29 December 2014

A Truly Happy Christmas

The Welcome at my Front Door

I was perhaps a little premature with my thoughts of a "Trostloses" Christmas. Mine was anything but. The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that one should attack anniversaries and special days which are tinged with loss and sadness or else they will attack you. In many respects I have always done this, thus even though I am alone now, and there is no one to share it with, I have decorated my home for Christmas. 

My Living Room 2014

My Childhood Crib collected by my Oma

It put me in a better frame of mind. However, before Christmas there was Christopher's sixth birthday and this year he asked for "Hook" also known as "Tow Mader" from Cars. A bit more difficult than a simple Smartie truck, but I gave it my best shot and he must have liked it as he began to demolish it from the start!

The Birthday Cake

Christmas Eve I visited Hanna before the evenings festivities and then back at home I got ready for my main event. An unexpected phone call wishing me a Merry Christmas from a fellow circumnavigater at this time, both surprised and delighted me. Now, although I had told a certain person on the Friday night before Christmas, in the Christmas Market over a Glühwein, that I intended to be alone; by Monday they did not take "No" for an answer. I was informed by email that at a family conference over the weekend, they had all agreed that I was to share their Christmas. 

After much deliberation I agreed and it turned out to be the best decision and probably one of the best times I have had in this sad year of mine. To protect the innocent they shall be known as my ET family and they have two charming and handsome sons who had grown beards just to make me feel welcome. They collected me on the way back from Church and even drove me home again in the early hours of the morning! I can honestly say that I had a Happy Christmas as they all made me feel like part of the family. A passage from the Old Testament was chosen and read by one of the sons, which put our celebrations into context. We had a lovely meal with stimulating conversation in English and German. Then there was the giving of presents, each of us taking it in turns to unwrap and show what we had been given. After which we played games and pulled Christmas Crackers that I had brought. I have to say the jokes are lost on most Germans and even though I try to explain that they are really meant for 8 year olds and as many English jokes, are based on puns and word association, it is all lost in translation. 

The next morning my head told me I had drunk far too much red wine, but the Christmas Cheer did not leave me. I got up early to go to the morning service at Christ Church in Düsseldorf. I knew of this Church, but had never been before, but on this Special Day I had a need to attend an Anglican Service and sing English Carols.

Well the service was a little too modern English for me. I am a very catholic Anglican and was brought up on the King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer. I have quite a number of different copies of both. My oldest Book of Common Prayer, which I treasure, is 171 years old from 1843! I do love the language of it all. Does this make me a stick in the mud? Perhaps. When I pray alone, I use modern speech I suppose, though at times I have been known to attempt to pray in the language of the Book of Common Prayer. But no it is the ritual and language of formal services which I enjoy, for it takes me back to my time as an 8 year old Choir boy and the many services I enjoyed then. In all honesty I don't need the Church to make me believe. When you have sailed an ocean alone, you have been close to and know God. 
Anyway the Christmas Morning Service was nice enough. There is a nice small congregation where they all seem to know each other. The Sermon was to my liking, given by a locum, and he was ably and beautifully assisted by two lovely female toddler sisters.   

After the service I took a short walk in the sunshine along the banks of the Rhine, returning home via Hanna for a late lunch.

On Boxing Day I had decided to go for a nice long walk in the Eifel and try out my new rucksack which I had bought as a Christmas present to myself. Sadly I slept through the alarm so was quite late starting. 

I had put about 7 kilos in the bag, which is not as much as I will take on the Camino, but just enough to get a feel for the new bag. 

The Ruhr at Obermaubach

I walked a circular route of about 10 kilometres. starting and ending in Obermaubach. It was a lovely day and I had good views over the valley and enjoyed being alone in the woods.

I found a nice little Woodland Chapel, which was open and so sat for a while in thoughtful prayer, before continuing on my journey. I had a pick-nick lunch, but as I was late starting did not do the whole initially planned route, as this would have meant me ending the walk in the dark. I shall return another day for it really was a nice walk and one I can do again and again. The bag too was a good choice and fit comfortably. When I think back to some of the rucksacks I have owned over the years, this is perhaps the best. 

Winter has set in, in earnest now as it has snowed here. It may stay a while, but will not last that long. It never does here. It is just a pity it was not a bit earlier to give us all a white Christmas.

My year then is ending on a high note after all. It is a year where I have been shown love and friendship from more than one unexpected quarter.  At my 50th Birthday party (some 18 years ago) I made a speech in which I said, that the mark of a man (or woman) is not the wealth he has accrued, nor the power he has, but the quality of the friends he gathers on his journey through life.   I have been reminded of this since Hanna died when V & A rescued me on that first Sunday. Then again by my visits to Neuss, Hameln, Fittleworth in Sussex, Milford in Connecticut and Malta. I am indeed a lucky man with the many good friends I have gathered around me, though I used to lament that many of them did not live in Mönchengladbach, but were strewn around the World. Now I know different, for the year has shown me that I  have made some really good friends in the town where I have chosen to live too.


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