Monday, 5 January 2009

The inevitable post-Christmas crash

As I was putting away the last of the Christmas decorations this afternoon, I couldn't help but ponder the cyclical nature of things.

I was having a few "deep" thoughts -- death, morality, war and such -- but mostly I was thinking about my melancholy task, the upcoming January birthday season, my complete inability to keep to my New Year's resolutions (already!) and the defensive driving class that I took last night.

For me, January is the cruellest month -- never mind what T.S. Eliot said.

My living room looks so spare and empty without the Christmas greenery and baubles -- and the landscape outside my windows is equally drab and uninviting. I know that the post-holiday letdown will eventually follow the burst bubble of seasonal anticipation, but my feelings about it are just as fresh every time. Equally predictable? The fact that my eager decorating helpers (ie, children) will be suspiciously scarce when it comes to the Christmas shakedown.

The next three weekends will be given over to birthdays - mine, then youngest daughter's, then Sigmund's. Interspersed between these are the birthdays of an extraordinary number of friends, other relatives and godchildren. You would think that we made some pact to only consort with January babies. It's like Christmas all over again, but I've already used up the good gift ideas.

I have pretty much the same feelings about my birthday as I do about New Year's Eve: I would prefer ignoring it, but on balance it makes me feel worse to do nothing about it than something. My birthday often falls on the first day back to school -- appropriate, as it always has something of that cold, achy and unwilling quality to it. One of my childhood birthday parties had to be cancelled because of snow -- statistically improbable in central Texas -- and I've been emotionally guarded about the day ever since. Sadly, my children's birthdays -- which I once did enjoy -- now have a similarly feet-dragging quality about them. I still like making the birthday cake, but other than that, they seem to be a complex negotiation involving How Much? and How Many? I find that mass sleepovers have little to offer the parent.

Honestly, I'm in a bad position regarding gift-receiving. We opened nearly all of our presents on December 13th, before we left for the Bahamas, and none of them have been formally thank-you noted. As with emails, I find it best to "strike" when the gift (and gratefulness) are still fresh. A tardy thank-you note just always feels stale -- both for the giver and the recipient.

And that reminds me: I haven't done a durn thing about catching up with my emails. I know that developing better correspondence habits is a long-haul kind of resolution, but my start has been so slow that it doesn't bode well for the mid-stretch. I've also broken my promise to Sigmund -- that we would go to bed at a decent (ie, before midnight) time. No matter how much I can acknowledge that going to bed earlier and waking earlier would contribute to better moods and greater productivity, my natural body rhythms are resistant. I could hardly be expected to go bed last night at 11 pm when I had only awakened at 11 am. Right? Also, the six hours lost to my defensive driving course meant that I had hardly experienced life that day.

What was I thinking when I signed up (in November) to take a defensive driving course on Sunday, January 4, from 5 pm to 9 pm? I had nearly forgotten about it altogether, because I still haven't flipped over to the new 2009 calendar. I was shopping in Waitrose, thinking about the nice roast dinner I was going to make for my grateful family (who had been living off of leftovers since January 1st), when it came to me in a blinding and sickening brain-flash. I barely had time to drive home, thrust an already roasted chicken in the general direction of my husband, and speed (well, not literally; this being the crime that I was "done" for) down the motorway to the appointed destination. I suppose that there never is a good time for this sort of thing, but a Sunday night coming off of a holiday seems like a particularly bad time. There was an upside, though. One of the participants, an amazingly chatty Australian, had obviously decided to have a post-holiday clearout -- and had brought boxes of biscuits and Quality Street to pass around. There was also a coffee machine which freely dispensed coffee and hot chocolate -- and all of the inmates took full advantage of this amenity. (The woman behind me drank six hot chocolates -- not that I noticed.) Yes, there was about one hour of information dragged out to fill four, but at least we had snacks.

Artificial group activities are always fascinating to me. Even in a crowd of middle-aged, white people -- yes, we were truly a bourgeois set of rule-breakers -- you could immediately tell who were going to be the talkers, the leaders, the clowns and the non-participants. Temporary bonds form (and antipathies rear up) no matter how limited the interaction. I did learn a few things, though.
  • Only 4% of collisions occur on motorways. You really need to watch out for the intersections and rural roads.
  • There are approximately 300 speed cameras in the Thames Valley, but only 30 or so will be actually working at any given time. They get moved around. Apparently, it costs about 30,000 pounds to install each one, but they can't afford to keep them all running at the same time as there would be too many offences to deal with.
  • There were slightly less than 3000 fatalities in 2007 - the lowest number since 1934. A dubious sort of progress.
  • You will be offered a defensive driving course if you don't have any points on your license, and if you were not going more than 10 miles over the speed limit. After completing your course, you get a "clean slate" again. My criminal record has now been expunged . . . I suppose that's some kind of January progress.


Brave Sir Robin said...


A law breaker!!!


I LOATHE those classes.

That is such an interesting observation, about the talkers, class clowns, etc.... As adults, we seldom get thrust into those types of situations, but how quickly we slide back into our schoolyard selves when confronted with a group setting, huh?

Which were you? I'm guessing you were the quiet one, who only offered the correct answer when several others missed the question first.

I too miss the decorations. The boys lamented yesterday how empty the room looks without the tree.

At least you have all of the birthdays to keep the festivities moving??

Elizabeth said...

I'm glad I'm no longer hanging out with the criminal classes.
Yes, one should look at those gatherings of the unwilling - airports/hospitals etc as fodder for short stories or something.
Sorry January finds you glum.
Yes, lots and lots of January birthdays which makes the mating season some time in May (I think).
English spring comes much sooner than the NY one.
We may cheat and go to India but need to do much research first.
Happy Birthday next week.

Word verification: COMMODIC

Some sort of mixture of comedic and a commode?
Is this what life has become?

Vodka Mom said...

I'd like to teach the class called how to drive like you're flying...

willow said...

Sorry you are feeling down after the holidays. At least your decor is all put away. I haven't even started to box up the festivity trimmings! It's just not quite as enjoyable as putting them up.

willow said...

Yes! I own a copy of "Strapless". The history behind the painting is fascinating, don't you think?

Beth said...

Considering the defensive driving course you mentioned, I found your post title rather amusing!

And I think everyone should add just one more resolution to their lists - don't feel guilty if you don't accomplish your resolutions!

Lisa said...

Oh, yes. The putting away of holiday decorations. Such a lonely job. I finally finished yesterday and heaved a sigh of relief. Resident Evil's birthday is Wednesday, the same day they go back to school. I've held her off for planning a party, but I'm not going to get away with that for very long.

Sleepovers? No thank you. I'm going to look into the pottery place in town. Two hours and done, I'm thinking

Anyway - happy birthday early!

Lucy said...

A small artificial tree can, I've found be grasped manfully and shoved in a carrier bag, with all the decorations still on it and carried upstairs in almost one deft movement! Actually, I rather like the empty spaces after the Christmas stuff comes down, it's rather like that story of the woman who complained of not having enough room in her hovel, and was advised to bring the cow, the sheep and the pig into her house. Then when she took them out again, she realised how much room she had! Anyway, the 12th Night tradition is essential, here they don't have it and leave it all there until some time in mid-February when it falls apart naturally. It's so depressing!

I am rather tickled to think of the poetic retribution of all that Maytime frolicking resulting in miserable January birthdays, but it seems a shame to feel that glum in one's birthday month.

Unavoidable though, January is the pits, though since acquiring Scots friends I find Burns Night cheers it up a bit.

I know that about the motorways having fewer accidents, but they do tend to be the gruesomely fatal ones, so I still hate the big roads.

Anyway, I'm glad you've been officially pardoned, and hope you have a good birthday withal; perhaps you could beg a day in bed with a book for your birthday present. It's good to have you back!

JaneyV said...

You were able to get your record expunged? I have that awful 3 points hanging over my license. 37 in a 30 zone. Surely I should've qualified for the the four hours of penance-then-forgiveness you were offered. The irritating thing is that I had been stopped at traffic lights at the bottom of a hill just before. I drive an old mini-van that requires a bit of extra revving to get it up a hill from stopped. I was just checking my speed and correcting when a light went off in my face! Of course I have driven too fast on many other occasions but on that day I really don't think I deserved it!!! I also think that the camera facing you and flashing you from the front is a bit dangerous. Still I paid my £60 and took my points. At the end of the day I was speeding.
When I go to classes like that, I revert to giggling at the back or being class swot depending on the situation.

I know what you mean about January. It just seems to drag. It feels like it's the last month of the hibernation season and should be month of quiet reflection and taking everything real slow. It goes against all nature intended to be busy. It's no wonder that the parties don't enthuse you. My sister's birthday is January and she's always hated it too. Also I hate to be a stickler Elizabeth but all that frolicking took place in April (think lambs, easter eggs, pagan fertility festivals - it all makes sense!)

I hope your birthday is restful and calm.

As for sleepovers - ACK!

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Oh poor you, that class! But better than points.

I am on the upswing from the gloomy days of November and December. So happy that there's been sun since our return from Texas and, of course, I am delirious about the ever so slightly longer days.

Happy, happy birthdays to you all! Roxi celebrate's her 14th at the end of the month, speaking of mass sleepovers and baking birthday cake. I think we'll take her and her best friend for dinner and a musical in town. There might be a big sleepover thing too as this is the last year the friends will be together. Half of "the posse" is going home for good in June.

BTW, I know you just got back from being away, but I must tell you that celebrating my birthday out of town was the best thing I've ever done! :-)

Bee said...

BSR - I wonder if there is ANYONE who never speeds? It must be the most frequently broken law. I felt slightly aggrieved, as I am actually not much of a speeder at all -- especially on the motorways here, which do somewhat terrify me. As for my "group" personality, I tend to be a talker and a leader . . . sometimes a subversive chatter, but not on this occasion. I have a complete inability to let a teacher-figure just hang out there in silence. I always have to help him/her out.

(I wish that I experienced the birthdays as festive . . . sadly, I just regard them as WORK. Sigmund and I are going to go to London to see Carousel as a sort of joint present; now that is the kind of present I like.)

Elizabeth - You were very sly about your actual birthdate . . . do you like to keep it lowkey (or just private?).
India sounds exciting! I do agree that one of the nice things about England is that spring comes earlier. Only 6 or so weeks until we have snowdrops!

Vodka Mom - I can't quite envision your fantasy class!

Willow - Do you have some sort of ritual about taking all of the holiday things down? We try to stick to Twelfth Night, but we aren't fanatical. I'm really enjoying the Sargent story . . . not at all surprised that you've read it!

Beth - Yes, I was not unaware of the word "crash" in that context! Hee hee. I shouldn't laugh, though, as my husband backed into a friend's car on Saturday night. Sigh.

I will probably have to adopt a forgiving attitude toward myself about my resolutions . . . but they are all things that I truly do need to be better about.

Lisa - A pottery party sounds perfect! Unfortunately, little daughter's guest list is mired in that familiar tussle: "If I invite this person, then I have to invite that person." She goes to a small school, so birthday parties are social landmines.

Lucy - I am tickled by the idea of being able to stuff, Grinch-like, all of one's Xmas bits into a large carrier bag. Our Xmas paraphenalia and tree(s) are way too extensive for that sort of treatment.

Yes, I've heard that Burns Night is great fun. We don't have enough Scots in our lives.

JaneyV - Perhaps your county is not as civilized about such things? Apparently, the Thames Valley is quite well-organized when it comes to traffic violations. By the by, the course was almost 90 pounds - so it was hardly a financial savings!

Thanks for pointing out that April is the mating month. I noticed that, too! With youngest daughter, a group of us went away for the Easter holidays (to Tobago) - and four of us became pregnant!

Dave King said...

When I was learning to drive my instructor thought he was delivering a defensive driving course. It's sort of put me off them since.

Audrey said...

What a bummer! All the way around and every where you look. I hate this time of the year. I've always been taken aback by my husband's insistence that the tree and all the trimmings be down by the 5th (or 6th and I know there's a name for this but I can't remember). When I was growing up we didn't put the tree up until Christmas Eve and so it was invariably up...until Feb! It always feels abrupt to me this early January deadline.

And, "speed awareness" to boot! Ugh. I think you really capture the group dynamics of these situations really well. I was offered a speed awareness class when I got a ticket last year driving 34 in a 30 at 7:30 am in Bournemouth on my way to a swim meet. I was so outraged that I turned it down in favour of the fine. Yes, I showed them!

Jane Green said...

Bee - adore that wallpaper at the top... is it Cole & Son? am thinking it needs to be in Figless Manor... Happy new year! J x

Braja said...

Buy yourself a life-sized Hanuman, Ganesh, or Krishna deity where the Xmas tree was. No, really....


Alan said...

That sounds just like Houston with all the camera. Try to stop in tomorrow and play the Robot Nine Picture Puzzle

Nimble said...

I love the word 'expunged'! It reminds me of Agnes Gooch in the Auntie Mame movie: "I'm yer sponge!"

Nimble said...

Oh and I am perverted I realize, but I like taking down the Christmas stuff and stashing it away as quickly as I can. I find it terribly depressing if it's left up too long. Enjoy it and then banish it is my motto. To continue with my weirdness, I even surprised myself by doing a little bit of new year's cleaning. Not that you could tell by the appearance of the house a week on...

Jan said...

Groups fascinate!
I run 2 writing groups; it's great having so many " characters"...
AND it's probably also taught me as much about myself as about the folk in the group!!

Beeswax said...

Ah! I forgot that I had been called up for jury duty this morning! So I quickly postposed it online. Forgetting is a sickening feeling, isn't it?

I only wish all my holiday decor was down and out of the house. I like the empty, clean look of the place after it is all gone.

Bee said...

Naughty Blogger ate my comments!! In a shorter version:

JAPRA - We must have cross-blogged! I'm not surprised that Roxi is a Jan birthday; I liked that girl from the start.

Dave - I don't mind some dd tips, but I do regret that 20 minutes of information required 4 hours of waffling!

Audrey - I'm sure that you did show them, honey. (snicker)

Jane - Good eye! Yes, the paper is Cole & Son's Hummingbird print. You definitely need some English wallpaper for your American manor. Thanks for visiting me. xx

Braja - Do you provide a deity advisory service?

Alan - Would love to check out the puzzle. First thing in the a.m.

Nimble - Expunged is definitely one of the underutilized words in the lexicon. When it comes to Xmas, I know that less should be more . . . but it just feels like less. A spot of cleaning is good, though.

Jan - I would love to be an observer (or participant!) in one of your writing classes. What a great gig.

Beeswax - You can postpone jury duty? Our class was very clear that you would lose your money if you didn't show. No rescheduling.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, your title made me laugh. I spent yesterday clearing up after house guests and taking down the tree. There are pine needles everywhere thanks to the 12th night tradition. Today was the day of bills and replying to holiday cards as we didn’t send our own. I’ve only written one thank you note. The only thing worse than the holiday rush is this.

We are having similar issues on sleepovers, or rather wake-overs. It’s such a negotiation. I give up and go to sleep myself.

Henry’s and my birthdays are less than a week apart too but later in winter. It makes it harder to do something uniquely special. You should still figure out a way to treat yourself – go to London for the day? Happy Birthday!

I went through one of those active speed cameras in Oxford before I knew they were there. I couldn’t have been going more than a few miles above the limit and have never gotten a ticket in the US.

Your beachside Christmas looked like good fun – no wonder you are feeling blue now. I comfort myself on the coldest January days by reminding myself that the days are getting longer. It’s good to get out in the sun when it’s there.

Anne said...

What an awful welcome home from vacation, having to go to that class! I am missing the Christmas decorations in our house, too, but the removal of the Christmas tree from the living room further emphasizes the cleanliness and lack of clutter in the room, so I'm not as down about it as I ordinarily am.

It just occurred to me that in our rush this morning to get the tree out to the curb before the trash (or "rubbish") truck arrived, we forgot to take down the wreath that's hanging on the front door. I'll get one last bit of lovely fir fragrance before I take it down this evening.

A very happy early birthday to you! Going to London to see a show with Sigmund sounds like a wonderful way to spend it.

Alyson (New England Living) said...

Your's is the best post I've read about post-Christmas let down. You have a way with words, my friend! Has anyone ever told you that? Oh yes, I know I have at least 100 times! Sorry if I'm becoming a broken record.

I get the difficulty with early nights. I try and try to resist my natural self and get to bed at a decent hour. It is always struggle, however.

Pete said...

I can relate to the post-Christmas downswing but it did make me feel better to hear that drivers in the UK have to go for defensive driving classes for minor infractions! (Half the drivers in South Africa should definitely be made to go, especially men who drive BMWs. In fact, it should come standard.) Anyway, happy early birthday to you. And I'm really enjoying your blog. Glad that the crash was only metaphorical ;-)

Bee said...

Sarah - Don't mention the dreaded word BILLS! I have all sorts of unpleasant bill-paying to do -- including January school fees, and even worse, the property taxes on our Houston house. I had been repressing thoughts of that chore . . .

I'm not sure if you have coined the term "wake-overs," but isn't it apt?

You are so right about the longer days . . . it is starting to be noticeable, too, despite our frosty temperatures!

Anne - Ha Ha! Our wreath is dying on the door, even as we speak. I always find that some vestige of Xmas hangs around . . .

Congrats to you on your January clear-out. Nothing feels better than that kind of fresh slate.

Alyson - Don't worry; you can bore me with praise any time you want! (chuckle)

Don't you find that blogging is appallingly seductive for those who find it difficult to go to bed? There is always someone in the world who is up!

Pete - Your comments intrigued me? Why do you like the idea of UK drivers being made to suffer at the hands of petty bureaucracy? Have you heard of the expression "Nanny State?" On the other hand, Texas drivers are infamous for running red lights . . . which you really don't get so much of here. The idea of punishment as a deterrant is an interesting topic for a psychologist . . .

Barrie said...

You sound like you're in the doldrums ( word with an interesting history). Do something nice for yourself. Dinner out? Fresh flowers? xo

Bee said...

Barrie - I think that partly what I need is the lurch of getting back into routine. On Monday, the children will finally be back in school. Sorry, but did I say FINALLY?

Alan said...

Bee, On the Robot Nine Picture Puzzle just leave your nine best guesses in the coments. Most right and-or best answers wins a FREE book from the reading room. Alan

Leon Basin said...

Hey, how are you doing?

Braja said...

A chatty Aussie passing out biscuits and chocolates? Well, I never :)))

Bee said...

Alan - I'm very bad at those sorts of things! So there's no right answer? Just good answers?

Leon - Not too bad, thanks.

Braja - Very uncharacteristic, huh?

Anonymous said...

Bee. Thinking of you a lot as I soak up the Texas rain and sunshine! Nowhere else can the temp drop so dramatically in one day. Houston is the same as always flat and familiar.
I had to hurriedly take down all the decs before I left town on Sunday. I did not want to come back to a delapidated tree. Coming back from the beach to see how may glass balls lay shattered thanks to cat antics soon grew bothersome.
If you recall G.C. once left a bouquet a flowers in a vase for 5 weeks when I was gone. You'd think the smell would give it away. I doubt the chicas and he would even notice the tree on it's side with the cats nestled between tinsel and beaded baubles.
I gather the chill temps are no fun at all. Chica 1 returned on Sunday and is layered up to the nines to keep jack Frost at bay.
Hope you get back in to the swin of things soon and have a fab b,day. Hard to belive we were able to celebrate together this time last year.

Bee said...

Bon Bon - You would not believe how frickin cold it is here today! All the world is gray . . . and covered with frost. I am so jealous that you are in Houston!

Poor R is home studying for her GCSE Biology exam on Monday.

Will try to enjoy birthday without you and the lasses. xx

Pete said...

Bee - This is a very after-the-fact follow-up but just wanted to say I'm really not in favour of a Nanny State and not in favour of punishment as a rule. Was just having a little chuckle at the absurdity of it all. I was feeling down and had a little (childish) laugh at you and your fellow defensive drivers. Anyway, you seem to have handled it with your usual charm and humour. But this is also coming from a country (SA) where we have over 700 road deaths over the Christmas season so maybe we need a little nannying here after all. You guys don't though, which is why it's funny in an absurd way ;-)

Bee said...

Pete - And I was teasing you as well! Yes, England is terribly lawful . . . and as annoying as that can be, I probably feel more comfortable here than I would do in a more lawless state.

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