Follow one crying eye on

Christmas 2023

In the blink of an eye, the panic of this most recent Yule recedes and the relative austerity of January looms outside in the miserable wintry murk.

The last of the guests depart from a blustery Heathrow, and a previous departee lands on some windswept island in the Indian ocean – both events causing me huge travel-envy, and propelling me onto tourist websites and into my Europe by Rail (Christmas gift) book before I can even think of tackling the much-needed housework.

In fact, I wonder how long I can make this “The world/my family owe me a complete rest” vibe last? Until the weekend? Until the end of the month/year? Twelfth night? – might be pushing it a bit there! 

In fact, after wondering for a short time, and wandering for a slightly longer time in the park, I determine that I would rather relax in a clean and tidy house, and set to with the vacuum cleaner and the mop. At least an hour of domestic whirlwind-ing passes, resulting in fewer crumbs and glittery bits around the place, a much more hygienic kitchen and dining table, and a wonderful feeling of entitlement…entitlement to replace those skivvy-expended calories with a few (ok, more than a few!) of the festive cheese and mincemeat varieties.

After an enormous plateful of cheese and crackers, and my third mince pie, I am almost unable to move, but take to pondering this year’s Christmas highlights.

  • Mother Christmas and her tiny helper – after a disastrous substitute Santa last year, we were informed by our 11-year-old niece that there was no need to ask Father Christmas to call with his large sack during the daytime, as has been his wont, but that perhaps Cousin K (confusingly known as Daughter J elsewhere in my meanderings) would like to play the role of Mother Christmas with Niece H helping to hand out the pressies (which were already amassing around the tree and encroaching dangerously ever further across the floor) to the assembled family members. And so it came to pass that, as we contemplated a second go at the Mimosas (I later found that this is simply the American name for Bucks Fizz and I feel cheated), a cheesy grin and a flash of red-and-white appeared at the front room window, presaging the arrival not of wise men but of two intrepid women of the J tribe, gloriously accoutred and (hilariously) bewailing that they had come to bring us presents but had somehow forgotten to pack any or even to bring a sack at all! Although lacking in double-entendre opportunity this year (Santa’s sac having almost always reduced the supposedly adult members of the family to veritable chuckle-jelly), the appearance of a normally responsible 28-year-old businesswoman in an oversized Santa suit alongside her young cousin also in red but with reindeer hair bunches and shuffling on her knees on an old pair of gardening shoes provoked much merriment.
    Where’s yer sack Santa?
    Of course, there were the usual suggestions of locking them outside to parade up and down the street, but despite their apparent lack of presents, we wanted their help in dismantling the living room parcel mountain before the cat beat us to it. 
  • The aforementioned Santa suit has more than proved to be money well spent. It has previously been modelled by ALL Daughter J’s immediate family members at different times – a rite of passage for each, perhaps, although Mr J is showing worrying signs of attachment to it, having once again this year been co-opted to dress up and hand out presents to neighbouring children, this time at the local refugee hotel. A highlight I missed by contriving to be in a pub drinking wine and eating pizza with Pilates friends.
  • Panto!!!
    Splendidly ugly sisters
    Oh no it wasn’t! But, oh yes it was, and possibly the best one for a few years. We think it was our sixth visit to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford en extended famille and this year’s Cinderella was just the right mix of traditional story and format, Guildford panto regular features, and good quality singing and dancing. And pump-action water pistols. (We would have asked for our money back if the Twelve Days of Christmas custard-pie and water fest had been missing, but I made sure to seat myself well away from the aisle – a definite benefit of repeat attendances)
  • A veritable farmyard of pigs in blankets. Apparently Daughter J had eaten 35 pigs in blankets on her last shift before Christmas. This was a worry, as I only had 42 in the freezer, but as she pointed out, that was still sufficient for each of the other Christmas diners to have at least one.
  • Homemade Christmas pudding – another advance worry, as we had forgotten to eat the ‘test’ one so had no idea whether this might be a dismal failure. At the last minute, after over an hour of steaming, Mr J stuffed a coin into the pudding for one of us to find, only for it to pop out as soon as I cut the first slice. I needn’t have fretted; it was every bit as good as a Waitrose one and had only taken 10 hours or so to produce.
  • A perfectly decent lunch! There was to be no grilling of things that should have been roasted (a past faux pas), nor annihilation-grade boiling of sprouts,
    A surplus sprout
    nor leaving of vital elements of the meal in the microwave to be discovered on Boxing Day. Somehow everything fell into place just fine. Not the best result from a blog-posting point of view – ahem, must try harder next year.
  • The Boxing Day walk. This year, it was decided we should visit an ornate chapel in deepest Surrey and then drive to Leith Hill for a brisk walk up to the Tower where a lovely little café would reward us with cake (as if we didn’t have enough of the sweet stuff at home). The chapel was closed. The Tower café was closed. Rellies now suing under the Trades Description Act (does that still exist? apparently so, at least in part).
    A clear lack of cake here
    I see no cake!!!
    We pointed out that the ‘walk’ part of the deal had been achieved as planned – but somehow this was not enough. Until we provided cake at home, at which point all was forgiven (we think). 

Daughter J has been back at work for days now. Her brother is safely ensconced in The Maldives, also working (so he says). I’m already half-way through the washing of bed-linen and we are confident that all surplus calories will have been consumed before the final stroke of midnight on NYE.

All of the above pales into insignificance however on hearing that Mr J’s longest-standing friend, whose mother served alongside Mr J’s own mother in Suffolk’s National Childbirth Trust when their boys were tiny together, died unexpectedly two days before Christmas. The news didn’t reach us until our guests were leaving. To say this is a shock doesn’t begin to cover it. 

As a result of this dreadful information, the highlights of our Christmas do not feel guilty or hollow now, but richer and more gratefully recorded.

RIP Oliver.




The “wrong” Santa, and other tales of Yule

Another year turns… In fact, it turned a week ago but clearly my New Year’s Resolutions don’t run to increased energy for blogging.

As is usual for this dark time of year, I have well-intentioned lists a-plenty, but little energy to achieve the tasks I’ve boldly put upon them. This may not be being helped by my latest madcap idea of Time Limited Eating (TLE), having read an article in the Times (so of course it must be right) which suggested that restricting the window in which one eats and increasing the length of periods of fasting is the best way to lose those extra pounds gained over Christmas. I’ll report more on this when I’ve given it a fair trial. Bizarrely though, I have managed to cut out breakfast and evening snacking completely for 5 days in a row, with almost no ill-effects and an immediate loss of a few pounds. Time will tell.

I was spurred on to take this challenge by the awful question on New Year’s Day – How on this calorie-abundant earth can I lose the many pounds I’ve gained before squeezing myself into the costume I was fitted for before Christmas? Every year it is the same story – I lose all reason over the holiday period and honestly believe that it won’t be that hard to shed the Christmas excess come January; having eaten six times the normal quantity of food almost exclusively consisting of high fat or high sugar items instead of my usual sensible balanced diet, for 10 whole days while our house is full of people doing the same (so who am I to be left out even if I do have to cook and/or procure most of it), it will surely be simple to cut back to the normal levels in January, banishing the alcohol I only really drink in December anyway, which will automatically lead to a reduction in waistline and rapid shrinkage all round. It matters not that this has never happened. Selective memory is a wonderful thing, as is false logic and hope. Ah well, TLE – as with all good TLAs – will be a useful ally.  As I say, we’ll wait and see.

Christmas itself is already becoming a distant memory, but I have retained a few highlights seared on my grey-matter to add to the soon-to-be-muddled Chrimble memory-banks. So I record these here for future reference as much as anything.

Our decorations mostly went up just the day before our guests arrived, much to the consternation of my neighbour’s four-year-old who was apparently quite distressed that we had plonked an unadorned fir tree in our window, pestering his mother to let him come round and ‘help’ us with it, as we clearly didn’t know how to do it properly. This did, however, allow Mr J’s 10-year-old niece from America to dress the tree with me, to the loud accompaniment of ‘the Christmas CD’ (obligatory for the past 20 years at least for this part of the proceedings)  whilst her father attempted to sleep off his jet-lag in the room above. (“Why didn’t you sleep on the plane Dad? I did, and now I’m not jet-lagged at all? You should have slept!” How we laughed, well, except ‘Dad’ of course.)

We have now packed them all away (the decorations, not the guests, although we DID finally pack them onto a plane home just before New Year’s Eve) and the house has returned to its somewhat dispiriting self. 

We stuck to our usual format for festivities as far as possible this year. Despite anticipation that this would be the first time since Covid that we had all the Jillingses in one place for Yuletide, one of them chose not to come after all (a long story) so we were six. The missing brother/uncle usually carves the turkey for me – Mr J confidently and competently stepped into the breach here and all was well. However, this same missing brother/uncle has played a crucial part in the proceedings in recent years by gamely donning our rather tacky but effective Santa suit in secret and mysteriously appearing at the front door with a sack of presents to give out on Christmas morning.

This year, Son Jillings is nominated as a last-minute replacement (after a fictional secret ballot) and before even a sip of alcohol has passed his lips, poor chap, he sneaks off to pull on the red and white uniform and wig/beard/spectacles combo. Following the usual well-trodden process, he lets himself out of our back living room garden door, tiptoes carefully up the side passage, through the side gate and appears at the front window, waving past the now twinkling Christmas tree and HoHoHo-ing for all he’s worth. (We forget, I suppose, that this guy has fronted live bands and is no stranger to over-the-top stage performances, so despite the early hour (this was only midday!), he was in his element.) He knocks at the front door. We eagerly rush to open it – all of us except young niece who throws herself onto her father’s lap and sobs – “It’s the wrong Santa!” Panic ensues and the remaining Jillingses convene in the kitchen, deciding ultimately that this inferior Santa should disrobe immediately and we’ll all pretend nothing has happened. Best never discuss it again and carry on regardless.

On returning to the living room, we cheerily suggest Daughter J might like to explore the pile of presents under the tree and she begins to hand them out to a slightly nervous (and in places tear-stained) familial circle. Into which circle Son J, safely back in his Christmas jumper, boldly strides and announces “Have I missed anything? I was in the bathroom – that was the longest poo I’ve ever had!” – as the room dissolves in laughter, to massive adult relief and equally large cheered-upness from our junior member. No idea what we’ll do about Santa next year. 

There was also something of a palaver with an elf. The elf (of ‘elf on the shelf’ fame in previous years) emerged blushing from the tree decorations box, to horrified gasps from niece Jillings. ‘You can’t touch him,’ she screamed. Now, I was all at sea with this one and the other elderly J’s were variously trying to sleep or sensibly busying themselves well clear of the decoration rituals. Having no real clue as to what I could do next, and with the beady eyes of said elf boring right into mine, I grasped desperately for inspiration. I recalled that we would normally move the elf each evening so that he appeared on a different shelf or ledge each new morning over the Christmas period, or at least when there was a young person in residence who cared about such antics. So, I decided to lift him out of the decorations box and carry him carefully and ceremoniously up the stairs, ensuring that he did not ‘wake.’ Poor elf – must have got confused during his long sleep but we’d better put him somewhere dark where he could continue his slumbers. I found an obscure first floor understair cupboard (one of our finest house-design ideas, in fact) and lay him gently within.

The next day I remembered to move him before niece J was awake, and plonked him on a ledge above the hallway. At some point on Christmas Eve, he mysteriously migrated to a pewter tankard  atop the dresser overlooking our dining table and was joined in the adjacent tankard by a pink-clad female elf who had apparently flown all the way from the United States of Amelfica to be with us. Or more accurately, had been gift-wrapped to disguise her as one of the presents from American relatives and stowed away in Dad’s suitcase for the journey, thus avoiding awkward immigration procedures and forbidden pre-Christmas Eve appearances.

Once Christmas Eve had passed, we saw no more of this pink elf. She had apparently flown back to the North Pole, to return at Thanksgiving next year. This is all terribly important, and we were lucky to get away with our own sleeping elf. Niece J was ok about him because she rationalised that there had been no small children in our house since her previous visit for him to watch over. Clearly when she was last here over Christmas, aged only 7, she was less entrenched in such ridiculous stories (bah humbug, I hear you hurl at me) and didn’t register that the elf was still hanging around well past Christmas Eve – he probably wanted to make the most of the plentiful alcohol and mince pies on offer after dark, and of course we don’t do Thanksgiving over here. Now I’ve studied the story in detail, I will either forget it by next year (well, that’s more than likely) or the new Middle School-attending niece will pooh-pooh the whole rigmarole and deem us mad. 

Other highlights?

  • The making of a perfect roux sauce – tho’ I say it myself – using oat milk for the first time. I began to announce that this sauce was therefore vegan, when I realised that it would only be so if I hadn’t first melted a large cube of butter and finally added half a basinful of cheddar cheese to it. And in any case, it was now holding together various different fish chunks and several boiled eggs in my now traditional Christmas Eve fish pie – so why was that even relevant?
  •  The last-minute decoration of my Christmas cake by Daughter and Niece. In previous years, this has resulted in somewhat hit and miss affairs, but this time it was beautiful. We always use the same old Santa figures, but this time I’d found some festive sprinkles in Waitrose and presented these to the decorating team, expecting them to liberally and randomly ‘sprinkle’ them over the top. In fact, they created pretty little holly sprigs – clearly what they were designed for once I had thought about it – which was charming. Leaving the icing so late also had the benefit that it had not hardened into a carapace requiring pickaxes by the end of cake consumption time.
  • Daughter J’s cat arrived with her on Christmas Eve and stayed for a few days after she had disappeared for a well-earned New Year holiday with her friends. He has a very fancy litter tray which automatically sifts and removes any deposits (and counts them – a source of fascination, if not obsession, for his kitty-sitters), but he decided this was making life too easy for us, and challenged us to clear up a couple of alternatively-located offerings just to show us who was boss.

So now we are back to reality, an empty and still decaying house, but with the addition of a bird-table which is proving a massive distraction as it is perfectly positioned for viewing from my office window. 

Other than that, we are left to ponder a) should we eat the chocolate that our son left behind, or own up and send it to him and b) why is there a walnut and a long cardboard tube on every bed?






Little scrubber girl

I think I have finished my Christmas present shopping, most of it in person in the shops. Perhaps the postal strike has had an unintended consequence in returning shoppers to the town centres. Or perhaps that’s just me. I realise that most retailers don’t actually use the Royal Mail, but we’ve had a fair number of thefts from doorsteps in our street and I don’t really trust half the courier firms.

Anyway, yay for the presents, and yay also for successfully stocking the food cupboards (and the hiding-places around the house where I may have secreted some of the snack items in order to reduce temptation before our guests arrive).  Even better, I have received an encouraging little email from Waitrose confirming that the particular turkey I ordered has so far not succumbed to bird flu and we can pick him up on Christmas Eve as planned. Hopefully he will have succumbed to something else by then (sorry, in poor taste I know – although obviously my guests will hope the taste is as good as in previous years. Oops, again sorry!)

On other preparation fronts, we are not quite there yet. In a previous blog, I mentioned the new sofa bed, bedding and curtains for my office. All are now installed, but not without considerable angst this week as I discovered the curtain hooks and sliders on the existing curtain track are so old they snap very easily, leaving me with insufficient to hang the new pair. After a couple of failed attempts to purchase replacements (these are VERY old and definitely not a current design) or a whole new rail system, I resort to a plea on the street WhatsApp group – this is, after all, precisely what such a group should be for. Within minutes of my post, I had three encouraging responses. Sadly, unless one hitherto unfamiliar neighbour’s friend in Colchester comes up with the goods (!), this has still not unearthed exactly the same shape of glider-thingy – but I am nothing if not resourceful and I have managed some sort of compromise using a few of the gliders and hooks which had not shattered beyond usefulness, and a few almost compatible donated gliders which I have coaxed into a delicate balancing act. Son J will need to be gentle with them, but I’m sure he will be happy to do so in return for enjoying the rather impressive-looking double bed I have beautifully magicked up for him (as long as he also remembers not to try to sleep on the tippy bit against the wall….)

I realise that the exuberant and positive vibe at the beginning of this post is somewhat ebbing away. In fact, it can ebb some more as I inform you that I spent half of this morning on my hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor to remove (or rather, TRYING to remove) a sticky residue left when I finally removed the masking tape which has been uselessly marking out our latest plan for the reconfiguration of our kitchen since September (a project which will run and run – just don’t ask). It turns out that (1) masking tape should not be left in situ for more than a couple of hours let alone a couple of months (humph – I know that NOW, but it doesn’t help at this point does it?) and (2) scrubbing frantically on all fours with a soapy sponge is not a recommended antidote to a streaming cold. After an indecorously sniff-filled but strangely not entirely ill-humoured hour or so I gave up the scrubbing, although not before I had established on a couple of patches that energetic elbow-grease would eventually do the trick. Thus I probably only have one-third of the wretched stuff left to tackle, so that’s something to look forward to when I feel a little less snotty – and hopefully before the clan descends.

And yes, it seems that I am already on my second cold of the season and I am not a happy bunny. I suppose on the plus side, my voice which had not completely returned after my last bout of coldiness, does not seem to have retreated any further down the octaves, so there is still hope that I will at least be able to belt out the tenor part of the better-known Carols from King’s as I peel the spuds on Christmas Eve – a ritual which is now just 7 days away and is an essential part of this hostess staying sane for the duration.

Don’t panic….

At least if I can coax my voice not to desert me completely, I’ll be able to sing along with the remaining scrubbing and am thinking to style myself the Little Scrubber Girl (à la Little Drummer Boy – ok, not ‘la’ but you get my drift) – 

Come they told me, a-scrub-a-dub-dub, A shiny floor to see, a-scrub-a-dub-dub, My finest elbow-grease, a scrub-a-dub-dub, To clean the mess with ease, a scrub-a-dub-dub, scrub-a-dub-dub, scrub-a-dub-dub, So to honour guests, a scrub-a-dub-dumb*, When they come.

Festive bleatings from this aspiring Rudolph.

Yours – OneCryingEyeAndOneRunningNose

All scrubbed out!

*Dumb possibly being the better option from the point of view of anyone else in the vicinity, but hey, it’s Christmas! Indulge me.



Pre-Christmas wins


It is less than two weeks until the first two of our Christmas guests arrive, and just 14 sleeps until Santa flies in.

I am not panicking. 

I could probably just cut and paste my blog from a previous year at this point and it would not be wildly inaccurate.  Same old, same old – hopefully without last-minute government intervention this year, but still possibly Covid or flu-affected just to add a layer of fret-inducing bother.

In my usual fashion, I lurch from confidence to dread and back again as the days tick past ever more quickly.  In an attempt to calm my nerves, I have set out my achievements so far. As a result, I am giving myself a virtual pat on the back – and hopefully if I continue with my Pilates efforts, perhaps in 2023 I will be able to give myself an actual pat on the back with my newfound flexibility – who knows?

So, here goes with the positives:

  • We have written and posted most of our Christmas cards (in the sure and certain knowledge that most of them won’t get there until Easter, and that many of our friends will have taken the more sensible approach and not bothered. We have received precisely zero cards through the post so far, which has spoiled my usual practice of scoffing at those which were clearly posted before actual December)
  • On the same theme – there was room in the strike-unemptied ‘priority’ postbox for my latest pile of cards (although in ramming them in, I inadvertently ejected several official-looking envelopes which it then took me several minutes to re-insert)
  • I have baked the Christmas cake (it looks burnt, but I think it always looks like this and I can shave off the worst of the charred edges before putting on the marzipan – if I remember where I’ve put the marzipan. I have wrapped the cake in greaseproof paper and foil and placed it on a shelf in full view, although this will not necessarily guarantee I can find it when it comes to marzipan day.)
  • I have successfully installed a new sofa-bed in my office so that Son J will have somewhere to sleep over the festive period. I have also feverishly ordered new bedding and new curtains for this room in an excited attempt to render it worthy of a Homes & Gardens shoot (if only I had refrained from painting tester patches on the walls 18 months ago, this room would look almost presentable, it being one of only 3 in the house which does not have some major structural fault or lingering evidence of previous disasters – as far as we know!)
  • I have finally been cast again as a Supporting Artist after fully one year of failing to be chosen, and have this week been fitted and styled for my role for a shoot in January (although all my work on The Crown Season 5 last year was clearly binned as there was no evidence of the scenes I was in at all, which is in fact more disappointing than not being able to see myself because I largely do this work out of curiosity rather than fame and like to see how the shots turn out. Also, last year I was cast as a Conservative Party faithful and this year they’ve decided I’m to be a Women’s Institute stalwart. Am I turning into my mother-in-law? Serious enquiry!!! To make matters worse, when I emerged from the changing room in my outfit (buttoned up blouse, chunky jacket and a kilt* (!!!), with sensible shoes and horrific tights, my fellow SAs waiting to be dressed all chorussed ‘Oh yes, that’s perfect!’ I’m trying, unsuccessfully, to take this as a compliment.)
  • I have amassed an enormous number of Nectar points during the year which I can now spend on Christmas calorific excess (fewer than last year though – I must be slipping)
  • We ordered parts and booked a bathroom company to instal a new shower before Christmas to replace the one which has leaked down into the kitchen (sadly, not all the parts arrived in time and the installation has had to be postponed until January. Mr J and I heaved the parts which did arrive – the heavier ones, obviously – up the stairs without breakage of either them or us, and hope that our guests appreciate the stylish way we’ve leant them up against the de-tiled bare plasterwork in what was previously a luxuriously spacious shower area which they will be unable to use. If they look closely they will be able to see an interesting detail of decades-old wallpaper, the uncovering of which gave some light relief to the otherwise somewhat testy exchanges between Mr J and myself during manoeuvres)
  • I have prepared sloe gin, which has been steeping nicely since September. So far, we have managed not to throw away the gin bottles into which the final product is to be decanted (there is still time…)
  • I have decided there is little point cleaning anything thoroughly until a couple of days before scheduled guest arrivals (this is a risk, of course, given that I could be stricken at any time by a lurgy which would render me incapable of cleaning anything in those final hours – I trust this is a risk that Mr J, in his backup role, is prepared for me to take)
  • In the ‘maintenance’ level of housework which is required in the meantime (I am not that bad!) I find that music helps and I engage Mr Spotify to make a playlist for me. And so it is I find myself cleaning the toilet whilst singing along to Abba’s The Winner Takes it All (obviously an octave lower than Agnetha) and then, as I swat away yet another new cobweb, I’m rewarded by the BeeGees with You Win Again. Truly I am winning at life! (although it does cross my mind that not only does Mr Spotify know what I’m doing and have access to my innermost thoughts, but also he has a worryingly cruel sense of irony)

So now I must drag myself away from such positive thinking and take some positive action or all this success will be wasted.

*another sign of ageing – one of the young dressers at Elstree who helped disrobe me and pack up my costume called across to her colleague to ask why there was a large safety pin on the kilt and could she remove it now? The other elderly SA in the changing room and I rolled our eyes theatrically (always hoping someone will spot our talent and give us a featured role – haha!) and explained that kilts always had those safety pins ‘back in the day’. A rare stylistic awareness on my part.




IMDb (In My Dreams, baby)

Just back from a three-night break in Cornwall where I completed two more stages of my everlasting South West Coast Path walk, and rounded Land’s End in the process.

I should be feeling energised and pleased with myself, but those feelings have already dissipated after returning home and I fear the next few months of sameness, shorter and colder days, decorating … and bloody CHRISTMAS! – will not be easy, despite my obviously privileged lifestyle. 

Ah well, looking back on my last blog post, perhaps I can hang my battered and jaded hopes on a glittering career in the arts.

Btw, I just idly wondered what IMDb* actually stands for. ‘In My Dreams, baby’ probably best fits the bill right now.

*obviously I can Google as well as the next person. It actually means the Internet Movie Database.

Follow one crying eye on