Week-end: and year-end

Morning sun and bare trees seen through a glassless window

The good

I’ve enjoyed these first seven days of Christmas. We’ve seen lots of family, and a few friends, and I’ve been alternating between cooking, reading, and doing absolutely nothing. Now we’re back home with the cat.

And I think I’m getting my brain back.

The mixed

I could do with fretting less when we’re both away from home. I’m better now that we have a cat – because that means that we have someone coming in to feed her, and surely if the house burned down they would let us know – but I’d really like to be not quite so on edge until that first check-in.

The difficult and perplexing

Had to see some of the family from a distance, as they were struck down with the lurgy.

What’s working

Letting other people do things. Though I still need to work on this.


Wintering (Katherine May). I bought this because a lot of people on the DecemberReflections Instagram hashtag named it as their book of the year. I have to say that there wasn’t a whole lot in there that felt revolutionary to me: the central idea, that some periods in one’s life are just bloody difficult and to deal with them one needs to take a step back, is one that I first encountered in Lesley Garner’s Everything I’ve Ever Done That Worked back when I was a student, not to mention something that has been brought home to me by experience this year. And the concept of living in season is something that’s explored in far greater depth in Waverly Fitzgerald’s Slow Time. I was unimpressed by the uncritical repetition of the factoid about Hallowe’en being ‘when the veil between the worlds grows thin’ (anyone who follows @Cavalorn on Twitter will know that this is an idea that dates back no further than the twentieth century) and was consequently preprared to distrust anything else May wrote about wintry festivals; fortunately she didn’t, much. However, there were some lovely bits of observational writing, and I’m glad to have read it even if I didn’t get my mind blown. And I have Winters In The World (Eleanor Parker) to read next, and I have much higher hopes of that.

Agatha Christie: a very elusive woman (Lucy Worsley) was a Christmas present: very readable. I found the constant use of the first name (Agatha this, Agatha that) rather uncomfortable, although since Worsley’s point was very much that Agatha Christie was a complex mixture of personalities, not all of them called Agatha Christie, I can see why the choice was made.

Watching/listening to

The Neujahrskonzert on BBC4 is on in the background while I write this.


Simultaneous soups, one vegan and one from the remains of the Christmas chicken.


What haven’t I been eating? Turkey, I suppose. I have not eaten any turkey this Christmas. I have eaten many other things. Roast lamb. Macarons. Smashed avocado and poached egg on sourdough toast. Fishfinger sandwiches with chips. Vegetable curry. Shepherd’s pie. Chocolate cake. Many types of cheese. Stollen fudge (just seems to be standard fudge with dried fruit in so far as I can tell).


Two different railway-building games: TransAmerica and Ticket To Ride. I lost spectacularly in TransAmerica and won Ticket to Ride by three points.


A huge Newfoundland dog – first peering under a gate, and then out for a walk with its owner. Various birds of prey I couldn’t identify (I am rubbish at birds of prey; they were probably all very common). The lovely sign on the A421 that points to Toseland Yelling Graveley.


My green corduroy trousers. People helping me with things and/or doing them so I didn’t have to.


I did pretty well in the sales in Milton Keynes. Brushed cotton pyjamas. A nice floaty top. Starry pants. And – in the rather incongruous charity shop – a gorgeous blue dress that might do for my brother’s wedding.


Several things in LionessElise’s sale. But I don’t need any of them.

Line of the week

From Wintering:

Encountering the extremes of cold drew us both into that most clichéd space, The Moment, forcibly pulling our minds away from ruminating on the past or future, or tilling over an endless to-do list.

This coming week

Lots of thank you letters to write. News to share. Bank holiday. Back to work.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here! And I hope 2023 brings you many good things.

Daily Decoration: wild bird, wild bells

Christmas tree decoration representing a small pink bird, with tiny metal bells dangling from its feet

This seems to be the closest thing on the Christmas tree to wild bells. And I would like to share wild bells tonight in homage to Tennyson and In Memoriam. Some years I try to read the whole thing on New Year’s Eve; this, too, might be a good year for it, because I’m not boostered yet so we’re not going out.

I’m not quite sure what sort of a bird this is meant to be. I bought it from the fair trade shop in York. Shared Earth, that’s the name of it. Is it a wild bird? Who knows? And those are tiny little bells. They tinkle rather than ring.

It’s been a funny year. It’s felt like an extension of 2020, except that, where 2020 felt like a year to do nothing, in 2021 I felt like I should be doing something but I didn’t know what. 2020 was a year of major personal life events – a house purchase, a new novel – whereas 2021 has all happened at a remove. We cancelled the housewarming party. Some of my friends are out on the town while others are still shielding, and I’m not sure I’ve found the balance. I’ve been living in a walled garden and haven’t even kept up with the pruning. (This sentence is part metaphorical, part literal.) Or so it seems from the rather melancholy mood I inhabit today.

I am not sure that I should be trusting that perception implicitly. When I stop to think, I remember. I have had two coronavirus vaccinations, and the fact that the next one won’t happen until the 4th doesn’t undo that. As of this morning’s lateral flow test, I’ve remained Covid-free. We successfully took possession of a cat. We got a new sofa bed and have had people staying on it. I fell head over heels for a new project in a way that I haven’t done for years. That project’s sitting at 26,000 words, and the other one’s at 56,000 words, and that means that one of them can happen next year. In fact, I wrote loads, and just because I haven’t shared all of it doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. I went to see three films at the cinema, which is three more than I did last year. And I saw live theatre and live music at Ventnor Fringe, and that was fabulous. It isn’t even as if I didn’t have any adventures, because we went to Cornwall, and visited St Michael’s Mount (which I’ve wanted to do forever) and Penzance and Marazion and the Lost Gardens of Heligan (and isn’t that a wonderful name?) and went on an open-topped bus around Land’s End. It’s been a quiet year, but it hasn’t been a non-year.

Ring out, ring out, my mournful rhymes/And ring the fuller minstrel in.

And on the other side of the wall… Well. There’s the gap, I think. I’d like to feel a little less detached this coming year. That detachment is partly an illusion – I’m sitting on the new sofa that friends have already slept on; looking around the room, I see Christmas cards from plenty of people I’ve seen this year; we’ve had wine with neighbours this very evening – but I think there’s something there that’s worth following. The larger heart, the kindlier hand. And yes:

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

In fact, here’s the whole lot – recorded by me and my husband last year. (I’d like to do more singing next year, that’s another thing.) Perhaps they aren’t wild bells, but they’re ringing.