Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Have a Very Merry...

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house
Every creature was stirring, well mostly the spouse.
The place had been hoovered and polished with care,
All ready for in-laws who soon would be there.

The children were bouncing around on their beds,
While sugar-plums sent them quite out of their heads.
The better half calmed them, while I had a flap,
Then we went to the shops, though we needed a nap

We de-iced the car, as the kids gave a mutter,
We prayed to the engine – it caught with a splutter.
Away to the market we flew like a flash
To wrestle the crowds for the last trolley dash

The sun o’er the breast of the new fallen snow
Shone straight in our eyes with a dazzling glow.
As we queued for the car park we needed a beer
But a space opened up and we all gave a cheer.

So the food for the courses was crossed off the list
By the end of it all we were feeling quite … annoyed
And I told No. 1, as her sister was sick,
“Yes, I’ve got a mince pie to leave out for St. Nick.

Got pudding, got crackers, got turkey and stuffing.”
We inched down the aisles, with much huffing and puffing,
To the front of the shop and the slow checkout crawl.
Pay cash away, cash away, cash away all.

As wet leaves that stick in the gutter-caught sludge,
We waited in traffic that just wouldn’t budge.
Once clear of the jams, home we finally flew
With a boot full of food and some drinky poos too.

And that afternoon, making good on our pledge,
We walked up the hill, with our girls, for a sledge.
They flew like the wind, over white frozen ground
And the dog had a turn, leaping on with a bound.

Snow clung to her fur from her head to her paws
And it flew from the snowballs she caught in her jaws.
Now home again, home again, now deck the halls
And hang up more lights and some bright shiny balls.

“You kids were a help, yes, you made it look merry,
Now do me a favour and go watch the telly.
I’ll be back in a sec, I’m just popping outside
For I’ve still more to do for this festive yuletide.”

I’ve pricked all my fingers while hanging the wreath
So I’m tying a knot with my chattering teeth.
I’m shivering and shaking; my legs are like jelly,
It must be the snow seeping into my welly.

I must wrap the pressies - that’s no bed of flowers
You think it takes minutes – it always takes hours.
The unfinished jobs now crowd into my head
And the thought of them all really fills me with dread.

When I think of the cost and the time and the work,
I must admit part of me feels like a jerk
And though I may be at the end of my wick
All of it’s worth it… for dear old St. Nick.

As I crawl into bed on the eve of the day
I know I’ll be listening for sounds of his sleigh
And I’ll smile like a child as I turn out the light.
“Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why does the Virgin Mary wear blue?

I am not a deeply religious person… but then again, I’m not shallowly religious either. However I do love a good Nativity. Whether you believe The Gospel as gospel or whether you believe all modern religions are piggybacking on the moment man wondered about tomorrow and thought that a bit of worship couldn’t go amiss, there is something tangibly good about seeing those innocent faces wobbling through their performance. True, they are mostly picking their nose and, if lucky, wiping it on the tea towel headdress, but if the hopes and fears of all the years meet anywhere… it’s there.

This was No.1 daughter’s second Nativity; No.2 has yet to tread the boards, or aisle. Last year No.1 was cast as a little star. We arrived at a politically stable time, not too early, not too late, to find the church packed. Squeezing in at the back we watched our little star walk down to her place by the Holy Family and stand on a chair, shining with the others. We could just see her head. And then we couldn’t – but we heard the thump as she turned into a falling star and hit the deck. Picked up, dusted off and replaced, she kept smiling – that’s my girl.

This year she progressed to an Angel. And I progressed to throwing arrival politics out of the window. When we got there, there were only six other people in the church. Having secured a clear camera shot from the second row, we settled in for the long wait.

Which gave me time to ruminate on the other aspects of Nativity politics. It begins with the casting – A dear friend also has two daughters. One has been cast as Mary, the other as the Innkeeper’s Wife. Which caused some tears. The Innkeepers Wife only heard ‘Innkeeper’ and was not best pleased at being cast as a man. After inquiries, order was restored. Keeping Mary in order would also have proved a challenge. Theirs is a large school. Necessitating in each class doing their own Nativity – that’s a lot of Marys to wrangle – “Could all the Marys stand by their own Joseph, Right! Have you got your Jesuses – Well where did you leave him. ?…OK Off we go … Stay together.”

Being in the sticks, No. 1’s school is quite small. Older kids do the readings; the younger ones get the costumes. With so few to control, they can afford a real Jesus. The tiny headline act arrived to ‘ahs’ and he and Mum took their place at the front.

In her welcoming remarks, the Headmistress apologised for the tardy start – they had been waiting for Jesus to arrive, he was late. For a moment I thought he had been couriered from the maternity ward before I realised she was talking about the traffic.

Jesus wasn’t last though. Frazzled parents had screamed in late, marched down to the front, looked at the reserved signs on the front pews and then ask who they were reserved for – er… not you. With a full house, one late arrival told the row in front that as the person they were saving the aisle seat for wasn’t there, she wanted to take it.
‘Sorry, she’ll be here in a minute, she’s helping the kids.’
‘Well could you all budge up?’
‘Er, yes, can you squeeze past?’
‘No… I want the aisle seat.’… A refusal often offends.

No doubt, like me, she had wanted a clear shot. Photography is also fraught with politics. Is it allowed? What are the current rules? Am I infringing on their human rights? Flash or no Flash? Do I lift the camera for a better angle, thus impeding the view for those behind? … I needn’t have been so perturbed. As the performance kicked off, paps on the red carpet couldn’t have created more of a barrage of flashes. One granddad kept standing up every time his sprog twitched to get that perfect picture. At one point he was upright during an entire reading – now there’s commitment.

Jesus had got peckish while Mary and Joseph were travelling to Bethlehem but luckily was burping by the time they reached the stable and so was ready for his big moment in the crib. Unfortunately his divinity didn’t stretch to working out how to keep his dummy in. It lay tantalisingly close to his cheek. As his cries grew louder, Joseph was persuaded to stop looking like the holy infant was about to explode and retrieve it for him. Joseph did sterling work; Mary regarded the baby as somebody else’s problem. In fairness, she had a point. Or perhaps she had postnatal depression – it would finally explain the colour of the robe.

As we all stood and sang ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘Hark the Herald’, I looked at the little faces suffused with joy, and couldn’t stop grinning myself. You know, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas – and when it comes to the politics… I couldn’t give a Figgy Pudding!

Good will to all.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Holidays are coming…

Nope they’re here.

According to the shops, Christmas starts the day after Halloween, or Thanksgiving, and ends when they take down the January sales signs and replace them with Valentines hearts and Cadburys Crème eggs.

According to one friend they start the moment she sees the Coke lorry advert on the telly.

When I was a kid we knew Christmas was coming when we’d see Harry get the juggling clubs out and start practising above the sofa. Soon afterwards that year's panto script would thump through the letterbox and I'd start running the lines with him… “Now I’m outside Peking’s walls, I think I’ll have a juggle with me balls”…
Ah happy days…

These days my Christmas panic sets in when NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) launches their Santa tracker. For those unaware, every year NORAD counts down to the big day. When Santa sets off from the North Pole they train their heat seeking radar onto Rudolph’s nose and post live updates of exactly when Santa Claus is coming to town so you can make sure you’re in bed. Why they do this is a story to melt the iciest heart.

In 1955 the Sears department store in Colorado ran an advert with a phone number for kids to call Santa. But, thanks to a misprint, when little Jimmy dialed up he didn’t get the man in red – he got the hotline of the Commander-in-Chief of CONAD, NORAD’s predecessor. When Colonel Harry Shoup answered the phone he asked his staff to check the Radar for Santa’s whereabouts. Santa was very pleased with their efforts, so the volunteers at NORAD have done it ever since. God bless ‘em, every one.

Their site also hosts one of the most addictive games online - Light up the Christmas tree. I dare you to play it just the once. I can’t, I got obsessed with it last year. I’m trying to resist as long as I can. Once I start, it means I’ll be ignoring the thousand other things I have to do.

Like thanking my editor for the Christmas party. A few days ago I tootled up to town for a spot of mingling with fellow Children’s authors, whose main advice was to avoid going onto to the pub after the party. Who knew they would be such hell raisers, mind you, as a breed they don’t get out much. I also finally managed to put a face to my editor’s name and voice and got to meet the illustrator of Dragon’s Dinner, Lynne Chapman. Both were charming. Unlike me. While chatting to a partygoer I asked what he did. Gesturing to his name badge he told me, in tones reserved for the terminally thick, “I’m a writer – My last book was a number one Darling!” Feeling like a number two, I got me coat.

Also on the to do list - aside from send all the cards, get all the presents, wrap all the presents, hide all the presents, do all the shopping, clean all the rooms, build all the beds for the descending hoards, get through the school nativity (twice), panto trip, craft morning, carol service, disco and fair – I also have to finish making princess dresses. No. 1 and No. 2 daughters like dressing up. But both are very, very particular. No. 1 wants to have copies of Disney character dresses that are not available in the shops – I know, I’ve looked. And No. 2 will not wear any of No.1’s old dresses. She will only wear the one dress that was specifically given to her last year and is now like a bandage. This explains why the dining room table is awash with pink satin and I’m having to beat back 15 meters of netting with a stick to get to the dress pattern…

All the time the kids chocolate advent calendars shave off the remaining days while the sugar makes them even more hyper… what was I thinking

I’m never going to get it all done in time

Oh yes you are

Oh no I’m not…. Ho, Ho, Ho.