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Monthly Archives: December 2014

Here it is upon us again. New Year’s Eve. That went fast didn’t it?

Rather than feeling daunted, I find I am quite addicted to the hopefulness of setting goals – something many of you will no doubt be torturing yourselves with today. Why must we make it such an ordeal?

Last year’s resolution was to ‘be crafty’. I’m sat here now, one year later, guiltily glancing at the Make Your Own Pompoms set that still lies untouched in a Bloomindales bag on the floor – well, at least they have enjoyed a chic 12 months.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really have the imagination to be imaginative. I need a tour guide. It was the hardy estate-agent-cum-craftswoman, Kirstie Allsopp, who guided me into the world of pompom crafts. I couldn’t have done it alone.

Despite this handicap I think it important, really important, that we let our creativity run free every once in a while – even those of us aren’t quite gifted enough to create without a kit. Or without copying someone else. I love copying. I did it religiously as a child and I do it still. But what’s wrong with that? All I’m doing is flexing a muscle. And while that muscle gets some exercise, the others in my brain can switch off. With this in mind I think my plan for 2015 will be, simply, To Play.

We forget to play as we become adults. It’s not our fault – we don’t have the time when there are so many more pressing, important and boring things to attend to. Things that absorb all of our time and head space. But this is exactly why remembering how to play is so important.

Remember the invigoration that came from childhood play? The total abandon. The thrill at discovery. This is the stuff that keeps us going. Helps to fill the hole that creeps open as we age and the fun sort of dries up, becomes very much expected.

Of course, there are those humans for whom surprise is their raison d’etre. The kind that throw themselves at challenges in far flung locations, like white water rafting in places that have… I don’t know… white water? Those who do something noble like volunteering in Africa.

But for the less adventurous and admittedly more lazier and, well, timid of us – there is play. Good old-fashioned messing about. MFI springs to mind. Yes, the furniture store. I’ve never visited an MFI as an adult, but as a child – oh! The fun my sister and I had! Allowed to roam free around the store as my parents browsed kitchen units stressfully. We acted out mini melodramas in secluded kitchens. Hid from the adults in bedroom wardrobes. Fondled the pretend fruit. Bounced on the beds when no-one was looking. Pretended to be pretend home furniture. It was such a treat, going to MFI. It is within the walls of this store only that I have imagined being a housewife.

Whenever life gets tough, or incredibly dull, I think back to those gentle MFI adventures. Go and hide in the bedroom for a while, behind the door. Play out a little story in my head.

Play must lurk like this in my subconscious somewhere, because without me even realising what I was doing for Christmas this year I got my boyfriend stuff that will enable him to make his own watch. Luckily, he does actually want to make his own watch. Now.

There he is in the corner, soldering wires together. Having a blast. Bigger projects are already emerging – a torch. More ambitiously, a light up table. Who knows where his imagination will take him.

And that’s the point isn’t it – why not wake up your inner child next year? Play up – you deserve it.

I was unexpectedly reminded of something moving and transporting the other day – the enduring power of the Christmas-number-one-single.

Not any of this new crap. Sorry One Direction, but I’m going to have to deride you again. For those who have blissfully avoided this year’s contender, let me enlighten you: “Everybody wanna steal my girl / Couple billion in the whole wide world / Find another one ’cause she belongs to me”

Hmmm.

No, I’m talking about the old crap. The kind we went to great pains to access. Simply clicking your music to your ears from the comfort of your bed / sofa? Pah! Remember the thrill of going into an actual shop and parting with actual cash to get your hands on – literally – a physical thing? Followed by gluing your ears to the radio (yes, radio) on a Sunday afternoon for the Top 40 Chart Show. Waiting breathlessly to learn if your heroes had made it to the dizzy heights of Christmas number one single. (They often did, by the way.) Choosing and buying your Christmas number one single was a real commitment. An event.

I was reminded of such festivities last week when, out of nowhere (well, ok – out of a YouTube Christmas playlist – but aren’t we all doing this now?), I was taken aback by the unmistakeable opening chimes of Westlife‘s 1999 Christmas hit ‘I Have A Dream’. Uncontrollably, I was  overwhelmed by an adrenaline rush. I actually flushed. This was obviously embarrassing – I was a little too old to be enjoying a boy band when the song first came out, never mind 15 years later. It was a genuinely weird moment because I felt so far removed from those emotions, that way of being, that time now. But it was made all the more embarrassing because I was in public at the time. Well, in front of my boyfriend who had so far been spared my reaction to Westlife.

But I couldn’t help it. That song immediately transported me back to sitting square-eyed in front of the television in my parent’s bedroom, where my sister and I would sit for hours and hours watching The Box (the channel…we’re not that old) where they aired the video on repeat for a whole hour. They did that with ‘2 Become 1’ in 1996 too.

Looking back, it was probably one of the most exciting times of my life.

Because – I don’t know if this is just for girls – innocently obsessing over a celebrity / band of celebrities / media personality is, for some, a way of being. It certainly was for me in a (long) period of my life. Boy bands probably made me the person I am today. No, really. I was the only one in my group of friends who did this obsessing, but where I was removed from our reality they became caught up in the grotty-ness of it. The fags, the disgusting sex, the vodka, the abortions. There is escapism, even protection in obsession. The pull of glossy media personalities in comparison to the reality of north Birmingham society is obviously irresistible. But, more importantly, the abandon, hope, fantasy, excitement, the romance (in your head) – it all keeps you going. It’s hard to get any of that from real life. Unless you’re into dangerous sports…which I’m not. Nor drugs. So, imagination it is.

Never did me any harm.

As the title of this post suggests, I have never had a pet. That’s right – never. Not even a goldfish? No.

At this point people usually look at me with raised eyebrows. Friends and colleagues I have known for years are shocked to learn this about me. Some take an involuntary step back, as though this must mean I am a dangerous sociopath.

Because not having had a pet is a little unusual in today’s society, isn’t it? And with good reason – even I am aware of how the little furries can make our lives better and more bearable. Having a pet can help tackle loneliness and depression. Then there are the obvious benefits that dog walking has on your cardiac health. Not only that, some pets can even warn owners of cancers and diabetes. They can help children (and grumpy adults) develop empathy. Overall, you could argue pets make you a better human.

But I’ve never missed not having a pet, if that syntax makes sense. Until, that is, last year – when my boss got a dog. Before Molow I was mostly just terrified of dogs. Nearly two years on I am still terrified yet also fascinated by them. I’m afraid this new-found fascination doesn’t extend to all pet-animals. Sorry cat lovers and pigeon fanciers. It’s all about the dogs.

Growing up, my parents vetoed pets. Having one was never on the cards. My mother’s harrowing childhood pet experience with Bingo the rabbit’s demise explained it. Not that I knew this at the time. And not that this pet absence bothered me in any way (terrified, remember?) Plus there’s the mess, which I hate. And the general sense of responsibility, which I hate more. So, maybe my parents just didn’t trust me with a small, helpless, messy animal. Wise.

But perhaps because I had been told I couldn’t, the desire to try out having a pet inevitably popped up at several points in my formative years. There was the year I toyed with the idea of wanting a dog – purely because the local library had a picture book all about how to care for your pet puppy. I must have taken that bloody book out more than twenty times in that year. Then there is my enduring favourite of all the Disney films – 101 Dalmatians. Irresistible. I pictured us all living with a bevy of dogs under our roof. The image didn’t quite fit. When my friends got dogs, Trixy and Barney, I became chief tummy stroker after my initial terror eventually wore off (we’re talking several years here). All this was nice, but I still didn’t want one for myself. Very much like my attitude towards children.

Then came Molow. The hairy, climbing, talking, snogging, ball-stealing bitch of the common, as she is affectionately known in her neighbourhood. Molow who looks like an old man but is really a young woman in disguise. Scruffy and actually mad, she confirms that dogs really do take after their owners, and I can now personally vouch for the benefits of having a pet despite never having one. Molow comes into the office on an almost-daily basis. She is a mind-reader and relaxes the team at times of great stress, lifting the mood in dull meetings with timely grunts and sighs. Alerting us back to the important reality of barking at squirrels and ball-throwing at times when we are at risk of getting caught up in the stress.

Once terrified to leave my desk should she mount me, here I am now bringing in homemade smoked salmon and cream cheese muffins for Molow. Still, our relationship so far is confined to the office and it’s little garden. When I build up to taking her for a walk (there’s a risk she and I will both be elderly by this point), maybe I will find myself making that next step and actually wanting a Molow of my own? Who knows.

At least then I will finally be able to create an accurate porn star name. Relying on that of your mother’s dead rabbit isn’t quite right…

That’s all, folks

Bingo Pendrey

I am unashamedly moved by Christmas lights. Sometimes to the point of actual tears. Lights in general, really. Street lamps casting their eerie glow in this autumnal (or should that be wintery) fog. The less subtle sugary glare of neon shop signs, arcade games and pencils that light up when you write. The pop of those fairy lights that people string around their gardens. They all provoke a reaction in me. Maybe it’s part of growing up in the city. The lights signal home.

So as you can imagine, this time of year is a particularly emotional one for me. Whenever I walk past a ragged municipal pine tree in town – and there are many – there is a song in my heart. Even the most down-trodden Old Bear style trees are brought back to resplendent life with a few glowing baubles strangled around the bare branches. Ahh, lovely.

Since our city’s Christmas lights got switched on ceremoniously at the end of November my heart has been going lords a leaping and bells a jingling at every corner. Just this morning I swooned at the sight of one of the Jewellery Quarter’s themed lights – a man hammering some steel (or something). It took the chill right off the gale force winds that have arrived out of nowhere. My fellow commuters didn’t seem cheered. If only they’d look up at the lights instead of rushing like salmon into the nearest Costa** – you can’t be sad at the sight of a be-mittened waving snowman. Or a man wielding a hammer.

It’s a different animal at the weekends though. Now that the Christmas-shopping-countdown has commenced I’ve been witnessing other grown adults reduced to fits of childish emotion out on the streets – however I’ve got a feeling that’s less to do with joy at the lights and more stress at the checkouts….

The fizzy charm of pretty lights must touch most of us in some small way, even if we wouldn’t rush to admit it. Judging by the on-steroids manner in which our suburban streets are dressed to the nines with camp glittery reindeer and acrobatic Father Christmases careering down drainpipes all over the nation – and those of us who drive around said streets specifically to ogle this spectacle – there is a real thirst for putting on a light show. It can’t all be for the kids…

All those colours. Can’t get enough of them. When I think about it, I’ve always found myself very susceptible to colour – something just switches in my brain when confronted with particular ones. Sometimes I allow my life to be dictated by colour without quite realising what’s happening. (I may be sounding a bit hippy dippy now but don’t worry, I’m not a wearer of mood rings or anything). I must be an advertiser’s dream. They will be the first to tell you about the power of colour – cleverly manipulating it to control us. Well, our spending habits at least.

Which is why I’ve mixed emotions about going to see the Coca Cola truck. You know, the illuminated van from the adverts? (I was surprised to learn that the first of these was only made in 1995. I say only, although that was nearly 20 years ago…feel old) Anyway, in case you have managed to avoid the constant adverts, Coca Cola are sending their trucks on a UK tour. While I find myself rather abhorred by the idea of going to gawp at a huge multinational brand in the name of Christmas – a shameless marketing ploy, and in a shopping centre just to hammer the message home – I don’t think I can resist the call of those famous lights.

I know I’ll basically be looking at a stationary lorry for a few seconds… I mean, I could do that at the back of any old takeaway any day of the week. But, oh! The childhood(ish) memories of pure unadulterated excitement when the advert came on! That catchy jingle!* I am moved to tears by the bloody thing.

Because for many people, people like me, Christmas is a consumerism thing. I recognise it is a little sad to say that, but it is nevertheless true. We were never a religious family. I’m not religious now. It was all about exchanging presents. Well, and spending time with ‘loved ones’, of course. But mostly the presents. So, maybe Coca Cola is my God after all… There’s a thought.

One thing is for sure – as soon as I set eyes on those chirpy lights there will be tears.

*Please let me apologise to those of you who now have the ‘holidays are coming’ song stuck in your head. 

** I do like Costa’s Xmas-themed cups though – very kitsch

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