Christmas · Parent's Visit

Parent’s Visit, Days 8-10: Christmas in Cambridge

My parents returned from their trip around the south-west early on Christmas Eve. They had to return their hire car by 10:30am to avoid being charged for an extra day. They dropped their bags off at my room, and drove out to Newmarket to return the car. Whilst they were walking back, I went out to do some last minute pre-Christmas shopping. They had the same idea, and we met in the middle with our Secret Santa and White Elephant gifts all sorted. It was back to my room to wrap them all up. Mum had bought some extra wrapping paper to go with that which I already had on hand. Most of the rest of Christmas eve passed uneventfully. We cooked in, getting some last-minute supplies from Sainsbury’s.

We ended up staying up past midnight in order to Skype family who were waking up on Christmas morning. However, this meant waiting until they returned from church. Nevertheless, Mum was a dutiful daughter and managed to fulfil the obligation, though not for long as our young cousin was all to eager to get to opening presents. We would Skype with Dad’s side of the family (and my brother) in the evening Australia time; on Christmas morning in England, where we each opened our set of presents.

The busy time of day, as ever, was Christmas Lunch. What started as a potluck hosted by Annalise for those Gates Scholars still in Cambridge had morphed into a 35-or-so person extravaganza, with many plates of food, a full turkey and two legs of ham (even more impressive considering Annalise is a vegetarian, and still cooked the meat for us all). My contribution was the last two of the three Christmas puddings I had prepared. Though scheduled for the afternoon, I arranged to arrive a little early. When I came in, I found Annalise, Callie, Joanna, Jacqueline and a few others hectically preparing food. I put down my things, found a spare stove to steam my two puddings, and began helping out in any way I could. At first this was just wiping down the tables and cleaning the used dishes, but ended up with a knife in hand carving up the turkey. This wasn’t easy; I was using a blunt, ill-purposed knife without a carving fork, so it turned into a bit of a mess towards the end. But bite-sized pieces are probably good given the number of people involved.

By the time everyone arrived and sat down, we opened the kitchen to serve lunch. Everyone had brought such a delicious selection of salads and sides, but the turkey and ham were delicious too. During lunch, Callie came around with out Secret Santa gifts. I got a model Star Wars X-wing fighter (my room needs more decorations), and other people got an array of other gadgets and toys.

After lunch, we needed to prepare desert. It was again frantic in the kitchens; I pulled my puddings out of the steamer, and turned them out. They both looked delicious. I smothered each in brandy, and took them into the dining room (near the window, to avoid the smoke detectors) and lit them, to applause. I served them with custard, with a stick of holly planted in the top. Other people had brought other dishes, including but not limited to pavlova, shortbread and apple pie.

Those of us who had brought white elephant gifts (myself and my parents included) gathered in the entrance hall to play the game: in order, either open a present or steal one from somebody else. I think the point of the game is to cause as much mayhem as possible, so I certainly tried my hardest to stir the pot a little. After the dust settled, I ended up with one of the three gifts I had brought along (I brought along one each for my parents).

Now, it was time for the big clean. Whilst some people left to other engagements, I felt honour-bound to assist with the cleaning, washing, tidying and putting away of all of the things we had used to prepare dinner. It was a solid team effort, and in seemingly no time at all, everything looked as good as it could be. Annalise and I took some of the left-over dessert to the Trinity College porters (being the college we were hosted by), to which they seemed oddly bemused.

A quick trip home to drop off everything, and we were back out again. This time, to Joanna and Danny’s, where we (my parents included) had been invited for Christmas evening. A number of people had come straight from Christmas lunch, so it felt very much like a continuation of the same festivities. Joanna served mulled wine, but the most intriguing aspect of the night was the number of people knitting. After a few people started, everyone else either brought out their own or started anew. This took my mother quite by surprise. The rest of the evening was spent chatting, playing chess, singing or YouTubing. Mum and Dad went home a couple of hours before I did, eventually turning in a little after midnight.

Boxing day morning was slow, just recovering from the previous day’s festivities. We planned only one event for the day; a bike ride around Cambridge. There were three of us, I now had two functional bikes, so we needed a third. Annalise kindly offered to loan us her bike (she wasn’t using it), so we picked it up and took it home to raise the seat height. We rode out along the quite country roads to the town of Grantchester, where we just missed the end of the barrel rolling, but managed to get a good sausage-in-bread from a street vendor. We continued out further, heading towards the town of Coton, but got sidetracked into a nature reserve, which had a smooth concrete path through the middle. We followed our noses, coming back over the motorway to the back of the West Cambridge site. A couple of stray turns later, and we found ourselves going off-road to try and get back onto the main path. We returned through the north-west of Cambridge. That evening, I washed and checked over mine and Annalise’s bikes, though I had to return it before I could fix a rubbing between the rear tyre and the frame (I would go back a couple of days after and fix it for her). We spent the evening in, cooking what we had saved since Christmas Eve, and watching Mum watch British television.

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