Wednesday, December 31, 2008

And lo...

... it came to pass that they all vomited eventually.

Actually, that's not quite true. The bug confined itself mainly to the young and old, but just to make life really interesting it operated on a Just When You Thought It Was All Over No It's Not approach. So it was that, having delayed a trip up north to spend time with my family because it got mil, five minutes before we were about to leave it got no 1. After a heavy night involving rather too much port and red wine then was good for me (what can I say? Christmas was rather stressful to say the least), I woke up on Sunday feeling like death warmed up. Despite Spouse's ridicules, I don't think the resulting day spent collapsed on the sofa was entirely due to alchohol. To make my cup of happiness complete, we were woken at 4am Sunday night to the dulcet sounds of no 2 succumbing to the bug. So far, it doesn't seem to have got Spouse, but I reckon there's still time.

Things I have subsequently learnt about this particular variation on the winter vomiting bug...

1) it has a two day incubation period
2) it is just possible to avoid throwing up if you have enough will power, stay in bed and keep your eyes shut for a very long time. The result is you spend two days feeling like crap instead of one. So maybe it isn't worth it...
3) given that we have probably given it to every member of my rather large family who are now dispersed the length and breadth of the nation, it's probably soon coming to a town near you...

Sorry about that.

Hoping your Christmas was somewhat less eventful then ours, and wishing anyone decent enough to have come by the blog and read my witterings, whether you've joined in the chatter or not a very Happy New Year. Life in our household has held a bit too much excitement of late, so I wish you, as I wished Spouse last night, an uninteresting 2009. Interesting times are overrated I think...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time...

...or not.

The most stressful Christmas I ever spent was six years ago, when no 4 was hospitalised with asthma the week before, and only came out about two days before the day itself. At the same time Spouse was down and out with tonsilitis, so unable to share hospitalbythebedsitting duties (our local children's ward seems to think that parents of patients only ever have one child). I was allowed out of prison for a couple of hours to finish my Christmas shopping, and I remember a hideous experience of standing in M&S heart so firmly in mouth I thought I might actually be sick from the stress, and just frantically grabbing anything I could without even looking at it, just so I had something to wrap up for people. I call it bulimic shopping. Don't try it at home.

We had six people for lunch that year, including aged mil and fil. Fil was very very poorly at the time (in fact he died six weeks later), and sil and I had hysterical conversations in the kitchen over the turkey about whether in fact he would make it through the day. He did hang on in there, choosing to depart on no4's birthday instead, which I suppose was marginally better...

Ever since then (I hadn't even bought vegetables, so bil and sil provided them already peeled on the day), I have refused point blank to stress about Christmas. As far as I am concerned, it is a day to be spent with loved ones, anything else is a bonus.

It's just as well I have adopted this approach, as this year, I can feel a sense of deja vu coming on.

Last week I went round to see mil to find her sitting on the floor where she'd fallen, going to answer the phone to me. She's ok, but coming on top of a dizzy fit she had the other week, this has prompted a trip to our saintly GP (the model for Ben in Pastures New if you're interested) who wryly reassured me he will be working over the festive season. Hmm...

On Sunday no 3 came in looking pale and wan and then spent the day throwing up. We were going out to sing Christmas Carols in our local pub, but decided not to risk passing the bug to mil. No3 is now recovering, but no 4 has taken her place. and mil is coming to us today, so she may get a Christmas present she wasn't expecting after all.

I was planning some last minute shopping today, but will have to defer till tomorrow when Spouse will be here. I've just realised we've run out of vegetables and are about to run out of washing powder (which in view of the vomiting is NOT good news), so I may well be putting in a repeat performance of last Christmas and experience trolley rage in Sainsbury's tomorrow. Oh joy.

I've also just taken the turkey out of the freezer and realised it needs 48 hours to defrost...

On the other hand we might get all the vomiting out of the way by tomorrow, my credit card could do with a rest, and I could always provide Christmas dinner instead of lunch, and unless I'm sitting in A&E I should get to see David Tennant on Christmas Day.

Whatever happens. I ... AM... NOT... GOING... TOO.... STRESS....


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Talking of nativities...

I won't reveal what my perfect nativity is, cos otherwise you might not buy the book, but it's loosely based on this.

20 odd years ago I was lucky enough to take part in the Nativity Play part of the Chester Mystery Cycle, which takes place every year outside Chester Cathedral over three successive nights. We were on the first night, after a rather arty farty depiction of Genesis. God was on top of a tall tower I seem to remember, and there was a lot of dancing with scarves.

I played a midwife together with my actress friend who is very funny and brilliant, so I spent most of the time trying not to giggle. Particularly as the director (who was also one of our lecturers and had translated the Cycle into modern vernacular) took it upon himself to dress us in Red Cross uniform and hide us in the audience. Joseph at one point calls for a midwife so my friend and I had to start some chatter about, Did he say midwife? Does that mean us? etc - it was always entertaining to see the audience thinking we were proper hecklers and start telling us to hush.

My other chief memory from the experience was of the two lads playing Octavian Caesar's messengers going out to the pub while the dreary Genesis dancers did their stuff, and staggering back on pissed. This infuriated the director who had a hissy fit of such magnitude we ended up dumping him out of the minibus on the way home. Ah. Those were the days...

Anyway. That's where the idea for my nativity has come from, minus the pissed messengers.

But I've also gone out seeking ancient carols, as I LONG LONG LONG to go to a carol concert where they sing some of the really old stuff. We have a fabulous tradition of carols in this country, and certainly my experience of attending Christmas shows over the last ten years leads me to suspect that a lot of that tradition maybe lost on the next generation who never get to sing anything much which isn't modern.

For my ideal nativity, therefore, the most modern carol I've chosen is In the Bleak Midwinter, which I love for the tune. (The words frankly are quite weird Victorian sentimental nonsense, but the tune is lovely.)

So here it is, sung by Gloucester Cathedral Choir:

And here's the King's College Choir singing Adam lay y bounden, which I may have forgotten to put in, but will do when I get my next round of rewrites.

And here are the fabulous Mediaeval Baebes (whom I discovered thanks to my lovely ebuddy and fellow RNA member, Elizabeth Chadwick) singing I syng of a Mayden that is Makeles

My last two choices are probably my favourite carols.

The first is The Coventry Carol. Here's a version with Aled Jones and the Royal Chamber College of Music. This sums up Christmas for me, and I never can hear it often enough.

Last but not least, is the beautiful Ballulalow, the words of which are ancient, but here comes from Britten's fabulous Festival of Carols. I love the harp in this, but the whole thing gives me goosebumps. And it's the perfect accompaniment to my ideal nativity (should I ever get to see it of course...)

So I've told you my favourites. What are yours?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

And Lo....

... Mary was a rap artist.

No, I never knew that either.

I have today sat through two performances of no 2/3's nativity (no 4's was last week) as I took mil and me ma in the afternoon and everyone else was going this evening.

Over the many many years I have been watching nativities I have seen all sorts I can tell you: from a ridiculously over the top one at the nursery no 3 attended, which featured Father Christmas. lots of toys, fairies, elves, mice and oh yes, that staple of the Christmas story Mary and Joseph, to a blink and you missed it moment with no1 when she had three lines and forgot to say them. (And yes the OTT one has gone in the book). I've seen the Infants do Ambitious and fail, and the Juniors do Dull and succeed. I've watched all of my children being angels, and managed one year to have sprogs in four different plays (that took some stamina).

And in all those years I have yet to see the nativity that I really really want. Namely a traditionally told, simple tale with PROPER carols wot I can sing along too. (I have been so disappointed in this modest ambition, I have in fact made up my perfect Nativity in Last Christmas. One day maybe someone will read my mind and show it to me. )

Both schools tend to go for trendy modern stuff, and the Infants generally aim for a big show that normally falls flat on its face. The Juniors have in the past taken a Get It Over And Done With As Quickly As Possible Kind of Approach. At best we might get to sing one or two carols, but I am greedy and as well as Once in Royal David's City and Hark the Herald Angels, to feel properly Christmassy I want: Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, In the Bleak Midwinter, O Come All ye Faithful, The Coventry Carol and God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.

Sadly enough (as no 4 would say) I didn't get it this year either.

However, I did get a rather sweet nativity last week in which no 4 was the narrator. Normally the narrator doesn't get to say a lot, but in the past the narrators have tended to be the teacher's pets. Nos 1&2 clearly weren't the chosen ones as they never narrated anything, but during her time it the infants no 3 got to narrate an embarrassing number of times - it got a bit tiresome going to school plays with my head down to avoid the backstabbing. I was rather hoping to end my tenure there as modestly as I started it, but at least I was comforting myself that she wouldn't have much to say. Got much to do? I asked her. Oh no, was the glib reply. Thus reassured I arrived last week to watch her in action, only to discover that the Infants have gone completely against type this year and produced a SIMPLE Nativity, with mainly groups of children singing the story so everyone got a turn rather then having a huge long play to learn. No 4 had to do inordinate amounts of reading and is still proudly boasting that she managed to say traditionally and tradition.

After nine years at the school, this is my last Infant nativity, and I have to fess up to having a pang (but not a tear) at the thought that part of my mothering life is over. Luckily it didn't last long as I was ducking to avoid the brickbats from other mothers jealous that their little darling wasn't a Chosen One again. But I was pleasantly surprised, having sat through some really dire events, that it was actually rather sweet. Nice to go out on a high as it were (and such a relief to know that I'll never have to sit through a dire one EVER again).

Scroll forward to today and I was once more in front of my offspring watching them perform. Now, like I say, if the Infants have put on ambitious productions in the past, the same cannot be said for the Juniors. What parts there are always minimalistic, and no 1 got all the way through without doing anything more then light a candle in her last year (and that only by default as someone was ill), and up until this year no 2 has never had a part either. The service is held in the church that the school belongs to, and it is the most useless place to have anything like that. It tends to get packed out so most of the time I spend an uncomfortable hour craning my neck round a corner to catch a glimpse of the children who are always tucked away in an inaccesible corner somewhere. In fact there have probably been years when I haven't seen them at all.

However, that has all changed. Because after years of having an indifferent attitude to the music, the school finally has a decent music teacher. And boy has she made a difference.

I still didn't get my traditional Nativity (maybe they'll have come back in fashion in time for my grandchildren), but it was rather fun.

Each year group got to tell a bit of the story (which incomprehensibly featured two burglars and some talking animals who apparently were supposed to be arguing at the beginning but I couldn't understand a word they said - I still didn't get it second time around), interspersed with songs. For the first time ever we had a band, with trumpets no less, and a rather (inevitably) scratchy violin.

The afternoon's performance didn't go quite according to plan, and there were some unintentionally hilarious moments when the wrong people came in at the wrong time, or the instrumentalists carried on playing when they shouldn't have, but for the first time EVER at a Junior Christmas play all the kids looked like they were having a blast, and even the ones who didn't have anything much to do were involved.

Mary of course was fantastic. Actually I realised after I started boasting about it, that Mary is usually the most rubbish part because she doesn't usually do or say anything. However in this version of events Mary had quite a few lines. Which I couldn't hear this afternoon as her head was below the microphone. Luckily they'd sorted that technical hitch by the evening. My favourite moment though was when she said to Joseph, The baby's coming and he started running about in a paddy calling for towels and hot water. No 3 then sat down, and a minute later triumphantly stood up holding a baby, saying Here's the baby. You probably had to be there, but considering her own birth was an epic event, I couldn't help laughing at the ease with which Our Lord made it into the world...

All in all it was a fun and enthusiastic performance, if a little rough around the edges, but my favourite bit was a Gloria Rap, during which all the children donned sunglasses (presumably dazzled by the angels' brightness????), including Mary who wore pink ones. As one of my friends said, that was the coolest Mary she'd ever seen...

So there you have it. I thought I'd seen it all as far as nativities go, but Mary rapping in sunglasses will take some beating...

Friday, December 05, 2008

Well I never...

As anyone who has ever had small children taking part in a nativity play can attest there is always much excitement in the maternal bosom when your child comes home with the dreaded piece of paper announcing their starring role in this year's event. Apart from anything else, this particular maternal bosom tends to droop rather when sewing is suggested (one year no 2 was a star and the request came back for a white shirt with stars sewn on it. I was rather pleased with my pathetic effort till I sat next to the mother whose child had a whole galaxy sewn neatly onto hers), it usually droops further to discover that yet again said child is playing an angel (that's what happens when you have fair haired girls) and has to be cheered up because she's not Gabriel or Mary.

What every maternal bosom of course wants to proudly declare is that this year their daughter is Mary - there is such hot competition for the part sometimes I swear there'll be blood spilt in the playground. However, I am a woman of common sense and I know that my children have no more chance of being Mary then flying to the moon. Besides, given that I always got to be a shepherd, I think they should be bloody grateful for being angels myself.

So imagine my surprise when no 3 came home from school yesterday with a big announcement.

Yup. After nine years of trying and watching more nativities nearly then I've had Christmas dinners I've finally achieved maternal nirvana. I have a Mary.

Better watch my back in the playground then...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life...

Watching It's a Wonderful Life was one of the pieces of research I did when writing Last Christmas (I've even pinched a bit). I am currently supposed to be doing rewrites, but have hit a bit of a hitch. Given that this is probably the busiest week of my year so far (cf last post on same subject) I suppose it is fairly typical of my own wonderful life that I have managed to put my back out. I did it yesterday cleaning the wretched hoppers out (weekend too busy for the offspring to do it, grr). I have so far resisted the urge to turn Dandelion into a pie, but revenge is much on my mind at present...

I managed to get to the physio yesterday who ascertained nothing more dramatic but a pulled muscle, but one which hurts enough to preclude long spells at the computer. Or sitting down anywhere. Or picking anything up. Or lying down. So I am wandering mournfully about the house wondering what the fuck to do with myself.

This is also on top of a slightly more interesting birthday party then we'd planned, as my mother in law was taken ill before it started. All well now, but we did have a couple of nasty moments on Sunday and we kept her with us till today. Unfortunately I am now so cronky I couldn't get her home, but luckily she only lives up the road, so she staggered off with her zimmer this morning, while I retired to mournful wanderings round the house. Honestly, it's like the blind leading the blind - there was she trying to help me out who was supposed to be looking after her. They've got a lot to answer for those pesky hoppers.

So in the interim, and absence of anything else I can constructively do, I propped myself up on a chair with a bag of frozen peas on my back and have just sobbed my way through It's a Wonderful Life.
I'm rather hoping mine will feel a bit more wonderful tomorrow...