I saw the lights

Marking the occasion with cheese and tea

The balloon from my birthday is still drifting around my flat. It’s nearly deflated but the small amount of air keeps it upright and gently swaying like a cheerful ghost. The sense of quiet celebration lingers. I graduated from an Executive MBA course this week and whilst celebrations may be confined to Zoom, they still count.

I’ve got good memories from the birthday weekend spent in an Airbnb house with my family (I’m not calling it a cottage as the listing did – it was a house in my book!) And what a house it was, with a huge kitchen and living space, all mod cons, the biggest TV I’ve seen, wood-burner, multiple bedrooms and a connected annex for more sleeping space! This house had every comfort I can imagine, except perhaps a live-in cat!

The house was in a village near Bath, an area I’ve always loved because my Mum grew up in Bristol and we had frequent trips there. Though my grandparents have long passed away, I always feel a little closer to my Grandma when I’m in the West Country. She was very proud of the area and would tell everyone “I’m from Bristol you know” with a regal air.

One photo from the weekend is of me bleary-eyed at 7.30am (too early) trying to help my niece build an ice-cream van out of lego. We’d become comfortable being around each other in the house, a challenge these days. I realised that during the pandemic I’ve struggled to feel safe in other people’s homes, even with my closest friends and family. It’s a natural consequence of the isolation we’ve had for so long. That moment when you greet someone and shrink back from a hug is painful. It’s hard to relax when your interior monologue is: should you be staying distanced, wearing the mask, opening the window? Thanks to vaccines plus a bit of birthday luck, we shared a few days together without the worry.

I’m pleased with my decision to order a cake of cheese for the occasion. A wheel of brie adorned with meats, fruit and nuts accompanied by crackers and chutney kept us going for days. I had a traditional sponge cake too but the cheese with a few glasses of wine was the favourite. I also had lovely complementary gifts from friends – grown up skincare and make-up from Estée Lauder, red lipstick and reusable bamboo cotton pads (a new idea to stop using disposable stuff). I’m excited to think this decade is the one I become a person with a ‘skincare routine’ as opposed to a person who splashes their face with water, rubs moisturiser on haphazardly and tries to conceal under-eye circles and spots with minimal success. At the same time I like not spending hours fixing my face, so let’s see this evolves.

Afternoon tea featured highly this month too – a wonderful M&S afternoon tea hamper sent by my cousin, afternoon tea kindly arranged by my sister at the Bath pump rooms and a London hotel tea with a friend. Having a chat over a cup of tea or 3, with sandwiches, cake and a glass of champagne, is a joy. And the beauty of this ritual is it’s as nourishing at home with PG tips, bread and butter and My Kipling’s French Fancies, if slightly more upmarket in a glamorous location. But you can wear jogging bottoms or pyjamas for the former.

A tentative return to travel and slides

I’m not sure how but I also managed a return to overseas travel in the last couple of months. There is a guilt in admitting this now, as I know lots of people are still cancelling trips. I feel like I’ve pulled off a heist, the few steps from passport control to the airport exit being the main chance to intercept me before I walked free. Despite expecting to be rugby-tackled to the ground, I made it out.

I finally got to meet my work colleagues in Dublin after a year of remote working! It was nostalgic because I stayed in the same hotel I’d been to on prior occasions years ago. This time I really appreciated meeting people and their efforts to come to say hi in a time when everyone is still working from home. It’s the little chats over coffee or drinks that make the difference and it made me look forward to the possibility of spending more time together. This is a new beginning.

I also managed a long weekend in Copenhagen. I’ve had a fascination for Danish culture after reading The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. This book fits into a niche I love – stories about relocating somewhere else in the world and exploring all the weird and wonderful differences. The higher taxes in Denmark fund an education system and childcare that everyone can access, leading to a more equal society in some ways. Of course the cultural insights are limited in a very short trip, but I did find these behaviours interesting: following the rules collectively (shown by no mask-wearing when it wasn’t mandatory and immediate compliance when it was) and a trust for each other (open cloakrooms in many restaurants and museums to leave your coat). There was also a directness to the communication and a polite refusal to change any policies (we were told on numerous occasions that splitting a bill is not acceptable and one person must pay!)

The famous hygge coziness idea was in evidence with the Christmas markets, fairy lights, candles and beautiful interiors. Tivoli Gardens at night (pictured) was so fantastic, with visual spectacles in every direction. Visiting on a rainy Sunday night put a lot of people off, so for a magical hour before closing we had the park pretty much to ourselves. It felt like being in a film, everything so clean, organised and thoughtfully constructed. There would be a Christmas tree in a perfectly sized pot, suspended in the air with a dusting of fake snow, artfully lit at just the right angle. Imagine that times a million! It could feel fake and gaudy but definitely didn’t. It was just very atmospheric.

I went down a high-speed slide in the architectural museum, which was absolutely terrifying and made my head throb but also felt exhilarating. Having had the wrist fracture this year, I’m extremely cautious of anything active and yet watching kids and my friend zoom down made me try it. This follows another less high-octane slide experience in the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, London. Inside the Ice Kingdom of ice sculptures you find an ice slide. It looked gentle enough for me to glide down, but being a bulky adult wearing a bulky coat meant I slowed half-way and had to push myself down by the sides, freezing my hands in the process. Despite the being the least elegant slide user ever, I gave it all a go.

Everything is redeemable

This is a line from a book called Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, the best book I’ve read all year. I’m taking this message into 2022.

One thought on “I saw the lights

  1. A real treat this month. Still stuck at home recuperating, I enjoyed travelling with you and vicariously enjoying your birthday which must be close to mine!

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