What the Wassailing Was That?

Around this time two years ago I was lucky enough to walk the red carpet at the Golden Globe Awards in California. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I dined on a three course Wolfgang Puck meal in the Beverly Hills Hilton and sipped (ok maybe glugged, since it was free) Moet alongside A-list celebrities and Hollywood big wigs – many of who are probably on some dodgy watch list now, but anyway.

Golden Globes
Red carpet at the Golden Globes – no big deal

This year it was my husband was the one invited. He got to mingle with the stars and get told by superstar DJ Mark Ronson to “please STOP dancing like that to my music”. (Doesn’t bode well for his tap classes does it.)

But where was I? Was I….

A.) Sat on the sofa watching the awards with my feet up by the fire? 

B.)Wrapped up like an eskimo, whacking the bejesus out of a saucepan with a wooden spoon, skipping around an old apple tree and chanting about three men trying to lift their sacks?

Well it would be a stretch even of my imagination to make the latter up.

I was celebrating Wassailing. Was..a.what? I hear you ask. I thought the same when it was suggested we throw this party in the apple orchard. 

My wise dad began to explain: “It’s an ancient PAGAN tradition,” at which point I tried desperately not to switch off. “It’s to awaken the CIDER apple trees and scare away the evil spirits to ensure a good harvest.” I heard cider and perked up. “There will be singing, dancing, gunfire, a bonfire and a lantern procession lead by the Wassail Queen.”

With this description it’s no wonder one of the 120 people invited to this bizarre shin dig ushered me into a corner at the children’s birthday party I was at just hours before the Wassail and whispered: “At this thing tonight, are we sacrificing anything?”

I looked around us to make sure no one could hear our covert conversation and nodded: “Yes. Why do you think the invite asked you to bring a saucepan? It’s to catch the blood.”

Wide eyed he asked: “Is it a pig? A chicken? Oh God, do we need to come in costume? Is your dad wearing a cloak and stuff?”

Turns out he’d been binge watching ‘Vikings’ and when I told him the saucepan was so we could hit it to make a noise and the only thing he might end up sacrificing was his dignity, I don’t know whether it was relief or disappointment I saw in his eyes.

Because while I am trying to eek out some trendy stuff to do in the countryside, it’s becoming ever more apparent that in quiet places like these, we often have to make our own entertainment and it can actually be – and pardon the pun – bloody brilliant.

I’m sure this is probably the first and only time someone has compared the Golden Globes with a Wassailing, but I like to be different.

We had a toast. Ok it was a piece of toast soaked in cider and hanging from a tree, rather than the glass of bubbles my husband was no doubting using to toast a celebrity win. 

Wassailing Toast
Not quite the toast I had in mind

We had security that came in the form of a bucket of water to throw on the bonfire and some fencing (we powered off the electric one, although that could have added a spark!) to stop the children falling on the flames.

Plus we had our three course meal. Cider punch, bratwurst and Danish pastry. A combo worthy of a Michelin star or two I’m sure.

So perhaps next year I should combine the two celebrations and throw a Golden Wassail. Who is in??

At the Car Wash

I thought I had stayed relatively British during my 15 year stint in Los Angeles. I Iost count of the number of times people commented that I hadn’t lost my English accent, I insisted on packing my bags at the supermarket and I still had a roast dinner, complete with Yorkshire puds on a Sunday. But on my return to the UK it became apparent that I had become a little ‘LA’ when living there.

I’m pretty sure the smartly dressed man outside the National Trust property didn’t appreciate me tossing my car keys at him when I mistook him for a valet and I’m convinced the owners of the local petrol station think I’m a complete idiot.

So much so I’m too embarrassed to go back there.

I’m used to driving a big car…but on big roads. I had a couple of prangs in Los Angeles but I still blame the fact I honestly couldn’t see over the steering wheel.

But for the majority of the time I could navigate the five lanes of heavy traffic on the 101 freeway – it just turns out I can’t navigate my way around a village petrol station – specifically I can’t drive my way through a car wash.

I was so excited about taking the kids through one – yeah, I know I said I was going to find fun and trendy things to do in the countryside, but I was having one of those days. Automatic car washes are far and few between in LA – mainly because when you valet your car you get the option for it to be washed too – so I figured it would be fun.

The problem was it had been a LONG time since I’d used one. I sat in the car and actually googled “how to go through a car wash”. Then to make doubly sure I did it right I went into the petrol station shop and spoke to the lady behind the counter.

I carefully explained – much to her amusement – that I was basically a foreigner and because I’d lived outside of the country for 15-years I wasn’t 100% sure on how to use a car wash.  It was my kid’s first time and I didn’t want to mess it up.

She kindly gave me instructions that basically amounted to “line your car up, turn off the engine and the machine will do the rest”.

I still managed to mess it up.

Five minutes later I was stuck inside a dark car wash, with a pair of petrified children. I couldn’t get out because my door was wedged up against the oversized brush I’d somehow managed to get way too close to and I had to make my exit via the passenger door. Sheepishly and covered in soap suds –  with the kids still screaming blue murder inside the car I might add – I had to go and explain myself to the woman.

She took one look outside the window, looked back at me and called her daughter in to take a look at what I’d done. “Look, look” she said pointing her finger at the disaster zone outside. “We haven’t had anyone mess up this badly in years!”

Oh how they laughed!

She then picked up the phone to call her husband!

“Why not call your mum too while you’re at it,” I said, because by this point I was not only red-faced but also painfully aware my children were still stuck out there.

Turns out she was only calling her mechanic hubby to come and help. I then had to stand there as they marvelled, along with a few rubberneckers, at “how the hell I’d managed that.”

After a lot of manoeuvring, tutting and shocked shaking of his head he broke my vehicle free of the brush that had got caught underneath the wheel arch of the front wheel.

I thanked him very, very, very much and went to jump into the car to make a speedy and shameful getaway, when they asked; “Don’t you want another go? Your car is only half clean.”

At first I was convinced they were only asking so they could catch another failed attempt on camera and flog it to ‘You’ve Been Framed’ for £250.  But then the husband thwarted his wife’s plans by leaping into the driver’s seat of my car and positively INSISTING he drive my car and crying kids through the car wash.

Had this been in LA they would have probably forced me to pay for someone to come and fix the car wash and then sued me for damages. In the countryside however, they not only gave me my second £3.50 wash for free, but they also threw in two chocolate bars for the kids.

Lucky for me the English rain has kept me from having to go back and show my face, and terrible driving skills, any time soon! I knew there was a reason to love this weather.