December 22nd, 1997.

Going home for Christmas.

Well, it's Christmas! Strange really because it's almost like it has crept up on me unexpected this year! But I love Christmas time and I am looking forward to the whole thing. The food, the drinks, the gifts, and even the family back home.

This time last year I decided to drive home for Christmas in my little Mini. On the face of it, driving some 250 miles from here to Chelmsford didn't seem like a bad idea. However as I found out, it was! The car exhausted its supply of oil by the time I had done 200 miles, and I was in the middle of Cambridgeshire with no oil and no prospects of finding a gas station for at least another 25 miles!

The Mini did actually get me back to my folks' house but it sounded like it hurt, and as I found out when I tried to return, it had indeed hurt the car. A couple of days after Christmas, loaded up with gifts and luggage, and again in the middle of Cambridgeshire, the Mini decided it had taken enough. Despite having enough oil on board to supply a small country, the little green Mini saw fit to explode its engine in a spectacular display of oily pyrotechnics! Added to that the electrics also expired.

It was cold and snowing, and I was on a road that had no streetlights! I walked for ages along the deserted A10 until I reached a call box and was able to phone for some roadside assistance.

The roadside rescue man towed me and my car to the Cambridgeshire border then wished me a happy New Year and disappeared into the darkness from whence he came! I sat in an empty 'Little Chef' there in the village of Buntingford, cold, miserable, and depressed that my fabulous little car was a goner for sure! Mom and Dad were already on their way through the snow to collect me.

When they arrived it is fair to say that I was more than a little upset at this car failure. The parental units helped me unload the contents of the car into theirs, then we drove out of the Little Chef car park. I looked over my shoulder as we drove away and looked at my sadly abandoned car. That was the last time I ever saw it.

No such drama this year, though. I don't have a car to blow up on desolate 'A' roads this time. Instead, I shall be letting the train take the strain. The possibilities of it being as dramatic a journey as last years are, to say the least, remote. However, having said that, I have probably cursed the journey now! Knowing my luck I'll end up sitting next to some really drunk guy who will decide halfway through the journey that he wants to talk to me. I'll then have to politely put up with his toxic powered barely coherent conversation all the way to London trying to look like I'm not with him when the other passengers look over at us disapprovingly!

Seriously though, I always like traveling back to Essex on the train. I have already gotten my personal stereo from the store on the usual 16 day home trial so I can 'try it out' on the journey then take it back in the new year! That has become somewhat of a tradition, as has going out to the pub on Christmas Eve with my oldest of friends, Darryl Weaver and all of the 'old crew'.

When I arrive at my folks' home it will once again be decorated as professionally as Selfridges or Harrods! Dad used to maintain that he used to go so overboard on the decorations for us, the kids. However, we're all old enough to doubt the existence of Father Christmas now, but there's something nice about the fact that the house always looks so Christmassy.

For years we used to have the same old decorations that included funny looking paper lanterns that used to hang by a drawing pin on the ceiling only to fall and provide us 'kids' with a valuable opportunity to learn another swear word from Dad.

Christmas itself will be the usual noisy family gathering. The time when we all open our various gifts will be interlaced with the usual jokes and puns. Dad will again apologize to Mom about the present before she opens it, but as usual, no apology will be necessary as it will be something fabulous as always. My sister Louise will, I guess, buy me another pair of thick gloves for the third year in a row. Make no mistake, that's no bad thing. Anyone who knows me will know that I get through a pair of gloves very quickly indeed as I am always cold! The usual waiting game between Louise and I will also happen I'm sure. That's where I wait for her to unwrap most of her usual fifteen million gifts before I finish unwrapping mine! A chorus of "Come on Sie" from the rest of the family will fill the air.

In the evening Dad will try to palm off the out of date beer on me (and succeed!), then we'll probably all sit down and play the easy version of Trivial Pursuit. Chances are that Yogi (my Gran) will be the quizmaster. . . and cheat! Louise will protest loudly at the smallest technicalities, Mom will answer any question she knows the answer to regardless of whether it's her turn or not, and together we'll all make enough noise to make the neighbors think they've not been invited to a Christmas street party.

For me, Christmas still hasn't lost any of the magic it had when I was a child trying to get to sleep on Christmas Eve in an attempt to make the morning arrive faster. The only difference now is that I don't leave Santa a mince pie and glass of milk by the fireplace anymore.

Have a great Christmas to everyone, whoever you are wherever you are.