Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

I wonder if your feelings on New Year's Eve are similar to mine? As the old year creeps and creaks its way to an exhausted conclusion, I find myself awaiting the new version with a sense of hope and relief.
By the end of December I'm badly in need of a new year. Three hundred and sixty-five days are as much as I can cope with in one session.

I suppose it's illogical to have this concept of a new beginning. After all, what is a New Year? Nothing more than a date on a calendar, a man-made invention.
True, the cycle of the year is dictated by the movement of our solar system, but, other than the summer and winter solstices indicating a pause for reflection, there is nothing to indicate when a new year should start.

It is characteristic of English caution in such matters that we were late in joining the January 1st enthusiasts. Early in the sixteenth century, Venice, Sweden and The Holy Roman Empire were the first to opt for January 1st as their choice for New Year's Day. They were soon to be followed by Holland, France and Norway, whilst Scotland joined the club fifty years later. The English, who preferred to start their year on March 25th, stuck to their chosen date for a further two centuries. Only in 1752 did we come in from the cold and join the majority of Europe in their New Year celebrations.

In our globalised world, it's hard to imagine anything other than uniformity over the date of the New Year. Fiscal and educational reasons alone make it imperative. But, as I see it, the emotional need outweighs all others.
To be given a whole new year . . . twelve unblemished months . . . an empty book with three hundred and sixty-five blank pages . . . it's a priceless gift.

Not only that, it's a chance to draw a line under the difficulties and worries of the year that has come to a close. It's a time to take stock, to make resolutions . . . all right, I know we don't necessarily keep them, but the act of considering and making a resolution is a valuable exercise in itself. A New Year, a new chance, a new opportunity, a new beginning.

From every point of view, social, economic and environmental, 2011 was a roller-coaster of a journey. What is 2012 waiting to teach us? Time alone will tell. But, as of this moment, it's virgin territory with unlimited potential . . . who could ask for more?

So, let's take a deep breath . . . hold hands . . . trust in the cosmic, evolutionary plan . . . and, as pioneers, step forward into the unknown.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Should auld acquaintances . . . ?

Do you understand th
e complex etiquette of Christmas cards?
I wish I did.
Over the years my Christmas card list has steadily grown longer and longer. First come the cards I exchange with friends and family. Then come the cards exchanged with acquaintances from the past, people whom it's good to hear from once a year.
But, looking at my list last month, I realised that it included a considerable number of recipients whom I only ever hear from at Christmas and now barely know. At what point, I wondered, is it right for auld acquaintances to be quietly forgotten?

I'm sure you know what I mean. There's that pleasant couple that you met on holiday and exchanged cards with the following Christmas, how long should they stay on the list? Or, as in my case, there's the old school friend whom I haven't met since our schooldays. We weren't close friends in our teens, does she still want to keep in touch? Most illogical of all is the card I receive annually from my mother's cleaning-lady's daughter.

During my childhood in Kent, my mother had a cleaning-lady. Over the years they became good friends and, when we moved to Somerset, they continued to exchange cards at Christmas. When my mother died, the cleaning-lady maintained the tradition by
sending Christmas cards to me. It was when the cleaning-lady died that things became convoluted. Her daughter, whom I'd only met once (she was eight and I was ten) clearly felt obliged to maintain her mother's Christmas card list. For several years now I've been receiving an annual card from my mother's cleaning-lady's daughter, about whom I know absolutely nothing!

Heartened by the conviction that these people, and several others, would be relieved to strike my name off their Christmas card lists, I came to a decision. After careful selection, I made a list of seventeen cards that I would only send if the potential recipient acted first.

What happened? You've guessed it! All those cards that I never expected to receive came flocking through the letter-box. Even more surprising, for the first time for years many carried not just a signature, but a personal message and an enquiry. Not having posted their cards in advance, I was able to respond to these enquiries and forge new links with old friends.

Did I hear from my mother's cleaning-lady's daughter? Much to my surprise, hers was the first card to arrive! But it wasn't until I opened it that I realised how I value this link with the past.
No matter that we wouldn't recognise each other, that we know nothing of each other's lives . . we meet across the years, re-establishing memories through the exchange of cards.

Is it so very fanciful to liken Christmas cards to that first Christmas star? Like the star, they act as heralds to the Christmas story . . . and. in the manner of that first star, they shine their welcome light in the most unexpected places!

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Hot-Water Squirrel

As always, Shakespeare puts it perfectly:
"How easy," says Theseus, in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', "is a bush supposed a bear".
Does that sound familiar? It does to me. It brings back times when, hurrying home on a dark night, shadows can take on unexpected forms. Times when a rustle, unnoticed by daylight, is suddenly menacing.
Nor is this tendency for self-delusion limited to foolish humans. Chloe, my cat, has started to display an over-active imagination . . . and it's causing problems.

In her case, it's not a simple question of confusing bushes with bears, more a troubling case of mistaking an innocent hot-water bottle for a squirrel.

None of my previous cats had this problem. On the contrary, diverse as their characters were in many ways, they all appreciated a hot-water bottle for the comfort it offered.
But Chloe, influenced, perhaps, by the daily thrill of chasing squirrels in the garden, sees things very differently!

Is it, I wonder, the warmth of the hot-water bottle . . . the flexibility of the rubber . . . the gurgle of the water inside . . . the furriness of the cover? I wish I knew. All that can be said with certainty is that, to Chloe, the sight of a hot-water bottle is every bit as potent as the proverbial red rag to a bull.

My inoffensive bottle was minding its own business at the bottom of the bed when Chloe first became conscious of the warmth. She then detected the bulge. With all the enthusiasm and fighting spirit of her tiger ancestors, she dragged this intruder from between the sheets and went straight for its jugular. When I finally managed to rescue her mauled victim, it seemed best to bury it beneath a cushion on the bedroom chair.

I'd reckoned without Chloe's tenacity. Within minutes, she'd unearthed her prey and was dragging it triumphantly around the flat. For its own safety, and to prevent it from being punctured, the long-suffering hot-water bottle had to be confined to a drawer.

I was left with a problem: how to warm the bed in the depths of winter?
A cunning plan is now in force. An hour before I go to bed the bottle is placed between the sheets, the door to the bedroom is then firmly closed. On going to bed, the hot-water bottle is discretely removed and secreted from the room without a keen-eyed Chloe catching sight of these operational tactics. The bottle then spends the night hidden deep beneath a pile of towels in the bathroom.

It's true that Chloe's warm body, curled up beside me under the covers, acts every bit as efficiently for my middle regions as the missing hot-water bottle . . . although this doesn't solve the problem of chilly feet.

I'm sorry, forget that I mentioned my cold feet . . . it's not a thought to leave you with at Christmas.
Instead, let's follow Chloe's example and go in search of angels. Contrary to appearances, this beautiful, seasonal angel is completely safe. Whilst anyone might be forgiven for mistaking a bush for a bear, not even Chloe's wishful thinking could mistake a crystal angel for a squirrel!