Saturday, 1 December 2012


Nathan and I are in Thaxted, celebrating our first communal day off for what seems like years. 

We had a lie-in and then spent the rest of the day doing washing, posting letters, printing photos and (in Nathan's case) knitting. In essence, we did very little. I even sat down to watch an episode of Columbo from 1972, which was set in London, but very plainly filmed in California. I have seldom seen a less convincing depiction of the UK!

The post office in Highgate closes at noon on a Saturday, so I rushed there for about 11.30, and was horrified to find the place literally fit-to-burst. It's only a tiny little shop, and I was 39th in the queue, so the place resembled Harrods on the first day of the winter sales. Someone kept farting. Someone else was coughing like they had pertussis. It was 12.15 before I got out of the place, feeling like I'd caught all manner of terrible diseases.

We've spent the last hour or so sitting in front of an open fire in my parents' sitting room, talking about my Great Grandparents' house on the Isle of Wight which my Mum practically lived in as a child.  It sounds like heaven; an enormous, ramshackle mansion house with an 8 acre garden stretching down to its own beach. 

My Mum used to lie in bed at night watching the beam of light from the iconic lighthouse at St Catherine's Point passing through her bedroom. I always loved that story. It always seemed so romantic. She used to stare out of the window and watch the moon's reflection drifting across the sea. 

There's a lot to be said for simpler times. The other day I sat in a pub with a group of people and realised we were all staring at our iPhones instead of talking to one another. How will we ever regain a sense of community if we can only communicate virtually?! I genuinely feel we've all become a little complacent. I'm also losing the ability to write!

The joy about visiting Thaxted on December 1st was being able to drive past The Christmas House, which has been part of Christmases for me, for the last 20 years. Somewhere on the road between Stansted and Thaxted is a house which lights up like a Christmas tree throughout December. Hundreds upon thousands of little tiny lights adorn its rafters. Enormous snow men and reindeer skip across its roof. Music plays: the sound of angels singing. The courtyard is open to the public and often filled with excited children. And who could blame them? When the house lights up, Christmas is here! 

Pepys spent the morning 350  years ago with the Duke of York, the future James II of England. Pepys had recently become obsessed with administration, and had collected together all invoices pertaining to ship masts, which everyone seemed delighted with. 

He went from Whitehall Palace to St James' Park, and saw, for the first time in his life, people "sliding on skates." I'm actually wondering if the practice originated, like so many Restoration fashions, from mainland Europe. After all, one tends to associate skating with the dykes of Holland, and Charles II brought much Dutch culture with him when he returned to London. It may also have been that the hot winters of the last few years had made skating impossible, and that, prior to this, skating had been frowned on by Cromwell and his cronies. Those puritans sure knew how to be boring! 

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