Happy Independence Day!

I would like to wish all my good friends in America a Happy Independence Day.

Look on the bright side, if you had stayed as part of England in 1776, you would now be having to try to work out what Brexit is all about!

Enjoy your barbecues and fireworks, and remember those who are no longer around to join your celebrations.

Best wishes from your former colonial oppressor, Pete. 🙂

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Happy New Year?

As it is the 30th of December, it’s no surprise that I woke up thinking about New Year’s Eve, and the year to come.

I have a mixed relationship with the 31st. As a child, I usually slept through it. The 1st of January was not traditionally a public holiday in England. It didn’t become one until 1974, by which time I was already 22 years old, and working. So any celebrations of New Year’s Eve were overshadowed by the knowledge of having to get up for work the next morning.

Once we got that day off, going out on the 31st became the norm. Special parties in restaurants or other venues, often going on until the early hours, sometimes travelling home in daylight. The newly-acquired rest day spent recovering from hangovers, and getting used to everything being closed.

Then I got married, and we chose the 31st as our day to wed. Something different, a day that few people ever got married on. It was so unusual, many of our friends and family suspected my first wife might be pregnant. But she wasn’t, and we just wanted to break with the tradition of a summer wedding. Our brief honeymoon in a Sussex town was notable for a party in the hotel that kept us awake most of the night. So New Year’s Eve took on an additional significance, as it became our wedding anniversary. We celebrated that for the next few years, combining the two with renewed vigour. Then I joined the London Ambulance Service.

That night is the busiest of the year for London’s emergency services. Non-stop calls from early evening, right through to the next day. If you are scheduled to work on that shift, getting it off is almost impossible. I had to forego my anniversary celebrations, instead spending my time struggling with aggressive drunks, unconscious party girls, and the outcome of traffic accidents fuelled by alcohol. For the majority of the next twenty-two years, New Year’s Eve became something to dread, rather than celebrate. And after eight of those years, my marriage ended, so anniversary celebrations were no longer on the agenda.

A few notable exceptions can be recalled. Watching the fireworks over London from Primrose Hill, standing in deep mud. An enjoyable and very drunken party, at the nearby flat of a close friend. But generally, I was either working, or doing very little to celebrate the arrival of a new year. That continues now, when we just relax after dinner, and watch the same fireworks on TV, from the comfort of our sofa 120 miles away from where they are exploding.

And as you get older, celebrating another year is not what it used to be. Anticipating being one year closer to the age of 65, 70, or 75 does not have the same allure, I assure you.

For all you younger people who are anticipating a wonderful celebration tomorrow, I wish you well, and hope that you have a great time. And for those older people who still enjoy such things, you too, of course. I will be lucky if I am still awake at midnight. 🙂

A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE!

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Tuesday.

I could hardly avoid thinking about Christmas today. There is a big decorated tree in the corner of the living room, surrounded by a huge pile of wrapped presents. Cards received adorn the doors, and we have one of those ‘candle bridges’ (electric) on the window ledge too. The main door onto the street has a wreath hanging on the outside of it which may be very wet now, but survived the storm-force winds.

Nine days to go, until what I like to call, ‘Tuesday’.

OK, so I am not a big Christmas person. I was at one time, until I woke up one night and spied my Dad stacking presents at the end of my bed. That clinched it, Santa didn’t exist after all. That didn’t worry me unduly, as I realised that I could now hint directly to my parents, instead of worrying that Santa might not have had time to read my note.

There were fond memories to follow. Parties at my Nan’s house, dressed in my best new clothes. Extra gifts from men I called ‘Uncle’, or ladies I called ‘Auntie’, usually some well-received money. Lots to eat, staying up later than ever, and sweets, lots of sweets. Long before I had got around to getting married, the age-old argument began. I had to be at my parents’ place, or my grandmother’s, if they were going there. But my girlfriend had to do the same with her family, so we could never actually see each other on the day in question. When you are married, that debate starts early in the year, usually just after the Christmas you have just argued about. Do you split the day? Morning at one, evening at the other? Perhaps have two Christmas Dinners, one at lunchtime, another in the evening? (Yes, I have done that)

Then there were the presents. In the absence of any list, most of the stuff given to us was either unwanted, or downright awful. If people stuck with reliable standbys like cartons of cigarettes, or vouchers, it was a relief. Buy jewellery for my wife, and I could guarantee that the chain wouldn’t be long enough, the stone the ‘wrong’ colour, or it was just something that she would never wear. Such gifts ended their days still in their boxes, at the back of a drawer. Dare to buy something useful back then, like kitchen utensils, and be left open to accusations of male chauvinism. And supposedly ‘sexy’ underwear? Never go there. Ever.

In 1980, I had to work on Christmas Day, for the first time ever. I was 28 years old, and felt liberated by having a genuine reason not to have to eat a dinner cooked to extinction by my Mum, whilst pretending I was alright with having a paper hat on my head. Ambulances must be available every day of the year, and it was my turn, I told them. For the first time I could remember, my Mum left her house on the morning of the 25th. She went to eat dinner with my wife and her family, twelve miles across London. She was collected, made welcome, and taken home after. But for her, it was unacceptable, and was certainly never going to happen again.

That left me in a dilemma. My Dad had left home when I was twenty-four. So Mum was on her own, and I had no brothers or sisters to spend Christmas Day with her. She made me promise to try to never work on Christmas Day again, so she didn’t have to leave her house for any reason. That started thirty-two years of always trying to get the day off, if I was scheduled for a shift on the 25th. A lot of the time I was lucky, if I applied to be off by January 1st, at the latest. Sometimes, I would be on night duty, so spend the day half-asleep, before having to go back into work exhausted, after shovelling down the meal Mum prepared for me. On a few occasions, she was in hospital on Christmas Day, rushed in by ambulance. So we spent our seasonal celebration in the relatives’ room, waiting to hear if she would pull through.

By the time I arrived in Norfolk, in 2012, I had well and truly had enough of the Christmas merry-go-round to last me a lifetime.

In fact, it has almost been my lifetime.

The seasonal lull

Is it really only Wednesday? I spent all day (until a few minutes ago) thinking it was Thursday.

So now the ‘lull’ begins. The presents have been opened, the bins full of wrapping paper and the debris of huge meals. I feel a lot like a slowly deflating balloon, and probably look a lot like one too. The aftermath of that seemingly endless rush toward Christmas, and the two days of hectic celebration. Bones aching, unusually tired, and wondering what to do with yourself once all the good crockery and cutlery has been carefully washed, and tidied away.

This year, we have four days of ‘lull’. Julie is off, and I no longer work. The weather is just awful so no chance of trips out, or bracing seaside walks. Still dark before 4 pm, and little enthusiasm to do much more than flop about, and wonder what we can salvage for dinner tonight. I can’t even imagine the stamina of those who have gone off excitedly to the sales. Maybe it is being older, but I never remember being that lively even when I was young.

I call it the ‘lull’, because there is more to come. New Year’s Eve is looming, heralding the arrival of 2018, which I have said previously somehow seems futuristic to me. I know it’s only one more than 2017, but something about the 8 makes it seem to be ‘the future’. There is no time to really take advantage of this lull though. We have guests arriving on the 31st, and a grandson to babysit that night too. The whole house to clean thoroughly once again, and special meals to prepare. Again.

But for today, on that Wednesday that still feels like Thursday, it’s time to stop.

Nice Christmas?

As soon as the calendar hits the 27th of December, the above greeting becomes the standard conversational opening gambit, here in the UK. Everyone from your next-door neighbour, to the lady at the checkout, will immediately inquire, “Nice Christmas?”

Answering this seasonal greeting is an art in itself. The last thing that they want to hear is that you had a bad Christmas, or didn’t even bother to celebrate it. They have no interest in the presents you received, or those you bought for others. They don’t care if the turkey was ruined, or you were held up in traffic somewhere. It is just something to say. Over the years, you learn that the accepted response is very simple. You answer something like, “Yes, thanks, it was very busy.” Or, ” I was glad when it was over, but it was nice to see everyone.” Avoid at all costs the leading reply, “Very nice thanks, how about you?” They may not know the rules, and you could be in for a detailed list of events and happenings lasting much longer than you anticipated.

The beetleypete Christmas was busier than usual, as you are asking…

We had a constant run, from Christmas Eve, through to the 28th. Calling in on neighbours, family staying over, and nine for dinner on the 27th. A house full of presents, toys, and guests, including our very lively one-year old grandson. This didn’t leave much time for blogging, so no posts until now, and replies and comments have been few and far between too. There were some successes. A huge inflatable bed, purchased to save people sleeping on sofas, actually behaved itself, and worked. It inflated itself electronically when required, and deflated in the same fashion too. Yesterday, it even packed away into the bag supplied, with no need for fits of temper.

The turkey cooked to perfection, and we managed to serve everyone dinner at the agreed time, with no disasters. Despite purchasing what I was sure would be too much food, we were surprisingly left with very little, and the leftover turkey will make a nice curry tomorrow. My presents were all of a high standard. I was pleased to receive ‘Amy'(2015) on DVD, as well as ‘Wooden Crosses'(1932) on Blu-Ray. I will look forward to watching them, after the end of the festive season. I was also lucky to be given some very nice wines, including some Port, a personal favourite. Arguments and disagreements were minimal, and soon forgotten, and even all the driving and travel arrangements of our guests went without a hitch. If this all sounds too good to be true, you might be asking yourself if there were any downsides. That’s where Ollie comes in.

Ollie might tell you (if he could talk) that having lots of guests might be alright for a while, but then it starts to wear him out. Especially when one of them is at the same height, and follows him around at all times. His normal resting spots are occupied by toys, doors he likes to lie across keep being opened, and his normal routine is completely upside down. On the plus side, he has definitely had more treats, and feasted on turkey scraps too. He has had a few late nights, but his walks have stayed the same, and his mealtimes haven’t been affected. Some of the rooms he likes to investigate have had their doors closed, which he has found disconcerting, and his morning sleeps have just not been possible. But he is still young, and will enjoy the peace, when it returns.

Well, that’s Christmas 2015 done and dusted. A quiet New Year’s Eve is on the agenda, hopefully. As you might guess, I do have one question to ask all of you, and feel free to reply in the comments.

Nice Christmas?

Christmas Past

I have to confess to not being a great fan of the annual festive season, at least not in adult life.

When I was younger, I anticipated the avalanche of gifts, as any child would. I used to equally enjoy the celebrations at my grandparents’ house, where the whole extended family would congregate. This was a real old-fashioned Christmas; everyone eating together on long trestle tables, the women busy in the kitchen, the men recovering from a lunchtime drinking session in the local pub. In the evening, a seafood tea would be served, to line the stomachs for the return to the pub, later followed by a family party, carpets rolled up and stored away, to avoid damaging them.

The parlour would get a rare use during these few days. This decorated and adorned large room that was almost never entered at other times, as life was lived in the kitchen and scullery of the house most days. Souvenirs from military travels overseas, or shell-covered trinkets from seaside towns nearer home. They all fascinated me as a child, and this was an opportunity to examine them. The upright piano had pride of place in the corner. My aunt could play, and the semi-professional pianist from the pub would also come and help, after closing time. The party would be based around the piano, with everyone singing the standards of the day, drinking and laughing until it was almost light outside.

Us children would have long been in bed by then. Beds covered in piles of heavy overcoats, fur stoles smelling of perfume, the unheated rooms and unfamiliar beds, added to the raucous partying, all made sleep hard to find. Eyes stinging from tobacco smoke, bodies fuelled with too much food and sugary drinks, it was such a unique time, and something to really look forward to.

Then I grew up. My Dad left home, and suddenly there was Mum to worry about. The large family was now a little smaller, and spread further afield, no longer all living within the same small area of London. I soon had girlfriends’ families to consider, followed by in-laws after marriage. The planning became a chore, the distances involved greater, and trying to please everyone in the space of a few days was a puzzle that I couldn’t be bothered to solve. With Mum on her own, the main Christmas Day meal always had to be taken at her house, at her insistence. She didn’t like to travel anywhere, to be in an unfamiliar house, but didn’t care who else had to.

Thus began decades of uncomfortable meals, eaten on laps, television blaring. Surrounded by pet dogs and cats, food overcooked and unappetising. I went every year. She was on her own, so what else could I do? Some wives and girlfriends tagged along, others chose to spend the time with their own families. This created atmosphere and tension, and ended up spoiling the day for everyone. Everyone except Mum, of course. I mean no criticism of her. She only understood family at Christmas, and just her own family at that. She decided that she had done her partying, travelling to relatives, and served her time helping to prepare food, and clean up after a lot of very drunk men. I couldn’t blame her for that.

During all this, I worked shifts for over thirty years, always desperate to get the day off, like everyone else. Sometimes, I had to work. Up all night, then over to Mum’s on three hours sleep, and back into work at 10 pm that night. Hardly conducive to feeling festive. Then Mum got much older. She spent her first Christmas in hospital in the year 2000, and almost every year after that was spent visiting her on a ward, or sitting in the relatives’ room in the emergency department, as she fought for her life on a trolley bed somewhere. Calling ambulances just as dinner was served, getting home at some unearthly hour, once they decided to admit her. Not her fault of course, she was ill. Christmas made her worse, it seems. Perhaps worrying about sending cards, getting the dinner right, or whether or not I could spend the whole day there. Any increase in her stress levels exacerbated her condition.

I began to hate this time of year, and to dread it coming around. By the time November appeared on the calendar, I was posting cards and wrapping presents. Anything to get it over and done with as soon as possible. Since Mum died in 2012, I have lived in Norfolk, and been able to spend the time at our own home. There is less stress, and life is undoubtedly easier. Maybe one day, I might learn to love Christmas again. Who knows?