31 Dec At the end of the year
There’s a picture of my parents on the landing in our house. It was taken in the late 1950s. They’re ice-skating and smiling. We lived in Edinburgh then, in a cul-de-sac called North Park Terrace that abutted Inverleith Park. The pond, just over the wall that marked the end of the terrace and the boundary of the park, would freeze over every winter. The ice became thick and strong and lasted for several weeks. It was the same each year; we never gave it a second thought. So, each year the grown-ups would dig out their skates from the back of the cupboard under the stairs and reclaim the sledge buried behind the lawnmower, deckchairs and cast-off bikes in the garden shed. While the adults skated and smiled, we children sledged and laughed, and occasionally cried from bruises or embarrassment, as we scooted down the snowy slope with its perfect gradient on the far side of the pond.
All of this came to mind on Boxing Day when we walked along the river to Hampton Court with friends. In the foreground of the palace a skating rink is erected for a month or two every year. Throngs of people doing slow laps on the rectangle of manufactured ice, it didn’t look like much fun. They were skating, but I couldn’t see if they were smiling. Perhaps I was just feeling uncharitable but I found this contrived festive scene oddly chilling.
Now it’s the last Sunday of the year and I just got back from a solo walk in the park. A solitary interlude in the busy schedule of social events this time of year, it was like the sound of a single note being played pianissimo between a succession of loud, hectic chords. The quiet was restorative; the solitude welcome. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the company, the gaiety, the noisy excitement of children, the meals with family and friends, the walks along the river, the annual playing of silly games. It’s just that it feels good to be able to return to my thoughts, retreat for a while into my shell.
Today was grey and heavy, still and somehow sombre. Not cold for this time of year – the mild temperature spoke of early October, bare trees told of late November, green shoots breaking through the soil suggest February or March. It’s very confusing. I realise, as I listen to the sound of my footsteps and the rustle of my much-too-warm quilted coat, that I miss the seasons. I miss their certain grip on the sequence of time and nature. I don’t like the cold, but I find myself longing for the frost. If only it would arrive it might bring reassurance that all is not yet lost.
Was it these thoughts and memories or the dankness of the day that affected my mood? Or perhaps the strangely interim character of these final days of the year, marking time until the new year starts and finding myself wistful, looking back. I’ve always found it to be a melancholy time. Unsettling in a way. When all the regular fixtures of the days and the weeks are set aside, it’s easy to feel adrift in the world.