Monday, December 21, 2009

Scraps (it's all I'm good for) regarding Christmas

I spent most of the weekend in bed, snoozing, sneezing, coughing, groaning, spluttering, blowing my nose, monitoring the headache and the earache and the chills and fever, drinking four-hourly Lemsip enhanced with extra lemon juice, honey and hot water, and generally wishing I were dead, a wish the granting of which seemed imminent.

I got out of bed on Friday only to put some clothes on over my aching skin and drive to the supermarket to get supplies. Having done a big shop only the day before, I had relatively few things in my trolley, and while queueing at the checkout did the usual stickybeaking at what other people had in their trolleys and made deductions or guesses about their lives. Big dog. Small baby. Type 2 diabetes.

Anyone looking at my own trolley -- big box of tissues, two packets each of Strepsils and Butter Menthols, decongestant nasal spray, three packets of icing sugar and various containers of gelatine, glycerine and glucose syrup -- would have thought 'Hmm, person with a bastard cold who has plans to make fondant for the Christmas cake.' (Or possibly 'Hmm, type 2 diabetes.')

The time in bed was not wholly wasted, as in between the snoozing and the self-pity I read two and a half novels for work, one of which, by British professor of literature Rebecca Stott, describes a character whose attitude (in 1815) to his own Judaism gave me some insight into my own secular embrace of all things Christmas.
'And Silviera?'
'He goes to synagogue. He reads the Torah. He keeps the Sabbath.'
'He believes?'
'No. Silviera has no God. He says it's a Christian obsession, this insistence on God, on belief, on talking about it all the time. For him it's the rituals, his people, l'histoire that matters. It is his anchor.'

Which is sort of more or less what I was saying in the 2007 eve-of-Christmas-Eve post at t'old blog.

It was fortunate that by 9 am this morning, when I had to meet my sisters in the city for some legal discussions about which there had previously been some, erm, dispute, a meeting the cancellation of which would have been more than my life was worth, I was starting to feel human again. (Deciding last night at 10 pm that I really had to dust and vacuum before I put the tree up was, I think, the product of a fever dream, and naturally I was so deranged by the time I had dusted and vacuumed that I was too knackered to put the tree up and went to bed instead.) I was feeling so human that I went and did a little shopping after I'd had post-lawyer coffee with the sisters and sorted out who was doing what for Christmas day lunch. From my morning in the city, I bring two questions:

1) At what stage of his or her cognitive development does a child come to be able to work out which direction an escalator is going in just by looking at it?

2) At what stage of his or her cognitive development does an adult come to understand that if you want to get into an elevator or a parking space, you need to move your arse out of the way so that the current occupant can get out?

Putting up the tree this afternoon and decorating it with ornaments some of which I brought back from Europe ten and/or fifteen and/or 25 years ago for my mother to put on the family tree, and some of which are still wrapped in yellowed tissue paper with her handwriting on it despite the fact that she died almost eleven years ago, brought a flash of insight about her: that one of the great tensions of her life was that she combined a lifelong passion for self-improvement with a likewise lifelong resistance to self-analysis. She forgave herself nothing, excused herself nothing, indulged herself with nothing and strove to strengthen weaknesses and solve problems whose genesis she wasn't prepared to investigate, never able to separate the concept of 'reasons' from the concept of 'excuses'.

So there was just this relentless drive, physically and morally, to be better: hard-working, skilled, groomed, orderly, and ruthlessly self-disciplined. The self-discipline in particular was, I think, why so many people trusted her with secrets: while she enjoyed discussing personalities, I never once heard her gossip, and while she enjoyed an occasional brandy-and-dry, I never once saw her drunk. She believed that discretion was the essence of loyalty and she consciously practised both.

Tomorrow, in her honour, the kitchen: fondant icing and gingerbread cats. There will be photos.

1 comment:

Elisabeth said...

You are a hero. All the stoical determination to keep going, despite feeling on death's door. Did you get it from your mother?

You, Pav, sound like a person who has a hedonistic streak when called for. I hope so. I like a bit of hedonism in a person.

On another note, inspired by your post, as a child and even now still as an adult, I have trouble distinguishing the two words 'escalator' and 'elevator'. I also have trouble maneuvering into them, whichever I must take. They still fill me with unease.

I often times dream of elevators, not escalators, that lose their connection to whatever internal device holds them firm and they come tumbling down as I stand waiting inside for the inevitable crash to earth.

Thanks for this beautiful writing, especially given that you wrote it under such pain.