenzhen an industrial town just north of the border between Hong Kong and China. The pollution from Shenzhen was dreadful for our granddaughter yesterday, she lives on the Hong Kong side of the border.
She was stuck indoors to avoid the pollution caused by the manufacturing industry starting up after the Christmas break. Inadvertantly, in a virtual world, we also got stuck indoors there too. Our Zoom chats took place inside her play tent and when she got a little bored of screen time she finished the call by leaving us and the phone inside the tent. The next day we were, again, talked to only in the tent while she busied about. Being stuck in a pale green teepee is our punishment for not shopping local. Although I think it will take more than us shopping local to cut pollution from the monumental manufacturing sites in Shenzhen.
Today’s blog was always going to be about leftover food and words. It still will be but my theme was slightly overtaken by this witty Twitter post by a cunning linguist , Suzy Dent.
These days of late December are indeed a blurry space between Christmas and the New Year. Awkward to navigate in normal years, 2020 blurrs the blurr even blurrier. A less Merry , Merryneum with the near future uncertain by the double anxiety of Brexit and Covid
Left overs were the theme of the day. Long before the notion of Merryneum landed on my Twitter feed. I suspect Leftovers will last just about as long as the Merryneum.
Things started with ‘Bubble’
And moved on to Samosas
But in, what is becoming a habit, we didn’t have the need or enthusiasm for the evening Turkey Pie.
Beyond cooking up the uneaten sprouts and other festive veg we walked the dogs. Or did they walk us?It is entirely possible that we might have stepped into a coffee shop. Thankfully the decor lent itself to the colours of Merryneum.
And Hugo and Lola posed for small portions of cake.
It was a huge surprise to wake up hungry on Boxing Day morning. We had accidentally avoided doing anything too traditional, for us, on Christmas Day and were lucky enough to avoid any lachrymose moments. Avoidance worked to the point that we were too exhausted to even cook a proper festive roast.
Boxing Day has a tradition in our home of no traditions . It always has an organic free flowing style. Decisions are largely predicated by weather and participant enthusiasm and availability. Today despite the greige and the cold a walk on the Hoe was our chosen activity. Unusually for Plymouth we found some profound graffiti.
For us today it is about learning Tier 2 rules and working out a life pathway up to the next Covid based government decision. Basically we need to throw on the thermal underwear and do anything that involves other humans outside. What we have not considered is the dogs temperatures while socialising outside. As this is likely to go on for a couple of months we’ve just ordered doggy thermals. Meanwhile Lola loved a hat
Sell-by dates also inform our current lifestyle. Our festive season attendance @theoldmortuary was abruptly cut by 2/3 so there is an element of cooking food for 6 in a way that 2 can come out of the non festive season not looking like overstuffed Turkeys.
An actual roast is occuring today , purely to provide us with traditional left overs. One of the best meals of the festive season is Bubble and Squeak. Cooking it at home is one thing but eating it at Borough Market crafted by the wonderful cooks at Marias, takes Bubble to new levels.
In our house it never has its full title the dish is just known as ‘ Bubble’ the word is traditionally shouted with a South London accent.
@theoldmortuary has adopted the ‘love’ logo to share some love over the festive period because there is so much about the festive season and in fact the whole year that we love to share with friends and family, we’ve really missed you all . A little logo of love lets you know we are thinking of you.
And finally Christmas dinner was cooked and consumed.
Christmas 2020 it wasn’t Christmas but it was Christmas because that’s what it was.
The day started early with some ‘Bobbing’ admin.
Mulled cider and mince pies were the actual admin that was required today.
Then it was a swift drive home and festive sandwiches made ready for beach #2 Harlyn Bay.
Don’t be fooled by golden sands, if Tranquility Bay looked like madness, Harlyn was madness+. A great walk in freezing temperatures followed by a convivial two van picnic observing all current regulations for Covid-19 control.
The dogs, of course, moved vans due to the superior picnic being served next door.
To be honest the idea of returning home and then cooking a traditional turkey roast began to feel less desirable the colder we got. A cup of hot tea was about as far as we could stretch when we got home.
Much later a mushroom Wellington made an appearance.
In between walking and talking we zoomed and whatsapped with people near and far.
Christmas Day in a Nutshell with not a cracker in sight.
Our last day with the relative freedoms of Tier 1. Today Cornwall is downgraded , that’s a whole new set of rules to remember! In
Christmas Eve 2020, what to say! Facebook reminded me yesterday that the day before Christmas Eve is usually Christmas Jumper Day, if it is a work day. Not @theoldmortuary we usually rock a festive t-shirt, you can hide it under scrubs and flash when appropriate.
Which is very fortunate for this meandering blog . Facebook also shared a video with me this morning. It seems only right to share it on here too.
My favourite Christmas tune of all time.
It’s very strange looking into a fridge on Christmas Eve and still see spare capacity. It’s also odd to feel able to crack open the festive treats, Cheese Footballs, without a pang of guilt that I am depriving my children of a heritage, festive, comestible. No family for us this year, just an empty table where sometimes there have been over twenty. Not this actual table obviously.
Back to Cheese footballs.The more retro cheese footballs become the more significant it is to hunt them down early in the festive shopping season. I’ve had these little chaps since September. I have even supplied other families with them. I am obsessed!
In these Covid times where even trivial things have disappeared I thought I would share my personal timeline of cheese footballs
My grandparents owned a country pub for most of their lives. A substantial meal in their establishment was a pickled egg and a bag of crisps.
High days and holidays were marked by bar snacks. This was long before the health hazards of such things was common knowledge. Christmas was marked by swapping out the dry peanut and raisin combo for Huntley and Partners Cheese Footballs. The tin below is the retail version. Pubs could get a substantial size catering pack in the same design. Nobody ever knew that my greedy hands helped themselves to the Christmas stock long before it got to the bar, which for reasons explained below is a good thing!
Time moved on and pubs like The Red Cow have disappeared. The illustration of the building above is an image I found earlier today on the internet.
Bar snacks have been tested and declared a bad idea because, pre- Covid, the words man, pub toilet and hand washing rarely appeared in sentences or real life. High levels of transferred urine and faecal matter could be detected in free bar snacks within half an hour of being placed on the counter. Women may also have been guilty of the non hand washing crime.
Cheese footballs not unlike the England football team are a long way from their golden years of the sixties. Every September they can be spotted in the Seasonal aisles of a few supermarkets. Dressed up in a fancier tub and sold by KP.
At this point pondering took a curious path. I googled the Red Cow to see if the internet had an image. It did and a whole lot more.
I can share with you an article from the Daily Mail discussing the conversion of the Red Cow to a dwelling. The toilets get a mention. Fascinating too that the new owner was a microbiologist.
Somewhat stranger is an image of my grandfather’s grave in Wethersfield Cemetery that appears on the same Google. Something I have never seen before. My family did mild dysfunction long before it was a ‘thing’. My grandmother , Gladys, is buried in Melbourne, Australia.
As it turns out this is exactly the right blog for Christmas Eve 2020. A curious mixture of festive, reflective, emotional and pragmatic. I urge you to view the video, it is gorgeously poignant.
Merry Christmas, thankyou for being here.
P.S Following the publication of this blog a local history group sent me two photographs of The Red Cow.
An unusual blog today, made up of a variety of things . A portmanteau blog if you like.
Our weekend had a plan that most definitely conformed to a usual pre-christmas weekend. Saturday started and finished with a watery theme.
It began well with some cold water bobbing.
In the evening we went to the National Marine Aquarium for a ‘Night at the Museum’ dining event which in itself was a curious piece of serendipity. The pictures we took will illustrate the rest of the blog.
We had been booked to attend this event at a different time of year but it was postponed until this weekend because of Covid-19. Our socially distanced dining area was in the room holding the Eddystone tank which is where the tenuous serendipity comes in.
In the morning we were swimming in Plymouth Sound above unseen sea creatures. In the evening we were dining surrounded by the same types of sea creatures that would have witnessed our flailing limbs from below. Not that I’m suggesting that ‘Bobbers’ swim to the Eddystone Rock, or in anyway disrupt sea lanes. We ‘ bob’ in the vicinity, quite a distant vicinity in reality and always with regard to the Sea Lanes. We are not the sort of sea swimmers who get mentioned in the Plymouth Evening Herald or are reprimanded by Harbour Masters or Port Admirals. I don’t think we even trouble seagulls.
In between these two events at 4:30pm Boris Johnson had delivered a monumental clusterfuck. Or Prime Ministers Briefing as it is officially known.
Without going into details, these can be found on any, far more reliable, news source. Christmas in Britain has been Clusterfucked.
This certainly affected the mood and ambience of our evening at the aquarium. We had plenty to talk about just trying to reset the logistics of a Bubble Christmas to the Clusterfuck variety. This may be the time to say that the food was great and being in an aquarium at night was wonderfully calming. The Rays were particularly meditative. We had a great evening.
Understandably, under the current circumstances, the streets of Plymouth, on our way to the Aquarium, were unusually quiet for the last Saturday before Christmas, as were some tanks at the aquarium.
The Sea Horses, our favourite exhibit, were missing.
Only time will tell if the Sea Horses and the good residents of Plymouth were spending their Saturday night doing the same thing. Officially the Sea Horses were ‘ away breeding’ It was a massive disappointment in a day inadvertantly filled with disappointments. I’ve been forced to design my own Christmas card. Exclusively revealed here!
This was supposed to be the last December swim , presuming that we would ( The Bobbers) be off celebrating Christmas with our familial/friend bubbles. But Boris and the Virus changed all that at 4:30 pm when Britain announced sweeping new restrictions that would change Christmas for all parts of Britain.
Now we have the rest of December ahead of us to swim at sunrise.
We are really clocking up the footmiles this weekend. Fresh air and thermal underwear, the 2020 theme for buzzingly busy pre-christmas weekends. Except the buzz has been replaced by lateral conversations and an intimate knowledge of the state of neighbours illuminations.
Last night took in some luminous examples of house decorating and bush trimming. This one stands out because it has been done to raise funds for a charity and with all the ingenuity of a Covid world it is very easy to donate by following the instructions on a sign.
Donating is the easy bit, pondering rarely takes the easy bit. @theoldmortuary spent some time reading the charities web page while our feet throbbed from our pavement pounding. The work they do is significant and hugely important. The published case studies kept @theoldmortuary awake last night.
The United Kingdom is in a funny old place in this run up to Christmas. An apolitical truth is that none of this is the fault of anyone under 18. Christmas 2020 will put on a brave face but its midwinter, Stygian understory will be every bit as bleak as those Christmases of Dickens or Rossetti/Holst.
Those of us that are able should donate to charity, just like shopping, small and local is probably better than large and corporate.