​My readers are dropping here!  Have they found better things to do?  Yes, the mania known as the build-up to Christmas.  Nothing changes.  Same every year and I was actually going to liken it to childbirth – as I did with flying – in that the whole thing is agony before the calm of the day when it is too late to do anything about it and perspective is once more restored. Well, more accurately, after that first glass of Bucks Fizz, who cares?!  Come next year, however, as the summer sun is barely sinking, there will be the first sighting of tinsel, Christmas cards will creep into the shops and one will wait in anticipation for the familiar jingling of ‘Last Christmas’ lulled, once more, by that idyll of snow-capped mountains, chalets, church spires, the lake, fairy lights, horse-drawn sleighs, gluhwein …  just me, then?

I posted my last offering dating it November and only one person noticed.  Pop would have picked up the phone and told me I was confused again – he knew me so well – but sadly he is, now, only that voice in my head.  Thankfully, I have my old school friend, trained by the same master/English teacher -the infamous Betsy – to keep me right.  So, December it is!

As with so much in life, one’s childhood is the keystone to it all.  Happy or sad, the memories of Christmases past are those which determine one’s feelings about this time of year.  Love it or loathe it, it is a time for reflection and that brings with it a sadness for those who are no longer here.  Christmas, for me, will forever be embodied in Lyndhurst: the magic, excitement and anticipation when that hideous silver tree went up in the dining room draped with bucket loads of tinsel and anything and everything.  How, in God’s name, we ever acquired taste?!  In fairness, it was the 60s/70s and my mother was a one-off possessing of a laissez-faire attitude like no other.  We were lucky.  She was fun and my two will always remember Nanny for that.  We talk about her often – and always laugh.

Nanny died ten years ago and Pop joined her in October.  Our loss is their gain, united once more.  Christmas, however, will never be quite the same without them.  Part of the magic has gone; I suppose, the innocence.  Lyndhurst, now, is home to another family, oblivious to the memories it holds.  It’s amazing the impact of bricks and mortar.  Lyndhurst was always special, for my children too.  Their childhood Christmases were spent there, the hilarious traditions of which I have written before.  A house full of love, laughter and warmth – press ‘save’.

This house holds no such memories.  Christmas at Lyndhurst was just impossible to replicate.  Bricks and mortar devoid of character, this was never going to be that special house; the kind of house that just envelops one; safe, secure, full of memories; a home for now and generations to come?  Not a chance.  I always thought I would have a forever house for my children and, in turn, their children.  That was my idyll.  Nothing in life is guaranteed, though.  So, time to be grateful for one’s blessings!  Christmas is a time of reflection but, thankfully, we have a store of happy memories from which to draw and it is those memories which ensure the magic of Christmases to come.  As I always used to tell Becca and Manny, Santa only exists if one believes.  I, for one, still do.

I’ll bet Ben Fogle still believes in Santa, too!  I’ve been reading his new book ‘Up’, inspired by his climbing of Everest this year.  However, it is more about his outlook on life and the lessons he has learned along the way.  We bought it for Manny, on our way to Rome in October, hoping that he might find a kindred spirit in its pages or, at least, listen to Ben’s words of wisdom – I have given up asking him how far he has got.  Honestly, one can take a horse to water but one can’t make it drink!  So frustrating because there is so much solace to be found in reading; a veritable form of escapism which broadens the mind and one’s vocabulary whilst, at once, alleviating stress.  If only it were prescribed on the National Health rather than all those happy pills.  Silly me.  There is no money to be made from recommending a book!

Back to Ben Fogle …  I have mentioned before how my favourite programme on television is his New Lives In The Wild in which he travels to remote corners of the world to meet and spend time with those who have opted out of the rat race choosing, for their own reasons, to pursue a more simple life free from the constraints of money and greed.  It is fascinating and Ben’s empathy is palpable.  No surprise, then, that from page one I recognised a kindred spirit – forget Manny!  He opens with a poem he wrote for his children before he left to climb Everest.  It is called An End And A Beginning and, to my mind, it should be on the school syllabus!  The following are two of the verses taken from the poem – not consecutive, I might add but his layout:

‘Life is there to complete, not to compete.  Although it will
sometimes feel like a competition, don’t get swept up by it.
It’s not a race.
Be magnanimous in victory and graceful in defeat.
Be humble and try not to grumble. …

Try and be the shepherd not the sheep.
Remember, you aren’t just a face in the crowd.  You’re unique.
Despite a planet of seven billion.  There is no one else like you.’

Up.  My Life’s Journey To The Top Of Everest, Ben Fogle.

Read this book, if you have the chance.  It is a simple bearing of the soul by a thoroughly good guy who has found his way in life without compromising himself or his values and who has, with courage and determination, conquered incredible feats.  It is uplifting … Manny!  I am looking forward to meeting him in March when, as part of his one-man tour, he is coming to Glasgow.  So much to discuss, not least St Wolfgang and the White Horse Inn.  His wife, Marina, is half-Austrian and, spending every summer in Salzburg and the surrounding lakes, he has stayed at the Weisses Rossl and swum in our pool!  Separated at birth, what can I say.

As I wait for Becca to appear with the entire contents of her wardrobe in her car, escaping the confines of her boarding school/nunnery for the next three weeks, it has been a pretty depressing week reflected in my notes.  Talk about pathetic fallacy!  The weather has mirrored the incessant gloom and monotony of Brexit as Theresa May endeavours to dodge the bullets; nay, nuclear missiles.  One cannot deny her courage.

Then there was my horror at Becca’s facebook post sharing a news report regarding the theft, under cover of darkness, of 20 brass cobblestones – memorials to Jewish victims of the Holocaust outside their last chosen residence – in our beloved Monti, Rome.  We know them well, their presence nothing short of haunting.  Their theft is tantamount to digging up the graves of those they represent – nothing short of abhorrent!  As I commented beneath the post, ‘A reminder of evil stolen by those who have learnt nothing.’ …

Finally, the torture which is otherwise known as parking in town, drove me to resort to public transport yesterday.  Silly move.  As if my day wasn’t bad enough being submersed in Christmas shoppers devoid of everything including manners, I, voluntarily, paid £3.40 (return) to queue in the freezing cold in order to sit, for what seemed hours, in a germ incubator!  A lesson learned.

‘We all face adversity at some point in our lives.  It can strike like lightning.  We can never prepare ourselves for all eventualities, but we can arm ourselves to cope better.’

Once again, an excerpt from Up. My Life’s Journey To The Top Of Everest, Ben Fogle.

My new bible!

This is Trish, signing off.