Merry Betwixtmas!

Soon after it was released, in 2001, I remember going to see ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ with my mum.

Ever since the trailer had first graced our screens, she’d been wanting to go and see it. She’d also mentioned (several times over!) that Renée Zellweger had been required to put on weight in order to assume the title role – talk about going ‘above and beyond’!

As we watched the film together, laughing uncontrollably at the irreverence, chaos and hilarity of it all, I couldn’t help noticing that there were one or two (distinctly unfavourable) similarities between us. Okay, I was still a tiny bit younger than Bridget (with parents who were infinitely nicer and more tactful than hers) but I was single, prone to brief bouts of loneliness, and ‘upsizing’ at an alarming rate – as the large bag of pick ‘n mix (resting upon my ample thighs) would willingly testify!

Some twenty years later, and my life (rather like my appearance) is almost unrecognisable. Happily married with two gorgeous (but unrelentingly energetic) boys, I delight in the simple pleasure of being able to view my feet once more(!) having shrugged off the sedentary lifestyle of my 20s and 30s in favour of two relatively inexpensive commodities – namely, exercise and fresh air.

Having recently re-watched ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’, I found myself pondering Bridget’s ‘predicament’ from a slightly different perspective. Feelings of sympathy and (dare I say) pity, were less dominant this time around with the many benefits of being a SINK (single income, no kids) coming somewhat tantalisingly to the fore – sitting firmly, as we are, in the period fondly known as Betwixtmas…

For one thing, there’s the opportunity for some wonderfully spontaneous ‘self-gifting’ – not least because your disposable income is not being siphoned off by tweens who’ve apparently ingested an entire party pack of Miracle-Gro for Christmas!

Then there are the lie-ins, pyjama days and leisurely baths that can happen on a whim – and that (all too quickly) assume the scarcity of gold-dust once the ‘ankle-biters’ have arrived upon the scene.

Those profiteroles (enjoyed mid-morning, straight from the serving dish whilst sprawling out on the sofa) hardly fall within the ‘Change4Life’ guidelines either – inconveniently publicised by schools and doctors, with the clear expectation that these principles will be dutifully modelled by parents too.

And don’t get me started on that impromptu lunch date at the trendy new bistro in town – only made feasible because the logistical wizardry associated with arranging childcare (several days in advance) is simply not a consideration here!

They say that ‘the grass is always greener’ – and I do believe that there is a great deal of truth in this – but for the record (and just in case my husband or children ever read this!) I am extremely contented with ‘my lot’ and don’t miss my ‘Bridget’ days one bit. However, I would still urge my SINK (and DINKY) friends (you know who you are!) to enjoy Betwixtmas to the full.

This is your time. Use it wisely!

Let the festivities begin

Now that my children have finally broken up for Christmas, we are all daring to hope that we’ll be permitted to spend some quality time with our extended family – lateral flow tests notwithstanding, of course. At least, that is, until Boris calls a somewhat premature halt to any seasonal revelry.

As 2021 gradually draws to a close, it is astonishing to think that so much uncertainty still pervades everyday life and the distinct possibility of having to surrender many of our basic liberties once again (almost as soon as the last mince pie has been devoured) is more than a little demoralising! However, now is not the time for negative thoughts (after all, that’s what January is for!) instead, why not follow the advice of Stephen Covey? Namely that we should ‘Live, love, laugh (and) leave a legacy’, because these are the memories that will ultimately sustain our loved ones when we can no longer be together.

‘Last Call for Christmas’ by Gaynor Hall

’Twas the night before lockdown when all through the nation,
The people were cursing in abject frustration –
They’d barely discarded their party hats,
Nor managed the very last riddle to crack.

Gifts lay unopened at the foot of the tree,
Intended for Gran who’d been sleeping since 3!
And now the PM (centre stage on the telly)
Was ‘calling time’ on their festive Beef Wellie!

With no time to work off the Christmas excess,
Life would be cancelled again – more or less,
With guidelines as ‘rich’ as the festive fruit pud,
He began to outline all the ‘coulds’ and the ‘shoulds’.

Despite having chosen his rules to ignore –
Indulging in gatherings behind (public) closed doors –
It was clear that ‘Joe Bloggs’ was expected to comply
With another round of restrictions – no chance to defy.

But instead of being angry, with those cloaked in power,
(Lecturing, once more, from their ivory towers)
Those precious few hours of unrivalled pleasure,
Filled with such magical moments to treasure,

Are a fitting reminder of the laughter and love,
Witnessed, I’m sure, by our loved ones above.

Delving into life’s selection box

Way back in 1994, Forrest Gump (aka Tom Hanks) famously stated that his mum had always said that “life was like a box of chocolates” before going on to explain that this was because “you never know what you’re gonna get”.

Fortunately (for the risk averse amongst us) there is that helpful illustrated guide to lead us ever so gently through that all-important selection process, ensuring that we don’t unsuspectingly succumb to a flavour so utterly repugnant, that it all but ruins a Saturday evening’s viewing – perish the thought…

And for those who prefer to dabble in a spot of (confectionary fuelled) Russian roulette, then just be sure to have the number of an out of hours dentist saved into your contacts – just in case you end up falling victim to a rogue toffee or two!

With the festive season rapidly approaching, the subject of ‘Christmas Nibbles’ inevitably came up, with opinion briefly divided as to whether Cadbury’s ‘Heroes’ or Nestlé’s ‘Quality Street’ should take centre stage this year. And (even putting aside the many valid reasons for boycotting Nestlé’s products) it soon became clear that no-one can resist a hero – chocolate or otherwise – and that the chances of any particular variety being left to languish in the bottom of the tub (in our house at least) are extremely slim.

However, it would seem that even ‘heroes’ are capable of falling victim to a slump in popularity, with one or two firm favourites (The Twirl and the Dairy Milk) habitually outranking the humble Éclair – the item purportedly most likely to be consumed as a last resort. Similarly, across a range of opinion polls, the nation has repeatedly spurned the Coconut Éclair in favour of ‘The Purple One’ and the mini-Mars went on to suffer the ultimate ignominy of being deemed the least cause for celebration – and this in spite of being credited with the unique ability to ‘help you work, rest and play’ in the late 1950s!

Talk about falling from grace…

The point is, that (try as we might) we simply can’t avoid the selection (or even rejection) process. Either at work, or in our personal relationships, it is likely that we will have fallen victim to being unceremoniously ‘left on the shelf’ at one stage or another. However, if it has acted as a catalyst for self-evaluation or growth, then perhaps it was not such a bad thing.

So, if you’ve felt the passage of time rather keenly of late (and found yourself somewhat inclined to wallow in self-pity) thank your lucky stars that you don’t have to be a hero, you can live on a street of your choosing and that (with any luck) there’s still cause for celebration.

So long, farewell!

As this calendar year finally draws to a close, I’m fairly confident that most of us will be extremely glad to see the back of 2020. There have been challenges aplenty, moments of anxiety and despair, and my heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones to Covid-19; a virus that shows no mercy and seems intent upon wreaking havoc for some time to come. However, it is my firm belief that better times lie ahead and that this ‘new and silent enemy’ will eventually succumb to the fortitude and ingenuity of the human spirit. May the Lord ‘bless you and keep you’ until then.     

The Uninvited Guest

I don’t wish to sound ungrateful; I don’t want to seem unkind
But you’ve rather outstayed your welcome and taken up too much time.
When you crept up upon our communities, silent and somewhat shy,
None of us knew quite how potent you’d be – we hoped that you’d pass swiftly by.

You entered our homes uninvited, invaded our children’s schools,
You attacked the fit and the vulnerable, no thought for obeying the rules.  
You cancelled our hobbies and interests, you sabotaged parties and treats,
You even scuppered our festive plans; the latter was no mean feat!

And just when we thought that we’d found a solution – two vaccines quickly invented,
You chose to mutate, re-group and persist, local lockdowns circumvented.
You ripped through our cities, our towns big and small, without any sign of stopping,
Case numbers rose (as did hospital admissions) the death rates were truly shocking.

So, forgive me if I’m not a huge fan of yours, ‘Master Covid’ you cruel imposter,
You’re made yourself known through sadness and loss, and managed much fear to foster.
You’ve won a few battles (I’ll grant you that) but you’ve certainly not won the war,
With family, friendship and faith on our side, our spirit is sure to endure.    

After the gorillas

Anyone who works in a school will know that Christmas (out of necessity) comes incredibly early each year. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely rather Grinch-like in my approach to the festive season, and I really don’t enjoy being bombarded with (often rather alarming) statistics about the rapidly decreasing number of sleeps until a certain event! For me personally, Christmas begins once all of the end of term performances have been successfully completed, the parents have been reminded of the exceptional power of music to genuinely move them, and the children have experienced that tremendous sense of satisfaction gained from knowing that they have been part of something special.

Having entered the final stages of the Autumn Term once more, I found myself reminiscing about the run-up to Christmas some 17 years ago. 

I had just joined the staff as Director of Music, and I was ultimately keen to make my mark. I had put together an ambitious programme for the traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols, organised a concert for our junior instrumentalists and (rather foolishly) decided that I could also fit in a performance of Herbert Chappell’s ‘The Christmas Jazz’ courtesy of our Year 3 pupils. Rookie error!

Well, the rehearsals had been something of a struggle (largely because I had grossly overestimated the ability of 7- and 8-year old children to commit large amounts of song lyrics to memory) and I found myself taking the dress rehearsal and genuinely wondering if we would make it safely from start to finish.

I had started by instructing the children that we needed to run through the whole work without stopping, and that they should be listening out for their cues, especially if they had a solo to perform. We had spoken (fairly exhaustively) about the need to learn their words (from the sheets which had been provided several weeks earlier) and to make sure that they knew where their part fitted in. Satisfied that we were all working to the same agenda, I took my place at the piano and looked up expectantly. Just as soon as most sets of eyes were looking in my direction (there’s always one, after all!) we began.

Everything started well. The young lady who was singing the opening solo did a fantastic job, and the rest of the year group joined in lustily for the first chorus. I began to relax. As we moved through some sizeable solos, all of the children seemed to have peaked at just the right time. I dared to hope that we were heading for chart topping success.

As we progressed through the performance, I sensed that we had company. Having furtively glanced behind me, I gleaned that the catering staff had emerged from the kitchens to listen and we had also been joined by the Headmaster. My desire for a smooth run instantly intensified.

With the cow, donkey, Mary and all three sheep having sailed through their respective solos it would soon all come down to the Wise Men. No less than 45 voices (potent in their sincerity) sang the ‘Gloria’ with gusto. And then… silence! Not a single Wise Man had sprung to his feet and, not for the first time that term, I began to wonder quite why I had entrusted such a crucial role to the three boys who (even now) seemed oblivious as to the reason why our dress rehearsal had spectacularly ground to a halt.  

Utterly incensed, I leapt to my feet. I glowered in the direction of the three boys and enquired (rather acerbically) as to why they weren’t singing their trio? With a look of absolute bewilderment, one of the boys responded: “Because it’s not our turn yet, Miss.” With a withering look, I asked when he thought it might be his turn – after all we were within a few bars of the grand finale…

He reached for his word sheet, referred to it quickly, and fixed me with a look of pure defiance:
“It says here that we sing after the gorillas, and they haven’t sung yet!” he stated. For once, I was speechless. Gorillas?? Certainly not a feature of any nativity scene that I had encountered!

As I summoned up the energy to point this out, the penny finally dropped… In actual fact, his word sheet bore the instruction that ‘the Wise Men sing immediately after the Gloria’ – with hindsight, possibly not the most helpful of directions for a 7-year old boy suffering from dyslexia! Feeling rather contrite, I went on to explain just where the misunderstanding had occurred (much to the amusement of the entire catering staff) and we tried that section again.

Thankfully, having cleared up any confusion, the performance later that week went well. However, when ‘Love Actually’ was released (just a couple of weeks later), I found myself chuckling about the much-coveted role of ‘1st lobster’ and thinking that a ‘Gorilla’ was perhaps not all that far-fetched after all!