Consuming day

“Happy Christmas.” First words. An hour with the depressing Booker prize winning book already done, and the shower had, and back into bed for the only time in the year when it seems right not to get up.
Stocking: the first in fifty years. Not the old army sock of pre-boarding-school days, but a designer red felt one with Christmas images, bought online and carried from London. Contents include two bags of chocolate pennies, a kilo of assorted sweets (no gift vouchers for the dentist) in quarter-pound bags, chosen carefully to include American hard gums, midget gems, Pomfret cakes and licorice cuttings, all favourites. A jar of Marmite, which has been bespoke-labeled ‘poppa-bear’ by the enterprising company which owns the brand and understands it’s deep-seated emotional connection to it’s consumers, and a ski face and lip cream tube on a string to go around the neck (very handy if there’s snow this year). Oh, yes, and a matchbox containing a small metal puzzle which is a right brain waker-upper on Christmas morning. A stocking, rich in personal connection, chosen with care and love. Christmas is spelling out that you are loved, that people care for and about you and want you to be happy. Christmas is cutting through the crusty crust of curmudgeonly crankiness. Learn to forget your history. Learn to drink the sweet perfumed drink and learn to re-hydrate. You always suffered from too little fresh water.
Downstairs first, to feed the cat which is oblivious of the day’s significance, and there’s a strong smell of something burnt in the kitchen. This could have been caused by a fire from a candle left burning last night; there were so many to blow out it would have been easy to miss one, hiding near the tree. But then perhaps we would not have woken to Christmas morning at all. But that smell is more distinctive than candle wax. It’s a bowl of cooked potatoes, which went into the aga with the goats cheese and chestnut tart at six on Christmas eve, but didn’t come out at six twenty, with the tart. Fifteen hours’ baking may have been more than they needed. Charcoal bullets, which have their own special beauty.
Then it’s orange juice and coffee, to clear the head, though there is no sign of a hangover from Christmas eve, which is exceptional. Two pints of KPA in the Market Bar and home by around nine, then out again around ten to collect herself and finishing up with the finals of Masterchef on the planner (not a cremated potato in sight) and bed before Santa squeezed his adjustable girth down the flue into the wood burning stove and stared out helplessly through the locked glass door.
Breakfast is American-style blueberry pancakes and maple syrup and crispy streaky bacon, which, frankly, is enough food for one day. The pile of wrapped presents sits under the tree, expectant. Does that mean they are pregnant? Expecting presents. Yes we are expecting… the pancakes sit on our paunches. The anticipation is by far the best part of present-opening, and we have to anticipate them for an hour while Tanya showers and dresses in smarter clothes than usual and then we’re at the boxes and wrappers and even the cat is aware of the excitement as he raises his game to play catch the mouse with some gold ribbon. Would it be un-ambitious to limit ourselves to this sort of amusement?
“I’ve got you a ball of string for Christmas”
“Oh what fun, thanks. Here’s your charcoal potato sculpture.”
“You shouldn’t have. “
Gifts include: An Italian-style coffee maker which does everything but drown out conversation in the way they do in most cafes, a voucher for Amazon Kindle to provide reading material for Cambodia, A CD of someone I’d not heard of, but when played, I knew – one of the changes that come with deafness (or more likely from the reduced attentiveness to new things) – you absorb the world by subliminal means, because it is there in the background, but you don’t usually attend enough to pin it down in conscious ways. That, of course might be seen as a higher plain of existential being. The cloud of unknowing. The words cloud and unknowing hold great significance if you can concentrate on them long enough to think about their meaning.
Then there’s a video of Michael Macintire, who’s made a gazillion from clean humour while all about him are deep in effluvia, a book of Times Newspaper’s almost impossible Sudoku puzzles, a share in a vase, and a large box of Black Magic, and two Japanese-style serving bowls, and not to forget the box of miniature table-tennis which will be aired tomorrow, perhaps.
The handbag and diary went down well. The kitchen knife block and chopping board also. The collection of adult Ladybird books caused suitable amusements and watching the unwrapping of perfumes and ear-muffs, fancy socks, the cosmetics brushes and CDs and other odds and ends was as good as opening my own presents. All in all, for three people exchanging gifts, a veritable hoard.
And then it was time to start the phone calls of the day, interspersed with texts and whatsapps and FB messages and all the other alternatives to speaking. So much choice. The calls are placed and returned and lunches are interrupted and phones passed around. The news is positive – one can’t very well be on a downer today. Don’t tell them about the bad days. If you tell them about the floods, make light and pep it up with humour. If you feel irritated about the bitter undercurrent in someone’s repartee, or the lack of interest in their exchanges, gloss over it all. Re-awaken your interest in their travels or the plan for their retirement, or the convalescence they’re going through, or the achievements of their children, or the presents they received, and their grandchild’s level of advancement and outrageously amusing behaviour. Take the trouble to ask about those parts of their lives you spend the year ignoring – their house renovations and the job they do, the implications of the political climate for their safety, and how 2016 will be for them. It’s Christmas, and these are people you have shared a lot of Christmases with.
One of the texted greetings results in a spur of the moment invitation to a friend’s house. Driving there involves turning back to avoid a flood in Browns Mills and driving through another in Jagoes Mills, but the greeting is effusive and the prosecco cold and the conversation engaging and the re-engagement uplifting. Turning down an invitation to share their turkey on the grounds we have a duck to get through means running through the downpour at three and driving back through the pelting rain beside the torrential, swollen streams to some leftover chestnut tart from last night, topped with slices of buffalo haloumi, and tea, and an afternoon of dozing in front of Christmas movies and preparation for the duck and six vegetables with champagne and red wine, and more phone calls and more old films and more tea and desultory conversation and then the day is done. Christmas. Who’d miss it?

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