Bittersweet Christmas Eve

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Today I miss my Mum more than any other day of the year. When I was a child she used to make Christmas so magical it really was the most wonderful time of the year, and my memories of that time are invaluable, despite the fact they hurt, which raises the old question of whether it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

The answer’s a no brainer. Despite the fact I have a big lump in my throat as I think about my gentle, humorous, outgoing Mum, I wouldn’t be without a single one of my bittersweet memories. My happy childhood was instrumental in making me the person I am today. Mum instilled a love of books in me long before I could read or write, and she would have been so very proud that what she began culminated in her daughter becoming a published author earlier this year. Since Mum died in 2006, I have not been able to listen to the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College Chapel, as we used to do while making mince pies every Christmas Eve during my formative years. My mince pies are shop bought (probably just as well, the last cake I attempted to bake resembled a house brick!) and the radio will remain off at three o’clock this afternoon when the carols begin.

Mum’s favourite carol – The Three Kings. This performance came from King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, in 2006. I still can’t listen to it without tears, but it is beautiful.

I hope Christmas is all you wish for it to be. If you, like me, are missing someone right now, a good cry can help, then you can think about the good times you shared with that person, and celebrate the fact they were once a part of your world.

A Christmas Tail

The winter sun had set on Christmas Eve, and Lucy’s small flat was dripping with festive cheer. Snuggling under her blanket on the sofa, glass of wine in one hand, slice of pizza in the other, Lucy felt cosy and content as she enjoyed a rare night off. Living in a town where even a studio flat came with a hugely inflated rent meant working every hour possible. However, Lucy had managed to negotiate covering the busy New Year’s Eve shift at the gastro-pub in which she worked in return for her favourite night of the year to herself.

Although she lived alone, apart from her three cats, Lucy Loved Christmas. Not for her the Scrooge style cynicism of those who’d spent the last month declaring how much they hated the festive season – despite the fact they all seemed to enjoy the parties, lovely food and time off work. Lucy saw beyond the mad rush to spend, spend, spend, and the endless television commercials encouraging folk to spend even more.

‘There’ll be no room for us if we get any more furniture,’ Lucy commented to the cats, as yet another television advert urged her to get up bright and early Boxing Day to save 50% on a brand new leather sofa. The cats didn’t reply; they were too busy vying for the prime spot on Lucy’s blanket, having deemed it far too cold outside to patrol the neighbourhood. Besides, they were cats. They couldn’t talk.

To Lucy, Christmas meant fun. It meant excited children with faces all aglow, it meant groups of jovial adults out to party. Christmas decorations sparkled in the town centre, and tree-lights shone into the winter streets from the front windows of homes. She found the festive season beautiful, cheering up what would otherwise be a very dark and dismal month in the Northern Hemisphere.

At some point during the evening Lucy drifted off to sleep, having managed to curl herself in between the comfortable cats. When she woke some time later, the bells of the nearby church were ringing, calling the faithful to midnight mass.

Closer to home came a ringing of a different variety. Could it be the sound of – sleigh bells?

‘Will you please take your foot off my tail!’ Lucy sat bolt upright. The owner of the indignant voice was inside her flat, and she had definitely been alone when she fell asleep – apart from the cats, that is.

‘I do beg your pardon. Not much room for manoeuvre in here I’m afraid. Oh hello, young lady. What did you want for Christmas? Only, you didn’t write…’

‘Didn’t write?’ said Lucy in a weak voice.

‘Lucy won’t want anything,’ interrupted Bessie-Cat, her mouth full of salmon. ‘She’s more the giving type.’

‘Giving’s MY job,’ roared the red-cloaked white-bearded intruder at a volume that would have drowned out Brian Blessed.

‘Who are you?’ asked Lucy weakly, not sure whether she was more disturbed by the speaking cat or the loud and jovial visitor.

‘Don’t ye recognise me? Ye have a little figurine of myself on your side there,’ replied the visitor, studying Lucy’s Father Christmas ornament with interest. ‘Bit unflattering around the old waistline,’ added the visitor, patting his own ample belly, ‘but otherwise not a bad likeness.’

‘You’re Father Christmas?’

The visitor and the cats roared with laughter.

‘By George, I think she’s got it,’ said Mo-Cat.

‘Mo-Cat, what are you eating?’

‘Caviar. It’s simply divine…’

‘Caviar?’

‘Yes. This noisy chap in red here brought it for me. Bessie-Cat’s got salmon, Kenny-Cat’s eating roast chicken. I always did have more refined tastes…’

‘You usually eat cat food,’ said Lucy.

‘Well of course I do. I’m a cat!’

‘And mice…’

‘Ah, hunting,’ said Mo-Cat wistfully, ‘the sport of Kings.’

‘Delusions of grandeur are not attractive,’ said Bessie-Cat. ‘You’re a moggie, just like Kenny-Cat and me.’

‘Er, what’s a deluge of grandy?’ asked Kenny-Cat, who was not very bright. ‘Can you eat it?’

‘No, pretty boy,’ replied Mo-Cat. ‘She means I’ve got ideas above my station, which is nonsense. I do have…’

‘Persian ancestry, we know,’ interrupted Bessie-Cat, as Lucy and Father Christmas exchanged glances.

‘Squabble, squabble, squabble. They’re worse than the reindeer,’ said Father Christmas, twinkling at Lucy.

‘Reindeer?’

‘Yes dear, they’re parked outside. Are you sure you’re alright? You look a little peaky…’

‘Peaky?’

‘Er, why are you saying everyfink wot ‘e says?’ asked Kenny-Cat.

‘She’s in shock, dimwit,’ replied Bessie-Cat. ‘Just eat your chicken.’

‘Er, um, alright then,’ said Kenny-Cat.

‘Now then, young lady, you never answered my question. The cats have their favourite foods. What would you like for Christmas?

‘Some answers, please,’ said Lucy weakly

‘Ho ho ho! Hit me with a question then.’

‘Well … how did you get in?’

‘Eh?’

‘How did you get into my flat? I have no chimney.’

‘Ho ho ho, ho ho ho. A chimney’s not a prerequisite, you know. It’s Christmas Eve, my big night. I can do anything I want.’

‘Can you make everyone love Christmas then?’ asked Lucy. ‘Because that would be my ideal Christmas present.’

‘Mine too,’ said Father Christmas. Although his remark was wistful, it was still delivered at full volume and with a twinkle.

‘Could you keep the noise down, do you think?’ asked Lucy. ‘It is midnight, and the neighbours are probably trying to…’

‘Ho ho ho,’ bellowed Father Christmas, as the cats writhed on their backs in paroxysms of feline laughter.

‘What’s so funny?’ Lucy was feeling more confused by the second, but the confusion was overlaid with a sense of joy and wonder she hadn’t felt since childhood and she found herself joining in with the infectious laughter.

‘They can’t see me, dear,’ said Father Christmas, ‘so I very much doubt they can hear me. Folk are so wrapped up in the material world nowadays, they miss the sparkle all around them.’

‘So why can I see you?’

‘Why do you think?’

‘Because I love Christmas?’

‘You love the very essence of Christmas. You love the joy and the camaraderie. What are you doing tomorrow?’

‘Serving dinner at the homeless shelter. Those poor people deserve Christmas cheer as much as anyone.’

‘Well there you go, dear,’ said Father Christmas, smiling fondly at Lucy as the cats purred round her ankles. ‘You’ve answered your own question.’

‘The cats aren’t speaking anymore,’ said Lucy, reaching down to stroke Mo-Cat, adding, ‘Persian ancestry indeed.’

Mo-Cat winked, but didn’t reply.

‘That’s because it’s gone midnight,’ replied Father Christmas. ‘Animals only have a small window of loquaciousness at midnight on Christmas Eve, apart from my reindeer who never shut up. It’ll be meow and purr from your fine creatures, until next Christmas Eve…’

‘Wait a moment, you said it’s gone midnight. So now it’s…’

‘Christmas Day,’ Father Christmas said, completing Lucy’s sentence. ‘Merry Christmas Lucy.’

Fen Ditton Christmas Tree 001Happy Christmas Eve

Alison’s Advent Calendar Day Twelve – Don’t Stop Believing.

I used to love working on Christmas Eve. As Christmas approached each year, my boss used to miraculously transform into a human being, and he’d co-ordinat the work so we hardly had anything left to do by the time Christmas Eve came around. Consequently, we’d spend most of the day eating sweets and laughing, everyone feeling high spirited and very festive. I remember one particular Christmas Eve, I was riding round on a forklift truck making a nuisance of myself while my colleagues packed the final orders of the day and anticipated the imminent exodus to the pub. ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey came on the radio, and as one the thirty or so people in the book distribution warehouse beamed their approval and sang along. There wasn’t a shrinking violet anywhere; everyone belted the song out with gusto, sweet wrappers flying around like confetti, and air guitars being played with breath-taking skill. It was hilarious, it was jubilant, and it was a moment in time that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

We had no idea on that Christmas Eve that our book distribution haven wasn’t going to last forever. Our employer decided that our jobs could be done just as well, and a lot more cheaply, elsewhere. On our last day, my colleagues (many of them friends) and I attended our final staff briefing, and were treated to a ‘rousing’ farewell and thank you speech. I can remember feeling a mixture of emotions: sadness (I’d done the same job for 23 years, and it was hard to say goodbye); anticipation (Dory’s Avengers was already taking shape in my mind); apprehension (what if my writing career didn’t take off?); excitement (it WILL). Looking round at my friends’ faces, I guessed they were all wondering what their futures would hold too. It was an emotionally charged moment, and as the management team wound up their speeches and wished us all the very best of luck there may have been tears – had the highly appropriate ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ not sounded forth from the radio at that very moment. Emotions put on hold, air guitars dusted down, and we ended the book distribution chapter of our lives on a high.

Although it’s unashamedly corny, ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ always puts me in a positive frame of mind; not just because of the lyrics, but also because of the memories I’ve shared today. My first book is now published, and bit by bit I’m edging towards the writing success I crave. Sometimes it’s daunting, but I’m not going to give up on something I love so very much. I’m working on my second novel at the moment, polishing and fine tuning the first part, and turning my thoughts to how the story will continue. The rush of pure pleasure that only comes from writing my own work is back with a vengeance; I’m so excited about my work in progress. Whatever happens, I won’t stop believing.

Today’s tune? Go on, guess!

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Advent Calendar 004Today’ advent calendar picture – a mouse and a lantern.