Reflections on New Year

Monday 31st December

What is the meaning of it all I constantly ask myself, not only about life, the Universe and me – but also about human behaviour.  Am I the only one who is unexcited about New Year?  Most other idiots seem somehow ecstatically bananas about the thing.  It is after all just a date on the calendar, and should really have been December 22nd to make any sense, at least then it would mark the Winter Equinox and the days beginning to get longer and full of new life and hope.

Many is the time I have sat watching people jumping up and down, throwing themselves in fountains, throwing vodka down their throats, throwing caution and the failure of the old year to the wind in a celebration of what exactly.  Do any of them remotely imagine that the next year they will have achieved any more sense or wisdom; do they really think that their fortunes will change simply because it is 2013, and no longer 2012?  Or is it a more basic human need to feel reassured (even if it is self-reassurance) that they are not solely responsible for their own destiny, but Lady Luck may take a hand and a new year will bring something better.

Also, I don’t know about you, but I have always thought that New Year arrives a tad too soon after Christmas.  Why on earth did not the makers of the calendar leave a more decent hiatus between the two.  It would have made more sense.  Instead the whole country is disrupted by two weeks of boredom with a dash of hedonism thrown in for good measure.  I wonder how much production is lost each year by all the empty offices and factories, and the slow cranking up of the machine again in January.  Mind you I would be the first to complain if it was decreed that we all had to return to work on December 27th.

Well, whether you agree with me or not, and in the spirit of the whole ridiculous thing I sincerely hope that 2013 is a good year for you all.

Doing the Washing

Sunday 30th December

We don’t have a washing machine here in Eymet, well not yet.  And actually I am not sure we will ever get one as I have discovered the Laverie.  They are quite popular still in France, where the idea of communality is a bit stronger than in England where only the poor, single and sad go to the Launderette.  Here it is quite acceptable to wash your clothes ‘en flagrante’.  In the summer it is so warm it is easier to wash and rinse the few clothes you wear in the sink and dry them in an hour or two out the back but in the winter I am using the Laverie.

The instructions are thankfully in English as well as French.  Conversational French I can do, but anything technical tends to flummox me a bit.  Anyway, once you have worked it out it is quite simple; so clothes in, powder in, select 2 for coloureds press start and away we go.  The clothes on their boring cycles round and round and I to the Café de Paris for a Grand Café au Lait, and a bit of blogging, hopefully to return to all my clothes washed and clean, and not cold and soapy and still dirty.

But sitting here in the late afternoon sunshine, temperature about 13 or 14C, a nice cup of coffee ( and maybe a biere in a minute or two) by my side and free wireless internet – I will volunteer to do the washing any day.

PS – I have always looked out for unusual and witty shop names, no more so than a Laundromat last summer in France with a huge plastic Bugs Bunny outside.  The name of course was Tex Laverie.

Amazingly, everything is still here

Saturday 29th December

We tumbled into our house just after 11 on Thursday night, quite exhausted and soon to bed.  Yesterday morning we got up and blear-eyed walked around the town.  And amazingly it is still all here.  Exactly the same as we left it.  I almost had a fear that it had all been a dream and we would wake up to find whole streets demolished or that the house wasn’t ours.  The town is still delightful even in a somewhat damp but very mild winter.  All the shops have decorated their windows for Christmas and there are fairy lights in the square.  Everything is just as it was, and a wave of familiar contentment came over us as we realised that this is indeed our home.

So, the horrendous journey was worth it, though I wasn’t so sure at the time.  The place just seems so comforting and reassuring to me.  I sometimes seem to have lived my entire life on the run, dashing from work to shops to home, remembering birthdays and trying to keep everyone happy and everything on some sort of financial steady course that I don’t seem to have spent any time relaxing.  But here I do feel relaxed, and contented.  It is almost as if the physical distance means that even when I get an urgent e-mail from work to deal with I am far enough away that it doesn’t really matter.  What are they going to do, sack me?  If only.

So yes it was all worth it, even if I never found the glasses, but given the choice in future I might well decide to fly.

What a Journey

Friday 28th December

After my last blog I was anticipating the worst, and it did not disappoint.  We drove through torrential rain and gale force winds for miles, and each time I got out to walk or water the dogs I nearly got blown away.  So much so that I got quite a headache from the icy wind.  I tried to sleep once or twice but either the motion of the car or my own sense of desperately needing sleep to get rid of the headache kept me awake.

Then at some stop just south of Le Mans I was trying to do my coat zip up in a roaring wind, it was pitch black and two dogs were pulling me in opposite directions.  I yanked them back in frustration and tried again to do the zip up.  After I had got back in the car and we had driven about 50 kilometers further south I realised I couldn’t find my glasses.

I had taken them off when trying to sleep and had pinioned them on my sweater, one arm inside and holding them to my chest.  It was about eight at night, dark and wet and I decided they might still be in the car somewhere though we would have to wait until daylight to find them as the neatly stacked and sorted back of the car was a mess since the dogs had scampered over everything and there were coats and scarves and pillows and empty shopping bags all over the folded down seats of the Ford Galaxy.  I just couldn’t face turning round at the next exit, about 40 further kilometers on, turning round and going back to the exit prior to what we thought might be the Aire we had stopped at.  And the chances of finding the damn things in the dark and still unbroken seemed quite low; besides I had been assiduously avoiding having my eyes re-tested, as I knew they were deteriorating and I would need a new pair anyway, until the New Year.

I will buy a cheap pair of reading glasses and get my eyes re-tested when I return to London.  In a funny way it is one less thing to worry about – where you have put your glasses.  Also quite quixotically my headache soon disappeared altogether and it stopped raining and the wind dropped and I quite enjoyed the last 200 kilometres of the journey, especially as we skirted Bordeaux then headed for Marmande, Miramont and at last a signpost for Eymet.  Sixteen hours in the car, over 600 miles in France.  Was it worth it?    See Tomorrow.

On the Road Again

Thursday 27th December

And as you read this we will be racing down the A roads of France heading for Rouen, so as to avoid Paris and the dreaded Peripherique which can resemble a car-park when luck is against you.  Then we head south towards Le Mans and Bordeaux.

I don’t actually look forward to the journey but the destination makes it worth it.  As Harry Chapin once sang “It’s got to be the going, not the getting there that’s good.”   He was singing about travelling around America  on Greyhound buses in the sixties,  but the sentiment is the same.  As a passenger all you can do is stare out at the road unwinding in front of you; at least the driver has something to do, deciding which lane to move into, and when to overtake that Spanish Juggernaut in the slow lane.

At least with the dogs on board there are plenty of stops, and as soon as we change gear and the indicator sounds both dogs wake up and start panting and jumping around.

The weather is likely to be wet most of the way, but mild too.  We drove to France three years ago in the winter, and there was quite a lot of snow and ice, which wasn’t much fun.  That was only to Le Touquet on the North coast so there was far less driving that time.

So here we go again, for the last time in 2012 – on the road again.

Boxing Day – Now that all the fuss is over

Wednesday 26th December

I have always enjoyed Boxing Day more than Christmas Day itself.  There is really quite a lot of stress on the day itself.  What if your loved one is not as excited with her present as you might hope?  What if you have negligently bought the same thing for your sister two years running?  What if she is actually rude enough to let you know?  What if you forget to ring one of the kids?  What if some disaster happens to spoil the day (One day I can remember a toilet had to be unblocked in the middle of serving up lunch – nice)?  What if you forgot to switch on the oven or have left the turkey in too long, or it is all dry and tough, or you burn the roast potatoes, or the sprouts are raw, or you cannot find the cranberry jelly or forget to make the gravy?  And even if the dinner goes off okay you miss the Queens speech, or there is a sulky row going on between two members of the family you should never have put in the same room together.

But Boxing Day, when it is all over, and you have completely forgotten just who bought you the scarf and gloves and have put away in a drawer the smellies you will never use and the books you will never read and the socks with Bart Simpson on that will go straight in the bin once the guests have all left – you can relax.  Put your un-socked feet up, eat far too much bubble and squeak and cold meat and pickles and cold Christmas pudding and snooze in front of the film you always wanted to watch and even miss the footie results – now that’s what I call Christmas.

‘Twas the night before Christmas

Tuesday 25th December 2012

As a child I learnt this off by heart, so incidentally did my son Justin.  Every Christmas the words would come flooding back…..

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.,

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

Santa in his sleigh

Christmas remembered – part 4

Sunday 24th December

I don’t really remember much about TV in the sixties, except White Christmas always being on on Christmas morning.  The seventies, when I had my own Telly was something else.  We couldn’t wait to get our hands on the Christmas Issues of Radio and TV Times, and would assiduously read them from cover to cover and mark in felt-tip pen our must-watch shows.  Remember this was before video-recorders and no-one had even imagined i-players so if you missed it – you missed it and would have to wait maybe a whole year to see it.  In fact I am sure lots of Christmas Specials never got shown again.  Must-sees were always Christmas Top of the Pops, innocent as we were of Jimmy Saville’s fiddling out of camera shot.  Morecambe and Wise was also unmissable, and then all the comedy Christmas specials which seemed to just get better and better each year. And then there were films.  Hard to imagine but you had to wait several years from Cinema release to watching them on the telly back then, so seeing a James Bond or Indiana Jones actually on your own t.v. for the first time was amazing.

I am fairly certain that when there were fewer channels and less choice we all enjoyed TV more.  How often has everyone in the office watched the same thing nowadays, so that shared experience is long gone.

Anyway I am sure the present generation of teenagers wil look back with the same nostalgia in forty or so years time, reminiscing fondly to a totally bemused young audience of X factor and Strictly and Celebrity in the Jungle.  Such is the rosy glow of memory – it was always better then.

Christmas remembered – part 3

Sunday 23rd December

Christmas day was so anticipated, and not just for presents – though these were far fewer in number and sophistication than today – but for the food and the general party atmosphere.  You started thinking about it after Bonfire night I suppose, as the nights got darker and colder and ice formed out of the condensation of our breath on unheated bedroom windows I would gaze out of mine onto fields and trees and wonder what Christmas would bring this year.   And I had no idea?  It was always a complete surprise.  There was hardly any TV advertising – I don’t think we got ITV until the early sixties, quite contentedly managing with the one channel – and there were hardly any toyshops as such.  Woolworths had a few toys bought in for Christmas and there was one electrical store Stannards which sold bicycles too.  You had to go into Ipswich to see any real toys, and that was a rarity.  In fact my Dad made a lot of my toys, and my mum made dolls outfits for the few bought dolls my sister ever had.

You went to sleep just like the children in the poem ‘The Night Before Christmas’ and dreamed not of sugar plums but probably the rich and bittersweet taste of Christmas Pudding.  We used to have a pillow case at the end of our beds, and despite our excitement would always miss our parents silently retrieving, filling and then replacing them at the foot of our beds.  As dawn crept up, or usually long before that I would wake and shouting to my sister drag my pillowcase into Mum and Dad’s bedroom and there on their bed we would open our presents, at least the ones from Mum and Dad.  We were usually sent back to bed for an hour or so before the real day began.

The End of The World

Saturday 22nd December

If you are still reading this, which I am certain you will be, then yet another loony prophecy will have been disproved.  And there have been so many haven’t there, that we don’t take them seriously anymore.  But why do people still insist on believing in prophecies and seeing into the future?  The future as everyone knows is simply unknowable, being the result of many individual actions and global and planetary and galactic and universal forces we are barely beginning to comprehend.  What we might be fairly certain of is that won’t be happening soon – at least not before Christmas.  But the gullibility of otherwise rational intelligent people never ceases to amaze me.  I actually lived through the nearest we came to the end of the world back in 1962 when Kruschev blinked and a nuclear war was averted, though I was more interested in how ‘Love Me Do’ was doing in the charts at the time.

The end of the world of course happens every minute of every day for somebody, and it will be my turn too one day.  If you accept that our understanding of the world is encapsulated in our own comprehension; that is within each individual person’s functioning brain.  Despite what is written down as received wisdom each of us has our own idea of the world, which may be limited to a small horizon where our friends and family live or may encompass continents and even bits of the wider cosmos which we may think we understand, at least for a while. But that knowledge is different for each one of us, in fact a different understanding of the world exists within each one of us, yes, even inside Britney Spears brain too.  And as we die off so one understanding, one interpretation of the world dies each time.  And so the World Ends for each of us as the last synapse ceases to transmit its tiny electric charge.  Luckily it may just be possible that the World also exists outside my own consciousness and the rest of you will carry on after my demise – but I wouldn’t bet on it.