Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Jolly Old England

Last year at Christmas, while we were driving around in Italy and Austria in the snow, I thought that this year I would like to have an English Christmas. So I invited myself to visit our friends, Carla and Richard, in the UK.

We met these lovely people when we lived in Argentina. Now they live near Winchester in a cute English village. They were willing to have us invade them for a fairly long period of time. Ryan Air (“The On Time Airline”! Not) flies there on the cheap. It cost almost more to get from Stansted Airport to Winchester than it did to fly from Bratislava to England.

A minor hitch arose when, the week before our trip, Baboo got the chicken pox. I kept checking Skittles on a practically hourly basis, to see if she had spots because, while Baboo would be done by the time we traveled to England, I didn’t want Skittles to have to travel while sick (and I’m sure the airline would not embrace contagious passengers either). Carla reported that her kids had been duly poxed before, so c’mon over.

We arrived on Friday Dec 23 to the news that this evening was their annual Christmas drinks party. About 100 people would be stopping by with snacks at 6:00. Would we mind helping to make sandwiches and drinks?

Ah, no. Of course not. But are you sure you want us here?

Yes, yes, it will be fine.

So The Spouse made peanut butter sandwiches for the hungry hordes of children while Richard and I set about squeezing limes for “vodka limes,” a tasty and dangerous mix of straight vodka, simple syrup, ice, and lime juice. Basically a vodka gimlet, but made in a blender. De-licious! The holidays were off and running.

And so it continued through January 2 when we returned to Bratislava.

We ate mince pies (something I was sure I would not like, but found to be pleasant), Christmas pudding (the Brits do love a dessert soaked in alcohol), proper trifle, pheasant, pumpkin pie, Beef Wellington, lemon tart, walnut tart, birthday cake, a lovely pork with apples and cream, wonderful English cheddar with an apple chutney, and I can’t remember what else since most meals came with lots and lots of wine.

We went to see the Narnia movie (I never read the books, but it was interesting enough). We went to see the HMS Victory at the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth ( as it is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. At the museum was also the HMS Mary Rose, the excavated wreak of Henry VIII’s war ship (

It was during an interactive exhibit about Trafalgar that Skittles began to ask to lie down. Richard proffered chocolate cookies, thinking a little sugar might do the trick, but I was suspicious. Carla and I left with half the kids and, once home, we discovered that the little one was poxed! Finally.

In spite of the disease, we kept to our plans for outings, and, actually, this and a healthy dose of an antihistamine helped distract Skittles. We had intended to visit a swannery near Dorchester, but realized it was closed for the winter. Still, we all went to the area anyhow and stayed here: I can recommend the food very highly!

The coast along this part of England is known for its fossils and is, in fact, called the Jurassic Coast ( We did stroll the beach and found some excellent specimens. The area is also known for famous writers: Lyme Regis is the site of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Jane Austen wrote near there, Dickens was born in Portsmouth, and Thomas Hardy set part of Tess in Dorchester.

We also visited the ruins of Corfe castle ( Bitterly cold, it was that day, but visually very interesting. I would share photos I took there, but I stupidly lost my camera on the trip back to Bratislava. Duh-oh.

All in all, it was a delightful visit. We were rather tame for New Year’s Eve, having decided that we were all of us, overfed. We only had steak and salad (and birthday cake) for our party, but we danced around in the kitchen to the soundtrack from The Full Monty while we were cooking, much to the great amusement of the children. I haven’t had that much fun since the New Year’s Eve The Spouse and I spent in Spain with people we barely knew, but totally enjoyed.

Now we are back at home, enjoying our Slovak central heating (why are English houses, even new construction, so darned COLD!?). We apparently missed a terrible snow storm here while we were gone.

Skittles began the French school in January. She has proclaimed that it is pleasant enough, but “very Frenchy.” Baboo is not fluent, but her first semester grades were remarkable, and she is certainly fully functional now. We hope her sister makes progress so that she can begin first grade in September in French. To sweeten the pot, we have a long weekend in Paris coming up in February. I’ll take my old-fashioned, film-using camera along and try not to let it get stolen.


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