Thursday, 29 December 2011

Christmas Past, Present & Future

The whirlwind that was Christmas has passed. Time stood still for a solitary day. Imprisoned at home some might say. Torn wrapping paper and boxes swept away. Remnants used, stashed or thrown in the trash. Decorated Christmas trees and twinkling lights the only reminder left. All the build up, the stress, the exhaustion to celebrate a limited feast. A blink of an eye and it's gone. The slowness to midday, then the day quickening up, turning suddenly to dusk. The slump. Drifting... Remembering Christmas times past...

The gathering of relatives on Boxing Day. Grandparents, Aunt, Uncle and cousins. A second attempt at Christmas Day. A large table, party hats and games. Too many helpings of food and drink. The rippling of voices and laughter. A loud family rejoicing together. A walk on the beach. Extremities wrapped up in hats, scarves, and gloves. Even earmuffs. The fresh gusts of air. The sea's roar and the screech of gulls overhead. Returning to a warm welcoming house, tea or hot chocolate, and cake. The confectionery fights. Everyone had their favourite choc. Stealing the Cadbury's Milk Tray box to ensure I got the orange cremes. Battling others for the ones filled with praline. The goodbyes. The bear hugs. The long drive home in the dark. Slumber, my head lolling forwards and backwards, in intermittent doze.

Awakening from this dream to the present scene. A quiet Christmas. People now missing from these festivities. These times past, gone forever, like the childhood I yearn to have back at Christmas. The present celebrated differently. A house of three adults, restless and bickering. Our normal routines disrupted. Daily combat for command of the TV remote. Who gets to use the bathroom first. A visitor, in a house where I used to live, trying to fit in with the timetable. Needing to be a help, not a bother. Unwilling to give up my independence even if it's only for an hour. I can wash up, make a cup of tea for myself. I'm not a child any longer. Where will future Christmasses place me I wonder. A spinster alone in a flat surrounded by stray dogs and cats. The ghost of Christmas future beckons to me. Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol, a possible reality. No, that will never be me!!

Thursday, 22 December 2011


CHEAT underlined in bold at the top of this year's Christmas menu. A three course meal: starter, main, and pud. Each served with elaborate words. Exaggerate the detail. Deciding in advance this chef would go on strike. A flick of the oven switch, set the temperature and timer. My kitchen work complete. Sit back, relax. Unwrap presents, watch the dog chasing screwed up balls of paper. New toys moist with dribble on my lap. The muted sound of the telly in the background. Table laid with the best cutlery and china. Christmas with my parents goes like clockwork. Slow, fast, slow, fast, fast, slow, slow, slow... Presents, nibbles, lunch etc, etc. The day progresses like an antique clock following its own rhythm. Has it always been like this?

This year I'm stirring it up. I'm cheating my way through Christmas. For 51 weeks I've cooked from scratch. Peeled, chopped, and boiled. Pureed soups and sauces. Made breakfast, lunches, snacks and dinners. The 25th is my day off. Being the only veggie guest in the house is tough enough, without argy-bargy in the kitchen. Tempers frayed, elbowing each other out of the way. Arguing over which way is best to prepare the veg. Mum always peels the new potatoes, boils carrots to a pulp. Faces flushed, scowls exchanged. Voices raised with “Get out of my way!” Steam expressed, fogging up the windows. Sharing a kitchen is not fun on Christmas day, but it is the room we gather. Squashed into its tiny space with the oven's warmth, pots and pans on simmer.

Christmas is like a deck of playing cards. Cards dealt out, what will I choose: a game of snap or patience? Neither. This year I select to use the Joker. Bluff my hand. Enter ready-prepared. Cut corners where I have to. Well-stocked supermarket giants coming to my rescue. A shop-brought veggie feast. A vegan quiche, a medley of med veg, followed by vegan sheese and crackers. Uncomplicated. No prep, little cooking required. Minimal fuss. I'm not ashamed to admit I'm going to cheat on Christmas Day. Packaging brazenly laid on the kitchen worktop. No, I confess I didn't make this earlier. I'm not doing a “Blue Peter”.

I'm throwing tradition out with the turkey. Goodbye nut roasts! I'm crossing another style of cuisine off my Christmas dinner list. Oven cooked Mediterranean. Christmas Eve, I'm doing a stir fry, jazzing it up with shredded brussel sprouts. Christmas culinary rules begging to be broken. Elements from the festive dish in a new creation. A fusion. Even cheating takes imagination. So eat, drink and be merry, but hands off, this meal's mine!

Happy Cheatin' Christmas!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Wrapped Up

A roll, a push, the material unravels across the table. Swirls of colour shimmer in the light. The scissors leap up to snip. Begin to perform their steps. Blades executed sharp and swift. An Argentine Tango slicing a design made to fit. Pattern laid out and cloaked around the object. Snugly secured with a nip, a tuck and a fold. A pat, a smooth down. A finishing touch. A ribbon tied into a bow. All wrapped up, nowhere to go. It sits with others, waiting to be picked by a benefactor. Impatient for a corner to be ripped. Its attire torn off or tantalisingly peeled. The gift concealed, eager to be revealed by the lucky receiver.

Have you guessed? I'm talking gifts. Presents, tokens, stocking fillers. Those handed out by Santa's helpers. Christmas, a magical time of year. The season of giving, goodwill and cheer. Each person growing up with their own traditions. Father Christmas, Saint Nick or Santa. Stockings or pillowcases hung up. A treat left out for Santa and his reindeer. The anticipation. The sleepless night. A vivid imagination. Did you hear heavy footsteps in the middle of the night? A crash from the open chimney? Wide awake, you tip-toe downstairs and see the mince pie crumbs on the plate. The sherry glass standing empty. Stocking full, about to burst. A stuffed leg of presents. “Santa's been!!” you cry.

This is the scene that will play out in most streets on Christmas Day. Adults, being taken back to the child within. Memories of how it was for them. The thrill of tearing paper. Unwrapping a box containing a new toy to play with. Christmas food, hats, and crackers. Top Of The Pops and family entertainment. The excitement too much. The descent into tiredness and tempers. Christmas terminated.

The 25th is fast approaching. The button marked “play” anxious to be pressed. Begin this home movie over. Generosity, the spirit that prevails each and every year. For the English, it's a good excuse to show their appreciation. A thought. A phone call. A card. Gifts wrapped up to present to the gifts in your life. A piece of advice for receivers: Be careful how you unwrap. A lot can be gleaned from your opening behaviour.

Monty sniffs out which gift is his.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

A Sensitive Date

December 10th is a sensitive date. The 344th day of the year. Its significance marked in the calendar. A protest day. Political unrest. Voices put to the test. Speaking out to claim equal rights to life, liberation and peace. The Universal Declaration for Human Rights was signed on this date 1948 in France. An historic day for humanity. The 10th stands out for its conquests. Its debating prowess. An international forum forced to sit up and listen to public opinion. Peaceful events held on this date don't always bring harmony. A good example of this is The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Those opposed to who the award is presented to. Eyebrows raised at the shake of the hand, the honour received. The 10th sparks controversy. What date in your life does the same?

We all have such dates in our diary don't we? Anniversaries, birthdays, even Christmas. But is there one particular date in the year you loathe? A day you'd just like to stay in bed, pull the covers over your head. Disappear. The 17th of this month, is a delicate time of year. My date of birth. 'Tis a week before Christmas and a bear with a sore head has appeared. Bolt the doors, I'm staying here. I grumble it's cold and too mad out there. I just want an ordinary day. Instead I amble along, make it through this “special” day. I exclaim in the right spot and hope my facial muscles match my response. Try not to get my expressions confused. A bad actor. My lines read as if prompted by a stage director. Hollow, false, and insufficient. People's eyes alight my face. Their anticipation, their expectations of this ritual. It's what I call birthday stage fright.

If no date was attached, I would perform differently. My responses would sound genuine. No guesswork in how I should feel. A gesture. A kind thought. A smile. Put on the spot, but unexpectedly so. There is a dark side too. Every year my birthday arrives I feel cheated. December consumed by Christmas. My “special” day clouded with panic. Overshadowed by preparations for the big day. Combined presents and cards. Office parties and food. Christmas clashing expensively with my birthday. Is there a way you can legally re-register your birth date? Move it to April or May? Celebrate an unofficial birthday.

The 17th, a personal matter, whereas the 10th is a global affair. Annually it also marks IARD. International Animal Rights Day. A date sensitively reserved to recognise the right to a life free from pain. Campaign for compassion to be shown to all fellow beings on this day.

Thursday, 1 December 2011


I know an old lady who swallowed a fly.” Do you? I might reply. “ I don't know why she swallowed the fly.” No, seems a bit strange, I say. “Perhaps she'll die.” A fair comment I think, but make no reply. What a bizarre conversation! You' d be right, but this classic nursery song has been my constant companion all week. Bugging my every thought, bursting out in random hum wherever I buzz. Home or work. An irritant that drones on forever. Its pitch only audible to me. I hold my breath, count to ten, but still it continues. It can't possibly bee all in my head I think. Oops, even my speech refers to insects. There must be a reason for this. An angle. A point to explain. Gulp! Am I about to experience life as a fly?

I dash to the mirror to check. No wing growth, furry hands or feet. A little bug-eyed perhaps. Phew, what a relief! I address the reflection staring back, “Just what would it be like to be a insect? Is it possible to perceive life from a bug's perspective?” I scrunch up my eyes in an attempt to imagine it. A tiny speck happily going about my business, then SMACK! Immobilised by a large hand, foot, or spray. Giant predators always in my way. What's it to be - instant death or dinner? Imagine being trapped in a house. The frantic beating of wings and loud zzzzzz to get out. An invisible web made of glass, where large creatures shriek and dance. Faced with daily threats. A life of escape or death.

Is that a buzzing I hear? Pause, I listen... Why is it emitting from me!? I scrabble around, patting down my person. Oh, it's my phone. I laugh. Daydream rudely interrupted, I mull over the facts: a bug's life is to be eaten, squashed, or swatted. Hmmm, that doesn't seem fair. To be considered the lowest of the low, even though they have other important jobs to do. Jobs to support our eco-system. The foundation level of the structure. What is it about them that's so monstrous? That causes fear amongst us? For me, it's their unpredictable movements. The flapping around my head, or crawling towards me as if to attack. They have too many legs. Where are their mouth and eyes? Brightness encourages moths so I sit in the dark. The TV, the only light in the room. Moths can stay where they belong: on the outside.

Despite my resistance, I'm left with this question: should veggies care about insects? It has to be a yes doesn't it? There is a place for them in the world. They have incredible skills. A spider weaves its intricate web, a bee pollinates our plants, the hungry caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Eating bugs for charity is a challenge I'd refused. An accidental gulp, well we've all done that, but this is for entertainment. A cruel sport for audience enjoyment. Listen closely and you'll hear tiny voices screaming: “Get me out of here!”