Monday, 30 December 2013

Is Anyone Awake?

So Christmas is over. All that build up: the parties, the shopping, the decorating, the cooking, the cleaning, the visits to friends, the duty-bound family visits, the seasonal tv guide ringed with programmes to watch, the heating turned up full blast, the oven turned on and mulled wine steaming, the radio blaring out carols for 48 hours non-stop and of course the incense-filled-candle-lit church ceremony at midnight. Phew! Does anyone feel like they need a break? Is anyone actually awake right now? 

In that weird limbo period between Christmas and the start of a New Year, people all around the city have descended into The Christmas Coma. Actually probably not just in London but all over the UK too. Of course some people went back to work on Boxing Day. Those who work in retail or in the emergency services probably worked all through the Christmas period and may have only got one or two days off. For the rest of us who used up the carefully saved annual leave to take off at this seasonal time of year, a Christmas Coma brought on by over-eating and the first feeling of relaxation in about a month of craziness is in full swing.

I have barely been able to stay awake during the whole holiday period. My husband has also been groggy. It started on Christmas eve when we went to Midnight Mass at our local church. We are not religious people and I suppose it is a bit hypocritical of us to attend a church service in an Anglican church when one of us was a raised a Catholic (my husband) and the other is not sure that god even exists (me). But we like the tradition and since we live in a free country and everyone at the church seems pleased to see us, we go every year. The church is a big old drafty building that was built in 1808. But during Midnight Mass, the whole church is lit with hundreds of candles and so it actually gets quite warm. It is considered 'high church' so the vicar sings some of the Bible and she has high clear beautiful voice. The choir is sometimes out of tune, but they are charming and the organ player does occasionally sound like he has been drinking alcohol before he plays the massive organ. Members and staff of the church wear long white robes and carry holy objects around during the ceremony and one guy who is bearded and deeply serious swings the incense around in a small metal ball attached to a metal chain. Sometimes he gets so serious with his incense ball that he swings it high above his head and I fear for the foreheads of the congregation in the pews in the front of church in case he miscalculates the trajectory of his tool and brains them with an enthusiastic swing. 

We love it, we love the rituals, the singing, the lights, the prayers said over a baby in a crib, the hands we shake when we wish peace to our neighbors, the blessing the vicar bestows on your forehead, the big belting carols like 'Oh Come All Ye Faithful' that leave you breathless and gasping and the vicar's timely and wise sermon. This year her sermon was about taking time out of the Christmas rush to reflect and enjoy sitting still just so you can think. A very good message to us all in this time-pressured and hectic modern world we live in. Ironically the Queen' speech (a long standing British tradition is to watch the speech our monarch gives on Christmas Day) contained exactly the same message. In fact I cannot help but suspect that the royal speech writers may have plagiarised our local vicar! 

I do wonder though if it is not a little wrong of me to attend a church service every Christmas when I am not sure of my own spiritual beliefs. I do not think I will ever believe in Christianity a hundred percent, but I do like some of the messages that most religions preach, such as forgiveness and kindness and I can't help but love the rituals involved and the music and art that is made in the name of religion. Who doesn't like Handel's Messiah after all?

But I digress...back to The Coma. The problem with Midnight Mass is that it ends at 12.30am and then we end up back home at 1am, so we aren't sleeping until after 1.15am at the earliest. Then the next day we often have to travel a fair distance to see family and so end up waking up early on Christmas morning. So this leads to a lack of sleep. Add a big Christmas Day meal like the one in the photo above and you have all the ingredients for a blackout: a sleep deprived individual with a full belly. Plus the said individual has just been working hard up until a day or two before Christmas and is only just starting to relax. I have this problem with this almost every holiday I take, I am often so exhausted from working hard before the break and then after a day or two I am so relaxed that I end up feeling intensely sleepy every time I sit down. As I currently write this my husband is on the point of losing consciousness on to the pages of his book on the sofa. The problem with the Christmas Coma is that I feel as if I am actually missing out on valuable free time because I spend so much time snoozing. Most of my friends and family love sleeping. I am sure some of them would spend all day in bed if they could. I know for a fact that my friend Foo, who has recently become a mother and is therefore naturally sleep deprived, would happily give the contents of her bank account of a full night's uninterrupted-by-fretful-baby sleep.

I don't feel that way about the Land of Nod. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem sleeping, not just at the annual Christmas Coma-time but also during the average midweek night. I fall asleep like a toddler or those cute kittens you see in videos on Youtube: immediately and usually flat on to my face. One moment I will be talking about politics or the meaning of life and the next I am out like a light and snoring. It drives my husband mad, mostly because he never gets to actually hear my finished thought on what I believe the meaning of life is. I could sleep all day if we did not own an alarm clock or if didn't have a small bladder to empty. But sleeping just feels like such a waste of time. I know sleep is incredibly important to help repair our bodies and without it we would probably go brain-crazy, but I feel the same way about eating custard and apple crumble. Sure I could do without custard, but I would be pretty miserable if I never got to eat it again in the future. Or listening to Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring or drawing a wrinkly apple with charcoal or baking Chocolate Guinness Cake or taking a really good photograph with a digital SLR camera. My time on this planet is not infinite and I will probably spend a total of 26 years of it sleeping! What a waste! I could be photographing Guinness cakes and listening to inspiring classical music at 2am! People who don't need that much sleep must get a lot more done. Think of Margaret Thatcher, apparently she only had to sleep 4 hours a night. No wonder she became Prime Minister and destroyed most of Britain's rail network and stole my free state-sponsored daily milk in nursery school. She probably snatched it when I was busy sleeping! And on a more risque note, if we all slept less, we could all have more sex! And I am sure everyone would agree with me, that there is NOTHING wrong with THAT idea.

Ah well, since I need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night to function as a walking talking responsible human being, I don't have much choice. I need the sleep. I need the Christmas Coma too, as much as I am loathed to admit it. I need the time to stop, as the vicar preached at Midnight Mass. I need to calm down the frenetic pace of life, to reflect, to lie about and to snooze. And is that not what holidays are for?

On another note don't get me even started on the 46,800hrs of housework that the average woman does in her lifetime! Given the choice of cracking out the hoover or lying in a state of dreamy doziness, I will grab a pillow and chose my bed every time!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Looking down from on High...

Today was the first day of pre-Christmas food shopping at the supermarket next to my home. As it was last year, Chaos reigned. Children cried. Motorists drove badly. Horns were honked. Mince pies sold out. Tiny Sausages were compulsively bought in their thousands. Shoppers yelled at each other and sprouts littered the floor. I watched calmly from the window of my flat.

I guess my feelings of smugness could be called schadenfreude.....

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Warmed by Disney's Frozen

Well, it has been a long looong time since I last wrote in this blog. Funnily enough I have been busy (I made my own photo Christmas cards!- I missed the last postal dates for international post - shit! I ate quite a lot of cake! I cleaned the kitchen, I held my best friend's new baby - don't drop her! don't drop her!, I made two deserts for a dinner party and cooked chocolate sea-salt fudge and finished my Christmas shopping!), but I have also felt a little blue in the last few months and a low mood tends to make me lazy when it comes to writing.

I can't explain the reason for feeling melancholy. Sometimes it just comes over me. A little wave of sadness and I am low for a while. I still go to work and see friends and eat dinner, but everything feels a bit muted as if I am doing it all through steamed goggles. Once I come out of my funk (and usually do quite quickly), everything looks sharper and brighter and my creative juices start flowing again. It is the same with photography. I stopped taking photos in November because life got just a bit too stressful. And then I was ill. I must have a very crap immune system since I catch everything that comes along. I was sick for a whole week of my holiday and then sniffled and snuffled my way into work the week after.

But now it is one week before Christmas, I am about to embark on a seasonal break from work until early January and of course the idea of eating, sleeping, reading and watching Christmas movies fills me with a calm sort of joy. The first seasonal thing I did was decorate Christmas cookies at a cookie decorating party. Below are some of creative efforts (I was going for a tartan theme):

Woah! That's a lot of gingerbread....and food colouring.
Once I was into decorating the cookies, I was then in full blown Christmas mode and I started decorating the flat. Unfortunately my track record with Christmas trees is pretty bad - ie. they die. Then they lie around dead for three weeks after New Year until the council comes and picks them up - which is rather disturbing. Imagine a residential street strewn with piles of dead fir trees, lit only by faded yellow street lamps. I half fancy they are going to shuttle jerkily to life and descend upon London like an apocalypse of tree zombies.

But...more to the point Christmas trees are very expensive in my neck of the woods (eg, urban city area with no actual 'natural' woods), so I popped off to Waitrose and bought some fake berry branches. I was not going to let a little thing like a lack of tree stop me. With the help of my mother (an expert at all things Christmassy), we came up with a beautiful, yet beguiling table decoration:

I name it 'The ClaraJean Berry Tree' - with added origami birds.
After decorating the house, attending a cookie party, five Christmas parties and events at work (one of which ended with the whole room smelling of alcohol and my colleagues doing the Macarena at 8pm - much to early in the evening for such cheesy music) and a visit to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park (complete with rum laced mulled wine and currywurst), I decided it was time to force my husband to sit through one of my favourite Christmas traditions - the obligatory Disney movie! This year I chose Frozen. It seemed appropriate. The heating in our flat has long been dysfunctional and this year two heaters gave up the ghost completely. Kaput. No warmth or interest from landlord to fix the situation. We migrate from room to room dragging our oil radiator on wheels behind us like sad pilgrims. We have blown the yearly-thermal-long-underwear budget and I routinely wear four to five layers of clothes, even in bed. Luckily my husband and I are now used to this state, having lived without heating on and off for more than three years.Someday we will be able to afford our place and fill it with insulation and heat it like the Bahamas whenever we want. Until that day, we visit the local multiplex regularly to indulge in their utterly environmentally-unfriendly habit of roasting a movie audience.

Frozen is a great Disney movie. It has all the classic elements of what you wish for in an animated production from Disney - a love story, family values, a plucky heroine, a sarcastic hero, some pleasing musical numbers, beautiful animation and a talking snowman. Who doesn't love a talking snowman? I also really enjoyed the design of the world the movie portrays, which appeared to be both Swedish and Norwegian. Even my husband, who professes to be not interested in children's films, yet eyeballs them with gusto whenever I persuade him to watch one with me, loved it. The whole experience was made all the more charming by a little girl in the front of the cinema who giggled hilariously whenever the talking snowman, Olaf, appeared on screen (see! I told you! Everyone likes a talking snowman!). Before long, my husband and I were giggling at the little girl giggling. One of my favourite scenes of the movie was this one.

For those of you watching on a mobile device:

I have a Swedish colleague at work and she even finds this funny. 'He's Swedish!' she exclaimed when I showed it to her! I spent the rest of the day going 'Yoohoo' at her, which she seemed to enjoy, until I was finally silenced by a mince pie.
But of course one of the main parts of a Disney movie is the music. I can sing from memory many of the Disney songs I heard as a child, including from films such as Bambi and Dumbo (which I must have seen when I was four or five). The big number from Frozen was 'Let It Go' performed by Idina Menzel (famous for her role in Wicked, the Musical and Glee). Idina has a pretty powerful voice and I felt that she fitted the character of the Snow Queen Elsa perfectly.

For those of you on a mobile advice, you can access the video here:

I loved the visual effects on the big cinema screen during this scene. Several people in the audience swayed back and forth during this song and I was sure someone was going to spring up and pounce around the aisle to this musical number. I also loved how this story was set in the same universe as the Disney film Tangled. What can I say? I love continuity in films! In November there was some controversy surrounding the design of the female characters in Frozen. Feminists objected to their large doe-like eyes and their tiny waists. I suppose they thought it would give little girls an unrealistic idea of what a female body should look like. I can see the point they were making, but since it is animation, most of what is in the film is exaggerated anyway and unrealistic. There is a talking snowman for god's sake! It is a cartoon and designed to be fun. I think if we want start a dialogue on bad female body-image then I think we should look at the front covers of women's magazines and the amount of photo-shopping that is done to produce those images. The female characters in Frozen were the stars of the show. They were brave heroines and they took charge of their destinies in a far more liberated way than Cinderella or Snow White ever did in previous Disney adaptations.

All can say is Well Done Disney! I will be singing 'Let it Go' in the shower tomorrow!