1 December 2019
First windows on Advent calendars opened. Tree up. Lights on. Love Actually watched. Card bought…if not sent!
Of all the months of the year, December is definitely my favourite. Christmas season…bring it on!
Poor Old Christmas Cards!
Sunday 8 December 2019
Henry Cole, founding director of the V & A, may have sent the first Christmas card as long ago as 1843. But tonight, as I sit down to pen my annual festive greetings, the reaction of my teens make me feel like the historic exhibit in the house!
“Is my address book on the desk?” I shout up the stairs, as I prepare to settle down with three shiny packs of new cards, stamps and nice pen. Small Boy, who is in the study dashing off a bit of last minute homework, pops his head over the bannister.
“What’s an address book?” he puzzles back.
‘Hilarious!’ I mutter, stomping up the stairs to ‘look for it myself’. But, as I dwell upon his words, it strikes me that I have never bought one for any of my children. Which means that they have never asked for one. Which means that the innocent address book, at least in hard copy, could well be becoming obsolete. And that is where I start feeling pretty outdated.
When it eventually turns up, I view my address book affectionately … as an endangered species in fact. I carry it carefully down to the lounge and open the page at ‘A’. True the corners are a little dog-eared but I smile at addresses crossed out and updated many, many times for some of my oldest friends. It’s a flashback to other times and places. It’s a visual reminder of past chapters of life and memories happy and sad. It’s …. I don’t actually have much time to feel wistful because my eldest now appears. She gives me a kindly smile
“Aww, are you actually going to sit there going through your little book and writing cards? You are so cute!”
I now feel like an utter curiosity. Is it really so unusual to see someone spending an evening penning Christmas cards to their friends … and addressing them? Am I really such a quaint relic of a bygone age?
A glance at social media would suggest that I might be. Every year, the number of folk announcing to the world that they are ‘donating to charity‘ instead of sending festive cards grows longer. Many do this in a way that raises valuable awareness of, and funds for, great organisations. But I suspect that some are too-busy people and a part of me wishes that, for variety, a few would boldly say ‘Look I just can’t be bothered to write any cards this year. I think it’s all a bit pointless. Hope you understand!’ No-one would mind.
Poor old cards are not the only wasteful and unnecessary extravagance of the yuletide season? They do at least re-cycle, unlike the plastic tat in in our Christmas crackers. Poor old cards are not single handedly keeping funds from the charity coffers? You could, for example, cry ‘I am buying 3 fewer bottles of Prosecco and cutting out the tubs of Quality Streets this year, to give more money to good causes’ But we don’t often hear that one!
But card writing does eat into the evening hours. Ironically, it is said that Henry Cole designed the card as a way to save time in the hectic festive period. Would he, I ponder, have been keener than me to move with the times and speed things up in the 21st century with a witty e-card? I can only wonder! Do I think that we ought to give up a bit of time for card writing? Do I worry that if we abandon this tradition, we just replace it with … nothing of value and yet more consumerism and shopping? To be honest I really don’t. Call me an old romantic, but I chime with the opening scene of ‘Love Actually‘ and believe that,
‘Love actually is all around‘.
I know that most people are busy at this time of year with social activities, making things magical for their kids and spending time with loved ones. So given this, why do I, even when my teens think I am a complete dinosaur, resolve to carry on penning and posting my seasonal cards. Simply this, I quite enjoy it. For me it is just one of our nicer Christmas traditions. A great way to quickly touch base with old friends and keep them in my thoughts. Each year I settle down with a nice drink, a cheesy movie, my pile of cards and of course my faithful address book. It’s familar, its comforting and … it’s time for me to get back to it! I am still on ‘A’ and that last posting date won’t wait ….
Christmas carols, Christmas chaos….
Monday 16 December 2019
The last few days have been a hectic mix of the familiar; traditional Christmas carols concerts, parties and drinks, with the unfamiliar and definitely less festive challenge of University interviews for my eldest.
Friday takes us to Yorkshire. The University grilling takes almost 3 hours. The drive home, along a flood hit M62 even longer. The alpha-mothers in the parent room, whose knowledge of UKCAT scores and entry criteria for every Medical school in the land is encyclopedic, have left me feeling like a total failure as a mum. I am agitated by the motorway queues and lane-closure confusion. And my lovely girl is clearly deflated by her interview. Nonetheless upon our return, she summons up the energy to don her party dress and step out for the evening, and I rally enough reserves to drive Prom-dress daughter to another social gathering and feed Small Boy, before heading gratefully to bed.
My eldest gets to sleep somewhat later than this. She is home not long after midnight. And I am sure of the time because she stumbles into my room upon her return, a little the worse for wear, switches on the light and slurrily gushes ,
” I really, really love you mum!”
I reciprocate the sentiments, persuade her that now not the best time to go and visit her brother, and steer her off to bed.
To her credit, by 10am on Saturday morning, both she and Small-boy are at Victoria Station in Manchester to play 2 hours of Christmas carols and songs with their local band. Quite a few of my family gather to listen, over cheery cups of Costa coffee and a catch -up on the latest news. It’s a lovely event that stirs the heart and replenishes the seasonal community cheer. I stay in town for a number of afternoon/evening drinks with friends and, as Sunday dawns and my eldest and I now pack our bags for a trip to University interview number 3, I have only a mildly banging head to contend with. We hit the motorway again and are checking into our hotel by 5pm.
Our Monday interview starts at an astonishingly early 8am but again it is 3 hours before my eldest emerges. This one is ‘the worst yet’ and feeling pretty sad and despondent we slink back to the car and set the satnav for home. I feel that sickening terror that every parents knows of wondering how we will cope with the disappointment if all the hard work, and I’d make that 3 years of hard work, ends with rejection and the end of my daughter’s dreams. But today it takes me less time than usual to shift this paralyzing dread. Because… she is such an amazing, driven and talented girl. And that means lots of alternatives, lots of choices and lots of ways to have a bright and happy future. Hey, at least when she’s tipsy, my girl ‘really,really loves her mum‘, I’ll make sure of it !
Even if I hadn’t cheered myself up, back home the usual chaos is enough to distract anyone. Prom-dress daughter and Small Boy both have a Christmas concert to play in … at 6:30pm. In a last minute change of plan however, Small Boy has also been selected to make his debut on the school basketball team, in another venue…ending at 5:30pm. Fortunately it’s Monday. My mum arrives for piano lessons. We shelve these and she agrees instead to feed the girls and drop Prom-dress daughter at the concert hall. Without stopping for food, I head out to the basketball tournament to cheer on my tall, gangly bean of a boy. It just so happens that the venue for this sporting spectacle is about 3 minutes from my mum’s house…and I have a key. At the final claxon tolls, at 5:45 pm, I whisk him, off to mum’s. She is not there, because … you’ve got it … she is at my house! Small Boy changes with the speed of Clark Kent himself, I thrust 2 packets of crisps and a bottle of Lucozade at him and we speed off to the concert.
We arrive with moment to spare. Small Boy’s grinning face races off to take his place in the orchestra. Prom-dress daughter, already in situ, gives us a smirk and a wave. I sink gratefully into my seat and the carols begin. ‘Silent Night‘ … how lovely … and if only….
Its the most wonderful night of the year …
Sunday 22 December 2019
The best moment of any school holiday is the first Sunday night. In place of the usual grim evening of ironing, of planning lessons, of finishing reports, of last minute homework, of sorting out dinner money, bus passes and gym kits … in place of all of this is just an excited glow of freedom. Pressure and deadlines melt away and two weeks of seemingly endless time and opportunity spread out in front of me.
Christmas is a busy time of course and I still have much present purchasing and wrapping to do. I still have to brave the food shop for my contributions to this year’s big family Christmas dinner.(Thankfully, for all, I am put on desserts and instructed to ‘buy them’. Surely even I cannot go wrong with this one?) And my teens are a popular trio at the moment, which means lots of ferrying around to meals, movies, skate-dates and parties But compared to my usual day job …
So will I be doing any school work at all in the next 2 weeks? Of course I shall. But it certainly wont be in the next 10 days and it will only be finite and manageable tasks. I intend to start back in January, replenished and refreshed. And the experts agree with me. In her 2015 article, “It’s official, teachers must relax over Christmas to avoid burnout” , Sarah Marsh examines the evidence from a City University, London study of 90 teachers which concludes that time off allows teachers to “restore their emotional energy” . Those who fail to switch off and continue to worry about work were found to have made far less good a recovery from the demands of the term than others. Relaxation should be our quest and amidst all the tips from the teaching and health care professional come many of my familiar lifelines: reading, exercise, family time, trash TV ….and laughter.
A glance at the time tells me I have an hour to kill before I collect Prom-dress daughter from her a friend’s house. I think feet up, a mince pie and a bit of Daniel Craig sounds just perfect ….
Sunday 29 December 2019
As I pull into Norton Canes, the service station on the M6 Toll Road, it seems as good a place as any to reflect back on 2019 and put together my final post of the year.
It is homeward bound after a lovely Christmas break in Oxford and Cambridge. My old university stomping ground as it happens, but on this occasion, just exciting to be visiting friends and family, as opposed to wandering around the dreaming spires. The closest we come to anything you could deem an ‘Oxbridge activity’ is breaking out of a Cold War themed Escape Room (with 5 minutes to spare.) We are the ‘Squad of Seven’ – move over Cambridge Five!
The Toll Road on the return journey, now that is my guilty pleasure! I loathe queuing. I am really not a patient waiter. In my time I’ve driven huge (and probably time-costly) detours to avoid the grim misery of gridlocked traffic. So paltry charge of £5.60 for the utter luxury of 27 miles of well-lit motorway, wide lanes and a joyous lack of other road users seems a very small price to pay! Eventually, of course, it will be a return to the endless cone-lined crawl of the 50 mph zone on the M6, but a coffee break delays that for another half an hour, so here goes…let’s review 2019. I take a deep breath, I fire up my blog on the laptop, click on ‘January’ and step back in time.
It is not just the end of the year in a couple of days, but also the end of a decade. As I re-read my blog however, re-visiting each month in turn, I realise that one year is more enough for me to look back upon. I try to decide if, as the midnight bells chime on Tuesday, 2019 will it count as a good year or one to regret? But there’s no answer to that…because it’s neither. What it is, is just one full calendar year… 365 unforgettable days of ups and downs. And I like that. There have been moments of great happiness; fun times, cloud-9 times, laugh-until-you-cry times. Equally, I’ve shed a fair few tears and I re-live days of disappointment, even sadness. I’ve met new people and I’ve had to say ‘farewell’ to others. I’ve relished new challenges and I’ve battled with the drudgery of daily routines. I think it’s called life! It strikes me that we don’t actually need significant temporal landmarks such as years and decades to make sense of our lives. In actual fact every day matters. And that is true of any year. The difference for me in 2019 is that so many more days have been captured and will be remembered. Because I have written their stories down and that’s one thing that is not going to stop.
Exactly one year ago, the blog was my New Year’s Resolution. Little did I know how much I was going to love it … just love writing again. It’s not enough to tell you that it’s fun to have a record of the year to re-read and share. It has been a complete joy. I start with a blank screen. I set off. I rarely know where I’m going or what I want to say. The words just dance on the page, then blend and reform into thoughts, sentences and stories. It feels exciting, it feels creative and it has been, without question, astonishingly therapeutic. I recommend it to anyone. Whether it’s building basket ball stands (Slam dunk – my most popular post of the year) or conversations with your friends that transform your outlook on life (Single parenthood necessity) any day or event can make a memorable tale.
Carrying on with my blog, that’s a definite ‘Yes’ for me. I would also add writing to my previous tips of running and reading, for any stretched and stressed parent. All three pastimes are free and flexible. They fit around you and your schedule and are fantastic for health and well being. Hey, reading, running and writing – the veritable 3R’s of sanity, for people of all shapes and sizes.
Glancing up from my reveries, I notice that it’s getting quite dark. I drain the last of my coffee and reluctantly, resign myself to the fact that my therapy time is up for today. If I ever want to get home again, I need to face the M6 ….