Posted by Tania Kindersley.
There have been a few articles lately asking: what have you learnt this year? It's an old journalistic trope, and I liked to be all cynical and da da da about it. This is mostly because I could not think of one single thing that I had learnt, and of course that made me feel like a big fat failure. One must learn, yes, yes; otherwise we are just standing still, and calcifying into old prejudiced lumps of rock.
Today, I finally realised that there was something I had learnt in 2010. It was rather blatant and obvious, and I almost certainly should have worked it out before. It is: you damn well need the grit in the oyster to make the pearl. Yesterday was a little bit perfect, which, on reflection, I realised freaked me out a little. I am used to coming from a - how shall I say? - not usual family. There has been an awful lot of drama and death and divorce, over the years. It's not Mr and Mrs Banks. No one put on a bowler hat and went out to a regular job. So when all 24 of us sit down and have a perfectly delightful Christmas lunch, it is lovely, but quite strange. Where is the strife and confusion? Have we all morphed into Stepfords?
Today, I woke to nice family crisis. Also, a horrid low grade virus which has been trying to get me for days finally kicked in, so I got up with a heavy head and stared in the glass to see two fat little red eyes. One of the ladyships had had a bit of an accident (really not her fault), so instead of magazine-type Christmas beauty, I was wiping up dog shit at 9am. As a result of all this, I was not looking forward to another family lunch. I looked like hell, I was very grumpy, and I was fretting about the canines. I snapped at my mother, panicked about logistics, and had suddenly to deal with Western Union, on account of a stranded brother in Singapore.
It was shaping up to be a major disaster. And yet, somehow, it turned out even better than yesterday's perfect day. The sister stepped in and got me off a logistics hook; the Heavenly Stepfather took over and saved the stranded brother; the mother laughed in the face of my bad temper. When I arrived at lunch, one of the small great nieces, who does not care a whit for squinty eyes or bad hair days, grinned all over her face and hurled herself into my arms, as if she were greeting the Queen of Sheba.
Despite my fear that I would not be able to make polite chat or suitable observations, on account of feeling cranky and not that well, I ended up having one of the most interesting conversations since the old queen was a girl. We covered family, Ireland, multi-culturalism, William the Conqueror, convention and politics in general. There was teasing and laughter and a little side order of controversy.
Funnily enough, it was because of the unpromising beginning that the end result was so delightful. I feel quite ragingly happy, and that does not come along every day. So maybe that is what I have learnt: you can start off with literal and metaphorical dog turd and end up with utter loveliness. It sounds very simple and obvious, but I think it is something easy to forget.
Talking of loveliness: here is the hill and some canine beauty -
I took these in the gloaming, so the snow dogs had turned into blue dogs, slightly out of focus, and like something out of Avatar, but I rather love them all the same:
I hope you too have some gritty oysters which turn out an unexpected pearl.
Oh, and may I just say, for those of you following the Ashes, and talking of grit and oysters and pearls: the cricket, the CRICKET. Australia out for under a hundred was really not what I was expecting, and it was a real Santa baby moment.