A Very Merry 80’s Christmas

When I wander through the memories of Christmas past, I inevitably recall the Christmases of my childhood. I was a child in the 1980s and I think, looking back, that there was something very innocent, magical, garish and unique about Christmas back then. I suppose everyone must have a kind of classic Christmas they look back on and feel nostalgic for and sometimes I find myself hunting for things that made Christmas special as a child, such as retro 1980s things! Here are some of my memories from Christmas in the 80s.

  • Fairy lights – I loved fairy lights as a child! I still love them now but they’ve all become a bit sophisticated and high tech. They are LED now or battery operated, which is great, because I can still remember my parents breath held when they switched on the lights, because if one bulb had gone, none of them would work. They’d then have to try and hunt down the faulty bulb and replace it! But I would love to find those kinds of lights again, with their little lantern style heads. They were so perfect.
  • Foil garlands – oh my, I loved these so much. We had loads of these as a kid. I remember my mum and oldest sister standing on stools in our lounge and using pins to attach the ends of the garlands to the ceiling. As they attached one end, the garland hung down to the floor and when I was very young I thought they would stay like that. My sister soon put me right and the garlands were draped in loops from one corner of the room to the other. Gorgeous! I’d love to find some again.
  • Quality Street – in later years we would enjoy Cadbury Roses, Celebrations and Heroes but in the 80s it was Quality Street that dominated Christmas. We would have one tin to last the holiday and even the tin was exciting! The smell when you pulled the lid off and the sight of all those chocolates wrapped up like shining jewels. I loved all of them so choosing one when it was my turn to pick was really difficult! Everyone loved the green triangle so they went first. My second favourite was the big purple one!
  • BabySham and Bucks Fizz – neither of my parents were big drinkers but at Christmas they did like to get some bottles in. My dad enjoyed a whiskey or two and I remember the women enjoying glasses of Babysham or bucks fizz. To me they looked very inviting!
  • Christmas Hampers – hampers are really popular these days. Hampers for dogs, hampers for vegans, wine hampers, sweetie hampers, you name it! But when I was a kid in the 80s they had a different meaning. All year my mum would pay into a hamper scheme. Then a few days before Christmas two large cardboard boxes would arrive. One was the meat hamper which was boring. The other, much bigger box was the fun hamper! It was so exciting to unpack and it always felt like Christmas had truly started. There were tins and jars; I remember things like Spam, Campbells Soup and silverskin pickled onions. There were boxes of sweets, such as Black Magic, Roses or Dairy Box. There was packs of custard and jelly and angel delight as well as chocolate fingers, nuts, and crisps. All of it so enticing!
  • Studio Catalogue – anyone remember these? Are they still around? One would turn up in our house every year and each of us would spend ages poring over the Christmas gifts, toys, decorations and food you could buy to make the holiday just perfect. There would be pages and pages of wrapping paper alone!
  • Family get togethers – When I was a kid, every New Years Day my grandparents would have a house party. I absolutely adored these parties. We would get dressed up in our new Christmas clothes, grab a few of our favourite presents to show off and pile into the car to get to their house. On arrival, we would be greeted by various relatives dogs first! This was a big deal for me because I was obsessed by dogs and wasn’t allowed my first one until I was 10. I adored my Uncle Colin’s collie Laddie the most and would spend a lot of the party fussing over him and taking him outside to play! My Nan had six kids and when they all turned up with their kids, it really was a houseful. I never remember any grumpiness or arguing. Us cousins would run around excitedly and my Nan would leave a present for each of us under the Christmas tree. It felt like Christmas was not over yet. Superman or James Bond would be on the TV and the men would congregate there with my grandad. The women would fill the dining room and kitchen with good food and laughter. The table would be piled high with party food and treats and I used to love sitting on the window sill which overlooked the garden, with my brother and sisters alongside me. The best thing though was our Uncle John and the games he set up for us. He would gather us around and convince us to dunk our faces in flour in search for elusive pennies! He was absolutely brilliant. I also remember us cousins sitting on the stairs, filling every step and gossiping. Great times! I never wanted it to end.
  • Toys – of course its the toys I remember the most. Waking up on Christmas morning with my stocking lying across the bottom of my bed, heavy on my feet. There would always be a soft toy poking out of the top! Once my sisters and brother were awake we would pile downstairs, dragging our heavy stockings behind us! And then on to the big presents under the tree left by Father Christmas in the night. A truly memorable Christmas for me was when I was eight years old and we spent a month in Florida, staying with my mum’s Aunt Julie. Not only were we extremely lucky children to be visiting another country at Christmas but they made it even more special when they woke us up on Christmas Eve to say there was a visitor to see us! We shyly entered the lounge and there was Father Christmas, or Santa as they called him in America, with these sacks of toys for us! Me and my sister had wanted Cabbage Patch Dolls forever; they were the toy we desperately wanted and guess what? That’s exactly what he had for us! I can still remember that moment of perfect joy as I unwrapped the box and my very own little boy (Dean Emery!) smiled back at me. My mum managed to catch a photo of me and I think it sums up how magical it was. Over the years, I also remember many toy dogs, a Charmkins house, and My Little Pony beauty parlour among others.
Image by Andy M. from Pixabay

How about you? What decade brings back the most Christmas memories for you? If you were a child of the sixties or seventies, what kinds of food, drink, decorations and toys stood out for you? I’d love to know. Feel free to comment and share and I do hope you all have a wonderful Christmas!

Stay Home – A Year of Writing Through Lockdown

It’s finally here!

Stay Home – A Year of Writing Through Lockdown is the first book published by the Community Interest Company myself and author Sim Alec Sansford run, Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. The book has been published under Chasing Driftwood Books and we hope there will be many more to come. In fact, we will be annoucning a brand new community writing project very soon!

So, what is Stay Home about and why did we put it together?

At the start of the Covid 19 pandemic, I turned almost daily to my blog to write about my fears and experiences as a nationwide lockdown saw the closing of schools, colleges and workplaces. The majority of us stayed home. We watched the world from our windows, took our daily walks, and turned to music, books and streaming services to entertain us. We also turned to gardening, pets and chicken-keeping! For a short while, our lives stopped and a new reality took over. As my blog posts and ponderings piled up, I decided to open up my blog to guests who might want to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences of life under lockdown. I had in mind at this point that putting together an anthology to publish under Chasing Driftwood would be a good plan. So, we opened it up to even more people, including the adults and children who attend our writing clubs and workshops.

We were overwhelmed by the wonderful submissions of personal essays, stories and poetry and we soon had a decent sized anthology on our hands.

It’s been a great learning experience for myself and Sim. Of course, as self-published authors ourselves we understand the process of compiling a manuscript, formatting, editing, proofreading, choosing a front cover and uploading to Amazon, but there were still new things to learn along the way. We would like to publish more anthologies in the future written by the people we work with, so Stay Home was a fantastic opportunity to learn from.

It has been published under Chasing Driftwood Books and is available now in ebook and paperback from Amazon. All the money from book sales will go back into the CIC to help fund our next community writing project. If you re interested in reading the book and supporting emerging writers and our next project, then here is the link to check it out.

mybook.to/StayHome

A huge thank you to all the wonderful contributors and to artist Law Baker who kindly designed the front cover for us!

Clinging To What’s Certain in Uncertain Times

Uncertainty is my biggest stress trigger. I can cope with anything if I am prepared. I’m quite good at slipping into survival mode. But not knowing what is going to happen, stresses me out. A good example is the outbreak of Covid 19. Those first few days as schools closed and lockdowns were imposed were terrifying for me because I just didn’t know what to expect. As soon as things became clearer, I calmed down. I rolled my sleeves up and got on with it just like everybody else.

Image by Kranich17 from Pixabay

Now, we face endless uncertainties. Food prices are rising, gas and fuel prices are soaring and during the last few weeks here in the UK it has been difficult to get petrol for our cars. I can cope with all of these things if there is some level of clarity. If the powers that be were able to say, for example, no petrol for three months! Food prices will get this high! This is how much your central heating will cost you! I wouldn’t be happy, obviously, but I would figure out a way through. It’s the not knowing that stresses me out, not knowing how long to expect disruption for, not knowing how high prices will go, not knowing if at one point we as a family will no longer be able to afford to drive.

I’d love to know! I’d love to know the answers to so many things because then I could plan, prepare and calm down. But I have to accept that uncertainty is about the only thing that is certain right now. Not only are we facing supply chain issues, driver shortages and labour shortages, we are also facing climate change and a world full of ‘leaders’ who refuse to acknowledge what needs to be done. We live in scary, uncertain times and I often wonder how any of us get up in the morning and get on with things.

The answer is that we have to. We are somewhat trapped. We have to go to work to pay the ever-rising bills, to put fuel in the car and so that we can pay our rent or mortgage. We have no choice but to carry on until we can’t.

I don’t want to live my one short life in an increasingly stressed and frightened manner, so I’ve been trying to get to grips with all this, for my own sake, and for my kids. I’ve been reminding myself that while so much is uncertain right now, there are plenty of things that are certain and can be relied on. And I need to cling to those.

So, for me, these things are certain, at least for now and I will be holding on to them as tightly as I can.

  • Love. The most obvious and sometimes the one most taken for granted. I love and I am loved. I am married to my best friend and somehow we always find a way to laugh at things. I have four beautiful, kind-hearted children. I have friends and relatives I can rely on. Love is certain.
  • Laughter. We laugh every day. I am lucky that my husband and all of my children have wonderful, wry, dark sense of humours. There is always something to laugh about and laughing is something we are pretty good at as a family. Laughter is certain.
  • Gardening. In times of stress and uncertainty I turn to my garden even more. When wildlife is threatened around me, I do all I can to encourage it to my little plot. I plant trees, shrubs, seeds and hedges. I do what I can because it makes me feel like I am doing something. Gardening is certain.
  • Writing. The same applies to writing, my one true addiction. I write about what scares me, I face my fears, I create characters to do and say what I can’t, I explore darker futures and every word that comes out of my head makes me feel better and calmer. I will always have writing. Writing is certain.
  • Hope. It’s hard to have, painful even, but we have no choice. We have children and children deserve hope. They deserve to get up in the morning believing that a better future awaits them. They deserve to hold onto that hope and let it guide them. I still have hope. You just have to.
  • The Small Things. I’ve always believed that it’s the small things that get us through. Flowers blooming in Spring, your favourite song turned up loud in the car, a perfect cup of tea, the smell of coffee and a freshly baked cake, a glass of wine on a Friday night, Saturday Night Movie Night and a bowl full of sweeties! Snuggling up under soft blankets on the sofa. Watching Taskmaster and laughing our heads off. Dogs welcoming you home like you’ve been gone forever. Birdsong in the morning. Cold Winter air through open windows as I hide under the duvet. A good book read in a warm bath. The Tawny owls calling at night. Coming home. All these things are certain. All these things are precious.

I hope things are not too uncertain or scary for you right now. It’s a tough world and getting tougher, but there is still plenty to smile about and be grateful for. As long as I have some certainty from the things I’ve mentioned, I know I can keep going.

What about you? What small things keep you going when times are tough?

The First To Fly The Nest

As I write this my oldest child, my firstborn, is in another country. We drove her there yesterday, left her there and drove back. I was so excited for her new start at Aberystwyth University in Wales, but it also felt so strange and wrong to be driving back home without her. Now I’m sat in the kitchen of my startlingly silent house. The other three children are all at school or college. I’m typing opposite the space my daughter has always occupied at the kitchen table and she is not there. She is not in her room either. She is not in the house. Not in the country.

Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

I was fine yesterday. I actually surprised myself. I was more worried that she would get an attack of nerves or anxiety, so I tried really hard to stay upbeat and I was genuinely so excited for her. I still am. My firstborn has flown the nest I went into overdrive preparing for her over nineteen years ago when she was still in my tummy. I remember those days. Nesting. Cleaning the flat we lived in, setting up her cot and her nappies and her toys. Feeling so excited while I awaited her arrival. Not knowing if she would be a girl or a boy. I feathered the nest and made a home.

And now she has flown. Which is exactly what she should do. And I am so excited for her as she starts this new, far more adult stage of life. I am so proud of her and I am confident that she is tough enough and capable enough to survive out there on her own.

She will no doubt fly back to the nest for Christmas and I will have to restrain myself from fawning all over her, crying and generally annoying her! That is something to look forward to. But for now, I sit here and all I can feel is loss. This is truly something they never prepare you for as a parent. You get all the advice and warnings about sleepless nights, endless nappies, teething pain, potty training, tantrums, childhood illnesses and more. You get an onslaught of smug grins and rolling eyes from those who have done it first. They make it sound like a nightmare, but it’s not. But no one ever tells you about this bit. The bit where you get left behind and they fly off to start their own life.

I was fine until I drove home from the school run this morning. I was listening to one of her Mother Mother CDs. She got me into the band and they are now my favourite. She’s kindly let me keep all the CDs here as she just uses Spotify these days. I shouldn’t have put the CD on, but I did it out of habit, and then suddenly out of nowhere I was in floods of tears. And it hasn’t really stopped yet. I know it sounds silly, and I blame my perimenopausal hormones for a lot of it. I am all over the place at the best of times!

But I suppose it just hit me. She’s gone. She’s not here. She’s a five hour car drive away. I was listening to the music she used to play endlessly in the kitchen, or in her room. I came home and opened the fridge and there was her soya milk. I looked at her bedroom door and realised I could not bear to go in it. I laughed as I cried for being so emotional but I think my husband was feeling it too. Yesterday we were too busy and too hectic to really feel it.

Now, we learn to adjust.

And I can’t help thinking about how fast it all went. How she was the best thing that ever happened to me. How she changed my life in more ways than she will ever know. How she stayed awake all night in the hospital after her birth…these big blue eyes staring at me so seriously, as if she was trying to work out who I was. I was so proud to carry her home. A trio of elderly ladies stopped us on the way out of the hospital so they could see the brand new baby. She was so tiny. We walked into our flat and into our new life as parents and she promptly threw up all down my back. I was so happy. So in love. So excited for the adventure ahead. She always seemed older and wiser than her age. Always. She was a good baby but she only liked me. As a toddler she would cling to me relentlessly and push my husband away. She hated being in the buggy and I’d usually give in and carry her instead. She cried if I walked out of the room. It was an amazing and humbling thing to be loved and needed that much and like I said, it was the best thing I ever did with my life.

She walked early, talked early, argued early! She was so independent by the time she was three. She never stopped asking questions, she never stopped talking. It was exhausting but so funny. She loved school and soaked up everything they taught her. I remember walking back home after dropping her at school and feeling like my heart had been ripped out, but I was so relieved I still had the other kids with me, and I feel a bit like that again now. I’m going to hug the hell out of them all when they get home later.

She was always so bright, so smart, a bookworm from the start. A writer, like me. A sweet natured and shy girl as she went through school and got older. We’ve never really clashed. We’re alike in some ways, very different in others. Like me, she enjoys her own company and knows her own mind. She has always had a fierce sense of injustice and morality. She loves books and TV and film and will talk about it endlessly.

I can still remember the moment, aged six, when she pulled her hand out of mine and ran ahead to catch up with some friends. I remember thinking oh, you don’t need me anymore. And it was true in some ways, but not in others. They never stop needing you really. You just have to wait in the background until they do.

I’m going to miss her so much. There is a hole in the house today, a hole in my heart. I know it will get easier but for now I am accepting that this is a mourning period. A big chunk of my life has just changed. I had a little baby girl, I fed her, clothed her, loved her, carried her, played with her, taught her everything I could, wiped her tears and picked her up when she fell. In a matter of moments that feel like dreams, she has grown up and all of that is now over. I just feel so, so lucky that we did it. That we had that life and that time and today my head is just crammed full of all the funny things she used to do and say when she was my little girl, my little friend, my sidekick, her hand in mine and all the world before us. I blinked and it was over. But I do remember every little thing.

And now I get to watch her fly.

And there is nothing wrong with the tears I’ll cry. They are tears of love and loss and pride of a job well done. She will always be my little girl. And I hope she knows how very, very proud of her I am and always will be.