Barry and Clare arrive tomorrow, Clare for a week, Barry for two. I hadn’t really missed them badly until this moment when we are almost there at the airport, hugging and holding.  And I can already feel the tug of the goodbyes that have to come at the end of their stay.  Everything about this year is an experiment.  We’ve tried out different ways of living before, but never with such long stretches apart.  At home, even when you’re deep in assignments and exams and are on another planet, you can take five and return to the family for physical support and care and love.  However, I know the patterns here – I’ve been through the academic year and have touched the hopelessness of November, the feeling of being out of your depth, of not having enough time, of almost giving up. But I also know how it is to be relieved and have such a sense of achievement after getting through exams, to see the Spring return, and to tackle a new hopeful term.

Here, our semester runs until the middle of February, and I will have a number of assignments, presentations and exams to get through before I take off my 6-7 weeks of Spring Break (mid Feb to end of March).  I have taken far more credit than I need for the first semester, in the hopes that I can take a bit less next semester, and enjoy a bit of sunshine come April/May/June.  I had blithely imagined that I would be reading and preparing over the Christmas break, but I now realise that it’s barely 2 weeks, during which time the family will be here.  In theory, I could work now, but I have a head full of cotton wool, and can only think of this coming week.

I went out last night to a great fun Improv Theatre night, in Café Tasso.  I was due to meet a friend, but she had a domestic crisis and had to bale out.  Most of my friends from college had already taken off for home all over Europe, and further afield.  I was due to meet up with some others, but another hitch ensued, and I ended up solo.  However, in Berlin it isn’t a problem, you just have to go to one of your favourite haunts.  Everywhere I went, and on the U-bahn too, there were less people than usual.  I was chatting to a nice woman from Friedrichshain about the lack of people, and she said Berliners love Christmas, because all those who belong somewhere else go back there for the season, and Berliners get to enjoy their city without crowds.  The level of smoke in the bars is just offensive in the winter – I guess people are less inclined to go outside to smoke, and there doesn’t seem to be any air conditioning.  I called in to see my friend Miriam, who works in a wonderful hole-in-the-wall sort of bar, and we chatted for a bit.  In the end, my eyes just couldn’t cope with the smoke and I had to leave – then once outside, I realised my clothes, my hair, everything smelled of smoke.  Did we all smell like this when we were young?  And how come my lovely roommates don’t smell like this – perhaps because they cycle everywhere – airing their clothes and hair en route?

I’m still debating about what to eat on the night of 24th December.  At home we usually graze on whatever is lying around, as the Big Day is 25th, but we hope to have some friends around on 24th. There are some people who can’t go home, who we’ve invited, if they’d like.  The University and all it’s buildings, including all the libraries, is completely closed for 2 weeks, and anyone living in student accommodation is surrounded by echoing rooms at this stage.  I haven’t decided what we’ll eat, and I don’t think it matters, it’s not really about food. We’ll have fun whatever happens.

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