Friday 16th was my last day at work. On the Thursday I went to the office party...and sang karaoke, something I swore I would never do, but guess what? I would do it again. I sang a duet with a colleague who sings in the choir at Lambeth cathedral - it was The Music of the Night from The Phantom of the Opera. The Boss and several others had asked us over and over, so we just did it.
On Saturday, I went off to Reading again for a rather fancy Christmas dinner with Diva, Nags, Amy, Pandy, and a couple of Diva's friends at a swish waterside restaurant.
As always, when we get together, Diva puts together a fantastic slide show, and I think this is her best yet, so click here to see it.
Sunday, I unwisely did not rush, and after a breakfast with Diva, Nags and Amy - Pandy left after the first course - that lasted all day and consisted of muffins, bacon, lashings of tea, then cake and doughnuts, tea, more cake and tea...they finally dropped Amy and me off at the station and I got home around 7pm.
And so I stayed up all Sunday night packing, went to bed at 6.30am, and did the same on Monday night. Not only did I have to pack, but I had to make my room presentable enough for landlady's son to stay for the two days of Christmas. The rest of the family would be in the other two rooms. All of us tenants are conveniently out of the country.
I lay down for a nap at 4.30 on Tuesday morning. I set my alarm for 6.00 so I could get to Heathrow in a 9-9.30 window for my 11.50 flight. Next thing I knew, the phone was ringing and sunlight was pouring into my room and it was 9.37am. Funny enough, it was a wrong number but I may not have woken up otherwise. I have never run out of the house so fast - 10 minutes with much usage of the sh** word. And I lost my black cashmere scarf somewhere between the house and the station.
Made it to Heathrow with 15 minutes until the gate closed, but they would not let me continue, even though I had checked in online the night before. I got sent straight to the re-ticketing queue, which I stood in outdoors for an hour and a half where I noticed there was some pretty heavy fog, bear in mind I had not eaten - and I grabbed a chocolate truffle from the box of Leonidas my landlady had given me, conveniently in the front pocket of my carry-on case. Then there were only 6 cancellations, but after I arrived in Canada, there were fog cancellations for the rest of the week - I got out on the right day!
I got the last seat on the 3.40 flight to Toronto. Queued again for check-in, and then was at my leisure to find food. I had a delicious cheese omelette and fries with a pot of tea at Garfunkel's. The gate wasn't assigned until 3.30, we were boarding past 4.30pm and didn't take off till past 5!
The flight was uneventful though my seatmate was noisy and vulgar. Fortunately he only got up once and I am glad I had the aisle seat. The seatback entertainment on BA is now touchscreen! You have a whole library of old and new movies to choose from; also a CD library, as well as radio and TV. Awesome, eh?
Un-Welcome To Toronto!
Far from the usual cheery Canadian welcome...
As if the trial of getting a flight were not enough, as soon as I land in Toronto someone has it in for me. I am un-greeted at customs by a sullen young girl who asks where I live, if I have a return ticket, what my job is, whether I brought alcohol or tobacco, and where I am visiting while she writes all over my landing card. My back is up but you know it is key to remain polite at the airport or else. Forget the "or else" - thinking I am heading for the baggage claims, I am instead ushered into Immigration. I stop and asked the attendant why? She says I have a big pink stripe on my landing card. I tell her I am not immigrating, but she says I have to talk to the officer. So another queue.
8pm and I reach an immigration desk. I get a Germanic sounding man who asks how I am. I say I am confused. He says he will clear that up soon. Why am I here? On holiday to see relatives. I don't want to live in Canada. He says with all his words clipped, "That is for me to decide, not you. Your opinion means nothing to me." (At this point my spirit flags.) Can you write the name and age of a relative on this piece of paper? What town do they live in? What job do you do? How much money do you have? Do you have a return ticket? Can I see it? Do you have a credit card? Can I see it? OK.
At baggage claims, I hear not all the baggage made it on board that flight. In a minor panic I look around and with relief spot my mother's old duffel bag with the pink and purple ribbons on it, and sling it over my carry-on.
I get to the part where you hand your landing card to the officer at the podium and they send you left to the greeting hall. But no, I get sent to the right and a second customs queue, where there are scanners and tables and interview rooms and big burly guards. My heart is trying to hammer its way out of my ribcage. Oh my god they are going to strip search me. I reach an officer at a table and again I am asked why I am here. Again I have no alcohol or tobacco. No gifts? No, only myself - thinking in my head that the cost of the ticket was enough. He takes my passport and landing card, tells me to wait, and disappears into a room for about 10 minutes.
Two muscly guards come in and mill about. They point in my direction and one comes towards me. I hold my breath but he walks past me to some people sitting on a bench at the back of the room.
Really and truly feeling faint now, I sit on the table and rest my head on my suitcase. The officer comes back and tells me to put my bag on the X-ray belt. I do so and stand at the other end. He stops my carry-on and beckons seriously, so I go and look at the screen. He points to the upper left corner where I have stowed my clear zip-loc bag and says, 'Is that an ampoule of perfume?' I say yes that is my clear toiletry bag. He says OK, I can go.
I finally make it to the hall nearly 2 hours after landing. My cousin Pierre is there and I just want to cry on his shoulder, but I get a hug and we are on our way home. In the car he says, "Welcome to Canada". I say, "Thanks. At least someone wants me to be here."
My mother had cooked a special dinner of duck curry and dhal and rice, but by this time it is too late for such food and she makes me some hot cocoa and slices up a chocolate muffin for me.
Wednesday 20th - shop-o-rama
It averages 4 degrees C in the day and there is no snow.
Mum and I go shopping. I buy a few smart things with the Xmas money Dad has sent for us: a saddle leather Enzo Angiolini bag and a black velvet Ralph Lauren bag, as well as a pretty paisley and black fur scarf, and a mint green silk lined thingy to fling over my shoulder when I go out in the summer.
I buy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and my old fave Speculaas (spiced almond Christmas biscuits from the Netherlands or Belgium) to enjoy with my tea.
After dinner we go to the gym and I try spinning for the first time. It is like stationery mountain biking. The saddle bloody HURTS to sit on but it is easy for me to stand and pedal because I power walk up so many stairs at the Tube stations.
My aunt Eve takes the class too, and she says she was admiring my bum in the mirror. My aunts love my bum. She pinches it in the locker room.
After class, we go back to her house where I see my cousin Alyssa and her growing bump - she is 6 months along. And my cousin Paul, who they all say looks like my brother.
Aunty Rita's dog JJ falls in love with me when we are all watching TV in the evening. He gives me upside down puppy eyes and "bellies" to rub. Pictures to follow eventually.
Thursday 21st - girl lunch and massage
I am beginning to cough.
Mum and I ('we') swing by Aunt Eve and I say hello to Uncle Tom who tells me I am pretty. He has known me since I was two and despite having three of their own kids, I am still special to them. Alyssa has never been to One99 Broadway, Orangeville's smart restaurant where we have reservations for New Year's Eve - so we take her to lunch there, but we didn't make reservations so we have half an hour to kill before going back. We decide to go to the (smoke-free) Winchester Arms pub for a coffee. I wish I had my camera as the town's main street (Broadway) is typically Main Street USA even though it is actually in Canada...
We start with a basket of little slices of very moist tasty bread with butter. Lyss and I order mangotinis, just mango juice with sparkling water, and Mum orders an iced vanilla chai tea.
For mains, I get capellini pasta with steamed sweet plum tomatoes, a few surprises of citrus peel, and perfectly grilled scallops.
Mum gets pate de foie gras seasoned with sage and cranberries, with crostini.
Unadventurous Alyssa orders beef and potatoes, but she doesn't like mushrooms so I get those. There are very few things she does eat, and this is why she is not coming to the $90 per head new years' dinner there...!
If the snow holds off, I think I may be able to do some driving before Christmas.
Aunty Eve wants me to shed my hard work while I am here and so she has booked me in tonight for a proper massage at the chiropractors. Not only have I worked hard, but I daresay I deserve it after my trials at the airport, and then the spinning. Every time I move, I ooh and aah.
Tomorrow I have a pedicure, but while I am at the massage I start having chills which get worse when we go home. I run a low temperature overnight.
Friday 22nd - pedicure
We find out that Dad is coming on the 6th January for the weekend!
I am woozy, but take some Advil and am still able to pretend I feel well, as the beautician is a hypochondriac. I suck on cough drops and go for my pedicure. It lasts an hour and a half, and now I have pretty, soft, massaged feet.
By lunchtime I am not well. I have to take medication and have a fever.
Saturday 23rd - burning up
Entire day lost to high fever, chills, sweating buckets, and sleeping. I have been healthy for a year but in my stress and run-down state must have picked up the first thing going on the plane. I think I am strong enough to lie on the couch and watch TV with my feet buried under JJ's tummy, but even that I give up and slink off to bed. All day in jammies, curled up and sleeping like it is going out of fashion.
Mum is an angel: between cooking, baking and running tea and snacks and meds to me in the room.
The fever breaks after dinner and Mum runs me a bath, but I still sweat again overnight.
I dream that I am befriended by a barn owl and that I have to wash it. I wonder if that means anything.
Sunday 24th - today - Christmas Eve
Tired and very floppy. I try to help out a bit in the kitchen but am too dizzy. So I am sitting up in bed blogging. I have worn myself out finding the ethernet cable and connecting my laptop to the internet. It's good to be back, though.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas
I hope you enjoy your time with your family and friends
Be warm, eat well, and laugh lots
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