As the years have passed less planning is needed. Timing remains crucial, but almost automatic after so much practice. Things just fall into place.
In early October the catalogues arrive and I begin to make my choices. In these digital days I may be the only person left alive who buys from catalogues. I’ve kept all of them, hundreds, maybe thousands. They fill the living room and file along the gloomy hall. Dusty precarious piles, an estate of teetering paper towers marking five decades of changing taste and style. The cat prowls the towers with lazy curiosity. She likes to watch loose pages lilt down to the lino.
Snow is a major concern. A large fall could delay or even cancel a delivery and affect the entire schedule. The Weather Channel is on 24/7, allowing me to monitor cycles and trends, probabilities and realities. This year, consensus predicts snow from the 23rd so I arrange delivery of the food hamper for the 20th. It arrives at 11.32am. From my seat at the kitchen table I look down the hall, between the paper towers to the frosted glass front door. The shape comes closer, further darkening the glass with each step. Sometimes, regardless of the note pinned to the frame, they ring anyway. Ring and ring. Or they bend down and peer through the letterbox. If they catch sight of me I smile and wave. This time they don’t ring. I go outside to bring the delivery in. It is too cold to snow.
On the 21st the wine comes, the flowers and music on the 22nd. I place the white orchids in the centre of the kitchen table, fill the wine rack and cue the CD. Mid-point in the schedule has passed. I know it is too late but the clothes still trouble me.
‘Do I maintain sartorial integrity or bow to the demands of the season?’
It has long been a dilemma. Nostalgia doesn’t help, revealing only my pale face. The fashion magazines are perplexing. My meteorological studies throw up the vagaries of chance, but at least there is an underlying logic to the weather. Not so with fashion. As far as I can tell it is cyclical. I consider, but am in no way sure, that I can sustain a modern style in the spirit of the past and thereby avoid too much compromise. This year I ordered flared brown cords and a white shirt with New Romantic cuffs. The packages arrive on the 23rd.
Only the presents remain. They always come last. I ponder the choices for days, searching for the ideal balance of size and shape, practicality and frivolity. On Christmas Eve I’m up early, pacing the hall as night lifts. With each step the paper towers quiver, throwing up tiny clouds of dust that hang in the air like memories. The cat hears the van before me. It takes an eternity between the engine being cut and the appearance of the shape behind the frosted glass. Back and fore it goes, unloading the boxes and stacking them on the steps. When the shape bends down to push the invoice through the letterbox I’m there in a flash, reaching down and shaking a man’s hand.
‘Merry Christmas, merry Christmas my friend!’ The man yelps and jerks his hand away. From the letterbox I watch him hurry down the path. ‘And a Happy New Year, a Happy New Year to you and all your kin!’
At 9.17am on Christmas morning I take my seat at the table. I brush orchid pollen from my brown cords and re-arrange the meticulously wrapped presents. They will be opened later in front of the three-bar fire, as Chopin’s piano concerto no. 2 drifts across the living room. Raising a glass of champagne to the front door, I smile. The postman will be back on the 27th. Already I can hear the letters rustling.
‘Maintenance of the schedule is crucial.’
The cat looks away and wanders the paper towers. Eventually she sits down, just below the mirror, bright green eyes following something unseen that floats on the air.