11 December, 2009


One a.m. after a night at the theatre and I'm perched up in bed over a plate of luscious salt beef, a dollop of mustard and a half a pickle... can you tell I passed by one of my favorite little shops on the way home from Leicester Square this evening? I am very lucky that my greedy tabby Hermione who normally snatches anything and everything off my plate has decided that Jewish foods are not to her liking, so my snack is safe as I type.

Is it January yet? I adore this time of year, as you know, and I'm certainly not complaining. But there's no doubt that the hands of the clock start spinning around, layer after layer of party, concert, dinner, celebration of every kind piles one after another, and before you know it, you've scheduled three things in a row at night with a school-age child who's completely exhausted by tonight, a lovely crisp Friday.

Wednesday began cold and fair with my little writing class meeting here for croissants, a slight dissection of my "Thanksgiving chapter," and a long discussion of characterization and how to get it. It was a cool exercise: call to mind a real person you know, then list every quality about that person you can think of (or imagine, if you chose). We spent ten long, silent minutes at it and what we ended up with was fascinating. What happens when you clear your mind and simply LIST things about a person is that patterns begin to emerge, connections between personality traits, significance arises from little habits and preferences. I can see how this sort of exercise could build an entire novel's worth of characters if only I could be disciplined enough to do it.

Certainly it makes solitary things like grocery shopping or waiting for the bus MUCH more interesting, as every single person you see becomes a potential collection of qualities, likes and dislikes, experiences, hopes and dreams. It was great fun. Exhausting, strangely, I think because it opens the mind, makes everything an ingredient for writing. Is there anything more fascinating than the people one knows? Yes, maybe it's the people other people know, because all three of us in the little class came up with entirely different sorts of people.

From there to the Christmas concert at school in the evening, with a delightful afternoon of cooking in between, since I was hosting a little party after the concert. Roast ham, gorgeous bresaola, Parma ham, several luscious cheeses brought by Annie, including my hands-down favorite, Mont d'Or, slightly stinky and perfect with plenty of crunchy crackers. Just lovely. A huge salad of tiny tomatoes with cucumber and a great dressing gave some welcome color and texture to the dinner:

Tomato Cucumber Salad
(serves 8)

2 pounds baby plum tomatoes
1/2 hydroponic cucumber, seeds removed with a spoon
1 stalk lemon grass, about 6 inches in length
1 tbsp chilli oil
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
lots of fresh-ground black pepper
1 tsp Dijon mustard
sea salt to taste

Simply halve the tomatoes, dice the cucumber, and shake up everything else in a jar and pour over. Luscious.


The "Service of Lessons and Carols" itself was a paragon of all things Avery's dear school represents: hard work, the pride of girls in their accomplishments, style AND substance. The concert began with the heart-breaking (to me, for various reasons) "Once in Royal David's City", with two beautiful girls, dressed in black, singing the first verse in candlelit darkness, the high vaulted ceiling of the Great Hall soaring overhead. Then, chillingly, the voices of many, many girls in the second verse soared from behind us, and we realized, without turning our heads, that they were singing in the great Marble entryway outside the Hall. In they filed, carrying candles, singing with that combination of innocence and slight awkwardness that makes schoolgirls so irresistibly tear-making, to me.

I was glad, perversely, that Avery had felt she had not practiced enough to take part, and so was sitting beside me where I could put my arm around her. What more does anyone want, at Christmas or any other time, than to have a daughter to hold and appreciate, while beautiful music flows all around.

Impossibly elegant and poised readings, in accents that would put the Royal Family to shame. Girls little and big, singing, reciting, praying.

It was almost a relief to have the solemnity and beauty broken by the crush of parents all leaving at the same time, so many familiar faces now that Avery has been there over a year. Lost Property mothers, familiar faces from the Parents' Guild, from guests at our dinner parties, Thanksgiving, playdates, shopping trips, birthday parties. So lovely to feel we belong.

Of course, bad mother that I am, I hardly recognized the passing of time at dinner after the concert, and it came as quite a shock to my holiday spirit to have someone, a child, say plaintively, "You know, you guys, it's a SCHOOL night!" Reluctant departures, cleaning up in a leisurely way and enjoying the decorations...

Thursday found us at the orthodontist for a look at Avery's first breakage. "You know, I don't even think we NEED this bracket," said he airily, whereupon I wanted only to ask, "How much did that bracket cost, anyway? Put it back!" She has been such a star at getting used to these things, it was almost a pleasure to go to the appointment just to hear she was perfectly on track with the whole process.

Home to rush a bit through preparations for a dinner guest from faraway New York, an old, old friend who with his lovely wife used to grace our dinner table three, four times a week when we were all newlyweds. He took one look at Avery and said, "It's true, you're a teenager, I just didn't realize..."

We feasted on Szechuan chicken with red, yellow and orange peppers, and broccoli, roasted peanuts, thick slices of fried ginger and hot chillis. The perfect antidote to too much Christmassy food. I've decorated my table with some really borderline glittery tealights: they're either lovely, or they're terribly tacky. None of us can decide.

Another late night, with gossip from New York, news of our old brunch haunt Bubby's having turned 24-hours! Shocking! The times, the times I ran over JFK, Jr.'s fancy business shoes with Avery's stroller as we waited in line at Bubby's... and real estate news (the lingerie store that replaced my art gallery is going strong, also shocking), the crowded school situation. We all felt quite tearily homesick for New York, as one does when chatting about the old days with someone who's seen many parts of the last 20 years with us, whether in New York, London or Moscow... old friends. Life may change, and old friends with it, but it's always good to keep the ties.

I must report on "Legally Blonde: the Musical"! But something tells me I'll never find the time. So all I can say is that it's a hugely enjoyable evening with passable American accents, all stereotypes cleverly underscoring everything the British already think about us, but, as Avery says, "in a good way!"

Next week, I promise, really WILL be quiet... ish.


Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Oh my, you have been busy, busy. I love your midnight snack of salt beef, mustard and a pickle. Mmmm.

"It's true, you're a teenager, I just didn't realize..."

I know how your friend feels!

Kristen In London said...

Isn't it funny about teenagers! It creeps up on you like weeds in a garden... only more flowerlike than that, really!

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Kristen, I am still shocked when I stand next to my daughter and realize she is adult-size. What happened to my little baby?

Being a parent is so bittersweet.

Kristen In London said...

you get it completely! She's at the wrong voice level these days! Have the happiest of holidays...