It was a long and tiring flight but as soon as the plane hit the tarmac in Heathrow, I could already feel that familiar Christmassy excitement that had been lacking for so long begin to bubble up. My 28 years of British Christmas experience told me that we were about to have a cracker ('scuse the pun) of a fortnight. Why? Well (without wanting to forget the real meaning of this Christian festival), the festive period for us Brits has basically become a checklist of activities that humans like to do best.
On top of all this however, this Christmas was going to be extra-specially special. We were about to see friends and family we hadn't seen for months, and were sorely missing. I was more than ready to hug, snuggle and be merry.
So we hired a car
And set off for Christmas.
So we hired a car
And set off for Christmas.
Here is a quick round-up of what we got up to from C down to S!
C is for...COLD
Anyone who lives in, or has visited London in Winter knows all about this. It's not just cold, it's BITTER. There is something in the wind that seems to burrow itself deep into your bones until you feel as though you're never going to be able to thaw out. As soon as we stepped out into the Baltic London air (sans coats, sorry Mummy Bags!), we knew that we had to quickly get our hands on some winter woollies before we turned into walking snowmen.
I toyed with the idea with buying a wig, solely for the purpose of keeping my head warm.
And Rich was delighted when Lisa handed him an old hat of his she'd discovered when moving house. Without those bobbles, I'm not sure you'd be able to tell he's wearing it.
But we soon remembered that the best way to get warm quickly was to guzzle Starbucks eggnog lattes by the dozen. So that's what we did.
H is for... HOME
Both Rich and I are big family people, and home to us is what Christmas is all about.
We are lucky because we got to spend time with all parts of both of our families at our homes in Norwich and the Peak District this Christmas. As well as having two amazingly supportive, loving and generally brilliant families, there are three running themes that both households have in common at Christmas:
1. Lots of competitive game playing (with plenty of cheating going on in the Bagley neck of the woods)
2. More food than you could possibly imagine (with seconds and thirds compulsory in the Byles gaff)
3. Lots and lots of drink (pretty free-flowing in both camps)
R is for... REMINISCING
Christmas is a great time to look back on life and think of all the things we have to be grateful for.
This was made even better this year, as we got to go to all the places we love best and experience them all over again as if they were new to us. This is one of the major perks of living away from the places and things you treasure the most.
We took my dad for a night out at our all-time favourite London date place, The Kensington Wine Rooms, and quaffed as much of their selection as we could manage. It was a fun night, and as Rich and dad were meeting for the first time, there was a lot to talk about. Luckily, both boys did me proud!
Take a look at the drunk eyes on show all round.
We wandered through St Katharine's Docks where Rich lived, and we spent much of our time back in London, and peeped into our favourite all-day breakfast place which looks out over the boats.
We made a flying visit to my home county of Essex to see these lovely people
And I took Rich to visit Copt Hall, our family home on the Essex marshes where my mum, and later we, grew up.
And spent a little bit of time in the countryside, soaking up that good old country air, and all that green! Mmmmm...
I is for... INVITATIONS
Christmas always involves a party in some way or other. I was very upset to be missing out on having a work Christmas do this year (particularly as i2a, my old firm used to do them so brilliantly), so I was pretty excited when Jim Byles suggested that we do something extra special and go for afternoon tea at the Ritz while Rich's mum Christine was up in London for a couple of days. Here are some highlights of a truly magical afternoon of food, music and my all-time favourite English tradition of eating lots of scones, cakes and sandwiches while drinking unlimited tea and sipping on a glass or two of champagne. Heaven.
Rich and I also snuck away to have a little Christmas celebration of our own at The Grill at the Flemings Mayfair Hotel.
S is for... SHOPPING
I love shopping. I love it even more when it is combined with beautiful decorations and Christmas songs. And maybe a mince pie or two en route.
London was decked out particularly beautifully this year.
And I could have spent more time looking at the stunning window displays than actually inside the shops.
Christmas isn't complete without a quick trip to the landmark Burberry store on Regent Street.
Or a visit to the Elfridges at Selfridges.
Or sampling the festive delights of the Harrods food hall
Before having a quick peruse of the Qatar section of Harrods, to remind us of 'home'
All this shopping inevitably makes you thirsty, so it should always be rounded off with a nice cup of tea.
Or if you're Jim, a Prosecco.
T is for... TIME WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY
When we arrived in London, my friend Lottie was there to greet us, and offered her cosy home and a warm bed in her spare room for our first few nights. Having not seen her for ages, there was a lot of chatting to be done and stories to share. Arriving at her home cold and tired after a long flight to find my favourite jumper on the chair and a hot water bottle in the bed was something I will remember for the rest of my life!
Apart from seeing Lottie, any trip to London would be incomplete without a night with the Uni girls, and after much anticipation as the Facebook messages flew back and forth, we finally managed to meet in a crowded Italian somewhere near Moorgate. A night ensued which was much like any other night we ever spend together, with a lot of eating, a huge amount of drinking, some serious chats and serious laughs.
We also bumped into a few faces we weren't expecting to along the way in some unexpected places. It's a small small world!
And then came our family.
Some time with Nanny Eunice in Norwich.
A meal with Grandpa, Grandma, Lisa and John Byles, followed by some iPad lessons
Some debaucherous Sampson family fun and games
A bit of mummy time
Some sibling and nephew time
And of course, plenty of cuddles with the pets.
M is for... MUSIC
Is there any sound on earth quite as exciting as the sound of the first Christmas song of the year? This might be a little bit dramatic, but I can honestly say that hearing Last Christmas blasting out in Selfridges was pretty magical. Almost as magical as these brilliant carol singers who serenaded us throughout our afternoon tea at The Ritz.
Good live music is something we are really missing while out in Qatar, so we jumped at the opportunity to go to an Alesso gig at Brixton Academy with Jim while we were back.
From what I can remember it was a stonking night.
A is for... ACTIVITIES
Is there a better activity at Christmas time than ice skating at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park? I think not.
Romana helped novice Rich on with his boots, and Arthur leant him a hand as he wobbled around the rink.
While us pros showed off a little.
After a bit of posing for photos and a lot of getting told off by the security guards ("NO PHOTOS ON THE ICE...HOW MANY TIMES...!!)...
And Romana (ever the feminist) got stuck in too, under Arthur's watchful eye.
We rounded off the evening with a few drinks - the perfect end to the perfect evening with pretty perfect (don't quote me on that Marn) friends.
Finally, S is for... SURPRISES!
Presents are always a big factor of Christmas, but this year, the focus was more on the giving than the receiving. These photos are some of my favourites as we captured the reactions of some of our loved ones as they tucked into their gifts.
All in all, Rich and I experienced the most fabulous Christmas we have ever had.
Can you see now why we think England is the best place on earth to celebrate Christmas?
This chap agrees.