Sorry, friends, there are No Vacancies. Thos just bought his first [and last - Ed.] euphonium this year. He really had to (he says). It was sitting cowering on a stand full of concertinas twice its age. And now the Shelter for Homeless Musical Instruments has had to close its doors. Nothing, positively nothing else, will be admitted. Except maybe a tenor banjo &endash; or perhaps a bouzouki - and T has always wanted a bagpipe - and Owen wants another bass, no doubt - well, OK, let's say there are No Vacancies unless you begin with B. [That's alright then, says Jones, whose first name is Bustopher and whose tummy usually has a vacancy].
Indeed, this year we've all bought something for the first time [except those idle scrounging cats who still persist in living in the lap]. Martin bought his first car: a huge but cheap estate wagon, now silted up with tapes and spare accordions, to be seen puffing round southern England from gig to pub. What did Owen buy? His first textbook, of course. Even more momentous than first car. And Jo? We'll come to that one later.
This year we were delighted to be asked to Granada by an ex-student of Thomas's. For the fiestas at the first of May. What a whirl. Dancing sevillanas all over the street from lunch till dawn (not us, we fell into bed at 2 and lay there gritting our ears). The whole town heaped high in carnations carnality and cars; near us was a street called Paseo de los Tristes, which just had to be named for the number of people with hangovers groaning their way to the bar for a haunch of the dog that bit them. Not a guitarist in sight &endash; all the music was canned, every storming quaver of it, knocking tiles off the roofs at a hundred paces. Then after it was all over and the speaker stacks were put away, slowly the wooden guitars of Andalucia crept out of hiding and started their sweet tangly twangles.
We have discovered a quieter form of holiday, as well, the folk camp. What better way to spend a long weekend than in a wet field with a lot of other strange people, folk-dancing in the evenings and playing recorder quintets in the daytime. It's the pub that does it, lovely hot meals and a generous helping of baffled bikers discussing their gearboxes while the musos1 churn out jigs and churn in beer.
Jo's been getting around again. Back to her roots in Moravia, back to her boots in The Lake District. Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic) was the cradle of her mother's family, and so they took themselves off to see the legendary village of Lipov. (Guess what: today even Lipov has a folk festival.) Searching the Jewish cemeteries for the names of their ancestors. Great success, too. Coniston was a contrast, an organised holiday: Lakeland walks in the day, bursts of song and viol in the evenings. "Awake, my soul! The tenor viol / The rainy day away doth while", etc.
[Note to editor: sorry this is going slowly, there's a large black and white cat sitting on my keyboard.]
Vignette 1: The Editors are lying in bed. One of them stirs the other. They look at each other with sleepy alarm. Crisis. The quasi-intelligent Dynamic Alarm System had completely failed. Some dastardly person must have fed it during the night!
This year's problem page: what's the plural of requiem? Jo's been collecting for charity by doing a sponsored requiem. (Some charity: CUMS!2 ) That's strange enough in itself (are you sponsored for number of notes, or degree of peace conferred upon the dead?), but then she did another two: Mozart, Fauré and Brahms all in one go (with a few breaths on the way). A Mass of Requiemes?
Vignette 2: Time to sell the previous attempt at a band wagon, a very old jalopy named Odin after the sounds it made. "Better remove a few things", says Jo, "just to make it tidier, you know". And emerges from it carry the WD-40 (trouble starting), the Damp-Start (serious trouble starting), the jump leads (no, I mean it, it really doesn't like starting), the 5-litre water-holder (er, just a slight leak in the radiator there, guv), the spare oil (er, bit of a drip somewhere) and the spare petrol can (like, no fuel gauge). Then, having demonstrated that butter has no chance at all of melting in her mouth, she sells this heap for 50 smackers more than we paid for it [And worth every penny &endash;haven't had any complaints yet &endash; Ed].
Last year the wire service produced a great story about Thos into full pantomimicry but it got spiked by the Senior Editor's Assistant, so we couldn't bring it to our readers. This year, exclusively leaked to this publication, several dozen others, and the internet, we can reveal that instead of leaping about the stage in very short shorts dancing with two women at once he's got a less flamboyant part as Principal Shaky Egg in the band. The tune goes chk-2-3-4-chk-2-3-4 a relentless number of times. To make up for it he gets to play the flute tune from Peer Gynt. (Actually, it's the only tune in Peer Gynt. - Chief Editor (Flute and Egg Section)3)
And it's just as well he's not supposed to leap around with all those women because he was doing it down at Sottish Prancing the other week, where they can reel very Sottishly indeed, and Thos started his prance and suddenly discovered someone else was using his foot. So he came over all of a heap and lay around on a stretcher in the hospital waiting to be X-rayed for the usual period (what government said the NHS was safe in their hands?) reading the only magazine in sight. Designs for Skirts U Can Make, Seven Desserts To Impress Your Boss-in-Law, and a bit on numerology. So he read that bit and added up his numbers and lo! his character was revealed: "One of your greatest strengths is that you can always stand on your own two feet."
OK, so what did Jo buy for the first time this year? The answer is an electric toothbrush. Not very exciting, you might think, and there you would be in good company with the people who write the Argos catalogue, who had a lot of problems with their copy. I mean, what do you say about an electric toothbrush that might distinguish it from any other. The answer is: It Can Be Used With Any Brand Of Toothpaste. Cap that if you can!
Vignette 3: Jo on the train. Opposite her a fellow traveller gently snored his way to York; on his lap, a book. The title? Insomnia. Obviously a pretty effective treatment. But as its author was Stephen King one wonders if he meant it to work quite so well.
Missed Photo Of The Year: our bookshelf &endash; after the Swiss Cheese plant had sent its aerial roots before, behind, between, above, below all our books.
Requiescatis in pacem Crimbo-wise, friends &endash; and watch out for Book-eating plants.
(Principal Egg, August Egg4, Smith (mew), Jones (someone keeps trying to use my keyboard), The Accordion-Playing Haystack (beware of the band's CD, it gets loose in the spring) and Owen (fancy a Ruby5, mate?).