Saturday, 3 January 2009

Christmas Update

So, the Christmas holidays are over, Hogmanay has been and gone, and at last Fisher and I have the chance to really settle into our new home. This I am currently doing by playing non-stop Grand Theft Auto IV all day, coughing, spluttering, sneezing and wheezing - and in between, cursing Janus with the remnants of breath left in my body; for it was she - SHE - who infected me. In fact, not only am I infected, but so is Phid, Badger and preggers Blarney.

However, despite the evils that is Janus's cold, Christmas was a success. The usual gang was holed up in a country house near Pitlochry for a week, and while the whole gang is a very different dynamic to just the Cheeseboard (coupledom becomes a factor) it was great to all be together. Even Wheeler managed to make it up for a few days, including a bit of Christmas morning - enough to open his collective present and his stocking, at least. Then he had to rush off and be with Castor, for family fun. Personally, I'm not sure he was sold on the Cheeseboard as a gathering. He certainly wasn't sold on playing poker with my allergy to wild cards, and my confusion over trying to play Texas Hold 'Em with wild 4s. I was trying to work out whether, if a wild 4 shows on the flop, it becomes the highest card showing and therefore loses its wild status. Looking back, the incident is so infantile it's actually pretty funny.

Me: "So what happens on the flop?"
Phid: "Eh?"
Me: "If it shows on the flop, does it become the highest card, or is it still wild?"
Phid: "It's still wild."
Me: "But if there's a pair of nines showing on the flop, one a wild card, doesn't that mean everyone should have a pair of nines? And therefore doesn't the wild card become a nine?"
Wheeler: "It's just the same as an ordinary wild card."
Me: "But it's not, it ..."
Wheeler: "Yes it is."
Me: "No it's not, it ..."
Wheeler: "Yes it is."
Me: "No, because it ..."
Wheeler: "Yes it is."

I was just waiting for him to put his fingers in his ears and go la-la-la. I was being pretty obtuse, but I genuinely didn't get it. Hey, I was a bit drunk at the time. Anyway, we played the round and it worked ok. It does render the odds completely redundant, but then wild cards do that anyway and I believe they should be used very sparingly, and only to break up the monotony. So it was fine. A bit shit, but fine. It was Phid's game, and Wheeler was dealing next and I waited with bated breath for him to choose exactly the same game, just to prove a point.

"Texas Hold 'Em, 7s wild," he snapped, not disappointing me in any way. I wish I could say I found it amusing, but it was so obviously a put-down I was - at the time - quite angry. Stupid. Anyway, I bit my tongue and we played another round, equally fine, equally a bit shit.

Then it was my turn to deal.

"Texas Hold 'Em," I declared. Pause for effect. "2s wild."

Laughter - from everyone, including Wheeler, who probably got the point and recognised how ridiculous it was, thus dealing with it in a more adult manner than I. I added the proviso that should a wild card show on the flop it pairs with the highest card showing and is therefore no longer wild. Hand played.

Hand equally shit.

There were no more occasions of Texas Hold 'Em with wild cards. All in all, it's quite funny to look at it now. The rest of the table must have wondered what the hell they were doing, playing with two such utterly childish brats. Wheeler was obviously defending Phid's honour, as she chose the original game, but it was hardly an honour that needed defending. And yes, I'll make my views known here and now: Texas Hold 'Em with wild cards is rubbish.

That happened on Christmas Eve - and the other thing that happened - this time during the day - was that Spartan, Phid, Pro and I all went skiing at Cairn Gorm. The snow was really icy in the am, so we waited til the avo and took the funicular railway to Ptarmigan at the top. It was still pretty rubbish, snow-wise, with roughly 6 square feet to play with (ok, not that bad) but we had so much fun I've just got back from buying myself my first set of skis, boots and poles. Can't wait for Glenshee to open up! I'll be there with bells on. And, according to our neighbour, there's a spot on our local brae you can go to and see whether there's snow at Glenshee. Brilliant!

I was very impressed with Phid. She's only had a couple of days on skis, but her snow ploughing is steady, controlled, and graceful. She could go down almost anything skiing like that. I really ought to try and find some grace from somewhere. I'm like a sack of flour strapped to a couple of planks. Occasionally I have a rush of blood to the head and take a kamikazi rush to the bottom, getting scared as I hit what feels like 60mph (but is probably about 6) and then discovering I'm not really good enough to stop. I swear I'll come a major cropper one of these days - especially as I also tend to forget I'm not 14 years old any more, and try and 'catch air' over moguls - or, as at Cairn Gorm, over small ice-boulders.

We had huuuge fun, and then returned home to discover that the rest of the clan had prepared all the sauces and fiddly crap for the next day's Christmas dinner, leaving me only to shove things in the oven at the appropriate moment. I can therefore hardly claim to have cooked Christmas dinner, and feel something of a fruad - but it was so fantastic to have got the skiing under my belt. It's the sort of thing we always say we'll do but then don't - so perhaps this is an example of a new, pro-active set of Cheeseboarders. Of course, a few of those who said they'd like to do it backed out, so maybe it's just a case of weeding out the runts ; )

Christmas day was lovely. It started with everyone trying to sneak into everyone else's room and deposit stockings, as we had a 'secret Santa' type deal going on with them. I had Koios's stocking, but at 3am the door of our room creaked open and an arm stretched in.

"Woof," I said, in a passable imitation of Bridie.

"Ho ho ho," said an unimpressed voice before withdrawing.

Bridie promptly peed on the carpet.

3am, and once again I'm called to clean up dog piss. Enough is enough. I've done it too many times. This time I wasn't letting Fisher get away with it - so she mopped it all up, while I delivered my own stocking to Koios. She was not in any way asleep - because, it turned out, she had my stocking and had been the unidentified deliveree from 30 seconds ago. Pah.

"Ah, yet more visitors," she said into the darkness.

"Yeah, well, my fucking dog just pissed on the carpet. Happy Christmas," I hissed.

The next day it transpired that Koi and Pro were convinced that, apropos of nothing, I had flung a stocking at them and, with spitting venom, wished them a "Happy Pissing Christmas."

Well, they weren't far off I suppose, but I'm sure they've seen in the Noel with more festive cheer in previous years.

At 10am we all piled into Spar and Blar's room, as it had the biggest bed and some chairs, and opened our stockings. With Koi as my secret Santa I was assured of some great loot, and great loot I got. Then we all tripped downstairs, ate smoked salmon & scrambled eggs, and drank Buck's Fizz. Then we opened a present each. We had one from everyone, so we were well looted!

Wheeler left after the first present, and we continued on with Christmas Day. The presents kept coming and hours slipped away until it was time to start putting on the roasts. Yes, roasts. You see, we had:

1 x roast goose, prune stuffing in the cavity & nut & mushroom stuffing courtesy of Phid in the neck. Blueberry sauce to accompany.
1 x ham, glazed with honey and mustard, studded with cloves. Went really well with the blueberry sauce.
2 x quail each, stuffed with apple and onion. Bread sauce to accompany.

Add to this, sundry vegetables and roast potatoes, and you can envision the table as it groaned beneath the weight. We'd also decided on going black tie, so everyone looked marvellous as we stuffed our faces, pulled crackers and quaffed champagne.

Naturally, after all that food, we then had to play a rousing game of 'sardines.' For any who don't know the rules - where the hell have you been living? Mars? Anyway, just in case this is a peculiarly British game, I shall explain.

1. Take a large house, preferably one you don't know very well.
2. Send 1 person away to hide. Give them a loud countdown of 100.
3. Seek said person.
4. When you find said person, join him/her in their hiding place, until the bed you're hiding under is resting against the ceiling.
5. Last person to find the others loses. Or, alternatively, is the first person to hide next time.

We played 2 rounds of this, and it was most amusing. Some people also played some table tennis in their finery, thus cutting up the wooden floor so badly (courtesy of high heels) that I got a massive splinter in my foot the next day. In fact, it was so painful I can't remember the result of the match I was playing against Spartan at the time. Nope. Totally gone. We'll just call it a draw, shall we Spar?

And so passed Christmas. We opened our last bits of loot at just before midnight, and collapsed into bed feeling most festive. Boxing Day saw us lounging round the house, taking a short walk of 2-3 miles through the countryside (predictably, Spar and Blar got lost and only managed to find us as we made our way back, while Koi and Pro gave up after a mile or so, leaving Fisher, Phid and me to ramble onwards with the pooches), and forcing leftovers down our gullets.

The day after that, we went home.

Other events of note that took place during the week are:

1. Walk up Ben-y-Wrackie. Ok, not quite up the ben, but to the base of it. The dogs had a fabulous romp, Baffie exhausted herself, and we were all tired and happy as we reached the lovely Moulin Inn for lunch. I paid my respects to my ancestors, buried in the kirkyard.

2. Supper times. Every couple cooked a supper. Ones of note: Spar's droolworthy chicken & brocolli bake; Phidippida's chowder, and her trifle; Pro's chocolate orange ice cream.

3. Playing the Cheeseboard Game. This was a rare moment of Cheeseboardiness, where we were completely transported back to simpler times, and it was just us - in pure form, as it were. This was a game I'd invented for the last Cheeseboard Christmas, which was just us lasses, and we'd had to make each other gifts. It was a simple board game, and one whose rules I'd completely, utterly forgotten in the subsequent 4 years. For a couple of hours we existed inside a little isolated bubble, remembering issues long dead, attitudes in the throes of formation and now either well established or discarded, lives changed, lives continued ... and it was bloody funny. Especially funny how Koi was losing and therefore suggested (not unreasonably, considering the author) the game was at fault, while Phid and Fisher romped to the finish line.

4. Dougal the maniac dog rushing through the house in excitement, and yanking out the cable attaching Koi's computer to the phone line. This he did so thoroughly that the wires came out, rendering it unworkable - and Koi's email no less vital. Then followed several hours of fruitless DIY, concluding in a wander down to Kirkmichael in search of a replacement, finding one in the local hotel - which we loaned. Koi was astonishingly un-furious - although even she struggled when she told Wheeler what Dougs had done and Wheeler found it most amusing. On the other hand, it wasn't really his fault - it wasn't anyone's fault - and I don't think he really grasped the gravity of the situation at the time. Koi did tell him with a laugh in her voice, so an answering laugh didn't seem unreasonable at the time. Anyway - the merry conclusion of this was that we went down to the hotel that evening to return the cable and bring them some business in gratitude. We quaffed beer with contented sociability, returning home roaring out the 12 Days of Christmas at the top of our lungs.

Or maybe that was just me and Phid.

And that, I think, is that. I daresay others with blogs will write their own summary of events. It would be nice if they did (hint hint, Phid & Fisher) as I'm fed up of only reading my own perspective of these things!

So, I'm almost caught up. It just remains for me to mention New Year and then I'm done.

New Year, then.

We were joined by Spar and Blar, and Blar's folks from Norn Irn. We were naturally anxious that all should have a good time, especially as Blar's folks (known hitherto as Dagda and Breg) had been so courteous as to accept our invitation to Hogmanay. We didn't want to bore them to tears.

I think it went rather well. Fisher and I certainly had a fantastic time. We kicked off with a wee dram in the sitting room, and were pleasantly surprised by a visit from our neighbour, Gullo Shah, who joined us for a drink and invited us round the next day. I mentioned that we'd thought of first footing, and he enthusiastically encouraged us to do so. So, after nosh of Hebridean smoked salmon starters, roast lamb, and syllabub with home made brandy snaps to finish, we thought about 1st footing. But it was only 10.30, and we didn't want to interrupt their supper, which we knew they'd be having late - so we went through to the sitting room. There we roared out a few songs of the Scots persuasion, as well as some Eagles and Dolly Parton, until Blar suggested we turn on the TV for Edinburgh's fireworks.

We did so - only to discover that we'd done it just in time. It was 11.58. The fireworks were splendid, the countdown took us over into 2009, and we sang Auld Lang Syne in good voice. Then we went first footing.

At Shah & Epona's house, all seemed dark. My companions were rather reticent about the whole business, it being a very presumptious thing to do (what? Turn up on a stranger's doorstep and demand entry? Without being invited?) but I was confident. First Footing is a tradition that's falling by the wayside, but every person I've ever talked to about it is always extremely enthusiastic at the notion. Shah had definitely been enthused, and even though it was considerably later than we'd originally mentioned, I didn't think it would be a problem.

When we got to the front door I saw several people chatting quietly by the fireside. I knocked. No reply. I started having a few doubts ... so Spar and I went round to the back door. There I saw Shah getting drinks from the kitchen and drew his attention.

There was no cause for concern. Despite my horrendous attire of posh trews and top, walking boots, skiing jacket and Scotland beanie filched from Phid, we were all welcomed roundly. Of course, Spar went first across the threshold - being, if not tall then at least dark - and presented Shah with a lump of coal. In return, we were plied with drinks, warm welcome, and much good chat. We stayed until nearly 2, then swayed back home. By this point Dagda and Breg's eyes were almost closing of their own accord, and they were only too glad to hit the hay. We weren't far behind, but it was still well past 3 by the time our light went out. And best of all, while I was glowing with booze, I hadn't drunk enough to feel like shyte on a shingle the next day!

I was able to rustle up some scrambled eggs and croissants for the morrow's brunch, just before our guests departed. We bade them fond farewell ... and started to prepare ourselves for the drinks party we'd been invited to at Shah and Epona's. BUT - we also arranged to see Ceegar and Meeper that evening for dinner at An Lochan ...

We spent a very pleasant hour and a half at our neighbours', meeting all the other people on the hill, and then sped off to catch up with C&M. At An Lochan the food was good, the pudding uninspiring (so I had good cheese instead, despite it not being on the menu) and the chat lively. We've decided that this is definitely the year we go barging in France - something that will be arranged in February, when they come and stay for a couple of days.

So, with that first date on our 2009 diary, I leave you all.

Until next time, Mo Cairde.