For Christmas this year, Alex gave us a board game entitled The Settlers of Catan. It involves earning victory points by building settlements and cities across an island map. You trade cards which represent sheep, ore, brick, wood and wheat. On one level the game is like Snakes and Ladders, or that polar bear game where you jump across the ice floes. On another level it's more like Risk or Chess.
So apart from the cooking and the celebrating and the giving out of presents, we've huddled around a game board all week long, asking questions like "Who has any sheep?" and "Who has wheat for wood?" I've enjoyed asking questions like this. I like how wood and wheat, even virtual wood and wheat, have come to hold new meaning. I've embraced our addiction to the game, and I think we all admit we've been addicted - me and Rozzie, Alex, Elliot and Ali, to our huddle around the table.
For me it was mostly about camaraderie. I haven't formed strategy so much as rolled the dice and bought what I could - the odd Development Card, piece of road or settlement. Rozzie pointed out that she could almost imagine herself taking a country walk along one of the roads she'd built -past fields and woods and meadows full of sheep.
For me, it was very pastoral, the settling of Catan. It was mentally challenging too, but above all it was pastoral.
We needed few breaks. When Atli telephoned from England, Rozzie asked him to phone back later - "Sorry darling, I'll explain later. We're playing a new game call the Settlers of Catan!" When Alice suggested taking us all out to dinner, we happily ordered in, and ate our take away Chop n Chicken while we played. And once a game was over, after a walk or a game of ping pong, we found ourselves a little antsy until someone had the courage to ask if we were up for another round.
Several evenings, after Ben and I went to bed the kids continued playing until the wee hours of the morning. Ali looked it up on line and read about championship games - and decided that our most recent game was on the same level. Ben said the house had taken on the quality of a ski lodge. Ali pointed out that in several days he had only been out of the house once when we went to the cinema to see The Artist.
But the final game we played was not the same. Maybe it was a defense mechanism on my part. I was sorry to see the beginning of the end of this game time together.
I suffered a heavy blow when Elliot cut my road in two -"sorry Mum" but he needed to win some points. Then Ali won. After Rozzie won. And Alex won after that. And I had a profound realization - This was the story of my life.
It felt as if I had been playing Snakes and Ladders all through my life - happy to be one of the players in a game entirely determined by chance - while other people had minimized the element of chance by strategizing, and setting their sights on winning from the get go. They started out with one aim in mind and that was to win. They didn't care how cute the game was, or about the feeling that we were wandering down country lanes. They played the odds to their advantage - they captured ports and traded heavily, building up their cities and their holdings.
Christmas was coming to an end. All of us, for several days had been in Never-never land. And suddenly it was over. Today Clare left to go to Iowa, and Alex went to New York, and Ali returned to Canada. Rozzie has gone back to Oxford and Alice is back in Hingham Massachusetts. In one fell swoop they have left the house.
Ben and I spent the day vacuuming and mopping floors and doing loads of laundry. Apart from the Christmas tree and a few remaining mince pies, the house is restored to its pre holiday status. Elliot is still here for the next two weeks, with his friends all home from college. But all that cooking and drinking and giving of presents is over now - and so is all the settling of Catan.
Hey - anyone up for a game?