Christmas Wishes

You’re all busy, especially this time of year, so this will be short. Whatever you’re doing this Christmas, I send you my best wishes for a wonderful time, hopefully with family, good food, and not too many arguments or hangovers. Here’s to a vintage Christmas, and to a new year that’s an improvement over 2016.

Not that I’m holding my breath.

The Night Before Christmas, 1949 edition

Rushed off Your Paws at Christmas

You don’t need telling that it’s a busy and stressful time of year, especially if you have family to look after.

No wonder so many of us will be rushed off our feet. Or indeed our paws. 

I’m thinking of dogs like the lovely May here whose duties include opening and shutting doors, unloading the washing machine, picking up dropped items, pressing buttons and switches, and if need be getting help in an emergency.  

There’s the Christmas shopping to attend to, and that requires money. Here’s May using the ATM.

assistance dog using cash machine

photo by Canine Partners

All the food to buy.

assistance dog shopping in supermarket

photo by Canine Partners

Not to mention sorting out the Christmas post.

assistance dog with post

photo by Canine Partners

Canine Partners like May are trained to do a range of different tasks, but they’re intelligent and can adapt to the person’s lifestyle. In a survey, over a third of their humans say they rely on them to tidy toys away. Some dogs even let the cat in and out. And in and out again.

FreeImages.com/Robert Bak

And they do all this without a murmur of complaint, which can’t be said of most humans.

I don’t know about you, but I think May deserves something in her Christmas stocking.

Christmas stocking

If you don’t need an assistance dog yourself, you can still adopt one. Might even make a good last minute Christmas present for someone.

Have a merry Christmas, one and all.  

holly garland

You may like to know…

Canine Partners assists people with a range of disabilities to enjoy a greater independence and quality of life through the provision of specially trained dogs.

For example, the charity works in partnership with Help for Heroes, aiming to train dogs to meet the needs of people with even the most complex disabilities.  These life-transforming dogs also provide practical, physiological, psychological and social benefits including increased independence and confidence as well as increased motivation and self-esteem.

Canine Partners is a registered charity and receives no government funding. It depends wholly on public donations and legacies.

That’ll be you and me.

angel tree decoration

 

Easy tweet: “Christmas stress? Some busy feet barely touch the ground via @DrCarolCooper & help from @canine_partners”

The Dreaded Christmas Newsletter

The Christmas cards are fluttering in through the letter box, and so are the round robin letters, lovingly composed to bring you up to date with all the people you no longer remember. This may be my favourite so far.

holly garland

Dear friends

 

 

 

My, doesn’t time fly! I supposed that’s what happens when you’re our age. 2015 has been a very special year for us although, as John likes to points out, it hasn’t quite ended yet.

Our exciting year kicked off with damp-proof treatment to our lounge. The builders got plaster dust literally everywhere, including in my beloved knitting basket. After the re-plastering, we re-decorated. We spent many an evening debating the relative merits of Magnolia versus Almond White. John got the Almond White he wanted. Well, he is the Man of the House.

Here is where I usually include some of the best photos of our year. Our 2014 Christmas letter featured an xray of my new hip, so this one, taken in our garden, is rather different.

tree

Not, alas, the much anticipated bumper crop of berries on our pyracanthus, because John had a bit of a go with the pruning shears right after his latest parking ticket.  At least this time he didn’t punch the traffic warden, which you will agree is a good thing if you recall our Christmas letter 2013.

Since John and I have long retired, the most interesting career developments are the children’s. I am excited to tell you that daughter Tabitha has finally decided what she wants to do, and is now a tattoo artist’s model.

FreeImages.com/Rokla

Our son Graham, who takes more after me, has found his knitting business has really taken off. To complement his range of egg-cosies, he now offers knitted ties, and he has sold three of them in just four months!

In March I had another bout of shingles, and John had an attack of gout. However this did not stop us from enjoying foreign travel. John and I went to Scotland in April. The weather was not as sunny as we had hoped, but we got to play a lot of gin rummy.

FreeImages.com/liensca

Six months ago, I joined a book club which seems quite fun. We do not yet have a Book of the Month. There are however a number of wine labels that are required reading.

The rest of our year was taken up with the replacement of my hip replacement. Here I must thank all our medical friends who got in touch just after receiving our 2014 Christmas letter and pointed out that the stem of the prosthesis was incorrectly positioned. 

FreeImages.com/Ali Taylor

Wishing you and yours all the blessings of the Christmas season, and a wonderful new year to come with peace and prosperity to all (with the exception of ISIL, as John wants me to point out).

Love from

Judy and John

 

 

 

holly garland

Seven Reasons Why August Sucks

While the name ‘August’ comes from the Latin for dignity or grandeur, the reality is somewhat different.  Yes, it’s still high summer, but when you compare it to its neighbours June and July, I don’t think the month of August makes the grade. Here’s why:

1 The days are already noticeably shorter. As if that’s not bad enough, the weather thinks it’s October.

Rain by Valentina Degiorgis

2 You can’t move for tourists in London. Have you been to Marble Arch lately? It’s heaving. Luckily I know just enough Arabic to move dawdling visitors out of the way.

And in Cambridge, there are even bigger queues to get into the colleges. As here.

Clare College gardens

And here. 

queue at Kings College Chapel

Even more competitive than it is for prospective students, it seems.

Clare College gardens

3 It’s the silly season for news. That’s why the papers carry stories about donkeys rescued from seven-feet deep storm drains.

rescued donkey

And stories about Morris dancers having a punch-up with blind footballers. If you’re wondering, that one’s a spoof.

The biggest silly story of all? Must be the Labour party’s leadership contest. 

4 Kids in Scotland are already back at school. They’ve given up pretending it’s still the holidays.

5 When the August bank holiday weekend is over, that’s it. There are no more official holidays until Christmas. And any minute now, Christmas merchandise will hit the shops.

by Raquel Santos

6 It’s high season for kittens. In north-west London, the Mayhew Animal Home’s kitten cabins are overrun with furry bundles that need forever homes. Can you help? 

posed by model. photo by Roger Heykoop

7 Everyone is away (except for tourists). If you’re an adult, your inbox is full of automated away messages. If you’re a child, there’s nobody around to come to your birthday. I should know. Mine’s tomorrow. Are you going to be there? Thought not.

Roll on September.

***

Easy tweet: 7 Reasons Why August Sucks http://wp.me/p3uiuG-13z according to @DrCarolCooper

An Epiphany

Twelfth Night looms and Harriet cannot wait for all traces of Christmas to be gone.  

Christmas tree

Simon packs every single decoration off the tree into its rightful place in its box. Only he knows where this is, so all Harriet can do is make tea. It’s Lapsang Souchong, brewed in a pot because he always says it tastes better that way.

Freelance journalist Harriet is a character from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda.

On the first day of Christmas, Simon gave her a cashmere and silk jumper, but it’s not nearly as soft as Pushkin was.  

Pushkin

On the second day of Christmas, they had turkey drumsticks and leftover roast potatoes which, Simon reminded her, had not been as crisp on the day as they could have been. 

Of course they weren’t. The heart went out of Christmas several years ago.

The tree survived well, but that was because there was no Pushkin to climb its branches or bat the baubles off.

“It’s just ailurophobia” she’d told Simon at first.  But it wasn’t fear of cats.  His breathing was really bad, beyond the help of inhalers, pills and sprays, and there was a tissue permanently attached to his nose.  She tried products to keep down fur and dander, to no avail.  It would have to be the RSPCA or the Mayhew Home. What alternative was there?

It was December 18. Simon got the cat basket out of the cupboard and Pushkin promptly fled under the bed. 

“He’s gone into the bedroom!” cried Simon. “Now I’ll be wheezing all night.”

“Well, he won’t be here much longer, will he?” Harriet retorted.

Pushkin emerged warily, though not warily enough.

“Grab him, Harriet.  I’d rather not touch him.”

Harriet picked him up and kissed the soft places behind his ears.  It was too awful to let him go. “It’s raining,” she pointed out.  “Pushkin hates rain.”

“Put a towel over the basket if you’re so concerned.” 

cat basket

The car was parked two streets away.  Simon went to get it, but he drew the line at driving to the shelter.  “I’d rather not spend the next hour sitting a foot away from him.”

Harriet lugged the basket downstairs and into the car.  As Simon got out of the driver’s side, he warned, “Don’t bottle now, Harriet.”  He may as well have added it was only a cat.

Harriet negotiated the traffic out of London.  She thought the RSPCA place off the A1(M) would be best, as there’d be more chance of finding him a suitable home in a rural area.  Plus with a shelter that far she’d be less tempted to rush back and adopt Pushkin herself.

She got stuck in a fierce bottle-neck on the A41, trapped between a bus and a Chelsea tractor surely bound for Brent Cross. When she finally moved off, a van driver nearly clipped the wing of the Peugeot.

Harriet had transferred the basket to the passenger seat.  Pushkin yowled and stared at her through the grating with huge eyes.

“Come on, big boy,” she said, her voice catching.  “Everything’s going to be fine.” 

Her words failed to reassure a stressed Pushkin, and the car filled with an unmistakeable aroma.  Fresh dog turds occasionally smell of coffee grounds. Cat shit, on the other hand, only ever smells of one thing.

Harriet wept openly on arrival.  The kindness of the RSPCA staff only made things worse.

“My partner’s allergic to cats,” Harriet explained. 

“Has the cat had any health problems?” the girl asked.

“Well, he has a slight irritable bowel.”  What kind of luck was it to have a fastidious boyfriend and a cat with loose motions? 

Tears streaming, she left Pushkin and a large donation and returned to the car with the empty basket.  

The potatoes had been soggy and the turkey tasteless ever since.  

roast potatoes

As the last bauble goes into the box, Harriet thinks of this year’s Christmas message from the Queen and its theme of reconciliation.  She wonders whether it can ever apply to them.

***

Twelfth Night marks the end of Christmas for many people, but in the Eastern Orthodox Church Christmas isn’t until January 7. That means there’s still time to enjoy the Christmas Party Blog Hop devised by Helen Hollick. My own contribution is below, and you’ll find about 25 other bloggers taking part too.

2014-ChristmasPartyBlogHop

How to Be a Party Animal

Christmas parties come in many shapes and sizes. This one had four legs. The Mayhew Home’s Tinsel & Tails extravaganza at St Paul’s Church, London W6 was a red carpet affair with candle-light, chilled fizz and celebs galore.  We had a fabulous time. I also gleaned valuable tips on being the ultimate Christmas party animal.

Dress up for the occasion. Ditch the much-loved blanket and get into some glad rags, like Rufus and Bobby.   

photo by Bonnie Baker

photo of Bobby and Rufus by Bonnie Baker

Here’s Evie in a red frock, a classic choice for Christmas.  

DSC03480

2 Get some humans to volunteer for something eg giving readings and drawing raffles

At this year’s Tinsel & Tails, Sylvia Syms and Beatie Edney did a mother-and-daughter routine, assisted by their Mayhew dogs Bunny and Billie. Peter Egan, fresh from guesting on Downton Abbey, read poetry while his pooches provided vocal encouragement.

3 Have a bit of a sing-song.  Georgian choir Maspindzeli sang a few numbers, while The Great British Bark-Off competed at the back of the church.

4 Don’t invite cats. They always climb the tree and raid the buffet.

5  Make sure there’s plenty to drink. You don’t want to run out of the good stuff halfway through.

DSC03527

6 Watch out for gate-crashers. Big stars like Bill Bailey get their own bodyguard.  

security

7 Have fun, but remember the true meaning of Christmas.  When CEO Caroline Yates outlined the Mayhew’s work at home and abroad in countries such as Russia and Afghanistan, there was scarcely a dry eye in the house.  

Some less fortunate souls didn’t get to go the ball.

Amaruq (photo from The Mayhew)

You can find out more about 17-month old Siberian Husky Amaruq by clicking here.

Alfie Moon (photo from The Mayhew)

Alfie Moon had to live rough for years. But he’s a gentle boy who likes the quiet life. Find out more here.

Rambo

Rambo (photo from The Mayhew)

Despite his name, Rambo is a sweet 4-year old cat who likes having his cheeks rubbed. Find out more here.

Honey (photo from The Mayhew)

Honey is a 9-month old female Staffy crossbreed who arrived at The Mayhew because her owner was no longer able to look after her. She’s active, with a sensitive side. Find out more here.

Merry Christmas, one and all, and here’s hoping all these dogs and cats find forever homes in 2015.

dog-tired

As you can see, Evie is now partied out, but you’re invited to continue the Christmas Party Blog Hop with my fine blogger friends. Big thanks to Helen Hollick whose brainchild it is.  Now follow on below for more fun. Look carefully. There’s even some party swag in there. 

2014-ChristmasPartyBlogHop

  1. Helen Hollick: You are Cordially Invited to a Ball (plus a giveaway prize)
  2. Alison Morton: Saturnalia surprise – a winter party tale (plus a giveaway prize)
  3. Andrea Zuvich: No Christmas For You! The Holiday Under Cromwell
  4. Ann Swinfen: Christmas 1586 – Burbage’s Company of Players Celebrates
  5. Anna Belfrage: All I want for Christmas (plus a giveaway)
  6. Clare Flynn:  A German American Christmas
  7. Debbie Young:  Good Christmas Housekeeping (plus a giveaway prize)
  8. Derek Birks:  The Lord of Misrule – A Medieval Christmas Recipe for Trouble
  9. Edward James: An Accidental Virgin and An Uninvited Guest 
  10. Fenella J. Miller: Christmas on the Home front (plus a giveaway prize)
  11. J. L. Oakley:  Christmas Time in the Mountains 1907 (plus a giveaway prize)
  12. Jude Knight: Christmas at Avery Hall in the Year of Our Lord 1804
  13. Julian Stockwin: Join the Party
  14. Juliet Greenwood: Christmas 1914 on the Home Front (plus a giveaway)
  15. Lauren Johnson:  Farewell Advent, Christmas is come – Early Tudor Festive Feasts
  16. Lucienne Boyce: A Victory Celebration
  17. Nancy Bilyeau:  Christmas After the Priory (plus a giveaway prize)
  18. Nicola Moxey: The Feast of the Epiphany, 1182
  19. Peter St John:  Dummy’s Birthday
  20. Regina Jeffers: Celebrating a Regency Christmas (plus a giveaway prize)
  21. Richard Abbott: The Hunt – Feasting at Ugarit
  22. Saralee Etter: Christmas Pudding – Part of the Christmas Feast
  23. Stephen Oram: Living in your dystopia: you need a festival of enhancement…(plus a giveaway prize)
  24. Suzanne Adair: The British Legion Parties Down for Yule 1780 (plus a giveaaway prize)
  25. Lindsay Downs: O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree 

Thank you for joining in, and see you in the New Year.

Easy tweet: “How to Be a Party Animal by with & other bloggers”

 

The Hack’s Progress

Harriet has been a journalist for 16 years. At first, she hoped to become a household name.  

Household names

Now, as she sits in Starbucks, her goal is more mundane: to pay Simon back. Her boyfriend put a roof over her head and this new laptop in front of her. Still, it would be nice to be invited to speak at an Editorial Intelligence Breakfast Salon.  Or just contribute to a trending topic on Twitter, ideally in the same week that it’s trending.

Simon does not approve of Starbucks, or, as he puts it, ‘all that it stands for’. Harriet’s view is less complex. It stands on the corner and it’s a place to work.

Whenever Harriet thinks her career’s going OK, she brings herself back down to earth. What kind of household name would pen features like “What your loo roll says about you”?  

What does your loo roll say about you

That was at least easier than some of the other features. The commissioning editor of RightHere! magazine, a terrifying Glaswegian woman, once wanted a really fun piece on women who’d traded their baby for a Hermes handbag. When Harriet’s jaw dropped, the editor assured her there were zillions of women out there that would feel unconditional love for a Birkin, hen. Especially since it wouldn’t poop and cry all night, and it certainly wouldn’t tell them it hated them in 12 years time.

Harriet knows all about ‘really fun’ pieces.  After making a zillion phone calls and pestering everyone on Facebook, she still ends up without any case studies willing to give their real names and photos, let alone women young, slim and blonde enough. Editors always claim to know their readers, but Harriet doubts if any of them are smart sassy under-40s. RightHere! magazine could probably keep 99% of its readers happy with knitting patterns and offers on cod liver oil.      

Instead Harriet asked “Could it be a Mulberry bag?”

The editor was withering.  “Are ye daft?  Nobody would do that.”

Christmas is coming up and Starbucks has gone all red and green.  This time of year makes Harriet blue so she tries to keep busy. She is up to her eyes in her piece Great Gifts for Under £10.  These are remarkably similar to Great Gifts Over £10, except for the quality.

She wonders about covering Fabulous Festive Gifts Over a Grand, but doesn’t think PR companies will send over the freebies she has in mind. 

freebies over a grand

By now most titles have Christmas sewn up, but there’s always the chance of a last minute request.

The editor at RightHere! will probably ring her with a really fun festive feature idea.  All Harriet would have to do is find three women who’ve had an immaculate conception. They’d have to give their real names and be photographed, of course.  And it would a bonus if their partners are carpenters. 

***

Harriet is a freelance journalist from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. This weekend you can read more about her and other single Londoners for only 99p (UK Kindle edition). And let’s face it, what could you get at Starbucks for 99p?