Well, how was your Christmas? I hope it was good, happy, healthy. And even if you’ve had to let out a button or three, as calm as it possibly can be when you are in the midst of families from all sides of the country. A lot of my friends have hurtled across UK motorways with their nearest and dearest to be with their farthest and sometimes not-so-dearest.
I have had the most unusual Christmas’ ever. The first one I have spent entirely alone. Through choice, I hasten to add. And strangely, I have enjoyed every minute of it. It must be awful to be lonely through circumstance. But to choose to be alone has been bliss.
For starters, my son and daughter are sunbathing in Perth, Australia, lazily cooking a Christmas dinner barbeque on the beach with partners and swimming in the ocean. I was desperate to ask if it’s in the shark safety netted zone but dared not because the answer could be no. They are complaining that Australian wine in the UK is far cheaper than over there (my heart bleeds for them!).
My mother has taken herself off to her sister’s as she does every year. For the last decade she has announced ‘it’s probably the last year we’ll have together’ and yet they’re still going strong. My best friend Meg, is with her adult children and zooming up north and then to London to other relatives she only sees annually.
Others are with partners, husbands, offspring. Wringing their hands as well as upping their alcohol intake to cope with the festive demands they pile on themselves and hate themselves for. I put up a tiny tree on December 22nd and am frankly itching to take it down.
Since August I have been ranting at all the festive adverts and have to change channel immediately. Every year I get fewer cards because I send less and less and give the money I would have forked out on stamps to charity. Me and Meg have swapped the same Christmas card back and forth for the five years. All in the spirit of recycling. We don’t do presents other than buy each other a wine or two or three.
I know by now, those of you who love Christmas will loathe me. It’s a bit like camping, there are those who love it and those, like me, who want a King-size bed and luxury ensuite. I try not to share my moaning with anyone else and do apologise. I will be back to normal on January 2nd.
Then there’s Harry. Well, I have been out on another dog-walk.
This time we stuck to the actual reservoir where Fudge disgraced himself. He leapt in the water chasing swans. Consequently, they launched an attack on him and I’ve never seen a dog jump out of the water as fast as he did.
Harry’s whippet was far too thin to put a paw in. We walked and talked and sometimes just looked at the willows, the ducks, the billowing clouds.
It turns out Harry is 51 and his 28-year-old daughter is the mother of three-year-old Bella. I attempted to tot up how old Harry was when he became a father. Counting is not my forte. Young, I decided. And he is three years younger than me. Of course, I don’t say that, but looking in the mirror that night I wondered if a jab or two of Botox would even things up on the age-scales.
We get on well, with easy conversations and a tentativeness between us. He doesn’t explain his baggage and I’ve done my best to keep quiet about the past too. Even my feelings about Christmas. This was last week and no Christmas drinks or dog walkies were made. I could tell he would be busy with a capital ‘B’. Unlike me. Although I didn’t say that. No, I said, I was at home. But not alone.
Likewise, I told other people I was busy because a friend alone means rescue invitations are given out. I didn’t want to spend my day in the close confines of other families, wall-to-wall TV, and bored (board) games.
I gave everyone a pottery present made by me over the last year and sneakily put the car in the garage so nobody could tell I was in. Then I settled down to a posh instant dinner and bottle of champagne to see me through the day. It was peaceful all through the house and I loved it.
I counted my blessings. I wasn’t up at the crack-of-dawn like millions of other women (and a few men) wrestling with turkey and spuds and veg. Nope, I read in bed and ate my way through a bar of dark chocolate orange with the blackest, sweetest coffee. I listened to Radio 4, then to soul hits from the 70s without having to get up thanks to my absolute command of Alexa. I spent two hours playing with pottery and received a fair few phone calls during the afternoon as I enjoyed my tipples of champers.
The first and longest from Meg, who expressed her envy of me and wished she too was sitting on a sofa with nobody in charge of the TV controller, the conversation and meagre quantities of wine poured in egg-cup size glasses. My children called – drunk. It was very late in Oz. I was told they are brown and happy. I was happy for them and pretended I’d been with friends all day so they wouldn’t worry about me or feel the slightest bit guilty.
My mother called complaining her and her sister had rowed about their childhood, adulthood and money. They always do. It takes a year of not seeing each other to build up for the next, thought to be last Christmas. There was a lull and I put on Father Ted and laughed myself stupid.
The phone rang again and it was Harry. It appeared he was familied-out too and wondered if I’d like to go to see a garden with him tomorrow. It’s the Ladyship’s very private estate and as she and the Lord are away. He needed to do some forward spring planning and would I like to have a gander. I agreed in a second. I’ve gone past its imposing stone walls so often and glimpsed the carpet of crocuses there in the spring.
I wrapped up and took myself outside into my little garden. Raking up a carpet of leaves warmed me up. I cut back seemingly dead/dying or never thrived vegetation. Suddenly I realised I know nothing whatsoever about plants, other than how to kill them.
I went to bed, rested, calm and decided being alone is good as long as it’s your choice. Oh, and that you aren’t forgotten. At least there won’t be any more Christmas adverts to endure until next August.