Come on, you can't stop yet, you haven't even started.

January Ten years ago we were making cages for stick insects. Now we're making what looks like a coffin for the Dead Leprechauns Society. It's supposed to be a case for a mandola (that's a bigger kind of man dolin). If the bits ever stick together, that is. The floor is covered with sawdust and spent oaths, and the carpenters are covered in confusion and glue. Some things never change.

Feb Back at my father's house in Spain. What a lot to do. Jo and I sweeping, throwing out, labelling. Discovered stacks of marvellous photos; we got some of them up on the walls in frameless frames (try looking that one up in your phrase book!). My parents had a Pragmatic Oven and somehow they baked cakes, stewed stews. We'd love our friends to borrow the house (applications invited) but not all of them are Advanced Pragmatists. So we've bought a microwave. Felt the whole house shudder. How newfangled.

March Up to my elbows in it. Slipping unsteadily on the floor on it. Bits of it spattered onto the walls, the oven, the cats. What I want to know is, how did the inventor actually know that he (?she?) had invented something that would one day change the wheel of civilisation? Whoever invented papermaking had more grasp of these things than me. The Book, the oh-so-nonchalant Book, shows lovely white sheets, but I've got a pair of flaccid poppadoms made out of pale grey scum. My deckle doesn't fit and the mesh has started to pull away from my mould. Are these really going to be birthday cards for Jo? Recycling my old drafts of papers seemed like a good idea (after all, who's going to eat my words, if I don't?) at first. "Small labels or tags are an ideal accompaniment to gifts for loved ones," says The Book. A likely story. Here's a bit of dried scum, my dear, you'll find the rest on the kitchen floor.

As I look again at what I now realise is a purely satirical photograph of the DIY author flippantly scooping out another pool of dripping scum and turning it casually into a sheet of paper I discover what to do. I'm damn well going to recycle his book.

April [&endash; Actually it was June. - Ed.] Prague (cheap flight on a BA promotion). 3 gigs a day (including a marionette version of Don Giovanni!) and baroque architecture amid the ex-Communist seediness. Day before we went it was 90 degrees so I bought an emergency straw hat; then it drizzled for 4 days. When the sun shone for 5 minutes I hastily jumped up and put my hat on. Got to wear it at least once. Too bad I was still in bed, it was quite uncomfortable.

May Owen's A levels. Say No More. Martin's work experience, archeology in the mud: he found a medieval cow, of all things. A happy summer lay ahead of O, and we all revelled in his relaxed friends bringing us poetry, describing latest worlds in D&D, lifting the roof off the garden shed as the band (Īvilpuss! but why?) practised for its gigs. Oh yes &endash; and the complaints from Mrs Sournose a few streets away. To our delight all our other neighburs rallied round us and said they didn't mind the band, and she retired from the fray.

Come on, you ain't finished. There's whiskey in the jar, still.

June [&endash; No it wasn't! &endash; Ed.] Favourite play of the year: the Reduced Shakespeare Company's version of Hamlet (3 men, 1 wig passed from head to head). After doing it forwards &endash; then forwards at full speed &endash; they did it backwards, Ophelia rising from the weeds. The purists hated it, glee.

August Edinburgh festival. Wottalot of comics. Asked after free whisky-tasting at the Whisky Centre &endash; no chance, but no chance. Go down to Oddbin's instead, they lined up twelve open bottles and a large glass and said 'Now, where shall we start?' Kept the rain off for the rest of the day, but the lamp-posts and the comics got a bit confused with each other. Come to think of it, some of them weren't so different when we sobered up. M was in Ireland in the same rain and gales (on a music-finding mission with a grant from the Henry Morris Trust, well done him but strewth, fancy paying him to sit in pubs jamming!), said that camping that night was like being inside an orgasmic jellyfish. How'd he know, for God's sake?

September Another visit to Spain; telling ourselves that this time we can simply enjoy ourselves, see friends, stroll through the town, do a bit of brandy tasting ... But we get there, and what's this? The cockroaches have eaten the hot water bottles! Left them hanging on the wall, a neat rank &endash; maybe even serried &endash; come back 6 months later and they're in shreds!

October Well, that's it, folks. We no longer have children in secondary education. Exasperated by inanity, M left school, went pro. The band is called Whiskey before Breakfast (though I don't believe they ever get up in time to have anything before breakfast, and not often before lunch either). Great gigs, a whole heap of YoungFings storming and bopping and everyone calling me Martin's Favver cos they don't know any other name for me ("Ey, Mah'in's Favver, wanna bevvy?" Why, thank you, I don't mind if I do.) but alas, the gigs all seem to be for charity, when do Jo and I get to live like capon-lin'd earls and ride bikes with mink-lined saddles?

And O started student life at Salford. At the beginning of term there's a whole new game we didn't know about; the National Convoy of FreshPerson Bearers clogs up every motorway in the land. Family saloons piled three deep, each containing 2 proud parents, 1 bored and apprehensive FreshPerson. Took us hours to get there and deliver him to a monklike cell &endash; probably the first and last monklike thing in his life. Came home the back way, through the moonlight, via kebabs in the dark back streets of Manchester and coffees in Country-Living pubs in the middle of nowhere. The British Signpost Users' Association (that's us, but you can join for a fiver) was delighted to find that Stockport still boasts a marvel of exactitude we remem bered from our first days of marriage: 'Carlisle miles'. One day someone will really be grateful to know about that odd half mile.

November A startling weekend: all O's mates turned up &endash; and the man himself! Regaled us with plain tales from the hills, also from the campuses quads and courts. Huge pairs of boots making bevvies all day long. Felt like home again.

December Brrrr. Warmest December since they invented the thermometer, a garden full of totally con fused plants, and somehow I'm playing the concertina for a dance band rehearsal in St John's gorgeous music room and it's Bluddy Cowld. Jo's probably stripping off, 'cos she's got the sense to be rehearsing her thing in Addenbrooke's hospital (where it's probably much warmer as well as better music) &endash; while Martin's crew's in t'pub where the Guinness fills the room with therms. Wonder if Owen's rehearsing anything?

Hey, how's that whisky jar? Just enough for a toast? Right &endash; HAPPY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!

 


Index of Christmas letters