Tag Archives: celebration

Momentous Times

In the King household the year 2015 is going to be marked by ‘milestone’ birthdays and ‘special’ anniversaries. I should probably be anticipating these occasions with great joy but I wish it was possible to slow the pace down, just a little.

When my daughter was at university, studying psychology, a professor suggested she should write her obituary – To make you aware of what you want to be remembered for.  I thought that was very dark indeed – almost like tempting fate but, for me, birthdays have exactly the same effect. Inevitably I wonder how many more ‘milestone’ birthdays will there be? I’ve tried to ignore the fact that 2015 has already begun but before we get close to celebrating I want to reflect on my reasons for having reservations.

Twenty years ago, with another ‘milestone’ birthday looming, I decided it was time to take a break from pushing my academic boundaries. I’d spent four years studying with the Open University and absolutely enjoyed the challenge but was finding it increasingly difficult to find a balance between my goals and those of my husband and two children. I wasn’t good at half measures and every spare minute was dedicated to reading and research, especially at weekends. At the time we lived ‘over the shop’ and our bespoke craft business had been expanding steadily. With an increased clientele came the need for me to be more available, more hands-on. And our children were growing up, they would soon both be teenagers and I wanted more time for us to do ‘things’ together. In short I felt guilty.

Then, during the first week of that year, life was sent into turmoil when my son fell ill with pneumonia. He’d been suffering from tonsillitis for weeks but the morning I opened the door to his bedroom and found him too sick to respond my instincts went into overdrive. I rang our GP immediately, telling him I was coming to the surgery whether there was an available appointment or not. I scooped my ten year old into my arms, laid him in the back of the car wrapped in a blanket, and drove like a fury into town. David was prescribed three different antibiotics for the next month, but he recovered. And just to help his recovery we took him ice skating.

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Ten years later another ‘momentous’ year loomed. Our business had expanded, everything seemed rosy. We rented a villa in Spain and invited my sister-in-law and her family to join us. The idea was to celebrate together in the sun (except our son couldn’t make it because he was training in Poland) prior to the ‘occassions’ in November. Without trawling over particulars the effective event was that one day my husband nearly drowned while helping to save two little boys and their father from drowning. A vicious rip-tide nearly wiped away our future. Thankfully everyone survived with only minor injuries (and twenty-four hours in a Spanish hospital) but the drama of that day sits in my memory as clearly as any movie and our lives were changed in the knowledge that everything could so easily have turned out differently.

Spain 2005 near disaster

Each of these events led to a tidal change in our lives, driving us towards new goals, new directions which were ultimately more demanding but immeasurably enriching. So forgive me if I approach this year tentatively. I have good reason. And I refuse to make any resolutions, but I’ve written the obituary, just in case.

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What Do You Want Santa To Bring You For Christmas?

BUT WHAT DO YOU WANT SANTA TO BRING YOU FOR CHRISTMAS?

It’s a huge decision. And four year old Reuben has struggled with it every day for almost a whole month – he mustn’t get his choices wrong.

Obviously with so much to deliver Santa has to restrict all little boys and girls to three toys, otherwise how could everything possibly arrive on time. Reubs big brother Oscar (aged five) knew just what he wanted. At the beginning of December he carefully copied out his letter to Santa, checking the spellings more than twice. He even got most of the words to fit the lines while using his very best handwriting. The stamp he drew on the envelope was coloured-in with crayons and mummy took him to the local post office so he could make sure the address was absolutely correct. Oscar also enquired if Santa ever had trouble with Polar Bears because they live at the North Pole too. Very concerned for Santa’s welfare is our Oscar.

Thinking a visit to the old man himself would help resolve matters my daughter booked Reuben an appointment. He sat on Santa’s lap, completely overcome with fear. Eventually he whispered into the whiskers. But later that night, just as he was closing his eyes to go to sleep, Reuben burst into tears. He’d asked Santa for Lego – but as Lego comes in all shapes and sizes how would Santa know what sort to bring him.

Reuben was still struggling with his decision on the final day of school. My daughter and I were in Edinburgh for the day, enjoying the festive market that fills the old Nor Loch and looking for stocking fillers, when my son-in-law rang with the news that Reubs had decided that the only thing he wanted Santa to bring was a Teksta puppy – in blue.

Now, of course, the one toy completely sold out in every shop was a Teksta puppy of any colour. Very popular this year, we’re informed. Meanwhile my son-in-law had no luck on the internet either. I sent an urgent text to my sister. She works for John Lewis’s, in London – but even that great metropolis was Out of Stock. Less than a week to go and it seemed we had no chance of fulfilling Reubs wish.

But then we found one on E-bay, second-hand but unused, the woman said, because her daughter wanted red, not blue. It arrived in the post, yesterday. My daughter, elated with success, asked Reubs if there was anything else he wanted Santa to bring.

A scarf he said, with the letter ‘R’ on it, for Reuben.?????????????????

Guess who’s spent all day sewing?

Happy Christmas Everyone, hope you get everything you wished for….

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Gatherings

January is over and done. As a month it’s one I would prefer to skip, yet it holds happy memories of past winter’s fun skiing and sledging on the Caldbeck fells. Except this year there hasn’t been much snow, nor barely any ice to speak of. Neither has it rained much more than usual – in fact the garden thinks its spring and primary shades of primulas are brightening up the borders and snowdrops dip their heads on the lawn. What I need is sunshine and with the days getting gradually longer hope hangs in the air. And that’s what January sums up for me, hope. Winter is passing, nights are getting shorter and all around me nature is sloughing off the old and being gradually re-born.

 

I think it’s in my genes, embedded by past generations; a hunter-gatherer instinct which long ago lost purpose yet survives in essence. Living without electricity and all the mod cons it empowers winter must have been a rum time for the ancestors. Yet archaeologists seem to be finding more and more evidence that the passing of the winter solstice was not merely crucial to Neolithic people but more widely celebrated than mid-summer. Knowing when the old year is ended and a new one about to begin must have been fundamental to surviving. Families (perhaps whole tribes) gathered near important sites like Stonehenge, some travelling hundreds of miles, to join in the annual feast. Imagine coming into the bustle and smells, feeling the heat from fires burning high into the night, the air alive with smoke and cinders, children’s voices strung with excitement, dignitaries parading their rank and authority, priests or shaman (we’ll never know which) preaching power and magic….and there must have been music and singing and the telling of tales.

 

Recent digs at Durrington Walls near Stonehenge have yielded up striking evidence of this ancient festival in the form of thousands of pig bones. The animals were all less than a year old when killed, and (more potently) scientific examination shows they’d been purposely fattened in the months before being slaughtered. They’ve also found pottery remains at the site from as far away as Orkney and Ireland. One archaeologist suggests that over hundreds of years the feast celebrating the winter solstice became a kind of ‘national’ symposium, a coming together of people from all over the British Isles, and even beyond.

 

The writer Alistair Moffat refers to our ancestors as Sea Peoples and I like to think that sums up my identity, someone who loves to wander but who also loves the sanctity of home. Next week I’m beginning a new adventure as I travel to Sochi in Russia. In a way it’s a sort of pilgrimage because I’m going for a purpose but the gathering of people from all over the world is what I believe makes the Winter Olympics extraordinarily special.

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And there will be feasting and music and a telling of tales.

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Putting an end to the old and giving warm welcome to the new…

On New Year’s Eve we embarked on an extraordinary journey into our pagan past. We went to watch an ancient festival called the Tar Bar’l (many spellings but it’s basically barrel in dialect) which takes place in Allendale, a small village hidden in wildest Northumberland.

We had no hesitation in joining the merry crowd spilling onto the streets from various village pubs lining the streets around the broad, village square. Being New Year’s Eve every adult had a (plastic) beer glass in hand and by eleven thirty most were well-whetted with fine local ale. The loud, persistent beat of a single drum added to our sense of expectation and suddenly plumes of golden smoke spewed above our heads as the bar’ls were lit. A brass band began to play, then yellow-coated stewards parted the crowd just moments before the procession marched through – not that you would choose to get in their way – and the acrid smell of burning tar and paraffin filled our every breath.

We watched transfixed as forty men paraded past with barrels of raging fire spewing from their heads. And some darkly primitive sentiment seems ignited by this pagan rite of fire. People fell silent as their mood changed and the whole scene became supercharged with danger. Yet there was a sense that something immutable was taking place – like the sacred moment when a child is christened or a marriage sanctified, or a king anointed with oil!  

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Only Allendale men are allowed to bear the burden of carrying barrels full of burning tar on their heads! Some of the ‘guisers’ wear costumes which have been passed down father to son for generations. Others wear fancy-dress based on characters from films, such as Beetlejuice, or Smurfs (of which there were many). And the band parading behind them serenaded with well-known tunes such as T’ Blaydon Races.

When the procession has completed its tour the barrels are ceremoniously thrown onto a huge bonfire, and the shout goes up, ‘be damned to he who throws last’. Then everyone involved hurries back inside the pubs while we in the streets stand watching the blaze. Astonished, dumbfounded, uplifted, engrossed…..it’s impossible to describe how I felt, but I know I found it compelling. 

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I believe in magic

 I love the magic of Christmas. But like anything magical it’s impossible to predict or prescribe. We can decorate the house and garden with glittery ornaments and twinkling lights but we can’t make the magic appear. Yet sometime during the heady season of panic, when there is more to do than there are hours in the day, there’s a special moment when something seen or said or done ignites the wonder, the magic, of Christmas.

 

Of course expectations are high. Christmas is formed through family traditions, heavily seasoned with memories and nostalgia. No wonder the magic is elusive. And it’s sparked by something different every year, despite the careful rituals, tangled inside the busy bustle obligatory to the season, between shopping and wrapping presents and writing cards and making lists and checking them twice.  

 

It’s also my experience that magic manifests itself through means which might, to others, appear mundane; a scene in a movie not seen for years; a forgotten piece of music; words from a song; an unexpected phone call, or letter, from a friend. If I could explain what triggered the magic I might know how to attract it. All I know is that something wonderful happens when the sparkle of magic ignites into Christmas.

 

My first experience of spine-tingling magic happened when I made my debut in pantomime. At the age of eight I was memorably cast as a Christmas pudding. All the role required was to walk on stage as a big, round pudding then tug a cord which allowed the top to open and reveal the pudding had been magically transformed into a little girl. I’m not sure how the cord got knotted, it always ran smoothly during rehearsals, but I wriggled and shook until I managed to squeeze out through the bottom, to tumultuous applause (and my one and only encore).

 

Later, as an apathetic art student, it was ‘cool’ to deny the sense of anticipation as the final week of winter term exploded into ‘Xmas’ parties. But I remember walking home by moonlight on Christmas Eve, in the wee small hours, and it began to snow for the first time in years. Soon big, white flakes lay thick on the ground and silhouetted against a window I caught sight of a small child jumping up and down with sheer delight. In that moment I realised it doesn’t matter what or where or when or how, you just have to believe, whether you are eight or eighty.

 

I hope the magic of Christmas stays with me forever. I accept remembrance of past happiness weighs heavily upon the present, and the coming together of family and friends also brings sadness for those no longer here to share our celebrations, but we hold them in our hearts as part of our collective memory of what Christmas means. And now I’m a grandmother I’ve discovered nothing can be more magical than seeing Christmas through my grandchildren’s eyes.

 

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