Alex James: The Great Escape

'Christmas was excellent but not as serene as I'd anticipated'
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The Independent Online

The people who live in the local castles are all in Barbados, but I wouldn't swap my chickens for P Diddy. I'd rather talk to them. And be woken up by them. It's the homeliest time of year and there's nowhere else I'd rather be. I was so ensconced in domesticity this Christmas I didn't even get in the car until New Year's Eve. Actually, my shoes went missing for a few days and it didn't seem to matter.

The future always looks so uncluttered, full of more space and time than it actually has. Christmas is my favourite time of year and when I was looking forward to it, I imagined there would be time to do jigsaws, pay a few calls, think about the year ahead and fiddle about trying to make cheese catch fire, Christmas pudding-style; but doing next to nothing is absolutely impossible with a young family. It's the busiest time of year. There was always something that needed doing. It was excellent, but it wasn't the serene and selfish siesta that I had been anticipating. I found time to call a couple of people I hadn't spoken to for ages one evening but neither of them answered, presumably flat-out on their own time off, and when they called back I was up to my ears in either Lego or Transformers and couldn't really concentrate.

Claire spent a lot of time on the phone organising the joint New Year's Eve party at our neighbours' house, which grew explosively from a sit-down dinner to a wedding-style extravaganza with a marquee, DJ and karaoke box. It was an excellent party. I sang myself hoarse trying to reach the high notes in "Livin' on a Prayer", danced myself stupid and found a huge cheeseboard just when I was starting to flag. We got home about five and quite a lot of people came too. Someone started playing the piano and I set up the drum kit in the hall. That was a good decision. It sounded great in there. It woke the chickens up, but not the children.

As I write this, the house and probably most of the country is in the hands of children. As adults we choose to start the year in pieces. It's definitely the right way to do it, from one's bed. Children get whatever they want on New Year's Day. It's probably better than Christmas Day if you're under 10.

When I woke up, Bianca was lying on the end of our bed hiding from her au pair and there was a message from Juliet saying she had had some success igniting a semi-soft washed rind cheese from Alsace. The trick is to heat the brandy first, she said. I'd never have thought of that. She was raving about it, saying it had kind of toasted itself and entered a new cheese phase unknown to science.

I thought I'd be making plans for the future this Christmas, that I'd have time to step out of the traffic and look ahead. Whenever I did have a minute for idle contemplation, I found myself reminiscing about the year gone by rather than looking ahead. It's less taxing to consider the past than the future. But it's the beginning of January and my thoughts are ranging ahead today. I'm so looking forward to the coming year. It all seems very straightforward from where I'm sitting. Surrounded by marauding children, dismembered drums and cheese on fire.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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