I sat at the table for a whole evening, first pruning and then adding to the Christmas card list. So many departures, so many new friends and arrivals. The balance is out though, I have less cards to write and send this year than last. Maybe I’ve simply forgotten some people. Maybe not.
Anyways, by the end of the evening, having listened to Patti Smith’s Horses, Television’s Marquee Moon, R<’s Shoot Out The Lights and finally Zappa’s Hot Rats I was replete with mid to late 1970s music, my pile of cards was written, addressed and stamped where necessary, and I had wrapped and labelled all the books I’ve got for the grandchildren. Except for Harry, but he’s only nine months old. He eats books. The other seven read them, or at least make a bloody good show of looking through them. Anita gets all the toys, clothes and stuff. I get each of them a book, carefully chosen. I had a strange shimmer around the lower half of my field of vision. As, you may think, it all should be.
I went to get a coffee, and glancing in the hall mirror I saw a distorted vision of Gump. Not Forrest, but the small elven type person played by David Bennent in Legend which, apart from its main male star, I always think of as a good bit of 1980s escapism. The Tin Drum’s another film he’s in which I would recommend. That was made by Volker Schloendorf, in case you want to know. The sparkly stuff. It was the glitter from the cards. It had settled in a lightly sprinkled nimbus of stardust upon my cheeks, trying hard to lend me an angelic cast, but failing miserably.
I’ve had a letter from HMRC sitting unopened on the desk here in my little office for the last week. I took the bull by the pizzle and opened it today. It was my very first Self Assessment Statement, as I’ve so far been able to avoid their clutches, but they changed the rules last year and they’re now getting income tax as well as Corporation Tax and Vat out of me. I’m so excited. They only want the cost of a long 4* weekend for two in Rome from me this year. So that’s out of the question. Sorry, I’d have asked you along otherwise.
I’ve started the Christmas food at home already. Every year I make pork and stilton hand raised pies for us at home, my sister and her family and a few friends. The first job is get 1lb each of pork belly, pork shoulder and smoked bacon or gammon, derind all the pieces of meat and cut them all into small cubes. This I did last week, and froze it all down, hand turned and mixed. When they’re defrosted and seasoned on Wednesday, I shall make the hot water pastry, then in the pastry cases layer meat, grated stilton and cheddar, then more meat before covering, baking and filling with lovely pork jelly. For smaller pies I just mix the cheese lightly in with the meat. I also make some vegetable pies with hot oil pastry, filling with layers of wilted spinach with nutmeg, sliced potatoes, sliced onions, handfuls of grated cheddar, more sliced potatoes and topping it with tomatoes cooked down to a paste with garlic, shallots and basil. It’s all good. My vegetarian niece particularly loves the second one, surprise. We got a goose for Christmas dinner this year, my favourite meat.
Have you ever had recurring dreams? I’ve had one occasionally for the last thirty years or so. In them, I’m walking across the bridge over the nearby river, or sometimes along a Brighton street to where I went to college oh so many years ago, when I find my legs getting harder and harder to move, as though I’m wading through treacle or probably something just as viscous but less tasty. In the dreams my legs always end up in pain, I never get to my usually important destination, and I always wake up in a strange state of anxiety, which I can bloody well assure you is not my usual mood.
The other night I had the same old dream again, but I think it’s resolved itself. Don’t you feel happy for me? I was walking along London Road in Brighton but found myself on the hills above Sheepcot Valley, and turned a corner into somewhere that looked like Whitehawke but couldn’t have been because people weren’t throwing things at me. My legs were in agony and it was like I had concrete blocks tied to my heels. A person was following me along an alley, and every time I turned to see who he was my very small rucksack blocked my view. Eventually I span round as a body and it was a bearded youth. He asked why I was walking so slowly and I told him about my feet and the dreams and the anxiety, and he told me that I knew what I had to do then, didn’t I?
Oh yes, I said, I’ve simply forgotten, at which I drifted up a couple of yards into the air. Not flying, but floating. I was anxious about how to get down again, but he reassured me that I had no need to worry, everything happens when it needs to happen. I wasn’t anxious when I woke up. All very strange and interesting to me, at any rate.
Well there we are then. It’s finally stopped raining, which it has been doing in varying levels of intensity all day. I’m going to go downstairs and watch a film now. La Gloire de mon Pere, most likely. Because I got the dvd from Amazon, I keep getting recommendations from them for Pagnol’s novel. I have to ignore them. The dvd’s got subtitles, you see, Amazon. The book hasn’t.
If I don’t come back on here before January, which is very much in the balance, I’ll wish you a very happy Christmas now, and hope you have a happy, peaceful, contented time, which is a lot to hope for sometimes I know, but I wish it to you anyway. Because I’m optimistic and kind like that.