Archive for December, 2011

Bugger the resolutions – just think more, do more

December 29, 2011

Look, don’t make resolutions. Instead think deeply about your life and what matters to you, what you need to keep and what needs to go. 2012 is shaping as a big year – London Olympics, Dickens Anniversary, Lizzie’s Diamond Jubilee, 100 years since the Titanic sank. So what will make it big for you?

Greenwich – site for the Olympic equestrian events for 2012

Think about you – what is good about you, what can be better. Do it. Don’t waste time dieting or feeling guilty – do positive things that will make a positive difference to how you feel about you. Think about health and well being. Keep the things that enhance your life, get rid of the rest. Mm, possibly some people…

Think about others – those who really matter to you – family, friends, loved ones. Let them know you care, that they mean the world to you. Be more thoughtful, more aware of their needs. Just be kind and nice to them – you’ll feel better and they’ll feel wonderful. Sometimes all you have to do is make a cup of coffee or take five extra minutes to listen, or give some flowers …

Flowers – for anyone you love, anytime

Think about the world – what can you do to make it better? Probably not a great deal in the vast scheme of things but in the small things that you do you can help. Continue to recycle, be aware of how much paper you use, watch your water useage, be aware of the power you consume. Be nice to others – give up your seat on the train, let the other car in, don’t honk your horn, say thank you to the bus-driver, the Evening Standard lady at London Bridge. And most of all teach your kids to be responsible human beings with good manners.

Think about why you’re here. Think about your purpose, your point in being. And make a difference – be a better you, a more aware and thoughtful you. Get involved in the world, make a part of it better – even a small part is better than none and is more achievable and less depressing than tackling the Euro-zone crisis.

Don’t be consumed by the negativity out there, and there will be bucket loads of it this year. Be a force for good, bring some joy into the part of the world you live in. Be a better person because you want to be, not because you think you should be. Then you’ll be happier and the world will be a better place. Trust me, would I lie to you?

Songs for Christmas + a Movie or Four

December 23, 2011

A not at all definitive list of Christmas songs, but ones you should enjoy at this time of the year. A few surprises?? Plus a few movies worth re-visiting at this time of the year too.

Do They Know It’s Christmas? The Original Band-Aid. This is my all time favourite Christmas song: ignore all the hoopla (and that Bob says he hates it now), it was quite a coup that Bob and Midge pulled off with the cast of this song and getting it written, produced, pressed and into the shops in time in 1984. It’s a song that will always resonate and this is the only version worth listening to.

Driving Home for Christmas – Chris Rea. This is lovely, cheerful and real in that you can imagine it – there in the car, loaded with presents, feeling good, driving and singing as you head to your family for Christmas. Love this song and Chris Rea too.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town – Bruce Springsteen – very rock n roll, very up-beat and very dancing in the Christmas groove – good times for all, get into it!

I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday – Wizard – old as the hills but jivey and good to dance around to, especially when cooking.

Merry Christmas Everybody – Slade – also as old as time but good to sing along to and good for a dance as well.

Fairy Tale of New York – the Pogues and Kirsty McColl – slow starter, a bit morose to begin (well it is the Pogues) but it picks up with Kirsty’s arrival – a great emotional heart felt song that seems to be what Christmas is all about – friendship, lost dream, forgiveness no matter where you are.

Last Christmas ( I Gave You My Heart) – the Wham version is the best – a bit soppy and schmaltzy but sometimes it’s nice to feel a bit soppy at Christmas too.

All I Want for Christmas is You – preferably the version from Love Actually and not the Mariah Carey version. It’s definitely a feel good sing-a-long song.

Little Drummer Boy – Bing Crosby and David Bowie. This is one of the last songs Bing recorded. It’s as schmaltzy as hell but it really is cool to see these two together. A must for any classic Christmas song list.

Six White Boomers – Rolf Harris. You may not know this – an Australian Christmas song about kangaroos taking Santa where he needs to go. Great stuff – takes me home and back to being 6 every time. (You can find it on Youtube)

Of course you need a few movies to get you in the zone too. A small but highly recommended list follows.

Classic Christmas MovieIt’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Yes, it really is that old. But Jimmy Stewart is just fabulous and this is one of the best feel-good movies of all time, especially of Christmas time.

Classic Kid’s Christmas MovieHome Alone (1990). Macauly Culkin at his angelic child best. Left behind to defend himself and home against crooks. It is funny throughout – lots of slapstick, which kids love and Christmas there ever-present. Watch with a couple of kids, you’ll laugh as much as they do.

Classic Family Christmas MovieThe Santa Clause (1994). Tim Allen at his funniest, taking on Santa’s role after he finds Santa on his roof who falls and must be replaced – by Tim, of course. Lots of connections for divorced families, humour for a range of ages, lots of fun for all. And there were more movies in the same vein.

Romantic Christmas MovieLove Actually (2003). The all star ensemble cast that includes Hugh Grant as the hip swivelling PM who stands up to Billy Bob Thornton’s President of the US. Plus Colin Firth, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Kiera Knightly, etc. A collection of shorts, matched together with some connections this is a sweet if schmaltzy movie that has some too true for comfort moments – Emma Thompson semi-confronting Allan Rickman’s infidelity – the Christmas eve present scene is excruciating. But not as stomach churning as Liam Neeson’s son and his chase through the airport. Better by far is Bill Nighy as the ageing rocker and Chris Marshall who hits gold in America. Enjoy it – it’s light, frothy and should make you cry. Watch it Christmas Eve.

Christmas Should Include Books Too!

December 19, 2011

Christmas should mean books – it certainly did as a child and for many years it would have been unthinkable not to have at least one book lurking under the tree – all those annuals as a child. But books for children as presents seem to have lost their way. Did you read the list recently published in the papers? A list of electronic items and not e-readers either.

This year we have again bought books, but have eschewed traditional shops and even Amazon and scoured the charity shops in our high street – of which there are many. The range is immense: blockbusters, Man-booker winners and short lists, romance, classics and an abundance of biography and quite beautiful coffee table books in decent order. Several years ago I would have baulked at giving and receiving second hand books. But this year we have embraced austerity in this way. Thus my son has two Booker short lists winging their way to Oz, my beloved has Herodotus in larger friendly print than my classics original and my baby girl has a lovely art book about the Impressionists with beautiful illustrations. Alas, I am yet to find something for myself. But I did receive Michael Caine’s The Elephant to Hollywood for my recent birthday.

It seems to be me, as we cruise the charity shops that books are big sellers. Every shop has a books section – some more usefully organised than others, some more frugally priced than others. (Pricing seems to have little to do with quality.) It seems too that books are a big earner. So many donated (ie free) to be sold for anything between £1 – £4 means good margins. But, as with the second hand video shelves, charity shops need to keep a weather eye on Amazon and the many other internet book sites out there, whose prices are exceptionally low in some cases and with the bonus of free delivery for new books.

The big chains may be dying and the small bookshops dim recollections of the past, but charity shops and on-line represent the bargain hot spots for book buyers across the country this Christmas. Have you finished shopping yet, are there books there for friends and loved ones?

Get into your high street, go on-line buy a book for someone this festive season – books go on giving for years to come. Who knows where your gift will end up – cherished forever and travelling the world as my books do, given to friends as ‘must reads’ or on the charity shop shelves for someone else to enjoy in a never-ending grown up version of pass the parcel?

Ghosts

December 11, 2011

Another poem to add to the collection

Chink chink

went my mother’s bone bracelets.

One blue

One white

permanently fixed

to her left wrist.

 

Chink chink

go my stone bracelets.

Mottled rose

from China

knocking on my watch

scuffing the glint.

 

Small tokens of our sameness

all these years apart.

Small noises

from childhood days.

Now shadows and ghosts: all faded away.

 

Chink chink

Chink chink

It’s harder for fathers.

December 3, 2011

Being a mother has its challenges but I think, on balance being a father is harder. The love for a child comes more naturally to a woman, we carry them, bear them and in so doing bond more than any man can. Yes, this means nothing to some women, but for most of us giving birth is the most profound act of our life. It changes us as nothing else can. Men simply can’t get hold of that and that’s what separates them from us and what makes it harder for men to connect to their own children.

Men want children, it’s as much a basic need for them as it is for us. They want to see themselves reflected in a small being and watch it evolve into (hopefully) a better version of themselves (and take over the company one day). Men have changed the world for sons – look at Henry VIII. But there is no little switch in their head that tells them how to be a father. Their biological imperative only makes the child, doesn’t tell them how to be a father.

The burden of parenthood seems to manifest itself in fathers more than mothers. We become besotted, utterly absorbed with the helpless thing in our lives. Men get shut out and resent the intruder, no matter how much the child was wanted. Men can and do become sulky and resentful; relationships founder more on the rock of children and less (or no) sex than anything else.

More than ever though, men are hands on fathers who take their responsibilities seriously and acquit themselves admirably. We are many years from fathers being remote and distant beings. Look at David Beckham, often seen with his boys looking relaxed and happy, enjoying their company. He had a good dad of his own. Someone he admired and has emulated in the seeming easy way he is with his own boys.

So good sons need good fathers to become good fathers. Well, we know that. Is that why so many men struggle with being a dad – because of the paucity of decent parenting in their own life? I’m sure the experts say so. The impact of our parents upon us is deep and long lasting. All too often we turn into our parents. Suddenly, in the kitchen, on the stairs, you hear your mother’s words in your mouth. It’s a frightening moment for most of us!

Children of both sexes need their fathers. Children from broken homes do far worse than those raised with two parents taking equal part in the parenting. Absent fathers cause untold damage to young boys especially. The family is where we learn most about life, about becoming who we are, about being good people.

Sons need good fathers to become good men. Daughters need good fathers to know how to behave with men. It’s helpful if you are Daddy’s Princess growing up, feeling special, knowing that at least one man will always love you the way you are. It’s great if your dad does things with you, teaches you things, shows you things. Men like to do, so they often connect with their children this way.

Some men seem to thrive at being fathers at different stages of their child’s life. Many are troubled by the smallness, the smelliness and the helplessness of the baby. Many find the teenage years impossible – the growing son, challenging and almost threatening. The maturing daughter, frightening in the way she is turning into a younger, lovelier version of her mother. How to cope with the hormones and moods in the house? It seems to me the middle years – toddler to early teen are the easiest for fathers. Then again the relationship eases, when the child has left home and is an independent adult.

Some men shouldn’t have children – or at least not live with them. They don’t have the patience or the time for them. Women should think carefully about who they mate with – don’t ignore his antipathy to children. Most men do not change their minds after the baby is born. Remember too, that the father-child relationship is more fraught than the mother-child. Separated or divorced fathers are more likely to kill their children in the face of the disintegration of their family. Men are more fragile creatures, especially as fathers, especially as they so often cannot express their feelings or their love as easily as women can.

Fathers struggle. Their role in society is vital but under-rated. Women must help their partners more to be better fathers, to understand their centrality in their child’s life and in the betterment of society at large. (Pictures – Henry VIII &  David Beckham courtesy google images)