Friday, 30 December 2011

I Find It Again

I found my three rules for surviving Christmas (below, 23rd December 2011), again.  The third one, "Everything can be mended" proved to be true.  Younger daughter and I are reconciled.  I apologised to her (having discussed the matter with older daughter) without leaving it too long to do so, and after some prompting, she accepted the apology.  She did not hug me, or apologise for HER behaviour, but there, what can you expect.  Her frontal lobes are taking an awfully long time to fill out properly, but then both my daughters were very late developers.  Younger is now 24, and has improved over the teenage years (by 400 per cent, I estimate), but still exhibits signs of teenage behaviour from time to time.  So it can only be a good thing that we have moved on, and she offered me her brand-new "Adele" CD to listen to before she had even listened to it herself.  Older daughter and I agreed that this constituted a gesture of reconciliation.

Also, Granny is forgiven after her inimitable series of recollections presented at the dinner table. As well as the one about music (see Christmas Day post), she also entertained us with memories of two little boys who were sent for a holiday from the Elephant and Castle in London to the Yorkshire countryside directly after the War and stayed in Granny's family home.  This was before she married. She was still living with her parents.  My two daughters were utterly enthralled.

I have managed to keep to rules one and two since that episode.  I have added a fourth.  It is important to go to bed at your normal time.  Staying up too late aggravates all issues in much the same way as a hangover or over indulgence in rich foods.  Ascetic, true, but I need all strategies to cope with a houseful of visitors, of all varieties, staying, staying far too long, and just dropping in, which has now gone on for over a week.

And it's not over yet.  Tomorrow night we host a New Years Eve Dinner Party for eight. 

Thursday, 29 December 2011

I Lost It

So, it's happened.  After a week of non-work, inactivity, no company other than relatives, heightened food levels (although, thankfully, no alcohol except a glass of champagne on Boxing Day), I have lost it, big time.  I cracked last night when I ate three champagne truffles (Oh, just realised, maybe that is the connection), in quick succession and then felt cross with everyone, went to bed feeling unhappy with myself and all close relations.

This morning, managed to keep calm through minimal conversations with husband, hour-long phone call with brother in New Zealand, until younger daughter arrived in the kitchen.  She refused to help me switch the TV back on (she turned it off last night and left it in a state from which I could not rouse it even by pressing every button on the remote).  I called her a B**** and  a c** (animal with udders). I am  a terrrible person.  This is what Christmas does to you.  I have been unable to keep to my three rules, and the very worst of me has emerged to the surface.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Good Things Happen in Threes

We opened our porch door this morning to find a Christmas card in the letter box.  Nothing unusual you might think in that.  "We have received all the cards we normally do from our neighbours," I told hub.  "Then who can this be from?"  It was from the Muslim family who moved this year into the end house.  We were so touched.  That they could find the time and interest to remember OUR annual celebration.  (We barely know what theirs is - something in November?)  That they wanted to. Their generosity of feeling.

After Christmas lunch, elder daughter fetched out her violin and played some Christmas carols in the dining room.  What joy. 

When we had the sitting room redecorated two years ago, we got rid of the piano, and since then there has been no  music at Christmas. 
Now, daughter has brought music back into the house.  I am overjoyed.

Next, mother-in-law adds another layer of emotion to the mix.  She reminisces about the day that elder daughter first showed an interest in music, asking to learn the recorder.  This was in a holiday cottage twenty years ago, when both parents-in-law used to come on holiday with us.  I do remember the tune I taught her was "Bee, bee, Busy bee, busy, busy, busy bee" - all on one note, the note B.  It was indeed the date that daughter first started to learn music. Being one of the parties, I don't have a picture of the scene in my head.  Granny does, and tells us.  I am moved by her recollections, and dumbfounded that she can still see it as clearly as the day it happened.  Wish we had a video-camera.  But Granny has the picture locked in her memory.

The books I gave for Christmas have given delight and interest.  Two of them were second-hand but didn't look it.  Elder daughter received "Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me" and read it for hours.  I gave younger daughter a book about the Peak District, but it was Auntie (hub's sister) and her partner who pored over it.  They live in Manchester, and have done many of the walks pictured, and even met one of the famous walkers who opened up Kinder Scout and started the Rambling Association.  No-one said anything about the books being less than absolutely pristine, although I think they might have suspected something.

Hub received his own version of a "pre-owned" book.  Some old person in Granny's circle was given a Nigella cookbook.  No longer interested in cooking, she donated it to a raffle.  Granny's best friend, (90), won the raffle, and being too old to cook, passed it to Granny, who passed it to Hub.  I love it - appears to be a mixture of "Express", "Comfort Food" and "Cakes".  Have looked at every recipe and even my jaded and worn-out attitude to cooking has received a jolt of inspiration.  Particularly interested in the vivid green marshmallow pie.

So, three good things have happened today, and three books have brought pleasure.  Ending on cake and books, just as it should be.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Christmas Letter

Sarky journalists have been making a few shillings these last years by writing annually about how naff the Christmas letter is, and how boring.  This year, a Times reader answered back, and published a letter asking if she was the only reader who feels devastated if there is no "news" attached to the Christmas card.

I am with that reader.  If I haven't seen the person during this calendar year, I send a letter.  No matter how recently I saw them, I love to read whatever they choose to include in their letter.  Perhaps, the sentence should stop after "I love to read".  The longer the better, and two closely typed A4 pages about all the holidays taken will keep me enthralled.

I have had  feedback from time to time about my letters.  One friend of my husband's (dating back to 1972) expressed surprise that there was so little about hubby in the letter.  Well, as he doesn't play any musical instruments, or take exams, and his only sport is golf, that is hardly surprising, is it!

Another friend of my husband's (now an ex-friend), complained that all we did was boast about how wonderful our girls were.  I, on the other hand, am always happy to read about the successes of other people's children (now moving on to their adorable grandchildren!)

One year, I wrote two Christmas letters.  The official one, about how wonderful everyone is, and where we went on holiday.  Then the unofficial one, which included details of some of the more epic marital rows, and household problems that year (the only one of which I can recall is that nine different plumbers crossed our threshold).  I think I sent that to one very close friend.  She thought it was funny, which is about the best one can hope for.

What that taught me was that in every aspect of life, one can present two different faces.  The public, cheerful one, which emphasises the positive, which looks smart and well-kempt,  and remains upbeat.  The other face, the deep, dark and troubled one, exists in every life, but is better kept in a dark cupboard.  As I grow older, I find that even with one's closest, nearest and dearest, there is little sympathy for the dark side, and it is better not to bring it out for inspection.  And then, as my mother said about grumpy faces: "If the wind changes, you'll stay that way!"  So, if I keep looking smart and cheerful, I will grow to be that person more and more, to everyone's benefit, especially mine.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Rules for Surviving Christmas

This is what I posted last year, just after the festive season ended.

1. Cut everything you eat by 50%
2. Cut everything you say by 50%
3. Remember that everything can be mended.

I managed to follow my own rules more or less. I cut what I might have first thought of putting on my plate by one-third on average, although overall because I didn't have ANY Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, or mince pies, it probably averaged at half. This meant that my digestive system kept to its normal schedule, and liverish discomfort, groaning intestines, did not cause bad temper.

I did try to limit what I would say. However, by the fourth day (my husband's relatives stay for five days, my ONLY relative stays for five hours -you can see my problem), my resolve was cracking.

My determination not to elaborate on any point was broken down by the fact that after four days, there is little left to talk about. I would rather have kept silent about my new job, (well new on 1st December 2009), and not put it out for dissection and criticism. However, in the face of relentless company, I described the not-for-profit organisation I work for, and how wonderful it is. My mother-in-law's immediate, and more or less only, comment, was: "But they ARE paying YOU?"

I felt sick. Why do I let myself fall for this family's incredible materialism, time after time? I am not exaggerating when I say that money is my mother-in-law's almost sole topic of conversation. If you come into a room where a conversation is already going on, it will almost always be about a divorce, some unreasonable ex-wife, a will, or house-prices.

This leads me to my third rule. "Keep thinking that everything can be mended." I was thinking about kettles, the outside tap, a flat car battery, when I wrote that down. But some wounds never heal. Her remark reminded me of the occasion when she sent a seven-year-old child's birthday card by second class post, and it did not arrive in time. Not everything can be mended.

This year:  update

The relatives will arrive this evening.  I will try to keep quiet and be polite.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Nancy wins through

Today is my first-born's birthday.  At about this time, 27 years ago, a midwife dragged her out with forceps and life was never the same again. I sent her a text this morning first thing, and waited all day for a reply.  Couldn't concentrate on my work.  Told the factory manager about it, and we chatted about his two daughters, son and five grandchildren.  One of his daughters has just written off to audition for X-Factor 2012.  That cheered me up.

Eventually, at about six pm, she called.  It seems that the book I sent, Nancy Mitford's classic, "The Pursuit of Love" is her favourite of all the presents I sent.  Hey! Yey!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

"Housekeeping" by Marilynne Robinson

I remember a few years ago, this author brought out a second book, twenty odd years after the above, and the critics all raved about it.  Their praise was such that it seemed that this author must be a sort of hermit, a recluse who ventures out once every quarter of a century with seminal words which are of inestimable value.  That book, "Home", (uncanny resemblance of title), moved with the same stately, almost soporific pace as does "Housekeeping". 

This one is even more drifting and distant in pace.  The one great theme running through the entire book, and appearing on virtually every page, is of water.  The book appears as if one is reading it through the surface of a pond.  Still waters run deep, but I found it difficult to get to the bottom of the story.

On the surface, it is a story of abandoned sisters, their mutual dependence as children, and their eventual split as they reach puberty.  All the most powerful scenes revolve around water - the death of their grandfather in a train which went off a bridge into a lake, the floods which entered their home, the suicide of their mother in the same lake. All the themes are brought together when the eccentric aunt, Sylvie, takes the writer, Ruth, out in a boat to view the spot where the train hit the waters, and then initiates her into the life of a vagrant, by taking her on a freight train back to the home which they are soon to abandon altogether.

The front cover quotes the Observer, "One of the Observer's 100 greatest novels of all time".  This  merely awakened a thirst in me to find out the other 99.

I can't say it would be in the top 50 of my favourite novels. Not a favourite at all, in fact, more a "duty read", as others seem to think so highly of it.  It is a mystery to me why this book and its author have attained iconic status.  Could anyone enlighten me?