Enjoyed an hour and a half's carol singing with the Portfolio Singers in the Craft Market. As usual we were collecting for the East Anglia Children's Hospice, and we certainly saw a lot of cash being crammed into the bucket (though we'll have to wait for the final total). I always love singing carols, particularly with fellow carol snobs. By "carol snobs" I mean the kind of people who know more than one version of "Adam Lay Ybounden", and can be heard muttering "really, we should be singing this in German/Latin/French/Czech..." at every available opportunity. On the other hand, we're fairly easy-going carol snobs, happy to "just fake the organ part" if there's no full-choir harmony, and willing to switch parts all over the place in order to pretend we have enough people for "In Dulce Jubilo". My main regrets were that we didn't have enough time to get "Gaudete" up to standard, and didn't have enough copies of "the orange book" (Carols for Choirs 2) to be able to sing "The Truth From Above". Yes, I guess I do just want to be Maddy Prior, really. Fortunately the rain more or less held off while we sang, although it was sufficiently cold and damp that we still felt that our ironic closing number -- "I do like to be behind the seaside" -- was justified.
After carol-singing, Portfolio adjourned to Tatties for lunch and warmth, by then much-needed. I dragged out my large black coffee as long as humanly possible to delay the inevitable shopping, but eventually had to leave... only to bump into friends from the CCO, who dragged me off (with, I should add, no resistance on my part) for more drinks and chatting. I figured the shopping could wait for the duration of a rather good banana and chocolate milkshake at Casimir's; and besides, a cafe is a much better place to sit and address parcels (god, I hate being this last-minute) than the Post Office floor.
Finally, however, I couldn't put it off any longer, and began my descent into the nine levels of hell reserved for Christmas shopping. Failed to find half the things I was aiming to buy, lost track of who I'd bought what for, and resolved to be far more organised next year. Just like last year, then.
On the other hand, I suspect my disorganisation is at least in part a subconscious rebellion against Christmas consumer culture. I like buying things for people when I see something that I think they will like; I do not like going into the shopping centre armed with a list of people, attempting to match persons with products. On that basis, I suppose I should buy things when I see them and save them all up for Christmas; but if I do that there's a much higher chance that people will buy the thing in question for themself between then and Christmas. Or, perhaps, I should just buy people presents when I see them, and not buy presents specifically for Christmas at all. I wish I had the courage to do that; but I know that no matter how many random gifts I bought people during the year, I'd still feel stingy if I didn't give gifts at Christmas as well. I wish I wasn't so susceptible to irrational guilt.
This year, the problem has been exacerbated by the fact that I feel like I've lost touch with so many of my friends. Not so much that I never speak to them, more that I feel out of step with them. People for whom last year I would have easily been able to find half a dozen apposite presents, this year posed a real problem; I felt that I no longer had a clue what anybody wanted, where anybody was going, what gifts would be welcome or appropriate. I still feel like the presents I have bought aren't as good as they could be; it's giving me an ongoing feeling of nerves inside. I know, I know, "it's the thought that counts", but to some extent a suboptimal gift could be seen as indicating a lack of thought. At least, that's my rationale for my irrational guilt, as it were.
When I got back from town, after some dithering, I decided to phone S., who after a year or so of being out-of-contact had sent me a Christmas card, prompting me to get back in touch. Yes, huskyteer, that's your friend Daniel's mum; in fact, Daniel answered the phone, though he sounded so grown-up I didn't realise it was him. (Not that he shouldn't, at twentysomething, sound grown-up; it's just that somewhere in my mind he's still the gloriously precocious fifteen-year-old whom I idolised when I was a young teenager at High School. He, of course, probably wouldn't have been able to pick me out of a line-up of grey-jumpered, bespectacled, ponytailed, acne-riddled teenage girls. Ah, school days. The best days of our lives ... apart from all the days that follow them.
Anyway (to get back on track), S. seemed glad to hear from me, and I've arranged to meet up with her over the Christmas break, which is good. I've missed hearing from her -- I may have long since grown out of smitten schoolroom sighs and saccharine sonnets, but she's still a great person whom I'm very glad to know.
And if I'm meeting up with her on the 30th, that means I'm definitely staying at home from the 24th-31st, which is probably for the best. I need a break from Cambridge. I need time, and space, and to get back to the nearest thing I have to any "roots" (other than my hopelessly fading henna), that is to say, my family.
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Good lord, is that the time? Time to eat and wrap some