In Plenary, Practice on January 4, 2012 at 1:36 pm

January 2nd.

The first day of my year really; we were travelling yesterday.

Car, plane, car, home.

I have resolved to begin the year as I mean to go on – writing, getting up earlier, running, making more money and losing some bloody weight. After a week in England I feel like a pig stuffed with a pork-stuffed pig. Just a couple of months ago I felt great after a summer of morning runs and day-long lungfuls of fresh sea air. I’ve already messed up on the second resolution by forgetting to reset my phone to Spanish time, but I’ll get a run in today, or at least a 6km walk for my out-of-practice legs.

It was a heady holiday. Against the backdrop of roads, streets and housing estates from my adolescence, we had a gathering; we formed a group that hadn’t been in the same room at the same time for many a year. With the new additions we were four generations; it felt as if a loose thread, left over from a long read chapter, had emerged once again in the weave.

Hospitality; I wrote about it a few weeks ago. Do you remember? Did I sound like I knew what I was talking about? Boy did I not know what I was talking about. Hospitality is a house in Hampshire that celebrates both Christmas and Hannukah, and a high-rise festive dinner that stretched along a trestle table, as far as the eye could see.

There was enough food. Brussel Sprouts in particular were in abundance. It was as if, having become aware of an invasion of sprouts, someone had decided to fight fire with fire, and throw sprouts at it. They divide people, I think. Me, I’m for them.

My brother, J, lamented afterwards that no one had touched his broccoli and cauliflower medley, but come on; there was meat on that table. Four different types of bird, all certified well-balanced, pleasantly laid-back and of sound mind, so I didn’t even need to feel bad. Cheesecake. A hundred and thirty-seven varieties of root vegetable. I can’t remember whether the cheesecake showed up before or after the root vegetables were taken away; a deep stupor of food joy had kicked in.

The rest of our week was largely a question of pampering, port and paté with crackers and cheese. The parental embrace; a soporific concoction of carpets, cushions, pillows and central heating. We were spoiled and we were showered with gifts, and K was predictably pouty when the time came to come home. There was another side to the week for me though than family – the place is full of reminders.

I had forgotten how dark it is in England’s December. The sun rises at around the time you sit down for lunch and has pretty much set before you’ve finished your dessert. Not that you’d notice, with the heavy mass of black cloud that hangs over the country, and the rain. Everybody has their curtains drawn anyway, living rooms glowing festively and fires lit. We don’t have the brutal weather in Tarifa but then we don’t have the cosy winter dens either.

I was up and down as I met old friends. My excellent year hasn’t been excellent for everyone; the worst of all years for some. We talked about the past but not too much. We talked about stupid stuff and laughed. We talked about turning forty; we all seem to be reverting to type – to writing, to painting, to a hopeful discontentment.

In London we schlepped around gallery and museum. I was reminded that I grew up here; that it was this country that fed my hungry teenage self with literature, television, music and cinema. I would trek up to the West End on the train to buy records and books, some of which would alter the architecture of my mind. Hampshire isn’t a place I regret leaving but there was something about coming back which caused me to ask myself what I had done? Had I been faithful to myself, or distracted by unimportant pleasure and easy fear?

The latter, and that’s why I find myself in a hurry now, pulling on my trainers and plugging myself in to an iPod. By the end of the week I was feeling the presence of an old depression and I intend to run it off. Down on the street the winter shade is chilly but the narrow crack of sky above me is pure blue. I make my way through the cobbled, Christmas-lit streets and down past the port. By the time I reach the beach I’m out of the shade and can feel the sun’s warmth.

The holiday season is still in full swing and there are families and couples out for a stroll. Two distinct types; those of us who live here, with our coats and scarves, and visitors in their shorts and t-shirts. It’s good to get into the sun. After a few minutes I feel hot; wet-chested and sweaty. There are surfers in the water and children on the sand.

I pass three blondes – two guys and a girl – sunbathing on the terrace of a beach front apartment to my left. They wear shorts and she a bikini. They are white and gold and all kinds of pink, against the deep blue of their building. I can’t put my finger on it, but they couldn’t be more Danish.

If all three were to leap up and scream “Denmark! Denmark! Denmark!” in my face, Denmark would not be making a stronger impression than it is right now. Don’t know what it is though; can’t put my finger on it.

The day is like a cinema projection of itself; bright and glowing, crisp and deeply coloured with a celluloid sheen. I walk out over the bird sanctuary on a wooden causeway. The place is covered with little yellow flowers. My spirits lift. In Ireland I’d be tempted to call them spring blossoms.

Spring blossoms on the 2nd of January.

It’s just too good…

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  1. A wonderful read Rob. Found myself reliving christmas – it was a great visit.

  2. I’m glad you got the sprout experience the way it should be. Interesting to see how you’re rocking it in Andalucia too, I’d love to go to Tarifa! I’m heading out to live in Granada in a few days and can’t wait.

  3. “pig stuffed with a pork-stuffed pig” had me laughing out loud. The holidays are wonderful and family (with food as a very close second) is the best part. Seems like your visit demolished the “you can never go home” sentiment. Glad you enjoyed your time there!

  4. What is it with Brits and Brussels sprouts? I think they must be compulsory for Christmas there. Don’t mind them, but I would have gone for your brother’s broccoli-cauliflower combo. Happy new year 🙂

  5. We also found coming back for a visit that many people had a terrible 2011 – interesting…

  6. Chuckling at the sprouts dividing people. They did that in our house too. My British father was obsessed with them and use to push them on our friends in high school, who endearingly called him Dr. Sprout.

  7. Sounds like you had a great Christmas with your family =) I think that is what Christmas is about, being with family, friends, and just enjoy the times without worrying about job and stuff.

    If I was there I would eat the broccoli and cauliflower, not because I like it, but because it is called “healthy food” XDD

  8. “..a deep stupor of food joy” — I had that often over the holidays. Always love your way with words — may I steal some of your phrases?? Hope 2012 will be another excellent year for you and for your friends who weren’t so lucky in 2011.

  9. I belong on the all-for-brussels-sprouts side of the war. Also, I chuckled at the pig and Danish links embedded here, they added a terrifically subtle layer of humor.

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