Ring out the false, ring in the true…

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Given the incredibly positive response to today’s post, on both the blog and Facebook page, this seems the perfect accompaniment. I’m so pleased that it’s proven so helpful for so many, and thank you to those of you who have contacted me to say so. Here’s to your 2016!

Image courtesy of http://www.facebook.com/Scribbelicious – where all manner of beautiful purchases can be made!

New Year… and All You Need is Love

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This time last year, I was sitting down to write a column about my resolutions for 2015. I quote, “My resolution for 2015, is to just take time. Be it during a busy day, or perhaps last thing at night, I want to simply stop and look at my daughters and my family”. I am pleased and astounded, in equal measure, to say that I managed to keep this thought in mind throughout the year. At umpteen moments, during the majority of days, I have stopped and taken time. I have been stricter with my working hours, I have savoured moments with my children (in between their beating each other senseless), and I have focused on my family.

 

And I am so very pleased that I did. I lost my Grandfather this year, the last true tie to my father who passed away nearly 27 years ago, and the fallout from that has been extremely hard. I am therefore so very thankful that he and I had no loose ends. Instead, we had only love. Nothing remained unsaid, no conversational stone unturned.

 

It makes me think, as we approach 2016, that John Lennon was right in 1967. Love is all you need. If we have love, then we can cope with illness, stressful times, and the many turns that life brings. It doesn’t cure everything, nor make life plain sailing, but it soothes and it allows us to know we are not alone. Love is a balm to the soul when all else fails, and love gets us through the hard times.

 

The love of my husband, and my mother and children and certain friends, helped me to make it through those first months of grieving, and they help me still now that the initial shock has worn away and the full reality of loss has hit. Being in this position, one in which your world has been shaken into a new form, and one in which the sense of loss takes lengthy adjustment, doesn’t always leave you in a solid place to support others. But sometimes, what others may perceive as selfishness, is actually self-preservation. Sometimes, you need to look after yourself, as well as trying to look after everyone around you. You can try your hardest, but you can’t be everything to everyone, all of the time.

 

New years, new relationships, or new situations, often bring us face to face with the wish to change our social or personal circumstances. Sometimes, as we all discover eventually, we have to let go of people – in fact, we may want to. Sometimes, it transpires that those we trust and whom we believe to be integral to our lives, are not what we think them to be after all. We may be faced with the quandary of whether to continue a relationship we know to be built upon false foundations, or whether to take the brave, and ultimately kinder (to both yourself and the other person), route of ending things. Honesty can be cathartic and the people who really do have love for you will make a stand: they will stand-up for you, and stand by you. Integrity and courage, true friendship and love; who wouldn’t want these things in life? Being true to yourself, and your friends or loved ones, is one of the kindest things that you can do for yourself and them. If you find yourself confronted with a person or situation that is toxic to your well-being, then the best thing that you can do for yourself, and them, is to cut them free. If we do not, then we lower ourselves to the very levels we are complaining about. And, given that you only live once, why on earth, if you have choice, would you want to surround yourself with anything less?

 

This takes bravery, and courage – for we will lose things along the way, but as we enter a new year, it also provides a sense of liberation. If you can make a positive change that enables you to look back with integrity and self-respect, then make it. If you can make a change that will enable you to look yourself in the eye and truly know inside yourself that you did the right thing, then make it. This is your life: is has a ripple effect (and sometimes an avalanche) on the lives of others, but if you’re striving to be a good person, striving to have integrity, and striving to surround yourself with good people, then hopefully, good things will come your way. Mistakes are human nature, don’t beat yourself up when you make them, but learn and move forwards. Cosset your emotional well-being once in a while, and hold your head high.

 

As we approach this new year, the first of my life without my Grandfather, I know that I am lucky to not only have love, but to have cherished the times during which I have had it. It won’t necessarily always be so, because it simply never is. So take a hold of the people you love and who love you, reach out to those who have no-one, for there are more of them than we ever think, and thank your lucky stars for each little good thing every day. Don’t be a victim to the circumstances around you, do not allow yourself to become one of the bitter ones. We can’t control everything, but we do have choice – be careful what you do with it.

 

With this in mind, I wish you a healthy, happy and loving new year. Here’s to a peaceful and mindful 2016.

 

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 29th December 2015

 

 

The John Lewis Ad and the Cynicism of Society at Christmas

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And so the yuletide is fully upon us. Our children’s schools insist on fleecing us (Christmas jumper day necessitates new clothing plus cold cash for the privilege of wearing it into school), and the shops are advertising in force. Decorations are festooned across the land, and office Christmas parties, complete with enforced jollity and misuse of the photocopier, have been underway since late November.

 

Our television screens are filled with festive cheer and happy families, and the annual competition for Best TV Ad has taken place. I’m not really sure which won this year, but I do know that I enjoyed the John Lewis advert – even if some people found it disturbing. To be honest, I think that if an advert demonstrates that the elderly and the lonely need special thought at this time of year (if not all year round), then it’s worth its weight in marketing.

 

I saw on Facebook various comments comparing the elderly man to a peeping Tom, but that says more about the people watching than the people making the advert.

 

The implications are myriad (the stereotype of an abuser for example; male, old) and fear of the elderly. Children need to be brought up to care for and about the elderly, not to ostracise and fear – a fear that is bred, perhaps, out of seeing where our own future lies.

 

It’s not as if the gentleman was watching her undress, and its indicative of the times in which we live that the first thought that comes to the mind of some people is ‘pervert’. If anything, it was the child spying on the old guy – before trying to find a way to enable him to see that he was not alone.

 

At a time of year when we are flooded with scenes of happiness and there is an expectation to enjoy yourself, you can be made to feel even more lonely. If you have lost someone, or something, this year, then it can feel as though Christmas is rubbing that in your face.

 

If you are reading this at the moment, and grieving for a loss of any kind, then I hope that you can take solace in the knowledge that you are not alone. None of our lives are perfect – only those depicted as such on the TV – and even this depends upon our definition of ‘perfect’. Often, our dysfunctional, untraditional, blended families, are, in fact, our very idea of ‘perfect’.

 

I wish you a peaceful Christmas.

 

 

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 22nd December 2015

Image courtesy of johnlewis.com

Coping with Change

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As the year grows old and Christmas looms, I find it impossible not to reflect upon how fast time flows. It seems that one minute, your babies are tiny and fragile, depending and relying upon you for every aspect of their existence. And then, suddenly, with force and surprise, you realise that the years have flown. It concerns me that if I feel this way now, and my girls are only 7 and 9, then how swiftly will it be their late teens, or their twenties, that I am facing?

 

As a mum, and as somebody who always wanted children (and was fortunate enough to have them), it will never cease to amaze me that my husband and I have ‘done the baby part’. How can that be? All those months of planning a pregnancy, imagining your tiny infant, and all those further months of adjustment and of planning, perhaps, a second addition to the family. Done and dusted.

 

The speed with which that stage of my life has flown is astounding. And is accompanied by a mournful, yet paradoxically joyful, farewell to all that was looked forward to. Joyful because I have my beautiful daughters and my little family, yet mournful because something that you take for granted, for many years of youth, has gone. I have done it. That part of my life has ceased.

 

But that is the key to life, isn’t it? In that we have to move with the changes and the challenges it brings. Life is always unexpected, always on the turn. For some of us, it really is that way from childhood onwards, and for others, their first experience of what life can really hit you with does not happen until they have reached adulthood.

 

Either way, we learn that we must adapt, and hard as that can be, it is basic human instinct – to evolve and survive. After all, it’s what we’ve been doing for millennia.

 

It is when we refuse to bend, and stick rigid in the sand, that we can find things even more difficult. Change is a huge adjustment for anyone, but making the most of that change, and turning the tumult on its head, can enable us to start all over again. It is a cliché but, as with most clichés, it is true, to say that life goes on. Time will continue marching and we change day by day. Bending and accepting and going with the flow, is, perhaps, the best way to be.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 15th December 2015

Image courtesy of littlesebagomaine.blogspot.com

 

 

 

Whatever happened to the ‘Christmas Number 1’?

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Whatever happened to the great British tradition of The Christmas Number One? The answer, predictably, is Simon Cowell. Cowell, and his bank balance, have demolished the decades-old tradition of bands recording festive tunes for the race to be the Christmas number one.

The last Sunday before Christmas used to have people tuning into the radio for the Top Forty countdown, placing bets on which band would do it, and either rejoicing or booing, dependent on the outcome, whilst recording their own mix tapes of the tunes they liked the best.

Nowadays, all that happens is that the winner of the X-Factor is Christmas number one. Ta-daah. End of. Unless you have a random year (2009 and the Rage Against the Machine campaign to beat Cowell, for example), then you can predict the Christmas number one for 2016 before Christmas 2015 has even begun.

And how boringly miserable is that? Who even watches The X-Factor these days? Clearly a fair number must, although it’s declined greatly in number since its heyday, when we all enjoyed the novelty and got into the swing of things. But surely people miss the enjoyment of variety, and Christmas songs?

My girls love nothing more than a festive CD in the car as soon as December begins. They love the bonkers joy of Wizard, the sweet, haunting overtones of traditional choir-sung carols, and the melancholic chords of I Believe In Father Christmas.

This year, whilst listening their choice of Chrimbo CD, my husband and I started discussing the now-past phenomenon of the Christmas Number One, and it suddenly dawned on us that our kids have absolutely no idea of what that means. Not a clue. The realization of this was akin to when you realise that your kids will never know who Princess Diana really was, and a little piece of you notes that times truly are, as Dylan said, a changin’.

Great British institutions, like the shops shutting for several days at Christmas, carol singers in residential streets, the excitement of listening to the top forty and hearing your favourite bands’ entries for the race to the number one spot, are gone.

Instead, we have Simon Cowell, with a programme that lost its sparkle years ago, and the dull routine of giving him a massive Christmas bonus each year. In the words of the aforementioned I Believe In Father Christmas, ‘the Christmas we get, we deserve’. Perhaps harkening back to the old traditions, the core values, and the daft fun of festive seasons past, would be good for all of us.

 

First published in The Portsmouth News on Tuesday 8th December 2015

Image courtesy of thrillson.blogspot.com (The Darkness, Don’t Let the Bells End)

Just what is it with Coca Cola and Christmas??

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I took my children into a large local supermarket recently and, like all large supermarkets everywhere, the establishment in question was preparing for Christmas. Subsequently, in the true festive tradition of the season, they have a large Coca-Cola truck in their foyer. Because that’s what Christmas is all about, isn’t it? Coca-Cola.

My girls asked me what the truck was there for and what exactly it has to do with the swift approaching yuletide. (For clarification, those weren’t their exact words, I’m just imagining that their vocabularies are stretching far beyond their meagre years.)

Anyway, I attempted to explain, and in doing so I realized that, aside from my entire Facebook newsfeed being inundated with joyous declarations that the ‘holidays are coming’ within milliseconds of the Coca-Cola advert appearing on our November screens, I have zero idea as to why it’s there. Other than, as my eldest cannily observed, ‘to make money’.

I have a vague recollection (one that I can’t be bothered to research even in the time it takes to Google) that Father Christmas being dressed in red had something to do with Coca-Cola, but this sounds like the stuff that advertising urban legend is made of. However, due to my having other things to do with my time, I shall more than likely never find out.

It’s always been a mystery to me that the people in the Christmas advert have mouths stuffed with glowing, pearlescent, gnashers, whilst popping open retro bottles of the brown stuff, and swigging it with festive abandon. In reality, surely, these would be toothless-wonders, all desperate to get their gummy chops on their sugary caffeine hit, spending the money they should splash at the dentist on travel expenses to see the Christmas Coca-Cola truck.

But then I suppose an advert full of rotten tooth stumps might not entice shoppers as much as one where everybody swigging the sugary version of a drink that can strip pennies, is lean, tanned, toothsome and toned.

That said, Christmas is the one time of the year when I’m not a fizzy drink Scrooge in our household. The other 50-odd weeks of the year and my children are resigned to water, milk, or at a rare push, juice, simply because I’m trying to preserve their innocent little toothypegs. I may see to it that Santa pops a tube of Colgate in their stockings this year to cope with the festive binge – if he’s not too busy collecting his royalties at Cola Headquarters.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 1st December 2015

Image courtesy of http://www.newhealthadvisor.com