This was the first Christmas I've spent away from 'home'. No matter where I was, I've always managed to get back to my mam and dad's in Yorkshire. This Chrimbo was the first one away as a married man, down in Devon at my in-laws.
Their house is perched on an escarpment over the mouth of the Torridge Estuary. It's a much loved home of well-banked wood fires, friendly dogs, wellies in the porch and old, creaky beds piled with ancient, indestructible Witney blankets.
The Shipping Forecast - still the best poem ever written - takes on a different dimension down there. An ear is always cocked for the word 'Lundy', and with nothing much between the house and Canada, a silent prayer is often given to preserve the roof tiles. I'm used to sleet - it's the normal weather for Keighley from October to late May - but this was the first time I'd experienced it coming upwards, blown from the plain below the house. Christmas day, however, was a perfect eggshell blue day. Best spent on the beach with a pair of enthusiastic dogs.
I've mentioned before the dearth of decent pubs in Bideford. The nearby, Bladerunner-esque megacity of Barnstaple (population 25,000) is even worse. Leaving Mrs TIW and her mum to go shopping, I thought I'd give the North Country a try. I'd long marked it as "my" type of pub, and online reviews backed me up. However, I found closed and for sale. I'm willing to be put right, but It seems that every boozer in town is now a half-arsed "fun" pub, a vertical drinking hellhole or a meat-raffle 'n' wifebeater stinkbin where ignoring the smoking ban is a positive virtue. Barnstaple now has two Wetherspoons, which must surely prove something, even if I can't tell you what it is. It was a defeated Ten-Inch who supped his (excellent) pint of Holdens Golden Glow at the Panniers 'spoons.