It can be difficult to keep a sense of proportion in the run-up to Christmas. I’ve been trying hard to get the Christmas balance right and so far I’ve avoided a complete meltdown. This week I came close with one of those rare but memorable events that continue to prompt explosive laughter hours or even days afterwards.
This event involved a Christmas family outing; coffee had been brewed and a motley selection of travel cups unearthed. David nobly offered to sit in the back so that youngest daughter and I could chat on the way (plus, she knows how to work the satnav). We all got in the car and as we belted up there was a cry of ‘don’t set off yet!’ from behind. Since we were (amazingly) ahead of schedule I reassured that there was no rush. In the front we carried on putting the address in the satnav and awaited the conclusion of the usual tussle with the seatbelt behind us.
What actually followed was a clatter, an explosion of appalling language and yells of pain. I turned round to find David drenched in coffee, tangled in his seatbelt and unable to move, pinned in place by the flap-up table on the back of the passenger seat. Into which, of course, he’d attempted to wedge his coffee cup with disastrous consequences. Had it been a child back there then I’d have issued a pre-emptive warning (realistically there would only ever have been a sippy-cup of water to mess with) but with him being a grown-up and all…
Cue the inevitable frank exchange of views, a wet sponge, change of trousers and a towel to sit on. At some point in that process I was reduced to tears of laughter. Daughter (who wisely sat through the entire upheaval, head down and shoulders shaking) later confessed to having posted a blow-by-blow live commentary to WhatsApp as events unfolded. Christmas balance re-established, we eventually set off on our journey, punctuated by cackles as my mental replay repeated all the way up the A15.
In terms of post-event hilarity, it’s right up there with the time when, with the help of an intrepid flatmate, I tried to get a double bedbase onto the 149 bus from Tottenham.
We genuinely didn’t see the problem. It folded in half; we’d managed to heave it half a mile to the bus stop without too much trouble and once it was in the aisle there was still room for people to squeeze past. The driver hadn’t told us we couldn’t and we hadn’t quite appreciated the extent of his incredulity as he watched us shuffle it up the steps and past the fare point. Eventually he got out of his seat and came back to us.
“You can’t bring that on here”
“But it fits – look!”
“But we’re only going to Dalston”
“I don’t care – you can’t bring a bed on a bus”
“But there isn’t a sign to say ‘No beds’! ”
Following a pointed precis of health & safety on buses (even in 1985) we reluctantly shuffled offboard and heaved the bed back home. I subsequently went back to the friend-of-a-friend-with-a-car, explained that we’d tried really, really hard to move the bed ourselves but please, could she possibly rethink her earlier ‘no’ and give us a lift. Eventually she gave in and we didn’t bother London Transport again.
At the time I couldn’t understand her lack of enthusiasm. Surely as a driver and car-owner there wasn’t a problem – it was only a 3 mile drive – she lived locally and I’d offered to pay. At which point any of you who’ve been the only driver in a social group will be rolling your eyes and nodding in sympathy. With her.
Can you help?
It took me a few years to grasp why she really wasn’t being unreasonable. As someone for whom time is at a premium (not that I know anyone who doesn’t feel like that) there’s a limit to what I can do for others without eating into the time that might be available to do the things I’d like to do as well as those I need to do. I was recently given a firm lecture on the subject (thank you, Shirley) along the lines of:
‘Just because you have the skills to do something, doesn’t mean you have the capacity’.
As the annoying, hand-up, ‘Me! Me!’ pupil at the front of the class, that’s a difficult lesson to put into action. Only days after that instruction to ‘Think first, learn to say “No”’ I was caught out just last week. Since, apparently, you can get caught out any time, anywhere. Even whilst doing a length of breaststroke kick in my SwimFit class.
(No – this isn’t me but you get the idea). The chap in the next lane caught up to me and asked that fateful question:
“Is it true you know how to sew?”
“Oh great, I’ve been having a real problem finding someone.”
Before I knew it, I was enmeshed in a mission to make a tent for his children for Christmas. All in the space of half a length of swimming. Which goes to show how much you need to be on your guard.
“Who dobbed me in?” I gasped out on our next length.
“No-one. I heard you talking to the swim trainer about sewing” he replied.
Which is true. Our swim coach, the encouraging-but-firm Tracey, happens to be a keen 40s-style dressmaker and so has become a ClothSpot customer. (Along with a member of the Farm Café staff (and her mum), fellow students on my tailoring course a couple of years back and even my yoga teacher. What can I say? We’re just irresistible)
I suspect that all you sewing-machine users will have similar tales of sewing favours begged, even if they don’t involve swimming or the 149 bus. I have a friend that describes herself as (coincidentally) the ‘tent-pole’ for all the things that she feels are dependent on her holding them up.
I know that goes for many of you with extended families, work or volunteer commitments or with generally busy lives. We feel responsible for a great deal – and find it difficult to withhold our time or skills when we know we can make a difference.
Finding your Christmas balance
The problem is, it can be difficult to sustain that level of philanthropy without eating away at the time we need to feed our own spirits, our creativity, our zest for life. Particularly in the pre-Christmas period our to-do lists can seem like a constant onslaught. To the extent that we lose sight of the pleasure and joy of spending time with those closest to us and celebrating all that we’re fortunate enough to have. Not that it isn’t genuinely pleasurable to be able to help people – of course it is. The trick is that elusive Christmas balance.
From conversations we’ve had, I know many of you are ‘tent-poles’ and that you know first-hand the difficulties of finding time for yourselves in the last few weeks. Here, work on our new website ran slap-bang into the pre-Christmas frenzy – and I’ll bet you have your personal version of that situation. For all the pleasures that Christmas brings, that moment when the washing up is done on Christmas Day is the moment when we can begin to catch our breath.
What’s getting me through is the anticipation of finding some creative space after Christmas. I’ve a host of ideas, a big pile of magazines to work through, books to read, music to listen to and a pile of fabric and patterns. I hope too that early in the New Year I’ll be able to catch up with other ‘tent-poles’ who’ve been besieged in the last few weeks. That way I hope to achieve my Christmas balance – and I suspect it’ll be a familiar tale for many of you.
I hope that the in the next couple of weeks you’ll have the chance to spend time with your families and friends – and that you’ll also enjoy time with yourselves (and your respective sewing machines) at some point. Of course it will all start again in 2018 but every year I like to think I get better at striking the right balance. And if I slip up, then at least I’ll remind myself to find the funny at all times.
If anyone has advice on how best to make the most of what December has to offer then please do share! Meanwhile, thank you all for making 2017 so fabulous. Your comments and encouragement have been valued immensely. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas – and a happy, healthy and fulfilling 2018.
PS: Liam – if you’re reading then no apologies – this is what happens when you target people for favours ten days before Christmas. I’ve got some fabric for you and I’ll call you next week.