Had several more Christmases after Neil left: Irish Christmas on 24th, Christmas Day, Carmel & Dave on St Stephen’s Day, York the next day and Chris’s on the 28th (including Howard’s sister, Aunt Shirley). All fine, sociable affairs without too much family politics.

First thing on 29th, I collected the boat from a Manchester transport depot and then we received the first load of furniture from Australia that afternoon and next morning. Mitch’s lurgy then struck Monica, though I was shaking it off, so we collapsed among the boxes. Yesterday, Monica’s friend, Claire, stayed overnight and Kevin came for tea (he was loitering while waiting for Molly to call for her lift home from a party). We had soft conversation (apart from Clare and I jumping on Kevin’s more whacky universal conspiracy theories) until I let the Lucky Bird in at the stroke of the New Year.

Yesterday afternoon, I walked up to Warland Reservoir with Claire and got well soaked. Soon, the lasses are off to Gordon Riggs for a look-see and a canal walk before we join Bill and Hilary at Warland Barn for ‘a quiet New Year drink’. With him, Monica and Claire? I don’t think so.

When she arrived, Claire brought her friends from Long Causeway, the restaurateurs who’ve established a nearby small-holding. They’re good fun and full of advice and guidance, being a few years ahead of us and into everything. I think their place will be good to show the kids: Monica and Claire say they treat their animals (including huge rabbits!) very well so it would provide a proper farm experience. They’re hooked into local markets and get access to fruit gluts, so we’ll probably have a bit of commerce with them once the forest garden, bread oven, brewing and bottling etc are working here.

Next up, a couple of hours effort will see the workshop floor finished, then I can start putting all the stuff in place. There’s a stack of bikes calling to me for assembly and the boat, now out in the weather, needs drying and covering.

Dave, from the cottage next door, has assessed and photographed his Dad’s metalwork tools and, if the workshop floor is strong enough, they’ll be a superb facility. I’m promised a MIG and a stick welder, from Al and from Chris, too. The barn tidy-up (Monica’s job) is becoming critical because I want to use the derelict hay-loft flooring to make walls and cabinets in the workshop. She’s going to be sick for a few more days, though, so I can enjoy a few less intense activities like unpacking my kitchen gear. That 20ft container brought a lot of Christmas gifts from me to me!

We swiped a double bed from the flat and received two singles and a single mattress from Australia so we now have beds for up to six guests.

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