Monday, January 10, 2005


Something inside me couldn’t quite let go of the desire to celebrate the festive season just past while I’m still on holiday. So, since it’s back tomorrow to the world of work for me, here are memories, laid down for your nosiness and my present and future nostalgia. A long post, but the memories are worth it and I don’t care.

(List of characters: Dad = my dad. James = my brother. Liz = his wife. Coralie = my niece. Simon = my nephew. Sarah = my sister. Chris, Giles, Mark, Steve, Ryan = my friends. Thea = a jolly, eccentric friend of the family.)

Walking through the carpark at Sainsbury’s, our local supermarket, as it neared midnight on the 23rd, feeling the rain on my skin. Thinking about where the turkey, vegetables, etc. came from, and looking forward to the atmospheric, loving preparation on The Day.

The ritual of kneeling on the floor of my room, door closed, on Christmas Eve, and wrestling with presents, wrapping paper, and sellotape. Sitting in my chair to inscribe books. Feeling The Day very close indeed. Later, a late night kitchen, the roasting–tin, covered with foil, sitting on the floor to receive the turkey. Covering the turkey with butter and streaky bacon, thinking of the Christmas tree in the living–room next door, and the fire burning in the hearth. Wandering upstairs, earlier in the day, midway through preparing the stuffing, and hearing the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on the radio.

Pouring bourbon into tumblers as the clock ticked towards midnight and the start of Christmas itself. Waking early on Christmas morning, happy, and recognising with joy that it still felt like a day removed completely from any normal week or month. Pulling back the curtains and seeing deep snow outside. In the kitchen, seeing that the oven was already on and the turkey inside. Snow–light shining into the house.

The doorbell ringing as Thea arrived, and immediately getting the ’96 Veuve Clicquot out of the fridge. Easing the cork out slowly, hearing the muffled thunk and pouring it quickly.

Snow falling steadily outside the window as we ate. Curling up on the settee afterwards, dark outside, the tree glittering in the corner. Passing the room where we ate, seeing the candles still burning at the warm, littered table.

Gleefully gobbling some of the crisped bacon which came off the turkey later that night. Generally, pulling corks. Wandering around in the snowy back garden, drawing a smiley face with freezing fingers on the lid of the old bin. The following morning, seeing the snow gone, smiling, and settling into the settee with coffee and a big book about wine.

A few days later, walking into the kitchen at night by the back door and hearing the front door open and James’s voice shouting “Hiya, Peter!”, and walking into the hall and hugging him, Coralie, Simon, and Liz. Sitting in the living–room, the fire glowing, and sharing some whisky as presents were opened and chatter warmed the world.

A big meal the next day, children’s faces glowing in the candle–light, a toast proposed with a cluster of clinking glasses high above the table. Photographs of the festive table tweaked on the computer.

Walking in Belvoir Forest on New Year’s Eve with James, Liz and the kids, and a longtime friend of James’s, glorying in familiar trees and streams revisited with a big brother who hadn’t seen them for far too long. In the evening, being in the kitchen as James and Liz bickered goodnaturedly over the preparation of dinner, and seeing dad making a massive salad of tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and a delicious homemade dressing.

After the meal, hearing shouts from the living–room — Liz rushing into the kitchen and yelling “Where — IS — THE KITCHEN ROLL!” and seeing little scared Simon sitting all bloody after falling headfirst onto the edge of the living–room door. Their deliberations over a visit to casualty on New Year’s Eve. Their departure, Liz’s anxious wait, my fear that midnight would pass with my nephew in hospital.

Their triumphant return at half eleven, Simon smiling, packed off to bed. Glasses of wine, and hugs from James, and a stupendously long and spectacular firework display from London on TV. Drunk phonecalls from Ryan. Later, in my bedroom, voice lowered so that Coralie didn’t wake in her room next door, a long, drunk phonecall from Steve and an elderly, eccentric, port–swilling, cigar–smoking member of Northern Ireland’s fading aristocracy. Downloading scores of Bach’s organ music. Sleep.

The next day, traditional New Year emptiness nowhere to be found or felt as the house was buzzing with scampering children and smiling, relieved parents. A late lunch of roast sirloin of beef, almost maddeningly delicious red wine from Bordeaux, (I imagined Loire châteaux for some reason) and conversation.

The day before they left, having lunch and afterwards being in the Crown with James. An attentive, thoughtful, cathartic catch–up over many pints of Guinness. James deeply appreciating Belfast pints. Dark, atmospherically crowded with people, James ordering ‘one for the road’ before we hailed a taxi and went home to a murder mystery on TV and bowls of hot Christmas Pudding and brandy butter.

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