With her usual disarming honesty, Veronica Zundel challenges her own perception of what 2022 has been like 


We’re coming to the end of another year. Was it a good one or a bad one? Let me introduce you to the simple ‘Christmas tablecloth scale’ for measuring your year. It goes like this. If I manage to wash the white damask tablecloth my auntie Mizzi sent me from Vienna, and which I only use at Christmas, by the end of January or maybe the beginning of February, I am having a good year.

If however it is still languishing in the washing basket, with all its turkey gravy stains, by early December, then I probably didn’t have a very good year. At the time of writing it is mid-October, and I’m afraid that white tablecloth is still unwashed. Hopefully by the time you read this it will have been thoroughly soaked, de-stained, boil-washed and ironed (my husband does the last bit).

Please don’t immediately condemn me as being what I believe is called a ‘slummy mummy’. I have chronic depression and, straight after Christmas, when the lights and baubles come down and everything returns to the normal routine, is usually quite a depressed time for me. Added to this, between us my husband and I went to five funerals, mostly for close friends, between April and September.

True, we also managed to catch up on all the missed holidays of the last two years, with three holidays between May and August; but that only served to highlight the dullness of the gaps between. Added to which I caught COVID just when I was beginning to emerge from a long spell of exhaustion.

I am also currently caught between the wish to retire on one hand, and the call of two self-imposed big writing projects on the other. Retirement isn’t hugely attractive since it seems essentially to mean becoming a housewife (I never married a house); but the writing projects are both daunting and it’s hard to know how to start on them. Dealing with the Christmas tablecloth, though it will eventually have to be done, is hardly my top priority at the moment. 

A change of perspective

Perhaps I am looking at this all wrong? When we entered the 21st century (can that really be 22 years ago?), I joked that if anyone asked me how I was, I would reply: “Not having a very good millennium.”

We are meant, however, to take no thought for the morrow, which suggests that we should be measuring our lives in no greater units than a day. It also implies that we should not still be thinking about the merits of yesterday, and certainly not in terms of anything so large as a year. Even a bad year may have had dozens of good days in it, maybe some good weeks – should we not be counting those instead of the ones where we went straight back to bed after breakfast (and believe me, I have done quite a bit of that this year).

Of course this is not easy at the time of year when we are writing those oh-so-popular Christmas newsletters (don’t you just love receiving them?) which seem essential to keep up with ‘Christmas letter friends’. I try to make mine honest, mainly because I so hate receiving a letter full of endless triumphs and thanksgiving – do people really have such perfect lives? “We had a wonderful time at Tarquin’s wedding to an heiress, and little Tamsin has just got her PhD at seven” – you know the sort of thing I mean.

So perhaps instead of thinking: “It’s nearly Christmas again and I still haven’t washed the Christmas tablecloth”, I should be thinking: “What a lot of good stuff I must have done this year if I haven’t got around to washing the Christmas tablecloth yet.”

Perhaps instead of labelling myself as a slummy mummy, I could reframe the narrative as “I’m an intellectual mother”, which sounds far more impressive. My son, bless him, often tells me he’s proud of me (yes, I know it’s normally the other way around, and I am indeed proud of him).

Can I manage to listen to him properly and convince myself there are many things to be proud of? Not the least, having successfully kept him alive for 28 years, got him some sort of (rather chequered) education and seen him turn into a genuinely lovely young man.

Christmas tablecloth be blowed. Does it really matter if I don’t get all the stains out, or – God forbid – I actually have to use a different tablecloth on the big day? And perhaps, just perhaps, I can forget measuring the year, and rejoice in the fact that today, I’m having a good day.