26 December 2009


There are some things I will never understand about the English as long as I live, and two of them are their mania for discomfort and the way some of them positively race toward old age. Here I am at my nanny's, and when I tried to take a bath at 2 in the afternoon there was no hot water. She'd obviously set the boiler to come on once in the morning and once in the evening (because I could have a hot bath at 8), but to be off completely in between. Madness! Why not just split the difference and keep it on constantly at a low level, so people could have baths anytime they liked? Plus, she'd set all the thermostats so that they heated up the house to 15 c (59f) during the day, but only heated up to a toasty (or perhaps reasonable, depending on how you look at it: 70f) temperature at night, so that all through the
afternoon I had to huddle on the couch in the chill, with a cold nose, or lean against the Aga. I am well aware that the response to this is, "Put on a jumper," but you know what? If you can afford special Christmas trays (that's right, not just dishware but trays), you can afford to heat your house to a livable level more than once a day.

Understand, please: this is not a complaint against my nanny. One of the things that's always mystified me about English houses is the way that many of the older ones just have no heating in the hallways: there are radiators in the rooms, but the corridors are like icy winter paths. All right, now we're all conserving energy, but back when these houses were built we were not trying to do that, so what's the point? That you should be made extra glad to get in a room by enduring a bit of suffering in the corridors? For God's sake, call me American, but I'm going to stand by my belief that it's a basic right of life to have a radiator in the hallway. You can turn it off if you like, but at least you should have the option to live in comfort if you want (and, again, surely low-level heat throughout all areas of the house that are frequently used evens out to be cheaper than high level heat in some rooms but icy breezes floating in from others?). I say: I am a human being, and I should have the basic right to bath whenever I like and not suffer when I step into the corridor. As should all humans everywhere.

Then there's the fact that she's moved her bedroom to the ground floor. Okay, it used to be at the top of the house, and that's about as far away from the kitchen in the basement as it's possible to be (let's leave aside the whole Lord Lucan and lack of natural light-influenced question of whether you want to have your kitchen in the basement at all), but I know she didn't move down to the ground floor because she wanted to be closer to the kitchen. She did it because she was worried about climbing so many stairs. My God, I wanted to say when she told me this, you're 63! And not one iota weak or reduced. But, oooooo no, the time is coming! So, hey, let's welcome it with open arms. Okay, this house is designed by a person who has a total disregard for house layouts or for good sense (giant dining room and small room on ground floor; on first landing, small room; then up to second landing, where
there is the parlour and another small room; then third landing with one small room; then top floor with large bedroom and another small room: it's as if the [obviously Victorian] architect tried to think about the most awkward home layout possible). Anyway, the house admittedly has a long and steep central staircase, but if I lived here I'd be running up and down that staircase every day (I did it three times in a row today, in fact, and intend to do it for half an hour tomorrow), just to keep myself fit and oiled. But no! There is a mindset that some of the English, in particular, seem to have - although my German last boyfriend's family had it, too. It's the "Oh, I'm getting old," mindset. They rush toward old age with open arms, apparently eagerly anticipating reduction and decrepitude, and luxuriating in it when it does come. It's the chronological equivalent of never opening your windows, and I just don't get it. Uch, make it a bit of a challenge for Deterioration, and you'll keep him at bay for a bit longer: why wouldn't you want to do that?

- Mind you, I never understand those people who go out for a walk on Christmas day, either, and that seems very English. Not that I don't like a walk, but why on Christmas? Who wants to amble around in the freezing cold chit-chatting in a great awkward bunch when you could be at home in the warm playing with your gifts and having a real conversation with one or two? If you're going to go for a walk on Christmas, at least stride purposefully, to warm yourself up, or amble with one person, so you can talk.

Anyway, rather ironically I wanted to write this post about all the things I'm thankful for. I've had quite a lot to be thankful for this year, and if you can't express thanks on Christmas, when can you? (all right, on Thanksgiving, but I don't celebrate that anymore. Or on New Year's Eve, but I won't have time to do it then.) And the first thing I'm aware of being thankful for is that I have a nanny who has a giant comfy house, in which I can spend my Christmas eating Indian food from Marks and Spencer while I watch meaningless TV (well, at the moment I'm watching David Bowie and Bing Crosby singing together, and that's not meaningless). And that I have two living upper-middle class parents with an equally nice (if not even nicer) home to which I can go in two days, and who are willing and able to buy me the foodstuffs I demand.

Next to that, of course, I'm most thankful that I'm not in Otherhome. My university has been very good to me, and I've been very lucky, and I'm thankful for both those things and the profound basal-level happiness they've been able to give me. As I am blissfully thankful to have found work here, and to have found the kind of work I have. And while you might expect me to say that after that I'm happy that I discovered tango, I'm actually not. What I'm happy for is that I discovered my beloved VTTT through tango, and that I made the tango friends I did, because all those people have turned out to be more than tango people, and they've connected me to at least one person who isn't a tango person at all, but for whom I'm very thankful, O.M.

I'm thankful, too, that I have the freedom to make my own life. That doesn't just mean that I'm thankful that I have a portable life - I don't own a home, and books can always move - but also that I'm thankful that I have the money and the education, which really means the power, to make a new life for myself when the old one is unsatisfactory. And I'm thankful, too, that I have parents who support me while I do that. And I'm thankful that I do the kind of job I do, which - although harder than some people think, and in certain ways very boring, or at least tedious - allows me immense freedom and immense pleasure, and is, in a way, a job of luxurious privilege.

I'm thankful because, as bad as my personal life is, it isn't as bad as it was in 2008: I haven't
had my heart broken; I haven't been made bereft, and I've even managed to go on five dates - which, okay, isn't much to some people, but considering how many dates I went on last year (0 to 1, depending on how you look at it), is fantastic. I even got to do some kissing in the course of the year (although not when I expected to do), and I love kissing. So I'm thankful for that, too.

I'm thankful, too, that I fell in with a group of people who so obviously like me. Never before in my life have any concentrated number of people made it clear simultaneously that they find me special, meaning both important and unique, and although I still retain all my fears and worries, in very small ways the sense of being consistently loved and valued, as if that were a given, has made me confident.

I'm thankful for my therapy, because it has done me some good. And I'm thankful that my life is simple - again, a byproduct of money, but also of good planning and my own ability to pleased with relatively little in most areas, which is good. And also for
my physical capacity: I can still run up and down those stairs!

And I'm glad that I'm mentally alive. Okay, I'm not the youngest girl in the room by a long shot, and I'm terrified at the thought of taking my clothes off in front of a man (that's not an exaggeration), but I know, as a constant if not constantly conscious knowledge, that I'm interesting: that I have thoughts, and ideas, and knowledge, and a hell of a lot of good stories, so I'll never be boring, and I'm never bored to be alone with myself. I am, indeed, never alone with a Strand.

And finally, I'm just thankful to be alive, and fascinated by the experience. Remember that flagstone in Edinburgh that said, "It's a grand thing to get leave to live"? Well, it is. Every day of it, no matter how sad or fearful I am, something interesting happens, something to think about or tell about or store away to remember later. That's why I could never commit suicide, worse luck - I'll always want to experience tomorrow's interesting thing. And I am thankful for that: that life, whatever it might be like at any given microcosmic
moment, is alway bursting at the seams with occurrences, and is always a grand thing just in the very fact of its existence.

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