It still feels odd not to have a proper "end of term"' before the Christmas holiday. The way I separate work from the gluttonous hiatus these days is with the journey from London to my parents' house in Sheffield.
That's when job stuff ceases, when I stop being a grown-up, when life falls away in heavy, thudding slabs like snow off a roof and I look forward to climbing into (I won't lie) a bobbly tracksuit for the best part of a week. I read my book and work out how to fit Christmas lunch around the terribly strict rules of my perennial diet. "I'll have only the one packet of foamy bananas on Christmas Eve, instead of the traditional three," I decide. "I'll eat so much at lunchtime that I won't need dinner. This year, I won't be the person who insists we open the Roses and the Quality Street simultaneously."
One year, back in the days of acute parsimony post-university and pre-recession (when I simply decided to begin spending willy-nilly because I was damned if I was going to turn into a miserablist), my sister and I got the coach home. "Phwarr ha ha ha ha!" cried our other sister when we told her of the four-hour journey that had only cost us £15. (She has always been a bit more jet-set than us and was driving up with her family.)
We treated it like a school trip to Alton Towers, practically running to the stand to secure the seats at the front; we even wore matching coats, despite being 21 and 30 years old. We had packed lunches, too, which we ate five minutes after climbing aboard. About half-an-hour in we got bored, so took it in turns to read aloud the handy hints page from an esoteric old-lady magazine we had found behind the seat.
"If your hallway's walls have scuffs on them," declaimed my sister in her finest crone voice, "simply wipe them off with a slice of stale bread." Fits of giggles. "Broken your broom?" I attempted. "Why not use the handle as a toilet-roll holder?" More mirth, to the increasing aggravation of the other passengers. "Whatever can you do with old eggboxes?" my sister began. And so it continued, for four hours. Five actually, because there was bad traffic outside Chesterfield. (There's always bad traffic around Chesterfield, on account of people trying to escape.)
Last year, I made the same journey in relative luxury; in the back of my dad's Volvo. Unfortunately, it was the day after a fairly heavy Christmas party and we had to keep stopping so I could do some low-level moaning by the side of the road. This year, I'll be taking the train. If you see me, please don't hesitate to offer me your best household tips. It'll make the journey go much faster for us both.