Eeeeep it's Christmas Eve!
For us that means we've spent the day tidying the house, probably discovering we don't have something essential for tomorrow like gravy or Yorkshire puddings and generally getting in a bit of a muddle before decanting to church for afternoon carols and, finally, heading to one of our best friend's houses for mince pies and mulled wine.
It's an annual tradition and the true starting point of Christmas. Every year, my oldest friend Madeleine and I laugh at "shining throng" in 'Whilst Shepherd Watched Their Flocks'. Every year, I strain and screech to meet the pitch set by the organ with my stubbornly unvaried vocal range. Every year, we eat the sweets off our christingle before the procession has finished.
It never changes and I'd love to hear your Christmas traditions in the comments!
For now, here's a photo essay called "ISO is not my friend; or the time we visited Knightshayes the week before Christmas".
On the day of my graduation, we woke up early (7am on a Saturday, not cool) ready for the ceremony at 9am. We were drunk on free prosecco by 11am and spent the day walking it off looking around Exeter's Christmas markets.
We had a good few hours to kill between a late lunch and our dinner reservations, so we took a trip to Knightshayes, a marvellous gothic style Victorian mansion and a perfect setting for a Christmas ghost story. On that particular day, it was open until 7pm so we had plenty of time to explore the house and grounds. We followed a string of fairylights from the stables to the grand old house itself.
Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a good old ghost story. Watching the light fade around Knightshayes whilst the fairylights twinkled throughout the grounds got us wondering about the kind of stories you could tell about such a wonderful old house.
And inside, the rooms were deliciously dark and sumptuous, decked out in Victorian-style decorations. You could almost imagine generations of the same family gathered around the old armchair, listening to a tale in front of the fire.
On the day of our visit, only the ground floor rooms were open to visitors. But these were more than enough, with their glorious high ceilings, decadent wooden panelling and lavish decorations.
Yet despite the large crowds of visitors (and there really were plenty of people there, despite the appearances in these photos) and the gleaming of decorations and fairylights, the house was steeped in shadows...
The house was built between 1869 and 1873. However, the Heathcot family, who commissioned the residence, fell out with the designer William Burges before the house was finished. His designs were never completed.
Unfortunately for lovers of the mysterious and the supernatural like me, the disagreement between owner and designer is the most turbulent part of the house's history. Instead, it was a charming family home for a number of generations before being donated to the National Trust in the 1970s and there have been no ghostly sightings on the property.
But I still don't think I'd like to spend the night alone in this huge Victorian mansion - would you?
And with that, we left the house for a stroll through darkened gardens, back towards the car and towards dinner and the city.
Chatting as we went, we decided that our ghost story would begin with an unexplained tolling of the little bell that hangs above the entrance to Knightshayes.
It's up to you how this Christmas ghost story ends.
I'll be sure to read a couple over the next few days, curled up by the fire with my family and our imaginations for company.
Goodnight and Merry Christmas!