Island Blog – The Magic of Christmas

Hallo it’s me, the 4 am riser. Actually I would have, could have, slept longer but for the early dog. There is little I can do as she appears not to understand my reasoning around things like consideration of others, dawn rise and the need for humans to enjoy a good night’s sleep. She just cocks her head and blows down her small nose at me, derisively, continuing to patter across the boards and to clean herself noisily. I have to give up, eventually, pulling back the covers and telling myself it’s fine, there’s coffee waiting and the light will come as it always does.

I think on Christmas past with a smile, now that I am frocked up and swilling with strong black coffee. I loved the build up, the knowing that work would stop for himself once I persuaded him that family comes before his work. That was always the tricky bit, persuading him. I doubt I am the only woman who had to find clever ways to get this elementary message across. It bizarres me. Why does a man want a family in the first place if he never plans to prioritise it? Ho, I say, and Hum. At first, when the children were little, I managed 2 days of him not working. Over time I achieved a greater number until, oh joy of joys, he would agree not to work all the way through to January 5th, his birthday. I felt such euphoria then. I could actually relax into family plans and believe they would come to life instead of waving him goodbye and turning back to the chaos alone.

It is the anticipation for me. In everything, if I’m honest. Just moving softly into the magic of carols, messages, decorations and meal designs brought the fairy dust out. I would skip through chores that dragged at my ankles the rest of the winter. The cold at Tapselteerie retreated, not least as I was ‘allowed’ to burn all the fires at full blast for a whole ten days and he chainsawed, hacked, chopped and delivered half a fallen forest without a single tut. The heating, which proffered a whisper of warmth at best, was on twice a day. This was unheard of unless we had paying guests, naturally. The ice inside the lavatory bowls took considerably less time to thaw of a morning and the sound of excited and capering children throughout the big house was a delight to hear even at 4 am. We were happy and together and that was all that mattered, for ten whole days. After that time, grim faces would return, school would cast a gloom over chilly child faces, and back would come the annual dread of another tourist season and the huge amount of work required to make each room, each cottage a dry, clean welcome for whomsoever would brave the long track of potholes. But not yet, those feelings and dreads, not yet. For now it is us and warmth and Christmas just around the corner.

I feel it still, even now. Although there is no ‘We’ anymore and the children are far flung across the world with their own anticipation and fairy dust, I still feel it, right here in my heart. It is under my feet, inside my head, all around the house. It is in the music, the twinkly winky lights, the blast of skin-searing cold as I chop wood for the fire. It is on the faces of islanders walking by. And I love every minute. Although we are all missing someone this year, we have memories and there’s a whole world of them inside each one of us. I can do nothing about the rules this year. I cannot change a thing about any of them. But, I can sit with rememberings, smile at those faces I cannot see, one I will never see again, and I can still feel the magic of Christmas time. And, I remind myself, that this will pass; that there is someone out there, someone I cannot see, don’t know, will never meet, who is far worse off than I; someone desperate, neglected, rejected, abused, terrified. In this light I am humbled. In this light I have everything. In this light, I am a lucky woman indeed. I have loved ones, I am warm, I have lights, friends, beloved family, my health, my working brain, my gifts and skills and my cherished memories.

And I have the magic of Christmas, once again.

Island Blog 31 – Valentine’s Day!

Driftwood heart

A day longed for by many, fizzing with champagne and flowers and hopes and promises, and one shrugged off by others, usually those in stoutly sensible lace-ups and crackly anoraks.

‘A load of romantic nonsense!’ they say, indicating, with a chuck of their square chin, that such an unrealistic, time-consuming and pocket-emptying affair should remain ‘over there somewhere’ and dare to move no closer.

Their wives think differently, of course.  They have grown weary of being realistic over the years and might rather appreciate the odd attempt, however odd, at an indication that this man with whom they have walked through most of their lives, does, in fact, realise they are a fully paid up member of the female species, and that, beneath that crackly and efficient exterior, there beats a soft, gentle and loyal heart.

Although this heart feels, most of the time, like a rather unattractive pulsation of tubed-up offal, it could glow again, with the smallest gift, the tiniest whisper of proffered affection, and I don’t mean an emaciated clutch of terminally ill carnations bought from the local garage and dumped on the kitchen table.

‘We don’t do things like that.’ they say, these men as if it was a good thing and one ‘we’, at a certain point, grow out of, along with wetting the bed and playing conkers.

I ask them ‘Why not?’  which is always my favourite question when someone says they don’t do this or that, because, in the main, they have absolutely no idea or have quite forgotten why, having ‘not done’ that thing for a very long time.  Then they pull back a little, in case whatever I am showing signs of might be catching, and, at the same time, their sensible wives pull forward as if hoping that it is.

We do celebrate Valentine’s Day, still, after over 40 years.  I am not saying I have felt much like it at times, nor I imagine has he, but one of us at least has not allowed romance to starve to death  over time,  and I am glad of it, because what we have not lost is the fun in a marriage, and, to be honest, if there isn’t fun then it is just a life sentence.

However, fun does not appear by magic, it is a delicate plant that needs daily attention.  Not bothering is so much easier.  We women will always rise ourselves up from any ashes that come our way, but we can only do so much rising once the rust sets in.   As we watch others being bought fresh flowers or taken out to dinner, or being told how wonderful/pretty/clever they are, we know we want the same.  Our problem is that we have forgotten how to ask for it.