The Smiths’ Christmas Letter

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Dear Family, Friends and any other random person interested in the minutiae of my life

Happy Christmas! Wow, what a fantastic year 2015 has been for the Smiths! I am sure you are all dying to know all the wonderful things that have happened to us and how successful we have been so here’s a blow-by-blow account…

Little Johnny has had the BEST year! In March he started to CRAWL!   What a superstar! He is still waking every hour during the night and screaming for his mummy but we don’t mind because he is so cute and adorable and we treasure every moment with him. He’s definitely got a powerful set of lungs – we are all sure he is going to be an opera singer when he grows up (after all Aunty Jean was the star of her local operatic society for many years so it’s in the genes…!)

What about our gorgeous little Rosie? Well, she’s had quite a year. She must be the busiest 6 year old in the country! Mondays – gymnastic club (watch out Nadia Comaneci, Rosie is coming!), Tuesdays – swimming lessons (one-to-one, she is learning SO much more with the individual attention), Wednesdays – flute (she’s showing so much promise and her teacher says she’ll be ready for Grade 5 by the summer), Thursdays – ballet (not quite en pointe yet but not long now!) and Fridays – FREE time! Rosie likes to entertain on Fridays with one of her darling little school friends – always such fun and something Mummy looks forward to ALL week.

The only little cloud on the horizon this year for Rosie has been the “biting”. We have spent a lot of time (and money) on getting to the bottom of this with Rosie and her psychologist and we are all sure that for Rosie the “biting” is just a sign of affection for her friends and siblings. Sinking her teeth into their flesh is just her version of a kiss – rather sweet when you think about it. All her friends’ mummies and daddies have been SO understanding and anyway Rosie is just so so sweet that it’s impossible not to fall in love with her instantly.

Just time for a bit of mummy-boasting. Rosie was MARY in the school nativity! We were so so proud. Rosie and I spent months researching the role so she could really get her teeth (ha! ha!) into the part. I also spent days making her the most beautiful Mary costume – I love sewing. Even if I do say it myself, Rosie was the STAR of the play – everyone said so. Joseph was less convincing and picked his nose throughout which upset Rosie no end – I explained to her that it is very difficult to work with animals and children – she totally understood.

As for Archie – he continues to amaze us! He is spending increasing amounts of time in front of a screen and less and less time communicating with humans. We don’t mind though as he seems to have made so many WONDERFUL friends on the Internet – all seem thoroughly nice and normal. He seems to have lost interest in all outside activities and hobbies but we are so proud that he is showing such focus on his computer studies. I have taken to texting him when his supper is ready – we all think this is terribly amusing but I’m not sure Archie really understands the irony!

There was a small incident this year with Archie getting a little carried away with his father’s credit card. Daddy dealt with this so well and with such patience and empathy. All part of life’s rich tapestry eh? No-one said this parenting lark would be a breeze. Anyway it’s all behind us now and Archie will have repaid his debts by the age of 35.

What about Daddy? He’s had another phenomenally successful year at work. He is without doubt the lynchpin of his firm and we are all SO proud of him. It is quite clear that he is regarded as a hero not only at home but at work too. This year he’s managed to juggle the impossible demands of his job with running 15 marathons, raising thousands for charity and he’s still home every evening to read to the kids. Reading to children is SO important and nothing makes me happier than to hear Daddy being Daddy Pig (he’s just so good at the voice) while little Rosie laughs hysterically.

Then there’s little ol’ me! Another blissful year of motherhood and parenting. I can honestly say I’ve loved every minute – don’t miss work, adult company or intellectual stimulation in the slightest. I have to admit to a little “stumble” in the summer when I thought perhaps I might go back to work – part-time of course. The children were very upset and protested so much that I soon gave up on that idea – it’s SO lovely to be so loved, wanted and needed! Anyway, who would take Rosie to ballet – I know that 3 hours drive to a ballet school may seem a bit excessive to some but it is such a good school and she is so talented apparently? Anyway, each day is so different and brings so many new joys that I have on occasion even managed to miss Wine O’Clock!

So Happy Christmas to you all from the Smiths. We hope that 2016 brings as many blessings and joy as 2015 has for us! It would be lovely to see you all this year so please do give us a call – apologies in advance if you get the answerphone but we are all SO busy and SO happy!

Much love xxx

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Full of Festive Spirit…

It’s been quite a while since I wrote anything in my blog but it would appear that a couple of people (and I mean literally only a couple) have missed my whinging so always ready to oblige, I thought I would start writing a bit again.

Where to start after so much time apart…well, it’s Christmas so why not start there? First off, let me state for the record that I actually do love Christmas – mostly.  I’m sure I’ve written about some of this before – I am nothing if not consistent in my whinging.  However, here goes – my top Christmas gripes.

– Visiting Santa’s Grotto: am I the only one who goes in “to see Santa” (with my children I might add before you think that I have made some sort of weird regression to childhood) and finds it the most excruciatingly awkward few minutes?  Poor Santa has to have the same banal conversation with each and every child about their behaviour this year (why bother asking – it seems patently obvious that the majority of children if presents were given on the basis of behaviour would receive nada) and what they want for Christmas.  In my experience, children seem to go mute at this point, either staring rather unnervingly at Santa (trying to guess who it is beneath that facial hair that is slowly sliding down his chin) or looking downwards and scuffing their shoes through the mountains of fake snow on the floor (#nightmarecleaningupjob).  It is left to me to have this insanely cheery chat with the big man about how wonderfully behaved my kids have been and how much they deserve wildly over-expensive tat for Christmas (all the time keeping my fingers crossed behind my back to counter the blatant lies I am telling).  Meanwhile the real reason we are all there is delayed interminably – the presents, Santa – hand them over and we can all move on.

– Sexy santa outfits: I just don’t get these at all – it seems so wrong on so many levels.  Santa is traditionally a man, so why do all sexy santa outfits consist of skin tight mini skirts clearly more suited to the female form?  Presumably because there is no woman alive who in her right mind would find a man dressed in a red jumpsuit, trimmed with white cotton wool and topped off with a faux white beard even remotely sexy.  Anyway, Santa is a kid-friendly concept so sexy santa suits just seem plain wrong.  Sexualising Santa is at best confusing, at worst rather creepy.

– Hats in crackers:  OK, I am prepared to accept the part that crackers play in Christmas – I mean who doesn’t desperately want one of those little screwdriver sets or irritating puzzles with rings you have to separate?  Let’s face it, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without an exchange of appalling jokes and general dissing of those whose job it is to write those jokes for the other 364 days of the year.  But the hats… no need, no purpose, don’t fit and no-one looks good in them. Yet everyone feels obliged whether it be the school parents dinner, the office party or whatever to put their ill-fitting paper hats on their heads as if somehow this is a sign to others that they are having a great time and “entering into the spirit”.  Let’s ditch the hats, people – no-one wants to wear them, end of.

– Fairy lights:  I love fairy lights.  Well, I love fairy lights of the mostly white variety but I am able to tolerate coloured lights.  However it seems that every year the nation’s obsession with fairy lights is growing inexorably. When I was young, we put lights on the tree – the end.  Now, we are expected to put lights absolutely everywhere – up impossible-to-climb trees, intricately wound around staircases, in windows, round doors, along fireplaces, even in big glass vases (some sort of temporary pseudo-art installation).  It is as if we are all in some sort of mad competition to put up as many million lights as we humanly can in the time available, starting in mid-November if that is the only way to beat our neighbours and friends.  What puzzles me is why we have suddenly gone fairy light-tastic – it’s not as if electricity/light is a new concept.  Am I missing something?

– Writing Christmas cards: every year I promise myself that this is the last year I write Christmas cards – not only does it give me repetitive strain injury in my right hand for the rest of the festive season but increasingly in the age of email and multimedia it seems a fairly pointless task.  Then it happens…the cards start to arrive through the door from other people and the guilt sets in.  Then the fear sets in that if you don’t send any cards then you won’t receive any next year yourself.  The guilt and fear grows until I find myself sitting down and madly scribbling festive wishes to people I either never see (and quite possibly won’t ever again) or equally people I see almost on a daily basis (for whom a simple “Happy Christmas” would suffice).  One year I shall be brave enough to resist the overwhelming urge to write cards – in the meantime, if you haven’t received one from me, then you can assume you are off my Christmas card list or your surname is at the end of the alphabet and I haven’t got there yet (and I have to admit might possibly never get there).

– Endless bloody festive editions of TV shows.  I can’t think of one single TV show that is improved by the addition of copious amounts of tinsel (my personal pet hate), wrapped up cardboard boxes to look like presents, TV hosts wearing Christmas jumpers and/or santa hats and nudge,nudge..endless references to “balls’.  Why does every show have to have a Christmas edition?  You are more likely to find me watching “Homeland” or any other programme where the chance of any reference to Christmas is negligible.  All those shows do along with adverts with over-decorated houses, roaring log fires and mountains of food on the table is to make you feel that everyone is having more fun than you (and has more fairy lights than you).

There you go, I feel much better now I’ve got that lot off my chest. Now I’ve shared my grievances, I shall try very hard to look at Christmas through the eyes of my children – remember how magical Christmas was when you were a child? Anyway, I’ve got to go as I’ve got at least six more sets of fairy lights to hang up this evening.

Christmas Complex

English: A Christmas Tree at Home

English: A Christmas Tree at Home (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year again – Christmas – which seems to come round faster every year.  Is this perhaps yet another sign of ageing?  I think not, more a reflection of the fact that with each year the Christmas season creeps forward by a day or so as the shops start blaring Slade et al and shoving tinsel in our faces from early September.

Let’s get one thing straight – I love Christmas. Nothing can transport you more readily back to childhood than the magic of Christmas. Only the most miserable of individuals can fail to be swept up to some degree into the jollity and frivolity of this season.  However, it is not without its complications and of course it will come as no surprise to you my observations.

The advent calendar.  Or in my house, plural. When I was a child an advent calendar was a very simple piece of card which depicted a traditional nativity scene (yes, kids – “nativity” – the central word for Christmas in case you had forgotten) and some badly perforated windows to be opened each day where you would find some random supposedly Christmassy object – always a robin and a bell and often a cat (why a cat?).  The biggest challenge that the advent calendar presented in those days was opening a window without causing the other windows either side to open inadvertently.

The biggest challenge nowadays is actually to find an advent calendar depicting a traditional nativity scene rather than some bizarre mixed up Christmas scene with Santa, Jesus, a snowman and some carol singers vying for centre stage.  This year my children have got two calendars each – one traditional nativity scene which I hope will serve as some small reminder of what advent actually is and one chocolate calendar.  I would cheerfully throttle the person/people who thought putting chocolates in an advent calendar was a good idea.  It is hard enough to persuade my children to brush their teeth in the morning without all my efforts being wasted on a stale chocolate which has probably been sitting behind that calendar window for most of 2013.  All pretences of the meaning of advent also go out of the metaphorical window when it comes to chocolate advent calendars.  My daughter’s chocolate calendar is a “Hello Kitty” calendar – I am not even going to bother to pretend to her that “Hello Kitty” has got the faintest association with advent or indeed Christmas.

As usual in our family, the school nativity play has not been without its fraught moments.  My daughter, like every other girl in her class, was completely convinced she had landed the part of Mary.  I could only watch on knowing that never making Mary is one of the burdens you have to carry with you for the rest of your life.  To be fair, I didn’t even get close – I didn’t even make head angel. Predictably my daughter’s confidence that she had secured the role was misguided and she is a King.  This is not good news – not only has she not made Mary, but she is playing a “boy” part so no tinsel, sparkles, wings etc. For me there is a silver lining however, as I am not expected to provide a King costume as apparently the school have already got one.  Although I am not going to pretend that in the past I have slaved over costumes for school plays – I find that the big supermarkets do a great budget version of almost any character you could wish for and who cares that all around the country in every school nativity, the shepherds are wearing exactly the same £7.99 nylon, highly flammable, shepherd’s tunic and carrying a rather unusual plastic crook?

My next complication with Christmas is my middle son’s obsession with the technicalities of Father Christmas’s itinerary over the festive period.  It is without doubt very good for his mental maths but not very good for my sanity that daily, soon to be hourly, he is calculating FC’s speed per hour, houses visited per minute etc and inevitably always concluding its impossibility and then requiring some sort of rational explanation from me.  This is very very tiring. This is coupled with his new line of attack: he will say “So and So got an X-box from Father Christmas last year, how come I got a satsuma?”.  Explain that one.  How I would love to shout at So and So’s parents and tell them how hard they are making it for the rest of us but also I would love to tell my son how lucky he is that Father Christmas comes at all as there are millions of children around the world whom he won’t visit.  Only, of course, I can’t do that without ruining the magic of FC for him.

One thing that I am sure is a sign of ageing is my new obsession with completing my Christmas shopping weeks before the big day.  This year I am feeling smugger than ever (not because I have finished the shopping) but because I have yet to set foot in a shop – I have done it all online. Christmas shopping brings out the utter worst in people.  Normally sane and rational people become persons possessed as, list in hand, they hunt down their targets with a single-mindedness not seen at any other time of year.  All this is done to a backdrop of over-heated shops churning out Wham!, Slade, Shakin’ Stevens and friends on an interminable loop, nodding Santas saying “Ho! Ho! Ho!”, reindeers with flashing antlers and harried shop assistants with tinsel in their hair – and this is mid-October.  I am sure it must contravene some sort of human rights law to have to wear tinsel (which incidentally I absolutely hate) in your hair for a period of 2 months or more.  No, shopping in shops is no longer for me, I am an internet Christmas shopper.  One word of warning, make sure you shop in the morning with a cup of tea rather than in the evening with a glass (bottle) of wine – you can get rather carried away with the latter in your hand.

With that in mind, it is time for me to do some more Christmas shopping online now.  I’ve got to buy presents for the school teachers.  I am not sure whether this year I shall be contributing to what I call the candle economy – a booming industry in which 20 children in a class give their teachers a candle so that said teacher ends up with enough candles to open a chandlery (in its original meaning) and then re-distributes the candles to others as presents through the rest of the year before the whole cycle starts again.   I am not knocking it – everyone loves a candle and you can never have enough candles, can you?

I think, therefore I am…

Mr Blobby (song)

Mr Blobby (song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Daughter (age 3, 6am): “Mummy, I need some Calpol ‘cos I’ve got a tummy ache.”

Me (age 40, one eye open, hangover pending): “Calpol is not for tummy aches, it’s for temperatures and headaches.”

Daughter: “Well, my tummy has got a headache.”

Me: silent, unable to counter “child logic”.

There is something about a child’s impeccable logic which makes it very difficult to argue against.  Of course, it is actually not logical at all but it is the conviction with which it is delivered and its ability to catch you totally unawares that makes it impossible to dispute.

It is exchanges such as this which make you realise that how children see the world is so different to how we see it.  There is no sense of responsibility, no mistrust, no cynicism, no world-weariness to mould a child’s reactions. They say it how it is, how they see it. Many times when my children say something surprising, it makes me yearn to be a child again.  It has always seemed very unfair to me that as adults we have largely forgotten those early days of childhood.  It is ironic that our best days are confined to the deepest inaccessible recesses of our memory. We get sudden jolts of that wonderful childhood excitement and wonder.  For me, it is the magic of Christmas which catapults me straight back into my childhood. It is almost a physical feeling as you see the world through your children’s eyes.

The simplicity of a child’s thought process is so clear and free from all the forces that affect our adult thought processes. Sometimes, their comments seem to be so left field but in their simplicity they reveal so much about the workings of a child’s mind.

My middle son asked me the other day “How did God make himself?”. I have to admit to being totally unprepared for this philosophical question, coming as it did in that 10 minute window of hell which is the mad scramble to get on the school run.  It struck me as very interesting that my 6 year old son was pondering such deep questions at a time when I was picking up Shreddies from under my daughter’s chair and wondering whether I could get away with that good old favourite “pasta pesto” for the kids’ dinner that evening. I’m afraid I batted his question away with a “great question, I’ll have to give that some thought” – hoping to buy myself some time in which at best he would totally forget ever having asked the question and at worst I would have had time to dig out my bluffer’s guide to philosophy of religion.

Children do have a knack of asking or saying the most unexpected things at the most inopportune moments.  I remember when I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my daughter and I was heaving myself up the hill home from the shops with my sons (no doubt again pondering whether “pasta pesto” for the third time this week was tantamount to neglect) my elder son suddenly stopped and said, “When the baby is born, will it come out of your mouth?”.  What do you say?  Here I am, just minding my own business, wobbling up the hill like “Mr Blobby” (without the yellow spots) blissfully unaware that my son is contemplating the finer intricacies of the birthing process.  I admired his logic but this was not the time for a full on discussion about giving birth which would inevitably lead on to the “how did the baby get there in the first place” conversation.  I think I responded with a “It’s not quite like that, but not far off” sort of reply.  In normal circumstances this would have been woefully inadequate but fortunately he had been distracted by the fact that his brother had stepped in dog poo which of course he found hysterically amusing and I found painfully unamusing as bending down to remove said dog poo, required a feat of almost impossible balance and acrobatic nature totally unsuited to someone in the late stages of pregnancy.  Although I have to admit to being marginally grateful for whoever’s dog it was that chose to open its bowels on the pavement just there as it saved me from a complicated conversation with my son.

Despite the difficulties which these questions sometimes present, I absolutely love the randomness of their asking. Amongst the relentless routines and order of bringing up small children, there is something hugely refreshing and constantly surprising about the things they say and ask. The way they view the world is so unpredictable and we should celebrate this short period of their lives when they are not constrained by responsibility, awareness or cynicism.  It is through our child’s thinking that we get glimpses of a long-forgotten childhood, of that very special time before awareness creeps in and permeates our thought processes and our responses to the world around us.

January Blues – not me!

January seems to be a universally hated month which has always seemed a bit unfair for those whose birthdays fall in this month.  Not only do they have to deal with the joint present for Christmas and Birthday thing but their birthday celebrations are always a bit of a damp squib since most people are neither drinking nor eating. Well, I wish to redress the balance – I like January – a bit left field I know but that’s me, glass half full.  So banish those January blues and here are ten good reasons to like January (as far as I am concerned).

1. The children are back at school – this is far and away the best thing about January for me.  Having suffered the school holidays in shocking weather where not even the most insane mother would force her children outside, I have to admit that, although I love my children dearly, I was literally counting the minutes until my children became someone else’s responsibility between 9am and 3.30pm.  Since their return to school a couple of days ago, I have finished every single cup of tea I have made for myself (first time since mid-December) and I have managed to speak on the phone without conducting a parallel conversation with one or other child.  These are good things.

2. Christmas is over for another year – I know this sounds a bit bah humbug but it’s true – Christmas is a right palava and yes, there are some wonderful bits especially with young children but there are also some really irritating bits…

3. …which brings me onto “tinsel” – regular readers will know that I am allergic to tinsel – I hate the way it looks, the way it feels, the way it is omnipresent in the festive season and I actually hate the sound of the word, it sounds, as it is, tacky.

4.You can take the jumper that Aunt Maud gave you back to the shops and buy twice as much thanks to the sales.  I love a bargain – I really love a bargain and nothing makes me happier than exchanging something I don’t like for twice as many things that I do like.

5. It is perfectly acceptable not to entertain, not to cook for anyone and if you are as bold/odd as to invite people round in January, it is perfectly acceptable to have a take-away (maybe not pizza, but the local Indian or Thai restaurant fits the bill). In January I no longer have to pretend to be the offspring of Delia Smith, Nigella, Herman Blumenthal or whoever the chef du jour is.

6. It’s nice to do nothing – since I don’t fall into the camp of people insane enough to invite others around in January, I get to spend my evenings in January either watching the boxsets I got for Christmas or watching strangely fascinating “real-life” TV programmes that I wouldn’t go near at any other time of year.

7.The supermarkets are empty – the Christmas “Preppers” have gone and it is actually possible to pop to the shops for a pint of milk without running headlong into the panic-buying marauding masses who make

1024x768 Tree  - January 2012

1024×768 Tree – January (Photo credit: iluvgadgets)

buying even the simplest thing a herculean effort.

8. My credit card bill for January is the lowest of the year. January is the month when my credit card cools down after an extended period of overheating and just at the moment when it is about to spontaneously combust, it is allowed its “day of rest” – January.  If there is such a thing, I can say that January’s credit card bill is my favourite bill of the year.

9. The days are getting longer.  Always one to look on the bright side, we are on the way to summer – a long way off admittedly, but we are now the right side of the end of the year.  The odd snowdrop lifts the spirits further still. Am I pushing the point a bit…?

10. Everyone else in on a diet or having a no drinking alcohol month except me. Ergo they are miserable and however miserable they are, I am less miserable by virtue of the fact that I am still eating and still drinking. Cheers!

So there you have it, ten reasons to be joyful in January.  Perhaps I’ve stretched the point a bit but it’s not all bad and it’s only 31 days (744 hours for those who are counting) and as of today we are a third of the way through. Happy New Year all.

2012 – Reflections

New Years Eve 2011 London

New Years Eve 2011 London (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

So as we hurtle (or in my case limp due to age, a bad knee and the fact that I’m currently lurgy-ridden) towards 2013, I thought I would wrap up 2012 (“put it to bed”as those corporate types like to say) with a few reflections.  There is lots I could say about world events, economies, tragedies, successes and I’m sure I could do this in a serious fashion but I’m going to leave that up to the broadsheets and magazines who love nothing more in the period between Christmas and New Year than compiling endless lists about the year gone by – the highs, the lows, the events that shaped our world etc. No, I am going to focus on what directly affected me (not that I’m ego-centric or anything) and as you would expect much of what I say will be bordering on trivial and utterly irrelevant from a world perspective.

Firstly, this was the year that I turned 40.  Admittedly this is of no consequence to anyone except me and actually of very limited interest to anyone except perhaps a handful of family and close friends.  However, since I started this whole blogging lark in the run-up to turning twice twenty, it seems only right that I should mention it first. I have to admit that I currently feel closer to turning twice forty than twenty but putting that aside, I have to say that my experience of reaching this landmark age has been largely positive.  We had lots of celebrations and everyone was really nice to me in November (the month of the actual turning twice twenty) so I can’t complain.  I’ve decided that being 40 is infinitely preferable to 39 which is undoubtedly the most non-age of all.  I am feeling quite comfortable in my own skin (although there does seems to be rather more of it than I might like on my face in the form of wrinkles which I am sure were not there 12 months ago) and I definitely feel invigorated and determined to do more with my life.  So watch out, 2013, big things are going to happen.

2012 also saw the end of various activities which I have to say I shall not miss in the slightest.  No more nappy changing – hurray – I can leave the house without that tell-tale shoulder bag containing nappies, wipes, Sudocrem, nappy sacs, foldable changing mat and various toys to distract my child whilst I wrestle with the hell that is nappy-changing in public facilities. The other thing I have said goodbye to after 8 years is baby music classes – I know I am not the only person who actually only really enjoyed the first ever music class they did with their first child (novelty value) but then endured countless thousands more because if I didn’t go, then I felt that whole parent-guilt thing going on about not doing enough “activities” with my child.  I really admire those people who teach these baby/toddler music classes – how do they stay happy and smiley all the time.  I feel dangerously unstable after just half an hour once a week of singing “wind the bobbin up”.

Now to arts and culture – you know me, a proper little culture vulture.  2012 was the year of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and I reckon that with the exception of only one of my friends, I am probably the only person in the world who owns a copy but has not read it at all.  I don’t feel like I’ve missed out, actually if I’m honest I feel a bit smug that I have managed to resist the allure of this “mummy porn”. The other great cultural revelation of 2012 was that one man wonder PSY and his unmissable “Gangnam Style”.  I don’t care how old I am but I can safely say that some of my funniest moments this year have been either watching others or participating myself in some rendition of “Gangnam Style” – that “horse” dance has been the greatest leveller for all ages and all backgrounds.

It would be remiss of me not to mention “Great” Britain in this year.  Not only did we have the Jubilee as a wonderful excuse to indulge in extreme levels of partying nationwide, but we also managed to pull off the greatest show on earth with the Olympics and believe me that although this was obviously a surprise to many from other countries, the greatest surprise was for us, the British.  We are not a nation prone to hyperbole and excessive enthusiasm.  Indeed, on occasion, we seem to enjoy revelling in serious cynicism and an expectation that we shall fall short of any targets we set ourselves.  The Olympics took us by surprise – what an enormous success! Perhaps best summed up by our three gold medals in the athletics stadium in that glorious 45 minutes on Super Saturday.  Despite all the phenomenal talent on show from team GB and all the other competitors, it is worth mentioning that in 2012, it was a DOG that won the popular TV talent contest, Britain’s Got Talent – this would only happen in the UK.

So there we go – that’s 2012 wrapped up, except to say that it is raining again and that is the other record we have broken this year – the wettest ever on records. It reminds me of a statistic I read in The Sunday Telegraph that Britons use their lawnmowers for only 4 hours on average in a year – says it all really. However, think on the positives – what on earth would we talk about if we had wall-to-wall sunshine all year round?

Happy New Year to all and I’ll “see” you on the other side!

Christmas Capers…

Turkey

Turkey (Photo credit: Mike_fleming)

Happy Christmas all! The good news is the world didn’t end on December 21st as predicted although you would have been forgiven for thinking it was going to end on December 25th instead, judging by the manic, frantic, bulk-buying that was taking place in the supermarkets around me on 24th December. The once-a-year Christmas “preppers” were out in force buying all sorts of things that will remain in the back of some cupboard until they are joined the following Christmas by exactly the same sort of things.  For example, at the last count, I found 4 jars of Cranberry sauce – all unopened and promptly joined by jar number 5 on Boxing Day.

I do sort of get these Christmas “preppers” – I’m as guilty as the next person – but as an aside I don’t really understand preppers for real.  I’m afraid that given the choice between spending months underground in a confined space with all my family eating tinned artichokes and muesli and just going with the rest of mankind in some sort of apocalypse – well, it’s a no brainer for me.

So the day itself has been and gone in a whirlwind of over-indulgence on every level – food, alcohol, presents, spoilt child behaviour (indeed one of my children is still 2 days after the event asking me on an hourly basis whether there are any more presents for him despite a mountain of toys to rival most small town toyshops). I do actually love Christmas and particularly now with children – nothing beats the magic for kids. However, there is no doubt that as the hostess and responsible adult, stress levels are not low.  Christmas Eve was spent tracking Santa online – a bit like tracking a UPS delivery.  The evening was punctuated with constant interruptions such as “he’s in Pakistan”, “he’s in Timbuktu”, “oh no, he’s getting close, he’s in Turkey and I’m not in bed. What happens if he gets here and I’m not asleep?”. Middle child who is nothing if not entirely rational then decided that there was absolutely no point leaving a mince pie for Santa or carrots for the reindeer since having performed an over-complex calculation as to number of presents delivered per second (helped by a rapidly moving “present delivery counter” in the top right screen of the tracking Santa webpage), he decided that there was no time for Santa to stop and eat anything at all. Eldest child seemed more concerned with what sort of alcohol we should leave out for Santa – he reeled off a veritable drinks cabinet – red wine, white wine, vodka, gin, brandy ….all rather concerning for an 8 year old.  Having finally decided on red wine, one small mince pie and a rather mutant carrot, peace reigned.  Letters to Santa were inevitably, given the fact that my two eldest are boys, a series of questions about which football team he supports (Arsenal for the record), which rugby team he likes and whether he found time to watch the recent England/India cricket match.

As for Christmas Day itself, that was the usual frenzy of present opening and a preoccupation with trying to break all world records for most food consumed by a human being in a 24 hour period. As head chef this year, my Christmas Day was a mixture of low-level anxiety that I might have forgotten some vital ingredient – turkey (aside: why do we eat a meat at this most important meal in the calendar which we wouldn’t dream of eating on the other 364 days of the year?), tick; parsnips, tick; bread sauce, tick; Christmas pudding with money inside, tick etc – and a moment of intense smugness and satisfaction when everything finally came together at the same moment and I presented everyone with their own body weight in food.  I am now left, inevitably, with a ton of leftovers from brussel sprouts to stuffing to turkey to gammon to potatoes – all in the fridge waiting for me to do something with.  I suspect that they will still be waiting in a weeks time and I’ll still be talking about the wonderful turkey curry and vegetable soup that I am going to make. I also suspect that the final resting place of these leftovers will almost certainly be the bin which makes me feel terribly guilty.  I’ve always thought it a bit bizarre that we mark this important Christian festival by displaying some of the most gratuitous excesses and unchristian behaviour.

Once Christmas lunch is over, I always find the rest of the day is a bit of a blur as we heave our heavily inflated bodies onto the sofa, refill the wine glass for the umpteenth time (yes, it’s Christmas so just as it is perfectly acceptable to eat a month’s food on one day, so it is perfectly reasonable to match this with a month’s wine too), and watch the Christmas edition of EastEnders (poor old Derek Branning) and that new staple – “Downton Abbey” (now that wasn’t a very festive ending, Mr Fellowes, was it?).

For all its rituals, traditions and eccentricities, Christmas in the end is for children.  This was summed up for me in two very different comments from my children. The first one showing the mindset perfectly of this generation of children : to the tune of Wham’s famous Christmas hit, “Last Christmas” – “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day you sold it on eBay”.  Then secondly, back to the timeless innocence and magic of Christmas when one of my children pronounced ” Mum, this is the best day ever, ever, ever” – so all the preparation, all the cooking, all the angst is worth it just to hear that. Happy Christmas everyone!