Saturday, 20 December 2014

U is for Unforeseen circumstances and the Unnecessary madness of Christmas

Dear Nigel,

The Christmas preparations are well under way all around me and I've discovered that it it is the very worst time of year to decide to be ill. Not only do you have little choice but to carry on regardless, but appointments bank up at the hospital and 'a month isn't a long time to wait', apparently. The huge machine of ritual that is Christmas chugs on, and all around you the expectations of friends and family seek to hem you in. I never understood why anyone would want to be away from all their loved ones and holiday in the sun at Christmas, but this year me and my sore jaw would happily take a vegetarian chicken leg and go and sit and watch the Northern Lights (somewhere much colder than here).

For the little ones, of course, it is totally magical and no one should take that away from them. Watching their faces all lit up as the Steam train pulled in to take them to see Santa the other day was wonderful. I suppose for each of us there is a memory in our distant past - probably of something very small indeed - that rekindles itself every time we see that look of pure wonder on a small child's face. There are so few times in any lifetime when we experience something so perfect.

The school Nativity play goes past without a hitch. Molly, a decidedly unpregnant-looking Mary, decides that baby Annabel - dressed in a pink babygro, like all good french baby boys - was going to be Jesus, whatever...

Sophie is dressed as a Star, along with little Alfie (one of the younger ones in Reception, who has Downs Syndrome). All the children have learnt 'We wish you a Merry Christmas' in Makaton and it is lovely to see Alfie joining in with the others with the sign language- very much a part of our little family school. The children say that 'Alfie just hasn't grown out of being a toddler' and accept him for who he is, unconditionally. At their age they are so accepting of difference wherever they find it. If only it would stay that way.

The dinner I am making tonight is 'Aromatic Pork with Cucumber' (page 347). It is a lightening-quick dinner on the plate and tastes wonderful, and my guest thinks so too. Sometimes, especially at this time of year, when I'm busy cooking other things for Christmas, the last thing I want to do is spend ages cooking dinner as well. I'm busy filling up the freezer, with all seven of my children due home in the next couple of days (and Chris's Brazilian girlfriend Beatriz, too). I prefer to sit back with a glass of wine and enjoy spending time with my family at this time of year rather than slaving away in the kitchen. They all have much more important parties to go to for New Year so our time together is short and sweet.

The emails advertising this and that come in thick and fast as the great day looms. Gentle reminders to stash in piles of fluffy white towels and individual candle bowls for 'all those individual guest bathrooms' leave me laughing on the floor. In our house there'll be a long queue for the one bathroom and much banging on the door methinks. James is already planning to get up a rota.

I think my ideal would be to hire some large place in the country that would take all the family who care to spend Christmas with us - all under one roof, in a certain amount of comfort. It occurred to me that there must be a good number of suitable homes available for 'a house swap' at this time of year, what with all the Royals going up to Balmoral and everything. Perhaps someone should suggest it to Kate.

The tree in the corner appears to have a drink problem again this year. Last year we narrowed it down to the dog, this year it seems the cat is taking a liking to pine-infused liqueur. It just keeps me busy down on my front trying to fill it up again.

The village newsletter is delivered by Melanie on her rounds. It covers five tiny villages in this little area of the Peak District, including ours. I leaf through and note that Annie the vicar is doing a candlelit carol service on Monday evening at one of our neighbouring villages. I don't often go to church these days, but there is something rather awe-inspiring about a small candlelit church in the middle of winter, that beckons. The girls love singing carols (and more-importantly can read the words now) so I'm thinking that this would be an ideal time to go and remember the other side of Christmas, too often forgotten in the wrapping and unwrapping of presents and over-indulgence at the table.

It's a time for remembrance too. I'm still tippling back a thimble full of the sloe gin my brother made several years ago now and raising a toast to him. And this year I have three people close to me who will be having a harder Christmas than most to remember. I do what little I can to show that people do care and remember their pain. We can all do that for someone around us - light a tiny candle at the end of the tunnel to guide them home again.