Tuesday, 17 January 2012


The excitement was without bounds on the 1st of December . Five children, two small, one sixteen year old and two, in the eyes of the law at least, if no-one else’s, officially adults - impatient to undo the little perforated windows and dig out a chocolate behind the flaps of their advent calendars.
“Mummy, I’ve got three advent calendars to open” said the Red-Head.
“So have I”, screeched the nine year old.
“I’ve only got one”, said the 16 year old in dismay.
“Me too”, said the 19 year old.
“Me too”, said the 18 year old. I was beginning to empathise with The Little Red Hen.
“You big kids only have one because I bought you all one each -with your names iced on them. Rellies have sent one each to the girls and a benevolent God-mother has given one to your youngest sister, her God-child and, as the other one is only nine, I felt it incumbent to fill the wooden advent calendar with choccies so that she wouldn’t feel left out.”.
“But we feel left out?”, they refrained.
“Deal with it”, was my rather abrupt reply.
“Don’t you have an advent calendar Mummy?”, asked the Red-Head, chocolate already coating the outside of her mouth.
“Yes”, said my son, “It’s called Citalopram. It’s how she counts off the days”. I sighed heavily. So my anti-depressants are now a family joke. Cheers kids.
“Hilarious”, I replied, grimly, “As a matter of fact I don’t need a daily chocolate to remind me of how many days there are left until Christmas, I can feel it”. I left it at that, I wasn’t going to explain to them what I meant. I wasn’t going to explain that the sense of hysteria as the 25th of December approaches is palpable in my shop. There are queues as far as the eye can see and in it are all and sundry. Dear old souls who have a couple of bars of soap and some bath salts to buy for an equally elderly neighbour; a woman hell bent on buying something gorgeous for herself having been ‘left’ on Valentine’s day last year and indulgent grannies buying coats and party frocks for their grand-daughters but mainly, the line is made up of frazzled women.
Hundreds and hundreds of women in all shapes, sizes and ages queuing for ages in yet another shop to provide the family with the wow factor. By the time they snake around to my till, I am all for providing them with a stiff sherry, so knackered are they. The purchases from other shops dangling heavily from their wrists, cutting through the skin – so much for retail therapy, retail suicide more like.
Every now and again a lone male pops up. Smug. Pleased as punch with himself that he’s queued with the rest of the throng. Thing is, he’s only buying a couple of things, a gift for his wife and another for his mother. Usually it’s the same thing if indeed a different colour. I find it hard not to scowl at these men. One man bought ‘the wife’ a pair of slippers.
“Do you have these in a size 5?”. We did not. “Give them to me anyway. At least it gives her something to open on Christmas Day”. What I wanted to do with the infernal slippers cannot be printed here.
Other men just feel so proud of being ‘out there’, shopping. “It earns me brownie points” say, rather depressingly, more than one or two men, “and we need to acquire as many brownie points as we can”. This statement is, more often than not, is followed by a hearty laugh.
Some men, those whose brownie points must already be either banked or indeed are now being totted up again, traipse after their wives, the Christmas pack horse, carrying the goods as ‘the wife’ pauses every few feet to sniff a soap or spray a perfume.
“This’ll be alright for Glenda won’t it?” ask the wives. The husbands merely nod, not giving a toot if Glenda gets a fragrance gift set or a tin of shortbread biscuits or indeed bugger all. Don’t you see, dear women, they don’t give a damn. We want them to; oh boy do we want them to. We want them to share the load and not just physically, but mentally too, all the infernal list making and Christmas card writing and wrapping and cooking and planning and posting and, not to put too fine a point on it, the magic making. We want them to help decorate the tree with as much smiling benevolence and loving tender glances as Bing Bloody Crosby; we want them to peel the sprouts with us in the kitchen on Christmas morning in harmonious companionship whilst from the wireless, the angelic voices of the choir boys from Kings’ College wafts in the air, blending with the scent of a roasting free range turkey. We want them to grasp our hands from time to time and every now and then catch our eye as if to say, ‘my darling, this wouldn’t be possible without you’ whilst, in another room, a parallel fantasy room, our darling children in crisp white nightgowns read their new books or play with their dollies.
It is hardly surprising then that Christmas, after all the build up and the choosing and the spending and the sheer unrelenting hard work of it all, it is such a crushing disappointment for so many, and dare I say it, the many will mostly be women. If, from what I’ve witnessed it is true that women have planned everything from the food to the cards and gifts, then Christmas morning for their men is going to be a lovely surprise both in terms of presents and what they are going to put in their bellies.
Comfort and Joy? Not for the poor bloody cow whose slippers aren’t going to fit her.

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