2007 — 25 December: aka Christmas (Tuesday)

I should have known better. I spurned the offered night-time glass of water last night. Luckily, I still had a bottle of Highland Spring that came in very handy when I woke at 03:30 completely parched. Mind you, it took a while for me to remember I had it with me. As for the night cap: the last time I drank rum was at the Hatfield Polytechnic on 13 October 1972 — the day before my 21st birthday. Being a tad precocious, I was a year younger than my coursemates, who therefore took a certain pleasure in getting me completely pickled on what was a Friday. I made the 30-mile trip home to my parents in an alcoholic haze, and the Saturday of my birthday wasn't my finest hour.

Still — it's Christmas. Cathy and my son both sent kindly text greetings this morning. I miss them both. But at least I finally discovered how to toggle my mobile's settings to stop the built-in dictionary from second-guessing what I wanted to say to them both. I was composing my replies while (cowardly) dodging the neighbours' Christmas drinks by walking Katie and Hester — a delightful duo of Scotty Dogs (technically Westies, I think) I've known since they were puppies. (During my walk I discovered there's an easy camaraderie among dog walkers at Christmas just as, I suspect, there is among smokers exiled from their workplaces. Though I doubt this means I will get a dog, or start smoking! A pity in some respects.) Later today, some of Ann's family will be arriving for a Christmas meal which, of course, I will not dodge. But the cousins kindly excused me from hosting duties for these drinkies — after all, they're not my neighbours, and the dogs relished and needed their walk.

Ahead of said meal, I've just snacked (in my quiet eyrie) on some delicious nibbles and a glass of warm, and rather strong, punch which is having a numbing effect! This is a strange Christmas, obviously, but I'm very grateful for this chance to relax with my Midlands family even as I miss Christa (and Junior) more than I can say. I'm sort of hiding upstairs, though Katie is keeping me company as she, too, is hiding — under my bed — as various youngsters rampage around playing hide and seek. I found, and gently evicted, one of them from there minutes ago. I'm trying not to be like Banquo's ghost at the feast but, as I said, this is a strange Christmas.

It's now 13:30 and the house is almost back to its normal peacefulness ahead of the next influx. I've just done the dishes with a delightful Polish lady named Gosia — yet another novel experience! Later (just after 15:00) and I've been invited to watch Brenda's message to the nation. I've declined as graciously as I can. Dad always said the Royals should be among the first to be lined up against a wall and shot "come the revolution". I've never found it necessary to argue against that viewpoint, personally.

Time now is 17:45 and the 'pud' stage of a gargantuan Christmas dinner (were I to list the menu you'd think this was lifted directly from the pages of a Dickens novel) is just about coming to an end. I'm assured only the cream had any calories in it. There were 12 of us for this mammoth feast, but just two Mounces. We toasted Christa among the set of absent friends — another poignant moment, as you'd imagine. My two cousins were very fond of her.

Well, my southern spy tells me it's horribly wet down in Winchester. It's been quite mild with a hint of drizzle up here. As I said, I've brought along my much-travelled and rather battered spare (spare) copy of Catch 22. It cost me 20p in "Pats" on Guernsey and I bought it purely as a sacrificial copy in the late 1980s. And, of course, I also have the notebook in which I'm jotting these entries in lo-tech longhand. I may yet therefore post some web diary entries just a few days late. If, in due course, I go gallivanting down to NZ I shall have to sort out a means of accessing my server — I predict a laptop in the fairly near future...

Who knew writing could be so therapeutic? Mind you, Christa always used to write stuff down to stop it going round and round in her head.

It's now approaching 21:00. I've made and distributed cups of tea — my cousins take it in turns to winkle me out of hiding for a few minutes. And I've eaten the first of the traditional cold meat sandwiches after the feast. From the sound of it, there is ping-pong going on next door, but the youngsters are now getting very tired. But then it's been a long and quite emotional day. My first Christmas without my Christa.

Leigh admits she has no practical advice to offer as she says she wouldn't know what to do or how to cope with a similar loss in her life. I'm not particularly after advice, though I welcome suggestions. Let's just say I've been booted — quite brutally — way out of my comfort zone. I don't know where I'm going to land, but I do know I'm going to try to make the best of it. I'm not putting Christa behind me. But I do want to leave behind me the horror of the last few months of her illness. So what if I don't know what "the best of it" entails? It's certainly what Christa would want me to do, and she never ever steered me wrong. Perhaps it's time I rejoined the human race!

Now after midnight. Just sat and watched the last 20 minutes or so of Love, actually with Leigh while Ann was sitting with her mum in the next room. I still like this film: my cousin totally agrees with me about Emma Thompson, too! Such good taste in the Mounce family.