My quietest Christmas since the one with the steak sandwich in New Zealand

Roberton Island in New Zealand, where Nick Richards spent Christmas Day in 2007

Roberton Island in New Zealand, where Nick Richards spent Christmas Day in 2007 - Credit: Nick Richards

To paraphrase John Lennon, so that was Christmas - and what did you do?
If you thought it was all over in a matter of hours, you're lucky. Mine pretty much bit the dust 24 hours before Wednesday's announcement from Matt Hancock throwing us all into Tier 4 from the early hours of this morning.
At 5pm on Tuesday my wife's phone went 'ping' with an abrupt message from the NHS Track and Trace app informing her that she'd been in contact with someone who has tested positive for you know what.
It told her she had to isolate at home for four days - until 11:59pm on Christmas Day - and we weren't allowed any visitors.
That was one thing, but news that we are all in Tier 4 from 12:01am today essentially meant she had a two minute window to do something wild and reckless like leave the house, go and visit somewhere, invite someone in or take some non-essential exercise.
Our plans to host my parents yesterday went up in flames and we spent the day at home, just the four of us. I did suggest this gave us the chance to keep the turkey in the freezer and have an alternative Christmas dinner featuring turkey dinosaurs and chips or a bowl of pasta. 
She laughed dismissively. "Or a steak sandwich!"

Nick Richards in New Zealand during Christmas 2007

Nick Richards in New Zealand during Christmas 2007 - Credit: Nick Richards


We both smiled and mentally rewound our lives to the Christmas Day when we did indeed have a steak sandwich as our Christmas dinner.
It was Christmas 2007 and we were in New Zealand and it actually felt a lot like this weird festive time.
My wife and I were half way through a three-and-a-half month round the world trip. We started in Singapore, took in parts of Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Japan, a few days in Sydney and we arrived in New Zealand just before Christmas.
Neither of us admitted it at the time but being away from home at Christmas was always going to be a tad surreal and the closer it got to December 25, I could sense that we both felt we'd made a bit of a mistake being away from England at this time of year.
On the one hand we had a beautiful adventure before us, freedom and liberty and amazing experiences every day, but on the other, we just wanted to be back at home for one day.

We were in a camper van driving around the North Island and found ourselves in the pretty town of Russell on Christmas Eve.
New Zealand at Christmas is very different to the UK. Most families spend the day at home inside and very few decorations are put up. That's because it's at the start of a two-week holiday in the middle of summer and on Boxing Day most families leave the home and head off for a break. 
My wife's former colleague had told us that her retired parents, who were Kiwis, had a yacht and were sailing around the North Island. After a few email exchanges we said we'd meet them. One thing lead to another and when we got back to the camp site late on Christmas Eve we found a message under the camper van's windscreen wiper. 
It suggested meeting on Christmas Day morning at the harbour. 
The next morning we did just that and the lovely couple, Don and Joan, took us on board their boat and we sailed for an hour or so to Roberton Island, where Captain Cook had anchored HMS Endeavour.
We strolled around the island with two very welcoming strangers and then went back on board for a basic Christmas lunch. We were missing our parents and they were missing their daughter but being in the company of different generations seemed to help the four of us out on a tricky Christmas Day.

They dropped us off back in Russell and we made our way back to the campsite. We've never seen them since.
We decided to cook our tea but found that everyone else on the campsite had the same idea and at 5pm there was no room in the kitchen as all manner of things were being rustled up in Russell, though I don't think anyone was actually cooking a turkey.
We waited and waited and eventually managed to fry a couple of steaks. With nowhere to sit we ended up sitting in the front seats of the camper van having a steak sarnie and a glass of port.
We then rang home late at night when it was morning in the UK and that's when the feeling of isolation really kicked in. We were in a dark, quiet, rain-lashed and very unfestive campsite with little Christmas cheer away from all our friends and family.
It wasn't all that bad though. We phoned again 12 hours later as it was then late in the evening in the UK on Christmas Day.
I was in a T-shirt and shorts and had just been for a swim in the sea and we were about to visit a vineyard.
In a fortnight we'd be in Fiji and then three weeks driving around the USA.
We survived that Christmas Day alone, albeit with the help of a couple of strangers, and told ourselves it was really only a day.
I hope you enjoyed yours too - and remember, Christmas won't always be like this.
Stay safe as we enter this latest lockdown.

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