Boxing Day traditions

I know right now a bunch of crazies are duking it out at the Boxing Day sales but gee, I couldn’t think of anything worse. My Boxing Day tradition is very different. It’s a time to chill, a day to put the feet up after the exertions and excesses of the day previous, a day to quietly review gifts given, to tuck into the plenitude of leftovers and – above all – to settle down in front of the TV for the start of the Boxing Day test match.

This year there’re leftovers, but not so many gifts, and though I fed well throughout the day the excesses were kept to a minimum. As for exertions? Quite.

I’m set, all the same. I’ve been out, bought some milk for my coffee, plus some avocados and a good loaf of Turkish bread for lunch of leftover chicken in sandwiches. As I write this the national anthems are being sung before the start of the test match. I won’t stir much from here on in.

Yesterday was predictably modest. Lunch was good, but I went easy on it. I watched some Netflix, then a Bergman movie. Initially, I was going to watch Wild Strawberries, but upon reflection decided that wasn’t a good option, being all about regret after all. Instead, I settled for The Seventh Seal.

Somewhere amid that I had a nap and did some reading, before hopping in the car and making the short trip to JV’s. It was low-key and pleasant there. They’d returned from a predictably full-on family day. We had a glass or two of wine, fired up the barbie, and talked long into the balmy night.

That was enough for me Christmas Day. Until then I was feeling it a little, but that ticked it off.

Today I’m spot on. No dramas. All the related pressure of the festive season has dropped away. I can be a normal person again.


Christmas morn

It’s Christmas morning and I’ve just returned from walking Rigby to the beach. It’s the kind of day you want to bottle – 26 degrees and blue-skied.

As always on Christmas morning the streets seemed unnaturally quiet. Behind closed doors, I imagined, children rampaged and parents smiled indulgently in this precious family time. They would get out and about later, crisscrossing Melbourne as they went to parents and grandparents for the day’s festivities. Now, it was all theirs.

The few people I did see were in their shorts and nodded festively to me as I greeted them. The beach was quiet too. It had been groomed overnight and had been insufficiently disturbed to hide signs of it. A few odd couples walked along the pathway at the rear of it, and on the beach, there were widely spaced specks of individuals and families with their towels.

We walked to the water’s edge and, as always, Rigby plunged in. Soon enough I’d waded in up to my knees. We spent 5-10 minutes in the water before we clambered atop the bluestone breakwater extending into the sea.

All of this had become recent tradition, a touchstone for the day. Christmas is all about ritual, and if I no longer have my old rituals then I must invent new. Part of it is the breakwater, which has taken on meaning far beyond its modest purpose.

We always clamber atop it and look out to sea, at the tankers lurking in the distant haze, at the random yachts scudding across the bay. Turn the other way and there’s the shore, people coming and going, and beyond that the nearest thing I have to a home.

In the book, I’m writing there’s a hill that has significance for the protagonist. Over time and through habit it has been imbued with meaning. It’s the place he goes to get away from the world, the place he comes to think. It’s his refuge, if not quite a sanctuary – but it is his.

I walk by the beach occasionally with Rigby and often we’ll stop to climb atop the breakwater, but at those moments it means nothing. It finds its meaning at Christmas because it has become a part of my ritual. I don’t think a lot about it while I’m there, but I feel it. It has become a touchstone for me, something personal on a day when I no longer have anything personal to share.

Earlier in the night, I’d been woken at about 3.30 by Rigby wanting to go outside. I realised as I led him out that it was Christmas day. “Merry Christmas”, I told him.

I woke at the normal time after that, and as I would on any normal day off I made myself a coffee and returned to check up on the news overnight, before turning to my book.

I finished the book at about 8.30 and I got up to collect the few presents waiting for me, and to give Rigby his Christmas present (a pork bone, devoured with relish). I returned to bed to open my presents – an excellent bottle of boutique Japanese gin, and a couple of gifts from the kids – a cooking set and a big box of liquor chocolates, gratefully received. My sister probably bought them for the kids to give, which gave me pause.

Soon enough I’ll commence preparations for lunch. There’s a butterflied chicken I’ve been brining overnight I’ll roast with lemon and garlic and a sprinkling of thyme. I’ll have all the usual trimmings to go with it. Later on, I’ll be at JV’s for a barbecue, for which I’m grateful.

Now? I might just have a glass of eggnog.

Merry Christmas everyone. Hoping you all have a warm and loving day.

On the day before Christmas

Back to work this morning but I was much more leisurely about it than normal. I got up at the usual time but made myself a coffee and went back to bed to read a chapter of The Dawn Watch, a very good biography of Joseph Conrad.

By the time I walked out the door, it was about 7.40. It was a sunny morning on a hot day, and it was lively out.

Much of Melbourne has taken today off, and why not? Up at Hampton street, there were people everywhere in their Saturday clothes. It was not 8am yet, but the butchers were open (even though his sign said opening 8am Christmas Eve), so was the fish shop. The greengrocer is always open early, and there was a line snaking out of the bakery.

I looked about thinking this was nice, wishing I had the day off too to be part of it – but then I’ve not really anything I have to plan and purchase for last minute, and no place to be.

As I walked towards the station I heard a general hubbub coming from the café leading to it. The courtyard was full of people in a festive mood. Cyclists in their lycra sat around a long table. Others – friends, families – caught up for a relaxed Christmas Eve breakfast together.

By comparison, the train only filled halfway, which is one of the bonus’ this time of year. I sat by the window, as usual, this time listening to an old Christmas story. A family sat in the seats around me about Elsternwick, dressed in shorts and t-shirts, though elegantly so. Something about them reminded me of my own family back in the day, and I found myself observing them.

It was an adult family, the two kids in their early twenties, their parents in their mid-fifties, handsome and elegant. The mother sat opposite me. She looked nothing like my mum, but she shared some similar quality. She was elegant and well turned out, without any obvious effort being made. She was an attractive woman, engaged with her family and the occasion. They seemed like a family out on a jaunt together on the eve of Christmas. The train was probably a novelty to some of them, and they exuded an unpretentious class different from most on the train.

It felt innately familiar to me, and so it bit more than I expected. I’ve been part of a family like that. I was one of those kids perhaps, safely aware that I was loved and that I existed within this comfortable framework I took for granted. I was reminded – I had long forgotten – that many of my contemporaries when I was a kid looked upon us as a bit different, a bit less raw, a bit more polished. That was my milieu.

It’s very different now. Economically I’m in the lower class even if in outlook I remain comfortably middle class. The important fact, regardless of class, is that I have no family to blend into, no role to play, no expectation to satisfy.

I looked out the window feeling gruff and lost. I might recognise them, but they could never recognise me. And I knew that even if I was doing nothing of significance tomorrow that it was better than to pretend otherwise. I spoke the other day of knowing the forms of things without sharing in any of the blessings. That’s an exaggeration, but it attends a truth. This is why I choose to decline all well-intended invitations tomorrow, because I know the form of it, because I was totally immersed in it once, because I was loved and cherished as an essential part of the festivities – and anything less than that is a counterfeit likely to remind me of all that I have foregone.

It sounds sad, but I take a pragmatic view of it. I’m stoic by nature and I tell myself it won’t be forever. And it’s not quite as stark as all that – I caught up with Donna last week, on Saturday I saw the kids for lunch and an exchange of presents, and even tomorrow, in the evening, I’m off to a friends for a barbecue – after the day has settled.

Time for me

Very busy lately and struggling to get away from my desk because if I don’t do it no-one else can and just because of that I took Wednesday off as a mental health day. Right up to the moment I sent the message to the office Wednesday morning I doubted that I would actually do it. I feel like I’m cheating when I take a sickie, which I am. As well, my mind nagged me with the things that had to be done but fuck it, I don’t work as a brain surgeon and no matter what I think there’s nothing that couldn’t wait. And so I just rolled over in bed and had another snooze.
There’s value in days like Wednesday. Sometimes you just need time to get back in touch with yourself. You come back better for it, and if you don’t do it you run the risk of winding down. I’m as fit as a Mallee bull these days, both mind and body, but that’s not to say that the mental edges might not begin to fray unless I took some time for myself.

It was a delightful day. I lay in bed for a while reading with Rigby snuggled up against me and a latte on the table beside me.

Later I wandered up the road in the winter sunshine. Had a coffee and a slice, bought some groceries, and picked up my dry-cleaning. Back at home I read a little more, did my tax, browsed the internet, and basically chilled out.

As the afternoon went on I flicked Netflix on and watched as I did some cooking – a beef, mushroom, caramelised onion and ale pie first, then a pumpkin coconut curry. I had myself a hot bath then had dinner of the pie while I watched the news. The rest of the night was similarly mellow. Come work yesterday I was in a different frame of mind, which continues as we speak.

On the road again

Surprisingly upbeat today, despite having had to hand over exorbitant wads of cash to pay for my car service. If you recall the engine had blown and the timing belt was cactus also, both requiring replacement, plus sundry other repairs. I had budgeted for quite an ugly figure, but the sundry other repairs added up to more than I imagined. Bottom line is that the invoice was thousands more than I expected, and effectively has wiped me out – in fact I still owe some.

I collected the car this morning and at least I can say it was a lovely, smooth ride on the way home. It would want to be. It’s not as good as new, but the replacement engine has about half the k’s of the old one. What happens next really depends on what happens next with me, but general idea is to drive the car around for about 18 months, then look to trade-in – perhaps for a non-European car.

It feels good to drive again. It feels good to have the option available once more. The cost is just part of life.

It hurt last night when I got the news. It kyboshed a few plans, and the waste of spending so much on getting a car repaired bit deep. You adjust though. Today there’s more of a blasé attitude of fuck it, shit happens. With that is a sense of release. Damage is done and I’m pretty up, singing under my breath and sometimes aloud, Kaiser Chiefs particularly, but some Warren Zevon too. I feel pretty energised actually, go figure.

Personal development

I’ve back a few days now and one thing I’ve noticed is how long I’m sleeping. Normally through the work week, I average a little under 7.5 hours per night. These last few days I’ve slept for about nine hours a night. The opportunity to sleep in is always welcome, but what this is telling me is that I needed it. No surprise. I’ve felt run-down both physically and mentally the last few months. It felt as if I needed a good rest and the opportunity to re-charge.

When I do wake the routine is not much different from normal. Rigby is fed, I grab a freshly made latte, then back to bed where I’ll read the Age, the NYT times, and various other news sites and magazines on my iPad. I’ll check what’s going happening on Facebook and Twitter and randomly cruise other sites.

As the morning progresses I’ll take Rigby for his walk. There’s no set time for this, but he’s always alert. The final test is now in progress and so I’ll switch that on and have in the background as I attend to different chores – a load of washing, a tidy up, maybe some cooking. Amid all this, I’ve checked my email and attended to anything needing attending to.

Of course, now I’m writing too. I’ve started on the new book, and it’s hard work. Starting is always most difficult, and not just because it’s a blank page. That’s tough, but getting it right is tougher. I don’t expect to get it right first off. I’ve written about 2000 words so far and I reckon 75% of them will be changed before I’m happy – and that’s just the first draft. You’re trying to set the tone and mood. Trying to get the voice right, and capture the character. How you start is how you go on with it, so you need to get it right.

I have a couple of days more of this then I’m back to work. Like many people I made some resolutions and sketched in some aspirational plans over the new year. The resolutions I posted to Facebook, just to put them out there: get a book published, wear more colourful shirts, be less glip/more open. I might add to that: eat more greens (especially broccoli) and less sugar.

The plans are more general. Unless something significant occurs I must change jobs. I’m neither well used or well rewarded. I’m looking towards March for that.

As a general notion, I want to have a better Christmas this year. There are different things I could do towards that, but what I favour is finding that intimate other to share it with. If that’s the case there are other things I must do, or decide upon.

While I was away I spoke to Cheeseboy about the woman at work. He’s well aware of my past experiences, but said I should go for it. It’s funny, I’m the risktaker by nature, and he’s conservative, but he’s urging me to take the chance. I can only believe it’s good advice.

I’ve decided to accept the possibility, even to pursue it, but without hurry. What we experienced is the first flush of attraction and desire. That’s nice, but it doesn’t always survive into real life. Real is what I want. I don’t want to lose the feeling of attraction and desire, but I want something more substantial to reinforce it. I think there is something to work on with this woman, but I’ll let it happen rather than forcing it. If it’s not to be it’s not to be.

Regardless, as I’ve promised, with this woman or another, I intend to be open and honest and vulnerable. Real. That’s the next stage in my personal development.

Unwelcome guests

I had an unwelcome intrusion over the weekend. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…’ goes the classic poem, except in my case unfortunately there was a stirring, and it was a mouse. Or mice.

I take some poetic licence – it actually began a week before Christmas Eve. I reckon it was all the rain we got. My yard tends to inundated and I figure it drove the mice to higher ground. Somewhere they found a way in to the dry of the house – my best guess is through the pipes of the hot water service leading into the laundry. Once they got in the house they found it quite pleasant, and invited their mates. It helped that right there in the laundry was a big 20 kilo bag of dry dog food for them to feast on.

That’s how I figured out I had mice. I’d heard scratches and scurrying noises and had a major suspicion I had guests, but then when I saw the plastic on the bag of unopened dog food chewed through I knew it. Not long after I caught a glimpse from the corner of my eye.

It’s not pleasant knowing that you have vermin lurking in the shadows. I was afraid that once I had one then more would come. I set traps and caught them regularly, but so many that it only increased my apprehension. On one occasion I caught two in the same trap. The noise grew louder and more widespread – it seemed they were in all the walls, and an odour grew stronger.

I found how they were getting in – just a crack really in the base of the laundry basin unit. Presumably there’s a hole in the floor leading outside. I blocked that up with bricks, but I’m uncertain if that’s their only way in.

It was pretty hairy for a while, but it seems to have settled down now. I suspect I’ve most, if not all of the mice that were in the house, and having blocked their egress hopefully that means no more can enter. On top of that I removed the dog food from temptation – it’s now sitting in a plastic container in the bathtub.

My real estate agent is closed to the new year, but I’ll be calling them then to get an exterminator in, and a more permanent solution to stacked bricks.