Pigs In Blankets

We take turns with my son and his family on who is spending Christmas with whom and where – his partner is Hungarian, so one year they fly over to Hungary for the festive season, and one year is spent with us in England. The alternate years they are in Hungary, we spend with my partner’s family – It has worked just grand the past few years and fair all around. So this year was ‘’our’’ turn – however my son and his partner bought a house this year, and wanted to celebrate their first Christmas in their very own home. How lovely I thought, and throughout the latter part of the year, this was the plan – we would take the hours’ drive to theirs, and be thrilled with not having to prepare Christmas lunch, and at the same time would come back home for Boxing day. My partners Mum  normally does Boxing day for the family, but she is really getting on and has not been well of late – so we volunteered, because remember  – we didn’t have to prepare Christmas lunch.

In the run up to Christmas it became apparent that the Hungarian contingents had invited themselves to my son and their daughters for the festivities – two weeks’ worth. Not playing by the rules, but its Christmas after all. Obviously there was a bit of stress about – like how they were going to seat 8 adults and a two year old around a table. The table wasn’t big enough, not enough chairs, just not enough of anything. Not to mention the fact that this is a couple who make the term ‘’laid back’’ feel tired. There was talk of a Hungarian traditional Christmas, which caused me to have a bit of a nervous giggle, as I really wasn’t looking forward to fish soup for Christmas lunch. But in good humour went along with it, and thought that doing something different would be okay– and would be a nice change to see what Hungarian foods are on offer. My G was really up for it. On a few times my sons partner was complaining that there are no carp in the UK and she just has to have this for the fish soup – I suggested she go and ask their local fishmonger if they can get it – I’m sure it must be available as there are many Eastern Europeans living in England, and all have similar dishes to celebrate Christmas. At any rate, we left it to the hosts to decide what they are doing, and I offered assistance on a regular basis, as some mothers do. Needs must and all.

One weekend late November we went to visit them, and they had replaced the dining room table in the run up to Christmas – really lovely table, big enough to seat at least 10, but no additional chairs, these would be sourced later. Typically my son had now also decided to just take control of everything – which is not unusual. He planned a gazebo for outside, (mid-winter) with heaters and Christmas decorations, and a spit on the braai for the meats. We are South African; my G is British, so quite a mix with the Hungarians thrown in. Therefore my sons’ motto, ñ Boer maak ñ plan (a farmer/man makes a plan) is like water on a ducks back with everyone else. I told him it might be do-able  even  festive with some fairy lights, so long as the weather holds, and the braai is outside of the tent area. But she was still looking for a carp. I had a silent sigh of relief, thinking that there might be some form of meat on offer, and not just fish soup. Oh and potato salad, my son asked me to make some as it always goes down well. My assumption at this stage is a South African style Christmas dinner. And we all know what assumptions are.

By the second week in December we had pretty much finished all shopping and planning for Christmas day pressies and Boxing day. I had baked a Christmas cake a month or so before.  I sent a message to the family chat group and sometimes to each of them individually as I would often get no response , to ask some random questions in offering assistance – there had also been no mention of desserts at this point – so the messaging started to the group chat –

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Then to directly to my son days later, as I hadn’t heard from either of them for ages –

 

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Up until this stage  – the 21st December, we were going to have spit roasted joints of undetermined meat with potato salad for Christmas lunch, dessert was a yule log and Christmas cake. I don’t know what meat, so ask the questions and suggest –

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My son says further –

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I had to re read ‘’and just thinking sheathed a flatly’’ three times, I think it made sense on the third attempt. We had a quick phone call, during which it was mentioned that he is buying cutlery – which I cut short as I was having a haircut, so the messaging continued –

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You what? 1 remaking leg of lamb? I wasn’t too sure about that one, but then –

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And just to be sure asked  my son again  –

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And get no response so ask again a few hours on  – this time the group chat  –

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At this stage I was confused – I don’t need to bring potato salad either? What was the other ‘’thing’’ then, surely if you refer to either, there should have been a choice in the first place. – So what did I miss?  And now we need plates? WTF?

First my son asked what we are doing, and the plate issue comes up again –

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I had one Bailey’s to many at this point, and for confirmation ask group chat –

 

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Ah yes – the other ‘’ thing’’ was the flatty chicken, so I now assumed I don’t need to take anything other than the desserts, because I eventually get a further response –

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At last – Christmas day arrived, and G and I are up at 6. Santa had arrived, so I took Mr P for a walk, we had a toasted bagel and coffee, opened our pressies, had a shower and hit the road. The roads were glorious – no traffic, no lorries and we arrived at their house bright eyed and bushy tailed 10h20 Christmas morning. My excitement was relatively short lived however, as only my son answered the door, everyone else was either still sleeping, or  in bed. At least the fire was already on the go in the back yard. No gazebo though.

As the morning comes and goes, everyone eventually came downstairs; we shared pressies, took lovely memory photos. The fire outside was doing well, and then my son realised that, besides the lamb, the turkey crown alone weighs 6 kg. At this stage we needed calculators out to work out how long Godzilla needed to cook for, at which point my son has realised that keeping coals alive for 3 hours will be tricky, because he couldn’t find  charcoal anywhere in mid-winter.  No kidding? But he had bought quite a few bags of wood, and also chopped up a vast amount of old pallets he had been hoarding.  The cooking of the meat was then sorted.

It was very clear that while my son was outside trying to get the joints of meat cooked, no one else had any intention of cooking any other food. The Hungarian granddad was given potatoes to peel, other than that there was an uncomfortable moment of everyone not really knowing what’s going down. Were we having Hungarian/South African or a British Christmas lunch? We were shown everything that had been bought, even the recipes – but there was no plan on the how or indeed who, was going to do the ‘’cooking.’’ It was to be a British traditional Christmas lunch then.

G and I decided just by looking at each other – let’s just get stuck in and get on with it. Everything from the word go was a struggle – an oven that didn’t work properly with only one shelf, not enough pans, pots, roasting pans to cook and prepare food for 8 people. My sons partner did breeze into the kitchen to make cocktails, and asked if we wanted any – we both declined getting to hot and flustered with stuff in different stages of cooking everywhere – so she just said that if no one else wants a cocktail she will have to get drunk alone, and left the kitchen cocktail in hand.  Bloody hell.

In between the chaos we did have a lot of laughs, and in no time all the veg was peeled and on the go, and potatoes piled high in one dish in the oven to roast. This left us with a conundrum about how to cook the pigs in blankets!! There was nothing left to use and no space in the oven, even the parsnips were cooked in a frying pan on the hob. So after some thought, and using the same motto, ñ  Boer maak ñ plan (a farmer/man makes a plan) asked my son if he had sosatie sticks (kebab sticks) . And he did have – such an exciting moment it was!! I then laced the pigs in blankets on the sosatie sticks, and they went straight to the braai – job done.

Lunch turned out to be superb – even with the ‘’popping things with paper crowns and bad jokes’’. I must say that if you ever have a shortage of oven space and need to cook joints of meat, don’t be shy of using a barbecue – the meat was beautifully done. And the pigs in blankets – well they didn’t touch sides. Our family Christmas Lunch turned out to be just the best.

 

 

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A Post Box in Nairobi

In the modern world of social media, apps and emails, I do like to try and retain a little of Christmas tradition by sending out Christmas cards. I think there is always something special about having a letter come through the door with actual human handwriting on it, and then the little bit of joy in opening it up to see what is inside, to find a handwritten note intended just for you – no one else. The fact that someone has taken the time to actually sit down, write something to YOU, and then post it, must stand for something in this world of digital chaos.

I have family spread across the globe, so always make sure that I post my cards in time to reach them for Christmas. Sadly I have had to give up on posting cards to South Africa a few years now – simply because the post service there is in such a mess that your post either never gets there or arrives months after the intended event. I posted a Christmas card to my son there in October one year, come Christmas it hadn’t arrived, the card arrived when his brother visited in February the following year. I could have saved the postage and asked his brother to take it with him.

For my meager post office needs, we have a McColl’s shop on the top of our road, which is basically a convenience store, and they had a post office counter installed some years ago. My first attempts at international letter posting were painful, as I’m sure that they never have anyone posting things abroad, let alone serve someone with a foreign accent. The elderly lady who worked there had my sympathy as she clearly had never received proper training, so each visit was as unpleasant for her as it was for me. I would put my mail on the scale, and it would take ages for her to find the right postage – and I would always have to remind her to put the little airmail stickers on, and heaven forbid if it was a parcel – to give me a customs sticker to complete. But she was lovely, and we managed somehow to get the items sent off with a bit of natter in-between.

So, this year, I had my cards ready well before the postal service cut of dates for international posting – a batch of cards for Australia, and a card for my amazing niece who lives in Nairobi. Things get busy over Christmas, so in the rushing around decide that the best time to post my cards will be to ‘’quickly ‘’duck into the shop on my way home from work, which I do. I go into the shop to find – as usual – that there is no one in attendance for the post office counter, so a person is called, and I wait a few minutes. And here comes my counter assistant – a young man, looking a bit unkempt and flurried. So I say that I’m posting some cards abroad, at which point he says – as expected – to place them on the scale, which I do. He then asks me to pass him the card – his first reaction is to his colleague now standing next to him, poking the address on my card with his finger saying how expensive it is to fly to Australia ‘’an’ all’’. While he finds the correct postage on the till, the conversation about expensive holidays continues. Oh and then he sees how much the postage is to Australia – £1.45 – that is apparently very expensive, by the  heightened  tone of his voice to his colleague  it’s on par with the cost to the flight down under.

Next card on the scale is to my niece in Nairobi,  I pass him the Christmas card after been weighed, and he sees where it’s going to, so another round of discussions to his colleague ensues around the cost to fly to Africa.  Poking the address on the card with his finger in the process. He then starts looking up the postage – which seems to take forever, and then asks me for the street name, and it’s at this point that things start rolling downhill. Fast.

I say there is no street name, as there is a PO Box address only, so no street delivery. He then inputs more information on the till, and says, that’s fine, but can he have a house number? I say no – because there is no street delivery. Suburb he asks? I say no, there is only a PO Box address, so the mail is delivered to the PO Box. The street address for the PO Box he asks? I explain that the building which houses the PO Box may be on the other side of the city, and that won’t help anyway, as the mail will just be delivered to the main post office. Oh he says, but we need a street address. I say well in the first instance my  niece doesn’t live in the actual PO Box, so please can you just input the PO Box details on your system, because there is no street address. Well then, he says, I can’t send your card then, because you can’t provide me with the correct street address. I tell him that maybe he needs to call someone, because I’ve posted to PO Boxes before without any problems.

So – he takes out his mobile and starts searching, for what seems like a street address for the PO Box address on the envelope.  The internet on his mobile is really slow, so he then proceeds to poke his mobile quite hard to say this is taking so long now, and this is doing his head in he says. I’m not sure if he is referring to his own head or not.  He then gives me some random street names to ask if any of them sound right. I say that – to reiterate – this is a PO Box address only, there is no street involved, no house number, no suburb, just a box.  Well then he says – I can’t post your letter.

At this stage I want to pull this cocky little shit across the counter by his nose ring. Yep he has a nose ring. I actually want the nose ring to tear out when I pull it, and cause physical damage, such is my #postofficecounterrage…….but I remain calm.  I remember my yogic breathing and breathe….. deeply. I tell him to give me back the card, and pay for the items I am sending, and leave. If this is the youth of today there is no hope.

I seldom feel, if ever, that service is poor enough to warrant the time to write a complaint, but in this instance this is the first thing I do when I get home. The auto response from the post office is ‘’if your enquiry is complex it may take up to 10 working days to fully respond’’, shortly followed by another email of apology and ‘’ As a goodwill gesture I have today issued you with 6 x First Class stamps’’.  Clearly this wasn’t a complex problem after all.  In the interim of receiving the stamps, I use the kitchen scale to weigh my card, look online for the correct postage to Kenya, return to the same post office – different day – and just ask for the postage amount in stamps. Stuck the stamps on the card, and posted in the red letter box on the street. I now also know that I can buy the postage I need online. Note to self for next time – Don’t use a post office to post a letter

Unicorns and Nipple Tassels

And so before we could blink, the Christmas season arrived in all of its usual festive glory. This festive glory spills into the office, which I really have enjoyed these past years – Christmas dress downs, Christmas jumper days, office snacks, treats and chocolate of such quantity that I can feel my veins cracking and my hips bulge just looking at it all. The highlight for me though, is Secret Santa.

I tell my G that we are having Secret Santa again this year – I know who mine is because I took a ticket with her name on it – and know what to look for. But G bemoans theirs, as they have only been given a letter of the alphabet at this point, with no matching name, so had no idea what to get – and what’s the fun in that? And, he tells me, his mate has been saying for weeks already that if they do Secret Santa, that he will be buying chocolate nipple tassels, and this he proclaimed to everyone in the office.

So – what does my G do? He starts looking on Amazon for chocolate nipple tassels – I swear I did not know that these are actually a thing! His plan is to give these as a Secret Santa gift – and because it’s supposedly secret, everyone will think that it’s his mate that bought them. After browsing online he realises that including the postage, to get the nipple tassels in time, it will come up to over the allotted £5 spend, but still thinks it’s a super idea. He might just get them he says.

Later in the day however, G receives a message from his mate at work, with a corresponding list of names which match the alphabet draw – and now he knows who his Secret Santa is for! It’s for a lovely young lady at the office he says, who happens to be lesbian. She’s well young though, around 21. But she is very girlie girl he says, and knows that she likes unicorns. But he also says that she has a wicked sense of humour and would find chocolate nipple tassels funny.

As it so happens, we are both off for a bit of Christmas shopping the following day, and venture into the City Centre. I point out to G while in John Lewis that there is plenty of unicorn merchandise around – so much – I would never have thought that unicorns are ‘’in’’ but there you have it. Very in your face fluffy pinkness and glitter, with pom pom pens/pencils and all sorts of paraphernalia you can imagine with rainbows and said unicorns. And flamingos. Lots of shelf-sitting flamingos. I say to G surely he will find something suitable, as quite a lot of cute unicorn things are a fiver. Just what we need.

After wondering around window shopping and some browsing, we decide on a lunch, before making some actual purchases on our way out and back home. During lunch we have a serious chat about what we need, and G still thinks the nipple tassels will do it. I say well – if I had my HR manager head on, I would discourage you. The workplace isn’t what it was back in the day – perceived sexual harassment, discrimination on sexual orientation – these things can be taken out of context so quickly – so no, if you don’t want to get sacked, stick to unicorns. G sort of agrees as I remind him of the selection of goods we have seen. So much to choose from.

The first shop we go into after lunch is Paperchase, to find some nice gift boxes. Lo and behold there is a whole shelf dedicated to unicorns. And flamingos. G looks through the lot but nothing really takes his fancy, until we find hanging on a display wall, two little unicorns that can wind up for a unicorn desk race. Exciting stuff – typically no price on them. I can see G is hesitating, and I say let’s go to the checkout and find out how much they are, I’m sure that can’t be more than a fiver. We stand in the busy queue with unicorns in hand, when out the corner of my eye I spot what looks like nipple tassels hanging from an entrance display in the front of the shop! For £5.00! Like a total idiot, I step out of queue and take a box down to show G. Really bad move on my part. In the busy queue we have this discussion around what G wants– nipple tassels or unicorns. The shoppers crammed around us in the queue don’t know that this conversation is actually about Secret Santa. The nipple tassels win, because G thinks that if they are in a shop like Paperchase, they can’t be too bad – can they? They are indeed Christmas pudding nipple tassels – the instruction reads to serve with cream. G only realises that they aren’t made from actual chocolate when we get home – but too late now – they are wrapped and taken to his Secret Santa ‘’do’’ the following day.

G gets home from work, and I really need to know what happened when this little gift was opened in the office – but oh what a let-down. She didn’t open her Secret Santa Gift. Oh no, this is Christmas, so can only be opened on Christmas day. In front of her family. Maybe with grandparents in attendance. Or young nieces and nephews.

Gin anyone?