The run-up to Christmas this year felt very normal: stressing about buying presents, trying to close down projects at work and going to at least one end-of-year office social event: thanks to Steve, Kira, Tomas, Lee, James and Paul for coming out to the pub! As an intriguing side plot, I slipped out the next morning to visit the German Embassy and submit my naturalisation paperwork, following the path which most of my family has already completed. Hats-off to the embassy’s lovely (and efficient) legal staff! And no, I’m not planning on moving anywhere, but it’s always good to have post-Brexit options. Anyway, having done my bit, this process will now trundle on through the bureaucracy for another year, so fingers crossed I didn’t mess anything up.
This last-minute dash to the Embassy was a little surreal, but things really started feeling different the next morning when Randi, Kira and I arrived at Paddington and boarded a train bound for Exeter. As I said to my sisters, ‘leaving London to go see your parents’ feels like one of those quintessential festive traditions which we’ve never experienced before. Thankfully, despite some worrying moments just outside of Paddington, everything ran relatively smoothly and we made it to Exmouth as planned to join mum, Katie and James for a Christmas by the sea.
As you might expect, we played a lot of games.
The first game worth mentioning is Don’t Get Got, Kira’s extended party game in which we each collected secret missions to be carried out against other players over the entire Christmas. Naturally I felt very paranoid and conspiracy-minded by the end. With this continuing background threat we also played many, many shorter games including Spaceteam (an absurdist app-based challenge to collectively pilot a spaceship while yelling instructions at each other), Codenames (some of the funniest/most stressful Christmas moments at once), and Terraforming Mars (a deeply enjoyable Eurogame which I managed to win – albeit with a heavy helping hand for starter players!)
We also struggled to interpret the confusing rules of Connecting London – but had a lot of fun while doing so – and got very animated playing Cobra Paw (of which Randi is now a very proud owner of) with Katie’s friend Caitlin, who popped over on our last morning and shared some valuable local knowledge. Finally, it made me very happy to introduce more people to the joys of Worms Blast, while Katie was overcome with joy to get the Toy Story 2 action game running on her laptop again after all these years. (If anyone from the extended family is reading this and worried that we’ve abandoned all traditions, don’t worry: we did find time for the odd moment of charades too.)
Other highlights included:
- A ranked-choice voting mechanism to decide on our Christmas Eve activity (after which Kira confessed that she had no idea what she voted for as she had no expectation that it would make any difference)
- The winner of said ranked-choice vote: The Muppet’s Christmas Carol! (still the best Christmas film)
- Calling Tash and Cormac on Christmas Day itself, during which they enjoyed a James Cameronesque dive into the depths of the oven itself
- Doctor Who back on Christmas Day (finally!) with The Church on Ruby Road: a magnificent, rollicking, goblin-filled introduction for Ncuti Gatwa and argh I’m so excited for more
- The traditional Boxing Day family walk… but now along clifftops!
- A post-Christmas visit from the wonderful Fox family
- Watching some unexpected boat races from mum’s balcony
- The nostalgic whirr of Kira’s polaroid camera
- A triumphant return to Aby’s, the local café I staked out on my first visit to Exmouth
- A triumphant introduction to one of mum’s new local pubs (and their sticky toffee puddings)
But, let’s face it, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without an abundance of food at home. Massive thanks to mum for her incredible Christmas Day spread – the crowning glory of a packed menu including Katie and James’s tacos, Randi’s shakshuka and Kira introducing us all to the delicious Azerbaijani qutab. Oh, and we all built a gingerbread train too 😀