Thursday 27 December 2018

‘The poor aren’t my business,’ said Scrooge.

In 1843 two charity workers approached Scrooge, a wealthy man.
I’ve brought Dickens’ story gently up to date.

‘At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute.’
‘Are there no childrens’ homes nor night shelters for the homeless?’ asked Scrooge.
‘Plenty of night shelters.’
‘And the food banks, are they still in operation?’
‘They are. I wish I could say they were not.’
‘Oh,’ said Scrooge. ‘From what you said at first I was afraid something had happened to stop them in their useful course.’
‘I don’t think you quite understand us, sir. A few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the poor some meat and drink and means of warmth.’
‘Because it is at Christmas time that want is most keenly felt and abundance rejoices. What can I put you down for?’
‘You wish to be anonymous?’
‘I wish to be left alone. I support those establishments I have already mentioned. I regularly donate tins of beans - out of my own hard-earned cash, to the Trussell Trust,’ said Scrooge.
‘Go to a food bank? Some would rather die,’ said the charity worker.
‘If they would rather die they had better do it and decrease the surplus population. Besides. It isn’t my business.’
‘Isn’t it, Sir?’ asked the charity worker.
‘No,’ said Scrooge.

The charity workers walked away and Scrooge continued balancing his accounts.

Thursday 20 December 2018

New year’s day on February 1st? Now there’s an idea.

The winter solstice beckons: it's shortest day tomorrow. As I write the skies are overcast and beyond the inky-blue time. Now - at half past four - our steps are lit up with fairy lights and all outside is drained of colour. It will soon be night.

Seasonal festivities fall at the low time of the year, when daylight is spare and there are more dark hours than light. The blackness of night shuts us in. There’s a reason why we celebrate Christmas with candles, baubles, fairy lights and glittering decorations.

The lawn is sodden with rain and churned up like a ploughed field after badger-party-time. My last patio pelargonium was struggling to survive and is now recovering on the window ledge. Any more than 1 degree of frost and it would have died.

Overwintering broad beans are a bright green, erect and strong. Potted wallflowers are much better than last year’s crop and my baby spinach is still at the seedling stage. All is well with the world.

On Christmas Eve, on the day itself and through to Boxing Day the temperatures look set to be mild. I won’t even have to protect my plants against frost this yuletide.

And then it’ll be new year.

But what a pity we turn to a new calendar in the middle of winter, with the worst of the weather yet to come?
Who’s wonderful idea was it to start the year at January rather than four weeks later on February 1st?

Just imagine how much better we’d all feel: Christmas would still be the focus for December. Burns Night on 25th January could be another treat and, instead of cramming new year and Christmas into the same fortnight, we could look forward to new year’s eve on January 31st. By then our clocks would strike much later as the day wound down into dusk. And we’d embrace that extra hour of evening light. On February first, our new year’s day,  we could truly anticipate lighter nights and a relatively short spell of biting winter weather to come.

Couldn’t we just move new year’s celebrations on a month and start 2019 on February 1?

Then we could just get through January. It’s dismal and no way to celebrate a fresh start. It’s a quiet month. After Noel indulgences folk have to adjust to waking up in the dark, going to work and school in the dark and returning home in the dark. 

But February.
Now there’s something to truly look forward to.
Snowdrops, forsythia and crocus plants are getting ready to greet us. It’s slightly lighter in the mornings and I’ve even been known to get an hour’s digging in on a February evening.

This is the month when the world wakes up. Unlike January when everyone and every thing is still in hibernation. 

February is early spring. That’s when we should start our new year.

Ah but one can merely dream.

In five days time it will be Christmas day. I hope you all have a peaceful and heartwarming one. Thank you for reading my blogs during 2018 and, despite January being the worst month of the year, my very best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year.

Monday 17 December 2018

These are a few of my favourite things

We have reached one of my favourite weeks in the year. It’s a time to look at the glittering displays in shops; Christmas lights twinkle at us and pretty windows cause us to pause. Baubles strung across Milsom Street, more like expensive jewllery than damp washing, sparkle in diamond-white and ruby-red. 

The sun is shining, market crowds have gone and schools haven’t broken up - it’s the best time to go Christmas shopping. And it’s good to support our high street. Do we really want pruchases to become nothing more than intensively-driven deliveries? More cardboard boxes, littering the patio, than the cat could ever hide in? Everything bought by looking at an image on a screen? Not only will we lose the chance to feel smooth velvet fabrics, lust after shiny silks or try on jackets, dresses or jeans in changing rooms, we’ll be waiting in more and more for deliveries. And we’ll be queuing more and more to return items which are the wrong size, the wrong colour or of poor quality.

If we continue to go in our local and city centre shops we can take our time and check out our purchases before we make a mistake. I can’t imagine Milsom Street becoming a ghost town. But when Christmas is over, cash registers have stopped ringing and Boxing Day sales have emptied stands, shelves and rails it’ll be January. A bleak new year - for some.

 Empty shop fronts aren’t meant to be. Like a stillborn child. Brought into the world but non-viable.

Let’s not go from one extreme: packed Saturday shops, queues to part with our hard-earned cash, no space in the changing rooms, to another: silent streets and litter in the gutters. 

Do we really want boarded-up windows? Sales notices on every shop front? More cafes or outlet stores? Much as I agree with giving donations to good causes we don’t want Bath to look like other failed town centres: every second shop taken over by a charity or temporary art exhibition. 

We are already losing pubs, and have been doing so for ten years. Former bars are now a physiotherapy practice, a snug now selling hearing aids. 2019 shouldn’t be a time to lose our favourite book shops, children’s toy shops, best boutiques or shoe shops. We don’t want to go to out-of-town furniture warehouses do we? Don’t we sometimes want to look at a set of saucepans or baking tins before we purchase them? Or a jazzy set of cappuccino cups? Or look at a newly published book in its dust jacket?  
These are a few of my favourite things ...

Does everything we want or need have to be brought to us in a van? Can’t we go out and enjoy window shopping, chatting to folks in the street, stopping to look and admire rather than just clicking ‘t&cs’ or tracking numbers?

Here’s to 2019: helping to preserve our vibrant shopping arcades, long after the Christmas shoppers have dropped and new year sales tills have stopped trilling.

Friday 14 December 2018

I’ll light a candle

Two Christmases ago I was recovering from arranging my mother’s funeral. At exactly the wrong time we are expected to ring everyone and hold back our tears while trying to break the sadness to them. We find ourselves tending to the ones who cry back at us over the phone. We offer them soothing words. 

But it’s my mum that’s gone - not theirs. 

As soon as that’s done there's no time to absorb the emotional impact and enormity of it all.There are lists to attend to - 

we have to:- 

i) chase our loved one’s GP for a medical note stating cause of expiration
ii) make an appointment with the registrar to record and get the death certificate
iii) find a funeral director that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg
iv) have our loved one’s wishes to the fore when arranging a funeral service and hoping we haven’t got it wrong
v) live in fear of the colossal cost of the funeral as the admin assistant tots it all up on their office calculator:- the cost of the hearse, limousine - one or two? a priest or lay preacher or a celebrant, whether to have a choir, whether to meet and greet at the deceased’s house or at the chapel, deciding on a coffin or casket ... the choice of flowers. 

When the date is arranged we have to make decisions about embalming, death notices, order of service, stationery and photographs, catering - for how many? hymns, songs, eulogy, prayers, readings... it goes on and on. 
vi) And we have to try to decide if we can bear to visit our loved one in the chapel of rest - and if you don’t - knowing there will never be another opportunity.
vii) As if that isn’t enough ... taking suitable clothes to the funeral director for your loved one lying in the coffin.

Have I got it right? Is this what she would have liked? But there's no time to pause. It's on to the next task.

And so it goes.

Christmas is a particularly cruel time for arranging a funeral. And, in my case, all I wanted was to have my mum back. 

In the meantime, while you are trying to gather your thoughts and cope with the shock of bereavement, jingly bells and bright lights beckon to you ... to spend more, eat more and have fun ... more and more.

But you don’t want to. You want to be quiet, to be on your own and have a good cry. Chatting to folk or going to the Christmas market feels loud. Noise and nattering are the last things you want when you are grieving and feeling dog-tired.

And then there are the oddest of people who really have no empathy and say the unkindest of things:

‘You won’t be having to pay any more nursing home fees then.’

‘I’m glad she’s gone. I couldn’t lie in bed like that all day.’

‘I was very upset you didn’t invite me round.’

There are, of course, the kindest of people too. They are the ones you hold in your heart. 

And then there are the middling ones who, to save on postage, put a Christmas card in the same envelope as the ‘With Sympathy’ greeting.

One card has a white lily on it and the other depicts a fat, red Father Christmas and black cat sitting by a roasting fire. The message inside both cards says ‘With love from us all ...’ and a signature.

So which do I display? The ‘With Sympathy’ card or the jolly Santa?

And do I really have to write 80 Christmas cards to the same people I've just informed of a funeral?

Christmas is a time to welcome a new life. A time of happiness. But if you are recently bereaved ‘the joy to the world’ cuts across the need to grieve. No wonder our emotions are turned inside out and our bodies don’t know if it’s day or night, if it’s time to eat or sleep, to laugh or weep. 

This year we have time to switch on the fairy lights, wrap presents and display the nativity scene. But somehow the jollity has lost its energy. More important thoughts and feelings have replaced the Christmas card list.

I’ll light a candle to mum’s memory instead. It's fat and creamy white and swathed in ivy, laurel trimmings and sprigs of red-berried holly. 

It’s a Christmas candle - lit for mum.

(With love to Ieva).