I'm not a fan of Christmas. I always spend it with my family, and much as I love the part of it that hasn't disowned me, I definitely get on best with them from a distance.
Traditionally we'd always go to my aunt's for Christmas day. She lives in Edwinstowe, in the middle of Sherwood forest, a few miles from where I grew up. When we had the dog, I'd enjoy taking her for a walk with my cousins into the forest, usually to the Major Oak, the hollow oak tree where Robin Hood is said to have made an impromptu hideout. In later years, everyone who was traditionally involved as a kid became an adult, and the parents who organised it all got to the age where they'd rather relax than spend all day slaving in a kitchen, so we started to diversify a bit, but still got together in a group. In 2005, for example, the first Christmas after my transition, I had everyone here and cooked them a goose for Christmas dinner.
This year, for the first time ever, the family is not getting together. My Mum is getting together with my aunt and uncle today, and they're going to a restaurant. We'll be seeing them tomorrow at my mum's place for an informal buffet. This has left Sylvia and me to our own devices on Christmas Day, and we've been having a very pleasant day which involved getting up late, opening our presents to each other, and discovering a new-found appreciation for seahorses [*blush* - Ed].
Yesterday evening, Sylvia and I went down to see zoeimogen and her parents in deepest Essex. It's funny - Essex is right next door to Cambridgeshire, but according to the satnav Zoe's place is still over 60 miles away - two thirds of the distance to my mother's place, which I'd regard as mostly too far for just an evening visit. The drive to my mum's is rather more monotonous than the drive down to Burnham-on-Crouch though, with the last bit through Sherwood Forest being the only part with any real interest, and since that's where I grew up, familiarity has left me a bit blasé about the whole Robin Hood thing - it's just trees. I suppose it's not unlike taking the medieval city centre in Cambridge for granted after living here for 15 years.
Anyway, we had a lovely evening, most of which was spent chatting with Zoe and her mother over a Chinese takeaway until midnight rolled around and, for the first time I saw Christmas in with friends rather than family. I don't want to seem ungrateful to my mother - she's always an excellent hostess and it is nice to see her, and I'm sure we'll enjoy tomorrow's buffet immensely, but this made a very pleasant change.
The 1am drive back, in mostly total darkness through rural Essex, with the occasional glimpse of the lights along the Thames estuary to the south as we climbed up off the Crouch's flood plain being the only real sign of how close we actually were to London (at least as the crow flies), was a little taxing when tired though. By the time we reached Stansted airport and the motorway, I was feeling very tired indeed, and I'm glad Sylvia was there to help keep me awake. The adrenaline rush as a plastic bag blew across the road in front of us in a way that made it look like some kind of animal for a moment helped as well - slamming on the brakes as it came into the glare of my headlights and losing about half of our 70mph before I realised what it was and lifted my foot did a nice job of waking us both up!
Apart from that, and the three police cars speeding the other way somewhere south of Chelmsford, blue lights flashing to indicate their haste, the drive back was very peaceful. While it was still impossible to find a radio station that allowed escape from the wall-to-wall Christmas tunes (I guess there's Radio 3, but that's really not useful when you want something to stay awake to), the stuff that they'd got round to playing in the small hours, when only mad fools like us were left awake to listen, lacked the relentless tweeness of the stuff they'd played on the drive down. The spirited rendition of Prokofiev's Troika that accompanied the bendier bit of the A130 was especially welcome, even if the imagery of the sleigh ride seems to be getting less and less seasonal in these days of global-warming; we were still 9 degrees Celsius (according to the car) and rather a lot of precipitation away from anything resembling a white Christmas. I'm sure driving in the dark at this time of year used to involve some kind of ice-hazard...
Anyway, I'm aware I'm rambling, and I need to go and make a start on our Christmas dinner - we're having a beef casserole. Not seasonal, but with the fresh vegetables I bought from Cambridge market yesterday, it should be very tasty!
Happy Christmas everyone, even to those who dislike the whole over-commericalised mess as much as I do.