Oh, god. I promised my friend Irretrievably Broken (ha, that sounds ridiculous) not to update my blog until she did, but I am going to break my promise (well, I did ask her first) because someone did sad pleading and also because one of my deadlines in this WEEK OF HORRIBLE JANUARY TORMENT has gone away. As a result, I now feel like I am luxuriating in a warm eucalyptus scented bath of free-ish time, when I had expected to be running around Brussels crying, trying to find graffiti that no longer exists whilst also writing about leftovers and children and visiting possibly the smallest and least Internet friendly Belgian town I have ever had the misfortune to be hired to write a guide to. Perspective is wonderful. I still have to visit the town and write the leftovers, but you know, I no longer feel the need to hitchhike to a remote cave in Turkey and grow a beard and burn my passport and eat moss and thrushes I kill with my bare hands for all eternity. Though actually, I wrote that paragraph yesterday and the urge is already returning.
So Happy New Year! How are you? We are very well, by which I mean, we have mainly vanquished the Persistent Christmas Pestilence and have not yet succumbed to the January Gastro which is reportedly sweeping the Gulag, ô bonheur. I am not sure what has happened since we last met on these pages, nothing of any great note, in any event, but I shall attempt to ferret around in my hazy, Toblerone and gin silted memory for a few highlights.
First there was Craftacular, where I accidentally got into a disagreement with Rob Ryan about the Messiah (and made up over a packet of arses) and where M taught - or rather attempted to teach - me how to do Hermès approved gift wrapping.
I love how elegant and demure M looks here in her beautiful vintage dress and pearls. I was letting the side down in a Cos sack, as usual. However, more of the time it was like this:
Note the scene of scrabbly chaos, I kept dropping stuff and being caught by customers with half a spinach pie trailing out of the corner of my mouth like something on a David Attenborough programme.
We did not sell very much, but Rob Ryan (who is like a lovely, jolly, hobo Santa) was giving away beautiful Christmas decorations from his magical grotto for free (I got a large smiling star, M a Christmas tree), and we had a good laugh at the enormous numbers of ironic East London Christmas jumpers, and lots of lovely people came to talk to us, and one of them even brought us snacks, and I met Grace, so it was all worthwhile. Afterwards M discovered mulled mead which was possibly not a good thing, because it turned her into an angry Hackney Viking warrior.
There was F's Gulag Traviata, which definitely deserves its own post. I have video. I cried a little. The headmaster gave a speech about courtesans.
There was me being a colossal dickhead and getting my wallet stolen on the tram, with attendant ugly street crying and chaos. This made for an unexpectedly cheap run up to Christmas as I was thrown on the mercy of my nearest and dearest for cash. I do not recommend this approach to seasonal economising, however, and I still have to run the gauntlet of the incredibly painful visit to the police to declare my ID card, driving licence and social security cards stolen, before I start the equally prolonged and painful process of attempting to replace them. Oh, the tedium. Also, the uneasy sense of having done something wrong that settles upon me whenever I enter the police station. What with my recurring dream about having buried a body in a basement I can no longer access but which someone else is about to enter, it's all too unnerving. I CONFESS, OFFICER. THE BODY IS BURIED IN MY SUBCONSCIOUS.
There was Christmas, spent in a windowless hut in Normandy decorated with extensive and mysterious signage on how to deal with blood clots and strokes. I will draw a heavy, tear-stained veil over Christmas, haunted as it was by the Jellied Quails That Kept Reappearing and with its high point featuring a half-hour afternoon nap in L's shark sleeping bag in a Kyriad hotel room, but I did get some excellent presents.
Presents of excellence in no particular order:
1. Ridiculous Lakeland teabag squashing claw that fills me with delight.
2. Aromatherapy Associates mini bath oils.
3. Chanel nail polish in Lotus Rouge, in your face dead mouse beige.
4. 2 bars of Dime chocolate from my eldest son. This is the first time he has expressed an interest in the giving side of Christmas, so it was quite touching, and even the fact that he made me pay for my own present did not entirely spoil the effect.
5. Posy Simmonds Mrs Weber's Diary Omnibus.
6. Much-coveted Barbour jacket which proved extremely resistant to discovery, but was finally tracked down in Robert Smart's Old Buffers' Outfitters in York, home of all the tweed and shooting requisites the landed gentry could possible require. I am now joining their ranks with my many pockets for cartridges and hip flasks and dead game birds. Say goodbye to dog walking shame, though say hello again to January dog walking misery, because even a smart new jacket can't make that fun. Not even the dog enjoys it.
There was also a long overdue trip to my ancestral lands. Yorkshire was excellent and delightful on very many levels, even though I was sick the whole time. We went to the magnificently nonsensical York panto (of which more here), had breakfast in Betty's and fish and chips in Petergate and "Yorkshire Pizza" from Thomas the Bakers, and sat around in bovine teenage fashion whilst Prog Rock lavished many of his greatest hit meals upon our unworthy forms. We drank this, with some trepidation:
We also trailed around the designer outlet feeling uneasy about the human condition, got lost on the Clifton Moor industrial estate with a brooding ten year old sulking histrionically in the back of the Yaris and finally - and I may well expand on this later - went to my father's largely abandoned house in the Yorkshire Dales, scene of the darkest years of my teenage holiday incarceration. Oh god, I loved being in the Dales and that confuses me. The weather was on its very best behaviour (the briefest half hour intervals of horizontal rain lashing up the valley only), I found the total lack of phone reception very restful, the landscapes were even more beautiful than I remembered, and of course I AM OLD NOW and thus more receptive to nature and so on. Even so, my most very favourite bit was sitting in bed looking out at the hills with the electric blanket turned up to "extra steaming cosy like a sauna that smells of mildew", drinking tea out of my favourite giant blue cockerel tea cup and reading a pile of my childhood pony books under my childhood patchwork quilt.
I am not sure what the children were doing while I was reliving the rare rose tinted scenes of my early years, playing DS probably. They were astonishingly patient about my self-indulgent trip down Painful Memory Lane, and actually seemed to enjoy scrambling around the various vertical bogs in the neighbourhood, admiring dead creatures, eating crisps in cold pubs and getting buffeted by the unforgiving Dales wind. My father's excellent collection of stuffed creatures helped, probably, L slept under the watchful glassy eye of a 1908 pike, F with some kind of exotic and slightly mangy duck in a box I remember with great affection from our own period of cohabitation. We spent New Year there doing absolutely fuck all and went to bed at ten (woken only briefly at midnight by a 7 second firework "display") and it was bloody lovely.
Also enjoyable: sorting out Prog Rock's bowl of crap.
We managed to coax him into parting with about 700 pieces of carefully preserved unidentifiable random plastic. The rest we organised into small piles: treasury tags, single earrings, elastic bands, keys to unknown doors that cannot be thrown out just in case, kirby grips, buttons, safety pins, obscure bicycle fixing ephemera, radiator bleeding keys, right-on badges for York causes...
Then when we finished, Prog Rock cheerfully gathered up the whole lot in his cupped hands and dumped it all back in the bowl. Never let it be said that we don't know how to have seasonal fun in our family.
I think that will do for now. Still to come: horses/fear, the enforced confronting thereof. Anvils. The return of Nouvelle Star and my undimmed crush on André Manoukian. Possibly the tedious Brussels saga of refuse collection. Almost certainly the sorry tale of my trip to Binche.
What was your best Christmas present? What family ritual did you particularly relish over the holiday season? Amuse me, please, there will be no internet in my Turkish cave.