Sunday, 25 December 2011

Routines, rituals and ceremonies

Sitting here waiting for the kettle to boil for another cup of tea.

Most years around this time I'd be brewing a tea, but nearly always over the allotment.  No chance of that this year, or of the other thing I always do on Christmas day - walk down to the lake, round to the woods and then back.  Out of the question - too many steep slopes and uneven paths to risk me shuffling down there.

Managed my first walk out of the house yesterday, with Howard escorting / propping me up.  Took the bus into Enfield, but walked along the street and caught the bus from the next stop along rather than walk up the steep hill (and slippery path) to the nearest stop.  With the exception of M&S food, things were far more quiet than either of us expected - mind you, the local Rotary Club playing "jolly" festive songs from Des O'Connor may has caused the mass exodus.  No sign of the usual panic and hysteria in Waitrose either - not even a queue at the cheese counter.

So I got through my first outing wearing the cast and using one crutch unscathed.  Next stage is to tackle a Tube journey ahead of returning to work in the New Year.

In all honesty, when there's just the two of you, going through the whole routine of Christmas seems pointless.  We exchanged cards and presents as always.  This year I've had more reason to be grateful for the things Howard has done than ever, and with little chance to find things for him outside of the house, have found everything online.  Wrapping paper was a struggle, so I relied on my old favourite - brown paper and brightly coloured Nutscene twine.  Trust me - it looks good in a "crafty" way.

Our take on the dinner is one step away from the traditional - duck, roast parsnips, cavali nero kale and mashed and baked sweet potato.  I usually do a steamed chocolate sponge pudding, but will leave that until another time, as I'm not yet active enough to justify that many calories.

Christmas itself lies midway between things that really matter to me.  Tomorrow there'll be horse racing to watch - the King George chase from Kempton.  That's a race chock full of memories, of the legendary horses who've won it, and of memories closer to home - sitting down with my Welsh grandfather to watch it and shutting out the domestic hubbub, or the times in the early 90's when I watched the race and hurtled down the street, across the Great North Road and made it to Underhill in time for the Barnet FC game.  Those matches had an atmosphere that seems to have been lost.  One year the Barnet fans behind the goal kept singing the theme from Rainbow, another year they brought squeaky toys along.

Above all, just before Christmas, there is the time that is most important to me - the Winter Solstice.  This house more or less faces west, and every year I light a candle in sight of the last rays of the setting (old) sun on Solstice Eve.  I then place this candle in a lantern and put it on an east facing windowsill overnight, to act as a beacon to guide the rising (new) sun the following morning.  A very simple act, but one that serves to focus my mind on the fact that days will soon start to lengthen, and it is time to seriously focus on preparing for growing next year's crops.

So why do I even begin to "do" Christmas?  Well I recently discovered that prior to the change in calendars, the Winter Solstice fell on 25th December, so it could be said the day is earth sacred anyway.  I like the day as it is a day when you have to take a step away from normal - no transport, no shops, TV schedules out of the window - you can't just go about your normal routine (OK - except for dealing with the chickens.  They were up & yelling at the same time as ever).  It's also a day for recalling your best memories of previous years.  The time I was jogged while adding brandy to my home made stuffing, and almost created an internal combustion goose, or when the roasting tin I cooked the turkey in expended in the heat of the oven and wedged itself in there so tight we had to wait until the bird was cold to release it.  Or back to childhood when my great uncle arrived in a bubble car - the model where the passenger sat in the front, and took me and my cousins in turn for a ride round Ladbroke Grove.  Best of all was the time we stayed at my mum's parents and my granddad (the one I watched the racing with) persuaded my dad to go into the loft with him and stomp about, pretending to be Santa and his reindeer.  We had snow on Christmas morning too that year.

Have fun, and take time to be happy.

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