Over for another year. Well mostly.

Hopefully you had a good Christmas. For us it was a bit more complicated than expected due to a family crisis, but everyone pulled together in the way families ideally should and in the end it was a good Christmas day with lots of food, laughter and a few presents. Also a lot of glitter… Lots of glitter in fact that was largely unintentional and down to the fact that Christmas wrapping paper from a certain supermarket chain seemed especially designed to shed glitter everywhere and over everything, which eventually turns into adding a special festive glisten to everyone. I like to think that thanks to us everyone in the family was left with an additional sparkle this year.

I find it personally strange this year that this year the festive season has not gone to plan. First it felt it was coming on too early, then I was struggling to get into Christmas cheer mode (though significant progress was made via by a big screen helping of Die Hard – and yes it is a proper Christmas movie, not a just  a running joke. The Lovely Wife fully agrees and she had not seen it before this year). Then suddenly crisis point and before you knew it I was making Turkey Thai curry on Boxing Day. Where did it all go? Once more the Christmas Duck can see the approaching release from the top of the tree (only to be consigned once more to 12 months of solitary confinement in the collector’s edition golden syrup tin (I am a cruel man sometimes, but I manage somehow to live with the guilt).

Still, it is over once more, and while New Year is quite a big thing for the Lovely Wife and I and a second Christmas/birthday bash at my Dad’s is something we can still look forward two I think this might be the first year where I am looking at the calendar and thinking ‘actually I think this might be a long year’. Still, there is no point in moaning and a lot of things to look forward too, including significant birthdays to celebrate so that will have to be the fix of present giving until we can start again to execute the rituals. And who knows, maybe it might actually feel like winter next Christmas and not like a dank March day as it did in our neck of the woods.

Safe journeys to all that have to travel, better health to those that need it and sustained good health to those that have it, and I wish you all happiness as 2016 draws to a close.


Reflections and Resilience

Resilience is a good thing to develop. Not stubbornness, or inflexibility and a reluctance to change. Not even an overdeveloped sense of determination. No, I’m thinking here about standing up in a gale and still moving forward, albeit slowly. Or finding another way to get to the destination on time when the road is blocked, or rather constantly adapting, without panic, as every alternative route is blocked in turn. Someone does not want you to get home but rather than despair and give up, or panic and be paralysed you just keep chipping at the problem until it gives.

Sometimes it just seems as though everything that can go wrong is going wrong. The reality is that it is often not the case, it just seems that way as the things that are not going well (or slapping you in the face like a wet fish) are the things you are focusing on at the time or particularly important to you, and you therefore do not see the things that are bubbling along nicely according to plan in the background.

Anyway, this is on my heart at the moment as the family is having a more complicated Christmas than expected due to unforeseen hospital related activities. That’s all that needs to be said on the negative side because I would rather think about the positives in the situations. The resilience and forthrightness of a dear relative who hardly has paused since a fall to get back up on their feet and the strength of a family I have had the pleasure of marrying into yet again rallying around to do what needs to be done at a time of year where busyness is already endemic. From a moment last week where things were not looking good for the festive season, with a little jigging we are getting back on a slightly changed plan that might go down as a more memorable Christmas celebration than perhaps anyone expected.

It has also reminded me, and finally I am getting to the point, of the people working at this time of year, and working long and hard hours. After many hours spent waiting with our relative and the Lovely Wife in A & E it was impossible not to see just how busy both the hospital and ambulance staff were, and this was not the busiest time of the year – that is yet to come. I was impressed in particular by the ambulance staffs who were the most organised and practical people I have had the pleasure to meet in some time. They have to stay with the people they have brought in until they can formally hand them over to the hospital staff, a process that for non-life threatening cases at least seems to take considerable time. What I did see was some impatience – but it was fuelled by wanting to get back on the road, and an urge to be out there helping people rather than stuck in a hotel corridor waiting for someone from the over stretched hospital staff to take over responsibility for the patient. I’m not knocking the hospital staff either. My grandad used to work in A&E in Newcastle after he left the navy and he was always clear about how difficult it was trying to manage everyone, especially on the Friday and Saturday evening with the drink related injuries (and sometimes having to stop the fights that caused those injuries continuing in the hospital – my grandad was a hard man when he needed to be). Being able to professionally deal with people in pain or anguish and/or their relatives and friends who have brought them in and might be even more of a problem, knowing that most people will have the frustration of waiting hours before being seen properly – because you just cannot rush this kind of thing and you are always going to have less resources than you would like – it is not a job I would have the backbone for I fear. So I when we are enjoying our makeshift Christmas this year I will try and take some time to think and pray for those in the emergency services – all of them – for whom this time of the year can be so busy and testing.  Plus the GPs, vets, clergy, truck drivers, pub and restaurant workers and shop staff and all the rest that still have to work and/or be on call. I salute their resilience and hope they can catch up with some festive cheer when eventually they can get the time off to do so.

Christmas Past

I have struggled to get into Christmas mode this year for some reason. Not sure why, normally I love this time of year and do not need much encouragement to get out the tinsel. Like a lot of people I do like Christmas and the whole atmosphere of temporary insanity that seems to grip the country for a few weeks even if many of the people celebrating don’t really think that they are engaging in what is nominally a religious festival. A lot of it is self- perpetuating and not just by people selling something but also because people like tradition. Many of us moan about having to buy and send cards and covering our houses with decorations of various degrees of tackiness. The Lovely Wife and I are no different. I love buying presents and hate wrapping them, as anyone who has ever received a present from me will probably be able to tell from the lack of care in the wrapping.

We’ve just gone through let another ritual and put the tree up: the boxes of decorations – some of great antiquity – have come down from the loft; the Christmas Duck is once more strapped, helpless, to the top of the tree having spent the rest of the year quashed in a Lyle’s Golden syrup tin (no life that really, I would admit). There is the moment of excitement every year when I put the batteries back in the farting Santa and a moment of intense disappointment from the Lovely Wife when he still works (although I do understand why she would like to see him consigned to landfill and over the years the dye has leached from his costume onto his white beard transforming him more into a zombie Santa on the rampage). Decorations made by God daughters and son when they were very much tinier than they are now come out and are greeted like long lost friends. Unicorns, pandas and elephants hang on various limbs of the tree reminding me of exhibitions attended, places visited and people missed.

Ah, people missed. My late mother adored Christmas. She would buy presents – nothing big, things she saw in catalogues mostly, especially when she became largely housebound – but she would buy them all year round, squirreling them away from my Dad and I in draws and cupboards, sometimes so effectively that she forgot entirely about some of them herself; after she passed away and we helped Dad go through everything we found a few things that obviously had been intended as future gifts. Christmas morning was one of her favourite times I think; she had always cooked the turkey on Christmas Eve and stripped the carcass, so she was not under any cooking pressure, so the morning could be dedicated to an orgy of ripping paper off a host of low value presents. Initially this would be mostly presents for me, but as I lurched into adulthood it became for a while something of a competition between my Mother and I as to how could buy the most presents. Meanwhile my Dad would look on bemused and worry about whether his relatives coming later for Christmas dinner would be in a argumentative mode this year (not with him or my Mum – she always kept a low profile – it was with each other there might be trouble). So much was this a special time for my parents that when I came home from university one year they got me out of bed to open their presents, something of a reversal of my adolescent years where 6am was just about what I could get away with.

Christmas is not the same for me without Mum; Dad does not really celebrate it now, preferring to celebrate with us in early January when he has his birthday. I can enjoy the season with my Lovely Wife and her family; I have carried on some of my Mother’s traditions. Maybe if I think a little more about here this year the Christmas spirit might begin to flow a bit more markedly.

Watch Out

We were walking through the park here in St Albans a few days ago at the onset of dusk (which at this time of year always seems ridiculously early in the day, but there you are) chatting away as is our wont, when the Lovely Wife stopped and pointed at the bushes.

‘Kingfisher,’ she whispered.

And indeed, it was a kingfisher, calmly sitting on a branch above the river Ver, not more than a very short stone’s throw. It did not seem particularly concerned that it was now under close supervision. Neither was this tiny, gorgeous little bird that much into fishing to be honest but then that was to our viewing pleasure.

So we stood there for a few minutes taking in one of the prettiest birds we have here in the UK, as people wandered past us, totally oblivious to what they were missing. I despair sometimes how unobservant people can be. I mean, it was pretty obvious we were looking at something and you would have thought that at least some people should just be plain nosey about that. But no, no one seemed remotely interested. Eventually a small group of people walked by and started pointing – at the fish swimming along in the river. At that point I could stand it no longer and quietly pointed out what they should be looking at, and was rewarded with the appropriate amount of ooh noises that indicated that I had made at least one person’s day.

This lack of awareness seems to be a creeping disease. What I do not know is whether it is an individual thing or something of a trend. Certainly the Lovely Wife and I are on the lookout most of the time for things to interest us, whether this is something wild or something in the architecture. We are the kind of people that Blue Plaques were created for I guess. It forms part of the pleasure of walking, in the country and the town, beyond the exercise and the fresh air. It may just be that some people will always notice and others will not. But there seems to be a heavy majority on the people with more focused vision (or if I flip things, people who are not as easily distracted as I!).

Alternatively, what I could be seeing is a side effect of the huge amount of busyness that we all seem to have these days. Life seems to be busier, time seems shorter and the amount of data of all sorts being thrown at us just seems to increase. Our brains are wonderful things but conscious processing takes resources and those do have limitations. So maybe there is a ‘deliberate’ action going on to cut out input that might be seen as extraneous. Putting blinkers on a horse is usually to stop it being distracted on the race. Maybe we put ourselves in blinkers to achieve what we see as the important task. In this context of course our choice to ‘waste’ ten minutes of that precious time we have gawping at a tiny azure and orange bird represents a good sense of where our priorities lie; for me at least there is no point in the day without some time at least being able to appreciate the beauty and/or complexity of our surroundings. And there is so much to enjoy if we just keep our eyes (and indeed ears open).  But as I say, I understand the other point of view too, but do bear with me and in this case I feel confident that no one cannot be a metre away from a kingfisher and not smile, just a little bit, at having seen something special which, as they say in the vernacular, never gets ‘old’.