Happy Christmas!

Joanna, right, with her sister Kate, left with Father Christmas.Can I wish each and every one of you the happiest of Christmas Days – happy times around the festive period and just plain happy times!

Memories are precious jewels to be collected and treasured. Then they can be brought out to look at and remember fondly when you need them most. I have had a tough year with all my family, and I’ve no doubt they would agree that the family has been tested in 2015. However the upside of this is that my brothers and sister and I are closer than we were a year ago, and that is something to celebrate.

It’s hard when sad times overwrite the happy memories of the past, and I think it’s really important to try and get past the sad memories and hang on to all the happiness that has been around you over the years.

I am planning a super happy day today with my much loved daughters and little two year old Grace who has a collection of Play-doh coming her way and a cuddly Winnie-the-Pooh so maybe we can make some Play-doh food for the bear – who knows. That’s the fun of being two – anything can happen and her innocence and naiveté sum up what matters about the Christmas message. Love, happiness and trust in the future.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Christmas past…

I was having a pleasant wallow on social media and came across… annuals! Do you know, I had completely forgotten about them and yet they used to be such an important part of my Christmas, right up there alongside the advent calendar and what was hidden in the toe of my Christmas stocking.

I used to be so excited at the prospect of receiving a ‘Bunty’ annual every Christmas. In my childhood, these were big, hardback books with comic-strip stories, none of the trendy ‘photo strips’ that came later. Bunty was full of hearty girls who played hockey or were generally just ‘jolly good sorts’ – so innocent! I had to really work hard to ration myself to only reading one story at a time and not race through the entire annual in one sitting.

Another very popular present for me was ‘The Guinness Book of Records’. I used to pore over it, fascinated by the more extreme records and would even go and dig out the previous year’s to check what had changed. Ah, the simple pleasures of life pre-internet, when we actually had to look things up in books.

Something else we have lost is the big Christmas TV attraction. I can remember when Morecambe and Wise used to get 24 million viewers for their Christmas special, yet last year no TV shown on Christmas day got more than 10 million viewers. Oh, I did love Morecambe and Wise, in fact the re-runs still make me laugh now! It was strange, but when so many people had seen the same programme it created a wonderful sort of camaraderie and I can remember overhearing people discussing sketches that had particularly amused them, or what they’d thought of Shirley Bassey’s dress or Penelope Keith’s dance routine, such fun!

So what else did we have in Christmas past and no longer have, or rarely see, today?

Angel Hair
That dreadful white spun stuff that we used to drape over the Christmas tree and get fibre glass splinters everywhere – who ever came up with that idea? And why?

Paper chains
Do people still make paper chains? I haven’t seen any for ages, but I clearly remember making yards of them at school and thinking my tongue would be permanently stuck to the roof of my mouth!

Christmas drinks
Oh, how I used to aspire to a Babycham! I loved the adverts with the sweet little deer… but I remember it being something of a disappointment when I finally tried it, rather sweet and sickly! And who remembers a Snowball? Advocaat and lemonade, usually with a cherry on the top, the height of sophistication in the 1960s.

Woolworths
Goodness, many a last minute present was bought in Woolies! I can remember clutching a few old pennies in my mittened hands and trying to find something suitable for an aunt, cousin or school friend.

January sales
Cheating really as they were after Christmas – but in my youth, the January sales began in January (not Boxing Day as now) and it was a huge source of excitement! I can remember as a teenager, fighting my way past a huge crowd to grab a green polo neck angora jumper that they had been advertising in the window for the week before the sale –  £20.00 down to £2 – I loved that jumper for years!

So, what are your memories of Christmas past? What do you miss? Or what do you enjoy now that makes it so much better? Do share!

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The traditions of Christmas, or not…!

I was thinking about Christmas stockings for my family and started wondering about how this slightly strange practice came to be, and then I thought – aha, perhaps that’s an idea for a blog. I checked back and saw that I wrote about some of the origins of what we think of as ‘traditional’ Christmas practices THREE years ago! My goodness, I’ve written a lot of blogs and articles since then! Anyway, here are some interesting facts that I didn’t cover last time…

Christmas Stockings

As with so many of these traditions, I have come across various explanations as to how the practice of stocking-stuffing came about and it owes more to myth than fact. We know, thanks to the poem ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas’, that hanging stockings by the chimney with care dates back at least to the poem’s 1823 publication. But the story of how stockings came to be hung by the fire is a hazy one. Legend says the original Saint Nicholas, who travelled around bringing gifts and cheer to the poor, came upon a small village one year and heard of a family in need. An impoverished widower could not afford to provide a dowry for his three daughters. St. Nick knew the man was too proud to accept money, so he simply dropped some gold coins down the chimney, which landed in the girl’s stockings, hung by the fireplace to dry, so the tale goes. And so, the modern tradition was born.

Gift giving

Christmas’s gift-giving tradition has its roots in the Three Kings’ offerings to the infant Jesus. Romans traded gifts during Saturnalia, and 13th century French nuns distributed presents to the poor on St. Nicholas’ Eve. However, gift-giving did not become the central Christmas tradition it is today until our friends the Victorians got to grips with it! Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who also gave us the Christmas tree, also popularised the whole present giving ritual.

The X in Xmas

I know a lot of people don’t like to see Christmas abbreviated to Xmas, seeing it as rather disrespectful, but the true origins have a strong basis in Christianity. In the abbreviation, the X stands for the Greek letter Chi, the first letter of the Greek word for Christ. I was amazed to discover that the term X-mas has been used since the 16th century, and became widely used in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the modern world, X has been taken to be used as an abbreviation for any word with the “krys” sound in it. Chrysanthemum, for example, is sometime shortened to “xant” on florist’s signs, and crystal has sometimes been abbreviated as “xtal”. Hmmm…

I’ve got a few more thoughts on our Christmas traditions that I’ll share with you later in the month…

 

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Danger’s Last Resort

 Finally, here it is! Launching in the next week or so, the first of my solo novels entitled ‘Danger’s Last Resort’. I will send out more details as soon as we have the paperbacks here and the Kindle version is listed on Amazon – but I thought you might like to read a sneak preview. You can see the cover finally making it through the printing process here and I can’t wait to be sent the finished book!

I have put my heart and soul into writing this book and it has acted as a wonderful escape from my complicated family life at the moment, so I hope you will all find it as uplifting to read as I did to write.

The story…
Stuck in a junior manager’s job in a dreary English hotel, Rose dreams of exotic travel. Then, astonishingly, that dream comes true when she inherits property right on the beach in tropical Barbados.

It’s not the cosy seashore cottage she expects but a once grandly genteel destination where Princess Margaret used to stay – but it’s now threadbare and overgrown. Still, the hotel oozes charm and possibility. Can Rose see her future here, recreating the dignified, welcoming oasis it used to be?

Then the death threats start and both Rose and her family are in danger. Unsettling things, threatening things. Barbados turns out to be the opposite of paradise. Its gorgeous turquoise waters are infested with particularly treacherous sharks: cutthroat people who want Rose’s beachfront property and will stop at nothing to get it!

Well, I hope that whets your appetites – oh, and there’s a little romance thrown in along the way! Happy reading…

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Is this the end of the traditional british holiday…?

It is August and prime holiday time down here in Devon so we tend to keep away from the coast until the end of the school holidays when it quietens down again. But yesterday, I had some business near Torquay and I walked past a family about to go onto the beach and a distinctive scent transported me instantly back to my own childhood summer holidays – the smell of Ambre Solaire suntan cream! I absolutely love that smell but now, as a confirmed non-sunbather, I hadn’t smelt it for years. Goodness, how it brought the memories flooding back…

Seaside holidays were such wonderful things when I was a child. What I call ‘traditional’ holidays – well to my generation that’s what they seemed. We had sticks of rock, donkey rides and Punch and Judy shows – although I was personally terrified of Mr Punch! It all seemed so innocent then, your parents organised one or two weeks in a guesthouse somewhere in the UK. You had the meal that was served every evening (no choices from the a la carte!) and we’d never heard of ‘ensuite’, so bathroom sharing was the norm. I can remember my Mother packing our preferred brand of tea and biscuits – goodness knows why we couldn’t have bought some locally, but it was all part of the tradition, the excitement of being somewhere different and slightly exotic even if it was still in the UK. Does anyone still do that now that we have a Tesco and Sainsbury’s in every town in every county?

Deckchair photo copyright Dave HeatherAnd what about ice creams and saucy postcards? This was in the days before Magnums so if I was lucky I might get a choc ice that always melted and dribbled up my arm before I was even half way through it. Or I might have had a 99 with that soft whipped ice cream piped into cornets that tasted exactly like cardboard. As for the naughty postcards, I can remember gazing saucer-eyed at the revolving racks of cards outside the beach shops and, while not understanding what was going on in those gaudy images, feeling deliciously guilty and daring! 

Sadly, well sadly for my era, it is all changing. When did you last receive a postcard? I can’t remember when I did. But I’ve seen lots of people’s holiday snaps on Facebook. Today’s holidaymakers no longer have to weigh themselves down with a suitcase stuffed with paperbacks, technology has saved the day again with the invention of the Kindle. But it’s not the same. One of the joys of holiday paperbacks was reading them and leaving them behind for someone else to enjoy. I discovered all sorts of interesting reads by ‘inheriting’ other holidaymakers’ castoffs, but there, times change…

Of course, many changes are for the better. Largely gone are the in–car arguments over wayward map reading by one parent or the other, for now we have the sat nav. If we don’t like our holiday, we can tell everyone on Trip Advisor and hope it brings some improvement and perhaps provides a little salve for our disappointment.

But oh, do the modern generation know what they are missing? Will they ever know the thrill of brewing tea on a primus stove in a tiny beach hut while shivering with cold? Wrestling with deckchairs that want to nip your fingers and swallow you whole or – joy of joys – walking to the end of the pier in a gale force 8 and getting soaked? I think not and somehow, perhaps, we are all a little the poorer for those losses.

What are your most enduring summer holiday memories…? Do tell!

 

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