The old and the new….

It’s that time of the year again, as I’m reminded every time I enter a store and the tinny “classics” play on a loop. Scrooge I am not – never said “bah humbug!” in my life. Yet I find I’ve taken a step back…back to the basics. To simple pleasures. I’ve returned to the earliest celebrations of Yuletide this year. The arrival of the Winter Solstice brought me back to nature and bringing it into my home. I’m weary of the glitter, the overly commercialised excess. Celebrating nature and its harvests has deeper meaning than ever in our uncertain and tortured world.

Any decoration has to be of sufficient height to be beyond the reach of Max, resident black cat, companion and Prince of Darkness. This resulted in a slightly fraught afternoon in the approach to Christmas. “Max ….leave it! MAX….no!!” I laid out my sparkly lights on the floor to check they still worked. (Their previous task had been creating atmosphere at my daughter’s wedding…). This was asking too much of Max. I could see him weighing up his options before poking experimentally with a paw. His afternoon was looking up. Unable to have a traditional tree and in line with my wish for simplicity, I instead hung some beautiful hazel branches across the ceiling. Hastily looped with tiny lights, I added birds, snowflakes made of lace, wooden and rustic ornaments….plus an irresistible mouse on skis. The combination is a magical one, comforting in the darkness. Lighting candles is a daily event here….today’s one evokes mulled wine spices. Pine cones, herbs and evergreens are so much more satisfying than tinsel. The ever inventive Max has discovered that his perch on top of the fridge allows full paw extension and a little cautious tweaking of the branches. We have had words about this. I’ve distracted him with some new toys but I’m well aware it has been filed away in his head for future experimentation.

As a child, I envisaged a linear picture of the year. The bit between December 31st and a whole new year represented a massive leap back up to the top of my mind’s calendar. Perhaps that explains my impatience with New Year’s Eve – I am just itching to get it over with and start a fresh year, a fresh page. For us here in the North, that means a whole lot of winter still to come. We can easily get snowfall even in April. But at least the days are gradually getting longer, the darkness of shorter duration. The January sales signal that I can indulge in a tempting pile of fresh notebooks. And maybe even that fountain pen I’ve had my eye on. I enjoy writing first drafts longhand – and of course, daily notebook observations and ideas. Only then do I edit further onto the computer.

Here’s Max, modelling his Christmas scarf. Bless him. I’m getting wise to this New Year’s resolution nonsense, which, like the thought of a January diet, is asking for disappointment and frustration. And I know I have a string of well-intentioned diaries which peter out by the second week in. There is no harm however in a series of modest aims, possibly whispered. Mine, for example, include reading even more widely. At least one residential course with writers I admire. Getting the daily word count up. Telling my sweet tooth No…more often at least. Making the most of my experiences and pushing myself to get out of my comfort zone.

Learning to experience any day as if it were a writer’s exercise involving all the senses throws up so much more detail. Finding a way to encapsulate that multi-sensory detail in words is tantalising and challenges the brain. Thus I’m setting no official goals yet this coming year, but I know what I expect of myself. It’s all about growing, improving, evolving – as a musician, a writer and a human being. December was rather hectic but I spent whatever time I could reading….which has eaten into writing time, as you can see. But – I learned so much! Two books that stood out for me – and here I am recommending them – were Forensics by the brilliant Val McDermid, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. What are you waiting for? Go read!

January will include New Year concerts for me and the BFO, both here in Bergen and on a mini tour where we take them out to other districts. And there will be an exciting residency for us in Salzburg. That’s for starters! Watch this space for tour blog posts. Oh and….Happy New Year from me and Max!

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