So that was Christmas and what have you done? Another year over, a new one just begun.
So what have we done? I’m not sure whether John and Yoko’s annual question relates to Christmas or the whole year. Maybe both.
The days of Christmas are soon over. The presents are unwrapped and, where appropriate, consumed. Others will be pushed into drawers and cupboards from which they may never emerge. And I will be adding a few more inches to the growing mountain of “intending to read” books by the side of my bed.
I started the Christmas vacation with the usual list of things to do. I guess we all accumulate a bow-wave of less urgent tasks which we simply never get round to in the heat of the year. We protest that we don’t have time, but really we just don’t have the energy or the inclination. Much of life’s “to do” list is a cover for a “to defer” list – too complex, difficult or plain dull to spend time on.
This is why, on the first day of the Christmas holiday, I wrote a beautifully colour-coded list of 20 items to complete by the end of the year. I would apply ruthless focus and determination to finish off these recalcitrant tasks. They may have nagged me for 2012, but would not be allowed to tarnish 2013.
And so it was, on the weekend before Christmas, I reorganised my filing cabinet, checked out my pension arrangements, replied to some old emails, tarted up my CV, cleared out my wardrobe and moved things around on my laptop. I started well. But then my motivation exited stage left, quickly followed by my mojo and I was rapidly convincing myself that I deserved to slow down and watch some TV. After all, it had been a long and busy year. Time to put my feet up with a sherry.
That lasted for the whole of Sunday evening. Then it was Christmas Eve, and we had a rush of urgent tasks to complete with a fixed deadline – tomorrow.
We mainly entertained at home this year. Apart from a quick dash up to Lancashire, we only left the house to nip to Tesco Express for more cheese, champagne or cranberry juice. In various combinations, we fed and watered eleven children, other halves and outlaws. From Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, there was an endless cycle of food preparation, table-laying, calorie consumption and removal of debris. Unfortunately Mrs B was a little under par and I rather heroically stepped up to the plate (and the dishes) to save Christmas.
In the process, I got to grips with a few less than familiar tasks. We are never too old to improve our skills. I developed a new level of fridge and dishwasher-packing expertise. I (just about) worked out the complex nuances of plastic recycling. I discovered serving dishes I didn’t know existed, lurking in the back of kitchen cupboards. And I worked out how to make a spice packet.
In between the drinking and feeding cycles, we had much fun playing games, chatting and finally, today, watching Mary Poppins together.
But now it is almost finished. Another year is over, a one has just begun. It is back to the sharp reality of day-to-day life. Work starts first thing tomorrow with an early drive to the Southampton office. And then the relentless, cold dark weeks of January and February to enjoy.
One child has departed, the second will leave in the morning and the third will loiter a little longer before returning to university. We feel the physical wrench of parents being separated from our children and once again wish we lived closer together and could see more of them. Christmas is synonymous with family time, and they sadly depart almost together.
And so, back to John and Yoko’s question. What did we do with Christmas 2012 and with the year which has just retired gracefully into our collective memory? Did we finish lots of tasks? Did we just do the quick, essential ones, or did we address a few of the more important challenging ones? Ones that might have made a positive difference to our future? Either way – is our “to do” list any shorter?
Or maybe, just maybe, we did a bit of slowing down and enjoying life, freed of the need to “do” or even “be”. In this respect, Mary Poppins may have revealed part of the answer; “Let’s go fly a kite, up to the highest height and send it soaring. Up through the atmosphere, up where the air is clear”.
I’m not sure it is that easy. There is no magic wand, and certainly no magic umbrella. The urgent will continue to dictate and consume our day-to-day energies. We may or may not get round to some of those more difficult longer-term challenges. Will all our good intentions and resolutions fare better than last year’s? (Mine was to be published – I failed!)
But a little more flying of kites in clear air would probably be good for us all. Up in the atmosphere, high above the day-to-day tasks, beyond our self-replenishing “to do” list. Doing something purely for the enjoyment, freed of responsibilities and obligations. Maybe I will just pick up one of those books. It will be a start.