All I wanted for Christmas

J. was home from hospital in time for Christmas, allowing us to have our usual quiet Christmas Day rather than an outing involving gymnastics with the public transport system over the festive season (there is only one ferry off the Island on Christmas Day). She is now halfway through her treatment for leukaemia, and the Christmas break is an ideal opportunity to fatten her up before the next session in hospital.

We don’t have Christmas lunch as such. The meal extends over the whole day, with soup and a first course at lunchtime, and the main course and dessert in the evening. That way you get the full monty without bloating and being unable to move. As usual I cooked the lot: leek and potato soup; smoked salmon and cream cheese pasta; roast chicken with the usual vegetable suspects (potatoes and carrots from the garden); and trifle.

Jimjams was remarkably restrained when it came to the presents, and for the first time left some to open throughout the day. The two of us had a short walk into Freshwater after the lunchtime stage of the meal, giving us a chance to talk: the second time this week as we both had a shopping spree in Southampton on the Monday. Perhaps it is too much to ask that she is leaving behind her the stage of teenage grunting, but I can hope. She has made several attempts recently at being useful around the house, to the extent of even getting her dishes into the dishwasher rather than leaving them on the side.

With J.’s departure on the 28th looming all too soon, it means Jimjams and I will be on our own for new year. It won’t be quiet: with Rockband for the Wii in the house, I suspect Jimjams has her new year’s eve planned. New Year isn’t the only quiet day ahead: both wedding anniversary and Jimjams’ birthday are in early January, and for one or more of those we will be visiting in hospital.

Christmas was quiet. I got two pairs of gloves – one driving, one gardening – a top that I bought myself, J. home, and Jimjams being delightful. I got up at 6.15am having been to midnight mass and late to bed, and went to bed past midnight again. It’s Boxing Day and I’m shattered. Happy, but shattered.

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Friend and neighbour R. kindly sat in with me as I repeated my venture down the Military Road. I had a nervous start, and realize just how off-putting it is having a stranger in the car, especially someone who has very kindly volunteered to endure a learner driver. No wonder so many people fail their test: the idea of having not just a stranger in the car, but one who is also going to pass judgment suddenly becomes a daunting prospect.

The drive was functional. I made mistakes and R. was very patient, and constantly reminded me not to cross my arms when I turned the wheel. I blame nerves, as it’s not something I’ve previously been doing. With a typically grim winter’s morning, the drive was less enjoyable than last time, and I realize that getting driving practice is going to be unrewarding: with no purpose to a journey other than just driving for the experience of it, I find driving boring. And that in only 45 minutes. The key is going to be to have a purpose for every trip.

Onto my next proper lesson with P., which initially took me round the  bungalow village behind The Gouldings in Freshwater, practising coming out of junctions. At an early hour of the day there is no real hazard in these roads, except coming back out onto the blind corner of High Street. And then it was through the village along Avenue Road Рwhich is the main street; High Street is virtually a backwater Рdown to Afton, and left onto the Middle Road.

The Middle Road is one of the main routes to Newport. It’s twisty, with numerous dips and rises, and precious few places to overtake. I’ve never cycled it because it’s just too dangerous. It’s one claim to fame is that is paces through the site of the 1970 Isle of Wight Pop Festival, the event that brought about the Isle of Wight Act to restrict large gathering on the Island. Approaching 9am, the road gets busy with commuters, and as I turned left onto the Middle Road I could almost imagine the drivers behind me and waiting to turn right onto the road bemoaning the fact that they’d get stuck behind a learner who was only just mastering the dizzying speed of 40mph, some 20 below the road’s limit.

P. made me pull in at the one safe straight stretch to let the crocodile of cars speed past, and especially the bus that had appeared close-up in the mirror after a few cars had overtaken. And then it was on to Newport, being told not to use the brakes until Carisbrooke – at which point engine braking is not enough because the road lurches downwards, and twists until it comes out at The Waverley pub.

And then I was unleashed on Newport. Having previously thought there was an awful lot to take in as far as observing what’s going on is concerned, town driving was a mind-numbing revelation. There is just so much going on, and suddenly, instead of being helpful, the main mirror creates a huge blind spot, restricting the view to the left. The lesson worked up to going round Coppins Bridge roundabout, Newport’s main traffic jam, with P. guiding me through each set of lights and anticipating the changes superbly. He has evidently had loads of practice to have worked out all the timings. And then it was up round the industrial estate to the hospital and St Mary’s roundabout, down the dual carriageway (all of half a mile), and back round Coppins Bridge, before the lesson ended and I scooted off to Cowes to visit J. in Southampton.

Bear in mind that in effect this is proper lesson number three. I told C. (who’d given me my initial briefings and driving experience) that I’d been round Coppins Bridge twice, and you could see his eyebrows hit the ceiling. His son, who is also learning, certainly wasn’t taken round it on lesson three.

Anyway, while I’ve been boldly going where no learner of my limited experience has been before, let’s just say that I didn’t get out of the car afterwards entirely calm. It took at least five minutes talking over the lesson before I felt vaguely on an even keel again.