The pre-Christmas social events are all over too. Apart from one electrolysis session tomorrow, I needn't see a soul until 30th December, when I drive off to to Hampshire for a New Year family gathering at my sister-in-law's. That's a big blank spot in my diary that spans more than a week, but I don't mind. I can slop around, chill out, and if I really want something to do, the garden beckons. I can control what I eat, and I won't drink a thing unless out and about and a cheerful pub draws me inside for a turkey sandwich and a gin and tonic to keep it company.
Days spent simply mooching about, as the whim takes me, no commitments, no timetable, no rushing, no need to plan anything except what to cook in the evening. Lovely.
It may be of course that I'll get an unexpected text out of the blue. Someone will say, how about coffee? Mmmm, you're on! It happened two mornings ago. Here's me at Café Coho in The Lanes in Brighton:
A friend from Kent had texted to say she was in town, and what about meeting up? So we did. I had to arrange a fringe trim at Trevor Sorbie anyway. And I wanted to look in Fat Face, and buy a top. But most of all, I wanted to see this friend. We hogged the table, chatting for over an hour. This particular café is good for yummy pastries, one of which you can see bottom left in the picture above. Here's a close-up:
We did split it, honest!
Changing the subject only slightly, I've got a playlist of songs called 'Christmas' on my phone, and there are some nice tracks there, 'nice' meaning 'cheesey but well-loved'. At this time of year, close to Christmas, it's pleasant to play them in the bathroom, or as I cook, or when driving along.
I still remember a long pre-Christmas afternoon drive I made alone to Yeovil and back from Southampton, I think in December 1976. As I went westwards along the A30, the light was fading fast. At Yeovil it began to snow. I heard carol singing. Outside the parish church was a huge lit-up Christmas Tree, and traditional words of goodwill and cheer filled the air. It seemed that all the townspeople had abandoned their last-minute shopping to gather round, entranced. I felt drawn in, part of it, and I didn't want to go home. Snowflakes settled on us all. At five o'clock, very reluctantly, I wrenched myself away, went back to my car, and headed home on my sixty-mile journey in the dark. The A30 was tricky, but my usual luck held, or else the gods that protect travellers in fey and elated states of mind reached down and intervened. There were one or two slithery, scary incidents before the snow thinned a bit short of Salisbury. But I made it safely back by seven o'clock.
I've never lost the magic of that afternoon. And yet it was unshared. I was by myself. Just me and the car. It has so often, in hard or doubtful moments of my life, been 'just me and the car'. That's partly why cars are so special to me.
I've often wanted to recapture that day, and others in different years and seasons that were equally intense. But of course you can't do it to order. All you can do is hope that other days like it will come about, happy days when life seems supernaturally glorious, every moment significant and memorable. Perhaps some combination of sun and snow, chill winds outside and soft warm rooms inside, red wine and candlelight, welcoming smiles and muted voices, kisses and hugs, and bright eyes lit up by the flames from a flickering log fire.
Here's Eyeworth Pond near Fritham in the New Forest, on an icy afternoon very early in 1977:
And here's a poem I wrote for M--- in 1995:
Think of me, facing the pale winter sky,
At the edge of the wood as the leaves blow by.
And think of the crow up above in the trees,
Whose breakfast and supper are nothing but breeze.
And look at the mouse who is not yet in bed,
Driven by hunger to forage instead.
The frost is an adder that gnaws at the land;
And the pale winter sky with the leaves blowing by
Is as empty and bitter as poor Nature's hand.
But remember the curtains that keep out the night,
And remember the sunshine, so brilliant, so bright;
And the crystals of ice, their symmetrical art,
And the roaring log fire that cheers the heart.
To M---, with love.
I may never again in my life write a poem for someone so special, but I do know that happy days can come again.