And, mark you, I am supremely fortunate! I can suit myself what I do about Christmas. I have no duties or obligations. I never buy present for adults, only for little children (and there is only one of those to consider). I do not have to stay with anyone - so there's no packing to do - nor do I ever want anyone to stay with me. And if I wish to drop out entirely, and push off somewhere, and completely avoid every single social event, then I can.
I am of course far too sociable to cut and run; but even so, it's been a bit breathless over the past two weeks, and it looks set to continue. I hope I can cope!
Breathless and expensive. I may well pop the metaphorical (or even real) champagne cork, toasting 2015 as the Year I Made Even More Excellent Friends. But it will also be The Most Expensive Year Ever For Keeping My Car On The Road. And yet the pain of dealing with accumulated wear and tear on my car is easily eclipsed by the pleasure, convenience and travel-potential that Fiona provides. I remain more than content. I can think of many great moments in 2015 - and most of them were enabled, directly or indirectly, by owning Fiona.
Well, how is my lovely car after her heart surgery?
I am - cautiously - very pleased with that gearbox transplant. I have to be cautious, because this isn't the kind of thing you can assess in a mere five minutes of driving. But I can say that all transmission noise is now much muted, gearshifting is smooth and slick, and my car is quieter and more serene to drive around in. That's a good enough outcome for now. But it will take a month or so before I start to relax.
And I don't think I will ever now take the new gearbox for granted. With this first major component-replacement, Fiona has left her young-and-carefree stage behind. She has arrived at early middle-age, one-third of the way through her expected lifetime - in human terms, around thirty-five - and like a human of that age, she is still capable of strenuous physical efforts, but not necessarily without consequences. I must expect her to react if driven too hard. Even so, I won't be nursing her - but I will be driving her with care and gentleness all the time, and not asking her to do anything too prodigious. I want her to last. And I want to avoid unnecessary bills! How will I accomplish this restraint? I simply stay within all speed limits. So if I sometimes flouted any in the past, I won't be doing so henceforth. That will ensure I stay 'legal', and give Fiona a break.
Looking at my diary, I'm struck how nearly every day before Christmas 2015 has something fixed up, or at least pencilled in. Vastly different to how it was at, say, Christmas 2009, when I was completely on my own over Christmas. That was the year I burnt my Christmas Dinner almost to a cinder. Let's disinter the photos...
Wasn't it sad? All the roast vegetables were charcoal. Only the separately-boiled brussels sprouts were palatable. I can't remember what went wrong. It looked slightly better on the plate, but still very meagre:
In 2010 I was down in snowbound Cornwall - in the caravan - but I cooked up a far nicer Christmas dinner for myself - a hearty steak, albeit served up late in the evening after struggling vainly in icy conditions with a TV satellite dish. The right spirit was maintained by my ceramic Christmas Tree:
After 2010 I dined at friends', or at my sister-in-law's - the only exception being 2012 when I ate at home again, but this time successfully. It was a veritable feast:
This year I'm invited to a village Festive Soirée on Christmas Eve, and to my sister-in-law's on Boxing Day. So, contrary to expectations, I'll be cooking at home again on Christmas Day itself. But I'll greatly enjoy that. It'll make a change. And I'd be surprised if I don't also end up in the village pub, or someone's house, for wine and canapés. Some local staggering to do, then.
So even though I won't be buying anyone of drinking age a present, I will still need to lay in a fresh stock of red and white wine, as I never go empty-handed to a private house. That'll be expensive too; but it's Christmas and I don't mind one bit.