Well, its been a few days of much excitement.
Wednesday evening, Rupert, Sam, Lydia and I went into London, my favourite city of all time. Rupert and Sam were off to see QPR beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Lydia and I were off to see The Nutcracker, performed by the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House. We separated at Marylebone Station and L and I made our way to Covent Garden. It was rush hour, so rather crowded on the trains and Lydia was rather daunted, hanging on tight to my hand; but I loved it. I love London, as I think I may already have implied, and I love it especially at night, when the lights are bright and the air is full of excitement as people make their way to the restaurants, theatres, cinemas and Nightclubs. Of course there are also the grumpy commuters, frowning into their kindles and pushing their way, iron faced through the crowds, but I won't mention them. On arrival at Covent Garden itself, we dashed into an Accessorize in the hopes of finding Lydia a replacement for her muddy trainers, to wear with her beautiful dress, but to no avail. We then dashed to the Opera house shop to buy her some £3 binoculars as she had left her glasses at home. Then at last we made it to the Theatre, where we had seats in the stall circle, the closest I've ever been to the stage, in the ROH. I have to say that the ROH knows what it's about. All the red velvet and gold fittings, the glowing, mushroom lamps that curl from the balconies - this is the way theatres should be! And The Nutcracker itself, was lavish and spectacular, as is right, the dancing liquid and full of character and I will NOT make any disparaging comparisons to Queensland Ballet...The choreography was by Peter Wright, after Ivanov and was mostly good, though there were bits that defied the understanding - the grand pas de deux, for instance, where the music soars to great heights of passion, crying out with agony in all its full bodied string sound and the dancers on stage are standing still, grinning out at the audience with just the odd waggle of the leg - yes, I know they were beautiful waggles, highly skilled waggles even, but they still did not come anywhere near to interpreting the expression of the music, which is what dance is all about, is it not? Or am I missing something here?
Met Rupert and Sam at Marylebone station and trained home together, Lydia and me content, Rupert and Sam rather less so....
Drove all the way to sunny Peterborough a couple of days ago, to see rellies - my Father's two sisters, Helen and Barbara, plus their husbands and Aunty Helen's daughter Kathryn, with her two boys, Tom and Charlie.
When you haven't seen relatives for a while, you like to make a good impression, so I made all the children, even Sam, have a shower, before we set off. It wasn't a bad drive really - it should have taken just under two hours, but due to Rupert's strange conviction that he knows better routes to places he's never been to, than the sat nav, it took just a bit longer. An hour into the journey, Lydia announced that she was feeling a bit sick. We did the normal parental sympathy murmuring, but didn't think much more about it, as it is five years since any of our kids were car sick - the last time being on a visit to my Grandfather last time we were in England. Then half an hour later, there came a little voice from the back: "I've just vomited all over myself," accompanied by the rancid smell of half digested raspberries.
I had three pieces of toilet paper in my handbag and Rupert had a tissue.
"We must pull over," my beloved spake.
"And do what?" I asked.
"Clean her up," he said.
"Okay, let's keep going then."
So we arrived at Aunty Helen's complete with vomit covered child. Aunty Helen, however, is nothing, if not a brick, and within minutes, Lydia was showered and smelling nicely of soap and dressed in a pair of trousers three sizes too big for her. We spent the afternoon deep in recollections and story telling, being brought up to date with everybody's lives, learning more of the history of my grandparents, arguing as only Willmotts can argue, all whilst drinking copious cups of tea. This is, after all, what life is about. Then there were hugs all around, before we disappeared back down the M1, full of the knowledge that we would be unlikely to see any of these lovely people for another few years.
Yesterday was a visit to Hampton court - the palace built firstly by Cardinal Wolsey, claimed and added to by Henry the eighth, together with Anne Boleyn and then his later wives, and, after that, by various Royals.
With a great deal of shouting and stamping, threats and bribes, I managed to get my family out of the house by 11:20, and we were at the palace by 12. But for any who are reading this and haven't been to Hampton Court, I must hasten to add that you should really try and make a whole day of it, like we didn't. It is rather large.
It is also rather wonderful, I think. You walk through the first set of gates and into Base Court - a vast, unevenly cobbled courtyard, surrounded by deep red brick walls which soar to a skyline of tall, crenellated chimneys. It is easy to imagine that it hasn't changed much since Tudor days, though there is also a rather sparse, hygienic air to the place which I don't suppose is particularly authentic. Still, there is an atmosphere of age, of stories, of lives lived and ended, which seeps from the old stone and under your skin. Even Sam, who was determined to hate every minute of the experience - HC is old and therefore rather too much like his parents - had a spring to his mooch and a light in his eye, by the time we had finished in the palace.
We all enjoyed the kitchens the most. This was partly because we are all Bignall/Willmotts and so food has a certain fascination of course, partly because the audio tours for this part of the palace were excellent, whereas for the rest of the place they decidedly weren't, and partly because, I think, it was all genuinely enthralling. These were, after all, kitchens that were built to serve hundreds of people at a time, several times a day - apparently the average Tudor courtier ate a diet which consisted of 75% meat so an entire, vast room was given over to roasting spits. There are vast cauldrons, built over brick fireplaces, for stews and the like, an alleyway, known as Fish Court, built deliberately to be in constant shadow and therefore stay cold and damp, with many rooms off each side for the storage of cold meats, fish and vegetables. (Seems odd that one would have to go to such lengths in this country, but never mind) There are offices for the poor kitchen clerks who had to keep an eye on everything that went in and out of the kitchens - the thousands of dead animals and fish of every description, cartloads of vegetables and fruit. There are wine cellars full of wine barrels (unfortunately empty) and, of course, a truly authentic shop selling Tudor fudge and toffee, aprons with suits of armour printed on them, swords for turning sausages on the barbie, mugs with Henry the 8th's grumpy face glowering at you.
Unfortunately, we had to race over the last few rooms as darkness was rapidly approaching outside and the kids were desperate to see the maze. I was desperate to see the rest of the gardens, but we were just too late for that. When we arrived at the maze, I was a bit disappointed for the kids as I knew they had been expecting something more like the maze in The Goblet of Fire, with ten foot, impenetrable hedges, and this was rather tinier, the hedges (possibly because it was winter) rather sparser, so that you could see right through them in a lot of places. However, once inside the maze, it transpired that it was still possible to get lost and by the time we found our way out again, the kids were red faced and breathless, their eyes shining.
So, apart from that, we have been shopping in Sainsburys - very exciting, I kid you not - having curries with friends and my lovely parents, making dashed journeys across the country to visit more relatives - my cousin Vicky who I haven't seen for about twenty years - and pick up clothes our kids have left behind in various places. I seem to have written rather a lot this time so I won't go into much detail about our escapades, simply glancing over the moment when Rupert jumped out of the car whilst queuing to get into a carpark, so that he could make a visit to the gents, leaving me to park - forgetting that this was the first time I had driven a manual car in five years. I would just like to thank the kind people who waited while I sat, half in and out of a parking space, desperately trying to find the section in the manual which would show me how to find reverse gear....