Wednesday, 21 January 2015


I used to think of the period between Christmas and New Years Eve as a kind of no mans land, a barren valley between two soaring mountains. Surely it was pointless; why all that time off in midwinter when it would be better spent in summer, lolling in meadows and lazing over picnics? Oftentimes I would have to work in the intervening period, as the gallery would open the day after Boxing Day. Secretly I didn't mind, finding work a tonic from all the so called relaxing. 

People would drift in drowsily, distended Christmas bellies ponderous before them, ears ringing with jollity, nose chafing with three day old Brussels sprouts. Their relief at getting away from their nearest and dearest was so obvious as to be laughable, and as our eyes met a flash of understanding would pass between us. 'Shame you having to work at this time of year' they would exclaim, meaning instead 'you lucky sod, you've managed to get away from the madding crowd under this thin veneer of work'. 'Oh yes indeed' I would reply, arranging my features into an appropriately mournful expression, 'No rest for the wicked'. Thus having satisfied social convention we could resume our respective reveries. Eventually an exasperated spouse or familial troop would arrive, exclaiming in maddened tones 'We didn't know where on earth you had gotten to!' Thus the recaptured prisoner would follow their clan back out into the cold, casting a wistful glance back at me propped behind the desk, resplendent and solitary.

Felix has changed all that, bringing the barren valley to life with a swathe of glorious vitality. We were lucky enough to have two full weeks off work, and thus an almost unbelievable period of time stretched before us. We met up with old friends, taking a leisurely walk in a wintery Hyde Park, babies in tow. We made long overdue social calls, staying later than intended and luxuriating in the knowledge that there was nothing to rush back for. During Felix's naps we lazed about, drinking tea and watching TV. For a while it seemed like the sand in the hourglass had slowed to a trickle, and life occurred at a more manageable, natural pace, more suited to the care and nurture of a toddler. Felix reveled in having us both around, playing with his Christmas gifts and toddling about the house in search of mischief. As baby proofing our flat is impossible, we have instead had to teach him what he can and cannot touch and which areas are no go. This leads to endless tantrums, for what a toddler wants to do most is open and close the doors of the heavy wooden sideboard, playing Russian finger roulette. Products left around the bathtub are another bone of contention, all those colourful bottles, surely all toys?  

The only time I felt the weight of listlessness and ennui I associate with the Christmas holidays was on the final weekend of the fortnight. After a rollicking time over New Year, spent with great friends in a sleepy Essex village, eating, drinking, and making merry, we returned to a cold and sad flat, feeling deflated. No more fun plans left to fulfill, no more escapism, just piles of washing that had been left undone and work to prepare for. It was classic Sunday night apathy but spread over a whole weekend. Somehow we made it through the tedium and on Monday morning it was Hi Ho off to work we go, Felix safe in the care of Baba Lila. Cycling along the river, sky as heavy and leaden as only January can muster, I nevertheless felt the weight of lethargy slip away, as free and light as a helium balloon even as the damp cold tried to slip into my bones and steal my nose right off my face. This sudden change in mood set me to reflecting on the nature of energy flow, and the role that this plays in achieving equilibrium and harmony. Perhaps what we need as humans is a change of pace every now and then, a slowing down in order to focus on family, on friends, and most importantly on ourselves. Time to stop and stare; time to share with loved ones, to break bread and stay up late and take wandering walks and sit gossiping in cafes. Perhaps this is why, when I really think about it, the Christmas holidays are in fact perfectly timed, coming - in the Northern Hemisphere anyway - during the very coldest, darkest time of year, just a few days after the Winter Solstice. If they came in mid summer, all we would want to do is lie about in the sunshine or take ourselves off to the coast, all the better to enjoy some carefree lolling and lazing. And that is all well and good, but what Christmas does is the very opposite. It is a time of hibernation, a time to reflect on the past year and the coming one, a time to rub along with family in whatever shape or form it comes and pay homage to the ties of blood and marriage. In years past I have found this a struggle, resenting the intrusion of familial duty on my largely carefree, self structured lifestyle, but Felix gives the whole thing a new focus, and I have been overjoyed by how much more meaningful and memorable Christmas has been with him by our sides. 

Yes, there has been a sad lack of lie ins, and in fact a distinct lack of the kind of wonderful self-indulgent laziness you can only have pre-children, but I wouldn’t swap all the lie ins in the world for the bright eyed boy that woke us on Christmas day just just like any other. I have come to appreciate that Christmas really is all about children. To behold Christmas through their eyes, to see them intent on the little train set that goes round the bottom of the tree, hypnotized by the Christmas lights, to guide their little hands while they fumble to open their presents, as likely as not more interested in the wrappings as what’s inside, truly it is magic. And then, when it’s all over and it’s time to get back to normal, to the ordinary everyday routine of work, or childcare, or whatever it is we do between Monday and Friday, that too is a relief, for no one can sustain Christmas cheer all year round. Lo and behold, just when the traditional holiday apathy reared its ugly grey head, the sand in the hourglass started to speed up once more; going from a trickle to a flow, and the time came for normal life to resume. 

"Christmas is a togethery sort of holiday" said Pooh
"That's my favourite kind" said Piglet, "Togethery and Remembery"

A.A Milne