Tuesday, 23 December 2008

'Twas the Night Before Christmas....


I fear this post is going to be a spewy stream of consciousness flecked with half-digested carrots and hardened bits of chicken (what is it with vomit and the omnipresent diced carrot, by the way? They're there even when you haven't eaten them, and when L was sick the other day, albeit having eaten them nearly 3 hours earlier, there they were, all present and orange and correct and apparently completely untouched - I could have scraped them up off the carpet and chucked them in a casserole. I didn't, I hasten to add. I'm not that bad a cook. Or quite that mean. But I'm still flummoxed that it was possible).

Moving swiftly on, here I am in an internet cafe in Buxton eating a sesame seed bagel slavered in butter (which will sit rancidly around my mouth for the rest of the day, wafting up at unexpected moments, despite my best efforts to wash it all off - and I don't even have a beard. Well, not a full one, just a few bristles every now and then which I have to keep on top of, but not enough to harness quite such a fetid smell) and drinking a regular cappucino. This is a little indulgence usually reserved for after my yoga class with my mates on a Wednesday (I feel myself getting more stereotypical with every syllable). Today I am blissfully alone, combining breakfast and lunch in one, before setting out into the fray once more. I have just been to my gorgeous chiropractor (if I was going to have an affair with a younger man, it would be him: nice looking, nice touch, sensible, kind and it would save me a fortune in appointments) who's sorted out my neck knackered by yoga headstands (I'm going to release myself from their torture next term by pleading medical reasons - confirmed by lovely Rob - that it is doing me more harm than good. Long neck, short upper arms - I'm a freak - and a history of upper spinal injuries (not to mention the pelvic problems) does not make it the rejuvenating, invigorating experience that Mr Yoga over in Nepal clearly finds it. He's obviously short and stubby with monkey like limbs and doesn't ski or fall off skateboards or get driven into ditches in a Land Rover by his parter. He clearly leads a very sheltered life. The Buxton branch of the Yoga Ogre will have to be informed. God help me. She hates me enough as it is. It will go down like a cup of cold sick. But that's enough of sick.

So, what do I still have to do? Buy some final presents, collect the rib of beef (turkey already tucked up in fridge), buy all the veg and trimmings and twiddly bits, drop off the recycling, wrap all the presents, finish decking the halls, deliver the last Christmas cards, throw in a few washes, bleach the dark hair on my short arms - God I feel faint. And we're going to the panto tonight
'Oh no you're not'
'Oh yes we are!'
at 6.30pm in the Opera House. Cinderella. Haven't seen that one before, then. What's the story...? 'Oh no it isn't' 'Oh yes it is'. Oh God, shut up.

And why is it that I end up buying all the presents for everyone, including myself at Christmas? I've even had a phonecall from my brother this morning, who's clearly hungover from his drinks party last night (nice to have the problem - I've had bugger all celebrations, as usual, this year), as I stood in the queue to pay at Woollies (ah, last time, I suspect. So sad. Love Woollies. All those cheap socks and pants and school clothes for the children. Oh yes, I'm quite a fan. Stickers, picture frames, arty crafty bits, cheap toys, sandals, Ladybird clothes, towels, sheets - it's amazing what you can find if you dig around. Can't believe they've managed to fuck it up. Another slice of my childhood nostalgia comes crashing to the ground) wanting to know if I have anything in my supplies which he could give E for her birthday in early January. So I drag my absurdly heavy Santa sack from Woollies (stupid girl at the check-out had filled a bag then asked me if I wanted one big one instead of 3 smaller ones. I said yes, assuming I would end up with the one small one she'd already packed and then one big one. But no. She unpacked it all - I couldn't think what the hell was going on out of sight behind the counter - and put it all in this thing that Reindeers would refuse to haul) to WHSmith and found myself staring at the CDs. Aha, High School Musical 3, mercifully 'In Stock' rather than 'Temporarily Out Of' which makes you feel a loser for not buying it earlier. I phone my brother and tell him it's sorted. Then I buy two more bags from WHSmith for 1p each (my eco-penance) and unpack my Woollies haul in the middle of the store with people perversely trying to squeeze past, tutting, despite my trying to find the most peaceful area of the shop. Bag lady or what. Then I go outside and dump them on the nearest bench and phone my husband to remind him of something. He tells me my Christmas list is looking a bit thin. That's because everything I want (and it's not much) is not really achieveable the day before Christmas Eve. I suggest he gives me the cashmere jumper I bought myself, with petulant extravagance, in DKNY last week in a rare visit to Manchester. I tell him the price and he gasps. So I know I will be handing out all my lovingly researched and created presents to all my family and I will get the usual - a few CDs (usually duplicates) and a book or two. Sigh. I dream of being with people who tramp the streets finding beautiful things in beautiful shops that they KNOW I will love because they KNOW me so well. No. I am surrounded by fearsomely practical people. I will open the packet with my oven gloves and be thrilled. They are AGA and I did ask for them, after all. The nadir, though, has to be the Christmas my beloved gave me a Dustbuster. Still, I can talk, I'm currently wasting absurd amounts of energy worrying about the present I've given my cleaners. I was in John Lewis and saw some pretty Cath Kidston washing up brushes, scrubbing brushes and dusters(makes a change from chocolates and wine, I thought). All very 50s retro. All very designer, for any one in the know. Unfortunately I don't think they're in the know and will assume I got them down Chapel market for 50p. Could be the end of a beautiful relationship. My friends were horrified when I told them. So was my mother. I probably haven't improved the situation by softening the blow by adding some smellies. My idea was to get something special but having shelled out unexpectedly large sums on the Cath Kidston dream, I suddenly went all mean (there are FOUR cleaners, I hasten to add - they hunt in a pack, but are a mercifully short time in the house as a result, which is a bonus) and got some stuff from Superdrug. It doesn't actually SAY Superdrug on the packet, but they'll probably know. Oh God.

And what is it with the nation's current obsession with flashing lights? As if this time of year isn't stressful enough, we now have to endure interrupted electric currents every where we go. It's like living in a fruit machine. How epileptics cope, I really don't know. It's certainly enough to turn you into one. And what's with the blinding blue lights? Isn't it damp and miserable enough without the chill of arctic blue? What's wrong with good old classic warm white? Non flashing. Blimey, the woman behind me's just announced she's been to a funeral. I suppose death is one way to escape it all, but a tad extreme. Still, it will be my funeral if I don't get on with what I'm supposed to be doing instead of sitting here burbling on, so I'd better go.

So, dear reader, I wish you a very merry flashing Christmas and hope that you get all that your little heart desires and somehow, somewhere, find some peace. Some hope. Just think of my brother in law, currently languishing, at his friend's expense, in a flashy (rather than flashing) house in Sri Lanka with two cooks, a daily massage and yoga lessons (poor sod) and the Indian Ocean lapping at his door. That would be the best Christmas present ever.

Dream on, girl, and go stuff the turkey. Flowered pinny on, smile on face. All very 50s retro. So Cath Kidston. So John Lewis. Not very Woollies. May my sherry glass never run dry...

Cin Cin!

Friday, 12 December 2008

The Dambusters


Time has slipped by and this is now going to seem a little out of sync given we’re hurtling down the cresta run towards Christmas and all those Remembrance Day thoughts are eclipsed by tinsel and faulty fairy lights. But this is what I wanted to say:….

The solid old stone house that I am fortunate enough to live in has great history; not in a flashy sort of way, but in a quiet, knowing sort of way. It has stood on this land, with this view, for over four centuries. Much life, and some death, has played out within its walls. It feels a fundamentally happy house. I could not live here if it did not (and I have lived somewhere that was unhappy, so I know). I think the energies were stirred up, as they so often are, when we first moved in. There was a constant unexplained tapping sometime after midnight for the first few months which used to wake me up and make me wonder. Eventually it stopped and has not been heard in the last five years. I spend huge amounts of time here by myself and I have never felt ‘spooked’ or threatened in any way. Au contraire, in fact. I feel this house envelops me and keeps me safe when wind and rain beat against its hardy exterior. It is my friend and my protector.

When we moved up here, there were a series of extraordinary coincidences regarding people who had had connections with this small village. People who had been evacuated here, people who had had cousins living here and a number of other strange collisions of fate. One of them involved my parents. They were on a history and art tour in St Petersburg and befriended another lady on the trip. It turned out, through idle chat, that she had lived in this very village for a number of years and knew the people who, at one time, lived in our house. The son was one of the Dambusters(read about him here), killed in action while the family were living here. The surviving sister married and moved to Africa and for most of her life has lived on Lake Baringo. Thanks to this new friend of my parents, Betty Astell wrote to me from Africa and told me how very happy they had been at Spire Hollins and what a lovely home it had been for them, apart from the one tragic fact that her brother had been killed while they were living here.

One day earlier this year I came downstairs and noticed some drops of liquid on the parquet floor in the hall. I looked up to see if there was any dripping from the ceiling (we’ve had many a leaky bath problem), but it was dry as a bone (and anyway, there was no bathroom overhead). I thought no more of it until the next day when I noticed the drops were still there with a slight smudge around them. I knelt down to touch them and found a viscous substance between my fingers. Very pale brown in colour and smelling just like the oil that I used to put on my bike chain as a child. It was only later that I noticed there was a trail of similar drops starting on the marble worktop in the kitchen and in a straight line across the kitchen floor and in line with the drops in the hallway. I tried to find every possible explanation but could not. It was not olive oil, or cooking oil. No, it was like an engine oil. It was not the anniversary of the Dambuster mission and I’ve never found an explanation. I just like, in an imaginative sort of way, to believe it was something to do with the brave man that had once lived here and had died for his country one dark night over northern France when his plane crashed into an electricity pylon while flying low to avoid radar detection. He never even got to the Ruhr Dam.

The week of Remembrance I took myself up to Derwent Reservoir, just half an hour from here, to see the water over which the Dambusters had honed their skills to drop the bouncing bombs. It had been a beautiful sunny day but by the time I got there the light was fading. The larch trees had dropped a carpet of golden needles on the black tarmac road that edges the reservoir; the sheep grazed on the lakeside fields and there was hardly a breath of air. It is a beautiful, contemplative spot and perfect for reflecting on the personal sacrifices made for us to enjoy the freedoms, and relative peace, which we have today.









The sunset I saw on my way back home to this special place where I feel privileged to live:

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