Is it Christmas Yet?

I am thinking this might be a shorter blog this week. I returned to work on Wednesday, after four weeks of lockdown, then a week’s pre-booked holiday which my company honoured after all. For some reason I am finding it harder to adjust myself back into a work routine than I did after the first lockdown. I don’t know why, but I fell into the habit of sleeping in a little later than usual so instead of my normal six hours sleep a night, I was getting eight or even nine hours. This was lovely during lockdown when there was no urgent rush to be up and out of bed at silly o’clock, but now I’m having to fit work into my busy routine as well, it’s not so great. For the first time in forever, I’m having to set my alarm clock to make sure I’m up in time.

I was unsure how busy we would be at work. When we re-opened in mid-June after the first national lockdown, we hit the ground running and from then until the start of the second lockdown at the end of October, it was like a permanent January sale we were so busy. I didn’t believe it would be like that this time round. After all, people had more money back then. No one had been on holiday, or out for meals, or days out, so savings accounts were very healthy. Everyone had taken advantage of three months at home and had decorated. By the time shops re-opened, people had money to burn and a desire to buy new stuff to put in their newly decorated homes. There was also the sense that we’d cracked the virus – I’m not sure anyone really believed we’d be going back into lockdown later in the year.

This time it’s different. It was only a month-long lockdown, so less people decorated. Any money that had been saved for a holiday has already been spent. And, of course, Christmas is just around the corner, so any spare cash is being spent on that.

There’s also the feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. We’re less naïve this time around. Sure, we’re out of lockdown now, but for how long? How long will it be before the numbers start to rise and we’re all confined to barracks again?

As far as I can see, the country seems split down the middle. With half believing there is no way we are out of the woods yet, that until this vaccine has been distributed and is seen to be effective, this virus will keep on doing what it is doing. This group snort with incredulous laughter when the government blithely announce a five-day break from Corona over the Christmas, because obviously the virus won’t be so unsporting as to infect people over the festive season. It’s Christmas, for heaven’s sake, surely the virus will understand and respect that?

The other half of the country are jumping up and down with excitement and making all sorts of wonderful plans to see parents, and their nan, and their friends, and Uncle Tom Cobbly and all! Because the government has said it is fine for them to mix and mingle and travel as much as they like over that five-day period. Because they can’t possibly get infected at Christmas. And when they’re bending over Nan handing her that lovely mince pie that they rubbed shoulders with other shoppers in the supermarket to get last week, they can’t possibly infect her with a virus she might not be strong enough to survive – because the government has said it’s safe, so therefore it is.

Frankly, if this government told me it was raining, I would open my back door to check, and the blind naivety of some people has left me open-mouthed. Yes, it is a bummer not to be able to see family and friends this Christmas. I’m as annoyed as the next person by doorstep swaps of cards and presents, and planning to Skype present opening and not being able to share a big festive meal with my family. But it is only that – presents, cards, a meal – is that worth risking your own or someone else’s life for?

You can probably gather which half of the country I am in. I will be spending Christmas alone with my daughter, and we will Skype my parents so they can watch her open her presents.

This year I am actually spending most of Christmas Day totally alone. Miss F was asked by the restaurant she has a part-time job at if she could work midday to 5pm on Christmas Day. They will be paying her double wages and she’ll get a share of guaranteed 20% tips. I said I didn’t mind. I understand she needs to get the money when she can. She’s saving for driving lessons, a car, and university. None of these are cheap things, so this chance to earn some serious cash is one she can’t refuse.

I’m not sure yet what days I will be working over Christmas. On my rota it says I have four days off – the 22nd to the 25th, then am back to work Boxing Day. However, Marks & Spencer have announced that they will not be opening Boxing Day. Due to it being a long and hard year for their employees, they are giving them an extra day off at Christmas to be with their families.

Quick to jump onto the caring bandwagon, Waitrose and other large stores swiftly made the same announcement. This is lovely, and well done, Marks & Spencer, for acknowledging that your staff should come first and that nobody needs to be bloody shopping on Boxing Day! Now, we are waiting to see which other shops follow suit. Will my company shut for the first time in years on Boxing Day? I would like to think so. The tiny corner of my heart that believes in the spirit of Christmas is saying yes, they will. But the rest of my cynical, realistic heart is saying no, of course they won’t. In fact, because everywhere else will be shut, I’m thinking they’ll be rubbing their hands together with glee at the thought of all those people desperate to shop and spend money with nowhere else to go but into our stores. I know, I’m being a bit of a Grinch here, but I will be very surprised if they close.

Back to right now though, and have we been busy? Well yes, surprisingly we have been busier than I thought we would be. We do still have a few things we can deliver before Christmas, and we’ve had people coming in to buy new beds for the spare room to accommodate family and friends who are taking advantage of that five day “virus free” break.

There is going to be an announcement on Wednesday as to whether Suffolk will be moving down into tier one or going up to tier three. If we move up then restrictions will tighten even further, so I have been making a real effort to get all essential shopping done, cards written, presents wrapped, and whatever needs to be posted or delivered done. Obviously, it’s all doorstep deliveries only – no popping for a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie – which is a shame, but it’s better than risking infection. If we move into tier three, then the restaurant where Miss F works will close again, and she’ll be back on furlough. Apparently, my store will still stay open though.

There’s no doubt it is a very strange Christmas this year. Normally by the second week of December my stress levels are off the chart. I am a frenzied list maker, and over the festive season there tend to be lists scattered about the house. Lists of presents still to buy, people to contact, and food and drink to buy. I would be charging home from work to frantically spend each evening wrapping the mountains of presents I’ve bought. My calendar would be full of people to go and see, people dropping in to see us, and other festive happenings.

But this year I am weirdly stress free. So many friends and family requested not to worry about gifts this year – which was fine by me – that the only people I had to buy for were my niece, my daughter’s godmother, and of course, Miss F. I’m not doing any entertaining at all, so no massive shopping lists to carefully construct. It’s just going to be the two of us for Christmas dinner, so it’s basically a Sunday roast with a few extra nice bits. Christmas the easy way. There’s a lot to be said for it.

Talking of presents, I did manage to spoil Christmas a little for Miss F – accidentally, I hasten to add. Monday morning my tablet suddenly died on me. The screen froze and it wouldn’t let me do anything, then it went completely black and no matter what I did, I couldn’t switch it back on. Panicking I went upstairs to wake up the IT Department, who grumpily came down to take a look. She poked and prodded at it, then announced that in her expert opinion it was fecked. Now I really did panic. I rely completely on my tablet for all my social media platforms and for networking and promoting my books. I loudly announced that I’d have to go up town that morning and buy a new one, and Miss F abruptly left the room – I assumed to go to the bathroom.

Staring at the tablet, I suddenly remembered that it had done this once before, and I’d found if I kept my finger on the power button for a really long time it would jiggle loose something inside and switch back on. I tried it. To my joy, it worked.

“It’s okay,” I cried, as I heard Miss F re-enter the room, “I’ve got it working again.” I looked up, to find her standing there holding out a large box to me and an annoyed look on her face. “What’s the matter? What’s that?”

Now, if she’d thought a bit quicker on her feet and given me any excuse, she might have got away with it, but she didn’t. She spluttered, looked speechless, then said – “It’s your Christmas present, you might as well have it now.” And she thrust the box into my lap.

Shocked, I looked at it, then looked at her.

“Go on, open it,” she said.

I opened it. Inside was a rather gorgeous Amazon Fire Tablet in a fantastic case plus an extra fast charging wire. She had been saving for months to buy it for me because she knew my old tablet could die at any minute. When I ranted that I had to go and buy a new one, she panicked and ran straight upstairs to grab it – figuring she’d rather give me my present early, than risk me buying another tablet for myself.

Now, I’m the kind of person who needs to be prepared to receive a present. Christmas Day, I know there are going to be gifts of some kind to open, I am ready for this, and can arrange my features accordingly. But out of the blue, on a normal Monday morning, I was far from being prepared and instead was too shocked to give the appropriate reaction, so I think Miss F felt cheated in the gift giving department. After all, the best part about Christmas is the giving of presents and watching people’s reaction when they open them. I was of course very grateful for the present, and stunned by her thoughtfulness, and mindful of how expensive a gift it was and how much of her wages it represented – I just didn’t show it very well.

So now I feel guilty. I feel that I have somehow ruined Christmas for her because she was so looking forward to giving me this amazingly thoughtful present and seeing my face when I opened it, and by being too surprised to react appropriately, I spoiled that moment for her. I felt so guilty and shocked at how much she had spent on me, that I took her up town next day and bought her a pair of gorgeous black, lace-up, ankle boots, new black jeans for work, and two pairs of trousers, to try and make it up to her.

Talking of clothes – a few of you have enquired about the coat, and I’m pleased to say that the buttons arrived and have been successfully sewn on. I would have taken a picture of them, but she wore the coat to work today so I can’t. I will endeavour to get a picture for next week.

I can’t believe that Christmas is less than two weeks away. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas. But then, for all of my adult life Christmas has felt like a stressful, overhyped, commercialised, colossal waste of time, energy, and money – so maybe this “relaxed, taking it one day at a time and not worrying” feeling is actually what Christmas is supposed to feel like and I just never knew.

Anyway, I must go, it’s gone 3pm on Saturday afternoon. I have the rest of Miss F’s presents to wrap and hide before I leave to pick her up at 4:30pm. If we go into tier three and her restaurant shuts, this will be the last time I am alone in the house until it reopens again, so wrapping her presents will be more awkward.

Have a good week everyone, I hope wherever you are and whatever restrictions you’re living under, that you can still find ways to connect with your family and friends.

Best wishes

Julia Blake

One thought on “Is it Christmas Yet?

  1. Apart from the present receiving bit I do rather envy you staying at home. Bless her what a lovely thing for your daughter to do. Just fab. For us Christmas is just the nightmare it always is, except we’ve got covid to deal with so it’s even worse. I’m still a little too post knee op to relish the prospect of long distance travel and of course it would have to be the turn of the five hours (minimum) each way set of parents this time, rather than the two and a half. I have warned my significant others that if things don’t look up a lot on the knee front I will actually stay here on my own.

    Enjoy the peacefulness of it all.

    Liked by 1 person

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