How time flies. It doesn't feel like 16 months since we were up in Loughborough for my nephew's graduation, yet here we were planning another voyage to the Midlands. This time for Simon's Masters Graduation.
On the Friday morning I left Jean-Jacques off with his family in Auxi whilst I went and did more important things like driving the 200 kilomètre round trip to the Belgian border to pick up beer and chocolates for the family and friends.
Debbie was exceptionally brave in accepting that her present would consist of only chocolate. She is such a trooper.
I am getting to be pretty well known at La vie en chocolat at Mont Noir and they know the make up of most of my requests. They are for my mother - oh in that case with alcohol !
Thus, after a long Friday, JJ and I set off for Chatham on the Saturday morning. I had considered the Seacat but the tunnel was only a few more Euros and doesn't bounce up and down at this time of the year.
The night before, Anton, Debs and Simon had been up town (London - not Gillingham) to see a George Michael concert. By all accounts he was very good and the photos that Anton had taken at the concert had come up very well. We were even permitted to listen to some of his songs in the car as we drove north - JJ was so thrilled.
So, the Sunday before the festive weekend and we have Bluewater and Lakeside to get past before they open. Another early morning and off we trundled towards the M1.
I hate driving in England these days. Even on a Sunday morning it can be like Lille during the rush hour - three lanes at a standstill, and Anton assuring me that we were making good time.
For a good forty five minutes we queued in a traffic jam for an accident that didn't seem to have taken place, yet an hour later my parents bring Simon up from Slough came across one in the same place. JJ reckons that they were pre-announcing them.
We had chosen the same hotel as in 2005 as it is reasonably comfortable and close to the town centre. We went for a walk round the town so that Debbie could buy more cards and I could get some black socks (you can't remember everything when you pack).
Simon has had his ears lowered in preparation for his coming employment out in Japan as an English language teacher.
The company were worried that in his former disguise the Japanese girls would have all dropped their fantasies about David Beckham in order to follow the holy gourde.
That evening, having eaten well we retired to the hotel bar where Anton, JJ and I played a few games of pool whilst the hotel dog (who was not getting his taxi home that weekend) sat next to mum and Debs with Labrador eyes waiting on chocolate.
He is an enormous beast of a thing and probably doesn't need anything more than a good walk from time to time and not just to the sweet shop.
Simon had only been able to get four tickets for the ceremony but I wasn't that put out because JJ wasn't going to understand much of what was going on and if the speeches from the guests were anything like the last time as boring and long winded as hell.
We sat out the first hour and a bit in the theatre café.
By chance I then suggested to JJ that we go and see what was happening and we slipped into the back of the hall a few moments before Simon went up to get his certificate.
Minutes later it was the closing speech and everybody was leaving. What JJ and I had missed though was the organ developing a terrible wheeze which had left dad in a state of wheezing with laughter himself.
For all the organist's qualifications, plumbing, sadly, wasn't one of them as the pipes went down with a bad touch of the bronchials.
Outside in the sunshine Simon posed for photos with the family and we got coffee and cake from his faculty in one of the drama studios; all very dark and sombre and dramatic of course.
With his official photos taken we set off for a bite to eat before bidding our farewells and commencing our separate journeys home.
It was a long hard drive.
As we approached the Dartford Bridge the traffic was at a standstill. Thankfully Anton knows his way around and we managed to cut out a lot of the congestion which was trying to get from the M25 to the A2. Best of luck to him doing that in a lorry on a regular basis. I will stick to Hesdin with its one roundabout.
Tuesday morning I went out with Debs to get some final shopping done for things seasonal whilst JJ remained behind with Anton to sing all the songs from the Muppets' Christmas in French.
He also did a good job in helping Debs with decorating their tree with tinsel and baubles and hiding the chocolates deep within out of sight and reach of a prying Hannah.
2007 should see the turn of Debbie to walk up onto the podium to get her degree in nursing. Before that she has all those words to write - accompanied by chocolates though.