I’m out of the illness woods, honking cough notwithstanding. It’s been a long bout, which totally scuppered my pre-Christmas plans for prancing around the Christmas Market, partaking in twinkly Christmas shopping, getting drunk at work and so on (for all its frustrations, we do occasionally have, at the Sausage Factory, a drinks trolley in the office. Which, you know, makes it all worthwhile). Poor G was struck down too, and we’ve been muttering darkly in Scottish accents about The Virus. I had The Virus. I wasn’t immune. I survived. (You have to watch Survivors to get it).
So for the last few days the heat has been on to get all my pre-Christmas preps done. Astonishingly, I’ve managed to get by so far without a grief-related Christmas meltdown. It’s the fifth Christmas without my sister Helen. The fifth! And that’s the worst thing about losing someone: they don’t come back. Dozens of Christmases will pass without her.At this time of year I’m usually to be found frozen to the spot in a department store, suddenly about to sob, having been assaulted by some syrupy Christmas song about it being a lonely Christmas, or a blue one, or all I want for Christmas is you. Instead, since I’ve been mobile post-Virus, I’ve been pottering around our local shops, buying beef joints and smoked trout and two types of pastry. In the kitchen, Nigella and Delia have been competing for my attentions (Delia’s Amish-like thrift and list-making vying with Nigella’s habit of throwing two pints of cream into everything and popping cherries onto her nipples)and both of them have been winning. I’ve been rustling up cranberry and beetroot soup, frangipane mince pies, and mulled wine by the gallon. Today’s projects are smoked trout pate, apple and mincemeat strudel and fiddly, twirly little puff pastry nibbles. I’m also going to decorate the Christmas cake with tiny little presents made of marzipan. Eek!
I’ve pronged my fingers countless times sticking cloves into citrus fruits; I’ve baked orange slices and hung them on the tree with cinnamon sticks. Yesterday I even made a centrepiece for the table which comprises orange slices, cranberries, star anise, cinnamon sticks, figs and sprigs of greenery (it’s so sprauncy, I might take a photo and post it on my blog to show off). And we’re not even hosting Christmas dinner. I’ve clipped Christmas cards to silver twigs with tiny gold pegs (squee!) and hoovered and dusted with greater enthusiasm than I ever usually show for such things.
And- apart from an awkward moment in the queue at the butchers, in which John Lennon or similar attempted to floor me with a plaintive line about another year being over and a new one just begun, and I had to cover my face with my scarf so I didn’t suffer the indignity of wailing whilst surrounded by raw meat- I have been relatively sane.
I don’t think I need to point out that I”m absolutely a Christmas person. I come by it naturally: my Mum and Granny must be direct descendants of Santa Claus, such is their love for all things Christmassy. I think in years gone by I’ve felt guilty about throwing myself into Christmas- how could I enjoy it, with Helen not here? But now I embrace my slightly manic Yuletide persona. It’s better than crying. For the bereaved, Christmas can be really hard. I know I WILL cry buckets several times over this festive period.But in the mean time, stick a sprig of holly in my hair and pour me another mulled wine. I’ll raise it to Helen, to Christmas and to life, for all of us who are lucky enough to still be living it.