Last night I went on the Enchanted Gardens Winter Walk at Brodsworth Hall in Yorkshire. This beautiful stately home was all decked out in Christmas lights and all the gardens were lit up.
I went with my mum, pictured here in the magical light tunnel and we had a lovely time. These events take place every Christmas time at various stately homes and are run by the National Trust. A few years ago we went to one in Sherwood Forest and that still remains the most magical one we've attended, but then Sherwood drips with magic all year round. Brodsworth was very pretty and they had created a fairytale theme for their light display.
There was a mist shrouded fairy cottage and it was easy to imagine a witch lived there, looking after all the woodland creatures and befriending the fairies. There was a model fairy village with tiny tutu fairy dresses hung on a washing line and a little fairy tree swing. All the fairy houses were made from old cans, wellington boots and such like, and every now and then a tinkling laugh rang out from the shrubbery - like a fairy hiding away and watching everyone. There were fly agaric mushroom houses too and an enchanted talking tree who introduced himself as the Guardian of Brodsworth and was 300 years old.
The rest was more adult, with the garden statues all lit up and music playing through the trees, so there was something for everyone. There was a bonfire about halfway round, surrounded by log seats, where we stopped for mince pies and mulled wine to warm up and you could toast giant marshmallows on the fire. It was a pleasant festive picnic.
At the end of the walk was a small fairground and I won us a couple of stuffed Christmas toys for under our trees - mine is a gingerbread man and my mum's is a reindeer. There were lots of hot food stalls too, so we finished the night off with hotdogs and roasted chestnuts. It was a lovely night, blending together all the best of dark nights and fairylights, bonfires, games, music, food and drink. I believe the event is on all this weekend and if you can't get to Brodsworth, check out the Enchanted Gardens page on the National Trust website to see if there is a similar event near you. My mum and I had such a great time and it is always nice to visit stately homes at Christmas. Its such a fun, festive way to spend an evening and break up the monotony of the dark nights. I really enjoyed it.
"Merilee had shed her fancy clothes and changed into her cozy jammies; pink flannel with a candy cane print. She'd turned on her tree lights and served herself some light eggnog along with a small plate of Christmas cookies her mother had sent home with her (for comfort), and now she was snuggled under an afghan (more comfort) with Its a Wonderful Life playing on her TV (which should have been comforting). A perfect ending to a perfect day.
Not. She was by herself. She didn't even have a cat now. What was so wonderful about that?"
It's 3.30 am and I stayed up late reading Nine Lives of Christmas by Sheila Roberts. I first came across this story when I watched the film of the book online. I was super smitten by the gorgeously tall, dark haired, dark eyed actor who played the love interest - a fireman, no less (thus ticking all my boxes in one go!) and having enjoyed the film, I got the book on my Kindle.
I don't know what I like most about this novel; that it's a Christmas story; that it's a romance; or that it is narrated, for the most part, by a cat. The cat is called Ambrose and he is down to his last life. He makes a bargain with the Great Creator that he will be a good cat who helps humans, if only he can be saved from the black dog that is trying to kill him and so enjoy a long and happy ninth life. The bargain is agreed and Ambrose is rescued by Zach (aka my hero, the fireman!) and so Ambrose invites himself to move into the bachelor pad.
It soon becomes clear to Ambrose that Zach doesn't know what's good for either of them! Zach is fully committed to his commitment phobia and although he has a girlfriend, she's not the one and Ambrose knows it - she doesn't like cats. He declares war on this woman and decides that Zach would be much happier with the nice lady who works in the animal shelter and pet supplies store instead, Merilee. But Merilee has her own issues - self-esteem issues, financial issues, dreams of finishing vet school issues...just all the issues. Ambrose has his work cut out trying to play match-maker and get these two together, but that is what he must do to keep his bargain and live a safe, happy and peacefully long ninth life.
The film version glosses over the cat's part, but it is still an enjoyable festive film. The book really plays up to Ambrose as a feline match-maker and it did make me laugh, though it also made me really miss my own cat Pyewackett. This is the first time in 18 years that there isn't a Whiskers cat stocking underneath my Christmas tree, which makes me feel very sad. But I know I was a good cat mom and Ambrose has certainly brought me some comfort and joy on this long cold night! He's adorable.
If you like festive tales and cats then this story will be right up your street and I suggest you watch the film and read the novel too. Both are lovely...and the fireman is seriously hot! If I met a fireman who looked like this guy, I'd shove a cat up a tree just so he could come and rescue it! Enjoy!
I had my first carousel ride of the festive season today and I loved every second of it! The Christmas Market has been in the city for a couple of weeks now, but today the carousel arrived! I think carousels are simply the most beautiful fairground ride ever to be invented and they have always been my favourite. They are just so pretty and whimsical.
I went on a lovely Victorian carousel called the Golden Gallopers. My horse was called 'Moonlight' It was five minutes of pure joy! The mirrors twinkled, the gilding gleamed and the fairground music played as we spun around in merry circles. The up and down movement of a carousel horse is very similar to riding a steady pony over small cavelletti jumps. It reminded me of childhood riding lessons, when I first learnt how to jump a horse over obstacles.
It certainly won't be my last carousel ride of the season either, as I plan to go on it again for as long as it remains in town. I'm also going on a lovely winter walk next week and there is a carousel in place there too, so no doubt I'll have a go on that one as well. Carousels are all part of the festive season and Yuletide magic, and today's ride was £2.00 well spent. I had an enchanting time and after a tough day of grief counselling, riding Moonlight was just the pick me up I needed. I can't wait for the next go!
We are midway through December and the Christmas bomb has officially exploded. Its all tinsel and twinkle as far as the eye can see. You can't even pop to the shop for a loaf of bread without Slade screaming out a reminder that "Its Christmas!!"...as if that weren't obvious from every window you just trudged past!
It's all so pretty and twinkly and festive. It's meant to make you remember how happy and loved you are. But what if you're not happy? What if you're alone and lost? What if you're separated from your family because you are working away? What if you're bereaved, or ill? What if Christmas is just a big reminder of everything you don't have and the carol singers might as well just slap you in the face?
Christmas is a tough time for a lot of people - not everyone can muster up Tiny Tim's optimism in the face of adversity. I have always been aware of that fact, but working at Cruse Bereavement Care this year has really brought it home to me - for some people Christmas is just one more trauma to face, and fight their way through. To get to the Cruse office I walk past a least half a dozen homeless men; once in the office I do what I can to support broken hearts, knowing that ultimately there is only so much I can do. Christmas makes my job much harder.
In everyone's lifetime a sprinkling of Merry Shitmasses will have to be endured. It can't be merry and bright every single year, because life isn't like that. Our expectations of Christmas need to be moderated to the situation we are in during the run up to December. Some Merry Shitmasses are to be expected - if you have had a death in the family, been made redundant, or you've just been dumped, you will already be aware that Christmas is going to be tough on you this year. However some Merry Shitmasses take you completely by surprise, blowing up in your face over the festive period and knocking you for six, because there is something about this magical time of year that means the truth, no matter how painful it is, will come out. This is why applications for divorce soar in January. The Yuletide gods demand celebration - not sham.
Of course, the magazines won't tell you this. I have lost count of the number of times I have tried to explore this darker side of Christmas in my work and then had the call from an editor saying "Could you maybe write something a bit more uplifting?". Uplifting always wins the day in the media world, but I want to write things that are also relevant and helpful to my readers, and I know that not all of you will be looking forward to the festive season every single year, because shit just happens.
Suicide and domestic abuse rates increase at this time of year and December/January is the Samaritans busiest period. For some people Christmas stinks - ignoring that fact and expecting them to still 'make merry' is unfair and damaging and can ultimately do more harm than good.
I sincerely wish every one of my readers a very happy Yuletide, but if you do happen to be faced with a Merry Shitmas to endure, here are some survival tips to help you get through it with as much grace as possible;
Be Honest; Be honest about how you feel. I'm not saying that you should complain to anyone and everyone, but gently explain that you are not in the festive spirit and just want to get through it quietly. Real friends will understand. Also, the world will continue to enjoy itself and will still wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year - its not meant to be a personal insult to you so don't take it as one!
Have The Talk; A Merry Shitmas is a good opportunity to have one of The Talks with your kids - you know, the one about life not being a bed of roses and how things won't always go as they planned. Tell them that you can only make the best of the situation that you have been dealt. Teach them how to deal with festive upsets by setting the example, not of martyrdom, but of calm, determined resilience. Teaching kids how to take hard knocks is a vital life skill for them to have, otherwise they will become the kind of over-cosseted adults who cannot handle set backs.
Allow Extra Time; Christmas holds everything up, so if you are in the unfortunate position of having to deal with funeral arrangements or divorce proceedings, accept that nothing much can be done until the world returns to work in January. Funeral directors do still work over Christmas, but it takes a bit longer to arrange and might even cost more. Divorce, doctor and hospital appointments will usually have to wait until January. There's no point fighting against the tide, you will only exhaust yourself further. Take this extra time as a moment to try and recharge your batteries instead.
Opt Out Give yourself permission to opt out of anything you think will be too much for you. Turn down party invites, get the groceries delivered online, use up any time owing to have extra days off work, refuse dinner invitations, don't bother with Christmas cards etc. Again, real friends will understand your need to navigate the season in your own way this year.
Self-Care Look after yourself. Have pampering spa nights, eat good food, light scented candles, treat yourself to new pyjamas and slippers, take vitamin supplements to ward off colds and flu, write your thoughts and feelings down in a journal to help process them. This is not just survival for women either - men could get new shaving products or beard care items to pamper with and might find journaling easier than talking to someone about their troubles. Its about taking care of yourself, acknowledging that you have been hurt and are going through a tough time and need a little extra TLC, so be tender to yourself and treat you right!
Its Your Christmas Remember that it is your Christmas too. No matter how tits-up its gone, it is still your Christmas and you can do as much or as little of it as you want. Put the tree up, or don't. Bake mince pies if you want to, or buy them in if you just want to eat them and can't be bothered to bake. Keep the kids happy, but say sod-off to everyone else. Ditch the office party in favour of PJs and a glass of wine in front of the telly. Make a turkey dinner or beans on toast. It's your choice.
Never underestimate the power of opting out of the Big Day, enjoying yourself quietly at home, while the rest of the world has a melt down over a small oven and a dead bird! On Christmas Day, have a lovely hot bath, put your PJs on, plate up some festive snacks and go back to bed with a Jane Austen DVD box-set - that's what I did the year my Nan died on December 21st and it actually turned out to be a rather enjoyable day after all!
And remember, its just one year - next year your life will have moved on and you might have the best Christmas ever. Whatever kind of Christmas you have this year, may you be sprinkled with lots of Yuletide blessings...Merry Shitmass! Love to you all😍x
I hope you won't need these links, but here they are just in case;