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Published: December 29th 2006
What happens when you get a bunch of strong willed Aussies together in the Cotswolds with a plan to cook their own Christmas day lunch?
You get more food than said Aussies could finish if they were to eat solidly for a week!!
I am sure that no Christmas menu was ever as hotly debated as this one. Think of all the foods that you think 'it would not be Christmas without....' and multiply that by 10, and you will start to get the picture. You know it is getting complicated when even the veggos start giving opinions as to what meats should be eaten on Christmas Day. On the plus side, however, it did mean that we had amazing food, and plenty of leftovers for Boxing Day!
As you can guess from the above, I spent Christmas in the Cotswolds. This time we stayed in a little town called Ebrington - so small that it did not even have a corner shop (although, as a typical English town, it DID have a pub). 10 of us stayed in two cottages (conveniently located right across the road from one another), with a special guest appearance by two other
mates (who are currently living in Cambridge) on Christmas day. My brother was one of the 10, so was fantastic to have a family member there. We were near a town called Chipping Campden which, according to the guidebooks, is arguably one of the most picturesque towns in the Cotswolds (and does have shops).
The Cotswolds towns are so cute and, well, quaint. It is like they have not changed for hundreds of years (well, apart from the satellite dishes), and probably they haven't. The towns are tiny, and surrounded by fields. Even though they are not that far apart, as you drive from one to the other, you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. It's all so 'terribly, terribly' English - perfect for a traditional Christmas break.
It was lucky we had not decided to travel anywhere by plane for Christmas, as thick fog over London meant short haul flights from London were delayed and cancelled and lots of people were stranded. The fog did make the trip to the Cotswolds interesting - in places it was so thick, it was nearly impossible to see the road signs (especially once we were on the
and my cool 'Team Australia' jacket - it is reversible!!!
narrow country roads). Luckily, we had 'Tom Tom', a GPS system, to lead the way. Despite some wariness about GPS's (you know the stories about them leading people to the edge of cliffs and so on) I am a convert. Makes navigating much easier.
We were lucky enough to experience many of the English Christmas traditions. When the advance contingent of 6 arrived at our cottage on the evening of Friday 22 December, we were just in time to see the Ebrington carol singers come to the farmhouse where our cottage was located. The owners put on some nibblies and mulled wine (for everyone - not just the singers) and a group of about 20 locals sang about 4 carols before moving on to the next venue. The mulled wine was just what we needed, as the temperature that evening was -1.
The next night, we ate at the Ebrington pub. During the course of our dinner, a group of kids with bells came in and 'rang' Christmas carols. It was lovely.
By this time the other 4 of the 'main crew' had arrived. We had a pretty stressful time, in the lead up to Christmas, going
The great Christmas Eve dinner
for drives in the countryside, playing 500, Uno and Cluedo, reading and having afternoon naps.
Given the volume of food, 3 roasts between 12 people (actually no, as there were 3 veggos - so 3 people to a roast really) plus cold meats, salads, roast veggies and more - we decided to start with a big Christmas Eve feast. May as well start the excessive eating as soon as possible!! And a feast it was. Hmmm, there was a degree of concern as to whether I would be able to back up on Christmas Day. Luckily, I planned to be 'ravishing' as Kath and Kim would say (famished).
The big day started with Champagne and mince pies while we unwrapped our Kris Kringle gifts. They were a great success - and despite our advanced ages, we all got lots of toys for playing with later in the day.
We then set about the cooking extravaganza to prepare the biggest Christmas dinner ever. I was in charge of the turkey (who knew you used so much butter??) which, despite the fact that I had never roasted any kind of fowl in my life, was a great success. We
also had starters, goose, three kinds of stuffing, roast veggies, salads, pasta etc etc etc AND THEN dessert. There was certainly no lack of food, even though we ate one of the roasts on Christmas Eve. One thing we did not have was brussel sprouts. It seems that if you are English, you have to have a big bowl of sprouts on the table, even though hardly anyone likes them. We did, however, have some cold sprouts on the table - as we found a field of them growing not far from the cottage.
We then headed out for an after lunch stroll to assist the digestion ... in the pitch black. Still am not used to the early sunset here - it was only just after 5pm. On our return, it was time for the traditional Christmas board games, including pictionary. As you can imagine, given the strong personalities mentioned above, the game was not without controversy. I am sure the many alcoholic drinks consumed in the course of the day did not assist our drawing either!
On boxing day, those of us who did not have to rush back to London went for a 'ramble round
the 'wolds'. It was not a long walk, more of the leisurely variety. We started in Lower Slaughter and did a round trip via Upper Slaughter. In Lower Slaughter, we saw the most kitsch thing I have seen this Christmas. Obviously, given the unseasonable warmth in the UK this year, the odds of a white Christmas were extremely low. However, one of the hotels in Lower Slaughter did the best they could for their guests, putting fake snow on the gardens and bushes immediately outside their doors.
The walk was also 'typically English' - along the public footpaths through properties around the Cotswolds. We climbed over fences using the stiles provided and saw a surprising number of different (and innovative) ways to latch gates to stop animals following people through.
Then it was back to London, and back to work. Oh well, we all have to come back to reality sometime.
Thanks to all of you who sent Christmas wishes, was missing you all!
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