Tradition has it that, on St Lucy's day, when I feel a long way from home emotionally and achingly nostalgic for summer, I give myself a treat. It's one I set up in September, when I line dry my favourite bedsheets and pillowcases, iron them meticulously, fold them with dried lavender flowers from the garden to scent them and squirrel them away at the back of the airing cupboard. Come St Lucy's day I make up the bed with summer sheets and know that I am on the long road home to midsummer, the tents, boats and body boards. So job done, to the matter at hand...
It's the shortest day and Girl 13 is due in London for 6pm for a party before a dance at the Ministry of Sound that ends at 1am. Darling has announced that No We Can't Spend Two Nights in London because he is Too Busy. I move the theatre tickets from Tuesday to Monday, cancel one, cancel the bed spaces booked, take the dog to kennels anyway and off we go at 10am picking up Girl 12 on the way after her dance. The day already feels too long and the atmosphere in the car is tight lipped and frosty. Boy 15 looks especially like he would rather have been left behind. I love it when my best laid plans get shot out of the water like a decoy duck being hunted by a load of hooch fuelled rednecks.
SatNav is clearly more intelligent than me and having spent her youth kicking about in Chelsea she knows that parking four streets away from where I tell Darling to park is The Thing. So we do just that and walk the 10 minutes, in freezing slush to find my favourite restaurant is closed for a private party. Divert to noodle bar, good lunch, warm up and dry out a bit. Girl 11 sits and counts Golf cars out of the window... we worry for her.
Post lunch last minute Christmas shop. It's not looking good for the nephews but Darling has a huge grin on his face. He has found what he always wanted... an Ice Cream maker - half price! Yippee. Perfect for the time of year and great to carry about too. By the time we re-emerge onto the mean streets it's dark as Hades and there is a significant layer of snow on the cars and road. People are sliding about. Grand old ladies are teetering precariously in their patent Ferragamo court shoes between making it back to their warm gassy flats and adoring poodles and a free ride to the hospital and a new hip joint. Back in the car we slip and slide our way up to Kensington, past St Mary Abbots, where there are paperwhite daffodils in flower around the war memorial. It's all I can do not to burst into tears for some reason. Girl 13 delivered, we stock up on emergency essentials for snowy weather. Salami, cheese, bread, chocolate. This could be a long night. We still have the theatre, post theatre supper and picking up the one we just dropped off in W8, in
In brief, The Woman in Black was scary. Well it was for me, I fell asleep and woke up in a room full of screaming strangers. Dinner in Sarastro was hilarious. None of us have eaten such disgusting food outside of an institution.
SatNav takes us to the Ministry of Sound, I stand at the barriers and wait for Girl 13 to emerge in the dress I had made for her. She is one of the last to come out and I assure the Security Gorilla that she is mine and she is released. I leave, saying goodbye to the friends from 30 years ago who I knew would be here, but not in such numbers. I have been standing laughing and smoking with young friends wearing old faces. The one I was really hoping to see, the one I really nearly married isn't there in spite of telling me ten days ago that every year he organises a party of teens for his Goddaughter and her friends. And then of course, I realise that I am the fool again. I couldn't marry him because he couldn't tell the truth.
Girl 13 announces that she was totally overdressed and that everyone hates her because they thought it really WAS the £800 Jack Wills dress, not just a knock off.
Boy 15 has had a good time standing there with a load of mates from school also picking up younger sibs, sneering at how infantile the whole thing is and ogling the girls. It is now 1.30am the forecast is appalling, snow everywhere, motorways closed, and we have 200 miles between us and our scratchers. So much for the shortest day.
Over the years Darling, the picininies and I have spent 4 nights sleeping in snowlocked cars. It's not something I would ever choose to do again but at least I know we have a classic skiers picnic on board and water - unlike one time. I snuggle down into my fur coat, say goodnight to the babes and let Darling relive his James Bond fantasies as he gets us home through the snow. It is 3am when we finally arrive. The shortest day is done. We have hot chocolate and scoot of up to bed. The lavender smells wonderful, the sheets are crisp and cold. The smoke alarm battery has obviously run out and it peeps, loudly, every two minutes all night.
I am woken at 5 hrs later by the telephone. Father in Law. Inverness aiport is closed by snow. Revert to plan B (ie nip out and buy a turkey Luce) and don't worry, we'll get the children's presents back down to them in the new year.....
Decoy duck, hooch, red necks.....