Dozing off to the church bells of St Mary’s ringing for the Christmas Eve service I had a decent night’s sleep for the first time in weeks, which was just as well as I was up at 5.00 am on Christmas Day to pack the car and get on the road. It was tipping it down here and the roads across the Fens were in danger of being flooded; the river was already lapping onto the road at Earith.

The A14 and A1(M) were amazing; so empty it was like being in one of those post-apocalyptic films – just me and the crows and magpies picking at the road-kill in the middle of the motorway. For the first two hours I reckon I saw more crows and magpies than I did other cars – including those travelling in the opposite direction. I took full advantage of a four-lane motorway to myself and yes officer, I did exceed the national speed limit.

After a brief stop for coffee and a “comfort-break” at the half-way point it was getting light as I came into South Yorkshire. Which was just as well as strands of fog drifted across the road at unexpected intervals. The full moon hung low in the sky and the rural landscape was striped with grey, white and pink. After much thicker fog came down as I crossed into Durham it was difficult to appreciate the view. I arrived at my Mam’s after 240 miles and three and a half hours.

Christmas is totally confusing for my Mam, as what little routine there is in her life is removed. My arrrival was only the start as she struggled to understand who she had given presents and cards to and what she had received. Within 30 minutes she had written two cards for me with money tucked inside,  in addition to the one I’d found in my room, the one I’d received in the post, and the cash gift I had from her. She also asked what my Christian name was, in order to write it on an envelope. That’s a first. 

Eventually I got her to my sister’s for Christmas dinner. Luckily she has no problem finding her way there. It’s odd the things that go from the memory and the things that stay.Christmas dinner went reasonably well; I ate slightly too much, didn’t drink enough, and spent the afternoon setting up a Wii and a new TV – gifts received by my nieces.

My mother was escorted back to her own house mid-afternoon  – she’d had enough and probably wanted a cigarette. Despite reminders and a notice on the front door she had locked me out when I returned that evening. Luckily, she was upstairs smoking and hadn’t gone to bed, so after 5 minutes fruitlessly ringing the door-bell  I managed to get her to answer the phone and let me in.

[ Why do people with Alzheimer’s never forget that they smoked? Mam smokes more now, because she forgets she’s just had one, but shows no signs of forgetting that she smoked, even though she has never smoked more than 2-5  a day in all her life. 
There’s got to be a PhD in there somewhere about addiction versus memory]

Boxing Day was a hellish repeat of Christmas Day ( without the peace of the drive) as Mam was more confused, because the family were going to Mass and it wasn’t Sunday; was having difficulty constructing coherent sentences and had consequently given herself a splitting stress-headache before we had even left the house for my sister’s. The nieces were grumpy and picking fights with each other, and Mam got involved. Horribly, I heard her using phrases to describe my eldest niece that I remember being thrown at me; she’s definitely regressed to the 1960’s. 

Both nieces are intensely competitive over games, though neither are good at sports, taking after their father in both ways. So, the traditional post-meal board games tend to be “Fun”.  The youngest(9) threw a huge tantrum and disappeared into the conservatory as she moved from leading in a game to second, only to return when she decided she wanted a re-match of yesterday’s games on the Wii.  The evening ended with sister and BIL and I having a far too serious discussion about how to manage Mam’s money …and me being locked out again.

On the 27th I visited my brother for an hour then hit the motorway south. The first 120 miles took 4 hours as the A1 was solid cars, from Durham to South Yorkshire. Traffic bulletin readers were universally confused as to why, citing Wetherby races and a 50 mile speed limit, but the reality was just sheer volume of cars. Wetherby had started hours before I drove through there and the limited area was a couple of miles. Oh, to have been able to drive at 50 mph! If you want proof that the South is an economic and employment draw for the children of the North sit on the A1 in the two days before Christmas Day or the day after Boxing Day. I eventually got home after 7 hours driving. I stopped briefly at Blyth, just outside Doncaster, which is precisely half-way, but as the car park was becoming grid-locked as cars tried to get back onto the A1 I didn’t hang around. Traffic volumes reduced once I was into Nottinghamshire and the earlier crashes on the M11 and A14 were cleared by the time I got into Cambridgeshire. I arrived too late to find a Waitrose open so had a chavtastic time finding something to eat in Tesco.

I left my parents’ home in 1975 and have been returning every year to fulfill my duty of celebrating Christmas with them.  Irrespective of what was happening in my life I have been brow-beaten into making that journey every year, by my Mam and my sister. Only twice I didn’t go and I was made to pay for it!  Now Mam wouldn’t notice if I didn’t turn up but as I fully expect her to have no idea who I am next year and to probably be in care, I’ve done my bit. This year is likely to have been the last Christmas she has in her home. 

Christmas , they say , is a “time for families”. 
One other thing I do over Christmas is sit through Eastenders. I never watch it otherwise, but Mam has always watched it.  If that’s a family Christmas I really despair.