Christmas plans turned upside-down

Image of Tyler Brûlé

If you’ve been following this column for a few years, you’ll know the Christmas holiday drill for the Fast Lane. As I run a company with a sizeable international team based in London (more than 100 staff and 27 different passports), I like to shut down for two solid weeks. I tend to give myself a little bit of breathing space before heading off to the mountains in order to tidy up my desk and ensure there’s nothing lingering for my return in January.

For more than a decade now I’ve managed to get up to St Moritz no later than December 20 and, without fail, collapse into a heap of crisp linen and goose down. Mom and Mats have always been on the scene for the festivities and the only times they’ve not been present have been the two occasions when we moved Christmas to the southern hemisphere and rented a home in Whale Beach, north of Sydney.

Recently the Christmas period has turned into a period of extreme relaxation and self-improvement. Last year it involved daily training sessions with Vivi, very little socialising, a lot of sleep and no travel for a solid 17 days. I was all geared up to do the same and was looking forward to cutting out not just flights but all motorised transport – but then somewhere between last week’s company Christmas party and this weekend it all changed. As I write this penultimate column of 2011, I’ve found myself with a travel itinerary that involves Toronto, Hong Kong and Auckland; no Vivi to whip me into shape and an active social calendar on three continents.

Last week was one that was planned to the second, with little room for deviation. The company Christmas party needed to start at 6pm sharp to ensure maximum dancing; the morning trip to Geneva on Wednesday allowed for exactly 65 minutes of meeting time in order to catch the return flight to London; and the Friday trip to Toronto had no margin built in for headwinds, early weekend traffic or angry immigration officers (attention government of Canada – you need to do something about the generally angry and menacing-looking staff manning your borders. Are batons and body armour necessary when most staff are seated in protective plastic cubicles?). Thankfully all were conquered.

I landed in London last Saturday morning feeling like the holidays were already under way. I headed into a half buzzy office to do my radio show and was greeted by a few keen faces who were enjoying a bit of quiet time to catch up on email, open Christmas cards and tidy desks. The building had that wonderful of aura of giddy calm that comes just before shutdown and there was a lovely scent of clementines, Swedish Christmas cookies and cedar incense hanging in the air.

After an hour on air and several more spent bringing my desk under control, I said my goodbyes to colleagues and dashed round the corner to do a bit of book shopping at Daunt. In my mind, I was less than 48 hours away from Christmas in the Alps but, having popped in to say hello to Mom in Toronto 24 hours earlier, it was decided that Christmas wouldn’t be in St Moritz as it was too much of an effort for my grandmother (a very sparky 95), and Mom would host it instead. I was still talking myself into the idea.

At some point during my return journey, I completely rethought the holiday and decided there was little point going to Toronto and then flying back to Switzerland on Christmas Day and entering an apartment that wasn’t going to feel particularly seasonal.

Rather than trying to back-track and wedge a bit of tradition into an already radically altered schedule, why not just keep heading west and do something radically different?

As I perused the stacks at Daunt, I sold myself on the idea and, by the time I hit the shelves devoted to New Zealand, I was already calculating flights from Toronto to Auckland. A quick consultation with my design editor produced the name of a favourite architect and a snappy, if cheeky, email to the South Pacific turned up a wonderful house from a most generous owner. Another note to friends in Auckland sorted out the rest of the itinerary and by the time I was back at my flat Cathay Pacific and Qantas had come up with tickets and an itinerary that would have me back at my tidy desk on January 5.

I’ve never been to New Zealand before, so I’m looking forward to a lovely Estonian Christmas Eve dinner with my family, and then getting on the plane for Hong Kong, where I’ll enjoy Boxing Day dumplings at Central before re-boarding for Auckland and heading out to one of the islands.

The moral of this story is that spontaneity is a good quality to possess at this time of year. I’ll miss the mountains, the odd bit of skiing, DVD nights on the sofa and dinner at Chasellas and La Baracca but I’m also looking forward to catching up with school friends in Toronto, relaxing at Mom’s apartment, listening to everyone outdoing each other in the kitchen with their signature dishes while I play bartender and DJ. Merry Christmas.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

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