As Christmas approaches all I seem to do is shuttle between house and station in the dark, rain, sleet and dead badgers on the windscreen, huddling in the cold at Newmarket station (the most foul, loathsome train station in the multiverse) or if there are no trains drive to Cambridge for the early London shuttle. I never even see the green fields and woodlands around our new home, let alone visit any country pubs. I never have time to even start work on my synopsis (never my strong point) let alone work on the book. Added to which I'm constantly exhausted, my Canary Wharf clothes are covered in mud and the eye-wateringly expensive oil for the heating seems to be evaporating at an astonishing rate.
Still, mustn't grumble.
The kids perform well in the school play; having purchased another zillion gallons of oil for the boiler the house actually feels warm and Christmassy. Emboldened by a card we received from the middle-aged couple up the row, Lynda has suggested we have a small drinks party on Christmas Eve. This will give us a chance to say hello, show our neighbours what we've done to the house and plan to do next year, and generally convince everyone that we might have arrived here from London but we're really practically human.
Out go the party invites: to the nice couple on the other end with the daughter Emma's age; to the middle-aged couple who sent us the card; to the lady next door who heals horses; and to the 75-year-old woman Lynda met on the minibus into town when the Stilo broke down again. The invites for Dead Bob Willis and his Invisible Wife are lost in the post.
On Christmas Eve we set to work cleaning the house, prodding the kids with sharp sticks to get them busy, polishing the cats, shovelling rubble, sticking posters over the Falluja-style holes in the walls, and most important, clearing the kitchen table. Since we arrived in Old Front Bottom the kitchen table has been a source of almost infinite melancholy. We brought it from Islington, where we would sit and look out over the garden; here, it's always hidden beneath a domestic landslide of laundry, tool-boxes, Stilo tyres and sulky cats.
Once the table is cleared, making the kitchen seem so much bigger, we cover it in cakes, sandwiches, glasses, and - to emphasise our north-London-ness - houmous and related dips. The kids are hosed down, dressed in smart clothes, and asked not to play Minecraft when all the guests arrive. Then we wait in anticipation.
Two hours later we have one guest: the old lady Lynda met on the bus. She doesn't like houmous, it seems. Nor does she much like the music shuffle on the iPod: maybe One Direction, Abba and the Band of Holy Joy aren't her thing. So we sit, in silence, the only sound the ticking of the clock. Time freezes, goes backwards: we have somehow managed to bend the rules of quantum physics. The silence becomes so elongated, so embarrassing, my face almost falls off.
Finally the old lady looks around as if emerging into some terrible dream.
"Where IS everybody?"
It's a week later: Christmas has been and gone and the kids seem happy with their tablets (it's hard to tell). On New Years' Eve we have a proper party. Our friends are down from Yorkshire and the whole of Old Front Bottom reverberates to the sound of diverse music and Cava corks while up on the big HD TV silent fireworks from London fill the screen. We dance and laugh, sing and joke: we have arrived.
At midnight I look up at the screen to see Big Ben, haloed in light, wreathed in the smoke of rockets and bangers, keeping stern watch over the city I called home for almost thirty years: so close, yet so far away.Suggest a correction