Monday, 12 December 2016

season's greetings

My almost a cold still seemed to be in retreat this morning, so perhaps I am going to escape this time.  It felt like a close call.  The Systems Administrator's cold keeps rattling around, and has settled on the SA's chest.  I'm afraid that standing in somebody's garage for a couple of hours yesterday morning making candles may not have helped, but I know from last winter and the one before that once a cold sets in like that it gets difficult to manage, since you don't want to shun all your friends and live like a hermit for four or six months because you have a cold.  It was foggy when I wound up the bathroom blind, and the air when I went to let the hens into their run was downright dank.  A wonderful word, dank, with resonances of lank, dark, and damp, very evocative.

I spent the morning at the kitchen table in front of the Aga writing Christmas cards.  Our Ginger lay on the floor in front of the Aga with the air of a cat that wasn't going anywhere until it was lunchtime, but Mr Fidget and Mr Fluffy came galloping in from the garden with muddy feet, wanted to walk over the cards, and Mr Fidget tried to dig himself a nest in the box of blank ones.  If you got the card with a choir of angels on the front and a paw print on the back I'm sorry about that.

Writing the cards is always a mixed experience.  There in one small address book is your social life. People you know and like, have seen this year and hope and expect to see in 2017.  People you haven't seen for ages and are not terribly likely to meet up with in the near future, but remain fond of.  Records of downsizing, upsizing and separation in the rubbed out and crossed out addresses. Names of people who have sadly died, and old friendships that have withered even if the person is so far as you know alive and well.  The sheer social anxiety of trying to keep track of the names of everybody's children, and wondering at what point you stop including them in cards addressed to their parents.  Nowadays when adult children seem to stay on in the parental home until they are about thirty-five that isn't as obvious as it might have been in the old days when you finished at university, rented a grotty flat and were gone, fully fledged.

Cards have started arriving and in a moment of inspiration I put them on the hall dresser, which has been bare except for muddle since the kittens arrived and my collection of pottery and bird nests went into safe storage in the spare bedroom until they had stopped climbing up everything and casting whatever they found there to the ground.  Somebody has to go first, and it is probably nicer not to wait until the last posting date so that people who hadn't sent you a card are caught out and can't send one back.  And it was useful to find out that someone who has been widowed since I've known her, and who started seeing a chap a couple of years ago although they haven't moved in together, this year signed her card 'and David', in time for me to address mine to both of them.

I could feel relieved about a couple of former colleagues who I did not see this year, but was trying to organise a reunion lunch.  It fell through for December because one of them was going away for a fortnight and there simply wasn't any date when everybody concerned was able to make it, but at least I could write in their cards that I'd be in touch in the New Year about the lunch with a clear conscience, rather than just putting vague hopes of seeing them next year.  It's the people that you know have got some kind of trouble or illness in their lives that are the hardest, if they haven't been keeping you posted on how it's going.

The pat answer is of course to pick up the phone and ask them.  That's what the advice columns in the papers would say.  But in real life it is very difficult to ring up and ask point blank how bad it is, and the SA and I are both terrible at chatting on the phone.  But sending a card that just says Happy Christmas isn't right either.  A couple of years ago a friend whose husband had advancing Altzheimers signed her card with her own name instead of from both of them, and I really couldn't ring up and ask her if he was dead.  I did manage to find out from somebody else that he wasn't, so I think that she dropped his name off the card because as he didn't know who she or anybody else was she felt there wasn't any point in putting it on.  Obviously you ought to know whether your friends' husbands are dead or not, but when it's somebody you see every few months for a coffee how would you know, unless they told you?

Fortunately most of the cards don't throw up such knotty problems, and now they are sitting in three neat piles on the hall dresser, the ones to go in the post, with Christmas stamps for once and not just boring ordinary second class, the ones to be given to people I'm hoping to see over the next few days, and the ones for the neighbours, which I will take round some time when it's not drizzling.  Meanwhile the one for my Japanese pen friend has been sent on its way Par Avion.  I've never really got to grips with how long letters take to get to Japan, but I think it will be fine by airmail.

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