It’s that stage in the autumn term where it seems equally impossible that we will ever reach the end and that we can keep going. Both children are tired and prone to colds, the adults are unable to get to bed in time to be functional in the morning and I’ve started keeping separate to-do lists because if I see the whole lot in one place I will have to confront the idiocy of my over-commitment and start telling people I can’t do things. The positive side of this situation is that I’ve stopped working at weekends. I don’t know if this mechanism is self-destructive or perversely functional, but now it’s clear even to me that I can’t possibly do everything I’m supposed to do when I’m supposed to do it, I’m not trying all that hard.
I spent this afternoon making mincemeat with my five-year-old. (For non-British readers, this kind of ‘mincemeat’ is a fruit concoction for Christmas pies that hasn’t contained minced meat for several centuries.) I’d always had making your own mincemeat in the same category as making your own jam, a step too far in the romanticizing of a form of domestic labour that lends itself particularly well to mass-production. But supermarket pastry is nasty, and the handmade pies in the artisanal bakery are good value for good quality but expensive when you’re feeding hungry children. When I read the label on a jar of mincemeat, it struck me that the mark-up on apples, raisins and spices is as remarkable as on bought hummus. I came home and set the five-year-old to work chopping apples while I made pastry, just as if I didn’t have four books to read, a pile of essays to mark and a lecture to write for Tuesday morning.
We’ve resumed last winter’s habit of going out for the day on Sunday, now I’ve given up trying to be ready for Monday morning. In summer, the children have more weekend activities – sailing, surfing – and the roads and beaches are so busy it often seems pleasanter to stay at home. I like Cornwall best in winter, I think; the oblique light on the sea, the way the stars seem brighter and the sky blacker than elsewhere in England, even the changing rhythms of the rain. Last week we walked from Perranuthoe to Marazion, along the edges of Mount’s Bay with St Michael’s Mount levitating on the sea in front of us. When we returned to Perranuthoe, we had lunch outside in the sun, too hot to keep our coats on. (It’s probably a good thing I didn’t send a photo to friends in Iceland as I was briefly tempted to do.) The week before that, we heard seals singing from the sand under the cliffs west of Portreath.
So I don’t really care that I’ll be writing next week’s lecture in the early hours of the day I give it. Maybe I won’t write it at all. I’ve extemporized before and it’s been rather good, actually.