The end of the year is getting closer and my brain is getting fuzzier and fuzzier. The sky is still grey. It never gets properly light. I sit at my desk for hours at a time, not moving, even though my fitness watch buzzes at me. I’m not productive, I know I’m not, but I stay sitting in the belief that somehow if I stay sitting at my desk long enough I will get something done during these last days of work for the year and feel justified in moving.
Finally my last day of work for the year. And time to head out and get my relief-and-guilt inducing Covid19 booster jab. Relief because my six months immunity has passed but guilt because I know so many people in the world still need first vaccinations and here I am, taking a third one.
On Wednesday I wake up early after a good night’s sleep – no booster symptoms, no sweats or aches. Unlike mornings on working days I am awake and feel like getting up compared to working days where I struggle to open my eyes and keep them open.
On my second day of holiday, we go out for a long walk around the neighbourhood to stretch our legs, get some fresh air and exercise on a day that is a little less grey and cold. It’s nice to not be working, to have time in the afternoon to listen to Christmas music while doing a jigsaw puzzle, to sit and read before the short daylight fades.
Christmas Eve and apart from a short trip to the local shop to get a few last minute bits and pieces, we are inside most of the day. Normally Christmas Eve is busy as we start pre-preparing the food for tomorrow but this year it will be just the two of us, so there’s nothing we need to do. We watch TV, sitting up to 10.30pm to have a Zoom call with my family in Australia, where it’s already a hot sunny Christmas morning. It’s good to see everyone but it just reminds me I was supposed to be there last year. And failing that, I should have been there this year, but I’m not, and when someone says “When are you coming back next?” it’s all I can do to not shout “ARGH! Bloody Covid!”
Christmas Day dawns early as our cat comes in to wake us up. My nose detects a strong sense of ammonia. “Cat pee,” I say. “I can smell cat pee.” Husband’s olfactory senses are not so strong so he thinks I’m imagining it. The cat looks disgruntled when I sniff at him, even though I know it’s not him. This is his home, he doesn’t need to mark territory here. Some other cat has come in through the cat flap in the night and sprayed in our house.
We spend part of a Christmas morning on hands and knees in the hallway and living room, moving furniture, sniffing at suspicious marks, spraying my magic anti-cat-piss-vinegar-water-spray at anything that might be a cat spray mark. Despite two incense sticks, the room still reeks, but the hallway now smells just like vinegar.
My friend down-the-road can’t join us for Christmas as she’s isolating prior to surgery, although she has just found out her surgery has been delayed a week so she has another week to keep isolation. She really wants this surgery so she’s not prepared to risk having dinner with us in case she catches something. However we go out for a long walk with her (she keeps her mask on). I think she’s happy to have some real people to talk to in person. We offer to share our Christmas dinner with her although she is going to eat it back at her place. It’s nice to feel we are sharing a Christmas meal with someone, even if they aren’t in the same room.
On Boxing Day we head to South London, to a Boxing Day Christmas meal hosted by our Danish friends. I haven’t sat at a table with so many people in years, literally years (ARGH! Bloody Covid!). There are three courses : fish, meat and cheese, accompanied with wine and aquavit (*shudder*). The table is beautifully set, the food is all beautifully presented, and the lighting and atmosphere is all designed to induce a state of Hygge, the Danish word describing a state of “coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment” (according to Wikipedia).
On the table, each guest receives a long printed menu which includes the instructions about what topping goes with what protein. And there are many toppings on the table including white and red onion, fresh dill, lemon juice, boiled eggs, tomatoes, a bowl of small dark capers which most of us had initially thought were lentils, spiced jelly (made from some kind of meat juices), salad cress, dill pickles, horseradish, remoulade, crispy onions, red cabbage, beetroot…
The fish course heavily features herring (sild) which I was dreading but I try all three types offered (dill, curry sauce and red pickled) (yes, there was a red herring) and they are all delicious and not as fishy as I’d expected. (I really like the taste of vinegar so I should have known that almost anything pickled would appeal.) The menu recommends these with rye bread, onion and boiled eggs and/or chopped apple on the side. For the non-herring fans, there are also prawns, smoked salmon and hot smoked salmon salad.
The meat course includes roast beef, meatballs (frikadeller), Leverpostej (pork pate), Rullepolse (cold pork roulade) and Dyrlaegens natmad (the Vet’s midnight snack) – a kind of pate. Again, we have to follow the rules on toppings (don’t put red onion on a thing where you should use red cabbage!)
By this stage of the meal there has been much toasting with the aquavit and some members of the party are becoming quite merry. I take care with my aquavit consumption, only taking tiny sips when the toasting song is sung: “Haps haps haps, [something something something]….skol!” Some other guests are less cautious in their consumption, perhaps because the super chilled aquavit from the freezer doesn’t taste like the high degrees spirit it is. That’s the way danger lies. And that’s perhaps why some of the guests were dozing off at the table as the night wore on.
The cheese course includes Havarti, a mild cheese, a medium strength cheese with cumin seeds and a very mature (read: stinky) which is topped with red onion, spiced jelly and some drops of rum. The rum fumes somehow blend the stinky cheese fumes into something appealing. It’s a strange combination but I’m not one to argue with tradition (or our hosts!) and the combined ingredients make for a very tasty mouthful.
There’s just enough time for a game of celebrity heads which I win in four questions. “Am I a fictional character?” “Am I from a book?” “Am I male?” “Am I Peter Pan?” How the hell did you guess that? Not by cheating! I have no idea where Peter Pan came into my mind from but perhaps I can read people’s thoughts, or perhaps all that aquavit was serving to broadcast and amplify people’s thoughts.
After our very quiet Christmas it was great to have a meal with lots of people and lots of conversation. It felt much more Christmassy than our own more sombre celebration. Especially with the raucous toasting and perhaps-bordering-on-the-excessive aquavit consumption. Here’s to more social gatherings around a table in 2022!
In other news:
- There’s some good news at last that Omicron seems to be a milder form of the virus – main symptoms of cough, sneezing, sore throat, runny nose and fatigue – all the winter/end-of-year symptoms of flu or colds you might catch anyway. Probably this is how it is spreading so fast: people don’t feel so ill, so don’t think to test or isolate, just carry on as normal. We’ve all been conditioned that we have to keep functioning even when we are sick. But the rising infection rates are worrying the government and there are noises that England may follow Scotland and re-introduce some restrictions in the coming days.
- For those seeking to escape the crowds and get away from the pressures of modern life, perhaps Piel Island might appeal. There’s a job going as pub landlord on a small island off the coast of Cumbria in the north of England. “The Ship Inn is over 300 years old and tradition says each new landlord is crowned ‘King of Piel’, sits in an ancient chair, wears a helmet and holds a sword while alcohol is poured over their head.”
I hope those of you readers who celebrate had a merry Christmas!