Christine Palmer is the author of Walking Back to Happiness, published by Eye Books. It is an account of her self-finding expedition to hike the Camino, the pilgrims' trail to Santiago de Compostela, and is simultaneously respectful, spiritual and irreverent; profound and funny; a true 'companion book' and an insightful commentary on life.
I do not normally make New Year’s Resolutions, but after battling from France to the UK on crowded trains in order that I could join the family on our boat in the East End of London, I decided I would make a resolution for 2017. I would endeavour to be ‘nice’ to people. Travelling prior to Christmas is always rather fraught. The trains are frequently crowded with families bearing all the paraphernalia of gifts, luggage and baby equipment, resulting in huge problems searching for somewhere to put one’s luggage. Trying to be ‘nice’ amongst all this chaos can be rather trying.
‘Nice’ is a word that my English teacher at school, told me I must avoid using. ‘Nice’, she implied, was rather common, and one could always find a better word. But I like ‘nice’. For me it is a soft word that can adequately describe things that are not quite beautiful, wonderful, great or my most hated adjective ‘stunning’.
Shortly after arriving at the boat we had a family get-together, and feeding nine people for Christmas lunch on two medium sized boats is something of a challenge. We had all been allocated certain jobs, the most important of which was for our son to cycle down the tow path with the Turkey, which he and his wife intended to cook at their flat on Christmas morning.
Unfortunately, the person responsible for the Christmas pudding and crackers had forgotten, and had to be despatched to the local shopping centre to buy the necessary items. We were all horrified to be told on his return that although he had tried several supermarkets and shops, they had run out of both Christmas pudding and crackers. We reluctantly assured one another that we really didn’t need pudding, and that we would do without crackers. Nevertheless, the grand-children looked a little disappointed. Therefore on Christmas Eve morning I was up early, donning my back pack and striding purposefully down the tow path towards Lidl about a mile away. Grandma 2 who was sensibly staying at a nearby hotel was up equally early. Having great style she hailed a black cab (none of your Uber nonsense for her) and explained she needed to find a Christmas pudding and crackers.
“Let’s head for Marks and Spencer’s,” the kindly taxi driver suggested, and then much to her surprise she heard him phone the nearest branch to check if they had Christmas puddings.
“Two left,” he informed her. “I’ve told them to put one aside for you.”
I (Grandma 1) was at this time approaching Lidl’s, which was a hive of every nationality under the sun, all happily embracing the Christmas festivities. The ‘nice’ young assistant guided me to the shelf bearing all the Christmas food, and together we searched for a pudding. Excitedly we discovered one left, a luxury pudding in a very dilapidated box. After buying it I quickly took a photograph and WhatsApped it to various family members with the tag ‘mission accomplished’. As Lidl had no crackers I crossed the road to Tesco’s. The manager looked a little depressed as Lidl’s was bursting at the seams, and he had only a couple of customers.
“Do you have any crackers left?” I asked.
“Of course!” He replied, kindly leading me to the biscuit shelves.
“No, not cheese crackers,” I replied. “Crackers that you pull”.
“No problem,” he assured me, taking me this time to the party poppers.
“No, crackers that two people pull, and there’s a joke and a hat inside.” I explained.
“Oh no, so sorry we ran out of Christmas Crackers a few days ago”.
Thanking him I left the shop, but as I was about to cross the road I saw him running towards me.
“I found a box!” he cried. “We were saving them for a lady, but she didn’t come back to collect them so you can have them.” What a ‘nice’ man.
On the way back along the tow path I met the usual collection of cyclists, dog walkers, young mums with push-chairs, all seemingly relaxed and ready to say Happy Christmas. I tore ivy from some of the walls and collected two small branches of greenery and red berries in order to make a wreath for the boat. The sun was shining and I can only describe it as a very ‘nice’ experience.
Grandma 2, hadn’t managed to buy crackers, but had bought instead several bottles of champagne at half price, a ‘nice’ gesture I thought. 0n the way back to France I think I achieved my aim of being ‘nice’ to people as I negotiated the packed Euro-star and an hour and half wait at a heavily armed Lille station.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!