Christmas and loneliness

Christmas is almost here, only one sleep to go. I’ve done what food prep I can for tomorrow and just hope Number 1 Nephew shows up with the ham as promised or I’ll be scrambling to feed everyone with tins of beans.

Christmas is renowned for being a high stress time of year, either because we’re with family or because we’re not. Damned if we do etc. I’ve been thinking a lot about past Christmasses spent on my own and how choosing to be alone is so very different from being alone because there’s no other option.

I’m thinking particularly of the elderly. In the paper there was a story about a Meals on Wheels volunteer who was making the regular weekly meal delivery to one of his charges, when the customer asked if he could spare 5 minutes to come inside. The elderly woman just wanted someone to be there with her when she opened her Christmas present.

This choked me up. It seems desperately sad that at the end of her life this woman was so isolated. It’s not uncommon, I know, but it seems like a terrible indictment of our way of life that this happens.

My love of solitude, my preference for spending time alone, may mean I never experience this kind of loneliness. Or it might lead me to exactly this point. I don’t know.

My father struggles with loneliness, not that he’ll admit it. He does all sorts of irritatingly demanding things that make me cross and it’s only later I realise they are driven by loneliness. He doesn’t call it that because I’m not sure he realises it’s that.

What strikes me, thinking about this, is how a lifetime spent pretending all is fine can become a handicap later in life when you can’t ask for what you need. The woman who asked the meal delivery man to be there while she opened her present at least managed that. It takes real courage to ask someone to help you be less lonely.


How to do Christmas alone

With only three weeks to go, small talk has begun to focus on what people are doing for Christmas.

My preference was and is to spend it alone and do things I enjoy, invariably solitary pursuits of minimal interest to anyone else. Over the years I’ve developed the following approach to having a successful Christmas alone:

  1. Plan your solo day with the same forethought as you would if you were hosting Other People for Christmas at your place.
  2. Make sure you have food you like to eat, and make it a bit special. A bag of chips and a glass of red wine is fine (?!) for a Friday night dinner but Christmas dinner needs to be better planned. Since it’s summer at this end of the world my preference is salmon and salad with a special dessert like French chocolate tart. And bubbles.
  3. Decorate the house however you like. Or not at all. I never used to because I didn’t like the mishmash of decorations I had, but I finally got rid of them and spent a few hours making decorations. I’m much happier with my homemade strings of paper stars. It feels like me.
  4. Buy a present for yourself, something you really want. Wrap it and put it under the tree. Don’t unwrap it until Christmas Day. This is called delayed gratification and it means you’ll enjoy it all the more when you finally unwrap it. In my case I usually buy myself a book so I can spend the day reading it. I look forward to unwrapping the book because that signals the start of a day spent reading. Bliss.
  5. Do things you enjoy doing, and nothing you don’t. If you want to read all day, do that. If you want to lie in the grass and count daisies, do that. If you want to drive backroads singing Glen Campbell songs, do that.
  6. If anyone asks about your plans for Christmas, and you don’t want to tell people you’re spending it alone (because they will judge and will likely pity you then insist you join them or someone because they can’t deal with you being alone) you may have to dissemble a little. I usually respond “oh the usual, food, presents, what about you?” when I’m asked what I’m doing this year. It’s perfectly true.

So that’s it. Christmas on your terms. I can highly recommend it.

I’ve had Christmases alone for probably 20 years, off and on. Lately with my elderly widowed father and me the only child in town I’ve had to sacrifice my solitary Christmases to keep him company. This year, nephews 1 and 2 plus partner 1 and child 1 are all going to be in town and I’m having to host it. It’ll be the biggest and most peopled Christmas I’ve had since I was a teenager.

Much as I love my nephews, I’ll miss my solitary Christmas.

Avoiding Hallowe’en

I have no interest in Hallowe’en . It wasn’t a thing when I was a kid, and has only become a thing since retailers here realised they too could make money off a holiday just like their US counterparts do.

I refuse to buy candy in case kids come knocking, because if they don’t come I’m stuck with candy that I have no interest in eating. This has happened often enough in the past for me to now refuse to play ball.

I am a curmudgeon. I am at peace with it.

Actually I forgot about it this year, which was a mistake. I didn’t close the curtains and was lying on my couch watching tv when I heard footsteps on the porch and a loud banging at the door. Unfortunately for me, you can see into my living room from the door, so I could see the kids out there in their costumes, and eventually they would see me.

So I did what any self-respecting curmudgeonly adult who hates Hallowe’en and has been caught out on the night at home with no candy would do: I pretended to be asleep.

When those kids grow up they’ll realise I was faking it. No one could sleep through the telly blaring away and their very loud and persistent knocking on the door.

Eventually they went away. I am certain they will have acquired enough candy from other sources that my non participation will have had zero effect on their evening’s happiness.

Bothering the doctor

I’ve been watching a rather hilarious show, Very British Problems. Most of it is about avoiding people in a variety of situations.

One comedian had a great definition of her best friends: the ones who cancel on her. She maintains this is perfect because they keep in touch and intend to see one another but cancel so they don’t actually have to see each other.

Clearly I have a LOT of British DNA in me.

Another example: “I don’t like going to the doctor’s because I feel like I’m annoying them”. Ha! That’s me to a ‘T’.

I did go to the doctor on Friday though. I went because my taste buds had been seriously messed up after using a new toothpaste and the taste was taking a long time to come back. There’s little worse than chocolate that tastes like soap.

I decided to walk there and halfway I had to sit down on the ground because I felt like I was going to collapse. By the time I got to the surgery I was sweating, breathless and feeling dreadful.

That spun out into tests, and that was my day gone. The tests showed nothing much, which is good (not serious) and bad (no idea what’s going on). Conclusion: a virus. Thank god for viruses, they explain everything that doesn’t show up on a test.

It’s a few days later now and I’m still here, so all good. I don’t really know what’s going on but if I get worse I’ll be back to bother the doctor again.

Meanwhile, I’ve had an excuse (feeling poorly) to cancel any plans with friends this weekend.

Bad things come in threes

I fear I angered the insurance gods.

I decided a couple of weeks ago that, as part of my plan to save money for building on my estate, I would review my insurance cover and see if I was getting a good deal.

I called another company and got quotes for car, house and contents. He asked if I wanted the optional windscreen insurance ($69 extra). I said no. I’ve had a car for almost 30 years and never had to replace a windscreen. The house and contents insurance was a few hundred dollars cheaper and I made a note to call my insurance broker and switch the cover over.

About two days after I received the quote, we had a big storm blow through, the kind where the weather service puts out alerts about minimising travel and tying down the trampoline. It was very windy and very noisy and at some point during the night I was woken by a very loud bang. I didn’t get out of bed to investigate.

The neighbour is in the midst of replacing his windows, and for some days a rather large window frame with three sash windows (minus glass) has been propped against his front wall. It was this frame that had blown over onto the footpath and created the midnight bang.

My car was parked outside his house. The frame had missed it by about a centimetre. I left the frame where it was, checked over my car, it was unscathed so I went off to work. I returned to find the window frame restored to its previous position against the wall.

A day later I went to drive it and discovered that the side of the car was scratched, and the windscreen had a long crack in it. I was very annoyed about the scratches as no one had left a note but it was clear they’d done it when lifting up the frame. The crack could have been done by anything. So I called my broker, got the okay on the windscreen replacement and took the car in.

Two days later I came downstairs to find a pool of water on the kitchen floor and more dripping from one of the recessed light in the ceiling. There is nothing worse than finding a leak inside because it’s such a Pandora’s box: you never know what horrors will be revealed as you open things up to find where it’s coming from.

Not having a regular plumber I called my builder instead, who, god bless him, came over within the hour, recommended a good plumber (who miraculously appeared about 30 mins later) and between the two of them they traced the water back to its source – mercifully not the toilet as originally feared but a cold water inlet pipe to the handbasin.

I now have a series of holes in walls tracing what looks like the destructive path of a giant rat in search of the fountain of youth. To mix metaphors. The siding is off the house to let it all dry out (luckily no rot: the water can’t have been there for long) and we’ve had four days of nice weather.

I called my insurance, the wall repairs etc are covered so it’s just a question of whether it’s more than the excess.

What did I take from all this? Three life lessons:

  1. A tradie who you trust and can call on in an emergency is worth his or her weight in gold particularly when you live on your own and have no one to turn to in moments of crisis
  2. Bad things do come in threes – I’m counting the windscreen, the scratches and the flood
  3. Insurance is not to be messed with

I have abandoned my attempt to save money on my insurance. I have good cover, I pay good money for premiums, and I’ve never made a claim before this past week. But I’ve also stared into the abyss of what can happen after a major catastrophe like the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, so I know the value of a good policy.

And I can take a hint from the universe.

Am I losing my marbles?

I lost one of my good kitchen knives the other day. It's about a 25cm long chef's knife so we're not talking small paring knife size: fairly hard to lose.

At first I thought my Monday guest might have used it and put it away in a drawer instead of in the knife block. I searched every drawer: no sign.

I checked the dishwasher in case it was there or had fallen through the racks. No sign.

In desperation I decided to systematically go through every drawer and cupboard in the kitchen. Including the trash, which is where I found it.

I am completely baffled by how it got there. I have no memory of putting it there, and can't think how I could have accidentally swept it up along with vegetable scraps without noticing and dumped it in there.

Look, I realise this is a completely trivial event in the scheme of things. I didn't even have to buy a new knife. But what really bothers me about it is that I have no memory of doing this.

Other worrying things in the past few weeks: I left the oven on for hours after removing the baking; and I left a gas burner on for about 45mins after taking the pan off it.

This is the stuff of old age. It's my nightmare of becoming That (Old) Person who does weird random stuff, hiding keys in the fridge and getting paranoid that people are breaking into my house and stealing my socks just because I can't find them.

And of course, fear of Alzheimer's.

Realistically what I think happened was that I was talking to my Monday guest and absent mindedly tossed it away without paying any attention to what I was doing. At least I hope that's what it was.

It's more proof that I just cannot talk and cook, or do any two things at once. I'm thinking I might just need to pay attention to what I'm doing. The stove and oven events were the same problem, thinking about something else altogether and not paying attention to what I was doing.

More evidence that mindfulness matters. If only to stop me from burning down the house.

A mid winter trip 

I booked in a few days’ leave to travel with a friend visiting from Australia. It’s not the time of year that I’d pick for a trip but she announced she was coming and that was that. 

Naturally, visiting my estate was on the list of places to go. (I’m rather pretentiously referring to it these days as “my estate”, mainly because I can and it makes me laugh to say it). It’s a four hour drive so I thought we could go a bit further over the next few days, visit a few tourist spots and drive home the scenic route. 

All of which seemed like a not unreasonable plan, except that I didn’t actually want to go on holiday at this time of year, I had to do all the driving and all the bookings and planning, and I went down with the flu the week before. She used to live here, so it wasn’t as if it was a once in a lifetime trip either. 

I knew what I was in for on this trip, which meant I could mentally prepare for 5 days of company. I knew I’d be doing the listening: knowing I wasn’t going to be listened to meant I didn’t expect the conversation to go two ways. I mentally noted one day that during a 2.5h stretch of uninterrupted driving, I made one substantive contribution to the conversation, which wasn’t followed up on, and the rest was all her. I wasn’t passive: I was expected to, and did, ask questions, probe complicated situations and react appropriately to scandals and outrages. I didnt tune out. But it was tiring and my resentment did build.  

It wasn’t until I’d dropped her at another friend’s house for the remainder of her stay, that it suddenly dawned on me I’d volunteered for this. I was under absolutely no obligation to take time off just because she came to visit. I’d fallen into the social trap of doing what I thought was the socially expected thing rather than sticking to what I wanted, enjoyed, and was willing to give. I resented it more because I’d felt pushed into it than because of the near-complete lack of reciprocity (although that didn’t help). In short, I felt used. 

But it’s my own fault. There’s nothing malicious in what she did, she’s just self absorbed. I’m the one who first ignored what I needed and wanted. She just walked through a door I’d already opened.