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The morning after a year of despair


MIDNIGHT came with a clink – the beautiful vintage champagne glasses had been filled all evening with English sparkling wine. A Brexit celebratory menu of British fare: Hereford beef, Somerset cheese, Buckinghamshire pickled onions, Scotch whisky. And yet Brexit was nowhere near our thoughts – it had not formed our conversations for so long now and it felt silly to mention it. Our friends were behind their own front doors, not singing within ours, as the chimes struck. The British stiff upper lip that we had hoped to witness in those around us was still despairingly hidden behind facemasks as the year fell away; celebrations in neighbours’ houses smothered by fireworks and early nights.   

Our table was laid for twelve and of course many never appeared.  A valiant couple braved the side gate and the hushed opening of the back door. We catered for all and toasted those who did not come.  And at various points we danced and drank as if the house was full, as if we didn’t care; pretending the world was as it would appear in a Great Gatsby collage.

The next morning heralded an enormous hangover, eclipsed only by the realisation that we did care. God, did we care. The nausea of this thought increased that created by the alcohol. The postponement of going back to school and panicked articles about hospital overflows were repeated on the radio. I looked out of my window to see a pair of Covid marshals set off on their daily procession of doom, passed by a cyclist with face covered. Meanwhile, our wonderful 13-year-old greyhound lay down ready to die. The saddest of feelings washed over us both as our daughter stated simply that at least our dog was now soon going to be free. 

We wrapped up the untouched beef and the cheese. Gently washing and drying the precious 1920s glasses that only we few had drunk from, I wondered at the people that may have sipped from them 100 years ago, pulling themselves out of the despair of World War One and into the hedonism of the roaring twenties. Will next New Year bring dancing, joy, stability, hope, jazz? Will it bring a full table of people again to our house? My eyes fell on the autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli on the shelf by the broken Christmas nutcracker and melted candle. A heroine dress designer – the pioneer of large shoulder pads and a particular brand of fabulous introspection. A symbol of glamour and hope. There is one paragraph of her book that I love so much that I have underlined it. Written in her diary between the two wars, it says‘the possibility of going out alone at any time, anywhere, has always excited my envy. To wander aimlessly through the night, to sit in cafes and do nothing, are privileges that seem to be unimportant, but in reality, they make the taste of living so much more pungent and complete’. 

The days already start to fall away as January marches on, filled with depressing headlines, fearful outlooks and shuttered high streets. I look at the champagne glasses and wonder how to galvanise myself.  How to find a way for my taste of living to be more pungent and make sure thatthose vintage glasses are held by all our friends at the end of this next year. We must find the carefree life for our children that now seems further away than ever. And, as I mourn a beautiful dog that encompassed all that we should continue to strive to be – happy, fearless, loved, cuddled, complete – I need to stand tall and broaden my shoulders again to take on the year ahead.

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Claire Ball
Claire Ball
Claire Ball is the mother of small children.

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