Thursday, December 30, 2010

“We'll take a cup o' kindness yet, For auld lang syne.”

It’s that day of the year when you either celebrate and look forward to what the New Year has in store or you sit and recollect what happened in the year that you are leaving behind. Whether you are looking into a crystal ball or in the rear view mirror – it’s all about reflection. Just like Bridgette Jones it’s about taking stock, tallying up the numbers in your life, doing a few calculations and deciding whether you are winning or not.

That probably explains why some years you will find me sitting at home in my slippers watching The Royal Variety Show and other years I will be putting my left leg in, my left leg out, doing the Hokey Cokey with a bunch of jolly strangers.

Traditionally New Year was a time for first footing, dark haired strangers bearing coal and a lot of Scottish people on the TV swinging their kilts and their whisky bottles. My father, Harry, used to celebrate New Year in a big way down at his local while we children waited for him to come home intoxicated so that we could laugh at him. One year he did the Highland fling with a party can - a huge can of beer that held seven pints – then opened it! We welcomed 1962 in a shower of beer and the house still reeked of Ansell’s’ bitter in June!

Another year – 1976 I think - the family accompanied dad to his local, the Seven Stars, and at midnight we three sisters marched into the bar because that was the year that women were declared equal and couldn’t be refused entry anywhere based on their gender. We wanted the moon, equal pay and the opportunity to buy a pint in the snug! My sister took our newly legislated freedom a step further by marching into the Gents toilets while my father cried into his beer and declared that the world had gone mad.

Perhaps that’s why my father chose the 31st December to cast off his mortal coil and join the spirit in the sky. That year I lay in bed listening to neighbours singing Auld Lang Syne, distant fireworks and the world celebrating and I wandered how people could be so happy while I was so sad. I suppose that sums up New Years Eve – some have had a year to celebrate and others are sadly counting their losses.

Since being in South Africa we have the additional burden of celebrating twice – at midnight and at 2am as we wait for and send good luck messages to the UK. A few of years ago I opted to babysit for New Year and when friends asked had I seen the New Year in – I replied, “Yes! At 23h30, 00h15, 01h45, 02h30 and 04h10!” I had forgotten that is what New Year’s Eve is like with a 3 year old.

I am also remembering a New Year spent in Cape Town visiting a friends who were in isolation there. Our dear friend had been diagnosed with acute T-cell limblastic lymphoma so while the champagne corks were popping, he was in hospital popping pills and battling the horrors of chemo. Friends of friends opened their home to us and we saw the 2010 in with strangers in Monte Vista and drove back as the sun came over Table Mountain unsure of what the year held. He is a survivor and a hero and I know will celebrate many New Years!

Last year,Tony and I were singing,“We'll take a cup o' kindness yet, For auld lang syne,"  with sister Julia and Tom in Manchester - dining in style and dancing the night away. Such a joyful evening and the expectation of a great year ahead - Four weeks later, I was numb with shock and arranging Tony's funeral - the bright New Year became dark and monochrome and the struggle to overcome loss began.

Tonight will see me quietly seeing 2014 in with a special friend in KZN - reflecting and remembering the past but definitely looking forward - celebrating the survivor within me and capacity of the human heart to heal and dare to dream. 

Not sure whether we will be doing the Hokey Cokey this year as sadly , Larry La Prise, the man who wrote "The Hokey Pokey" died peacefully at age 93 last week. The most traumatic part for the family was getting him into the coffin. They put his left leg in..... and then the trouble started. Hee Hee!

Happy New Year to all my family and friends........and special thoughts of my dad Harry – I hope that you are enjoying a wee dram at the ‘eighth star.’

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Wayne in a Manger

Today we look forward to Craig's Christmas Concert and we shall be sitting in a church hall feeing nostalgic and I am sure suppressing a few giggles at the antics of the pre-schoolers! I wonder what theme it will take this year....
Christmas to me is all about creating magic for children or for the child that is in each of us. Either we are recreating the festive magic of our childhood or we are creating the Christmas experience that we wished we had had as a child. This time of years always puts me in a nostalgic mood and takes me back to when I was at school and Christmas would not have been Christmas without the nativity play. This was before the days of political correctness and really signified the true meaning of Christmas – sad that many children today don’t even know about the birth of Christ!

As a child I had theatrical ambitions and when the casting came around for the nativity play – I always wanted to play the female lead, Mary. My ambitions were thwarted though by my genes – I had blond curls and blue eyes - and the fact that the vicar’s daughter was in my year and that she had long straight brown hair and the brown-eyed, bovine appearance that was perfect for Mary – in fact Michelangelo could not have hoped for a more perfect match. So I never got to wear that beautiful blue outfit – I was destined to be a heavenly apparition and got to flutter onto the stage in an old sheet with a tinsel covered wire coat hanger that my father religiously fashioned into a halo each year. One frosty December, I was on my way home counting the paces between lamp posts and really not looking where I was going, when I crashed into one of them. That year I made a memorable appearance as the cherub who looked as if she had gone twelve rounds with Mohamed Ali and sported two black eyes and facial injuries to rival Quasimodo’s. At aged nine, any gasp from the audience was interpreted as appreciation and I truly felt that I had made my mark on the school production.
As my own children entered primary school I had high hopes that I may have given birth to a ‘Joseph’ but alas they were to be lowly shepherds and I became an expert at fashioning sacking into tunics and tea towels into headpieces. My youngest, Sean, made a spectacular debut in pre-primary as a shepherd and was a little miffed at having to stand to the side while someone else took the limelight. He mouthed every word of the play in an over enunciated fashion and when Joseph came onto stage leading Mary and the donkey, he happened to stop a couple of centimetres from the spot marked on the stage – Sean leaped into action to position him perfectly and then promptly informed the inn keeper that he could continue. It was no surprise the following year that he was chosen to play the donkey! That was the year that the doll used at rehearsal could not be found so a substitute was used. At the crucial moment the little girl playing Mary shouted, " STOP !! This is the wrong baby!"

In another of the boys nativities the following dialogue created much laughter ‘I am the King of the North,’ said one little boy, kneeling before the manger and laying down a brightly wrapped box. ‘I bring you gold.’ ‘I am the King of the South,’ said the second, kneeling before the manger and laying down a large coloured jar. ‘I bring you myrrh.’ ‘I am the King of the East,’ said the third and smallest child, kneeling before the manger and laying down a silver bowl (to symbolise Frankincense). ‘And Frank sent this.’
It’s quite sad that many schools no longer stage the nativity and that many parents object to recreating the Christmas story. I am all for respect for people’s beliefs and that there should always be choice, but perhaps it’s no wonder that lots of children believe that Christmas is all about shopping and spending. It seems that consumerism is the new religion and the true message of Christmas gets lost in the shopping malls.

At least I have my memories to make me smile - but I still hanker for the days when “A Wayne in a Manger,” was sung a little out of key in those dusty school halls!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Let it Snow

I have been on snow watch again! Usually at this time of year, I start hankering for my native land where Christmas is a season of snowmen, sparkling lights and yuletide fires. I don’t think that I will EVER get used to Christmas carols in the sun or wearing sunglasses to do the Christmas shopping. My family think it’s hilarious that I usually wear a swimsuit to put up my Christmas tree and each year I still slave away over a hot stove in temperatures in the late 20s because a roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings and a flaming brandy pudding is what one eats on Christmas Day.
Looking at the beautiful icy photographs of the British countryside wearing a white coat, helps to cool me down and soothe my longing for ‘home.’ As beautiful as I find it I suppose it’s a lot more pleasant to view it from afar, I thought this morning as I watched the chaos at the airports. Apparently millions of Britons are trying to get away and as usual the weather is preventing this.

I can’t understand the surprise or the newsworthiness of snow in Europe because- er – isn’t that what it does there at this time of year! I find it kind of reassuring that the seasons are back to where they were because perhaps it means that global warming is under control. When I was growing up we had snow every year in winter. I have my birthday in January and my mother told me it was snowing when I was born. I have two December children who were also brought into a white frosted world and I remember pushing out my first born as snowflakes fell - in a pram I mean!! Remember we used to do that to – walk to places with the baby in a pram – not just around shopping malls but in the actual streets too!!

In my childhood we built treacherous slides on pavements, had snowball fights, built snowmen and then went indoors with tingling fingers to dry our wet, woolly gloves – I can still taste the ice – it was compulsory to eat some - and remember the smell of mittens drying on the hot pipes. We left the car at home and walked to places and Christmases were planned and spent at home because we knew it would be a mission to get anywhere. Nobody complained – in fact we loved it!

So this morning when I heard the broadcast from Heathrow on Sky News and the disgruntled travellers wanting compensation, food vouchers, free accommodation and apologies from the government, the airline company and tour operators – I thought it a little strange. No I think it’s very strange and very stupid of people to think that they can control the weather and mother-nature, who will always have her way and the last laugh!    Its winter in Europe, as the song says.
"let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!!”

Monday, December 13, 2010

Peace, Hope Love and Joy?

Remind me again what Christmas is all about - Isn’t it supposed to be a celebration of love, a season of Peace, Hope Love and Joy? I need a reminder because for the last week or so it has been a struggle to find any of these as people scowl, push and shove and screech their way around the shops. It is more like a season of anger and despair as parking rage, trolley rage and queue quarrels are in evidence everywhere. The only jingle bells I am hearing is that of the tills beeping and pinging as the plastic meltdown is in full swing.
The shopping centres are forecasting a bumper season and so, I should imagine, are the panel beaters judging by the number of bashed bumpers I saw on Friday and Saturday. What is it about this time of year that brings out both driving skills regression and shopping aggression? It’s a mad rush to get anywhere and manners are left at home. Don’t get me wrong – it’s wonderful that the retail sector of the economy gets a cash injection and I love exchanging Christmas gifts, but surely we could handle the run up to Christmas with a little more love and a little less selfishness!

I had to pop into Walmer Park on Saturday to exchange a dress that I had bought for my granddaughter – she has definite tastes now and the pretty floral party dress that I had bought her for the photo shoot with Santa failed the test – “it makes me look as if I have boobs,” declared the 6 year old - in ten years time I thought it will be the perfect dress! Anyway they are leaving today to go back to Pretoria so we had to pop in and change it for something she liked, a mission in itself – to shop with her and her baby brother – but made into an all out war by the behaviour of other shoppers. The floor in the kiddies section in Woollies was strewn with new clothes that were being walked all over by half of PE. Dresses were snatched off hangers to be examined and then put back anywhere and anyhow as they were rejected by harassed parents. One little girl stood out in a beautiful party dress in the centre of the chaos, while her parents took photographs of her on a cell phone and waited to hear from someone on the other side like a weird telephone phone auction. A toddler lay in the shoe section surrounded by odd shoes and hangers - kicking and screaming while his yummy mummy finished her conversation with her friend. The scene resembled a battle ground and the shoppers walking wounded! Jessica found a dress she liked and had enough left for a pair of pretty sandals.

At the exchange counter a line of weary women tapped toes and sighed as EVERYONE was taking too long and as per usual half the tills were not open. I waited as patiently as you can with a 15kg Velcro baby swinging around your neck and an excited six year old doing ballet moves. When it was finally my turn I was told, “Lady – she has 2 left feet! “ Eying my very graceful granddaughter – I had to disagree. “No man – these shoes are odd – you will have to get me the other one,” snapped my friendly WW assistant. “No, please don’t make me go back in there,” I pleaded. She looked from me to the bouncing, jumping, swinging children, recognised the desperation and took pity on me. Off she took with one of the offending shoes while 15 pairs of angry eyes bored into the back of my neck – more sighing and tapping. Five minutes can seem like five hours when you are under scrutiny like that. There was a happy ending though – we were able to leave the shop and the chaos behind - for another day at any rate.

So please – PEACE, HOPE, LOVE, JOY keep repeating this as you drive both your car and your trolley and remember some christian charity for your fellow man -  after all Jesus is the reason for the season!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I always cry at weddings – especially my own" so said Humphrey Bogart.

December heralds not just the festive season but the wedding season in South Africa. I attended one yesterday and it was perfect. A beautiful, blushing bride, a handsome but nervous bridegroom, proud parents and family and friends gathered to witness their vows. It was a garden reception – Mom did the flowers and family and friends chipped in with various helping hands to make the occasion unforgettable and the music and dancing continued late into the night. Even the PE Weather played its part! I will be writing more later in the week about this unique wedding!
As always when the vows were exchanged, it took me back to my own wedding day many years ago, the vows have remained unchanged but my wedding was very different.
I met my husband when I was an art student and was supplementing my income by waitressing in a soccer club. He was an apprentice trying to support himself on lowly wages and had taken a waiters job in the evening to make ends meet. My parents did not approve of the relationship and despite – or perhaps – because of this we were determined to get married. With no parental support it was a shoe string budget – a very short shoe string!

My designer gown was designed and made by me and I must have been going through a pastoral period as I resembled a milkmaid. My straw boater hat was decorated with pale blue ribbon and carnations in the colours of our local rugby team – red and white! The bridesmaids wore floppy hats; similar lilac cotton sprigged milking outfits and platform shoes. The groom was equally colourful in his burgundy suit, mauve shirt and maroon tie and wore Saville Row boots that had been left in the dressing room of the soccer club and fitted perfectly but creaked when he walked – perhaps that’s why they had been abandoned. As my parents refused to give their consent or approval I was ferried to the registry office by the bridesmaid’s father and left after the service in my new husbands’ pale blue Ford Anglia which he had parked on the municipality car park – I slid down the embankment to it in my blue satin wedding slippers but the car park attendant let us off the parking fee - I think we must have made a touching site!
The reception was at our modest flat – a home-made buffet, trifle, a tiny wedding cake and a lot of alcohol. The best man and the chief bridesmaid developed a fatal attraction for one another and spent the whole time snogging. We later met up with a few friends at a local pub and I was abandoned there as my ever romantic groom went off to play snooker with his buddies. An hour later when I went into the bar in my wedding dress to retrieve him, the barmaid asked me whatever had I seen in my now very worse for wear groom and he promptly replied that I had married him because a part of his anatomy was spectacular!
The day ended with the bride locked in the ladies loo while the groom – suddenly sober – tried to coax me out. We weren’t speaking on the way home or the next day and we are still to be seen arguing in public places but the making up is always worth it!!
As for the family – it didn’t take them long to realise that we were meant for each other and my father and husband soon became the very best of friends and we had our wedding vows blessed in church for our silver anniversary. Sadly by then our parents had passed away.
Thirty eight years later, a new country, several moves, many arguments, four sons, two grandchildren, much laughter, some sadness - our marriage has survived all that life has thrown at us. So yesterday when young couple promised to “have and to hold from this day forth, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish: from this day forward until death do us part...” I was taken back to that day and thought how easy it was for me to make that promise and how hard it has been for me to keep it all these years.

To Saturday’s bride and groom – “wishing you health, wealth and most of all laughter and happiness.”