2011 and all that

I’m long overdue a first post of the new year, so even though I don’t have much to write about at the moment, here goes.

The last few weeks – almost a month – seem to have been an unusually long cumulative break from the norms of reality. Somehow – despite the shops generously giving us three months’ warning with in-store displays – Christmas nonetheless caught me by surprise, suddenly appearing on the near-horizon and sending me into a major meltdown of preparation and holiday planning which seemed to take over my days completely.

I’m tempted to say “I don’t know how I ever managed to prepare for Christmas when I had a job, because it’s difficult enough even without one and with all that spare time”. But in fact I know just how I managed in previous years: by taking a whole week (or more) off work to just knuckle down to it. In other words, even in previous years I never got the hang of combining the two successfully. In that failure to multitask, I am clearly quite typically male.

Also in previous years, I’ve had a tendency to “spend my way out of trouble” when time has got too short, and this year – while money is far from a problem – I was determined not to do that and stick to “austerity” mode as far as possible. Just to handicap the whole process. Needless to say, that resolution lasted right up till the moment when time started to get too short …

Things weren’t helped by that amazing run of winter weather we had, where every day’s plans became subject to late delays and cancellations depending on exactly how much snow had fallen or ice had formed, and the capabilities of the nation’s public transport and road systems to cope. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m not good with ice underfoot: there were days when I opted to stay indoors and hunker down rather than risk setting foot outside and taking a potentially disastrous tumble.

Partly as a result of this caution, at least this year I didn’t do what I did 12 months ago and put my back out. I’d just done all my Christmas shopping preparations in 2009 when I managed to move awkwardly and absolutely disable myself for three days during which getting up and walking was impossible, and then gradually it got better over the following few days, but if I hadn’t already been ahead of schedule then Christmas would have been well and truly cancelled. It was just one of those weird, out-of-the-blue things – I’ve not had any similar back problems before or since, although it’s fair to say I’ve been rather careful ever since to make sure I don’t do anything so stupid again.

Then there was Christmas itself. In previous years I’ve been working – I tended to be among those who took on the ‘skeleton shift’ that come in over the Christmas/New Year, so that the holiday spots were freed up for those with young families. I actually always rather enjoyed working during this period, since the buses, trains, streets and offices were ghostly quiet, there was precious little work actually possible other than minding the phones and the email lines, so it was really quite restful in the “change is as good as a rest” sense. And then I’d take a week off in January instead.

That did mean that I haven’t spent Christmas Day itself with my dad and family in Southend-on-Sea for some ten years, since working on Christmas Eve and then back in immediately after the Boxing Day holiday cut everything too tight, and the capitulation of public transport meant getting places in time before the great Christmas shutdown never worked out. This year, however, I had no such constraints and was able to spend five days with the extended family before briefly coming back home, and then heading back down there for a family 60th birthday celebration, and then charging straight back to Surrey for New Year’s. It was all rather packed, busy, and full-on, the sort of Christmas that I would have found impossible to cope with if I’d been back into the office straight afterwards. Not having any work duties is really quite liberating, and now I was able to look forward to a few days of peace and quiet and “r and r” to allow me to recharge.

Which of course is when the ‘flu hit. Just about everyone’s had it, or knows someone who did, and certainly it seemed that everyone in Southend was either recovering, suffering or coming down with something, and I rather feared that I would be next in line. Sure enough I was, and the second day of the new year I was feeling pretty dreadful.

Actually from the stories of others, I got away very lightly – ‘flu-lite, and I’m really not complaining. There were only a couple of days where I was literally unable to get out of bed, and otherwise I just felt pretty grotty. It was bad enough that, if I had still been at work, then I would definitely have ended up taking the first three days off on sick leave; and then on the Friday I would got up feeling rather brighter, resolved to go to work … And made it all the way to the railway station before finding myself feeling so unwell that I had to turn around and go home again after all.

Finally this weekend I was feeling a lot more sustainably human: unfortunately the cold/’flu has left me with the nasty hacking cough that seems to be a trademark of everyone who has been afflicted with this particular ‘flu strain that is still persisting and proving incredibly annoying and tiring. While I’d have been back at work this week, I suspect a lot of my colleagues would have been less than delighted about having me around and gently hinting “why don’t you GO AND WORK AT HOME OR SOMETHING” in more or less subtle terms.

So it’s been a busy and rather odd month; a bit of a total break from reality thanks to that combination of activities. I feel I’ve rather derailed myself from all my good intentions, and that I should be doing all sorts of things but that I can’t quite get into gear. I have at least got around to upgrading my Mac OS software to ‘Snow Leopard’, which I had put off as non-essential right up to the moment when the new Mac App Store opened last week and demanded all Mac Acolytes immediately upgrade to 10.6.6. As I owned the upgrade already, and as Mac OS updates are absurdly simple and drama-free, this was not exactly a major task.

Partly it’s still feeling under the weather and really rather tired; it’s also a rather fallow time of the year where the motor sports freelance writing that I am contracted to do won’t kick off for another few weeks. But I can’t decide whether I should be using this time constructively to get on with something unspecified, or whether actually it’s an opportunity to read some books and watch some DVDs that I always intended to but which – quite genuinely – I don’t seem to have had the time for in November and December.

Having at least made a good faith first gesture by writing this blog post, I’m off to consider this. Or to be more accurate: I’m off to spend half an hour hacking and coughing, followed by a good 15 minutes of self-pitying groaning and moaning, to the accompaniment or a nice hot cup of tea and some doses of cough medicine that may, if I’m really lucky, add to my doped-up feeling and send me drifting off to lah-lah land.

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