Random Musings: Halloween and hibernation

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Have I mentioned that I love Halloween? Its traditions appeal so much more than the trappings of a modern Christmas. For one thing it falls in autumn, that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, when the trees turn their leaves into flaming displays before consigning them to the ground to be crunched underfoot on crisp, early morning walks. Fires may be lit and blankets wrapped around shoulders as sofas are snuggled into. Curtains are drawn early giving rooms a cosiness forgotten over summer.

Halloween does not demand that gifts be exchanged with all the pressure this brings. Friends may choose to get together but it is acceptable to eschew the social whirl. There is no requirement for an expensive, time consuming meal.

Have you guessed that I am not a party animal? I choose carefully the events I will attend and who I will spend time with. Whatever the occasion I wear clothes that are comfortable on my socially derided bulk. Christmas exacerbates my anxieties with its demands and excesses. It is glitter and false promises of joy to the world.

Had I been born back in the day, I ponder if I may have been considered a witch.

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Witches were often women who would not follow the crowd. Perhaps they refused to marry, choosing to live alone rather than be dominated by a man. Perhaps they dressed differently and would not do as they were told. Some accused of being witches had simply drawn the anger of peers who believed in a hierarchy of sycophancy and aspiration. Witches lived apart and appeared content with that. Their autonomy angered many; in the time honoured tradition, conformists sowed fear of the ‘other’ – and witch hunts ensued. Maverick tendencies are anathema to those whose comfortable lives rely on social discipline.

The festive season, with its myriad of expectation, joviality and consumerism fills me with dread. Each year I dream of locking my doors and hibernating with just my family for company. At Halloween I am permitted to do this if I choose – me, my family and my books.

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Recommended reading for Halloween

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (translated by Nancy Forest-Flier)

A Love Like Blood by Marcus Sedgwick

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

The Blackheath Séance Parlour by Alan Williams

Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg

Pavement by Richard Butchins

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Many by Wyl Menmuir

The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert

The Black Country by Kerry Hadley-Pryce

I shall be curling up with ‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver. The cover promises me a ghost story…

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Random Musings: Ho ho ho

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With Halloween done and dusted, including the all night American Horror Story: Murder House DVD marathon that my elder two children enjoyed with a dozen or so of their friends (whilst emptying our freezer of pizza and fries), I can now see Christmas on the horizon. Unlike last year I intend to try to make an occasion of this.

It is not that I plan to party. The preparation for and clearing up after my children’s social events is as much as I can handle these days. Even though I did not actually take part in their Halloween gathering it still left me exhausted. Disturbed nights do that to me now.

This need not preclude me from making more of an effort with the festive season. Last year I did my best to stick my head in the sand until it was all over which resulted in a very subdued time for us all. I learned that it is up to me to build momentum. Not being allowed to celebrate in the way that I would choose does not make it okay for me to refuse to set the scene for my family’s enjoyment.

I know how lucky I am. I have three healthy, intelligent children; a husband who loves me and who I adore as much as I did when I married him two decades ago. We have worked hard to create a fabulous home for our family. Yes, the kids take it all for granted, but why would they not when it is all they have ever known?

Too often I feel tired, so very tired. I dream of a little terraced house, two up two down, small and easy to look after. I imagine a rural location, no car, long walks and peaceful nights sitting with a book in front of an open fire; no expectations or demands for food to be prepared that someone will complain about. It will never happen. My husband does not see the point of open fires.

What I hanker after is for those around to stop expecting me to do everything they ask, to listen when I demure even if this causes inconvenience. My husband works; my children have school, exams, jobs, plans, pressures. I say I am tired and they reel off how much harder their lives are than mine. They are right but I am still tired.

I am however getting better at standing my ground, at being heard. Perhaps this is why I think that I can manage once again to cope with Christmas.

I am making lists: presents to buy, meals to plan, friends to reach out to. I will ask my family what they want and comply when I feel able. I will sometimes say no.

“There are exactly as many special occasions in life as we choose to celebrate.”

My daughter was talking about her work schedule over the festive season and expressed a hope that she would have Christmas Eve off. Each year we enjoy a family party then, just the five of us. I liked that she wanted to keep this free, to continue the tradition.

I used to look forward Christmas, perhaps I will again. For this year I will aim to let go of enough of my anxieties to reclaim just a little of that elusive goodwill.

New Year

Happy New Year!

There, I’ve said it. I do wish you all good health, much happiness and strength to cope with whatever life throws at you. It just takes me a little while to get to the point where I feel able to relax enough to send out the greeting. I cannot relax until I am safely out the other side of the festive season.

I coped better this year than I managed last year. Not that such a thing would be hard given the personal implosion I suffered last year. Actually that would be the year before last now wouldn’t it? You know, given that we have been through the whole turn of the year thing? Oh well.

Talking about the turn of the year, I thought it would be different this time around. Now that my children regularly stay up to beyond midnight for, well, reasons, I thought that we might see the New Year in together. It was not to be. After the champagne, the music, the party food and the film, my husband and I agreed that we were in need of bed more than anything else. Lest you fondly imagine that anything romantic may have been going down, rest assured we were asleep within seconds of heads hitting pillows. At 10.30pm on New Year’s Eve. Boring? Yes. Enjoyed New Years Day more than a lot of my hungover friends? Yes.

So, having got up bright and early with a reasonably clear head, I undecked the halls. My reluctance to acknowledge Christmas until I am forced to do so meant that my children put up and decorated our two Christmas trees. Had they not done so there was a risk that I may have avoided this task altogether. I assisted by draping tinsel around various bits of furniture and innocent house plants. I found places for the themed candles and ornaments that we put out at this time of year. The bulk of the work though was done by my kids.

Not so the undecking, that I did alone and quickly. I have been known to tidy the lot away on Boxing Day so keen am I to move on. Bah humbug as they say.

Anyway, this year the decorations lasted until New Years Day. I had the house back to looking unfestive by lunchtime, and felt much better for it. Now that we have got all that out of the way I can start looking forward.

I do not really hate Christmas. What I find so hard are the expectations and obligations that have become a part of the whole thing. My natural urge to hide makes the whole bonhomie of the season a challenge. I could happily spend the two or three days in front of the television, dressed in my pyjamas, eating pizza with my loved ones. One of these years I am so going to do that.

Husband worked through all but the three shutdown days. The kids did whatever teenagers do all day when they are sequestered in their rooms. Now that we have got through and out the other side though we can enjoy what is left of the holidays. This weekend we will be getting away for some family time.

This is perfect for me. The weather may be foul but a New Year has started with all the positive energy that fresh starts bring. For a little while there will be no demands from others to fulfil any expectations. We five can run away together and have some fun.

So now I can wish you all a Happy New Year with heartfelt sincerity. I have a lot of plans for the coming months and am feeling good about what lies ahead. I hope that your year turns out to be magnificent.

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