Friday, 27 December 2013

Daze of Christmas (Day 12): Highlights 2013.

White lights blink messages of cheer through slivers of curtains all the way up our street. Darkness lives on outside, but his life is shortening day by day.

Christmas is shortening too. The strange world we inhabit for a few weeks every year will soon be over.

Before I sign off these "Daze of Christmas," I'd like to offer some of my highlights from this year (in no particular order) as a way of remembering the past few weeks:

1) A family nativity making day earlier in December.  We spent a few hours with our extended family and this was the result:

Photo: End result.-

2) A Christmas day cycle in the rain!

3) The big issue seller moment.

4) "Attempting" a 1000 piece Christmas jigsaw.

5) A trip to see the film "Frozen" on Christmas Eve. (Olaf the snowman is a hero and legend!)

6) A trip to church on Christmas Day; everyone batting balloons around the hall as part of the service.

7) Seeing lots of family over the holidays.

8) Making a lego helicopter (with my son).

9) Listening to some great Christmas music.

10) Reading my daughter's book "The Guinness Book of Records 2014".

So, with Christmas almost over, what were your best bits?

Finally, thanks for joining me on the Daze of Christmas trip. I hope to catch up with many of you in cyberspace or in real life in the new year.

May God bless you and yours in 2014.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Daze of Christmas (Day 11): Christmas Eve or Boxing Day?

A while back at work, a few of us asked ourselves the either/or question of whether we preferred Christmas Eve or Boxing Day? I'm not sure what that question suggests about Christmas Day itself, but as I recall, it was a pretty even split with about half preferring the day before and half preferring the day after.

I suppose the choice is between the frenetic anticipation of last-minute preparations for the big day and the feeling of it all having come and gone. How you spend both days might vary at different points in your life too.

Our Christmas Eve evening this year was spent with the kids at the cinema seeing "Frozen". There was an element of magic about the whole trip and real excitement on the drive back home for the final sleep before the big day. Today (Boxing Day) has been less frenetic than the past two days but I fitted in a cycle with my son this morning and a whole family walk around a loch this afternoon. Tiredness is definitely setting in now!

So, what do you think? Christmas Eve or Boxing Day? Which do you prefer and why and how did you spend either or both this year?

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Daze of Christmas (Day 10): Shopping on Christmas Eve.

Slowly scanning the glittery shelves, Arnold tried to hide the disappointment in his face. The aroma of perfumes mingled and caught on his throat as a fresh-faced girl of around eighteen approached him.

"Can I help you sir?" she chimed, her head moving in rhythm to her dangling Rudolph earrings.

Arnold spluttered into his white handkerchief but quickly let the twinkle return to to his eyes.

"I was looking for the perfect gift. For someone special. But I think you're all out of her favourite. It's Anais Anais, I was searching for."

"I'm sorry sir. We haven't been able to stock that recently. You could try Boots?"

"Thanks I'll do that," said Arnold.

As Arnold trudged back into the mall, the sound of Jona Lewie was being piped out of a clothing boutique. Arnold imagined himself shuffling along, like in his days of National Service. The Salvation Army brass band outside WH Smiths took up the refrain. Arnold stopped to listen and threw a few coins into the bucket when he moved on.

Nearby, the queue to visit Father Christmas wasn't as large as one would expect on Christmas Eve. Arnold guessed that people had been put off by the snow. Still, the shops were bulging with folk looking, like him, for last minute gifts.  

Reaching Boots, Arnold loosened his tartan tie a little and unbuttoned his top shirt button. It was warm inside; the contrast even more striking because of the bitter cold outside. He'd taken off his overcoat in Debenhams and it was now draped over his arm like a wine waiter's towel. 

Arnold approached the counters and scanned for Mildred's perfume. In his head he tried to recall the many occasions when he'd done the same in the years gone by.

Then he saw it. On the top shelf. A gift-wrapped box set, complete with matching hand cream. It was the perfect gift.

He parted with the crisp £50 note and wished the assistant a merry christmas.

As he wandered out of the store Arnold struggled to push his tweed jacketed arms into the overcoat. Placing the bag on a bench, he wrestled himself into it, till finally he was ready for heading outside.

Out through the revolving doors, Arnold battled against the wind, his boots crunching through the freshly-fallen carpet of snow. In his right hand he gripped the bag and the knowledge of his purchase raised his spirits once more.

Reaching his street, Arnold was suddenly aware of all the brightly-lit windows. A curtain was being drawn in one as he passed. A "Santa Stop Here" sign stood on the front lawn of the next. At number fourteen, they had, as usual, gone for the works: white lights on every bush, a multi-coloured  rope-ladder leading Santa up the wall to his destination and the small brightly lit animals on the lawn seeming eerily quiet in spite of the wind.

Arnold moved slowly up his garden path. In the darkness, he fumbled for his keys. The door creaked open and he battled the wind to shut it quickly behind him.

The house was steeped in darkness. Arnold placed his finger on the light switch.

He slumped into his armchair by the fire and slid his fingers under the gift wrap. Clutching the glass bottle, he sprayed the perfume all around him...

For just a brief second, she was there in the room with him again. 


Monday, 23 December 2013

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Daze of Christmas (Day 8): December tanka

blustery dusk sends
whistling, swooping, gusting birds
on freshening wings;
            eddies swirl and nestle down
bleak sleeping ground is waking.    

for: imaginary garden with real toads
shared at: poets united

Friday, 20 December 2013

Daze of Christmas (Day 7): Newborn baby

I saw them sitting in the foyer and walked over. Jodie smiled as she always had when she was in my class this time last year. Declan's response was more muted but he nodded in my direction. His way of saying hello.

The boy was signing off from school today. He had turned 16.

His baby, in a cosy blue sleep-suit, looked content in his mother's arms, as he sucked his milk from the plastic bottle.

Framed behind their seat was the school's little nativity scene and its juxtaposition with the little family before my eyes was so striking and obvious, that even I noticed it.

"What you going to do after leaving school," I asked Declan.
"Dunno. Nothing I guess..."

What struck me was Jodie's serenity as she held her little boy. In spite of having her life turned upside down, she seemed as content as the nursing child.

Even so, the last time I saw both of them, they were just kids.

Now they're thrust into the world of parenthood with all its ups and downs... 

Again I thought of  Mary and Joseph, these immortalised superheroes of great faith.

Just kids.

And I thought, to trust the Christ-child with kids is surely the most amazing act of Christmas.  

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Daze of Christmas (Day 6): A Big Issue

She was around 5ft 3in, beige headscarf covering her ageing face, one eye almost closed in a palsied spasm. She looked as if she was of Middle Eastern descent and when she spoke to me, her accent seemed to back this up.

I walked past her. Deliberately moving to the right to ensure that her cry of "Big Issue" hit ears closer to her than mine-to somehow absolve me of my need to get involved. The magazine for homeless people that she was selling would take all of my loose change. Three pounds. I needed that for the car park. Besides I had presents to buy. I nipped into a shop selling odds and ends. I had a few presents to buy-what to get for those who have everything...

The woman's bent and frail shape, bowing under the bitter wind flashed across my mind as I browsed the cosy corners of the boutique.

The voice in my head was shouting. I knew what I had to do, but I certainly hadn't thought it through.

As I approached I remembered I had a £10 note in my wallet.Do it, the voice said, so I did.

Her reaction stunned me. Firstly, she seemed so surprised that I had to take the magazine out of her hands. She grasped the £10 as if it were a cheque for £1million.  She kissed my hand and hugged me, refusing to let go, saying "God bless you," repeatedly in my ear. As I broke free, she took my hand again and this time it was me who was hugging her, saying the only thing I could think of "God bless you too".

 I broke free again and sloped off trying to make sense of an encounter that had left me feeling what I can only describe as "Christmas Spirit".

The whole thing took twenty seconds.Yet, in that meeting, I felt that somehow she had given much more to me than the paltry £10 I had given her. Someone in real need showing real gratitude is a thing to behold.

Driving back, I switched on BBC Radio 5live. Ironically, the programme was being transmitted from a homeless unit in London, which helps to keep people off the streets.  The stories of two homeless men mingled in my mind with the woman in Glasgow, and I wondered how many more there are like them. Those who need what we can give, while we spend to give to those don't need a thing...

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Daze of Christmas (Day 5): Christmas Movies
Ashton Lane, West End, Glasgow.

Christmas is certainly a time for movies. The collection of festive hits that fill our dvd cabinet include a fair proportion of children's classics: "Miracle on 34th Street", "The Santa Clause" trilogy; "The Polar Express", "Nativity" and "Jingle All The Way" are all there, gathering dust amongst the others.

I find it really interesting that in recent years the black and white classic "It's A Wonderful Life" starring Jimmy Stewart has become a must-see for festive movie-goers here in Scotland. A trip to The Grosvenor cinema in Ashton Lane, Glasgow, to see the movie has been part of our traditional family build-up to Christmas for the past few years. Of course, another angel  plays a big part in the storyline, as beleaguered George Bailey wrestles with a monotonous existence, unable to recognise the impact he is making on the life of others until the intervention of Clarence changes all that.

But my favourite Christmas movie isn't "It''s A Wonderful Life". If forced to choose, I'd go for Tim Burton's "Edward Scissorhands" which arguably isn't a Christmas movie at all.

The narrative is book-ended by scenes of snow and certainly ends at Christmas time. I always choose to study it with one of my High School classes around Christmas to such an extent that watching Edward in action brings a real surge of excitement about the onset of Christmas. Of course, it's the fairytale story of an outsider who cannot ultimately become part of the society that he has been brought into, in spite of the attempts of some to assimilate him into their strategically perfect lifestyle.

Edward's desperate efforts to avoid isolation by relentlessly cutting hedges and hair, and George Bailey's restless desperation at not achieving what he should have, reveal two aspects of the same search.

Both movies reinforce the need for significance and belonging which we all must feel and which Christmas brings firmly into focus.

Perhaps we need to recognise our significance to those in our family and our neighbourhood and our place of work this Christmas.

The world would be worse off without you, as George found out.

Perhaps we should look out for those who might be on the outskirts of belonging at this time of year.

Could you reach out to any Edwards in your life?

Oh, and please, watch a movie or two. By the way, what's your favourite Christmas film?


Saturday, 14 December 2013

Daze of Christmas (Day 4): Angels.

So, I'm on a bit of a Christmas voyage just now and trying to find some new meaning for a season that has become overly familiar and a little tired in my mind...

Today, I'm looking at the part of angels in all of this. I mean you might even have one at the top of your Christmas tree just now, (although we've gone for the star option). 

I like angels. They're the soothing voice of the bible story as far as I can see. Self-aware and perhaps even self-conscious about their appearance, they continually refrain the line "Don't be afraid".

Check these out: 
An angel of the Lord appeared to him.  Zechariah was troubled and overcome with fear. The angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah!" 
(Luke 1:13)

When the angel entered her home, he greeted her and said, “You are favored by the Lord! The Lord is with you.” She was startled by what the angel said and tried to figure out what this greeting meant. The angel told her,“Don’t be afraid, Mary."
(Luke 1:30) 

Shepherds were in the fields near Bethlehem. They were taking turns watching their flock during the night.  An angel from the Lord suddenly appeared to them. The glory of the Lord filled the area with light, and they were terrified. The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid!
(Luke 2:8-10)

Joseph was an honorable man and did not want to disgrace her publicly. So he decided to break the marriage agreement with her secretly. Joseph had this in mind when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The angel said to him, “Joseph, descendant of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife." 
(Matthew 1:19-20)

Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid...

Say it to yourself. 

It kicks off every message that the angels give in the Christmas story. They are words that our anxiety-ridden, worrying world needs to hear. 

Maybe you'll be lucky enough to get a visit from an angel this Christmas, but if not, why not try to sum up the courage to listen to the angels' message. Whatever difficult, unbelievable  journey you face or are facing, don't be afraid. 


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Daze of Christmas (Day 3): Christmas Innocence

close your lids;
in a kids'-eyed bid
to restore your mission
(unseen on television);
when the snow was white
(blood in your veins that night),
turn your innocence back,
and trek your Christmases past,
when ghosts who held no fears
said silent, holy prayers,
and all you had was theirs,
and you believed and cared...

the bell has lost its ring,
you don't say anything,
(and Disney does no favours
with gift-wrapped rainbow flavours...)
you watch them drink it in,
and let the sunshine win,
just shut your eyes again,
hope is no cardinal sin...

Posted on Poetry Jam: Magic of Childhood



Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Daze of Christmas (Day 2): Introversion at Christmas

One of the most interesting books I've recently read is "Quiet" by Susan Cain. With its tagline of "The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" and its sleek white cover (it draws you towards it subliminally due to its almost invisible title) it makes both a powerful and understated first impression. One that drew me straight towards it on the shelf of WH Smith in Glasgow's Central Station.

Having flicked through the introduction I straight away took the informal introductory quiz. It told me that I was pretty much an out-and-out introvert.

As the train pulled off, having parted with my  £7.99, I was hooked.

So, hear me out on this one if you can.  Ms Cain discusses different levels of "stimulation" which are sought by and which, are needed by extroverts in which to thrive. I'm probably not telling you anything new here, but these levels are much higher than those of introverts. So, while an extrovert might find their "sweet spot" on the dance floor surrounded by strangers and friends and some thumping drum and bass, an introvert may be able to survive these stimulation levels for only a short time before needing to retreat to a more optimal level of stimulation or brain arousal. This might look like a quiet corner with one or two friends having a more focused chat.

The previous paragraph is a woefully inadequate introduction to the book, but I'll link Susan Cain's TED talk at the end and she will enlighten you herself on the power of introverts. Better still, buy the book.

But what, you might ask, has this all got to do with Christmas?  

Well, it strikes me that what we have is a series of social encounters which could challenge introverts and which they may well struggle with. There's the noise and the glitz and the over-stimulation and excesses of get-togethers and  parties and dances and pantos and general brightly-coloured "excitement".

Of course, you already knew all of this didn't you? If you're an introvert like me, then, for sure you were aware of it.

Christmas can be difficult for any number of reasons, but the challenge is how to carve out a meaningful, restful time at Christmas whilst  negotiating whatever else comes your way...

So, what do you think? What are your top tips for a restful, meaningful Christmas? Share your best ways to relax...

Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts

Monday, 9 December 2013

Daze of Christmas (Day 1): Sufjan

"Look at my picture of Santa," says my six year-old holding up a smartly scarlet-suited, jolly St. Nicholas sketched out on a scrap of rectangular card.

I take a look.

"It's great," I say, releasing a smile that transfers from my face to his.

He wanders off as my daughter strikes up "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" on the piano, in preparation for tomorrow's lesson. It's hard not to sing, but I know it puts her timing off and I refrain from my refrain and hold it in.

The tree is up, tinsel and all, presents are being bought pushing up the January credit card bill and I'm wondering, perhaps more than ever, what this festival is all about.

The temptation within me is to endure the season. But, as this is my 40th Christmas, I'm keen to do some further exploration this year. In the next week or so, I'm going to try to post some of these thoughts.

I'll kick off with this.

The Christmas music of Sufjan Stevens has become the soundtrack to all things festive for me in the past few years. His work contains all the elements of kitsch, naff and sacred that mesh themselves together at this time of year. The juxtaposition of these elements create a beauty that manages to still exist in spite of the bizarre background of Christmas and all that it means.  His songs linger over the landfill landscape of stuff that no one needs or (secretly) wants setting us up for a darker new year. He sprinkles mischief, mingling with and poking fun at the meaning we have attributed to Christmas.

 In short, I like Sufjan. He's bonkers and Christmas is too.

Sufjan Stevens

Put the Lights on the Tree

Joy to the World


White trash-lovers, Freaks for all they’re worth, Anarchy in beady, brazen faces, Seizing stares, Standing ground...