Never has the build up to Christmas so resembled rickety stairs – here a joist, there a mousehole, watch where you put your feet. Everything that isn’t nailed down is reduced (why does the word reduced conjure a sweating endomorph in a plastic suit?) Wiser heads have already started opining that you can only have the money once and in between Black Friday and bringing the sales forward to pre-Christmas, when it’s gone, it’s gone. Fear stalks the land under the glitter – and I was never convinced that glitter was good.
An old song opines “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep/I count my blessings instead of sheep/And I fall asleep/Counting my blessings.” And it seems to me that there is a rider this year, for however much we appreciate the blessings we are counting, they may not be enough to get us through.
This year has been a real mixture of highs and lows, neither a white Christmas nor a black one, but clearly chequered. Because really, for every up I can think of a down, and the other way round, personally, nationally, globally. I have had medical news I’d rather have been spared but then, it hasn’t happened yet and you can’t live – at least, I can’t live – in expectation of the worst or the best. I am too busy with living each day the best way I can.
Years ago, when Shaker furniture had its moment in the stylistic sun, I read that they strove to make a chair so beautiful that an angel would want to sit on it. I can’t sit on the day but I acknowledge the sentiment. Doing your best is a phrase out of fashion. Too often it means just doing enough. But it doesn’t to me. It means what it says and it brings me treasure.
This year, the year when Harvey Weinstein and company came to represent much that was brutish and distasteful about how men deal with women – and the bucket of dirty water flushed out men who were horrid to men too – I was the recipient of smashing exchanges with men – from the Italian to whom I gave a lift when the traffic was bunged up, who kissed both my cheeks, to the driver who saw me for the second time in London’s millions and held my hand while he talked to me, to the GP I have never met who wrote to me, to the boy who came to sell me something, came in for a warm and a glass of wine, delighted to talk about books and movies.
Like a lot of older people, I find the blurring of the seasons unsettling – many of us cling to anything that reliably marks the passing of time (my father would have said “You can’t control it, you can only measure it”) but the result is Christmas roses are flowering up the road, a red geranium managed just one bloom on Remembrance Sunday and the white ones are budding. The arums have leaves galore and winter broom is living up to its name. It would be “I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas” in my garden.
Well heeled women mutter resentfully “It’s quite cold now” and I restrain myself from pointing out that that they have boots, coats, scarves and central heating – this is not a refugee camp but winter in Britain and give or take a degree or five, it comes every year. I cheer for the Sally Army and Shelter and every other relevant charity for drawing attention to the want, especially to children in temporary accommodation while the brand new developments go on building unaffordable flats – one of the most touted in London just found a convenient loophole and cancelled 250 affordable homes, may they rot. And I know you may not feel that’s very Christmassy of me, but Christmas is nothing if it is not real – real thoughts, real feelings, real plants, real food, real effort and real reciprocation.