It's Christmas - But First A Special Birthday

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December 25th 2011
Published: December 29th 2011
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Today, 24 December, was dear Sarah’s birthday but, because of the time difference, we had to wait until evening our time before we tried to make contact. HAPPY BIRTHDAY SARAH!! It’s at times like this that we wish we were back home in the UK.

Overnight it had cooled a little but the temperature soon began to rise along with the bright sun as we awoke fairly early. This morning we thought to catch the tram into the city and to visit the famous Victorian Markets which are supposed to be fairly special at Christmas time. The nearest tram line (the same one that goes past Daphne’s house) starts about 3 kilometers away at Vermont South but even though that is another 8 kilometers further out of the city than Daphne’s, the same daily $7 fee applies so it’s excellent value for money. After breakfast, and probably a little later than we had planned, we drove to Vermont South and parked the car in an all day free park near to yet another shopping complex. Because Vermont South is the tram terminus for the No 75 route there is almost always a tram waiting and more often than not it is nearly empty. This morning was no different and it was nice to be able to pick and choose the seats instead of just accepting what was available. We had already bought our tickets at the agents (which strangely in Vermont South is the Chemists!) and looked forward to a smooth ride into the city. The journey to Flinders Street would take about an hour. We suspected that the large “out of town” shopping malls would be very busy today but the roads into the city were fairly quiet so the tram made good time. We alighted at Flinders Street at about 11:30 and went to the nearby Information Centre for a map and some directions to the Queen Victoria Markets. They would have been a fair walk away but our tram ticket covered the whole of the Melbourne city area so we just caught another one which dropped us off right outside the main building.

Unlike the rest of the city which seemed to be a bit quiet, the Victorian Market area was a sea of people. The two main sections (there’s about ten in all) are dominated by first, meat and fish and then fruit and veggies and both of these sections were manic. We had no intention of buying any meat or fish but we were curious to see what was available and we took our life in our hands to do so. Almost every serious shopper was pulling a little shopping trolley and it didn’t bother them how many feet were trampled and how narrow the gap was to go through – they just went for it!! The atmosphere was fantastic but eventually we just had to escape the madness. The fruit and veg area was almost as bad but we decided to go back later in the hope that it would quieten down a bit. So we meandered around the many other areas – clothing, footwear, hats (Graham bought one for me for Christmas), sweets, arts and crafts, cakes, biscuits etc etc – and found a small café for a chicken burger (!) and a large refreshing mug of tea. Then we went back to the fruit area and bought a few things before seeking out the tram back into the city centre. We got off the tram early and walked through some of the main shops before catching the tram back as far as Daphne’s. We wanted to collect the beautiful flowers that Sarah and Darryl had arranged to be delivered there and which actually arrived while we were there yesterday. We thought no-one would be in but just as we got to the house, David, Mele and Daphne arrived back from – yes – the shops!! We stayed with them for a while to have a cuppa and some cake before David and Mele went out shopping again and we went off to catch the tram back to Vermont South. I did a bit of shopping there before Graham went to collect the car which had become baking hot in the sun. Back at the caravan park the pool became available at about 6:00pm with only three other people in it – and we had a lovely refreshing dip before making contact with dear Sarah to wish her Happy Birthday. Our birthday chat lasted about an hour and was just the boost we needed to see us through the next few hectic days and into the New Year when we go to Tassie and when we will have to start thinking seriously about how and when we’re going to return to the UK.

It wasn’t a very pleasant start to Christmas Day weather-wise. There had been rain during the night with the odd flash of lightening and the occasional distant rumble of thunder. We had gathered together a few cards and parcels that had been sent from the UK to various addresses in Aus and had a jolly “opening session”, much as we would have done back home. Some email wishes arrived too as we drifted through the morning slowly getting ready for our lunchtime visit to Grant’s and Anna’s. The weather didn’t improve much with the occasional downpour and it was muggy - not what we expected for an Aussie Christmas – but at least the caravan stayed relatively cool. The Aussie-bound presents we had bought were to be taken to Grant’s to be put under their tree for the traditional mass distribution of gifts – the girls, Charlotte and Amy, and other youngsters there will act as distributors.

Our gifts from the UK were an amazing collection of goodies including some Terror Teddies, an apron, a shopper bag, CDs, quiz books, chocolates, toiletries and, of course, yesterday’s delivery of a splendid bouquet of flowers from Sarah and Darryl. There was also a wonderful hamper full of delicious biscuits, chocolates, relishes etc etc from Rod and Tania which was at Daphne’s. So, despite being as far away from home as it’s possible to be, we still enjoyed some of the excitement and pleasure that Christmas can bring. As the morning progressed the sun began to emerge so it looked like a sunny Christmas dinner was likely after all. It continued to shine as we made our way to Grant’s and Anna’s and the most surprising thing was just how many people were on the road at the same time. It was like rush hour traffic and a multi-car prang at one of the freeway junctions didn’t help. We arrived at the house at about 12:30 thinking we may be early but, actually, most of the guests had already arrived and about six young kiddies were in the swimming pool. It was turning into a really good day but, as is often the case in Melbourne, it wasn’t to last. Tables were set up on the patio to cater for about 40 people. A large canvas pergola had been acquired which just about covered the whole area and it was hoped it would be used as a sunshade. Everything looked perfect. Before dinner could be started, however, a heavy storm blew through but the rain soon stopped and everything looked to be perfect again. Rain had collected on the canvas pergola and began to spill onto the outer chairs but a few of the chaps, armed with brooms, managed to move the water off and most of it cascaded onto the garden. Only two people hadn’t arrived (Daphne and David) but time was going on so the starter was served. We were lucky enough to get inside seats so if it rained again then at least we would be dry. The kids, meanwhile, were back in the pool so we didn’t stay entirely dry as they were splashing about madly. The main course was then served – a bit of a buffet arrangement - but the food was excellent and plentiful. Still two people were missing and by now it was about 2:00pm. Eventually Daphne and David arrived without any real explanation – they’re just always late! Everyone was beginning to clear away plates and cutlery to make room for the sweets, of which there were many. Daphne and David did their best to catch up but before the sweets could be served another tremendous storm hit the area with thunder, lightening and heavy rain which eventually turned into hail stones. A strong wind then threatened to blow the pergola away so again, a few of the men-folk got together to dismantle it and got soaking wet into the bargain. Consequently the rest of the afternoon and evening were spent in the large family room but there was plenty of space for all and, despite the weather, it was a really grand affair.

We left in pouring rain at about 5:30 with an open invitation to go on to another White family “do” tonight but we were concerned about what we might find back at the caravan. The awning was out but had not been secured and some windows had been left open to try to keep the temperature down. No sooner had we arrived back at the caravan when another torrential storm hit us and hung around overhead for what seemed like an hour. Fortunately the awning had survived and only one of the windows had let rain in so we escaped relatively well but the torrential storm continued well after the time we should have set off for the evening party. So we rang and offered our apologies for our absence knowing that we would be happier snugly settled into the caravan hoping for a better day tomorrow. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Melbourne weather is always splendid at this time of the year! Our recent experiences suggest that Melbourne is often more uncomfortable (too hot and muggy or too wet and windy) than the good old UK. Thunder, lightening and heavy rain continued on and off throughout the evening which was cheered up for us firstly by another long telephone conversation with Sarah and then a Skype chat with Rod. We turned in soon after 10:00pm hoping for some much better weather tomorrow. It had been an unusual Christmas Day to say the least but made very special by the efforts of Grant and Anna so our thanks go to both of them.

Additional photos below
Photos: 20, Displayed: 20


The two chefs, Grant and James putting the finishing touches to the Christmas lunchThe two chefs, Grant and James putting the finishing touches to the Christmas lunch
The two chefs, Grant and James putting the finishing touches to the Christmas lunch

(which was superb - thank you both so much for your brilliant efforts!)

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