London is beautiful at Christmas, especially when we get proper winter weather. In this lame-duck week in the run up to the 25th, many people in the metropolis have downed tools and taken off work early for the holidays – even scientists. The streets are full of shoppers, far more relaxed and good-natured than is typical for the usual murderous commuting hordes. Snow swirls down, lights glint, and each famous street competes for the honor of having the most elaborate decorations.
A few days ago I was cutting through Soho and stumbled into Carnaby Street, resplendent in retro-chic astronomical décor. Vast glowing heavenly bodies floated overhead as far as the eye could see – planets, stars and the Moon – and snowflakes gently brushed my face as I gazed upwards. I overheard a small toddler say, “Daddy, what’s that big planet called, the one just behind Saturn?” Pretty impressive for a five-year-old.
It is a relief being out of the lab – because of the way the dates worked out this year, I will end up having more than two weeks off, which is the longest holiday I’ve managed in several years. I have been under a lot of stress recently, what with an urgent manuscript needing attention, a long-haul trip to the American Society for Cell Biology meeting in Philadelphia, and the fact that my father remains critically ill in hospital more than 4,000 miles away. I crave, in no particular order, sleep, decent meals and the chance to relax and work on my fourth novel, which has just now started to kick in agreeably. And – unavoidably – I also need to do lot of hard thinking about what might lie beyond the termination of my fellowship twelve months from now, and how best to capitalize on the time I have left. I want to follow my dreams and stay in the lab, but on the other hand I have a mortgage to pay, finances are tight and I’m not getting any younger. In other words, I need to do the sort of honest thinking that the usual working routine does not permit.
But for now, I am practicing avoidance. Christmas is good time for living, like children do, in the moment.