Tuesday, January 16, 2007

At this time of the year, mid January, my father used to stockpile holiday brochures and ring me up asking my opinion on a Nile cruise or north Africa. He'd travelled all his life. Some of my earliest memories are of watching flickering cine film of impala jumping across a screen he put up in our living room to give us some idea of his latest trip to Kenya. His photo albums were full of palm trees and views across astonishing bays - he was an aeronautical engineer. But when he retired he missed moving around, missed work and suffered in winter from the absence of sun.

These are desperate months and I give into sleep. I'm happy to be in bed by 9 in winter, sometimes to read until the book falls out of my hand and I jolt awake for the seconds it takes to turn off the light and take off my glasses. When there is sun you have to take advantage of it. Yesterday was glorious. I was moving plants in the front garden, putting two Christmas roses by the fence behind a mock orange, dividing Michaelmas daisies and lilies, shifting bluebells around and turning the soil over, pulling out the ever-present bindweed and ground elder. There were two flowers on the winter honeysuckle, sweet and strong as the orange blossom I remember in Marrakesh years ago, when I fell asleep in one of the palaces, the scent was so comforting and woke up to locked gates and a stork nest high above on a chimney.

My son has a theory that the month you're born, or the time of year anyway, determines your tastes and personality. My birthday runs up against the most depressing day of the year at the end of this month. But who'd want to live in la-la land all the time? Surely it's the expectation of spring that makes winter and by the end of summer, aren't we ready for a change?

I'm astonished by how many bulbs are already showing and wonder if we'll have the shock we've had in other years of an freak preview of summer followed by snow. My children have been brought up not understanding the need for thick wool coats, boots, scarves and gloves. They've grown up in an almost mediterranean climate, so different to my childhood, my memory of walking on the frozen crust of two feet deep snow in Ascot.

One year I wished for snow on my birthday, though, and it happened. I woke to a heavy grey sky and as I opened the curtains it was already falling. This year I'll be at the Barbican listening to John Adams' 'On the Transmigration of Souls" performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

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