Once Upon A Christmastime

Memoirs of Christmases past

Memoirs of Christmases Past

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks for me recently. I always feel like November drags her heels and then December hurtles past me in a rush of festive panic! Between moving house, starting a new job and a couple of other very exciting things that I will be able to share very soon, I’ve taken some time out this week to ponder Christmases past. And it wouldn’t be a de-la-Haye Girls post without a list!

We buy a new ornament every yea. This one was from my dear friend Ross, as a moving in present
  • Christmas 2013 – The One With The Festive Washout: That year we were blighted with terrible floods and on Crimbo eve, a power line came down next to our family home, leaving us with very little to no power. Certainly not enough for Christmas dinner. E, ever the romantic, decided it was like being plunged into a Jane Austen novel and set about lighting candles and digging out the board games. I whinged so much about being cold that we decided to check ourselves into the local country club to warm up over the next few days!
Oh, this was also the year that E managed to get her story on to the front page! Shame they got her age wrong…
  • Christmas 2014 – The One In Japan: My dreams of a traditional “at-home” Christmas had to be postponed when I booked a job working abroad. Luckily, I had Vince with me to celebrate and we made the most out of our Japanese Christmas, complete with fried chicken. Yes, that actually is some sort of tradition over there – KFC on the big day! It was so unbelievably cold that year and even though I had to work on the 25th, it’s still one of my favourites. Never one to be outdone, E and the rest of the gang visited me earlier in the month and then headed to Dubai, ready to spend Christmas Day on the beach.
I know you can’t feel it, but honestly it was so nippy. The family and Osaka Joe
  • Christmas 2016 – The One In The Middle Of The Sea: I did manage to have Christmas 2015 at home, but by the following year I was off again, working on one of the world’s largest cruise ships, the Oasis of the Seas. I have to admit, I didn’t “get the feeling” very much that year. Perhaps it was the warm weather? Christmas in a bikini just doesn’t cut it for me. I remember I didn’t even decorate my cabin. I also had far too much fun in the crew bar the night before and spent the rest of the day paying for it!
Vince and I onboard in 2016

So what would my title for Christmas 2020 be? The one with Coronavirus? The one to be jolly careful? The one we all remember? Perhaps I’ll set for; the one with the blog. ~L.

Season’s greetings, gang

My Ends

Get out exploring with E.

Since the late 90s, the de-la-Haye ancestral seat has been on the outskirts of a small village on the borders of Surrey, Kent and the Sussexes. And by ancestral seat, I mean a small, farmer worker’s cottage and when I say late 90s, that’s the late 1990s. Still, you get my drift…

The ‘Rona and ensuing lockdown, partial lifting, tiering, rumoured circuit-breaker, and whatever comes next, have meant that the vast majority of us have been at home much more than BC (before Covid). Throughout April, again like many millions of us, I was uber busy establishing my home office, doing my bit to build the business as a viable virtual entity and baking and eating. When I look back, I reflect that all I did in April was work, sleep, bake, eat, repeat. I’m delighted to report that I smashed the national average weight gain of the Corona stone by a gut-busting 124 per cent.

May brought with it gorgeous weather, lighter evenings and futile attempts by me to fit into my summer clothes. I chomped my way through my final Bosh Boys’ choc-chip cookie – those zesty circles of delight are so addictive – laced-up my old trainers and started walking. (You’re not fooled by the “old trainers” line are you? You know me well enough now to be confident that I totally had to order three pairs of new trainers – pink, blue and green, thanks for asking – before I could contemplate hitting the tarmac.) Very slowly, but always upliftingly, me and Steve (my husband) started to explore our patch. We’ve lived here 23 years and discovered more about our local area in the first 23 days of walking than in all the previous years.

We stumbled across – literally – an airfield. Yup, an airfield. Three kilometres from our front door and you are standing in the middle of an airfield. Almost a quarter of a century living here and we hadn’t spotted this! It was the orange wind socks that gave it away. In the other direction, and on an exceptionally blowy day in May, we found Dry Hill trig point (Google trigonometric surveying, if curious). For a cartophile like me, this was thrilling. The highest point around, site of an Iron Age hillfort, a Scheduled Monument and just 2.8 kilometres away. Returning from Dry Hill we came across Matthew’s Bug Hotel, a landscaped resort for local insects, including porticoed entrance and detached solarium. We’ve walked past the bug hotel heaps of times this summer and every time I wonder who Matthew is. I hope he’s enjoyed this bit of woodland as much as I have.

Matthew’s Bug Hotel – should’ve been called an Air Bee’n’Bee

We’ve bravely crossed fields occupied by cows with menace in their eyes and followed a path across another that had a sign on the gate advising caution as police dogs trained there. We decided against using the permissive right of way across a local field that had a bull for a resident, although I subsequently read on a local community page that he’s very docile and fine with walkers. Maybe next time.

Some days, we’ve channelled our inner River Phoenix à la “Stand by Me” and crossed the main railway line to London at two different pedestrian level crossing. On other days we have, or rather I have, gone full Roberta Bobbie “Daddy, my Daddy” Waterbury and waved hello to passing trains from the Mill Lane bridge, though not with my red bloomers. I’ve had two toots and several waves back.

Dashing across the bridge to announce the winner of “Pooh Sticks”

We’ve played Pooh Sticks at Pooh Bridge in the Five Hundred Acre Wood, the inspiration for A A Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood. We’ve walked and cycled past Gulledge Farmhouse, which is Grade II* listed, but which now looks to be unoccupied and seems to stare at you from blackened windows. It is well on the way to Seriously Spooky classification. We’ve crossed the entrance-way to the 15 Century manor house used as a filming location for both “Anne of the Thousand Days” and “The Ghost Goes Gear”. On a bright Sunday morning, and with both Steve and my mum for company, we strolled to the ruins of 17 Century Brambletye House. Another bright weekend saw us puffing up the slope of the Greensand Ridge to Toy’s Hill but it was so worth it for truly spectacular views over the Weald of Kent from the top. As well as menacing cows and (allegedly) docile bulls, we’ve seen horses, sheep, goats, deer, llamas, ducks, geese, swans, pheasants, a heron, two owls, a very inquisitive fox and more squirrels than you can shake a stick at. We also inadvertently trespassed at Lingfield Racecourse, but legged it before the Rozzers could collar us!

The spectacular ruins of Brambletye House

Covid has ruined so many plans this year, and it’s not finished with us yet. Very unexpectedly, I’ve found exploring locally has been a silver lining. In anticipation of further confinement, I’ve spent a couple of hours this week elbow deep in OS Explorer maps. A Grade I listed windmill and Octavia Hill’s cottage currently top the “to do” list. In the interests of full disclosure, I have to concede that a pair of those cute and oh-so-environmentally-sound Allbirds boots rank pretty high up the list too – well, I can achieve anything in the right pair of shoes, even a winter of lockdown! ~ E

Happy trails, everyone!

Living The Cream In Cornwall

Go adventuring with Lily in Cornwall.

My feet were getting itchy. Maybe it’s the nature of my job, always being on the move, living out of a suitcase, in and out of various theatres and auditions, but I can’t go too long in the same place. Now I know that opportunity to travel is a privilege, especially during a global pandemic but there are so many ways we can feel like we’re on vacay without, you know, actually leaving the country. A couple of years ago my boyfriend and I took a spontaneous trip to the Cornish coast for a long weekend after I had been working in Devon and it was one of my favourite places we’ve ever visited. If this year has taught me anything it’s that there’s so much for us to see and love right here in Blighty.

Exploring Padstow

We drove down via South Wales, as we decided to drop in on my Nanny for a socially-distanced dinner date. This split our six hour journey into two more manageable chunks. Podcasts on – Up and Vanished is our current obsession – we cruised down to the edge of the country to our chocolate box Airbnb in Ruthvoes.

Cornish Coastline

This pretty little hamlet is perfectly situated for easy access to both sides of the Cornish coast. We decided to spend our first day exploring, on foot and with a pub or two en route. The rain was torrential but with brollies up and wellies on, it was joyous to be out and about exploring somewhere unfamiliar.

Now I mean this with every fibre of my being, Cornwall is the Paris of the UK. You will not have a bad meal out. So much of the produce is farm fresh and – bonus time – the portions are generous. Seriously, the best Chinese food we’ve ever tasted we stumbled upon in Saint Columb!

Saint Austell

Day Two and the weather decided to warm up. We visited a local owl sanctuary, aptly named Screech. We had it on very good authority that this was an excellent day out, getting to see these magical creatures in their natural environment really brought out my inner Ravenclaw. And you can get a cream tea in the cafe for £5. It’s a hard yes from me.

It was only a twenty minute drive to reach our next destination, the gorgeous hidden treasure of Saint Austell. I’ve never been before and I wish we’d spent more time here. Less busy than Padstow or Newquay but just as Instagram-able. All the local businesses had Covid-safe procedures in place, allowing everyone to really relax and possibly, just for a moment, forget all the turbulence of the last six months. I could’ve quite happily have stayed in Saint Austell, drinking Aperols all evening and falling asleep under the stars.

The following morning we wanted to check out our old haunts from our last holiday. The last time I was in Tintagel I desperately wanted to buy a ceramic piece from the local potter but I was worried it wouldn’t survive the car journey home, especially if I was driving. This time though, my mind was made up. I selected a beautiful cornflower-blue coloured bowl that I’m sure E would covet; she LOVES her ceramics.

A quick sidebar about driving in Cornwall: sometimes you are better off following the signs and not your SatNav. James Nesbit – our SatNav has a Northern Irish accent – sent us down an impossibly long twisty road that we then had to reverse back up when we almost hit a truck coming the other way.

We eventually made it to Padstow or PadSTEIN as the locals call it, thanks to their local celebrity. On our previous trip to Cornwall our day in Padstow was totally overshadowed by a downpour, being attacked by wasps in a tearoom and very, very bad hangovers. We felt the town needed another chance. I’m sorry to report dear reader, it didn’t fair much better this time. The harbour is adorable but far too crowded, not ideal, even pre-pandemic. Beyond the crowds it has it charms which is why, of course, it is so very popular. Rather selfishly, I just wish there had been fewer tourists on the day we visited!

For our final couple of days we moved to a hotel in Newquay. The town has changed a lot since the post A-Levels surf and clubbing days of the early noughties. It is busy with families now, taking advantage of the water sports and beach front bars. We managed to catch the tail end of storm Francis for our last two days but this didn’t dampen our spirits. In fact, it gave me an excuse to buy a new raincoat, so happy days.

You could fill a lifetime of summers with trips down to the Cornish coast. There really is magic around every cove. Even with a dose of unseasonably poor weather, that Turner-esque sea breeze was a tonic in a strange, Covid-compliant summer. I can’t recommend a Cornish adventure highly enough.

I am the daughter of Earth and Water

Percy Shelley

If you want to see more from my Cornish staycation, check out my Instagram and let me know where you’re off to next.~L.