A tale of two Jamies

Christmas this year really began with listening to my very talented friend Chris singing on the South Bank with his choir Urban Voices, followed by mulled wine with Victoria and Karen. Walking home past the London Eye and trees lit with little blue fairy lights I felt very lucky to be a Londoner and to have the friends I do. Then Jamie and I shopped at Borough Market, and bought our guinea fowl from a butcher who jointed it for me according to the instructions in my Jamie Oliver cook book, despite threatening to charge more because Jamie Oliver is now too much of a big cheese to pass the time of day with him. Then he wouldn’t let me over-tip him for the Christmas box.

Christmas proper started with a plate of cheese and preparing a jelly for the next day, then a li’l glass of Prosecco. Jamie and I went to Midnight Mass in St John’s at Bethnal Green. I’m not used to a C of E service and so the intoning was a surprise and I found myself flapping desperately through the little blue booklet trying to work out – was it the creed? The eucharist? But it was a very jolly C of E sermon, exhorting us not to feel guilty for not coming to worship more often, telling us to celebrate the birth of Christ by having a good time – though not overdoing it. Rather different to the Quaker meeting I attended recently where people had ministered happily on a new child born to a single mother who is part of the meeting, and in a more conflicted spirit on a concern for the homeless, an anger against consumerism, and a plain refusal to believe a literal truth of the poetry sung in carols. There is a principled facing of the truth with Quakers that I value, but sometimes I do wish that we could just take it easy too.

Today Jamie and I cycled through town in defiance of the rain – and as often happens when you face up to an enemy, the rain melted away. Jamie led, and his confident presence helped me conquer my nerves about tackling the roads. We cycled past a working mans’ club in Bethnal Green, adorned by a Banksy graffiti and some cheery teenagers who wished us a happy Christmas, through quiet squares at the back of Kings’ Cross, through a sedate Bloomsbury and then Seven Dials in Covent Garden which was decorated with Christmas Lights arranged in the form of Candelabra. From there we went up the sandy path on the Mall, skirted the Queen’s home, past the palace of Westminster, and through Whitehall and Piccadilly. We clicked our heels together three times and said There’s no place like Soho (not really, but Jamie gave me a Wizard of Oz mug for a present and it was in my mind). As always in Soho we saw the strangest things – a woman walking down the street, oblivious to the twinkling lights of the strip joints and revue bar, with her two toddler-ish sons, who were both wearing toy police-man’s helmets; and then a moment later outside Village Soho, a small, localised glitter tornado. Some fragments of the journey were completely new to me, some (Iike Lambs Conduit Street) had impressed me ten years ago and then I had lost them, and some turnings were ingrained in the very movements of my body, places I had worked or met people at, or danced in. Then home, and then we ate a feast, from Jamie Oliver’s recipes, with some amendments from our own Jamie. We both worried some about the people we had seen who seemed homeless, or alone, or simply caught in the rain when they wanted to be somewhere else. When we were eating our home-made jelly made with berries, elderflower cordial and prosecco I was so content I could barely form words. Christmas was all I had hoped it would be – calm, luxuriant without obscene consumerism, full of laughter and friendship. It’s a good feast to wind down the year. Many thanks to Jamie for making it such a wonderful day. It’s never quite easy to decide how much it is fair to enjoy yourself when others do not have the things they most need – companionship, shelter, nourishment of all kinds. But I suppose we too need some leisure and easy time – with an old and dear friend – I think so.


The day I lost the gift of opposable thumbs

I woke up yesterday morning with that queer drifting into consciousness, where I think in indexicals – oh yes, I am me, in this place which I call ‘here’ and the time is now. Usually my first more complex thought is ‘I must make coffee’ but yesterday my first thought was ‘I am me, yet different.’ I had put on false nails the night before, as part of preparations for a New Year More Glamorous – and woke up with a more limited set of abilities than I had had the morning before. Kafka’s Metamorphosis drifted through my mind, and as I type, the sound resembles a family of beetles crossing a difficult and hard terrain. I had never before understood the sadness of turning into a beetle in quite the same way, the shame of realising that you like different things – in the beetle’s case, a new prediliction for eating shit; in my glamourously nailed form, an aversion to manual labour of even the mildest kind and a fear of hot soapy water. But most of all the sadness of having left your old body behind, of never having realised how good your body was to you, how dear it was and surprisingly adept, how much you took it, tired and plain as it sometimes felt, for granted.

Brushing my hand over my eyes was surprisingly painful, and simple actions such as opening a jar of coffee have had to be relearnt with these hard new additions to myself, my fingers not only harder and a centimetre longer, capable of being used as weapons – but also fragile – the first efforts at carrying on household chores, taking care of myself as normal, had snapped off the early efforts at extended nails, and I was running short on glue. Life has slowed down, and become complex in ways I could not have anticipated. Tying my hair back into a ponytail, which I was accustommed to thinking of as one, flowing, impatient movement, driven by a practical need to have my hair out of my eyes – is actually a series of curves, of angulations of my wrists, of tucking my hair in and out of the elasticated band. Doing up my zip and fastening the buttons on my trousers was almost impossible, in fact I almost made Jamie and myself late for midnight mass by taking so long to do myself up. What do women who normally have such nails wear? Tights must be a no-no, as well as anything requiring a bow. And yet the irony is they look so gorgeous – with their French manicure and little arc of silver. I feel gracious and feminine, even as I have to hand Jamie boxes to open because their folds are too complex for my elongated nails to penetrate. I have learnt to press switches by holding my hand flat and using the pad of my fingers, instead of prodding or poking. I stare besottedly at my elegant hands. But I wonder, is there any other example in the animal species of a female voluntarily semi-immobilising herself in order to be more attractive to a potential mate?