Sunday, 19 January 2014

Fright Night

There are shadows in here, beside the curtains, underneath the chest of drawers.

The door is kept open a few inches more, half way, the light shining on carpet, respite from inky horrors. She's tucked in, arms around ted.

'Don't go,' she says, 'Mummy, I need you.'

I remember this. The drawers needed checking. The wardrobe, shutting tight. The door, open, safe exit from monsters, the things of fright.

'I'm sacred of the shadows,
is there a man on the roof?
Will a burglar come in?'  

I tell her, no, she is secure, hidden from harm, mummy is here, in the next room.

'Yes, darling?'
'I'm a big girl, but I'm a little girl just now, I feel sad.'
'It's okay to feel that way - sometimes mummy feels very small too, and sad, like a tiny, crying acorn.'
'I need a hug.'
'You can have the biggest one my beautiful girl.'

There is no escape, not yet, we must sing another lullaby, hold hands again, and again. I don't mind, it's what I must do.

'Yes, darling?'
'When I go away from you, my heart stops, when I see you again my heart works.'
'Mine too. But when Mummy is away, she never stops loving you. Ever.'
'I love you Mummy.'
'I love you too.'

She is sleepy, ready to turn over with ted. The shadows are forgotten, the beasties in her head.

'Goodnight Mummy.'

Monday, 6 January 2014


Christmas was going to take some ingenuity. Nearly four, and she was already questioning the tricky logistics St Nick had ahead of a perilous night's present dropping. 'Mummy, how's he going to get down our chimney, he's so fat?' 'Mummy, how does he know who's house to go to?' 'Mummy, do you think he got my letter, and the elves are making my marbles?' My one, consistent response, 'don't worry, Christmas is magic, and you'd be amazed the tiny holes Father Christmas can squeeze through, quite simply astounding.' That seemed to satisfy her curiosity...

...and it turned out there was enough room in Santa's sack for a pot of The North Poles finest; glass marbles of all sizes and colours, some with a pearly sheen, others with swirls of colour, like Jupiter. Like Willy Wonker sweets. (thank you John Lewis).

Grandma slept on a blow up bed in the spare room, Younger Brother slept on the futon in the lounge. They arrived on Christmas Eve, appearing late enough in the afternoon as to spare me an extra twenty minutes for a few well chosen yoga stretches - the tiniest envelope, a moment's serenity - before the festivities began in full glass chinking swing.

'The meat's already cooked,' Younger Dad said, alarm clear in his eyes. Shaking his head, he stuck the thermometer in for a second time to be sure, 'no, it's definitely cooked.' The last of the vegetables weren't prepared, or the Yorkshire Pudding. A sheet of foil was placed over the strip loin of beef, the very one I had stood waiting impatiently for the previous day, in the rain, a bright pair of raspberry Crocs offering nothing in the way of protection against damp or cold, with no umbrella, or mobile phone, in a long motionless line outside the local butchers. For two hours. Apparently, half of Croxley Green had begun queueing at eight in the morning.

Twenty minutes later, a decision - not mine - had been made. 'I haven't time to cook the parsnips.' said Younger Dad. 'What?' I asked, 'you mean we won't be having the maple syrup parsnips?' Younger Dad pressed on, 'I need to serve the food now.' 'But you can't, I'm still ironing the table cloths.' I had spent weeks planning and procuring the detail, the colour, for the Christmas Day dinner table; there was no way it wasn't being made. And so it began, our festive altercation. Table vs The Food. Grandma as referee. Oh Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without one merry clash...

Needless to say, Table won, and the beef was still perfect. We all sat down to candle lit magic; silver glittered stars, snowflakes, and delicate beading coiled it's way down the pale blue runner, catching the light of the flames. Crackers. And napkins in holders, and specially bought place mats for the occasion. I even went as far as name cards... The Yorkshire Puds, soft on the inside, crispy on the outside, over and above the required West Riding standards, the meat mopped up with tart red cabbage, creamy potatoes dauphinoise, buttered carrots, and the richest gravy.

During dessert, Grandma had a little accident, she sat down on a strategically placed whoopee cushion, and it burst. The oh so weighty implication... Little A thought it was hilarious. And thankfully so did Grandma - her good humoured response permitting full bellied laughter around the table.

And after all the mince pies had been devoured, and the wrapping paper ripped and strewn across the living room floor, these were the things I learnt from Christmas 2013....

1. How wonderful family traditions are. On Christmas morning, we all tucked into Younger Dad's special festive breakfast; his family have made it every year for as long as he can remember; white toast layered with smoke salmon, sour cream, cress, and mock caviar (lump fish), washed down with Bucks Fizz. On Boxing Day, we made our special breakfast, the one reserved for birthdays and other important markers on the calendar; buttermilk pancakes soaked in butter and maple syrup with crisp streaky bacon.

2. Seriously, I shouldn't take myself or Christmas so seriously (see above). It's a dinner table, not the end of the world. 

3. The finest moment was snuggling in bed together on Christmas morning - me and my family of three - and opening our stocking presents one at a time, the pale winter light filtering through the gauze of the net curtains.

4. I have developed a passion for lounge wear. I blame it on the yoga, not that I'm comfortably middle-aged.

On New Years Eve, Younger Dad and I braved the drivel on TV, waving a half hearted hello to 2014, surprisingly unmoved by the fireworks exploding over the London Eye. At ten past midnight, dressed in lounge wear, I climbed the stairs to bed, the enormous serving of curry three hours before still grumbling away in my belly. In bed, I thought about 2013. Busy, industrious 2013. The house move, words, writing festivals, Little A.... when my eyes opened in the morning, I had found my word for this year; believe.

Wishing you a wonderful 2014!

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