The between time…

Sorry – I almost forgot it was Monday.

I find the days between Christmas and New Year quite strange… curiously lethargic… not helped, perhaps, by another huge storm blowing across London today.  I’m back up here now, and pretending not entirely successfully to get on with a mountain of work that needs to be done before I’m away on my (proper) holiday and a serious dose of sunshine and change of scene in… oh, less than ten days’ time, which is something to hold on to at this time of year.

New Year can be a melancholy time, can’t it?  That forced good humour, when in fact all we really want to do is go to bed at about 9pm and watch a film or read a book and turn the lights off before 10; (I’m normally an early bird, but I have to confess I do not like getting up when it’s pitch dark outside).  All those forced lots of resolutions to give up this or that, when the only thing worth doing in these dark days is to polish off the best part of a bottle of red by 8pm, or even to open the next bottle, and eat masses of very rich very tasty food. I’m not sure I buy all this giving things up in the depths of winter. For stronger minds than mine, I would say.

One of the things I was reflecting on this Christmas, which has been a normal lament for longer than I can remember, is the fact that yet again I didn’t get around to Christmas cards this year. Hmm.  I think this might be a part of a bigger shift in my life, which – I’ve got to be honest – means it’s easier to send a quick email than to bother to pick up the phone and call; which likes to make plans but then manages even more often to cancel them at the last minute (always with an impeccable excuse); which spends far more time looking at a screen than at the printed page, and which ultimately spends an AWFUL lot of time saying how busy I am… so busy, in fact, that I’m often too busy to get on with anything at all.

I think that all of this might, just might, be my resolution for 2014: To remember that a voice is more real than an email, a drink together is more real than a text message, and that reading a book is more real than endlessly surfing the net (I am an endless surfer of the net). (You might also say that a visit to Rugby Street is more real than a trip to One of my resolutions, that I have already put into place, is to move my phone charger from the bedroom to the kitchen.

And, as inspiration, yesterday I opened up my old box of Christmas cards. I thought you might like to see a few.

The A-Z was the last card I did before I moved to the states – Christmas 1998.   I suddenly remembered I did a blog about it ages ago – as very loyal readers will recall.  You can find it here, and you will find if you read it that the one thing in my life which is never new is my regret about not having the time or care to draw a Christmas card these days.

A few years earlier was this card – 1995, which was followed by Good Things and Good Wishes for Christmas 1996:

Which is still pretty much a list of 32 things that I really like:

A year later was a slightly dishonest list of vegetables that, if you had actually found them on my table, would have been bought from the supermarket – but which potentially could be harvested from the kitchen garden on Christmas Day…

…If you were a wealthy rare-vegetable-loving type, Prince Charles maybe, with a handsome walled garden and several full time gardeners.

Coming back from New York I moved into a tiny flat in Great Ormond Street and very avid readers of my book will recognise my old early Georgian fireplace and the tweed armchair that used to sit in front of it. In fact, thinking about it, for that particular incarnation of my flat you probably have to have an earlier book on your shelf, Ros Byam Shaw’s brilliant book Perfect English – it will all be familiar there.

I did manage one more Christmas card the following year, but I don’t have a copy of it here. 12 Bloomsbury Doorways, which really I should turn in to a little poster for the shop, if only I could find the original drawing.

Back to New York. On my first winter in that fantastic city, I decided to make a little book called ‘New York Notebook’ as a Christmas card. I well remember, with horror, the afternoon that I bound up the books. I’d gone over to my beautiful friend Violet’s house, where she lived with her wonderful boyfriend, the renowned fashion photographer Oberto Gili.  Oberto had a beautiful, massive, marble-topped table. It was at this table that we decided to punch and sew up 150 copies of the book. Unfortunately it was only on book 134 that we discovered that our punch (that I’d bought in a proper NYC bookbinding store) for making the holes in the sheets was also putting a little dimple in the marble table top each time it was being used.  Oberto was so kind – he didn’t mind at all (or very gently claimed not to).  I’m afraid that table still bears the marks of my christmas cards.

The Bank Street Yard was my view out of my little sitting room window in Greenwich Village. Please will you tell me why I am such a sucker for a clay flowerpot with a white geranium on a windowsill?

Woah. hold on. Really sharp eyed readers will recognise immediately that that is not Mercer Street.

A few books were misbound. I’ve got three left, of which only one has all the sheets in the right order. Mercer Street in April should look like this:

And the former image, as you will all know, was Greenwich Village in May:

I haven’t been to Coney Island in 13 years, but I loved it so much in my first couple of years in NYC.

Many a fabulous night was spent at the bar on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum, watching dusk falling over the great expanse of Central Park, and getting drunk on cocktails and cheap beers

Long lamented Restaurant Florent was bang-slap next door to the office where I worked, at architects Fairfax & Sammons, on Gansevoort Street.

I went on a dreamy date one day in September to Prospect Park with a handsome Jewish American boy who I couldn’t quite fall in love with

I never went on a date to the Union Square Greenmarket. Frankly that’s a place to go when you’re done with dating and getting ready for home-making. But I loved that greenmarket almost more than anything in New York on a chill sunny autumn weekend.

Twin towers, I miss you still. My heart lurches when I look at this little drawing.

my little nest for my first 18 months in New York was the top floor back apartment of 111 Bank Street. Proving that if you want to make me really happy, put me in a small 18th or 19th century room in one of the two greatest cities on earth, with a working fireplace.

(I’ll be honest. I never actually got a Christmas tree).

The year 2000 didn’t get a Christmas card. Too much on my plate that winter. Then came Christmas 2001.  I’ve got to confess that was the most miserable Christmas of my life. The towers had just come down. New York had a gashing wound in her heart, and the emotions were too raw to bear, still (isn’t it marvellous, incidentally, how time really is the great healer? Worth remembering if you have sadness in your life right now – and Christmas and New Year is often, I think, a time when good people feel a bit sad).

That Christmas, I got stuck in NYC. I was in the middle of renewing my visa when 9/11 happened. Because so many of the terrorists had been living in the states perfectly legally, on visas, there was a sudden panic as to who was here and why.  What should have taken 6 weeks – a simple bit of paperwork – ended up taking about 9 months as every last detail of my life was checked and re-checked (who knew that I would have to hand in every single bank statement since I’d been in America. Just as a for instance).

I was welcome to leave, but I wouldn’t have been allowed back in without the new visa. New York was my city, my life, my job. So I stuck it out for those 9 months – unable to travel, to get home to Mum and Dad, at precisely the moment in my life when that was what I really, really, needed to do.

It wasn’t a good time. Let’s face it, I’d walk out of my door in those days and go past the fire station at the end of the road and want to burst into tears every morning. But I woke up on January 1st 2002 and thought I’d write my own little love letter to New York. Here it is.

The stock exchange was still flying a giant stars and stripes. I know it’s not always been very fashionable, in the passing decade, to say it, but GOD I LOVE the United States of America, and I think I always will.

The grid ends with King Street, where I lived such a happy 3 years. King appears twice, which is why there are only 79 Streets on a grid of 80 squares. Looking at it, should Green Street have an ‘e’ at the end? It should.

New York, New York, I miss you and I love you.

So that’s the story of my christmas cards. To everyone that sent me a card this year, I’m sorry, once again, that I didn’t get around to replying. Will you understand? I’m not trying to be rude, but I did run out of time to be polite.

And as the clock shifts seamlessly, silently, from one year to the next – can I wish you a quiet, peaceful, happy New Year?

We’ve got a little party in my flat tomorrow for the waifs and strays. It’s been organised pretty much at the last minute and yet all of a sudden it’s going to be very fine.  We’re doing a massive chinese takeaway, I don’t want to be washing up on New Year’s morning. Goodness how I used to hate New Year when I was about 18, or 20 – how significant a date it seemed, how important it was to know months in advance where you were going to be on that vital evening….  needing to know it was the MOST fabulous offer of a party that you had accepted… which by, and large, as far as I can tell now, meant:

on which floor in which house am I going to be waking up feeling desperately ill with a dreadful hangover on the first day of the year, looking around at a bunch of people who I didn’t necessarily really like? Hmmmmmm.


I can’t tell you how glad I am to say goodbye to all that. The blissful moment in your life of arriving at a point when you know who you are.

With best wishes for 2014.

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