Thursday, 20 December 2012

A Christmas Tale

A bit of a self-indulgent post, this one, and I'm grateful to anyone who endures to the end of it! Each year, after the Christmas festivities are ended, we strip the Christmas tree we chose with such care and haul it to the Christmas tree graveyard to be ground down by the Council. It's a sad sight seeing all those trees, once so cherished, abandoned in a heap, shreds of tinsel still hanging off them. My children were so grieved we decided to write a story about it. My 10-year-old was the creative director and illustrator and I was the scribe... 

Deep in the dark cold wood stood a tiny fir tree. Its towering neighbours cast their shadows all around it and blocked out the sky and the tiny tree never saw the sun.

It grew colder. One day something wet and white landed on the tiny fir tree. Another followed, then another. The fir trees stood knee deep in the snow and their branches drooped beneath the weight of it.

The tiny fir tree did not know it, but Christmas was approaching. In the towns and villages the shops sparkled with tinsel and fairy lights, carols sounded across the frozen streets and people hurried home with bags of presents and special food. When dusk fell, a bright moon rose over the wood and made silver streaks across the snow. Suddenly voices broke the silence. The little fir tree strained to hear. Then three children danced between the tall trunks of the trees, shouting and laughing and calling to the tall man who walked behind them carrying a spade.

'How about this one?' cried one.
'Too tall!'
'This one?'
'Too bare.'
'We need a tree that's small enough to fit into the sitting room and strong enough to hold tinsel and chocolates and our new Christmas fairy,' said the tall man.

The little fir tree felt excited. How it longed to escape the dark cold wood. To hear laughter. To see the sun. To feel warmth on its frozen limbs. 'I hope they choose me!' it thought and it tried to fluff out its snowy branches. The smallest of the children came nearer. She put out a hand and stroked the soft bristles of the little fir tree. 'This is the one!' she called. The others tramped through the snow to join her.
'Perfect!' said the middle child. 'Not too big, not to bare and not too wispy.'

And so the father took up his spade and carefully dug round the little tree. With one hard pull he heaved it our of its snowy bed and slung it over his shoulder. Back through the wood they went, the moon beaming down on them through the branches. They reached the furthest rim of trees and the little fir felt a thrill of joy. The whole world seemed to lie before it down the hillside. The lights of a town prickled in the valley and the light of the starts matched them overhead. But the brightest light of all streamed from the windows of a small square house half way down the hill.

The door of the house flew open and a woman came down the path smiling. 'Did you find one?' she asked.
'The best ever!' the children shouted.
The little tree was carried into a warm bright sitting room. A fire leapt in the hearth, lamps burned on the tables and curtains shut out the night. The snow began to drip drip off its branches. 'It's so pleased to be here it's crying!' said the smallest child.

The children fetched boxes from the hallway. Colours as bright as jewels glimmered inside them. Then they fetched a bucket of soil wrapped round with gold paper and tied with a scarlet bow. The little fir was patted snugly in the warm earth. Then ropes of twinkling gold and silver were wound round its branches. Shiny balls dangled from its tips - red balls, blue ones, green, gold and purple with silver piping. Then came painted wooden birds, lustrous angels, ribbons, sugared fruits and tiny animals. Lastly a fairy with pink and silver wings was perched on top. The father pressed a switch and tiny rainbows blazed out from the top of the little tree to the bottom. The children cheered and the little tree thought it had never felt so happy.

When the children had been put to bed presents in gaily coloured paper were heaped round the tree. 'I don't think we've ever had one so beautiful,' sighed the mother.

The next day was Christmas. The little fir watched joyfully as the family tore open their gifts and reached down chocolates from its branches. The children sat round the golden bucket to sing carols and the scent of roasting potatoes filled the house. Outside the windows snow fell, but the little Christmas tree was warm and snug by the fire.

Days passed. Each afternoon the children played around the branches of the little fir. Each evening the parents read books and watched the television beside it. Then, one foggy chill morning the family began to take the golden ropes and coloured baubles from the branches. They stripped off the chocolates and the animals and the rainbow lights. The fairy was packed in a little box. The little tree began to feel shivery and bare.

As before the father heaved it out of its bed and slung it over his shoulder. But this time they passed from warmth to cold. From the cosy, fire-bright sitting room to the frost and fog outside and back up the hill to the wood which stood darkly against the sky. A great black shape loomed near the trees. As they drew nearer the little fir realised that the shape was a mound of Christmas trees. They lay higgeldy piggeldy on top of one another. Some were still fresh and green. Some had lost nearly all their needles. Some were already turning brown and some still had shreds of tinsel clinging to their branches. With a great heave the father flung the little tree onto the top of the pile and strode back down the hill.

The little fir lay wedged between a tall fat tree with silver glitter stuck to its needles and an old stumpy tree with bare twigs. Rain began to drizzle over the pile and drip like tears from the branches. Down the hill the lights from the house glowed and the little fir tree shivered.

Suddenly there was a sound. A torch flashed onto the soaking heap. 'Which one is it? whispered a voice. It was the oldest child.
'That one there!' replied his sister. 'Can't you tell? It's the sweetest, prettiest one of them all.'
Together the children clambered onto the pile and hauled the little fir out of the tangle.
'We couldn't leave you there when we'd spent such a lovely Christmas together,' said the oldest child. 'We're going to plant you back in the wood so you can grow big and strong.'

And so they hauled the little tree deep among the shadowing firs and they dug a hole and bedded it in snugly among the fallen pine needles. And there it stood, the little fir, while the winter turned to summer and back to winter again. The years passed. The little tree grew bigger and bigger until it was as tall as its tallest neighbours and could feel the sunlight on its topmost branches. Fir cones swelled along its twigs, ripened and fell to earth. And one day a seed spilled out of a fallen cone and buried itself in the soft ground. A tiny shoot grew. The shoot became a sapling and the sapling became a little fir tree.

Winter arrived and snow began to fall. One day voices sounded in the wood. Three children danced between the tall trunks shouting and laughing and calling to the tall man who walked behind them carrying a spade.
'When I was about your age, my sisters and I found a perfect little tree somewhere round here,' said the man. 'It was the best Christmas tree we ever had and we were so sad to see it thrown onto the Christmas tree graveyard that we rescued it and planted it back where we first found it.'
'Can we have it for our Christmas tree?' cried the children.
'It would have grown far too big now. I'm talking of years ago,' their father said.

One of the children spotted the little fir growing in the shadow of its parent. 'I like this one,' she said. The others gathered round to look. 'It's perfect,' said her brother. 'Not too tall. Not too bare. Not too wispy.' The father lifted his spade and the mighty fir that had once cheered him through Christmas watched proudly as its baby was heaved over his shoulder and carried away through the snow.

© Anna Tims 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all you beloved readers!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Round Robin II

Dear [Name to be supplied. Note to Vicar: check your address book for anyone we've left out],

Well, would you believe another twelve months has gone by and we are all a year older (and wiser, of course!!) than we were this time in 2011! And that means it's a whole year since I tried my hand at the art of the round robin, inspired by so many wonderful newsletters from dear friends I'd forgotten I had! As a raw beginner, I only managed a few pages of my own because ones lunch dates and the little successes of ones children all tend to merge into a golden haze over the course of a year, but this time I've kept a detailed daily diary so I'll be able to share properly with you the highs and lows family life in 2012!!

As the Vicar and I were only saying to each other last week, our children never cease to amaze us! The year began well for the 8-year-old. He came home from school to tell us that he had come second in his class! It turned out that he was on the second table of ability! Out of two!! As you can imagine, we were so proud, because if there had been three tables, he might have been on the third! And he wasn't, which is testament to his stalwart attitude to learning! As his teacher said, there's never a peep out of him in class, even when she tries to catch him out with a question!

February was a month of bins! Every week on bin night foxes strewed our Tesco Value meat wrappers over the highway!! If I'd known our provisions were going to be on public display I'd have gone to Waitrose! Luckily, we discovered that we could stuff some of our kitchen bin liners into our neighbour's wheelie and thereby ease the pressure on the council litter pickers. Should she realise, I know she'd be grateful because if the council discovered how much bigger her bin was than her needs they'd have it off her. That's the thing about vicarage life: one always has to have a helping hand at the ready!

February merged, as it always does, into March and brought with it our new fridge! It was a gut-wrenching farewell to our old friend - every stain was a gastronomic memory - but life, I've learnt, is full of painful partings and brave new chapters. Our brave new chapter was delayed because John Lewis had forgotten to mention that the fridge we'd ordered wasn't manufactured any more!! I had to wait in two days for the delivery, but it's so energising to wake up with a purpose and it gave me a wonderful chance to become good friends with Adil from customer services who had a very sick mother-in-law!

Hot on the heels of March came April, and, while those poor people in Syria were fighting for survival, our own life and death battle was being waged in the vicarage garden! My beloved herbaceous perennials sat huddled like refugees on canvas sheeting on the lawn while I battled the menace of creeping buttercup which had invaded my borders. Now I shudder when I hear the headlines of some new atrocity driving people from their homes for, although, of course, their plight is in many ways worse than mine was, it brings back painful memories of what I and my poor leafy babies had to endure!

Summer, of course, was the season of sporting glory and both children won gold medals during the Olympics - for 'gold' panning at Willows Farm children's activity park! Apologies to all of you who didn't get a postcard from our fabulous week in sunny Cornwall! I'm enclosing a picture pull-out of highlights so you can enjoy it retrospectively for yourselves! The 8-year-old proved himself to be a champion underwater swimmer! Every time we put him on a surf board he'd topple off backwards so comically - he's a born clown! - and remain submerged for fantastic distances before emerging howling with excitement! He wept when we praised him, but that's our wee man all over - he's inherited the family modesty!

September saw the church fete as usual! I was the one chosen to put my head through a hole at the Soak the Sunday School Teacher stall and it was amazing the alacrity with which the parish paid to hurl sponges at me! They told me the attraction had never been so popular!!

October was a month of culture. There's nothing more invigorating than hearing West End musical hits belted out on a London stage - yes, the Mothers Union singing group is going from strength to strength in the church on Friday mornings!  And come Winter, the 10-year-old was also treading the boards! Yes, after a year of drama fees she was finally honoured with a part in the annual theatrical extravaganza - as a Christmas cracker! Sadly, tickets were limited so only her proud parents got to hear her recite her line, but you can watch my video of the three-hour show here on

Our social life was as busy as ever! Really, I don't now where the time goes! It's hard to believe it was way back on the 5th March that I had a mocha latte with Jacqueline and Miles.....

PTO six pages

But enough of us! We often think of you and your lovely family/spaniel/villa (Note to Vicar: delete as appropriate) and wonder how you are getting on! I do hope to meet up with as many of you as possible in the New Year and fill you in on the titbits I didn't have room for in this short letter!

Happy Christmas and may your New Year be as blessed and successful as I know ours will be!

Anna xxx

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Doing What I Want

'You', says my 10 year-old as I march her a mile to school instead of defrosting the Skoda, 'only ever do what you want!' I point out that I only ever do what is good for her, but my words evaporate in the chilly morning air, for children only acknowledge that a thing is in their best interests if they enjoy it. Thus, in my daughter's eyes:

My sitting for an hour on the floor of a leisure centre corridor while she learns gymnastics is good for her.
My sitting for an hour on a cupboard ledge while she reluctantly learns to swim is doing what I want.

Browsing T-shirts in Hollister is good for her.
Buying supper at Coop is doing what I want.

Submitting to an iPod for her birthday is good for her.
Barring her from Facebook is doing what I want.

Crumpets in front of the TV is good for her.
Wholemeal sandwiches is doing what I want.

An afternoon of Diary of a Wimpy Kid at the cinema is good for her.
Making her walk there is doing what I want.

Clean sheets and laundered clothes are good for her
Transporting them herself from bedroom floor to laundry basket is doing what I want.

I know that in 30 years time she'll see things my way. She'll be inflicting wholegrain on recalcitrant offspring and hectoring them on the health benefits of walking. But 30 years is is a long time to wait for enlightenment and I am battle weary. Maybe just this once I'll take the car to school pick up.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Shrinking Horizons

'Why,' asks my 8-year-old, 'does Monday come before Tuesday?'
'Who has the longest toes in the world?'
'Does anyone in the world have no coins, only banknotes?'

My son dislikes silence. He'll fill any gap in the din of family life with a question and these questions bother me; not because I don't know the answer, but because I don't care.

It's not that I don't have an enquiring mind. I wonder why facial moles sprout bristles, why my cakes never rise, why the Vicar hates spinach and why Uggs became fashionable. I ponder things of consequence, you see, and my son's unthinking enquiries are a frivolous interruption.

But at night sometimes, when the incessant voice is stilled, I ponder the mind of an 8-year-old. A mind in which men caper on toes like Savaloys or wait helplessly beside slot machines with wallets burdened with banknotes. I require beer or unconsciousness to achieve such surrealism and, in those night hours, I wish I'd tried to share more in his liberated world view.

And, amid the peace of my pillows, it strikes me that his mind delves deeper than my own. He probes science: 'Am I blood-related to myself?'; economics: 'What would you rather have - £100 or £1m?' and ethics: 'Would you rather eat a pudding or for me to be dead?'

When these sleepy insights hit me, I conclude that I have a son of misunderstood brilliance. I resolve, in future, to engage with his questions, instead of grunting replies without listening. I pledge to celebrate his inquisitiveness and learn what the infant mind has to teach me.

But, come morning, the merciless voice resumes while I'm busy on Twitter: 'Mum, have you ever been cremated?' And my good intentions flee for, by day, the infant mind is merely bothersome babble when I am wrestling far greater cosmic queries - chief among them, what day does the milkman next come?

Have any of you, by the way, been cremated?

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

When the Proof's in the Pudding

My ten-year-old is a rock-chick, but she still wants to believe in Santa. I field her technical enquiries with carefully-worded half-truths, but something still troubles her.

'Why,' she asks, 'does Santa forget some children?' I consider reference to the Human Poverty Index then grab my stock response to her profounder theological questions: 'Some mysteries are beyond our understanding!'

Her brother intervenes: 'If Santa exists why didn't he eat the mince pies we left out?' Damn! I hate mince pies. Then I'm inspired. 'Because Santa prefers chocolate,' I reply. 'This year leave a brownie and I guarantee it'll be gone by Christmas morning!'

This photo is the prompt for the latest 100-Word-Challenge and as usual Julia timed it perfectly!