A Christmas Carol

listFrom around the 12th of December, her life is ruled by lists. As a mother of four adult children who all come to spend the Christmas celebrations at home, together with their boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses and children, lists are her lifeline.

Shopping lists. Food lists. Menu lists. Lists of phone numbers, per shop, per ingredient. Lists of what to order and pick up, where, when and at what time.

Candles, a few more decorations. An additional gift for an additional guest. Wine and champagne. Beer for the boys. Bottled water, still and sparkling and soft drinks for the children. Biscuits and crisps. Lots of crisps. Toilet paper. Wipes. Extra wipes.

She takes out bed linen and towels. She hauls mattresses from the attic. She irons tablecloths that have remained folded for far too long. She polishes silver. Makes sure the glasses shine.

She makes pot-pourri and buys the biggest tree that will fit, leaving just enough space for the white glittery angel her youngest daughter once made.

From around the 22nd of December, the first kids arrive. She picks them up from the airport. Happy, happy, happy. She picks them up from the train station. Happy, happy, happy.

The house is full and warm and noisy. Bags and suitcases. Eat, drink! The TV is on the Disney channel. More and more gifts under the tree. The baby coughs, a slight fever. They go and see a doctor. No panic.

The bathroom is forever occupied. That’s the way it is with six women in the house. The washing machine turns and turns. The dishwasher constantly on ‘Express’.

A first minor dispute between siblings. Nothing new. Old stories, familiar tunes. Open wounds that never healed. ‘You always…’ ‘You never…’ and ‘Why do I always have to…?’ Soon forgotten after a glass of wine or two. ‘Remember?’ somebody asks. And the good times return.

Her husband finds the children unruly. ‘Bad table manners,’ he complains. She tries not to agree. But then he mentions the daughter in law she could never quite stomach. And there she goes. Yes, it is all her fault.

The 24th of December. The big night. The anticipation. The children would like their presents now so her husband agrees on a pre-present. ‘One to warm up,’ he says. He is like that. Soft. Malleable. Enthusiastic.

The meal is delicious. Chaotic. But delicious. Excellently paired wines. And real napkins are so much nicer than the paper ones. The seafood fresh. The bird moist and cooked to perfection. A gratin des gratins. Cheese to pass the time. Dessert, not too sweet and very Christmassy.

Later on, around the tree. Coffee. Tea. Brandy. She has made a Christmas playlist.

Everybody likes their gifts. It is way after midnight when she turns off the Christmas lights.

The 25th. A late morning for most and while she and her husband do the dishes one by one a pale face appears. Coffee. Left over panettone. Toast. More coffee. The daughter in law, yes, that one, prefers breakfast tea. Fresh leaves.

No lunch but an early dinner so everybody can spend the afternoon outside. A walk. Or a play. Or a nap.

She checks her list. Check. Check. Check. And now for the phone calls.

More dinner. More drinks. Another dispute, a bit harsher this time. Less good cheer. But they survive even if they do not make up.

They all leave on the 28th. The day of the Massacre of the Innocents.

She has three days to prepare for New Year’s Eve. She lies in bed and goes through her mind list. Leftovers. Washing. Recycling.

She looks at her phone. She waits for their messages. Have they arrived safely? Are they all well? Did they have a good time?

She waits. Her husband tells her to sleep. She tosses and turns. ‘Surely a message can’t be that hard,’ she thinks.

The next day, the 29th the daughter in law, yes, that one, calls. She is the first one. The only one. She is wearing the sweater Santa gave her. It is such a good fit. And warm. Cosy. The children are fine. They had a great time. The food. So good. The bed. So soft. And can she send her the recipe for that delicious rabbit terrine? They say goodbye. She goes over to her desk and takes out a fresh sheet of paper.

‘To Do List 2017’ she writes.
1.Recipe for rabbit terrine

Happy New Year  


The Road Paved

If the proverbial road paved with good intentions leads to hell then once again, for many of us, the next year proves to be ominous. For it is a tenacious tradition, at the closure of the year, to ponder over past successes and failures, to assess what is left of our hopes and dreams.

Standing at the eve of a new year is not unlike a Sunday night feeling. The weekend not yet over, the week not yet begun. A mixture of regret and hope and a vague sense of tediousness. Heimweh, in a sense. We have been here before.

No wonder it is at this crossroad that we ask ourselves questions, that we ponder over who we are, who we think we wish to be. Life. Change. A new tomorrow. Promises and good intentions.

Some of us of course do away with good intentions all together and move straight into resolutions territory. But hark! Intentions and resolutions are not the same.

Intentions are mostly about quantity; resolutions about quality.

More and less vs. better and worse, resolutions imply a problem, intentions good will. The difference is subtle and faint but real nonetheless.
To double the amount of vegetables and halve the amount of alcohol is an intention. As is to exercise, let’s say five times a week. In resolution mode however we set out to improve ourselves. Be more mindful of others, less impatient with others. Be a better friend.

The road to hell expression might find its origins in Saint Bernard of Clairvaux’s “L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs“. Abbot of the Cistercian order, great advocate of ‘contemplation’ and final guide to Dante through the inferno, Saint Bernard seems to know what he was talking about. But it does not make for hopeful reading. Not on the eve of a new year anyway.

Each new year recalls an old year, often thoughtlessly dismissed and discarded, put aside, no longer loved. Not so for Tennyson.

Full knee-deep lies the winter snow,
And the winter winds are wearily sighing:
Toll ye the church bell sad and slow,
And tread softly and speak low,
For the old year lies a-dying.

But enough sadness, enough contemplation. So

… let him in
That standeth there alone,
And waiteth at the door.
There’s a new foot on the floor, my friend,
And a new face at the door, my friend,
A new face at the door.

Only, let the face wear a smile.