Tag Archive for: christmas

Frost was just starting to appear on the grass as I returned to the UK after about seven months on Lanzarote.

My mate LE was immediately keen to proceed with plans for a far eastern tour via the Trans-Mongolian Railway and made arrangements for us to meet with Trailfinders in Canterbury.

The sales guy Stephen was very helpful as he went through an itinerary taking us through Russia (Moscow, Irkutsk, Listvyanka) Mongolia Ulaanbaatar), Hong Kong and Thailand (Bangkok, Phuket and Ko Tao). Occasionally he would say, “I have been here” or “there” and suggest for us to take one off excursions, all was very encouraging.

Finally he turned to us and said “Well, I think we have done really well here since the flight alone would cost you a few thousand each and the price here for you both is £7,377”.

I confess, I nearly fell off my chair.

I asked how long we had to consider it, and he said he could hold some of the prices open for 2 days, when it would all need to be paid in full.

We left the shop more than a little conflicted, excited that we now had a clear itinerary but a little disheartened by the price.

Since we were given a copy of the itinerary, the following day I proceeded to undertake searches on the internet to see what comparative prices I could find.

You will not be surprised to read that with a little patience we have been able to chop just under 30% off the bill without compromising the integrity of the trip, whilst booking half decent hotels (only time will tell here) and getting a few more sights in along the way. 

As it stands, it looks like Christmas will be spent just outside Moscow and New Year will be on a train in the middle of nowhere, just outside of Ulaanbaatar. 

I have had a number of conversations over the past couple of months with British, mostly English people, who reside here in Lanzarote,  about their views of the UK.

Its quite interesting how sheltered I have been to the news from the UK without much time to watch TV or even read a paper in the morning.  I have found myself becoming increasingly out of touch. 

Imagine what happens when someone lives here for a year, five or even ten years.

News is brought by recently landed tourists, debates held in mini-buses or half-caught headlines glanced at as people on sun loungers have a paper by their side.

I remember learning that word fact derives from the Latin 'fac(ere)'- to make, to do.  Similarly words including factor and factory derive from the same source.  Although accepted, these days, as meaning something that has happened, the word fact can just as easily be used to describe something 'made' or 'tested' or 'proved'.  In each one of these cases, simply placing the word man in front of the word dilutes its authority.  ‘Man made’ in regard to a factual piece of information implies it is fiction.  The cynic hearing the term ‘man-tested’, might point out how fallible man is as an authority and anything 'proved' by one man is dimply something waiting to be disproved by another at a later date.

On this basis I have listened and participated in debates with people who have been armed with their facts which they have been fed by news agencies, who were in turn fed by PR companies, spin doctors, politicos and promoters; each with their own bias.  Propaganda therefore fuels the minibus conversations from town to the dive sites most mornings.

As I have listened to debates rage with knickers getting twisted, I have heard details of how in the UK Christmas was banned, the flying of the St George's flag is illegal, the playing of conkers is outlawed and an Englishman is not allowed to be English.

When I was in England, I don't remember it being so restrictive.  I remember Christmas last year and it did not appear to be banned.  I remember distinctly when I received my mail with ‘Merry Christmas’ greetings on it. 

Where I live in Faversham, there is a St George's Day parade.  Is that banned? 

How can conkers be outlawed?  Kids will always find a way of stringing a horse chestnut and trying to hit one against the other.   Won’t they or will the ridiculous ‘elf and safety’ brigade really win the day?

(As a little digression, I remember a chap in my school called Julian having a tiny baby conker in his pocket which he thought was a world record for the 'smallest' – bizarre). 

I suppose this kind of fear-mongering sells papers and plays on peoples deep seated insecurities which in turn divides people and creates prejudice, ultimately selling more newspapers, spreading more lies, half truths or omissions. 

I am left reflecting in how modern Britain is a diverse place with several flags representing not just the geographic identities of England, Wales, Scotland (Northern Ireland which is represented on the Union flag by way of the inclusion of the St Patricks Cross), but many more flags having the possibility of being flown alongside the nations flags, in order to represent the diverse people who live in these places.

The communities I have lived and worked in have been pretty diverse.  Sure, the majority of people in my community have been English, but when the odd flag gets flown, whether any one of the flags already mentioned or indeed Italian, Australian or Ghanaian, I don't internalise it as a threat to my national identity.  I suppose even that I quietly celebrate the fact that the people I am living amongst are not all alike.  Difference in my opinion is good, and instead of worrying about Englishness being 'diluted', I see Englishness adapting and changing as it always has over millennia. 

I am left asking myself "What is an Englishman?".  Since I am English, then my blood is probably a reflection of the language I speak. 

The English language is a cornucopia of words, passed on, stolen or made up over the last 2000 years. English is still evolving, changing and mutating. Our language is not English (whatever that means!) after all – it is a stew pot of diverse words that have travelled to our shores and across our border from all around the globe. So how do words come to be part and parcel of what we use?  The answer is new words come with invaders, migrants, tradesmen; in stories, artworks, technologies and scientific concepts; with those who hold power, and those who try to overthrow the powerful.

So what am I saying?  I suppose I am saying to all those people who probably feel more out of touch than I do, "Untwist your knickers".  Britain is still Britain, England is still England and both will forever be changing.  If your not on the merry-go-round, its hard to keep up. 

For nothing is surer, change or difference happens whatever you do to stop it and so it’s best to celebrate it.  But my point is not just an attempt to say "stop being a bigot".  It is also an attempt to say loud and proud that; I like St George's Day and Christmas and Conkers and anyone trying to ban any of these things are just stupid, and not worthy of any level of serious contemplation.

Now let’s talk about something else.

I have never seen in the New Year in Scotland.  I have been there
for the period between Christmas and New Year lots of times, but
generally drove back down for the night itself to be spent in Calais
Gate with chums.

Last year was spent in with the lost
love. So soon after Dad going, it was not really a happy occasion. In
fact I recall I went to bed early despite there being an Elton concert

This time my sister telephoned me in
early December. She said that a charity swim was being organised at
Inellan down the road from where she lives. She asked "would I join in?"

"Of course!", without thinking, I confirmed that I would do it.

the weeks went by and the day approached I became a little hesitant. As
I drove from home to Scotland through the snow I watched the outside
temperature fall from a balmy 0°C to -6°C.

days wore on and my trepidation increased. As I have explained before,
2nd Christmas was great, but between Christmas and the dip, only time.
Even that's not entirely true, since we went for walks, and played Lego
so diversionary activities were plentiful.

sister confirmed a few days before that Old Years Night (as our Nan
calls it) would be spent at a dance organized by a local dairy farm in
the Toward community hall. It turned out to be great and ranked as
highly by me as a barn dance wedding I once attended near Brighton. The
best ever wedding of a friend I have ever been to, but that's another

The New Year dance was great. A bloke with a
synth and a mic, sang a range of songs including some traditional
Scottish dances (which is always a good laugh so long as you can follow
the people in front) including 'stripping the willow,   the dashing
something and something else'. It was a real laugh.

New Year came, balloons fell from the ceiling, my sister and brother-in-law danced.

2010 was here! Hoorah! Gone was the back-end of the worst period in my life.

Then came morning.

Christmas my sister had bought me a "Keep calm and carry on" t-shirt
and we decided to wear the same as a uniform. I had found my sun hat
from a few years ago and we both had blue shorts on.

should at this point be explained that we knew a few people who had
borrowed wet suits for the dip, but for some reason, we decided that if
you are going to swim in the freezing cold, you might as well do it.
"Wet suits are for wimps", we chanted!!

The support
crew (brother in law and nephew) were both carrying the cameras and
'snakes blood soup' (which tasted remarkably like tomato?) was poured
into the Thermos flask.

My sister and I ran next door
to gather some more troops (successfully getting swimming agreement
from two with the rest of the family in support – G looked particularly
fragile but was in fine spirits).

Then the time came. 
A hundred or so strangers lined the beach at Inellan and a few other
people were in fancy dress with wings like 'arctic fairies' ready to
take the plunge. In all I estimate that 25, or so, of us were there for
the swim.

Having duly signed the obligatory health and
safety disclaimer and paid our £5.00 entry fee, a wonderful fancy
statue of liberty started the countdown.

We were off.

sister and I had already agreed to swim further out than any others and
that swimming was not confirmed unless total immersion had been

I was proud to say that my sun hat floated at least twice straight from my bobbing head.

gained our footing and both stood up. Shaking hands to the sounds of
shrieks and screams of the natives running for the shore we calmly
chatted for a bit and agreed to go in again one more time. This time it

We got out and waded in as controlled a fashion as we could into shore.

Warmed by towel and snakes blood soup, a shot of whiskey was passed to each of the swimmers by the organisers.

We all congratulated each other and having got dressed, proceeded to get back into the car and return home, triumphant!