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The to-do lists are long, the ticks against the items are few. By this means I know I am making pathetically slow progress in the run-up to Christmas.

It’s the same every year and I refuse to get in a lather over it. Not much of a lather, anyway. Not yet.

The small amount of shopping I have done has been achieved locally and with notable success, I’m happy to say.

I have only once ventured off limits and ordered something online, and that was because I was seduced by an email advising me of an unrepeatable offer on a bagatelle board.

I bought one last year for the grand-boys and they love it. Time for one for the grand-girls, I decided, especially at this bargain price. They’re really far too young for it, but it’s a family game so their parents can enjoy it while little fingers grow and the competitive spirit is nurtured.

I enjoyed a frisson of smugness when I ordered the bagatelle board in early October. One tick on the to-do list already!

By mid-November it hadn’t arrived so I rang the company and was told the boards were ‘in manufacture’, which I translated as ‘being made’, and I should have received an email advising me of the delayed delivery.

I haven’t received one, I said. Oh, the girl said, carefully not apologising, and adding that my board would be with me by the end of the week.

It wasn’t, but it came at the end of the following week. It was a large and heavy parcel and the delivery man gratefully handed it over to Geoff while I scrawled ‘Sdfdjlpgkl’ with a piece of blunt plastic on to a blank screen, a curious procedure that proved the item was now in our safe keeping.

Five days later, another delivery man called at the door with an equally large and heavy parcel. Geoff dealt with it all this time, inscribing ‘Gfjghfjklq’ on the screen and waiting for the man to leave before calling out to ask me what I’d ordered this time.

I’ve ordered nothing, I assured him. That’s odd, he said, because I haven’t ordered anything either.

We checked on the label that it really was intended for Hill Towers and noticed that while indeed it was, the sender was the same company that had supplied the bagatelle board.

Then we tumbled to the fact that as both parcels were the same size and weight, this second one undoubtedly contained another bagatelle board.

Now we are up to our necks in a First World problem. Do we unwrap the parcel and double-check its contents, thus leaving ourselves with a re-wrapping palaver if the thing has to be returned? Do we heave it along to a post office, queue for 45 minutes and just hand it over and say ‘Help’, with a tearful whimper? Do we call Ms Unhelpful at the firm that sent it and ask her to sort it out? Or do we hang to it and wait to see if any more grandchildren are born?

It reminds us of the time someone else’s case of wine was delivered to us by mistake. It took over our lives while we tried to organise its removal. During the days it sat in the hall, like an unwelcome visitor that wouldn’t budge, it bruised our shins and seriously tempted with its ‘Drink me’ allure.

Take my word for it, none of this inconvenience happens when you stay in control and do your shopping locally.

I was talking about TV cookery shows with a friend this week. It made a pleasant change of subject from other people’s illnesses, how they don’t make nativity plays like they used to (they’re actually rollicking good fun nowadays – imagine that!) and how ‘Christmas shopping’ is possibly the most terrifying phrase in the English language.

So we dwelt on TV cooking for quite some time, for fear of finding ourselves straying back into those danger areas.

Liz watches several of them and so when I happened to blurt out that I have a pet hate about such programmes I suspected she would understand what I was banging on about because she’s the nearest thing I know to a Mastermind-standard expert.

I said I felt they were all missing a trick because I had never yet seen one that gave guidance on absolute basics. She started to disagree, but I explained that what I meant was basics such as how to wash and thoroughly clean fruit and vegetables before chopping, dicing, slicing and so on with varying degrees of expertise. (In my case, invariably wielding a less-than-sharp knife, in a very much less than expert way.)

All you ever see is a delicious pile of ingredients rapidly reduced to a pan-ready state. But what happened to them before they began their starring role?

Some unseen assistant will, one hopes, have been charged with thoroughly washing and, where necessary, scrubbing the wherewithal for Mr or Ms Michelin-Star-Wizard to transform into a delicious dish.

But why can’t we be shown that process? How many cooks, or people who call themselves cooks thanks to the influence of telly chefs, take the time and trouble to wash away the chemicals from their raw ingredients?

“Do you know,” Liz said, “I’d never given that a thought.”

If you use organic produce it’s not that much of an issue, I said, in my best trying-not-to-be-preachy voice. You just need to inspect it and wash out any wildlife that may have hitched a ride.

But most other stuff has been sprayed and glazed and waxed to within an inch of its ridiculously false long life.

I explained to Liz that when I use non-organic stuff I wash it thoroughly in a solution of bicarbonate of soda. This is a win-win because it not only cleans it well but it makes me feel like an authentic Italian nonna.

And as for waxed, non-organic citrus fruit, well, I treat it a bit like a small child that’s covered itself in non-washable felt-tip pen: I just scrub and scrub until the pips squeak.

I asked Liz if she had ever known a TV cookery programme advise viewers to use only unwaxed oranges and lemons for grating or zesting. Never, she agreed.

Well, that’s what I mean about the programme makers missing a trick. Someone should be showing us the preliminary stages, so that we can all wise up to the unwanted extras that come with some of the fresh ingredients in our recipes.

“I had honestly never realised I’m grating the wax preservative as well when I grate an orange,” Liz said. “That’s revolting – even if it is apparently edible!”

Hot water and a vegetable scrubbing brush should do the trick, I suggested, or buy unwaxed organic fruit.

My holier-than-thou lecture over, we moved on to some of the dodgy hygiene we’d observed in a few cookery programmes – and this, inevitably, brought us full circle back to the fun topic of ailments and illnesses.

Without doubt, this has been the Year of the Question. For months now it has been ‘What do you think about Brexit?’ followed recently by the even more head-banging ‘What do you think about Trump?’

I shan’t be answering either here. There isn’t enough space and it would all get too messy. Suffice to say I do think a great deal about both, they are matters of immense importance that are seeping into every corner of all our lives, but since this is the season of goodwill, let’s move swiftly on.

It is the other questions, the less significant ones, that make me realise the Age of Meaningless Box-Ticking and Pointless Accountability has well and truly arrived.

I go to the doctor’s surgery for a nurse to take a blood test. I am hardly home before a text arrives on my phone: ‘How likely are you to recommend the practice to friends and family if they needed similar treatment?’ I am instructed to give my answer with a number, ranging from 1 for ‘extremely likely’ to 6 for ‘don’t know’.

I decline to answer. I cannot find a number for the reply I want to give, which is along the lines of ‘For heaven’s sake leave me alone and stop expecting me to make pointless decisions because even if I said I wouldn’t recommend you to family and friends (I would, actually) I know you wouldn’t, indeed couldn’t, change anything.’

I buy a new battery for the car. Within a few days I receive an email asking me to rate the service and leave a review. I don’t. I have no way of comparing the service with others because I last bought a car battery in about 1977 when my then local garage may not have offered the whole ‘coffee machine and six-year-old magazines’ service for its customers in a waiting area blasting out local radio, but it did offer eyefuls of Pirelli calendar images and some ripe language.

I reach the end of an excellent book which, for a change, I’ve read on a Kindle. Before I can close the final page I am urged to post a review on Amazon. No, I don’t want to! I want to allow it roll around in my thoughts and allow some of the characters to continue to inhabit my mind, not get all analytical about it and try and put my opinion into comprehensible words. Leave me alone! Let me close the page!

On our last holiday in September, we flew by EasyJet to Naples and, because as we arrived so late at night, used a pre-booked taxi service from the airport to our Airbnb apartment in the centre of the city.

Sure enough, no sooner had we arrived home than we were faced with a battery of ‘Were you satisfied with our amazing and brilliant wonderfulness?’ questions from the airline, the car park company we used at Gatwick, Airbnb and the taxi service. We gave them all versions of a weary ‘Yes, now please go away’.

All this is well and good if we could be sure any of our responses to any of the myriad questionnaires that nowadays come our way might make the slightest difference. Indeed, it all rings a bit hollow when you discover that one of the big stores and online retailers, John Lewis, filters out negative reviews of customer service on the grounds ‘they do not meet our guidelines’. You bet they don’t!

It’s a shallow world out there, where firms want us to engage in their corporate box-ticking exercises and we are seduced into thinking our opinions count.

It’s hard to decide which animal I’d most like to jump through the TV screen and into my lap when I’m watching the BBC Planet Earth II series on Sunday nights.

I know it’s wrong and silly to anthropomorphise animals and to imagine anything other than the obvious domesticated ones settling into a home life. And yet, what about one of those darling little stressed-out iguanas? I could stroke it gently back to a normal heart-rate. A bit scaly, I know, but bearable.

Or a red crab, so impressive and jewel-like in their massed ranks? Or even a baby ibex, all spindly legs and Bambi eyes?

Perhaps I could settle for a snow leopard – a cub, obviously, that would remain a cub for ever and so not scare me witless by padding around the house with its muscles rippling and its great feet scratching the floorboards.

I consult Geoff. A single raised eyebrow causes me to have a rethink and even to wonder, just for a moment, if I am being too stupid for words. The eyebrow has spoken.

I’ll leave the wonders of the wild the other side of the telly and let David Attenborough continue to regale me with amazing animal facts (which I promptly forget) and be completely in awe of the courage and breathtaking skills of the camera crews.

Their ingenuity and patience are, to coin an overused word, awesome. Awe-inspiring, too, as I find when I’m sitting there, transfixed, with my mouth open, not unlike one of those helpless cubs, pups, baby penguins and nestlings who flop about waiting for a sustaining treat to be delivered by mum or dad.

In the most painful, cold and hostile of conditions, these dedicated professionals risk their lives and their equipment to capture shots that have us viewers reeling.

They are obviously among those ranks of people who just seem to enjoy the challenge of achieving the seeming impossible and the inevitable rush of pleasure and triumph when it all comes together.

The ‘diaries’ section at the end of each Planet Earth II episode reveals what astonishing, time-consuming lengths everyone has been to.

This week, for example, we saw how a cameraman hitched himself tandem-style to a sky-diver for his first-ever flight, hurtling down, down, down from mountain to valley to emulate the flight of the golden eagle. Breathtaking was hardly the word for it.

While all that drama was going on, a dear, dedicated chap spent 100 hours (that’s four long days and nights) all alone in a hide as he attempted to get unprecedented footage of eagles and their vicious, bullying behaviour.

Happily, he was rewarded with a memorable sequence of squabbling, scrapping, ill-mannered males, each desperate for a feast on the corpse of some hapless fox.

We see for ourselves how very blood-red Nature is, in tooth and claw. Yet somehow, out there in distant parts of the Planet, it seems entirely right. It is survival of the fittest, the fastest and the canniest – and nowhere was that more evident than in the breathless sprint for survival that those poor mini-iguanas had to make when under attack from heaps, piles, of shudder-inducing Runner snakes rearing up ever-closer and more deadly.

It’s tough out there, quite obviously. I’m going to keep in mind just how tough when I’m clomping my way around shops over the coming weeks feeling as though I’m under attack from hostile outside forces. I’m not, I’m really not. No snakes, no terrifying eagles, no foxes with murder in their eyes – just Christmas shoppers, an altogether different kind of animal.

It’s funny when you think you are familiar with something, read about it, discuss it knowledgably, but in truth do not really know much about it until . . .  suddenly, you land kerplunk in the middle of it and become a world expert.

Let’s end the mystery: I’m talking about the NHS, the monolith that, if fortune is with us, grinds away mostly in the background of our lives.

Most of us have an opinion about it, about the way it works or how we feel it doesn’t work, the way it comes to our rescue or falls short, and the way – so many, many times – it makes us truly grateful for everything it stands for and does and without it where would we be.

I was catapulted into its caring arms last week, just for two nights but long enough for a procedure to be carried out that enabled me to remain in the land of the living and to be sitting writing these words a handful of days later as if nothing had happened.

Now, I shall be able to be a complete battle-hardened know-all about ‘our NHS’ whenever a conversation turns that way. I shall be the bore who prompts hands to cover ears and loud humming to start when I launch into my riveting tale of “When I was in Dorset County Hospital at Dorchester . . .”

I have also become, overnight, one of those people for whom nothing negative can be said about the NHS. I am in love with it. I adore its system that seems to be as joined up as anything on that scale could ever be, I am passionate about its staff at all levels, its wonderful volunteers who guide the bewildered to their appointments along seemingly identical corridors and who run the shops, the refreshment pit stops and the trolleys bearing kaleidoscopes of sugary temptation and reading material.

The porters? Oh, the porters! Cheerful and bright and funny and such skilful drivers. The nurses, from newly qualified to trusty old hands, are an unfailing source of efficiency and quiet calm and show the most amazing teamwork. Nothing is ever too much trouble for them, which is a cliché but true.

My mother used to drop hints to me about becoming a nurse, presumably to distract me during my long phase of daydreaming about riding in the Olympics. Needless to say, I achieved neither.

Thanks to having subsequently become a mother, I could, I hope, muster the necessary caring skills all these years later (though not the intellect, obviously), but at the risk of sounding shallow, it just wouldn’t be the same being a nurse nowadays without those starched caps and crisp uniforms pinned with a bouncy upside-down fob watch which, aged 10, I read about with a certain envy in ‘Jean Becomes a Nurse’.

The regular swoop through the ward of ‘the doctors’ (of which my son is one, at a different hospital) certainly made me sit up straight. Each little phalanx peeled off to have private chats with the patient in their care.

When my entourage arrived and swarmed around my bed, drew the curtains, and engaged me in earnest discussion, all I could think while these brains full of wisdom worked their miracles to set me back on my feet, was ‘Gosh, this is what my son does. He’s one of you lot.’

That was when I diagnosed a new ailment that threatened to overwhelm me: a serious case of Mother’s Pride.

Every single year it’s the same. Even as December bears down, the C-word is avoided at Hill Towers and Geoff remains in denial that anything faintly festive could possibly be happening within his bodily orbit.

This makes life so difficult.

One of the problems is that, as soon as autumn leaves start to fall, we have members of the family enquiring about where we’re going to spend the Big Day, what about going to them, or them coming to us, and then another bit of family springs up and asks the same thing, and another, and another, until I’m batting them away like flies, palming them off with excuses, to buy me time. Time until I can get Geoff to agree to something – anything.

The usual course is that I then embark on tentative negotiations with Geoff. What we need at this point is an independent arbitrator, someone to unravel the knots we’ve tied ourselves in and knock some sense into Mr Tetchy-McGloom.

This doesn’t happen. Every year, a decision is required and failure to come up with one is not an option.

Every year, Geoff is quick to tell me what he doesn’t want to do and where he doesn’t want to go. But an answer in the positive, an enthusiastic ‘Yes, let’s do that,’ is never forthcoming.

Or at least it wasn’t until this week. The daughter and the son contacted us from their respective homes in Sussex and Devon. “We’ve decided to come to you for Christmas, if that’s all right, and we’ll stay nearby.”

Unfortunately, Hill Towers cannot accommodate extras, which is one of its two drawbacks, the other being that it does not appear to be self-cleaning.

Sorted! Our babies, plus all their babies, coming to us for Christmas! Now I won’t have to prevaricate one little bit when any counter-offers come in.

Much bustling and snuffling on the internet ensued, and many links to likely rental properties were sent between each other.

The plan began to look distinctly flaky when we discovered the cost. Of course, it is a peak holiday season, but anywhere that could accommodate four adults and three children plus a toddler was completely off the scale.

Although Geoff and I insisted we’d pay – it is our house that has the shortcomings, after all – we did draw the line at cottages with pull-out sofa beds and inflatable mattresses that instantly make guests feel they are camping. Well, that’s what I’ve found in the past.

As despair was creeping in, I suddenly had a light bulb moment (I don’t have many, so it is good to be able to record this one publicly). I thought about those cheap’n’cheerful hotel chains that do rooms for sixpence and, as they charmingly advise, ‘kids go free’. Like wild animals go free, I thought, when a vision of the two grandsons making the most of a hotel corridor flashed across my mind.

That is what we have now booked online: a total of three adjacent family rooms, with enough beds to allow options of who sleeps where. They can sort the logistics out between them, based, presumably, on whose snoring and whose early-morning waking might be considered the more anti-social.

“I don’t expect to sleep at all anyway,” my daughter said. “I shall just be so excited we’re all together for Christmas.”

I study Geoff’s face when I tell him this and, do you know, he went all soft and smiley and said he agreed. Yee-ha, bring it on!

I shall leave all the over-commercialised orange and black excitement of Halloween to others as we approach the night (or, inevitably, several nights) of great spookiness.

Being sceptical to a fault, I judge it to be one exploitative time of year too many, especially as that other, far greater, strain on our tolerance and our straitened finances is only a matter of weeks away. Eight, since you ask, but let’s stop counting right now.

Moving swiftly on, lest I be labelled as just too much of a spoilsport to be part of the human race, let’s turn our thoughts to the delights of film, and of watching films.

I am not in any way a film buff and I cannot get excited, as someone we know does, about camera angles and certain directors’ predilections for shooting this way or that.

I always read cinema reviews and make mental notes of the films I absolutely must see, indeed want to see. Naturally, once these notes are stored in my brain-shaped filing cabinet, the details dissolve into complete nothingness, so that when I spot a cinema is showing a certain film, the title is familiar but I cannot recall if it was a must-see or a must-avoid.

Plenty of films, some well-known and popular, others of a more esoteric art-house genre, have rolled their entertaining way past my eyes over the years. However, I am not, and nor is Geoff, in the regular habit of hunkering down with the popcorn and cola brigade for a couple of hours of escapism and surround-sound at ear-splitting decibel levels.

We have different default settings for our leisure time. Indoors, it is books and the radio, followed by TV only if there is something we want to watch. It doesn’t go on just because it’s in the corner of the room and we’re installed on the sofa.

Coincidentally, there were two films on telly shown on recent consecutive evenings that we thought might appeal. We’d even heard of them, which was a good start.

The first was The Invisible Woman, made in 2013 (see how trendy we are!) and starring Ralph Fiennes, who also directed. It is about Charles Dickens and his muse and mistress, Nelly, played by Felicity Jones.

Nelly reflects on the drama of their clandestine passion, which consumed her as a young woman and which contrasts with her life in later years when we meet her as a contented wife, mother and schoolteacher. I’ve dredged my lingering impressions and it certainly wasn’t much more than that.

I told my friend Sue that we’d watched it. “Oh that,” she said, full of disdain. “When I went to see it I walked out of the cinema long before the end.”

I wouldn’t say Geoff and I had been in danger of walking out of our own sitting-room, but pacy and incident-packed it was not. And if there had been one more lingering close-up of Felicity Jones’s pretty face looking mournful and with her mouth hanging slightly open, I swear I’d have had to bury my head under a cushion. Or throw it – the cushion, not my head – at the telly.

It didn’t make the most promising start to our filmathon. The second night, however, saw us amused, mystified and entertained, in equal measure, by the idiosyncratic Grand Budapest Hotel, a madcap bit of weirdness that again starred Ralph Fiennes and that made us feel even more on-trend, having been made by Wes Anderson as recently as 2014.

It was good escapist fun and from where I’m sitting that’s a very decent way to spend an autumn evening.