This year, being Father Christmas was a much nicer happier experience than last year. One of the main reasons was the almost complete and utter lack of any snow. I personally loathe the stuff and I am still, to this very day, perplexed by the sort of people who pay vast sums of money to travel the globe trying to find it. And when they do find it, they then attach planks of wood to their feet and slide down the bloody stuff. And I am always tremendously sympathetic when they arrive back at Gatwick or Heathrow with compound fractures to both lower legs. I always try to take their minds of the intense pain by pointing out how nice their out of season sun tans look. It doesn't always work to be honest.
The grotto was again located in the Dog Collar Museum at Leeds Castle in the courtyard next to the Fairfax Hall restaurant. It was a nice walk through a faux winter wonderland dotted with deer and penguins. The path was a raised walkway that thankfully only one small child managed to plummet off during our run. The evening shows were again like last year up in the castle only this time no child presented with a name as good as "Lost in Chaos" from 2010, though we did have one little girl bowl up called "Twinkle", which is all well and good when you're 7 years old, blonde and cute. It might be a tad less suitable when you're 36, vastly over weight and with six screaming children running amok in your council flat. I stayed at my sister's house in Stockbury for the entire run this time, failing miserably to get snowed into the castle this time around. I also failed miserably to get a girlfriend to come and stay with me for a romantic weekend at the castle early in the run by getting dumped before reaching the required date. C'est la vie.
Staying at my sisters is always lovely as I am guaranteed a warm welcome from her and my brother-in-law Julian, and their two lovely dogs Charlie and Una. The food is good, the bed warm and comfy and, Eastenders aside, the entertainment mostly very agreeable. The only down side is the effort it takes to get into their house. It is perched at the top of a short steep hill just off the A249 and when it rains the ground and driveway churn up like very impressive impressions of Passchendale during the 1914-18 conflict. Added to this at the bottom of the hill Julian has recently installed a new security gate following recent thefts from his garden by some charming chaps who may or may not have a connection with Dale Farm near Basildon, if you follow my drift. The gate is sealed by a pretty much tamper proof padlock, the unlocking and re-locking of was one of my main duties during all my comings and goings from their house. They had supplied me with a key. On one of my first journeys back to their house in the pitch dark after an evening show, I drove up to the gates, got out the car, slithered and slipped my way to the gate, spent a few happy minutes swearing, sweating and cursing as I attempted to get the very small key into the lock and then coax it into opening. I finally succeeded - so back into the car, drive it through the gates, stop the other side and get out and re-lock the gates. The other side of the gate was even darker and wetter. I got out and immediately put my foot into a huge muddy puddle that sunk up to my lower ankle - good job my boots were high and waterproof. I took another step and instantly sank up to my mid-calf in thick black treacle-like mud that poured into the top of my boot and soaked my feet. My, how we laughed. But it was a small price to pay for such kindness and welcome from my sister and her husband. By the end of the stay my car looked like it had just been dragged out of a swamp - and so did I.
I finished on Christmas Eve at just after midday and drove up to Essex to spend Christmas Day with my lovely son James and his Mother. Tomorrow, the 27th, he and I head off down to Wales to visit my parents for a family New Year gathering at their house which should be very nice indeed. So for all their help and hard work at Leeds Castle this Christmas I would love to say a big thank you to: Darlene, Becky Lander, the incredible Dodd sisters (Becca, Jen and Pip), Sophie, Adam, Dallas for building the grotto, Pat and Alan, Barbara, Marina, Lyn Jones, Trisha, and Helen Ellis for proving that subtlety is just something that happens for other people. If I have forgotten anyone, I apologise.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!