A few days ago I received my annual New Year's card from J, who lives in the States. I met her about 25 years ago when I was doing a drama summer school. While all the 20-somethings were stumbling around, hungover and complaining, J, who was already about 60, would be there, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to start work at 9am.
She was always one of those people who are good for the soul. In the years since, I've seen her every few years when she's been on one of her many UK trips. The lady goes everywhere and she's always been keenly interested in everything, intelligent, humane, kind. The sort of person you could tell your feeble troubles to and feel better about them.
However, last year I received an email with a sentence in it which made me think something was not quite right. I pushed away the thought - it must just be my imagination. She was visiting England with her son and suggested coming to Brighton for us to have lunch. This was duly arranged and a few months back I met them.
This time, however, there was no mistake. Midway through our lunch, she told me how wonderful it had been to attend a Trump rally recently, how bad a press he got and what a great job he was doing.
I was stunned. We have an image of what Trump supporters are. My friend, who as an actor, has worked with gay people and ethnic minorities, not to mention believes in championing women, the poor and the under-privileged, does not fit that mould. It made me think about the Brexit debate, which seems the UK's equivalent situation to the orange monster. I remember a quote at the time: Not all Leave voters are racists, but every racist voted Leave.
Readers, I'm afraid I said nothing. Just changed the subject as quickly as I could. I know, it was spineless and this is how fascism took hold. My friend is in her mid-80s though. In all likelihood, I might never see her again. Was a political argument, that could only end in ill-feeling, the best last meeting to have? I felt guilty about it though. And I still do.
Back to a few days ago. I put the round-robin (more Trump praise) that had come with the card straight in the bin.
I always get particularly maudlin at the dismantling of the tree and the scooping up of decorations from far-flung places around the house, particularly as housework ranks low on my list of priorities. The trudge to the recycling plant in the park, dragging my cross (sorry, tree) behind me. Once it's all done, I can admire the streamlined space and the absence of sparkly segments of tinsel littering the passageways. I just have trouble coming to terms with the end of the period of relaxation. No keen consultation of the Radio Times Double Edition (don't deny it, not only did you buy it, you highlighted it) to see what to watch, or most likely to record and never get round to watching. No licence now to slope about in jim-jams, eating cheese, supping ginger wine (delicious!) and chatting to friends who've just popped in. And feeling ok about that, because so is everyone else. Now we must WORK and schedule in time off to strictly regimented segments. I know Christmas brings sadness and disharmony to many, but there IS joy there.
TOP TIP, by the way, passed on by my friend Kerry. Put an old duvet cover (or in my case ANY old duvet cover) over the tree before hauling it out. All needles contained in cover, not lurking in corners to spike a bare foot for months to come.
....another mouthful, as people often say, come early January, when the corners of the stilton have started to discolour and the thought of a mince pie is less appealing than it was a few weeks back.
I've been musing about this time of year and the need for people to start afresh, wipe the slate clean, lose half a stone, embrace 'clean eating' (when dirty eating is SO much more fun). reconnect with all their old friends, get a better job, write that novel, sort out the cupboards under the stairs, play improving games with their children....
The list is endless. And unaccomplishable, let's be fair. We attempt this Herculean task, while slapping Dry January on ourselves. DRY JANUARY!?! What noob (as my sons like to say) invented that?!
So, let's be clear, I'm not abstaining this month. But I will moderate, for sure. Not least because I have these bizarre swallowing anxiety dreams. I've had them for three nights straight now. I wake in a panic, thinking I've swallowed something harmful. Sometimes, the item is indistinguishable, but last night I'd imagined I'd swallowed an entire turkey. That would certainly cause some serious damage. The night before - a tin of sardines - one of those flat, oval ones. I sit up, heart racing, and have to remind myself there's nothing harmful beside my bed (I have written a note to that effect). Perhaps I should add there's no flipping tin of sardines by the bed, you idiot!
I've been reading one of Alan Bennett's diaries (very slowly. Not because I don't enjoy it, but because it's in the bathroom, reserved for my post-shower sit in towel to dry off). It made me realise I would LOVE my own 'What I've been up to this week!' type column in a paper/magazine. So would many thousands of others, I'd imagine. So, I've created my own additional section here. Less ranty, reflectiony or reviewy than the other bits.