Anyone who knows me knows that I find it difficult to switch off. Whenever a holiday approaches I always find myself doing the same thing: I promise that I will take a break this time, that I will put away the laptop, tidy away the notes, stop thinking about work for a while and rest up. Of course, this never happens – or at least it only does so for a day or two. Believe me, I’ve found myself lying awake in a cool bed in an air-conditioned room in everywhere from Miami to Jamaica, my mind swimming with ideas for cookery books, television programmes and new forms of cooking technology.
It might be the somewhat draconian Northern Ireland work ethic and it might be the pressure of running your own business, but I am being one hundred percent honest when I tell you that genuine relaxation is rare for me. This Christmas past, however, I swore that it would be different. I’d just had a breathless, heady couple of months: cooking umpteen turkeys, developing my iPod Touch and iPhone App and countless other things which I can’t talk about yet.
I had booked a flight home to see the family and fill myself up with plenty of home-cooked, seasonal meals with all the trimmings. (Or most of the trimmings. Believe me: your opinion of turkey changes when you have spent the entirety of December defrosting, transporting and cooking the birds for one cookery demo after another.) Simply put, I was exhausted. I hadn’t been that tired in a long, long time. It pains me to say it, but I felt and looked rough – the rough kind of rough which not even caffeine and a good moisturiser can fix.
Nonetheless, I still packed my computer, my iPhone and my ideas notepad into my luggage, telling myself that I was bringing them in case of an emergency but knowing deep down that they would make a regular appearance during the holiday.
If I ever made it home, that is. The day of my pre-booked flight coincided with the coldest December in around twenty years and the worst snap Northern Ireland has seen in recent memory. In London where I flew from, a blanket of frost, blue ice and snow had been draped across all of the airports and the number of available planes were becoming fewer and fewer. The departure boards had become a symphony of clicks as the flights turned to DELAYED or CANCELLED. Thankfully, by some stroke of cosmic intervention my flight left in-between two waves of panicked madness. The flight right after mine was postponed indefinitely. I could almost hear the catcalls of angry passengers down below as my plane left the runway.
Christmas at home went as normal. This was exactly what I wanted and needed. I spent hours chatting with Mum, drinking shifty gins and eating myself silly. I sat in a comfy chair and watched winter casting its spell over the countryside. Time slowed down. My breath and my pulse slowed down. My thoughts slowed down, stopped jiggling and came to rest on the floor of my mind. This is what people mean when they talk about taking a break, I thought. Maybe they are right, after all.
And then chaos was unleashed. On Boxing Day, not long before a gaggle of relatives were due to descend for yet more platefuls of food, some pipes in Mum’s kitchen burst. I had heard all about the danger of such things happening, how the unprecedented freezing temperatures had wreaked havoc all across the country, but I tuned it out. Maybe if I hadn’t done so then I would have been ready for the sight of waterfalls cascading down tiles, spilling out of cupboards, over Mum and piping out of appliances (and our poor AGA). As I stood with Mum and my brother, I nearly laughed out of disbelief.
It is amazing how much damage water can do. Water that I bathe in and drink on a daily basis. As I write this, the news is reporting the devastation caused by the floods in Australia (where I have friends and colleagues) and I am humbled by how trivial a soggy kitchen is in comparison.
It might sound strange but what followed was my most enjoyable Christmas in years. After we had calmed down, my brother and I started the long and messy job of ripping out the kitchen and trying to avert my mother from seeing how much had been ruined. As we got tore in, to use a good Norn Iron phrase (Northern Irish expression), it was amazing how much fun we began to have. As my mind focused on the task in hand I forgot about the work which waited for me back in London. It was incredibly therapeutic. Mum kept a steady stream of cups of coffee and glasses of gin, and made the necessary phone calls to the insurance company and kitchen suppliers (as it turns out, Alwoods in Lurgan were more than happy to oblige). It was a wonderful bonding experience for everyone. Plus, it was the first time I have ever wielded a shovel!
When we had cleaned up as much as we could and the kitchen was nearly dried out the nagging, gnawing thoughts of work began to skulk in again. I booked my flight back albeit with not nearly as much enthusiasm as normal. After my Mum and brother headed off to bed I sat in the comfy chair again and looked at the blackness outside. It felt oddly comforting. I tried not to think of the journey back. Perhaps part of me hoped that it would be delayed again because of the weather. At least for a little while.
Lets chat again soon