I rather like this neologism, but it is actively disliked be our more reactionary press and their readers. I believe this is because they are upset that it has supplanted the “original” word of Christmas, rather rich given that the early church purloined the earlier festivals of Saturnalia and Yule for its own nefarious ends. Even these festivals were derived from even earlier mid-winter celebrations, so the original meaning of December 25th and the New Year is hidden in the mists of prehistory.
I decided against erecting a circle of massive stone menhirs this year – well, I had a bit of a cold and it seemed a lot of work (added to which my garden is really quite small and water-logged) and so returned to the bosom of my family as has become traditional. This pilgrimage entails my longest drive of the year as I head from South Cambs to a supergrid point on the south coast (in fact, the journey represents some 20-25% of my annual driven miles). I drive down on Christmas morning when the roads are pleasingly quiet – and lorries stay at home (or at least off the roads) – which makes driving an almost pleasant experience. This year my journey south was accompanied by the dulcet tones of Shaun Keaveny and PBC OBE thanks to a portable DAB radio and the AUX port on the car stereo. As I crossed the Thames at Dartford, the river was spanned by a rainbow – which I felt must be at least slightly auspicious – though the toll booths of the crossing were still manned even on Christmas Day (given the low traffic flows, I do wonder how cost effective this is at £2 a go).
Christmas and Boxing Day were great fun, and I am able to eat to excess without having to cook any of it – though the period does emphasise the “mostly” in my mostly vegetarian lifestyle. Having an (almost) six year old with you does remind you of the true meaning of Christmas – which I think is Lego, crackers and Mario on the Wii (recalling the gifts bought by the wise men to the Ickle Baby Jesus – rather mis-translated from the original Greek and Hebrew in the KJB). I returned home on the evening of Boxing Day – waiting until the hordes have finished their desperate purchases of reduced sofas on long-term credit – when the roads are still pretty quiet, though the lorries are starting to return. Given the rather poor radio on offer, I created a playlist on my iPhone for the first time (I have had the capability to create playlists for 7 or more years, but had not taken the plunge before). This was rather a success: I may have to try it again.
Returning home has the advantage, and disadvantage, that there are no Christmas leftovers to consume – so no turkey jalfrezi for me! This means that the festive season comes to a rather abrupt stop, though this year I resisted returning to work until almost 2013. This didn’t mean I could loaf around too much as I had friends coming over to see in the New Year. No visitor comes to my house and leaves hungry, or even well fed – no, no-one leaves unless completely stuffed with grub (I blame genetics and my paternal grandmother’s bloodline). Such hefty food consumption does also seem to eliminate the hangover that might otherwise arise from having wine (or other suitable alcoholic accompaniment) with every course.
To avoid boring my guests with a medley of my greatest culinary hits, I decided to try some new dishes this year. New Year’s Eve-squared (0r 30 December as it is more commonly known) was a relatively modest repast with a mere three – albeit sizeable – courses. I once again attempted chocolate cookery – and even made pastry (a very rare occurrence) – to provide a suitable accompaniment to a glass or two of marsala. This was a slightly worrying build, as the tart’s contents looked vastly bigger than the available space – but miraculously just fit. Even more importantly, it tasted great – but I suspect won’t be made that often as it is quite a laboured process and creates an awful lot of washing up.
New Year’s Eve was an altogether more challenging affair with six courses to be consumed across the evening. These included a very fine starter based on roasted squash, stilton and mushrooms; two years ago I had never eaten a squash, now I am almost addicted to the things – ah, the dangers of the mostly vegetarian diet (why does no-one warn you of the risks?). However, the star of the night was the trifle course – based on a recipe by Nigel Slater (but in only half the quantity). This was a huge rigmarole to make and rather worrying as it includes making a mincemeat sponge with no raising agent – but it is one of the finest things I have ever eaten. If you are very good and come to visit, I may make another – if you are really, really good I may even let you eat a bit (though I wouldn’t want to raise your hopes too high).
In recent years, my NYE tradition has been to hold the turn of year celebration at a time of my choosing, rather than waiting for midnight as “the man” wants. By use of YouTube, one can now have Big Ben, Auld Lang Syne and fireworks whenever you want – this year it was around 23:30, though it has been as early as 22:30 and as late as 00:30.
Unlike Christmas, I was able to live off left-overs from New Year for several days – despite sterling efforts from my guests to consume the excessive quantities of food provided. I must also admit that at least one pig, one deer and three fish died to provide our end of year provender – but their sacrifice was much appreciated and only members of the plant kingdom have had to give up their lives to feed me since.
Many Winterval cards are covered in snow – but the country (or the parts I crossed) were covered in water, which should perhaps become a theme for future Christmas Cards – but now the country does look much more festive (I blame Charles Dickens). This seems to happen whenever I try to leave the country by plane on business – I think the government should be paying me a decent stipend not to fly to Europe, it would save the country a small fortune in gritting and snow ploughing. Still, until I’m paid off I shall continue to visit our European cousins – this week Berlin, where the maximum temperature on offer is a balmy -2ºC so I’m rather hoping there may be some glühwein on offer to stave off the chill!