Thoughts and emotions are always confused for me this time of year.
I sit here like Scrooge, doing the books. Only I am not counting money – I am trying to reconcile the balances of my life. Trying to tally the columns of generosity, kindness and creativity with those of self-absorption, bitchiness and cruelty. I find myself in deficit again, but hopeful that next year I might break even.
There are bleak aspects – my beard has more grey in it, my family thousands of miles away, I am worryingly single and 40, my father no longer here, my mother forgets things more and more. There is cause to be grateful too - I am healthy, strong and sane. The collection of people who populate my life has improved dramatically this year – both by re-acquainting with old friends, spending more time with family and coming across some new, fabulously exciting, truly inspiring people (you know who you are).
There is always the desire to make this Christmas perfect – or, to be honest, to replicate one that has already been perfect. And there are some wonderful contenders:
I am six. My parents have brought back toys from abroad. There is a doll that speaks and walks. She is beautiful. There is a brand new Meccano set. In a few days I will make a drawbridge that lifts and drops by motor. There are “Chiquita” bananas – a delicacy in Greece back then.
I am 19 and in Paris with my friend Natasha. We are shoplifting Champagne from “Ed l’Epicier”. The youthful energy that surrounds us is nothing short of elemental. Lust and Love hand in hand, we dance the night away to Mylene Farmer. Drunken, debaucherous, divine, we bum cigarettes from stunned bystanders and laugh.
I am 33 and decorating a very designer white Christmas tree with black baubles. The flat is perfect, Steve perfect, salary perfect, hair perfect. We are doing pork with truffle oil this year – turkey seems too common. Presents consist of sinfully expensive electronics.
I am 11. Travelling with my family around Italy – Rome for Christmas, Venice for New Year. Staying at beautiful boutique hotels, back when a dessert trolley was just about the most magical thing I had ever seen. Looking at lavish shop windows with their mechanical displays of nativity scenes. Eating ice-cream outside the Collosseum in the middle of winter. Laughing with abandon every time an Italian offered us wishes of “Auguri! Auguri!”, which in Greek means “Cucumber! Cucumber!”
So, what was different then? We argued as much, our financial worries were more significant, the presents less extravagant, the choice of movies on TV more limited. The only difference was that I was looking at the world through the eyes of an 11-year-old.
So here is my promise and my advice. Be 11 today. Shed your cynicism, neglect your worries, tear open your presents without trying to save the paper and play with the box as much as its contents, eat without counting the calories and, most of all, give those you love a big hug (whether with your arms if they’re near or with your heart if they’re far) and let them know you love them. Even if you’re on your own, treat yourself to a nice meal and enjoy the festive telly and the quiet and your own splendid company.
And the next day, and the day after that, do exactly the same. And, if you’re lucky and really good at this game, your Christmases might merge into the life you all deserve.
A New Year stretches ahead – scary, glittering, beautiful, political, ulcer-inducing, wrinkle-inducing, exciting, creative, messy, glorious. Share it with me?