On twelve days after Christmas, my true love gave to me, another serve of leftover Christmas pudding with valiant Tasmanian attempts at clotted cream. By then it was 2015, and I was thinking that this indulgence really needed to come to an end. But the Australian Christmas seems a more elongated affair, blending as it does with summer holidays which creep all the way to Australia Day at the end of January. I say this every year, but Christmas in Australia is still somewhat bizarre and while I adore the lazy holiday feel and the addition of fine seafood to the agenda, a large part of me craves a good windy winter storm and a good windy dose of roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
While there are obvious differences between the Australian and European Christmas experiences, both are obsessed with a crazy excess of food. And so a day or so prior to Christmas I had acquired an esky full of crisps and nuts, chocolates and puddings. A fridge full to capacity with ham and sausage rolls and cream and cheese and (just for a touch of balance) fruit and salad. Longevity was the name of the game for the ham, and the hidden orange Christmas pudding (serves 10), took me alone a whole week to devour. In some way I was glad to see them go, but also a little wistful that they were no longer a part of my life.
Christmas Day itself was a suitably multifarious affair, bringing together the Australian, the Anglo, and the Italian. The day commenced with what any good day should – a walk up Red Hill in preparation for calorific overload – before a relaxing hour of reading and an early shandy with nibbles at home. From then on the eating proceeded with a mostly seafood lunch involving the largest prawns ever created, sweets, desserts, nibbles, barbecue, sweets, snacks, more nibbles, etc. Presents were unwrapped, outdoor chairs were reclined, family discussions were robust. And to cap the day, I came home for a touch more nourishment and a little drink to lubricate the Skype calls to Europe.
By New Year’s Eve, some food stocks were depleting and I needed to buy more provisions from the supermarket to prepare salads and desserts for an excellent few hours of outdoor pool soaking, meaty barbecuing, and, well, dessert-eating. It was here that the tiramisu I made delivered everything I wanted and more; better than the Italians’ creation (soaking time was important after all) and more satisfying than watching the Sydney fireworks on the TV. Is it me, or was someone just shuffling through their iTunes playlist and skipping tracks they didn’t like that much while some crackers went off to fill the night sky with smoke? There was some discussion on the news the next day (post 11am) that London may be giving Sydney a run for its money in the New Year firework stakes. Again, the natural advantage that is that beautiful harbour may well be a cause of complacency.
There have been some natural and arguably more spectacular fireworks anyway. The hot dry summer which occurred in November has now been usurped by a north Queensland period of sunny, sultry mornings building to climatic storms and downpours later in the day. The pattern has been so recurrent that the days are becoming almost entirely tediously predictable, and so activities (unless they involve storm-chasing) are almost best undertaken in the mornings.
Fortunately, for the prospect of my cholesterol and obesity levels, I have been able to engage in decent amounts of exercise over the holiday period. In part, this is merely an extension of my normal life and having lots of time to do things in, rather than some hyped-up resolve to get fit. Local walks are a normative feature of the days. Most frequently of course this has involved trips to Red Hill reserve, where all is well with just about everything and everyone. But such has been the excess of free time that I have even sought out walks elsewhere!
One such place was Cooleman Ridge, which obviously is not as good as Red Hill but – being on the western edge of Canberra – has a more pastoral aspect. Hobby horses and scattered cows dot the fields, still relatively golden despite the stormy interludes. Somewhere yonder the brown waters of the Murrumbidgee laze, splitting the tamed grassland with the bush-tangled upward thrust of the Bullen Range. Further west and the larger mountains of the Brindabellas hit the sky, ever-present and ever-enticing.
It was up into these hills that a more substantial adventure transpired in between serves of Christmas pudding and tiramisu. A mountain walk along the high borders of the ACT and NSW, taking in the summit of Mount Gingera (1,855m), offered the perfect antidote to Christmas torpor. And it wasn’t even too difficult – the first six kilometres along a fire trail with interruptions for forest views, bird sightings, flower-filled glades, blue-tongued lizards and lunch beside a rickety mountain hut.
The remaining kilometre to the rocky outcrop capping the mountain was a more steadfastly uphill affair, the trees giving way to grasses and sphagnum moss and more flowery glades and the odd snow gum. The views increasingly opened out to reveal vast wilderness stretching west and south, and even east, at least until you could see the tack-like tower atop Black Mountain, looking diminutive in comparison to the ridges of bushland lain out before it.
Being in the interlude between Christmas and New Year, the feats of energy required to climb a mountain were intrinsically counterbalanced with a delightful stop on the journey home. Emerging from the car fridge three cool beers, trophies of conquest to accompany crackers, cheese, ham, nuts, dips, vegetables and pickles. Extra weight to provide extra grip as the car wound back down the gravel of Brindabella Road.
Beyond the walks, the bike continues to receive attention and while the category 4 climbs have been a bit absent of late (attempted once in the midst of the Christmas pudding / tiramisu period with less than impressive results), it has been nice to venture lakeside and use a bicycle as a functional means of attaining coffee and shopping. A day spent re-visiting some of the national attractions was ideal by bike, and trips to town are scenic and satisfying, despite the fact that this means entering stores glistening and red-faced.
And if all that wasn’t sporty enough, golf has become a feature on the agenda of late, aided by the light evenings and cheaper twilight rates. Surprisingly, my game has been passable and there have even been a few shots to remember. Alas, such is golf that it seems the more you play, the more the bad habits return, and the memory of why this is such an utterly infuriating but addictive endeavour becomes real again.
So it seems that the holidays have been reasonably active, but for every climb up Red Hill there is an afternoon nap. For every pedal along the lake, a stretch out on the settee, reading and infrequently observing cricket in the background. I enjoy this time but also feel sometimes like I should be using it more productively. This is when writing may kick in, whether something inarticulate about my boring life over the Christmas holidays, recollections of trips of the past, or deliberations on the month of January. I’ve found some of the writing to be particularly pleasurable in an old-fashioned pencil and notepad kind of way, from a blanket in the Botanic Gardens to a bench down by the Cotter River. However, the scale of my endeavours has been, at best, average. Prolificacy bears no correlation to time availability.
Part of the problem has been other distractions. Distractions that are entirely self-created and – if you were to analyse it – may symbolise a deliberate intent to enhance procrastination and delay doing something that sounds like it could entail hard work. Morning coffee is a distraction, particularly when it has involved trying to find an alternative venue while your regular favourites are closed over the holidays. Visits to the Westfield shopping mall are a distraction, though I feel only I am partly to blame here, having been kindly provided with vouchers to spend. And technology, always a distraction. More so when you spill a whole cup of tea over your iphone and unfortunately have to upgrade, and then spend several days visiting the Westfield shopping mall to get a protective, tea-resistant cover (picking up a takeaway coffee whilst there).
Alas, the interference from technology and its associated expense may mean that time availability will have to decrease at some point reasonably soon. Living off my pre-Christmas earnings will not last forever, as much as I want it to. This is not helped too with the purchase of a new body (for my camera) and an almost slavish desperation to travel to some places sometime in 2015. But still, I have a day at the cricket, a trip to Sydney, and it is Australia Day weekend soon enough. No need to do anything too drastic just yet, the year is still but a baby.