14.01.24 — Journal

Christmas With the Family

After a lovely end to 2023 in Madrid it was time for my annual pilgrimage back to England, which meant I was off to catch a flight to Manchester Airport… or so I thought!

My travel woes began on the train to the airport here in Spain, where my journey was interrupted by an announcement that we’d be stopping a few stations short of the airport. As usual, I’d left some leeway in my timings for little hiccups like this, but as I stood on the platform getting cold and thinking about how busy the airport would surely be, I decided to call a taxi and make my way to terminal 1 in style. A shout out here to my taxi driver, José, who was an absolute legend.

Once though the substantial queues in the airport, I was on my flight and on my way to Manchester. As we began our descent, I caught a glimpse of a beautiful sunset just above the clouds. The sky was punctuated by some rainbow clouds, a rare phenomenon which unfortunately didn’t seem to want to show up properly in the photos I took.

After a few minutes spent gawking at the sunset, the plane began to turn and so the colourful scene moved out of my view. I settled back into my seat until the sunset came back around again, whereupon I took a few more photos as the sky had now begun to turn a striking pink, all before we turned a bit more and it disappeared from view once more.

The third time that the sunset moved back into view was when it hit me that we were flying in circles. I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed this, but nobody seemed particularly interested. It was then that I remembered a throwaway comment that my mum had made to me that very morning: that it was very windy in Manchester.

With my penchant for flight documentaries, I put two and two together and deduced that we must be being held in a holding pattern whilst the winds on the ground subdued. This was then confirmed by the captain, who told us that we were going to try to land in Manchester but that we may have to make for another nearby airport if conditions didn’t improve

Eventually we finally began descending from our holding altitude just above the blanket of clouds. It was then that we were all given the surprise news: we’d been diverted to Birmingham, halfway down the country.

What a liberty! When they mentioned nearby airports I was thinking of Leeds or Liverpool, but Birmingham? How was I supposed to get home from there? Something was mentioned about coaches but I knew that the national chaos caused by this freak wind would mean lots of delays before we’d get back up to Manchester.

My gut feeling was right, as upon landing in Birmingham we were cooped up in the plane waiting for busses to the terminal for almost two hours. More than 40 flights had been diverted there that night which meant that the infrastructure of the small airport was struggling to cope.

I’d promised myself I’d never step foot in Birmingham, but here I was against my will.

Thankfully my mother is rather astute and had been tracking my flight, so she knew what was going on. My parents graciously made their way all the way down to Birmingham to pick me up, in doing so saving me from the awful prospect of having to wait for a load of coaches which were probably as delayed as the terminal busses.

Dramas over, I was back home and ready for my last day of remote work before my Christmas holidays began. After disconnecting, I spent my first night having a meal and a catch up with Amber in a lovely Italian in the centre of Burnley. Poor Bam had lost her voice, so we agreed to try and meet up another day to have a proper chat and hopefully go and catch a theatre piece: we did meet whilst both working at Burnley Youth Theatre back in the day!

The next day saw me meet up with Danni and Abi for our customary annual gift exchange. We met up in a crepe restaurant and wound up wheezing as we unwrapped the silly presents that we’d all bought each other, a hysteria fuelled in no small part by the excess of sugar in our crepes and hot chocolates!

Some of the uglier spots in Burnley I find to be quite charming.

We then went off for a bit of last minute Christmas shopping and then I bade the the two of them farewell in the bus station before heading off to a spot where my dad would pick me up. In a stroke of festive luck it began to rain the very moment that I stepped out into the evening. This combined with the wind to create some rather unenviable conditions, ones which probably led to me developing a dodgy cough…

The next day was then Christmas Eve and time for Christmas traditions both old and new. In a novel twist, my mum booked for the four of us to enjoy a lovely Christmas Eve meal up at a local pub. We had some good food and a good laugh in the warm and cozy surroundings, all before heading off to our second destination, which was also a pub.

Every year on the 24th of December we try to get down to my village’s pub in order to meet up with all our childhood friends and old neighbours. This year was no different and we had a lovely time chatting to everyone whose gardens I used to play in and who I would try and rope into my various projects such as homemade rollercoasters or backyard shows…

We arrived back home just before midnight, meaning we could all wish each other a merry Christmas before we went to bed.

About ten hours later we were reconvened in our living room ready for the traditional unwrapping of all the presents. My auntie and uncle then arrived with the cream of cauliflower soup, something which we eat every year but which this year would be different as they were joining us for our Christmas meal after years of spending winter in Spain.

Then came the big event. After dabbling in some cooking when I was over in November, my mum had assigned me with the task of making the Christmas dinner for the first time ever. After lunch and whilst everyone else sat down in the living room, I took out my meticulously detailed plan and began the odyssey of preparing all the components of a traditional British Christmas dinner: the turkey, the sprouts, the parsnips, the carrots, the roast potatoes, the gravy, the bread sauce, the pigs in blankets…

After a short delay as I grappled with my first ever attempt at making gravy from scratch, I called everyone to the table and the meal wend down a treat. I think I did a decent job, but I was very proud of my gravy, which I made from the juice of the turkey and the vegetables, some flour, and a dash of sherry. It was divine!

Here we all are, crackers and silly paper hats included.

With a lovely Christmas Day had by all, Boxing Day then came around and with it one of the few times I braved the cold and stepped out of the house. My sister wanted to go for a jog, so me and my dad gave her a lift down to the canal, where the two of us opted for a much calmer walk around the water’s edge.

The afternoon saw us head out for another little excursion, this time for a family walk around the grounds of Towneley Hall, a grand old manor house set in 440 acres of parkland. Upon catching sight of an ice cream truck, me and Ellie immediately decided that we had to have one, forking out an eye-watering £4.75 per ice cream…

Over the next few days I got up to all sorts of other mischief. Whilst at home, I set up my aging collection of disco and show lighting for what must have been the first time in years. I was surprised to find that nearly everything was still working, with only a fuse and a couple of lightbulbs needing replacing after so much time sat in a dusty loft.

I’ve always loved the combination of coloured l light and smoke to visualise the beams.

Another night I met up with Amber in Rawtenstall to head into Manchester. She’d finally got her voice back but I was struggling with a persistent cough: how the tables had turned! Despite my throat we had a lovely evening, including a meal at a Greek restaurant and a beautiful show at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

Ellie’s last day at home saw her, my dad, and I nip out of the house to visit a place that I hadn’t been to for years: the bowling alley. When she piped up with the idea of going bowling I was immediately on board, as I’d recently watched a video on how the pin reset machines work and it had left me with a burning desire to have a shot at the sport once again.

As expected, it was a great laugh. Once I’d found a ball which wasn’t too heavy and been convinced that more force wasn’t always the best technique, I got into my stride!

An action shot of me gearing up to completely miss the two remaining pins.

It was then time to see in the new year, and for that I’d made plans to meet up with Abi and Danni once again. The three of us convened at Abi’s house, where we had some pizza and drinks whilst partaking in a geeky rollercoaster quiz that we’d found on YouTube.

From there we nipped over to Abi’s neighbours’ house for some party games. We had a good laugh trying to get pegs into bottles, match rude words on cards, and eventually dashing around the house in a fun game called shopping list. This had us searching for items on lists hidden around the place, the total value of which we’d then to tot up at the end in order to secure our place on the leaderboard. It was exhausting, both physically and then mentally!

I almost begun 2024 tearing around a strangers house trying to figure our how much some fictitious washing powder would cost.

The three of us then saw in the new year in the tranquility of Abi’s living room, where I swapped the traditional 12 grapes eaten in Spain for 12 Cadbury’s chocolate buttons. We watched the London fireworks, wished each other a happy new year, and then headed off to bed where I proceeded to snore Danni out of our shared room thanks to my dodgy cough. Sorry!

I then spent the last day in the UK over in Leeds with Emily and Lincoln. Em gave birth to their first child, Charlie, back in October, so I was desperate to go and meet him before heading back to Spain. It was so lovely to see the two of them and get to spend time with little Charlie, although I am worried that meeting such a beautiful and peaceful little baby might make me a little bit broody!

I didn’t have too much time to ponder over all this, however, as the very next day I was out the door before noon and on my way to Manchester Airport using the north of England’s rather questionable railway network. All went to plan, I arrived with plenty of time to spare, and I was soon in terminal 3 looking for a flight not to Madrid, but rather to Santander…

Many thanks to my sister, Eleanor, for letting me use some of the excellent photos from her film camera.