Dec 192014

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“S” today. All my troubles seem so far away…


Santa’s sleigh passes us by so we stuff the stockings ourselves

Is for…

Secret Present Room: The best present I ever got was from my son, Ben, and he bought it from the “Secret Present Room” at his primary school Christmas Fayre. The secret present room, for the uninitiated, is an adapted classroom only children can enter filled with donated gifts suitable for adults that the kids can buy for a couple of quid a pop without their parents seeing. Once the kids have made their choices they are wrapped and labelled for secrecy and the kids come home and put them under the tree for Christmas morning.

Ben put a huge amount of thought into his secret presents – I could be waiting outside the classroom door for an hour or more while he made up his mind – but his autistic fuzzy-logic didn’t always pay off. The first year he used the secret present room, for example, he bought me a book, on the basis that I like reading.

fashThe thought was certainly there, and I was chuffed to bits in that respect, but the fact it was an autobiography of John Fashanu was a bit of a letdown, as I had (and still have) no interest in football or Mr F’s footballing career, which was the main topic of the biog. The book was secretly gifted back, unread, to the secret present room the following Christmas, and Ben given a reminder of the previous year’s gift before he went in lest he unwittingly buy it back again. That year he bought me a leatherette case holding twin decks of cards so we could play nomination whist when on holiday. I liked that present much more.

The best present, though, the one I felt he got exactly right, was a twin set of ceramic bottles for storing and drizzling olive oil and vinegar. I was totally choked on receiving these, because Ben choosing them reflected a kind of breakthrough in theory-of-mind thinking: he had bought them for me, not us, and he knew that, unlike the Fashenu book, they were of specific value to me (I love cooking and by extension all cookery equipment) rather than of generic interest. Or, I suppose with hindsight, it could have just been a lucky guess. Either way, I think as far as presents go these inexpensive bottles (you can buy a similar set on Amazon for around a fiver + P&P) rank as my all-time number one favourite. I’ve had much more expensive presents, and presents bought with equal thought and consideration, but sometimes it’s not about the gift or the thought. It’s about the person doing the thinking.



He stares at an inky sky that only hours ago was lit up by angels.
The others have gone to see the child, but someone had to stay and watch the sheep.shepherds4
Not that he minds.
He has children of his own.
What can be so special about a baby?
But, then again, perhaps the saviour of the world will look somehow different?

(To be concluded at W)


Snow: I always wish for snow at Christmas, and sometimes it even arrives. The perfectionist in me loves it.  All manner of rubbish is reinvented as clean fresh landscape. There is, however, a problem, a fly in the ointment you might say, a mosquito in the myrrh. Why is it impossible to build a snowman without disturbing any of the snow around it? However hard I try there are tracks around the scene where the snow has been rolled, showing the grass and mud underneath. Inconsiderate boots make footprints in the glorious whiteness. Bits and pieces gathered for twig arms, for eyes, nose and mouth get draggled around the place making such a mess. When the snowman is finished he is, of course, perfect, but he is standing in a warzone. So just once, I would like to make the perfect snowman and drop him into the perfect snowy scene. Beautiful…..


Solstice: Have I said this before? My lasting memory of my ‘Ladybird’ Christmas book (circa approx 1972) was the first page image of some cave’people’ in a cave praising the sun, and a write up on the Winter Solstice. The rest of the book went on to Baby Jesus (who had his own ‘Ladybird’ book) and general celebrating, roast pigs and turkeys, and even a man in a kilt with some coal for New Year’s Eve.

Back to the cave-people. It was quite a confusing illustration, featuring mist I seem to think, and I’m increasingly annoyed that the three significant ‘Ladybird’ books of my childhood, of which this is one, have vanished rather than being in ‘Things that should never be lost’. Another thing that shouldn’t be lost is the actual real reason for ‘Christmas’, which is the winter solstice. Books I read after I was in the Infants suggest Jesus may not have been born on 25th December, it really depends what census there had been at the time, but that the Romans found hanging a bit of Christianity onto a Pagan date was a good promotional idea. I bet, if they had twitter, they’d have been all over it with their hashtag, a bit like #BlackFriday. Bringing in something new.

But for a long time before that, people had realised that December 21st was the shortest day of the year, after that the sun came back, it got warmer, and another season of growing crops started. That was all there was to it. No batteries, nets of nuts or Dr Who Christmas specials. Quite simply too, it is all that matters. The world is still turning, a new year is starting, and here we go again….


Sport: Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the opportunity to escape from the house for a few hours to enjoy a festive game of football. It’s part of Christmas tradition in any football supporting household; a chance to get away from all that sentimental good will and having to be polite to the relatives. Far better to blow away the cobwebs by taking grandad and your funny uncle down the pub and before long they’re belting out who are ya, who are ya, with the rest of them.

The Boxing Day fixture is the highlight. All we want for Christmas is goals and lots of them; brilliant long range shots, acrobatic volleys, some following a mazy dribble from the wing and we definitely want a bit of comedy courtesy of some ludicrously inept defending. Above all we want to see the mighty fall, a hero to rise out of the fog and a few pantomime villains getting their comeuppance but just like Christmas we don’t always get what we want.

football snowmanI once had the dubious privilege of being in the executive box for Accrington Stanley vs Emley FC on 26th December 1994. Neither are my club but my dad’s employer was the match ball sponsor for the day and so we turned up as guests. It sounds like it might have been posh but it wasn’t. There were some dodgy looking meat sandwiches and the executive box was more like the interior of someone’s conservatory. It bucketed down with rain for the entire ninety minutes and the windows got so steamed up that a club steward spent the most of the match wiping them down furiously whenever they became cloudy. I think we missed the only goal of the game. It didn’t matter. We chose the man of the match from what little we saw. In the players bar afterwards he seemed as surprised as anybody to receive it and we decided to hang around for a few pints and mingle with the fans. I’ve been to far better matches over Christmas but something about the closeness of everyone, the family atmosphere of a small club, the cackling, the smoke, the smell of beer and pies always comes back to me on Boxing Day.


Stress: Which seems to go hand-in-hand with the festive season…


Featured Writer: C J Hall (Sport). Additional Contributors: Anne Cawardine, Lynn Davies, Carolyn Gray, Peppy Scott, David Smith, Karen Tucker.

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