Day 177

Level 2 Chi Kung.

A busy, and very Christmassy day. Saturday started with guitar and I was very pleased I had remembered to take Mr Baulch a gift, as there were four lined up on the window sill from the four students before us! A couple of months ago the pound shop had pretty biscuit tins so I bought the whole stock (about a dozen) and am gradually filling them with baking to be given to all the various people who require small gifts at this time of year. Apart from the school teachers, who will, as usual, be given alcohol. After years of trying more inventive presents, alcohol is the only thing that has ever been well-received, or even acknowledged! So Mr Baulch got a tin of homemade shortbread and looked very pleased indeed. While we were in the neighbourhood, I took Katie and Dash to the Christmas Fair – the latest incarnation of the piece of waste ground which, under the inspired guidance of Sydney Thornberry, became Blackheath Beach over the summer. In one sense, there wasn’t that much there: plenty of hay for the children to play in, sit on, and throw at each other; and old boat to scramble over, lots of fake ice, a stall selling tea, coffee, hot chocolate and homemade cakes… But half the village was there, all very much in the Christmas spirit, and the kids were having a blast. And of course Sydney herself was on the gate, handing out the spring course guides. I’m sure I’m not the only mummy to leave the kids playing in the hay and go straight back inside to book up course places for the children. After that, I took the children to lunch at Chapter’s – Dash loves their grilled chicken and I take him as a monthly treat. I was still feeling a bit seedy and not really hungry but, even though we are regulars and they treat us like old friends, I knew I couldn’t take up a table on one of the busiest days of the year and only order one children’s meal, a bottle of sparkling water and a side of mashed potato (Katie used to order their bangers and mash but she eventually confessed that she didn’t actually like the sausages and asked if she could order just the mash). I decided to go for grown-up bangers and mash with pickled red cabbage – a good choice for comfort food. Next up was the fair at Blackheath High (where Katie does Stagecoach) and then home for a brief rest before heading back to the village for the lantern parade. Just as we escaped the kettling, we ran into Arina and her parents. We had been meant to meet them at the start of the parade and walk together, but hadn’t been able to find them. They explained that they had been ‘a few minutes’ late, but I suspect that this statement re-defines ‘a few’ to ‘around 15’. It wasn’t a problem – we weren’t exactly expecting them to be on time. They are pretty much always late for school – in spite of living, it turns out, about 200m from the school gate. Once, when Katie and I were running late for school, Katie was speculating as to whether we would just squeak in before registration or whether we would need a late note. Then we saw Arina’s mummy heading in the other direction, having already dropped Arina off. ‘Oh well’, said Katie resignedly, ‘if we’re later than Arena, then we DEFINITELY need a late note.’.

I wondered if it might be a Russian thing, and found the following on a business etiquette site:

‘As a foreigner, you are expected to be on time to all business appointments. However, your Russian counterpart may be late, as this may be a test of your patience. Do not expect an apology from a late Russian, and do not demonstrate any kind of attitude if your business appointments begin one or two hours late. This may also be a test of your patience.

Social events are more relaxed. It is acceptable for foreigners to be 15 to 30 minutes late.

Patience is an extremely important virtue among Russians; punctuality is not.’

We chatted as we waited for the lights to be switched on, then we said goodbye and I asked MY kids if they wanted to go straight home or go for hot chocolate first. At which point Arina seized her chance and said definitely hot chocolate but in a takeaway cup so that they could drink it on the way to the heath to go on some ride that had been set up there. We got the drinks and wandered up to the heath, where the ride turned out to be one of those spinning tea cup scenarios. As the children had opted for hot chocolate with cream AND marshmallows, and Katie is a bit of a vomiter, I stepped discreetly back out of range as the spinning started, but there was no need – they all had a wonderful time and no one threw up. When they got off the ride they were in high spirits and clearly in no mood to go home. Instead they started running really fast, chasing each other around the heath. There’s no lighting on the heath, so once they went out of range of the street lights round the edge, we could only detect them by the occasional glints off the reflective tape on Katie’s jacket… and the wild laughter. It was lovely to watch the sheer exuberance: of being 7, and full of hot chocolate, and finally off the parental leash, running free with the friendly spirits of the dark.

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