As we look ahead to next year with renewed hope and vigour, I do the natural thing and turn to astrology. I have form in this area; I’m susceptible to most types of woo – with the exception, obviously, of homeopathy – and make an appointment to see Dr Kumar, the astrological star guest on the brilliant new podcast, Skyline Drive. In the first episode, he predicts, with shocking accuracy, a plunge in the host’s father’s health. If I’m going to consult anyone, I want it to be this guy.
Out from Manhattan to Queens I go, to Dr Kumar’s front room. He squints at my chart on his screen. I’m simultaneously open to the process, and defensively sarcastic about every aspect of it, a form of psychic disdain I’m convinced he picks up on.
I have some specific questions in mind, primarily, should I move house, and if so, should I go east or west? Both options appal him. No, no, no, he says. I have to stay where I am, in New York, but I have to move apartments to a property where the front door opens to the north, or north east. The front door of my current apartment opens to the west, which is, says Dr Kumar, my most inauspicious quadrant.
Also, I’m probably going to get a UTI in February.
Also – Dr Kumar says this quite crossly, appearing to arrive at the intersection between astrology and social conservatism – my children are going to “do better” than me when they grow up, by actually getting married.
I would be more irritated by this if he didn’t assert, a moment later and with what I decide is total legitimacy, that after April I’m going to be rolling in it.
A team from the New York Times tags along with an ambulance crew in Wrexham, Wales, and the result – “One Day With an Ambulance In Britain: Long Waits, Rising Frustration” – is Tuesday’s lead on the newspaper’s homepage. It triggers a familiar two-stage response in me: firstly, oh, look! Our silly little country has made the front page! Swiftly followed by a wave of oh-you-think-our-health-system-sucks-do-you? Let’s look at your health system. Maybe our ambulances do take six hours to arrive, but at least we don’t charge people for the privilege of waiting.
The apportionment of “we” and “your” in this infantile reflex makes little sense given my length of absence from the place of my birth. It’s a hard habit to break. In spite of promising US immigration authorities that, if push came to shove, I would bear arms for my adopted country, the truth is I can’t even bring myself to back the US over England or Great Britain in a sporting event.
I wouldn’t want to break a leg in the old country, or take a cross-country train, or pay an electricity bill, or run a small business reliant on export to Europe. Still, I can’t help constructing a swaying, teetering edifice of superiority on the fact we have better bread and cheese.
I’d ordered a crash mat for my children for Christmas, partly to stop them fashioning their own by pulling all the cushions off the sofa, partly as an increasingly desperate measure to get them off their screens. This thing was big; 5 foot square by one foot high, but I figured I could stash it under the bed.
When the delivery window changed and it threatened to arrive after Christmas, I attempted to pull off – never do this! – some canny Amazon jiu-jitsu. I’d order a different mat, from a different provider, with an earlier delivery date and a more generous returns policy, then switch it out for the other one after Christmas.
Now, obviously, both of these monstrous items are arriving on Christmas Eve, I’m $400 down, and (hmm, should’ve read the fine print) Amazon charges a $48 postal fee for returns. Where am I supposed to stash two enormous crash mats? Why does this problem feel so insurmountable? Why didn’t I just say yes to the Nintendo?
The award for most charming Christmas story of the week goes to the Washington Post for its tale of Princess Fiona, a “balding, pot-bellied” pit-bull, with chunks of fur missing, a chronic illness, and a comical, waddling gait. So many times, at the animal shelter in Washington DC, Princess Fiona was trotted out for a prospective adoptive family to view. So many times, she waddled back to her pen – belly dragging on the floor; skinny tail wagging sadly; stress-related health issues adding semi-incontinence to her woes – having been rejected out of hand. And then, right before Christmas, at a public adoption event in a mall, Princess Fiona met five year old Myami.
Myami’s mother took one look at the dog and said: “Is she pregnant?” Gently, Princess Fiona’s carer explained about her health condition and what it might take to care for her, waiting for the family to move off. But something had taken.
While Myami fed Princess Fiona a cheese stick, her mother contemplated the dog and thought about how her 19-year-old son had been written off by some people for his medical needs. The next day, the family came to pick up Princess Fiona for good. When they left, the place erupted into cheers.
I’m trying very hard to have faith in the God-bless-you-all vibe of this and resist the temptation to assume she’ll be returned to the shelter after Christmas.
It’s over, finally. This week has dragged like no week has dragged since childhood. Scrooge-like, the public schools in New York are open right up to Christmas Eve and we have crawled combat-style towards our week off: on elbows and knees, late every day, hair unbrushed, homework undone. From 4pm today no one’s moving from the sofa – or the carpet of crash mats about to cover my living space – until Boxing Day. Happy Christmas.