28-30 November 2008
After the roaring success of Manor House Christmas #1 in 2007, the challenge was to bring together an even bigger group of random friends for Manor House Christmas #2 - otherwise known as Festivus.
For those who don't know about the origins of Festivus (the festival for the rest of us), I suggest you read up here, otherwise none of the ensuing silliness will make any sense.
The Mission: a large country house for 20 people, not too far from London, accessible via train and reasonably priced for a weekend away. Mission Impossible?
Mission Accomplished: The Dower House in Hexton, a 30 minute train ride from London Kings Cross plus 10 minute cab ride. Given the miserable weather, we didn't get to appreciate the mock-Tudor exterior or our extensive grounds, but when we stepped inside the enormous three storey building it was simply breathtaking. We're talking enough room to swing a whole bunch of cats - a ballroom with a chandelier and open fireplace, a cosy library with wall to ceiling shelves of bizarre books, fully-equipped kitchen with a four-oven Aga, a walk-in pantry with three fridges, five (carpeted) bathrooms and ten giant rooms with various furnishings, including an upright piano, Dutch Paddington bear cross-stich and a wind-up lullaby doll. All for £50 per person for the weekend.
Brek had the foresight to bring our very own Festivus pole, an unadorned aluminium pole ('tinsel is distracting') which had pride of place at our lunch table inside a terracotta skull amphora. Huy suggested that we have a procession for the pole, but to walk from the third floor to all the rooms to the bottom floor would have taken a good 15 minutes.
Apparently there are no special Festivus foods (although bagels may feature in homage to the Seinfeld season 9 episode), so we made do with a huge delivery of Tesco groceries and the back-catalogue of my pantry. Dinner on Friday night was ready made soup (Tesco's Finest!), hot dogs and salad. Dessert was a choice of chocolate and orange pudding or Angry Pudding, so dubbed because I had made the treacle pudding in a fit of boss-related anger and forgot to put in any sugar. Luckily, it was able to be salvaged by a generous squirt of golden syrup. A Festivus miracle!
Lunch (or afternoon tea really) on Saturday was an organisational feat. Just as the sun was going down we toasted Festivus and dug into five stuffed chickens, kilos of organic vegetables, tins of sardines and mounds of couscous, then proceeded to a buffet of panettone, stollen and icecream.
The Airing of Grievances traditionally involves telling others about the ways in which they have disappointed you in the last year. Given we were amongst friends, this was amended to an airing of a general grievance. Paolo won Best Grievance with his 1200 euro one-way flight from Italy to Brazil that he's still waiting for a refund on, 2 years later. His prize - a Barbican mug, where everything that's served in it will come out bitter.
Festivus is officially over when a feat of strength is completed - normally when the head of the household is pinned in a wrestling match with another guest. Our versions of the Feats of Strength were a group chair pose (won by Dhipa, of Ministry of Sound workout fame), a four-layer human pyramid (orchestrated by Bek with a simple diagram) and a plum-tomato-balancing-kick-boxing tournament.
Matt escaping from the cellar after being locked inside during a game of Murder in the Dark.
Head chef Dhipa turning leftover chicken carcasses and vegetables into a warming winter soup.
Having my gift swapped in the Secret Santa Swap so that I ended up with the gift that I gave (at least I didn't end up with bag of coal).
Huy's impromptu rhythmic gymnastics routine with a wooden ball to the strains of classical music. Poetry in motion.
Santa makes another visit, this time ravishing Caroline in the process.