My festive knees

So today is Christmas. Yes, I am writing this on the actual day. I didn’t prepare it in advance and just press send. That’s how much I love you all. All together now – aaaaahhhhh!

In Christmases gone by there was a routine and I think that perhaps this loss of routine this year is what has made me feel so un-festive, except that being totally honest, now the big day is here, I have shaken off all my grinch-like tendencies in favour of having a lovely day with wonderful people.

When I was little, my brother and I would leave out the obligatory treat for Santa, usually a mince pie* or similar, an alcoholic beverage and carrots and water for the reindeer. Then we’d go to bed leaving our stockings at our bedroom doors and, I can’t speak for him, but it would take me hours to go to sleep. That is quite something as I’ve always been a head-hits-the-pillow-and-sleep-comes-in-two-seconds sort of a girl. My father always said I could sleep on a chicken’s lip. In the morning, we’d be awake unfashionably early (remember I’m an owl) and we’d literally run through to our parents’ room with our stockings, now overflowing. We’d all get into bed together and unwrap the stocking presents right there. I believe this was a conventional double bed, not a queen, king or super-king or something even bigger that the likes of Elton John have custom made and yet we’d all be crammed in – and in later years there was our sister as well!

Eventually, my dad would go downstairs, on his own, to check that Father Christmas had been and also that he had left because of course children are not allowed to see him. This was an absolutely critical stage in the proceedings. He’d also put the kettle on of course as neither he nor my mother can properly wake up without a cup of tea. He would then shout up the stairs and it would be safe for us to go down. There were always presents aplenty, arranged in neat piles, my brother’s at one end of the settee and mine at the other. When we had a new sibling, she had the armchair. My mother was always strict that we opened them one at a time so it was not too chaotic and everyone had chance to digest and appreciate what had been bought and received. Then it was breakfast, followed by a visit to one set of grandparents while my mother cooked lunch, possibly calling in on our Auntie Sylvia on the way home. The other set of grandparents joined us for lunch, there’d be more presents and then time to enjoy what had been bought. Of course this all took place in the northern hemisphere. It’s hilarious that here in the south everyone assumes that the UK Christmas is usually, if not always, a white one. They’ve been watching too many movies. I only remember one white Christmas in 48 years and that was only in 2010 when I went back to the UK from New Zealand for Christmas. In reality it would be grey and miserable so Christmas was an indoors activity. People are often quite sentimental about a cold Christmas but I have no desperate yearnings to return to those days. I am perfectly happy to spend the day outside in the sunshine although some stuffing and Christmas pudding remain obligatory and slip down very nicely thank you very much.

This year, things were as far removed from this routine as possible. I woke up home alone, vaguely thinking of shaking my bones to get out of bed and get ready for work when I had a FaceTime call from the UK family. How technology has come on from the Christmases of yesteryear and isn’t it just wonderful that you can now sort of join in the activities on the other side of the world? Even better that my nephews don’t forget what I look like and vice versa.

Then it was off to work which was surprisingly fine. As much as I don’t like working Christmas Day, I have to just remind myself how awful it must be to be a patient in hospital on Christmas Day. When I was a young trainee, I worked for a consultant whom I knew would not come to the ward on Christmas Day and so I felt safe to send one of my favourite patients on leave for the day. He lived locally but had been in hospital for months. Little did I know that one of the other consultants planned to come in especially to see him, with a present, as he was a favourite of hers too. She enquired as to where he was. I very nervously said I’d sent him out for the day. I thought she would be a bit annoyed as it hadn’t exactly been discussed. But no, she was delighted and we sat and mused about how lovely it was that he had been well enough to go. When he returned, he brought me a chocolate bar from his selection box to say thank you. That was one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received but even better that he was beyond happy that he and his family had spent the most wonderful day at home. In the end, he did well and I think about him every Christmas and hope that he is still in good health.

This year, all the patients are too young to know that it is Christmas Day and they won’t remember anything about it so that is something to be truly thankful for. One family had gone all out in bringing Christmas to their child with about 15 relatives, a Christmas tree with presents underneath and a full scale buffet feast in his room. There was barely enough room for him! The weird thing is that these families always go to great trouble to wish the staff a Merry Christmas and they always appear so grateful which just seems wrong.

I was just preparing to leave work when I got wind of the most amazing fact: the coffee cart at work was open! On Christmas Day. I know it’s a special day and all that, but you can’t let the caffeine levels become too depleted or the grinch-like state is totally unshakeable. So, caffeinated and feeling much more lively, I went to visit my friend who has been unwell. I was really pleased for her that her Welsh family have come over for Christmas and that they’ll have a lovely time altogether. She has bought me a present suitable for cycling which I can’t wait to wear. I’ll be sure to take a selfie or make a video when I sport it. I had a day off cycling today but will be back at it tomorrow. My Christmas Eve cycle ride was just lovely. Do watch the video as it explains all about my festive knees, which I got my friend to photograph as I knew they would be appreciated…

I later went to some other friends for lunch. There were 7 adults and 2 children, both of whom love their auntie which is just so sweet. One of them even had his birthday today too! One of the great privileges of being an auntie is being able to spoil the children, not necessarily in a material sense but being able to do things with them that they are not normally allowed to do, even if it is just allowing them to stretch the boundaries a little. So when I was in the toy shop and I had their parents’ voices in my head saying “please don’t get them a drum kit”, I couldn’t resist the temptation to both oblige and be a bit naughty and so it was percussion instruments all round. And what fun we had!

Now I’m waiting for the UK family to FaceTime again with details of the Secret Santa gifts and I am just about to open mine. Even the Queen mentioned the marvels of modern day technology in her Christmas broadcast. I do hope you enjoy my Christmas message. As I am sat here with a very small glass of something nice, I feel I must recommend it to you as it is totally divine. It is Lewis Road Creamery Chocolate Cream Liqueur. Buy it. You will not be disappointed… And anyone coming through Duty Free any time soon, yes please, I need a top up!

The last few days I’ve been trying to think which is my favourite Christmas tune. Due to procrastination, I can’t settle on a single jingle. But, I will leave you with a contender.

Feliz Navidad

Feliz Navidad

Feliz Navidad, prospero año y felicidad

I want to wish you a Merry Christmas

I want to wish you a Merry Christmas

I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, from the bottom of my heart

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So, from me, Feliz Navidad, Merry Christmas, Nadolig Llawen, Meri Kirihimete xx

*In New Zealand, a mince pie would usually be made of mince meat. A mince pie made of dried fruit needs to be prefaced with Christmas to avoid confusion…!

Ye olde teeny tiny hill doth defeat me no more

I’ve invented a new word. I’m sure others have used it before so maybe I didn’t really invent it. Anyhow, it’s un-festive. It does what it says on the tin and describes how I feel at the moment. I’m not grumpy nor am I in a bad mood. I just feel un-festive and any ho-ho-hos that emanate from my lips do so through gritted teeth.

It’s that time of the year. Everything seems so hectic. Children are excited, adults are stressed, traffic is abysmal. But worse than anything, people keep asking what I’m doing for Christmas. “Working” is the answer. It’s not exactly exciting is it and if I’m honest I’m quite resentful about it. I don’t have any business feeling this way. Someone has to work Christmas and, after all, I knowingly and willingly signed up to a vocation that involved 24/7 cover and that means everyone taking their turn and sharing the roster. I last worked Christmas in 2013 and it was super quiet. I ended up being able to stay at home all day on Christmas Day and was even able to have people over for lunch. I’m not expecting it to be busy this year but not quiet either. This still doesn’t explain the resentment. Nonetheless, I will pitch up to work donning a Christmas outfit and probably everything will be absolutely fine on the day.

It’s not as if I haven’t got anything to which to look forward. I have a fabulous ski trip to Switzerland in early January and the cycle trek in February. It’s not even that I haven’t had a great time recently. I’ve had several weeks of celebrations with colleagues and friends that have set my social calendar alight. Last week alone I had a function nearly every day. Tuesday was just a brilliant day as my friend who has not been well had her birthday and a small group of us treated her to a helicopter trip over the harbour to a vineyard for lunch. She was feeling good that day and was super-excited to sit in the front of the chopper with the pilot on what was one of the most beautiful days of the year. The harbour put on a spectacular display. On a day like that it is one of the most glorious places in the world. The lunch was at a lovely spot overlooking this incredible place and the food and wine were delicious. In those hours there was no illness, just friends having a great day out, away from the mundanities of life.

Wednesday saw me babysitting for some friends. For some reason their 5 year old thinks I am the bees-knees. No sooner had they left for their night out than he was out of bed and beside me on the sofa. I won’t confess to them that I was secretly disappointed when I arrived to find him already safely tucked up in bed so this was fine by me. We sat and chatted about his hopes for Christmas. He has some very specific requests – that his trampoline be round and red, with a handle; preferably he’d like a drum too and that he be allowed to leave cakes for the reindeer just like he did last year. I tried to negotiate carrots but he wasn’t having any of that healthy food nonsense. He gave away some trade secrets about family life which made me snigger and then, like any good auntie, I yet again answered his question about why ladies have boobies. Setting the alarm for five more minutes out of bed was a minor coup for me as he couldn’t really argue when it went off (although I may have been conned into changing it to seven minutes but no-one need know that). He agreed to go to bed if I went with him for a snuggle. He was most indignant that this meant my taking my shoes off so as not to mess up his bed despite the fact it appeared to already be full of mess-creating felt pens without their tops. He then equipped me with a “blankie” just like his and as he was about to go to sleep he enquired innocently if I had anyone to snuggle at home. No, I said. This induced him to jump out of bed, go to his cupboard and find me a small cuddly dog to take home as a present, so that I had something to snuggle when I was on my own. How touching was that? He also gave me a half completed dot-to-dot colouring book and a dried up felt pen and instructed me to bring it back to show him when I’d finished it. Bless him. What a lovely boy he is shaping up to be.

Presents from a five year old
A second hand cuddly dog for me to snuggle and a half used colouring book. These are the best gifts ever because they were given with such love and good intention

The following day was a choir concert in the Town Hall. This is an a cappella choir in which a friend sings, along with several other people from work. Usually this concert is a bit tedious but this year it was genuinely lovely. Not only was the singing really good, the theme was love and so they sang some really great tunes. There were also some other performers including the usual obligatory school groups who made everyone coo. We won’t mention that in the last few bars of Only You by Yazoo, sung to round out the first half, someone’s phone started ringing in the audience. It may have been mine but I’m still in denial at the embarrassment.

Friday was a really great dinner followed by the musical version of Sister Act. What a fabulously fun show just before Christmas. I don’t know what it is about singing nuns but they have a certain something that makes everyone happy. On Saturday we had our departmental Christmas party and for the first time we were requested to wear outfits. The rather flamboyant “Gary” whom you have met in previous videos insisted upon this and it would be fair to say there was some reluctance. Such is the nature of our team that every single person nonetheless rose to the occasion and it may be strange to say so about something so seemingly trivial, but I felt proud of them. It just seemed to me that this stood testament to the fact that ultimately everyone embodies the team spirit and as their leader, I can’t want anything more from them than that. The following day was the Christmas function of another department in which we also work. It was out in the country at their director’s home and was a lovely informal and relaxed affair with great weather, company and food complete with a bouncy castle fire engine and tractor rides for the children. Finally, after all these functions I had a well earned day off partying and then yesterday, again, there was another evening do for yet another team to which I contribute. Again, more lovely people who were generous hosts and with whom I am delighted to work.

So, throughout all of this, how has the cycling been going? Well I have been out on the bike a few times and done more of the same which basically means I have again mainly cycled on the flat. I feel like I can build up distance but I am still fretting about hills and gears. In the gym, my training sessions are now focussed on improving my cardio abilities in readiness and we have been pushing the tension on the static bike in multiple short stints followed by going all out on the rowing machine. I’d secretly rather do the cardio work than kettle bell swings anyway but don’t tell my trainer this. A colleague at work who is a triathlete has offered to take me cycling over Christmas to show me how to deal with the gears. This is terribly kind but also incredibly scary. The man is a machine and I cannot imagine how embarrassed I will feel donning my lycra and showing myself up in front of him. Hopefully he will forget this kind offer… However, today I have had a minor achievement. I won’t spoil all but will let you watch the video which describes it. Suffice it to say that the title of this post gives it away and you’ll be proud of me.

Finally, I have had some discussions with Variety this week, the charity organising the trek. They have set up a Facebook group of the people partaking but so far no-one but me has joined so I have no more info yet on my fellow cyclists. I have also booked my flights which is exciting but means there is no going back now and that is scary. It is actually only just over 8 weeks away. While there is no fundraising target as such for this trip, we do have opportunity to raise money if we wish and I sort of feel I would like to try to do that given how much effort this cycling business is taking from me! The purpose of the fundraising is to purchase bikes for disadvantaged school children in New Zealand. While this wonderful country in which I live is acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful and progressive in the world, it nonetheless has a problem with child poverty. Some of the children I see at work come from the most challenged families and so to be able to help in whatever ways I can is a true privilege, whether that be through my work or charitable ventures or both. Just $200 buys a child a bike. Even better, I can choose the low decile school to which I donate the bikes, which could be in my local community or anywhere else of my choice and furthermore, I can go to the school in person to deliver the bikes. This is a very tangible form of fundraising and being able to see the end result will be tremendously rewarding for all my efforts. If you feel you can donate, I would be extremely grateful. If you can’t donate, please just continue to support me in other ways. Your kind words and encouragement are enough. My fundraising site is here.

Until next time, enjoy your festivities or un-festivities and whatever the crazy season brings to you and yours xx