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And a Merry Christmas to you too!

Michael Stuart rediscovers the joys of family life

Christmas is traditionally a time of festive joy, fun, presents, turkey, drinks, over-eating and family reunions. I’m sure my National Rust readers will be delighted to learn this year the Stuarts will be complete, in the sense that my son Barry will be joining us. A professional yachtsman based abroad, by the nature of his calling he is required to be wherever his owner decides which has meant that, in recent years, his visits to Blighty have necessarily been few and far between.

This year they left the Mediterranean in February and spent their time crossing the Atlantic and then cruising around the Caribbean and gradually up the east cost of the United States – stopping off in Norfolk, Virginia, Washington DC, New York and Rhode Island – before crossing over to Portsmouth and sailing on to various places in the Baltic, ending up in Gdansk, Poland.

This year so far I have seen Barry just twice – for half an hour, quayside, in Portsmouth in late August and then for a long weekend in October, after he had flown to Manchester from Helsinki in order to buy a specially-adapted, left-hand-drive, Land Rover Discovery and then drive it to the south coast for further modifications.

He is due to arrive this Friday evening for a fortnight, the first proper ‘holiday’ he has been able to take in over three years.

Landlubbers like me, noting that most professional ‘yotties’ seem to spend weeks at a time in ports and marinas keeping their yachts ship-shape and up to the mark, waiting for their owner and his family and/or guests to arrive, might uncharitably be moved to suggest that, since a good deal of it appears to involve sitting around in gorgeous weather, sipping beer and watching the girls go by, this equates to little more than a permanent holiday, but this Barry and his colleagues would deny absolutely.

As it happens, my activities this week have effectively been dominated by preparing for Barry’s arrival. Not that I mind when this is for the benefit of my own kith and kin, you understand – I’m just making the statement!

Yesterday I had to collect his Land Rover Discovery from the south coast. All went well until, about forty minutes afterwards, now approaching Farnham in Surrey, a little yellow light appeared on the dashboard. Sadly, since the handbook was in German, I was unable to determine what it was signifying – a fact I then reported to Barry, when he rang from Poland to check that everything was going smoothly.

I was immediately ordered to return the vehicle to the specialist workshop and get the problem assessed and sorted.

Inevitably, as one does, I had a programme of plans for the day – only the first of which was collecting Barry’s car – but these all had to go by the board as I duly turned around and did as bidden. After the problem (a spare tyre pressure issue) was resolved, I then resumed my journey home, a round trip which in total ended up taking the best part of five hours, rather than its intended two and a bit.

parcelsSeparately, my home has been doubling up this week as a Royal Mail sorting office.

Barry had called at the weekend to announce that he had ordered online a number of items required either for his new vehicle and/or the hiking expedition he had organised in the Scottish Highlands for himself and a group of friends over the New Year.

As a result, sometimes when I have been in, but just as often when not, a veritable snowstorm of deliveries – some massive, some small – have been arriving.

A lot of it is apparently camping equipment. As of this morning, physically I am now storing no fewer than 25 packages in my spare bedroom, 26 if you count the one that Barry rang to announce that the Royal Mail had advised him they were unable to deliver this morning. [I don’t quite understand this development, since I have been up since 0020 hours and nobody has yet knocked, or rung my doorbell].

Of these 25 packages, four I have had to collect from neighbours who have been kind enough to take them in when I wasn’t on hand at the point they arrived – and another three I had to retrieve from my local Royal Mail depot after I found ‘Sorry, I called to deliver something but you were out’ postcards had been thrust through my letter box.

But that’s not quite the end of the story, of course.

Once the packages began arriving, Barry naturally wanted to know what exactly had arrived, so that he could monitor or chase those which hadn’t. You can imagine the daily chaos as I have been obliged to open each new package (on Saturday alone, six arrived) and seek to describe what was in them to Barry over the phone.

Talk about the blind leading the blind!

Let’s just mention that he had to guess what I’m describing and, even as I’m doing it, I don’t know what I’m describing either, so there’s every opportunity for chaos and confusion, e.g.:

Him: “But has it got a differential flange attached to it?”

Me: “What’s a differential flange?”

We have now agreed that, until he gets here on Friday evening, we’re not going to make a great deal of progress.

I am left reflecting this morning upon the burdens of either working from home and/or being retired.

They cannot help it, but others naturally assume that you are either sitting beside your phone, desperately hoping that someone will ring and give you something to do, or that – since they’re so busy and you aren’t – you wouldn’t mind running some errand for them.

I can well remember the times, when I was working at home, when my wife used to ring from her place of work and ask if I wouldn’t mind picking up her dry cleaning or doing some food shopping … presuming that, as ever, I was sitting there, idle.

Getting on a bit already has enough attendant trials and tribulations to last a lifetime, but this ‘constantly being available to do stuff for others’ concept can sometimes be over-exploited. This week, so far, I have been able to achieve precisely nothing on my own account.

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About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts