I woke up on Thursday 30th December at 8am having been cold in the night and it was less than 15°C and dark. I went to Tez bar at 10am for my PCR test, on my way round I took a photo of the progress of the villa on the building site next door. I didn’t have any internet at home as it had lapsed on Christmas day, I needed to top up my phone credit and I ought to buy bread, there are no rules in Turkey about having to have a PCR test on entry but I wanted to be sure, so that I could get on with going out and about. After my test I went to the Turkcell shop where I found out my phone needed to be registered in Ortaca, which I couldn’t do until my PCR results. Here in Turkey all foreign phones have to be registered if you are here after 3 months and it costs more in tax than my phone is worth so I was reluctant to bother with having a phone for now. I managed to extend my home internet for another 2 months and was told the price would be going up by 20% for 2022. On my way back home I bought bread and a simit for breakfast from the local bakery. Tez had said he would try to give me my results the same day but it would definitely be within 24 hours so I got on with unpacking, washing and various bits and bobs at home. I had a plain turkey ham sandwich for lunch, then got my remaining Morrison’s cherry bakewells out to have one for dessert, and was glad I had left the fridge freezer on with some food in so I didn’t have to go shoping straight away. The Turkish lira was now at 18 lira to the pound meaning my money was worth almost a third of what it was and prices in Dalyan were constantly being readjusted. While I had been away it had gone up to over 24 and the locals were really suffering. It was raining heavily all day and it was Bryan’s mom’s birthday today but I couldn’t join my friends yet, just to be on the safe side. Another friend of their’s, Jesper, who I also met in Vietnam was arriving tonight and I wouldn’t be able to join them until my result came back. I had a sore throat and was feeling a bit tired so I had another Turkey ham sandwich, a cherry bakewell, crisps and a couple of herbal teas with honey to sort me out. That evening I found out that my sister had tested positive, with no symptoms, on a lateral flow test and Sumo the dog had a funny cough/sneeze going on so I was a bit nervous for my PCR result from Tez. It came through at just after 10.30pm, so not bad for a 12.5 hour turn around at 300 lira (£16.70) and it was both good news and bad news! Although the document said negative on it, there was an additional comment that it wasn’t a suitable document to fly with, when I asked he said it was because my result was inconclusive and I had to isolate until they could do another test on Saturday!
Friday 31st December, the last day of a pretty unpredictable year, was not as planned either! My friends Mik, Hamish & Ania, Bryan & Kendra and Jesper were all in Dalyan to help celebrate the new year with me. Ann’s family were here too and we had plans for us all to go for a curry at Spice Garden. Due to the Corona situation Ann decided to cancel her small group and have a curry delivered at home. My friends were still going to go but, due to my inconclusive PCR result I had to cancel and isolate until tomorrow. I was gutted to have to cancel all our plans, including my hair appointment and hoped I could move it to another day before or on my birthday! On the Dalyan Corona heat map it was showing lots of cases at the moment and my hairdresser was fine for me to cancel and he moved Ania forward to 3pm. I decided to do an LFT, which I had brought with me and the result was negative, although I still felt incredibly tired and poorly. It was weigh-in day so, having had a monstrous consumption last week, I was not surprised that I had put on 0.75kg making me 1.75kg heavier than when I left Turkey for the Christmas holiday – not too bad I suppose and definitely worth all the food and drink I had! I was very happy to speak to Captain Caveman and he had been given his new schedule for 2022. As we expected, it would take a miracle for me to see him before September 2022 so we both resigned ourselves to that. Luckily we are both practical people and there wasn’t anything we could do about the situation, except to get on with it – I knew this might be the case when I chose to leave Vietnam and it was the risk we had to take if I wanted to see my family and friends and to look for paid work. Vietnam was slowly starting to open up but the likelihood of me getting back there, as a UK citizen, or for longer than a 30 day tourist visa were zero right now. I didn’t have any breakfast but I did have a hot sausage roll and red cabbage for lunch, I’d received offers of help with shopping (if I needed anything) from Jamie, Katrina and Tez so I felt fine plus I was fully stocked up in the freezer which I was so grateful for. In the afternoon I started to feel a bit run down and I looked pretty tired so I connected 2 Phong Nha friends together after discovering they were both in Dubai and didn’t know each other, I made chicken fajitas in the slow cooker, using one of the packet mixes I’d brought back from the UK and got on with organising our planned boat trips in early January, assuming I would be negative for Corona and we would all be able to go. This was also the second day in a row that I had no alcohol whatsoever as I wasn’t feeling up to it. I struggled to keep awake for the new year but once in bed I sent messages to family and then fell asleep before the UK midnight!
Jamie’s alarm went off at 5am on Wednesday 29th December and he went in the shower, my alarm went off at 5.20am and I had a bit of a panic. I had been dreaming that my passport was lost so I checked my bag, pockets, the set of printed documents and it wasn’t there. I went out in to the corridor, in my pyjamas and barefoot to the chair I had been sat on near the club lounge and saw a cleaner, she hadn’t seen my passport but had washed the floor! I went back to the room where Jamie was puzzled as I told him I dreamt my passport was left on a chair and I called reception. They had it! I got showered, dressed and packed before I went to get the passport and was so relieved, especially as we would still be on time. It was a short walk to Terminal 2 check-in desk but Jamie had thought we were flying from Terminal 1. We checked in, showed our vaccine papers and Turkish PLF then waited for Nanny Kay, Sioned and her children to turn up. Nanny Kay had overslept and didn’t arrive until later than arranged and she was in a bit of a flap, she had to borrow my hair brush and she looked very hot in her fur coat. There was still no sign of Sioned and she, like me, only had a Turkish phone so we couldn’t contact her. At 6.45am, 45 minutes after checking in, Nanny Kay and I decided to go through security while Jamie waited for Sioned so he could help her with luggage, checking in and the 2 small children. It turned out Sioned had also thought she was flying from Terminal 1 and so was quite late, Nanny Kay and I had eaten a toastie and drunk a tea by the time they all came through security. The flight from Manchester to Antalya was eventful; there was terrible turbulence soon after take-off and we all felt it, the staff were chirpy as anything and Jamie went for the white wine straight away. As Sioned had us there to help, she ordered Prosecco but I didn’t feel too well and by the time we were landing I was in the toilet with a dodgy tum and vomitting – just what I needed on a 3-4 hour car journey at the other end! After we landed, Sioned and I took the kids through the Turkish Citizens queue which was much quicker than Jamie and Kay’s foreigners queue and it took quite a while to get all the many suitcases. Jamie was worried he would get stopped because of having Graeme’s ashes in his luggage but luckily, they were only stopping every third person for extra checks at Antalya airport and we were through! The journey back in a mini-van was very tiring but the kids were super well behaved and we made it back to Dalyan in about 4 hours! I’d booked an official PCR test in at Tez bar for 10pm but by the time we got there it was closed and so I dragged my cases to Lukka as it started to rain, to see if Jamie, Mehmet or Appo could help me with the large suitcase. While I waited for my PCR test result I had specifically decided not to arrange to meet my friends who had arrived in Dalyan today. Because they were unable to contact me they were sat in Lukka bar, already fairly merry, waiting to catch me as I returned home. I kept my mask on and told them my situation and that my Mom had tested positive for Corona but they didn’t care and all hugged me! Hamish, the Londoner bought us all a shot of Jägermeister, Mik tried to swerve his and was the most drunk. I had a beer and they finished their drinks and went back to their villa (next door to Jamie’s), with arrangements for me to message them after my PCR test tomorrow at 10am (Tez had rescheduled). Jamie had arranged to meet Ann, Jax and Lee in Lukka so they came in and we had the same situation. Appo, Yasemin and Mehmet were all really happy to see me and Jamie and there were more hugs – I really hoped my test would be negative and that I wasn’t going to give everyone Corona for the New Year, or stop them from being able to travel home at the end of their holidays! Safely back home I decided I was hungry and warmed up a couple of sausage rolls (which turned out to be cheese rolls) which I’d got from Emma and were in the freezer. It was nice to be back ‘home’!
Tuesday 28th December didn’t quite go according to plan; Mom was still waiting on her results from yesterday’s PCR test but Dad and I decided to do a lateral flow test. As we waited Ma started cooking us all a breakfast and I started to worry if I was positive I wouldn’t be able to go back to Turkey. I was meant to be leaving in a few hours and, although Turkey had no requirement for me to have a PCR test to enter the country, I couldn’t really risk being put in quarantine on arrival if I still went. To pass some time I scrolled through Facebook and saw that in Vietnam now the authorities were carrying out door to door checks to find people who had yet to be vaccinated and giving out jabs – imagine that in the western world with anti-vaxers! The 15 minute timers went off; Dad and I were both negative and we were so pleased. I decided to leave in the next hour, I checked the bus, tram and train times and found that, due to Corona, there were some train cancellations and Dad was insistent I needed to leave ASAP. At the time Mom and I thought he was being a bit pushy at me going but it would turn out that Dad was absolutely right, if I’d not left when I did I wouldn’t have got there! I said my goodbyes to Dad and Mom drove me to the tram stop with a big, heavy case and a smaller hand luggage case. I almost went back home as I started to have a bit of a dodgy tum coming on, but I took an imodium, said goodbye and got on the tram to the train station. As I paid the unmasked conductor who was wearing a lanyard with sunflowers on (which means she has a hidden disability) I wondered if I was doing the right thing by leaving and I had tears in my eyes that rolled down my cheeks as we left Halfway. When I got off the tram at Sheffield train station I was desperate for the toilet, couldn’t carry both cases at once and the lift to go to the platform level was on a go slow. After a cumbersome pulling and pushing of luggage in a public toilet I had to retrace my steps to go back to the footbridge level and over to the ticket office. A number of trains were delayed or cancelled, the station was busy with post Christmas travellers but about 60% had masks on now – a massive change since my experience 17 days ago. I was reluctant to use the machines in case I booked a train which wasn’t going and when I spoke to the very helpful woman at the ticket desk it was a good job I chose that. I had 10 minutes to get the ticket and get to the platform as the train for Manchester Piccadilly was on it’s way, she mentioned to check when I arrived but the trains from Manchester to the airport were getting cancelled. It cost me just under £30 because I’d not been able to book in advance and off I went. The train (delayed by a welcome 5 minutes) was busy but not packed and, as I got on I heard that the Sheffield to London train which had a lot of people waiting for it, was cancelled – I was lucky I wasn’t going back to Heathrow! On the train there was free WiFi so I checked the connecting airport train times and found that I had 3 minutes to change trains if this one got in on time. As everyone got off the train on the furthest platform from where I needed to be, I had to push my way in the opposite direction against all the other passengers in search of the lift. I got up to the footbridge and hurried along to the lift to take me down to Platform 13 where the train was already in and about to go. The lift was out of order and I was going to have to carry both cases down the stairs if I was to be able to get a train in the next 2 hours! I grabbed the handles of one case as a young man came running to get the same train and it all happened rather quickly; he picked up my big suitcase with me and we ran down the stairs together, shouting to the guard to hold the train doors! We made it and I was so thankful as the train was empty, it was the last one to the airport for a while and I would probably have missed it, or hurt myself! I was so grateful that the guy was helpful and could see I was struggling and I almost cried! I logged on to the free internet and let my Mom know I had made it, unfortunately during my journey Mom’s confirmation that she had tested positive for Corona and that her operation was cancelled had come through, she had completed the track and trace details for the family and let them know. We were all so disappointed for her but I just hoped she wouldn’t be ill with it, Gayle and the family were all fine! I was about to get off the train so I quickly responded to the friend I would be meeting when I arrived at Manchester airport to let him know that I would be at the Radisson Blu hotel soon and would come straight to his room. I’d arrived at Manchester airport train station at just after 3.30pm and there were very few people on the train or in the area. I seemed to be more proficient with the luggage as I walked towards Terminal 2 and to the hotel. My friend, Jamie, had booked us in to the Radisson Blu hotel for a night and he was waiting in room 922 so I went straight up, still in my mask and winter coat. We had a lovely room with a king size bed and already he had his trolley with 3 suitcases on, plus hand luggage – his story was that he was not giving up his trolley which he had put a pound in as he would need it tomorrow and he had a Christmas tree and half his husband’s ashes in the luggage so it had to stay in the room! I was about to get my 2 remaining cherry bakewells out when Jamie said to get ready as we were off to the club lounge. For an extra £18 we were able to book in until 9pm for free drinks and nibbles and I didn’t need telling twice! We went masked up but there were no staff, just help yourself so I had a beer, Jamie had a white wine and soda and we sat in a quiet corner. I told him about the family’s Corona situation and that I’d tested negative. He had been vaccinated and had already had the virus in November so he wasn’t unduly worried but I decided I would tell the other 2 friends we were travelling with in case they were worried. The nibbles were not too plentiful and so at 6.30pm we gave up our free bar, which we had easily got our money’s worth from, to go to meet Nanny Kay for dinner. On the way to meet her in the reception of the Clayton hotel Jamie managed to get us lost and we had to do an assault course style journey to get there, he also managed to drop 3 bank cards in the wet mud on the way but we luckily noticed! The restaurant was empty but they wouldn’t let us go in because we hadn’t booked so we booked for in 15 minutes time and found a quiet corner in the bar to sit at. While Jamie went to get a bottle of wine for us to share I was about to let Nanny Kay know I was worried I may be carrying Corona and that my Mom was positive when she started to tell me how she had been ill recently with a virus. So that was a bonus and we went in to dinner with our wine and had some lovely food. I had the soup and a beef dish which was massive and very tasty but I had to take half back to the room. We left at a reasonable time and arranged to meet at the terminal at 6am tomorrow so we could check in, another friend and her 2 kids would also be joining us. When we got back to our hotel Jamie and I had another drink in the hotel bar and then I realised I still needed to complete the Turkish PLF and check-in online so we decided we had better go back to the room to do that. Jamie had more wine and I had trouble with the checking-in online so went to go to reception for them to print it for me. On the way I got an error message and sat down on a chair to resubmit my passport details before continuing to get my print out. Back in the room I put my printouts on top of my hand luggage and we both set alarms as well as having a wake up call as we didn’t want to overlay or for anything to go wrong!
After the excitement of Christmas, Monday 27th December was a very quiet day. By the time I got up my Mom was already back from her pre-booked drive through PCR test which she had to have before her hip operation on Thursday – the results would come back tomorrow. I was feeling a bit better, mainly because I had put my symptoms in to the NHS symptom checker and come to the conclusion that I had an allergy, which I had blamed on Sumo, the dog, as he’s very fluffy and moults quite a bit. We’d been testing negative on lateral flows so we were confident my Mom would be ok and I’d still be fit to fly back to Turkey on Wednesday. Mom had been told that she now had to isolate for the next 3 days so by default so were Dad and I. Having a Lemsip and an antihistamine sorted me out, Ma & Pa were also fine and agreed I seemed to be a bit better since I got back from Gayle’s so it could be the dog. It wasn’t a day for starting the diet and I had toast for breakfast then a whole chocolate orange for lunch – it’s allowed at Christmas time! That night was my last night with my parents so we had an isolating soirée as a bit of a send off. My Mom made another delicious dinner of steak with mushrooms, onions, onion rings, sweetcorn and a jacket potato and I struggled to fit it all in. I had to force down the Christmas pudding and (tinned) custard after a short intermission, knowing this would be the last English dessert for at least 6 months! I’d only managed one glass of red wine, a third of a bottle of prosecco and a whiskey and green ginger but I did have a suitcase to pack! Tomorrow I was meant to be meeting people at the pub at Sheffield train station to say bye but I thought better of it, given that the amount of cases was rising fast and a few more people couldn’t come because they had people at home with the virus. It was very sad that yet another year was coming to an end without seeing so many of my friends and I was lucky to have spent time with the people I did, given the pandemic situation.
It was no surprise that I felt rough when I woke up on Sunday 26th December, Boxing Day. I’d had wine, gin and Tia Maria last night and had also eaten so much stuff that might make me have a bad reaction. It was after midnight when we all went to bed but Morgan had to sleep on the sofa as April was already in bed and was feeling unwell, saying she was hot but to touch she was cold. Neil had not yet hung up his pinny and was back in the kitchen making us all a full English breakfast. I felt like I had a bit of a cold now so I was grateful for a cooked breakfast, plenty of orange juice and a paracetamol. The food was fantastic; bacon, 2 different types of sausages, hash brown, beans, mushrooms, toast (and for the others there were tomatoes and fried eggs! I’d barely had time to clean my teeth, get dressed and finish my cup of tea before my Dad was ready to get off home, he and Mom had already packed up the car and had their coats on. I had a bit of a dodgy tum (hardly surprising) as I tend to do after eating sausages and I also felt like I needed some fresh air as I’d not been outside since the 23rd. I decided I would walk home and, after saying goodbyes and thank yous, I set off down the hill. It was a nice walk as I strolled past where we used to live and along the very quiet streets, past the church and home. I needed a lemsip and I was worried I might have Corona because of the sore throat and having a bunged up nose but I didn’t take a lateral flow test as I’d eaten and drank so decided to wait – none of us were going anywhere or seeing anyone today. We still had some gifts to unwrap under the tree at my parents so we did those and I had got mom some big warm socks for after her operation, thinking she might not be able to get her slippers on, I got Dad some chocolates and between them some more Turkish delight and some nice chocolate biscuits to have with their cups of tea. Ma & Pa had given me some money, undies and another 2 chocolate oranges – I was very grateful and happy. I had a hot bath, using some of my new products and then went to bed with a hot lemsip to sweat it out and by 6pm I felt a lot better. My parents had already eaten their tea but had saved me some beans as we were all so over-indulged that we just fancied beans on toast! I still wasn’t sure if I had Corona so tomorrow I would do a lateral flow test, my Mom also was booked in to have her pre-op PCR test and would need to isolate. After a couple of whiskey and green gingers with hot water I went to bed early, I also Googled where the nearest place was if I wanted to book in for a PCR test, unfortunately the nearest one was booked up and had no walk-ins so it would be 7.5 miles away by car.
When I woke up on Christmas Day (Saturday 25th December) I could hear my sister talking to the dog, Sumo, who was opening one of his presents from underneath the tree. I also felt a little bit out of sorts and my voice had gone. Neil made me some buttered cranberry toast for breakfast as the others were having scrambled eggs and salmon, which I don’t like. There was also lots of bucks fizz which seemed to sort me out a bit and my voice came back! We opened presents and I was gobsmacked at how much everyone had, especially the kids. When I’d been asked what I wanted for Christmas this year I’d said a Terry’s chocolate orange because I love them and had not had one for years. I was not expecting to get any presents, Captain Caveman and I don’t bother with them any more so it was a bit of a shock to be given a gift bag with gifts inside. The Leesing family had surpassed themselves and I was so surprised to get all sorts of lovely items; a bracelet, toiletries, chocolates and a voucher for Marks & Spencer’s. I’d not really known what to buy for them and, of course, I was on a much tighter budget. For Neil I picked Merino wool socks as Captain Caveman swears by these and I thought they would be good for work or fishing, I decided on an underwear set for Gayle hoping I had picked the right size and colour, for Morgan and April I picked Lush bath bombs thinking they would be able to have a nice relaxing soak in the bath with those and they always smell nice, for the whole family I took a bit of a risk and decided to buy them my favourite game, not knowing if they already had it or if it was a bit inappropriate. Cards Against Humanity is just hilarious and reminds me of playing it at Momma D’s house with Des, D-Dub and Hanh so I knew it was funny. Everyone got so many lovely gifts and I found out what a boo pillow is when Gayle got a massive one given as a gift. Sumo got lots of presents too including a camera which he hadn’t realised squeaked. There was even a tiny bit of snow falling but it didn’t settle at all so there was no outside snow activities. Our Christmas dinner would be served around 5pm so I was given the job of peeling and crossing the sprouts while Neil and Gayle were busy in the kitchen, preparing the Christmas Day feast. I sat at the dining room table to do them and got a call from Captain Caveman who had already had his quiet Christmas Day and was over at Stu’s house, slightly inebriated after they had sent Multi out to get more beers. I was very pleased to join the kids with a melon and berry starter, while the adults had a choice between pâté or seafood, it meant I had more room for the main turkey dinner. Neil made sure we all had our wine glasses full and then he and Gayle, helped by Morgan and April, brought out the main course in a selection of bowls for us to help ourselves. It was outstanding; on my plate I had turkey, stuffing, pig in blanket, roast potatoes, carrots, sprouts with bacon, chestnuts, and cauliflower cheese – I swerved the broccoli, parsnips and roasted fennel. Gayle had a mountain of a plateful and we all laughed as there was no way we would eat it all, even though it was delicious. We had to have quite an intermission before the Christmas pudding and proper custard. We played more games in the evening and my Dad did not like Cards Against Humanity one bit and said it was stupid, my youngest niece seemed to be the best player and I thought it was a great laugh. When the Trivial Pursuits game came out Dad was more settled and we managed to consume yet more alcohol, all of us managing thus far to enjoy a truly remarkable day, with no falling out (well, apart from Gayle putting in a complaint to Neil about the quality of the cream content in his liqueur coffees). For supper I had more booze and a good sized portion of the ‘smash’ cake which was probably the best sponge cake I’d ever had!
I woke up on Friday 24th December, Christmas Eve, with a bit of a sore throat and paranoia that the dreaded Corona might have got me, even though I didn’t feel unwell or have any other symptoms! Given last night’s shenanigans in the Williams’ household, it was surprising I didn’t feel a tad worse but it was almost midday! It was also the weekly weigh-in day so I stepped on the scales and found that I had put on 2kg in the last week! I decided to do another lateral flow test, just to check before we got ready for our festivities, even though we would still be with the same people as last night but I wanted to be sure I wasn’t about to give anyone Corona for Christmas. The test was negative so that was a relief and I took a paracetamol and manned the F up! I had tea and toast for breakfast and witnessed a rare site of my Dad doing the hoovering. Ma & Pa were excited for Christmas and had started to gather everything together as we were all invited to my sister’s house. I think Dad would have set off at midday if it meant we could start the party earlier and I’m sure Mom was slightly concerned that either me or my sister would ruin Christmas with a family fall out. It seemed different this year, the pandemic had certainly impacted everyone in different ways and I’m sure we all just wanted it to be a fantastic time for us to all be together and celebrate. I was definitely looking forward to it and I had even bought a terribly ill-fitting Christmas jumper for the occasion! I spoke to Captain Caveman who had spent Christmas Eve day (he was 7 hours ahead) with Leonard and a bottle of wine at Funny Monkeys and it was nice to chat before the mayhem commenced. For lunch we had to eat the remnants of last night’s buffet between the three of us and I do love an overload of carbs before a family celebration. I remembered my brother-in-law is very generous with his drink pours, my sister had more bottles of booze than the drink cupboard could handle and I’d heard there might be more games being played. I was up for whatever the Leesing family had planned for us and was grateful to be invited to spend the next few days with everyone. At the back of our minds there was the fear that, come boxing day, the Prime Minster, BoJo (no relation), would announce a lockdown and we’d all be fed up. My sister, her husband and kids had gone bowling in the afternoon but we had decided not to join them for a few reasons but mainly because I’m not keen on bowling, we all had injuries, it would be full of families and we were trying to minimise Mom’s risk of catching Corona before her hip operation. We arrived at Gayle & Neil’s house around 6pm, it was cold and raining. Dad and I unloaded the very full car while Mom put stuff where it needed to be indoors. The house looked wonderfully Christmassy, I lost count of how many Christmas trees there were inside, and everyone was excited for the family festivities. Under the main tree in the living room there were already a few presents and I was conscious that the gifts I had bought would look superfluous. It had been 10 years since I had spent Christmas with my family in the UK (& 7 years since I’d even been in England during the festive period) so you can probably imagine how much I thought things had changed – there was certainly already evidence of an overabundance of consumerism in this home and I was a bit overwhelmed at how lucky we all were to be in this situation. Sumo, the dog, was keen to get the party started and had spotted a joint of ham that he was sure he could reach if he really tried, so I put the chair between him and the rather tempting ham! Neil was ready with the champagne and I felt like royalty as I was given one of the big flutes (again) to drink mine from as we all did a cheers to being together, during a pandemic, at Christmas. The buffet spread was magnificent and I almost felt guilty eating it as it was just so indulgent, even my Dad said it put my Mom’s buffet to shame and she agreed. There was a big cheeseboard, smoked salmon, prawns, pastries (including mini beef Wellingtons which were gorgeous), cured meats, as well as the ham, olives, chutneys, sauces, nuts and crisps. A new culinary invention had reached the buffet table this year and I couldn’t wait to see if it would be as popular as when garlic met bread to form the now run-of-the-mill garlic bread; chicken doughnuts – well, I never! We drank more and I had no room for sweet stuff, except for a couple of nuts dipped in caramel chocolate which are a real winner, although I kept eyeing up the fancy ‘smash’ cake on the end of the table. After a couple of bottles of fizz (between us!) I went on to red wine to compliment my return trips to the cheese board and then the games started. The one where you have to model a word out of plasticine was quite tricky but Mom and I were on each other’s wave length with that one, there was a true and false game which was amusing but my face hurt so much from laughing at the next two games. The most hilarious one was Dik Dik, where we had to ask our opponents (fellow family members) if they had a specific creature on their card but the names of the imaginary creatures were so inappropriately worded that we were in hysterics most of the time – surely it’s not right for a granddad to be asking his granddaughter if she has a Giant Beaver!? My Mom had a favourite game which definitely defied the sensibilities of the Corona virus transmission by playing ‘name that tune’ on a kazoo – unbelievably addictive, competitive and just priceless! By the time we had passed in to Christmas Day I was on the whiskey, Dad had broken a glass and was shit-faced, Neil was hoovering up glass and Sumo was banished to the garden so he didn’t get glass in his paws – it was mayhem! Mom pumped up the blow up bed for me, I helped Morgan get the almost dry bedding back on for Ma & Pa to have her bed, then coerced April to tidy her room enough to fit Morgan in with her. After helping my sister bring down even more presents from Santa to put under the tree it was finally bed time, after just one last nightcap for everyone!
Thursday 23rd December, or Christmas Eve Eve as I refer to it, was definitely not as it was planned to be! In the news Spain had announced that masks must be worn outside now to try to stop the Omicron variant spread and in China there was a rule put in place that only 1 person per household was able to leave the house every 2nd day for essentials in the city of Xi’an, where over 13 million people were under strict lockdown still. In England there were no changes to rules and what rules there were, were often not enforced or upheld anyway. When I was in Vietnam we would hear more news about what was happening in China but there was rarely a reference to it on the English news. As I ate my toasted teacake for breakfast, my mom was busy getting things ready for her first Christmas party. My parents were officially opening the Christmas bar tonight and had invited my sister, her husband and their 2 kids over for a small party. Unfortunately, we decided our family trip to Chatsworth would be cancelled and we would look forward to going in warmer weather during the summer instead. I’d discussed Louisa’s situation with my parents and let them know that, to be on the safe side, I’d sadly cancelled plans to meet later, I asked if I’d be allowed to gatecrash their party instead and they said I could. Sheree and John picked me up from my parents after taking a risky detour which got them stuck up a narrow lane in a car, we made sure we wore our masks in the car and we tried as best as we could to be careful, as is the norm these days. Sheree is always a hostess with the mostest and put on a lovely lunch of meatballs, rice, frittata, cheese, pickled onions and gerkins. It was wonderful and I washed it down with a glass of wine as we talked about most topics under the sun. Poor John’s ears must have been almost bleeding as when I said it was time for me to get going he seemed rather keen to get the car started. It was a shame we had made the decision for me not to stay over, given the Corona situation, but we would definitely do that once I was back again – I used to love those times when John would go to bed leaving me and Sheree almost crying with laughter and drinking so much wine! When I got home I had left my phone charging and had realised that was another set of photos I’d not taken – it was becoming a habit. My mom was fussing over what food to do, if there was enough room in the oven and what my sister could or couldn’t eat (she’s coeliac) so I offered to help. Dad was in charge of the bar and putting plates in the dining room and so we all mucked in with the putting stuff out for the buffet. When the family arrived it turned in to an episode not dissimilar to The Royle Family TV show because their dog, Sumo, had a shitty bum and my brother-in-law was wiping it with a bit of kitchen roll in the kitchen (the dog didn’t like it one bit) while me and my dad told him to go in the garden. Even more hilarity ensued when the games started with Christmas themed charades and my nieces were the best at it, we had a very difficult Christmas quiz but the girls won the boys. We played the ‘Who am I?’ game and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much; no-one knew Justin Bieber was Canadian, my youngest niece took a while to work out she was the Queen, I’d never heard of Kylie Jenner, Sumo the dog got upset that he wasn’t included and my Dad had the hardest time figuring out he was a passion fruit martini! I ate so much from Ma’s delicious spread and drank loads of red wine, sherry and a couple of Bailey’s – we had another one of those nights that went on way past midnight!
I slept in until 10am on Monday 20th December and it felt good to have a lay in so late! After we put some washing in I walked with mom as far as the chemist, as she was picking up prescriptions, and I went to get the bus to town. I’d been in England for 9 days now and unfortunately I’d not been able to meet quite a few people who were still getting over the dreaded virus but today, after rescheduling, lots of lateral flow tests and concerns about logistics I would be meeting up with more friends. Poor Vanessa and Matt had been stuck at home longer than they wanted to be, due to a delay with their day 2 PCR test results but were finally free to be let out, Maddie was in Lincolnshire and was no longer coming to Sheffield due to other commitments, and of course my parents were trying to minimise risk by not going out, plus they had a food shop delivery due that afternoon. I got off the bus and walked to the wrong venue because I’d mixed up where I was planning on going tomorrow night but luckily I was early and had enough time to walk down towards where Debenhams used to be. It was heartbreaking to see so many of the high street shops now closed and, to say it was almost Christmas, it wasn’t nearly as busy in town as usual. I walked past the Christmas markets where quite a few shoppers were and arrived at The Furnace, a new addition since I’d last been back. I was impressed with Becca’s choice of venue as, not only did it look fancy, it was spacious, airy and almost empty. Becca, Caz and Nel were already there but there were to be no hugs which was sad, of course, even the menus were already laid out on the table. All 3 of the girls had suffered with Corona this year and so it was good to see they looked fab, especially Caz’s hair after a trip to the hairdresser’s this morning. We ordered drinks, and it was different to our past meet ups where we would have shared a bottle of wine. We all ordered food and drinks; I had a pint of lager, another pork belly dish and some poutine, Becca and Caz had fishcakes, while Nel had a Korean chicken burger and chips. All the food was fantastic, with the starters/sides being easily enough for a lunch and I’d definitely go there again – it was the cleanest place I’d been so far too (the toilets were immaculate)! Our next stop was made in an attempt to be sensible by being outside as we headed to the Christmas bar in the peace gardens. Vanessa had already let me know that it was just her coming in to town but she also had a shopping delivery on it’s way so we said we would go to the Alpine bar and wait for her. Of course, I had no WiFi on my phone so once we had all drank a rather expensive (£4.50) mulled wine in a small polystyrene cup, Becca messaged to check where Vanessa was. There was also another pop up bar at the top of Fargate called the Sleigh bar and she was there so we set off to meet her and bumped in to her on the way. We all had one more drink (£2.50 for half of dark fruits cider) at the Sleigh bar then it was time to say bye. Again, it felt funny to not be hugging, or even touching, each other and also not really knowing when we could all ‘get back to normal’. Vanessa and I had a wander back down Fargate to Marks & Spencer’s and we bought a few treats and some Christmas presents before sacking it off to call for a quick half in the Brown Bear. As I walked in to the half empty pub I had a wave of nostalgia as it was one of those boozers I loved to visit in the winter, with its cosy interior and no nonsense bar staff – there’s not even any WiFi. Vanessa bought us half a cider each and we just had time before I had to tog back up in winter layers to go to the bus station to get the bus home. I only just made it on time and, as arranged, I was home by 6pm. Mom had been busy making another one of my favourite English meals, toad in the hole (sausages in Yorkshire pudding, for the unfamiliar) and Dad was supervising the process. It was bloody lovely but my dad had a face on when it wasn’t up to his expectations and he thought Ma should have left it in the oven longer as it got a bit stuck in the middle. Mom was more worried that the ends would burn and I wasn’t complaining because I think I got the most sausages – I thought it was spot on. Dad seemed happier once we got a red wine on the go and we started watching something a bit odd on BBC1 called The One Before. After dinner I got a message from my friend I was meeting tomorrow night saying she had to cancel our plans which we had arranged some time ago as she had double booked herself. I had done similar in recent weeks so I was fine about it, I think once it gets in to December it is hard to keep track of everything that’s meant to be going on – I knew it was nothing personal and it was just one of those things. It was a shame I wouldn’t get to see Leanne this time but I hoped I would be able to see her in the summer instead and maybe even help her out with a new project she had taken on recently. I went to bed and, conscious I was falling behind on my Duolingo Turkish practice, tried to do some but ended up watching Lubricant (Russell Howard) in bed – it made me laugh!
I was excited on Tuesday 21st December to be seeing my aunties, Jill & Rita. They were going to be at my sister’s house around lunch time so, as I got up late, I had an M&S sausage roll for breakfast and read the Vietnamese news. In Vietnam cases were higher again (just over 16,000 in a day), and more deaths (250) in a day than in the UK, more info here: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20211221/vietnam-records-16325-coronavirus-infections-50191-recoveries-250-fatalities/64844.html My parents and I walked up the hill in Mosborough to my sister’s house where Jill and Rita had already arrived and the dog, Sumo, was going crackers over Rita while she tried to get her shoes off. There was an offer of a hot beverage or a glass of fizz and it was easy to see how the family split went; Jill was driving and so plumped for a cup of tea with ma & pa while Rita and I decided prosecco was on the cards – we aren’t one to turn down alcohol often. Gayle doesn’t have a normal kettle, more like a fancy teasmade-come-coffee machine type of appliance and so, while she fannied about with that, I poured the prosecco, not realising the champagne flutes were far bigger than usual. Rita and I had almost a half bottle of prosecco in each glass and it was rather moreish. I had planned on getting a photo of us all but between stories of excrement and Harold Shipman plus a quick quiz on what that name of the doctor my nannan hated was, I got distracted. I genuinely feel that the TV show Gogglebox has nothing on my family and I think cameras in my sister’s house would make for entertainment gold! There were chocolate cupcakes and luxury biscuits to eat and poor old Sumo wanted them all, he picked his moment to wolf down an unattended cupcake wrapper and wouldn’t let me or Gayle get it out of his mouth. When Neil and my nieces returned I found out something that all my English friends had been keeping a secret from me, something that I had said would be a great idea about 20 years ago and is now a thing – you can order a Macdonald’s! April, my youngest niece, wanted to order one and I was amazed that this now existed, even though she was told ‘no’! Neil got some white wine out and we carried on drinking, ma & pa had one and Rita had a whisky. It was good to have everyone together when we finally remembered Dr Paget’s name (crikey, we wouldn’t have slept tonight)! The walk back home was down hill and easier because I was merry and Dad zoomed ahead so he could put the fire and heating on for us as it was getting dark. My Mom really was pulling out all the aces as she had a beef stew in the slow cooker which was for dinner tonight and she only made her best Yorkshire puddings yet – Dad was happy! I had some stew left over for tomorrow and, instead of a night out in Sheffield as planned, I got to watch the 2nd episode of The One Before in the living room with Ma & Pa – I was a bit late to realise that there were 2 female characters, Emma and Jane, who I thought were the same actress (they weren’t) and wondered why it now was starting to make more sense. I didn’t have any wine with Dad tonight but I did finish off Clare’s blue cheese with Red Leicester mini cheddars for supper and really enjoyed them. We had some more family plans for tomorrow so I was in bed before midnight.
It had been arranged before I left Turkey that my parents and I would go to uncle Gary & aunty Jo’s for lunch on Wednesday 22nd December. They had moved house since I last visited but didn’t live too far from my friend, Sheree. I’d therefore also organised for a sleep over at Sheree’s after visiting my relatives. Unfortunately, due to the Corona virus those plans had to change, my cousin, Liz and her family, were coming back from Scotland and we needed to make sure Gary & Jo didn’t have to cancel due to catching Corona. In an effort for us all to still be able to see each other my Mom and Jo arranged that we would instead go for a walk around the lake(s) at Rother Valley at 11am. I explained this to Sheree and we decided we would come up with a Plan B once I got back from our country walk. To be quite honest I wasn’t looking forward to the cold or the walk, given that my ankle still hurts, my mom has a bad leg, my Dad has bad knees and my uncle Gary had not long since had knee surgery, and it didn’t involve a homemade lasagne or an alcoholic drink – we were more likely to be out of action from exisitng injuries than Corona! On my bottom half I put on my thermal tights underneath my Christmas leggings but only one pair of socks and my new boots, my top half consisted of a t-shirt, a hoody, a scarf, my big coat, a hat, gloves and a face mask – I forgot to put my ankle support bandage on but couldn’t be bothered to address that issue. It was great to see Gary and Jo and instead of cooking me a lovely lunch they had brought me a bottle of red wine, and from one of my favourite regions in Italy – I love a Primitivo from Puglia so I was very happy! We had a good walk around and didn’t go too fast, first I was chatting with Gary and Dad and we were having trouble keeping up with Jo and Mom who were speeding ahead with Henry, the dog. Once we had walked around one of the lakes I thought we might be cutting through but there was no chance of that, it was a 5km total loop around the main and northern lakes so not too far for able-legged people. By this time I was warm and had taken off my mask as there was only me who had kept it on, even though the UK rules don’t say you have to wear one if you’re outdoors. My feet were the only part of me that were cold but they soon warmed up when we swapped walking formations and I went to the front with Jo and Henry. It was great to see Gary & Jo while I was back and such a shame that we couldn’t go to the pub with them but the walk and chat was rather nice. This was the first time since tearing my ankle and knee ligaments that I have managed to walk 5km without limping or a sit down and I think having a slight heel on my new boots helped. When we got back home I made new plans with Sheree for tomorrow lunch and cancelled the plans I had for tomorrow daytime with my sister and my parents. This gave us a free evening at my parents tonight and of course we made the most of it. We only had fish and chips again and it was sad knowing this would be the last time until July next year! This time the chippy tea was even better than before as the owner had just cooked fresh fish and we had plenty of chips. Dad put the kettle on and we all had a cup of tea while we watched the last episode of The One Before – which was all a bit confusing. While we watched Live at the Apollo with Jason Manford, Dad fixed us all an alcoholic beverage, mom and I managed 2 sherries, each with 3 cherries, and thoroughly enjoyed our Harvey’s Bristol cream, seeing as it was almost Christmas. There were a couple of disappointments before bed though; today was the 10th anniversary of me meeting Captain Caveman but, because of the 7 hour time difference, I didn’t even get a chance to speak to him. My friend, Louisa, who I was looking forward to seeing tomorrow night, had sent a message to say that she had been in contact with a relative who had tested positive for Corona yesterday, she herself was negative on 3 lateral flow tests, and had already had Corona a while ago, so it was up to me if I still wanted to meet up. It was awful news, as we all knew we could catch the virus anywhere and at any time, but no one wanted to catch it for Christmas or jeopardise my mom’s operation.
When the alarm went off on Friday 17th December it was still dark and cold – I didn’t want to leave the comfy bed! I read in the Vietnamese news that a shopping centre had been closed due to Corona, in Ho Chi Minh city, more here: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/business/20211217/retailers-withdraw-from-shopping-malls-over-coronavirus-flare-up-in-ho-chi-minh-city/64763.html Becca, Steve and I got an early bus in to town so that I could pick up a few things on my way back to Mosborough as we were off for a family meal. None of us could be bothered to shop really so when we got to Marks & Spencer’s (the shop I have missed the most) we just mooched around and I (who had a bad stomach from cheese and wine last night) used the facilities and the free WiFi. When I got home I waited for Dad to finish in the shower so that I could get ready, then we all walked to The Mosbrook. I wore my new boots and my feet stayed warm and dry, the walk was mostly downhill but I found I was still rather slow at walking. When we arrived the staff were busy so we had to wait a bit to be seated, Gayle & Neil arrived shortly afterwards and seemed a bit flustered on account of Neil being late and on the cross-trainer, instead of getting ready. We waited a while to order drinks and I’d already decided I would be having pork for my dinner so I ordered a cider. The festive menu was available as well as the regular one so we each did whatever we fancied. Dad and Neil had pâté, Mom chose squid, Gayle had prawns and I went for butternut squash soup for our starters. For the mains we had the following; ma – Asian duck salad, Gayle – sea bass, Dad – Turkey dinner, Neil – steak, me – belly pork. It was bloody lovely and mine was so big a portion that it took me ages to eat it. In fact I ended up leaving some because everyone was fed up of waiting for me to finish my dauphinoise potatoes and wanted a dessert. There was no way I could manage a pud so my mom had my Christmas pudding, Dad had the same, Gayle had a lemon cake and Neil just a coffee because he had to go and pick up one or both of the kids and transport them about. After a lovely family lunch we decided to go back to my parents’ where Neil would join us later at the micropub if we could get a table. I tried to book in but it was full so I rang them and a walk-in table was still available. Mom was a bit embarrassed about going again, after Mad Monday, and she only drank coke, the bar man checked how long we planned on staying and we only managed 2 drinks before going back to my parents for another impromptu party/nightcap with Neil on taxi duty once again. It was a lovely family day and we had a really good laugh and catch up, it was nice to be able to be with my family when I know so many people who can’t be with their’s this year – I felt extremely lucky indeed.
What was tipped to be the biggest reunion booze up in Sheffield ever on Saturday 18th December had begun to reduce as fast as the Corona cases were increasing. So much so that what had been a possible wild night out turned in to a very tame, but wonderful, day. The virus was definitely having a massive impact on plans with friends and family being either cancelled all together or moved to something more sensible, in efforts to avoid Corona for Christmas. After my buttered toast and English tea I got ready to meet at a nearby spacious, airy and empty venue. Paz was unable to meet tonight but came to meet me for a hot beverage in the bar area of Mosborough Hall hotel, a short walk from my parents’ house. When I got there, a bloke from the previous night’s party tried to talk to me and mentioned he had been up drinking until 5am, had meant to have gone back to Wales but had booked another night as he was too drunk to drive home. I kept my mask on and my distance then went to order a pot of tea while Paz arrived. When she got there it was brilliant to see her, she looked so well and fresh and I noticed her hair was lighter – we couldn’t stop smiling and it felt good after all this time. Time went too fast but we decided the venue was a good place for us to perhaps organise an afternoon tea when I’m next back in Sheffield, so I popped that on the potential plan list for summer 2022. When I got home my parents had their hairdresser over and mom was still getting her hair dyed so I had to wait a little for her to finish so that I could cadge a lift to the tram stop. I was off to Kelham Island to meet Luan & Paul for a couple of drinks in the afternoon. They’d also invited me to the cinema but I wasn’t bothered about that and thought it would be nice to watch the Strictly Come Dancing final with mom, I don’t usually watch it but when there’s an English ballroom dancing competition between a deaf soap actress and a gay male TV presenter it’s worth watching just to see my Dad’s confused face! On the tram I bumped in to Luan and Paul who were just getting back from Wolverhampton and were pretty done in, this meant we could all call to Luan’s for a nice cup of tea and a natter. I’d prearranged to get the 6pm tram back so we changed our venue to go for a nice ale at Salt (used to be the Stew and Oyster) and was just round the corner. It was a nice pub and I really enjoyed the real ale without any side effects and we were non-stop chatting in the short time we had together. It was lovely to see them both looking healthy and happy together, they were so pleased to be able to be going to gigs again too and they told me of a great one next year that I’d love to go on too, as I have missed proper gigs! We all got the tram from Kelham Island, they went to town and I continued to White Lane where mom came to pick me back up, as she was also giving my sister a lift later too. That night we had fish and chips from Tony’s chip shop and watched the Strictly programme. The fish was great and the portion of chips was enough with 2 portions between the 3 of us because I had to put my lounge wear on soon after snaffling it all. Next, Mom let me add some essentials on to her shopping order which was being delivered on Monday and I went a bit mad ordering slow cooker sachets, Henderson’s relish, sweets and some gluten free cherry bakewells. Dad and I shared a bottle of red wine and I was quite glad the day had been a lot quieter than the first plans as I was pretty tired and wouldn’t have wanted to be too worn out for the Sunday plans, either.
I was excited to have my mom cook me a bacon sandwich for breakfast on Sunday 19th December. I can get bacon in Turkey but it’s not as good and it’s expensive with it being a Muslim population so I don’t have it often. While it was cooking I did a lateral flow test which was negative so we were all relieved about that and my nose was getting used to doing them. I got told in Vietnam that if you breathe out through your mouth (or even say ah) as the stick goes up to the end of your nose it is more bearable. In the news, Vietnam had reports of the spread of the omicron variant, more here: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20211219/omicron-cases-doubling-in-15-to-3-days-in-areas-with-local-spread-who/64793.html After my delicious bacon sandwich I spoke to Captain Caveman who was doing well, keeping busy, but was missing me now and I was him. My mom needed some bananas so she gave me a lift to my lunch appointment, Ma & Pa had been invited but they were trying to limit going out a bit more because of the operation and not wanting to be ill for Christmas either. Kerrie, Paul, Thomas and Jack were already at the British Oak having been to Disney on Ice earlier and it felt weird not hugging each other. I’d missed her hen do and wedding so it felt amazing to finally get to see her and the family. They were all so happy and it was fantastic to have a shared love for good food (pie for the girls, lamb for Paul and a massive Sunday dinner for the kids) as we chatted on about all sorts of things, including how much I love Henderson’s relish. I was so full that I didn’t order the sticky toffee pudding that I fancied but I did try a bit of Kerrie’s and it was gorgeous. The pub was quiet for a Sunday but customers were spaced out and the staff were really good so I felt it was one of the nicer meals I’d had in there. I got a lift back home with my mask on and I was sad that they couldn’t come in to see the finished house my parents were renovating when they last met but we hoped for a BBQ in the summer instead. I was so stuffed and just sat and watched a bit of TV, my Mom made a curry for dinner just for the 2 of them as I wasn’t hungry. Later though, I had some really nice treats; fruit cake, cheese, chocolates, crisps, dates and some wine with my parents. It felt like I’d never been away as we tried to keep up with Ronnie O’Sullivan on the snooker and watch the Sports Personality of the Year – I took my eye off what channel we were on and thought Ronnie had won the latter! Before bed there was more news that plans for tomorrow were going to be changed again and some friends who might have been coming to Sheffield could no longer make it, there was definitely a sense of people being concerned they might get stuck if a lockdown got announced and of course no one wanted Corona for Christmas.
We had a nice homely day on Tuesday 14th December and it was clear that, due to the pandemic, there was going to be a likelihood of me not getting to see some people who I had hoped to, particularly those who had messaged to say they, or people they lived with, had tested positive for Corona this week. This was the first time since the height of the pandemic that I knew several people who currently had the virus and it did worry me. My parents had some workmen pop in to service the boiler and a friend/work colleague called in to chat to my Dad. He was still there over lunchtime meaning we were delayed in getting to Tony’s chip shop for our lunch. I had been looking forward to English fish and chips after not having them for years but we only managed to just get there before they closed and had a chip butty each, as there was no fish left. They were lovely but a fish and chips meal was still on the list for another day and Dad made us all a cup of tea as he was the first to finish his lunch. I had a root around in the box of belongings I still had at my parents house and I was happy to see my popcorn maker, an ice bucket and some bits and bobs I had almost forgotten about, including my childhood bear, Patsy Panda. I decided I couldn’t be bothered to go through all the pensions paperwork today and would leave it for another day, before I left. Mom prepared another delicious dinner, one of our favourites, spaghetti bolognese, and the portion was huge so I saved some leftovers for tomorrow.
On Wednesday 15th December I felt like I was so lucky, I’d slept well, I had a nice cup of tea and toast for breakfast and I had come to the conclusion that England definitely has the best toast – the bread is just so good and it was not making me poorly! I was so pleased to not have a dodgy stomach that I had the leftover spag bol with a slice of cheesy garlic bread for lunch. That evening I was invited to a small soirée at Clare’s house with Sue, over the past 3 years these ladies have been amazing online friends who were supportive during my lockdowns, had some of the best bits of advice and have a similar sense of humour to me, I also know them from working at Aviva. Clare picked me up from Mosborough, as she doesn’t live far away and we drove to her house. We chatted on over a glass of Prosecco with Chambord (because we were being fancy) while Clare prepped what she called scraps. The idea was for us to have leftovers (scraps) as part of our buffet and Clare also got the crisps out while she topped up my Prosecco. Sue arrived after her hair appointment and it had been so long since I’d seen her in person that I hardly recognised her as she had lost a lot of weight and gone short with her hair. Within a few minutes we were talking about random subjects, laughing away and I was impressed by mini cheddars being available in stick form. Clare was absolutely the hostess with the mostest as we troughed through her amazing spread; including chicken tikka bellinis, sausage rolls, cocktail sausages, a full cheeseboard, delicious roast potatoes. The time just went too quickly for a school night and I’m sure we didn’t get through all of the stripper stories! Sue, was driving, and so had not been able to drink, unlike me – I was a little tipsy and had a lift home with Sue after a wonderful evening where Clare’s scraps were anything but and I even had some blue cheese to take away!
On Thursday 16th December I started the day by checking how much extra it would cost me to add luggage on to my return flight. I’d already bought new boots, bras, knickers and socks that needed to be added to the popcorn maker and ice bucket in my hand luggage and I thought that was a little optimistic. The good news was that it only costs £34 for 22kg and there was an option to add on an annual insurance policy which included Covid for £35 so I did that. I used my card and it worked fine so it was good that my Turkish bank card worked here. My next job was to do a lateral flow test to check if I had caught Corona because later I was going to a friend’s house and didn’t want to put her at risk, she’d also been doing tests and working from home. I was surprised at the amount of plastic packaging in the 7 day kits but the instructions were pretty simple and I did it then set the 15 minute timer. I didn’t feel unwell but it was a strange feeling, waiting for the result to show up on the plastic cartridge. It was negative, I registered it with the NHS but I don’t have a UK phone so I gave my mom’s and she got a text to confirm the negative test. I then decided I could pop to town to get a few more bits and would also have a look for a few Christmas presents for the family. Money was tight this year so I couldn’t afford to splash out but I wanted to at least get something small for everyone I would be spending Christmas day with. After I’d ended up in a rather warm Primark buying myself more knickers (a specific kind that I had before and wanted some more) and some lounge wear/pyjamas I found myself a bit peckish. I was worried about eating somewhere busy (like Greg’s) or going in to a shop due to the Corona risk but I found a very empty precinct on the Moor which had a Nando’s in so I went in there. I was missing having the East Hill chicken in Phong Nha so the next best thing was ordered; a quarter chicken with corn on the cob and chips plus a bottomless coke. The place was quiet, customers spaced out, the staff were really good and they even took cash so I felt a bit more at ease. When I ordered, from behind a plastic counter, the guy serving had a bit of chitchat and I mentioned I’d been out of the UK for a while which was why I was asking if I could pay cash and didn’t have a Nando’s app. He was such a nice guy that he gave me a free drink and seemed genuinely surprised that I was there. The food tasted good, obviously not as good as an East Hill BBQ chicken but it was tasty and filled me up – I didn’t take the piss with the free drink by filling it up with a free refill. My bus back out of town was busy but everyone wore masks and tried to sit on alternate seating, the only person who I saw not wearing a mask was the old dear at the front who had pulled it down under her chin and was coughing quite a bit in to the air without putting a hand over her mouth – she wasn’t on the bus for longer than 5 stops and all the windows were open. I arrived at Becca’s at 5pm, when she finished work and was greeted by Max, the dog, but I could hardly see him as I was steamed up and dressed very warmly. It was great to see Becca again after all this time and was sad that neither of us had made it to Cheese Night this year, a tradition which started 10 years ago and was the night I met Captain Caveman. We laughed until my face hurt, while we had a small tribute to a cheese and wine night instead. When Steve got home we had started a nice bottle of red wine and so we all sat chatting and laughing while playing with Max, who showed off with 5 toys in his mouth at once – surely that must be a record. It was a lovely night and I felt lucky because she was meant to have been wearing her sparkly outfit to her Christmas party. Becca had really been looking forward to going out to celebrate the festivities with her work friends but it had been cancelled. I was quite the night out in Redditch but I was definitely grateful to have been able to take advantage of her availability instead. That night I stayed over in the very comfy spare room, we didn’t drink as much as we would have done in previous years when we both had the next day off because I needed to be up quite early!
When I woke up at 6.30am on Monday 13th December I checked to see if I had my PCR results back yet and I had. The email had been sent at 11.55pm last night, after I had fallen asleep, and was negative so I could now go out. I googled the bus time table and saved screen shots as I wouldn’t have access to a phone, or be able to Google anything, once I left my parents’ internet and I went for the 8.35am bus in to town. As I hurried for the bus I heard my name called and turned around to see Amanda and her daughter off to walk her dog, what a lovely surprise. I was dressed warmly but I did feel the cold on my feet in my Volleys and thin socks as I waited for the bus, which came roughly on time and wasn’t too busy. A single bus journey to town (Sheffield) is £2.10 but a return is £3.60 so I went for that and the bus was occupied with only 50% mask wearers, the windows were open, no heating on and the driver didn’t wear a mask, which I was surprised about as there was a sign to say masks were compulsory. It didn’t take long to get to town and not much had changed along the route during the 3 years and 4 months I had been away. When I got off the bus in Fitzalan Square I did notice they had smartened up the area next to the bingo which lead to Arundel Gate and it looked much safer. I was at the bank by 9.05am but I wasn’t the first in the queue and had to wait a short while to sort out my expired/lost bank cards predicament. By 9.30am I was in a rather empty Marks & Spencer’s looking at winter boots to keep my feet warm and dry. I tried a pair on which fit perfectly and would be ideal in the rain so I bought them along with socks, knickers and bras. A lovely lady who worked there let me put my purchases to one side to pick up later and also I was able to use the free WiFi. My Mom sent me a message to say she was leaving home to go to the optician and, because I didn’t have a key or know if Dad would be in, I looked for an alternative to going straight back to Mosborough. I almost went to meet Gayle, my sister, at Meadowhall shopping centre but I’m not a fan of that place and a friend who worked there had just been commenting on Facebook how she was sick of people there not wearing masks in shops. Instead I decided to find a place for a spot of breakfast and saw that one of my old favourites was still around.
I decided to go to Marmaduke’s for my breakfast, it wasn’t too busy and the place had screens up between each table. I ordered a bacon sandwich with a cup of Yorkshire tea and it was served pretty promptly. The breakfast was excellent, there was free WiFi and I got a message from my Mom that she was back and Dad had been at home anyway. I decided to pay and go to get the next bus home, but I’d not accounted for the fact that, due to Corona, some places don’t accept cash and I had just cancelled all my English cards to get new ones reissued. All I had was my Turkish one which when presenting it to the waiter was told it was useless as it had no chip on it and I was meant to wave it at a tray like device he was holding. I had no idea what he was talking about and he now had to request help from his supervisor because I wasn’t allowed to pay cash. As I was explaining that my card is from a Turkish bank, he said the transaction had already gone through, without the need for a PIN or a signature, and I was shocked. Apparently I have a contactless card which I didn’t realise and so now I was able to get the bus back to Mosborough via Boots where I picked up some imodium, senocalm medication and a new ankle support (at a cost of £23) as my ankle was still playing up from walking on hills. The bus station in Pond Street was very cold and completely empty, the bus had just 2 other people on. My sister had finished having her nails done and came over to my parents’ house bringing cakes and we all had a cup of tea while I tucked in to a massive piece of Yule log, Dad also had a piece but my Mom had fruit cake and Gayle had gluten free fruit cake. I had an idea that we should go out for a festive drink to the micropub on the Mosborough high street and I booked us a table online for 4.30pm. I’m not saying my Dad was keen to go but by 4.15pm he was at the door waiting to go to the pub. I’d not seen my sister in over 3 years so we decided to give the ball a bit of a kick, I had a gluten free IPA, my parents had a pint of stout each and Gayle had a mulled wine. I’d managed 2 pints of the IPA, 2 Brockman’s gin and ginger ales and possibly a Bailey’s. It was great to catch up over a few drinks, the small pub was really good but, of course, we overdid it and by the time we’d had 6 rounds it was time to get a takeaway. Gayle ordered curry from Khushboo and the rest of us ordered pizza but when we went back to get mom she was worse for wear and we had to send for reinforcements. My brother-in-law, Neil, came with the car and took us all the very short distance home and we had an impromptu party, where my niece must have thought we were all mental. This day has now been named Mad Monday by our family and we all burst out laughing every time we talk about it!
I was awake at 8am on Sunday 12th December but I didn’t really want to get up after only 5.5 hours sleep. It was 13°C today so not actually that cold but still the coldest I’d been in a couple of years. My Mom excelled herself by making us all a cooked breakfast and I got a lovely bacon and mushroom sandwich while Dad got his bacon and eggs with no tomatoes, which he had requested but Ma forgot. In the news there was a suggestion that there could be potential daily tests if in contact with a positive Omicron person, here is the article: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-59628609 Meanwhile Turkey reported their first Omicron cases: https://www.trtworld.com/turkey/turkey-registers-first-omicron-variant-cases-52547/amp I was still in my mom’s pyjamas (I didn’t have room to bring my own) when there was a knock at the door so my dad went out while I got my mask on and put my big coat on. I hadn’t realised the time and it was my first visit from a friend since arriving back home. As I had to isolate we had to meet on the back garden, keeping our distance, and it was absolutely fantastic to see Amanda and Chris again. I had been looking forward to seeing them after so long and we got chatting about anything and everything. The time flew by and we said once I had my negative result we could arrange to have a proper meet up again. My lunch consisted of a Morrison’s mince pie which was so good and I forgot how much my parents love a cup of tea. I’d hoped when it got to 6.30pm, 24 hours after my PCR test, that I would have the result but I didn’t and I had been warned it could be up to 48 hours as a maximum. My Mom managed to pull all the stops out once again when she made us a proper Sunday dinner with pork and Yorkshire puddings, she even gave me the crispiest bit of the crackling and there was apple sauce. A nice bottle of red wine was opened and I made the assumption that the diet had absolutely gone out of the window until 2022! At 8pm the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced all adults in the UK were to have a Corona booster vaccine to help protect against this new Omicron variant and that the NHS would possibly cancel non-essential hospital operations again to deal with Corona. We hoped this didn’t mean my mom’s operation would get cancelled. Before bed my Mom got me some of the stuff out I had left here which included my popcorn maker – I was so desperate to get that back to Turkey. By 10pm I was in the rather comfy double bed in the downstairs bedroom, with my phone on do not disturb, hoping that when I woke up I would have my negative result and could go to the bank.
Saturday 11th December was a day of travelling and a little bit of a shock to my system. I’d been in Dalyan for 79 days when my alarm went off at 7am, I had my last probiotic drink to try to prevent any stomach issues on my journey and the taxi arrived early, while it was still slightly dark, but I was ready! I’d decided only to take hand luggage because I didn’t want the added risk of taking luggage and changing in Istanbul so my rucksack was jammed full and exactly 8kg, probably from the weight of the Turkish delight. When I arrived at Dalaman airport I was early but the Turkish Airlines check-in was open, helpful and they managed to book me through from Dalaman to London, so I could have brought luggage, after all. I requested aisle seats on both flights and got given both boarding cards, my flight from Dalaman to Istanbul would be on time despite the storms and heavy rain, which was good to know. Near the gate I bought water and a simit at an empty cafe, which gave free WiFi (no WiFi is available in the main departure area, only at the cafe’s near the gate).
On the first flight, which was quite busy but not full, we were given a picnic lunch and we were all told not to open them all at the same time due to Corona (everyone did though) and masks being mandatory. I put mine in my bag as I didn’t want to remove my mask on the plane and was trying not to catch Corona for Christmas. I had 3 hours until the next flight in Istanbul airport and it appeared to be quite empty when I landed. Where the gates are, there were hardly any seats so I managed to get my G-Shock watch amended at the place where I bought it, as it hadn’t been accurate since I’d had the battery replaced in Fethiye. There was also a machine to get free WiFi but it only lasted for 1 hour. I found a quiet spot, away from any scheduled flights, to sit and eat my picnic. I noticed that at some gates they were doing random PCR tests and extra security checks which included double checking the vaccine proof documents. At the gate for my Istanbul to London Heathrow flight, the staff asked to check my vaccine certificate and the people behind and in front of me had to have their bags searched. On the half empty plane I sat next to a man from Torquay who had been to Istanbul for hair transplants but after take off we were allowed to move in to the spare seats. This meant I could drink the red wine and beef köfte and rice which they brought for our lunch without someone nearby. I watched a film called The Prestige which seemed ok but we were landing before the end of it and so I may never know what happens.
The flight from Istanbul to London Heathrow was due to land at 4.05pm. I had to get myself on the tube to London St Pancras train station to my pre-booked PCR test near to the Champagne bar. Luckily the flight landed a little bit early and I was on the very busy tube by 4.15pm, still masked up and trying my best not to touch anything. The queues at Collinson test centre were long despite everyone in the queue having an appointment and it being a bit chaotic. The staff were nice, most of the customers queued patiently with masks on but there were a few cantankerous old so-and-sos who weren’t behaving themselves and putting pressure on the staff to try to jump the queue. I had to wait longer than expected but, as the staff explained, the sudden changes in rules had lead to lots of demand and they were doing their best to cope. They were doing a fantastic job and I managed to get done before I had to get my train to Sheffield at 6.30pm, which I got sat on by 6.25pm so I was very lucky to have made it. The train was busy, hadn’t been cleaned and only a handful of people were wearing masks despite the constant announcement that it was mandatory. I’d unfortunately picked a busy time to be travelling, the Champagne bar at St Pancras had been heaving as I passed, the Leeds V Chelsea football match was on and there were numerous piss heads on a pre-Christmas celebration or work do. A nice Spanish family sat opposite me on the train and got a bit of a shock when Santa (aka shit-faced Alan) boarded the train at Derby with his inebriated elf mates. The profanities let me know he wasn’t the real Santa straight away and at first it was amusing that the children near me hadn’t sussed it. When Santa and his helpers burped, farted, sang and swore their way to a joke about Jimmy Saville I signalled to the mom that she might want to move her kids away – they got off at Chesterfield! There was WiFi on the train so I managed to let my parents and sister know I had made it and would be in Sheffield by 9.45pm and would get a taxi to Mosborough, where I would have to continue to isolate until my PCR test result came back negative.
When I alighted the train at Sheffield I wasn’t quite ready for it, I felt like I had gone back a few years and landed in to the middle of a debauched Christmas do, not unlike the ones I used to frequent. I didn’t see many sober people, nor anyone with masks (but I found out later you don’t have to wear them in a taxi queue) and a great deal of people were absolutely hammered! I decided to use the cash machine to draw out some extra Christmas cash but my card wouldn’t work, I was desperate for a wee, drink and a snack but decided Sheffield station would not be the best place for any of those and it would be better just to get to my parents house. The taxi cost just £12.50, I kept my mask on but the driver didn’t wear one and was on the phone the whole journey. When I arrived at my parents I was so desperate for the loo that I bypassed both of them and went to the bathroom, where I also took all of my hat, scarf, gloves, coat and mask off beforehand. After a good wash and putting my outer garments in a plastic bag for washing I gave Ma & Pa a big hug. I’d been feeling so tired on the train but now at 10.30pm (1.30am Turkish time) I had a glass of water and some crisps, while Dad opened a bottle of fizz! It wouldn’t be a proper family celebration if we didn’t give the ball a right old kick and so we managed to stay up until 2.30am (5.30am Turkish time) meaning I had done 22.5 hours from leaving my Dalyan bed to getting in my Mosborough one! We were so glad to see each other again and none of us cared that we were up drinking so late, it’s not like we had anything much to do tomorrow, with me isolating!