Tuesday, 7 December 2010


So, I've decided - through the medium of denial fuelled inertia - to stay here for Christmas. Anything else would have felt odd, except possibly going to London, and that would have just been dangerously, ruinously expensive.

I'm ok with it. Various people are around, so I probably won't fall down my stairs and lie there until I freeze to death as the dog whines gently and places tennis ball after tennis ball on my cooling, broken corpse. I can do interesting, frugal things with small tins of tuna and lentils, and curse the dog and do some writing. I'll have the tiny, tepid glow of virtue to keep me warm when the four hours of daylight are over. Doesn't that sound festive, boys and girls!

It's fine, really. Without the boys, it doesn't seem to matter much and I know they will be happy in a giant nest of cousins and wrapping paper and things that go bleep. I think my ritualistic delight in Christmas got a bit broken anyway the first year after mum died, when we just didn't bother, and it felt weirdly liberating - a bit transgressive and grown up. Since then, I can only think of two years in seven when I actually had a proper Christmas dinner, and even they were French ones, which don't really count, because ewww, foie gras and that nasty, sweet, flaccid toast, no roast potatoes and gravy and the horror of the bûche. Stupid bûche with fork raked, overchilled buttercream, icing sugar snow, a deformed plastic robin, and a cold disc of bad chocolate with "Joyeuses Fêtes!" in curly yellow script on the top. I mean, presents, sure. You can hardly escape that with children, and I wouldn't want to anyway, I like presents, love hoarding away tiny, clever, treasures for stockings that I can go and gloat over during December, choosing what colours of tissue paper to use for wrapping. I've inherited that from my mother, the stocking genius. But not a big old family meal, paper hats and cracker jokes. Last year we had fishfingers and oven chips, that was good.

Anyway, where would I go? I never used to see my dad at Christmas, so there's no tradition being broken there. My sister is staying in a Copenhagen squat, and Prog Rock is threatening to take a tent up to the Lake District. It's either that or stay in York and cook whatever the single meal in the universe is that meets the dietary requirements of all his female relatives and friends (variously unable to eat meat, gluten, dairy, fish, potatoes..). The single meal may not exist, he's still looking.

I'll miss the boys of course. I don't relish that part at all, even knowing they'll be fine, better than fine. But apart from that, do you know the only other thing I'll really miss?


Let me explain. Of course, I can make myself cups of tea. Belgium has both electricity and teabags. It even has milk, after a fashion, if you can tolerate UHT. But I miss the tea of my childhood home, the constant, relentless rivers of Yorkshire Gold tea. Pots of tea, stewing under the grubby, duck shaped teacosy. Always, but always, someone saying "do you want a cup of tea?" and me always, but always, saying yes. Putting the kettle on, again and again. Half drunk, abandoned mugs dotted around the house. Coming home in adulthood there was no more instant short cut back to childhood, adolescence than the onslaught of tea. Slumping into the corner seat in the kitchen by the wall with a cup of tea and one of Prog Rock's neatly folded Guardians as he cooked, meticulously, the sagging wickerwork of the chairs, the slight restlessness of knowing there was little to do except read and watch tv and doze, or mooch around "town" (always described as "town") eating pastry products and walking the same circuit around the same eight or ten streets I walked down every Saturday afternoon for years.

I'll miss that. I'll miss the tannin soaked certainty of my York Christmases. Most of me knows that everything fractures, changes, reforms. That I will, we will have "good" Christmases again. Not the same, not as thoughtlessly content, perhaps, but good. Even so, a wistful little part of me wishes we could have kept it how it was, preserved in tea like bugs in amber.


Simon said...

And of course I happened to be drinking a mug of tea as I read this. I believe that's called "synergy".

ganching said...

We did, and still do for that matter, refer to "the town".

A lovely evocative piece of writing.

Nellig said...

God, that was good. I mean, durr, we know you can write, but bloody hell. That was like watching a spookily good film montage. It all comes together so neatly in a comical yet elegant way in that final sentence.

I bet you secretly write poetry.

Miss Whistle said...

I used to think buche de noel romantic but now you've disavowed me of that notion -- what a beautiful description.

This is a great piece of writing. I'm glad it's the first thing I've read this morning.

Tea IS the best drink of the day, isn't it?

Unknown said...

As ganching said this was so evocative and lovely. I live in London (well south east) and call the central bit "town" much to the confusion and annoyance of others

Z said...

Here is town. Norwich is 'the city' with a glottal stop, so 'the ci'ee'. At the weekend, people go up the ci'ee.

indigo16 said...

I too have lost 2/3 kids for each and every Christmas since I can remember, they are they say, more fun with their dad so I gave up.
I do have one sprog left but she does not celebrate it and so to avoid the hideous malaise that I feel nearer the time we leave the country, I find being abroad lessens the pain.
It is funny how York is forever a 'town' and I find myself walking the same circuits I travelled 20 years ago even now when I visit mother, mostly punctuated by pubs! But yes, tea made with that brittle Yorkshire water nothing tastes as good.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading this sitting in my bedroom looking out over the frozen York University lake ,cup of tea in hand. I wish I could give you a hug and tell you how much you blog has come to mean to me.

Jessica said...

Beautiful, and admirable.

Lydia said...

Tea. I inhale tea. My mother thinks a cup of tea solves everything from a severed limb to family squabble (my family feuds as a social hobby, in the way other families cycle or sing in choirs together).

Wishing you a peaceful Noel.

Betty Herbert said...

I am sighing wistfully along with you. Herbert and I have no parents (well, we have my Mum, but she's buggered off to be an organge chav in Spain), no children, and therefore no Christmas. I'd engage with the festivities if I had a whole family to gather around me, but the two of us just seems utterly pointless. We spend most of the year in each other's company. That's not Christmas.
Anyhow, this year we're hosting Christmas for waifs & strays like ourselves. All welcome.

Anxious said...

I grew up in outer London and called the centre "town" (or more usually "up town")

And yes, tea.
Always tea.

WrathofDawn said...

I grew up in a place populated largely by people of English/Irish extraction and the magic of the bottomless tea pot did not go unappreciated in the home of my childhood. "Would you like a cup of tea?" was considered an extention of the word, "Hello..." as you came through the door.

As for Christmas? Meh. I think we need to stop measuring our Christmas against the societal "norm" of legions of relatives, over-decorated home and several metric tonnes of food.

I, too, felt like Christmas lost an awful lot of its shine when my mom passed away. She WAS my Christmas as a child. Living far from any extended family as an adult took away a lot, as well. Turkey with all the fixin's just isn't as special when it's the same 4 around the table as usual.

The complications of divorce dulled the rest of it for the most part. And now one sprog is thousands of kms away and the other is trying to split herself between three families.

I've decided to celebrate as I wish and enjoy the bits I still enjoy. The much-lauded "family Christmas" is never to be my experience again and I'm as okay with that as I can be, similar to my acceptance that perky boobs and I shall never be intimately acquainted again. As in worn by me, that is. Otherwise, ick.

It's still early years for you Emma. The adjustment can be hard. In the meantime, tea. Always tea. Yum.

pinolona said...

'preserved in tea like bugs in amber': perfect!

Anonymous said...

Oh dear time to cheer you up! i've found the perfect jar for your arse biscuits go to shuby.co.uk i and take a look at the cookie jars if i was clever i'd do some sort of linky thing but i'm not.........la-di-dah

Bryony said...

beautiful, beautiful writing Bx

Kay Dennison said...

I will probably be alone for Christmas, too. I'm okay with it mostly.

Nicky said...

Your writing makes me wish wish wish I could express myself as beautifully:'preserved in tea like bugs in amber' - just amazing.

Unknown said...

What an evocative post, and thanks for the Flashmob link. It made me cry too, for no reason than it was all happy. From another Belgian waffle, owned for the most part by Electrabel (and I'm still freezing). It is pretty in Uccle today, though!

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