Thursday, 1 January 2009
"The waies deep, the weather sharp, the daies short, the sun farthest off"
I came across that account of winter through T.S. Eliot's poem, "The Journey of the Magi." It's not a poem I greatly admire but I dutifully followed the reference in Southam's student notes and discovered the sermons of Lancelot Andrews. I couldn't agree with Andrews' theology - he was a high church Anglican and defender of the Divine Right of Kings - but I loved the way evocative phrases emerged from his careful translation and exposition, often in the movement between Latin and English. The passage quoted in the title of this post concludes by drifting into Latin and back to English: "in solstitio brumali, the very dead of winter." Andrews may be trying to conjure up the journey of the wise men but, for me, what he offers is a harsh English winter, thick frost on the countryside and the muffled crackle of frozen stubble underfoot.
This New Year, the hard frost and fog seems to lock people into their separate houses. But the two young people and I set out for our separate new year celebrations: one to a party, one to a club and me to a dinner party prefaced with champagne and concluding with single malt whisky.
I reckon I had the best of it. I could hear the conversation, which (in the case of my fellow diners at least) sparkled while the food was excellent. There was even a special vegetarian dish for me - chestnut a la bourguignonne - served with side dishes of savoy cabbage and a delicious potato and celeriac mash. I'm lucky to include a terrific chef among my friends.
There were hints of other celebrations as I went out - young people, bottles in hand, checking house numbers. And at midnight the fireworks began at Nottingham Castle and the middle-aged, black cat whose house it was hid behind the bookshelves.
The only thing to spoil the evening was the lack of public transport. I contemplated cycling both ways but was deterred by the predicted minus 4 temperature. The combination of ice and alcohol would, at least, make me a danger to myself. And I feared the number of drunk drivers on the roads.
The dinner party was in Nottingham. Usually there are night buses, running every hour, but the companies claimed there was no demand for transport on the evening of New Year's Eve or on New Year's Day. The final buses ran at about 8.00 p.m. Taxis charge double in the early hours of New Year's Day. This is reasonable enough - years ago I used to babysit and welcomed double pay at Christmas and New Year. But not everyone can afford taxis. I worried about the risk from drink-drivers and feared that young revellers in skimpy party clothes might succumb to hypothermia when walking three or four miles home.
I reached home safely. So did the young people. The frost continues. There may be a little snow, or fog. And that takes me back to Lancelot Andrews:
"The waies deep, the weather sharp, the daies short, the sun farthest off, in solstitio brumali, the very dead of winter."