Saturday, 30 December 2006

The Birds Have Flown

Christmas is over and all the birds have flown: literally in one case - to Banff - the rest off to Brighton or Bournemouth (a naturally occuring bit of alliteration is always fun). But there are still one or two parties to extend the holiday for another few days and keep the festive spirit flowing. And amazingly (everything considered) we've had a good one: no family crises, no ruined dinner, everyone in good cheer.

Christmas for me always begins in a very measured, organized way - with a list. Four weeks prior to Christmas I've seventy per cent of the presents and have bought the cards. 1st of December, have ordered the bird and the ham. By the 7th of the month have been to my first celebration of the season and look forward with pleasure to this happy time of year. This year I read that fir trees will be in short supply so - uncharacteristically - buy one early and store it in a water butt in the garden. I am relaxed and in control: smug in other words. But smugness (as everyone knows) comes before a fall.

More work than I bargained for in the depth of winter (two gardens to design) keeps me busy Monday to Friday; not a chance to start The New Book now before Christmas - must have been mad to think I could. Am beginning to feel just the teensiest bit stressed: still have not even written my cards and the last day of second-class post has just passed. Still do not have those last few difficult presents or, more correctly, presents for difficult people - the sort who either have no hobbies or no humour but who do have (sickeningly) 'everything' else. I do a one-stop pressie-shop and buy everyone the same: tough. Re-write the list.

Seven days before the holiday I finish writing my cards but it will have to be first-class post now - fortunately the cards read 'Seasons Greetings' so if they don't arrive until New Year I can pretend it was intentional. At about this time I usually decide to restore my good cheer by decorating the tree; I put on my naff Christmas music and pour myself an equally sad Sherry (but on ice and large). This tree is eight foot high and I cover it (very tastefully of course) with all the decorations we've built up over the years. The moth-eaten, mice-nibbled ones are reluctantly replaced by orphaned new ones found in pre-sale bins.

This year the decking operation is very successful because I've finally cracked the tree light problem - that complete out-of-all-proportion flap that occurs when, the day before Christmas, they fail to light up and at midnight I'm still trying (very grumpily) to find the dud bulb. I simply bought a completely new set of 100 lights: no joins, no dud bulbs, no tangles. They light the first time (its a miracle) and I'm not at all guilty about the sets of 20's in the roof; the mice are welcome to them.

I realise what a traditionalist I've become when - in very mellow mood now - I view my finished art-work (or is it an installation). The decorations are all made of wood, raffia or felt in red, white or green; dangling glass crystals refract the white lights and the golden garlands very prettily and little bunches of cinnamon tied with tartan ribbon smell gloriously wintery. Damage limitation has also been taken into consideration - anything fluffy or edible is hung out of reach of Freddie, the dog (it used to be small children but times move on).

Best Beloved says it looks grand and I allow myself at least 24 hours to bask in the reflected glory before pure panic sets in. Five days to go and ten of us for Christmas and I haven't wrapped any presents, done the food shop, made the soup, the stuffings (gave up making the cake and the pud when I realised that the supermarkets did it better than me) or the beds. Re-write the list. Best Beloved sees it and now, beginning to panic a bit himself, agrees to drive me to the market so I don't have to struggle with the lack of car parking as well as having to lug all the pot plants, fresh flowers, vegs and fruit on my own (is this where I've been going wrong, I wonder).

Bedrooms are miraculously tidied by stuffing all extraneous clutter into cardboard boxes which are piled at the bottom of our bed: its like going to sleep in a dungeon. Beds are inexpertly made, bathrooms speed-cleaned. Re-write the list. I'm hoping that Princess, First Born, Fruit of My Womb, will be able to help me with the table. Best Beloved has still not got the logs in and I know that he's sneakily waiting for the Prodigal to return and do it for him. Neither of our wishes are granted. Don't Panic (try not to nag), it will be all right on the night.

As usual, two days before Christmas we plan to gather the festive ivy but, horror of horrors, remember that we cut it all down off the old brick wall in the summer. It was great for the wildlife but not so good for the wall. And the wall looks tons better but ..... A desperate trawl through a little spinney, up tree trunks, in hedges and over sheds produces enough for the purpose and we pile it on a sheet where it trips everyone up as they go out the back door. Freddie helps by re-distributing it all over the lawn.

On the night (Christmas Eve), parents arrive just as I'm drying my hair: I will now have a very startled-hair look for the big day. Father has forgotten the spare batteries for his hearing-aid, Mother has forgotton her ear-plugs. They drink their cup of tea as I hastily arrange the ivy on the mantlepiece underneath my favourite painting. Mother supervises, "No, dear, put it really high in the middle, yes, up more, more, that's better - such an improvement on that picture". As everyone else arrives, Freddie eats his first Christmas decoration.

But heigh-ho, Christmas is over now.
Onwards and Upwards - just like the birds.
Here's to a Happy and Fruitful New Year!
See you then, Lucy