Three more sleeps. The shopping’s done, wrapped and ready to be loaded into the car tomorrow night when I head home to Mum’s place for Christmas. I’ve had three turkey dinners already this month and am looking forward to a fourth on Thursday – them’s the rules. Everyone at work is ‘winding down’ (leaving early, spending more time chatting than working and filling their faces with tins of chocolate brought in by well meaning heads of department trying to buy their way into our affections).
I love this time of year. To be honest, Christmas Day itself, with all its pressures and protocols, is usually a bit much. Everyone’s trying a bit too hard. You can’t possibly keep everyone happy but you feel like you ought to, and the end result invariably is that everyone over a certain age is a bit awkward and uncomfortable and kind of wants it to be over.
The lead up though, now that’s different. A lot of it for me starts with lights. Lights in the street, in houses, in shops. Twinkling ones. Multi-coloured ones. Ones shaped like Father Christmas. The ones in that video that does the rounds every year that are shaped like willies. (They’re not real by the way, it’s a spoof. But it’s funny). All of them. Then there’s the band jobs. Standing in the street or outside a supermarket playing the same tunes you play every year. Some people hate it. I love it. Because it only takes one small child jumping excitedly up and down to Jingle Bells, or a big scary looking bloke putting a fiver in the tin during O Little Town of Bethlehem, or an elderly couple knowing all the words to Rudolph (including the rude ones), and it’s Christmas. Even that bit of Gavin and Stacey where Smithy sings Band Aid down the phone to Gavin brings a bit of a happy festive tear to my eye.
And Boxing Day – ever the underdog – is the very best day of the year. There’s still plenty of good food around and it’s perfectly acceptable to spend the day in your PJs polishing off the old selection box if that’s what takes your fancy.
I think you’ll have gathered by now that I’m a fan of Christmas.
So, sorry to put a bit of a downer on things, but there’s something I need to tell you.
Today marks 19 years to the day that my dad died.
I was only just 15 at the time – so you don’t have to be Carol Vorderman to work out that on the seesaw of life the adult me is now firmly rooted to the floor, looking up at a child I barely recognise as myself and a man who was gone before I really got to know him.
There are a lot of good memories. And there are others too. They’re not bad memories exactly. I’m not sure memories can be bad. They’re just there. And sometimes, bringing them to mind makes the bottom fall out of my stomach. If I let them, they can ruin a day. Dwelling on this particular day isn’t good for me at all.
We don’t tend to do anniversaries. At least not collectively. Bonfire night this year marked what would have been his seventieth birthday. But we’re all spread out across the country these days so all we managed was a Facebook message, a phone call, and a little private drink and a smile.
But by virtue of the fact that this is the 19th anniversary of that Friday night in 1995 that marked the last time I heard Oasis’ Don’t Look Back in Anger without a lump in my throat, next year will be 20 years.
And I’ve decided to celebrate it.
Next year, all year, I’m going to be fundraising for St Wilfrid’s Hospice.
I’m not going to lie to you, you’ll probably get sick of hearing me talk about it. You will almost certainly tire of me asking you for money. You might even grow bored of me asking for your help.
But here’s the thing:
That won’t stop me.
There are trendier charities. There are bigger charities, and smaller ones. There are charities that get less exposure, and charities that get considerably more. There are charities that come up with catchy internet trends that have half the world chucking buckets of cold water on each other, or that inexplicably raise several million just because a few people took pictures of themselves without makeup on. But there is not a charity in the world, let alone in East Sussex, that has had a bigger impact on my life and my family than this one.
Over the course of next year, as well as occasionally asking you to put your hand in your pocket for one reason or another, I want to try and share with you what this charity means to me and my family. I hope you’ll stick with it, get involved, and understand.
I’ll let you know more of my plans in the New Year. In the mean time, I wish you all a peace filled and restful festive season and hope that every home has someone who’ll eat the coconut centred Quality Street. If you do, let me know, I’ll post mine to you.