Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Our Barque Slowly Sails the Christmas Sea

Have resigned myself to the inexorably downward slide to Christmas Day and, like the drowning man who gives up struggling and surrenders his vital processes to the waves, I have decided to give in and enjoy it. We spent a splendidly anarchic day (for us, anyway) yesterday rising late, consuming pastries for breakfast and then drifting into town. We spent some time looking in a leisurely fashion around the shops, stocking up on ingredients for proposed festive sweetmeats and then adjourned for lunch at a little Italian cafe/deli where the Bright-Eyed Boy and I were lucky enough to nab a recently vacated table while the Husband stocked up on vin santo, cantuccini and panettone. Several panini, lattes and biscotti later we stumbled off into some more shops where we indulged -yes, that's what we did indeed INDULGED (courtesy of the good old AHRC grant) in various bottles of alcohol (Illy coffee liqueur, Bombay Sapphire gin and Limoncello) small presents and trimmings. It felt goooood not to worry too much about what the January Mastercard bill would bring: all the more so as we are more than familiar with the stomach-clenching sensation of opening an unexpectedly large demand. I know it's a temporary blessed state, but we intend to make the very most of our current good fortune. The B-E-B and I (inspired by his tasty lunch, which he devoured totally) made a rosemary focaccia later in the afternoon which made the basis for a delicious buffet tea of cold meats, cheeses, pickles, olives, wine and the like which had the unfortunate effect of making us supremely thirsty for the remainder of the evening, and needed several cups of tea to slake the craving.
Today, again, we have had a relaxed start to the day and the Husband and daughter #3 have headed townwards to pick up the last few requisites. Soon the B-E-B and myself are going to make some chocolate torrone, which requires a lot of almond toasting and crunching (it is an extraordinarily rich confection, several heart-attacks waiting to happen) but I need to prise him off his latest football game which arrived in the post this morning as a reward for being brave over the past few weeks.

Later, before lighting both the log fires, I intend to head out to pick up some evergreenery to deck the house in Yuletide splendour. I just love doing this task at Christmas: I feel like some medieval peasant, plodding out, breath steaming, hands frozen and this year the snow - certainly deep AND crisp AND even - will add extra atmosphere and a timeless feel to the whole procedure, just like the Breugel painting above.

3 comments:

londonlad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
londonlad said...

It sounds a wonderful day! We have just rooted out our artificial tree from the loft and will dress it tomorrow. We had decided we’d have a real tree this year, but because of the heavy snow we never got round to going to choose one, so our artificial ‘understudy’ got its lucky break.

Your description of searching out greenery reminded me of Christmas when I lived in community. No bought decorations, we just headed into the woods after none on Christmas Eve and cut ivy, holly and fir branches. As this particular monastery is surrounded by sixty acres of ancient woodland there was plenty to choose from! I never really enjoyed Christmas until my first Christmas at the monastery. It is the rhythm of office and liturgy that particularly made it come alive – a rhythm, alas, mainly lost to parochial worship. Christmas Eve was the longest day of the monastic year – beginning at 4.30am, with Vigils at 5am. But of course Christmas Day begins, liturgically, at Vespers on Christmas Eve, but (monastically) the end of Vespers is Vigils, the end of the Night Office and so Vigils would be sung at 10pm and then followed by the Nativity Mass of Christmas itself. This was a long and complicated affair and usually didn’t end until passed 1am. Thankfully, on Christmas Day itself, we had a lie-in until 6.30am (the decadence of sloth!).

Well all is almost done here – and this year I have come out of the closet and confessed to my partner and our guest that I don’t really like turkey. Well this isn’t strictly true – I don’t mind the bird fresh from the oven, it is the dry meat of the cold carcass I am not keen on as no matter what I try and do with it (and I’m quite inventive), it is not as tasty as other leftover meat. So this year I decided (as I cook Christmas Dinner) that we’d just have a large, free-range chicken; as there are only three of us, a chicken will suffice and both the leftovers and the carcass can be used up in a much more appetising manner.

I envy you your log fires. Two of the houses we looked before decided to buy the one we did, had real fires and my first thought was how lovely Christmas would be, toasting our feet in front of the fire. In the end (because of ever practical me) we decided to buy a modern house which has no fires of any description – my reasoning being while we are reliant on AHRC funding for at least half the mortgage, we’d best have a house that wouldn’t need a great deal doing to it when we moved in and would be cheap to run. A fairly new build house ticked all these boxes, but left us without a fire!

As for snow, I think it will be all but gone, here in Hertfordshire, by the dawning of Christmas Day. Around lunchtime today it suddenly became warmer and by 5pm it was raining hard – this meant walking on compacted snow became something of a risky business. This evening we attending a local chamber choir’s Christmas concert (partly as research – as I have been offered an audition with the choir in January and I wanted to hear them in action). At the end of the concert as the audience disgorged onto the ice covered streets of Harpenden it looked rather like ‘March of the Penguins’ as old and young alike desperately tried to remain perpendicular.

Thank you for the well written post – it conveyed those lazy, hazy days, only snowy winter weather can bring. I hope you have a happy Christmas...

L.L.

Hypatia said...

Thank you for you comments, LondonLad.
I am certainly with you on the turkey question: I got round the 'leftovers' issue by just buying a couple of basted breast roasts, which, accompanied by the obligatory chipolatas and sliced gammon, were quite adequate for the nine of us who eventually sat down to dinner! It was a marathon session in the kitchen, but combined with copious amounts of wine etc., proved rather convivial.
I envy your time in the cloisters, although I can understand your ambivalence towards it. I suppose it's a case of the grass being greener, but sometimes when I feel overwhelmed by the general 'stuff' and complications of life, the idea of cloistered simplicity and the predictable rhythm of a life dedicated to the Hours is most appealing. No doubt were I to follow that inclination (not that I am, nor will ever be, free to do so) I would be hankering for my old life with all its hassle and complications. Typical!

I hope you and your partner's joy and contentment continue to increase in the New Year, and that your ongoing studies prove both stimulating and rewarding.

H