Cutprice Christmas

The cost of Christmas is going up but the two best things for me this year haven’t been to do with money at all. I saw a slight girl running happily with a dog and behind her Rachel an artist who lives locally and I haven’t seen for a while. We established Pearl was with her, I said how attractive she was and Rachel told me she has been anorexic for 2 years. Rachel talks as much as I do and she enthused about how helpful the Maudesley (famous mental hospital) had been, about books and insights and how Pearl was getting better and the girl came back so she gave me her telephone number.   And when I rang a day or two later, I said how wonderful it was to hear a parent willing to be upfront about this terrible thing. And I asked how she and her husband were doing. “It’s been hard” she said “but we learned a lot and we’ve managed, and Pearl’s come a long way.”   It’s hard to explain in print how moving it is to hear neither bluster nor whinge and certainly not avoidance: just – this is our child and this is where we are up to. Hard won and beyond price.

And then Evie, very much younger than me, with whom I became sort of friends till she fell in love and moved out to Ipswich – and we lost touch. I went past the framers where she used to work the other day, currently on its way to transformation into another moody cake shop, and thought of her and hoped she was OK. There were things to sort out and being young and poor is only fun sometimes. The next morning a card arrived. She is still happily living with Aidan, they have a cat, and she is painting. Bullterriers.   And she sent me a wonderfully gentle caricature of the almond eyed droop snoot. And says she is happier than she has ever been. Couldn’t set a price on it.

My Santa Claus is a kind of year round multiple, dressed in baseball caps, orange Day-Glo and heavy gloves. My Santa Claus is multi-ethnic, a sort of mixture of the reindeer and the Christmas Visitor. Let me introduced you to my daily heroes – the local waste disposal team – and though of course I could always use the reindeer poop in the garden, these guys are better than Santa.

I listen to some of my neighbours moaning “oh, they drop this, they don’t take that” but word of honour, if you wrap it, they’ll take it away as I have proved for the better part of 20 years. Thank you’s, smiles and acknowledgement brought me waves in the street and a French lesson from the North African.   I know you can’t be nice to everybody and I know you can waste your efforts as in casting pearls before swine, but most people respond like dogs to a kind word, and the humbler and grottier the task, the more that kind word shines.

No turkey in this house, no ham, no pudding or mince pies – don’t care for any of them – though the fruit bowl is overflowing thanks to Karen who will only be in the market up to Christmas and then not till May – “the summer knocked us out” she explained. “We haven’t got enough to stock the stall. So we’re going to take a break and hope to come back later in the year. “ The big multiples will import – at a price – but this is the first time I’ve had a personal experience of the change in the weather.

And I agreed to make the Swedish apple cake my son loved when he was a little boy.   I do hope to heaven I don’t make a mess of it – it’s like taking the eleven plus all over again.

Christmas is always personal.   There are people who find being alone untenable. I have learned to enjoy it.   There are so many people for whom the end of the year is uncomfortable, they don’t like the cold or the falling leaves or the dark nights.   I love it all.   Memory shines like the candles I light in every room.

All names have been changed.

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