Christmas preparations: Presents

This year I have made a concerted effort to shop wisely and well. Having more time helps. Also the fact that there a few friends to buy for – we tend to do birthdays but not Christmas. And now the children are older they ask for little. To think these are the same kids who used to regard the Argos catalogue as our/Santa’s shopping list and mark off dozens of items. I’ve tried to make an effort to support local crafts and shops. Also you get personal items, not mass-produced. The crafts at Burleigh Hall in Stamford were good. If you’ve not been, Stamford is like Stratford without the crowds. Full of the type of people who look like they might hunt and get invited to the Royals for Christmas. Their High Street doesn’t need Mary Portas’s help. Antique shops, boutiques, delis, architects – not like Loughborough. In general though I avoid going shopping, if possible. Except for food.

For books it has to be Amazon and in this respect I neglect local shops. It’s not just the lower pricing, it’s the fact that you can get absolutely anything. I just got a book from the US on knitting prayer shawls – talk about minority interest. Buys this year have included Diane Keaton’s autobiography. Heard her interviewed on the radio and liked the sound of it. She sounded modest about her success and was interesting on the subject of her relationships: Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, Al Pacino. She has adopted two children and at the age of 63 is going through what many of did in our 20s and 30s, although with loads of help I suspect.

Also Jeanette Winterson’s autobiography. I heard her speak in Manchester (great Northern accent), bought the book and read it to the end on the train home. Ideal reading for anyone who has had a difficult relationship with their mother (covers most of the women I know!) But not in a mawkish mis-lit way. She’s an intelligent woman, and funny too. She found her birth mother in Blackley. I like the connection as that is where my mother was born. See also her website – – for good journalism and other reading recommendations. There’s a great poem, Ode to the turkey, or something like that, by Benjamin Zephaniah. A few lines…

‘Be nice to your turkey this Christmas
cos turkeys just want to have fun
Turkeys are cool, turkeys are wicked
And every turkey has a mum…’

And so on… Well I like it!

On the strength of her reviews I also bought The Christmas Truce, Carol Ann Duffy’s short and beautifully illustrated poem about Christmas Day in the trenches when the troops on each side ceased fighting and celebrated together.

‘Then flickering flames from the other side danced in his eyes
As Christmas trees in their dozens shone
Candlelit on the parapets
And they started to sing, all down the German lines’.

Beautiful. It makes you want to weep. Reminds me of the only time we’ve been abroad at Christmas. In the Avignon hotel for Christmas Day lunch the German guests starting singing ‘Silent night’. The British sang the next verse, then the French. All in our own languages. The real spirit of Europe…

Alastair Sim, in the classic Christmas film "Scrooge"

For films a new one was needed. I chose the original Scrooge film with Alastair Sim, a must-have for Christmas Day. There’s always a film we watch year on year. When the children were young it used to be The Snowman. Then Susie and I discovered ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’. I love the bit where Sally gets her arm ripped off and then sews it back on again. And when the children discover their stockings and pillow cases are full of insects, worms and snakes. Ah, the spirit of Christmas…

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