There is something to be said for Mother-in-Laws at Christmas. Mine (Edith) is 88 and becoming increasingly frail in recent years, but her contribution to 2020’s seasonal event was nothing short of spectacular. Before I tell you how she brought so much laughter to our Lockdown Festivities, a short prequel:
Edith had been a regular visitor to ours for Sunday dinner, when I would make the half mile drive to my brother-in-law’s house to collect her from her granny annexe. Last February, oblivious to how the world was about to be torn asunder, we’d all enjoyed my wife’s ample roast, and it was time to take Edith back home. I stood on the driveway holding the passenger door open, took mum’s handbag off her while she placed one foot inside the car – and then found myself pushed violently backwards as my elderly charge lost her balance. We both fell to the ground, Edith on top as I had the presence of mind to cradle her head from hitting the concrete. The result could have been worse – a bruised ego for me, but a nasty broken ankle for my passenger.
Since that fateful day, Edith recovered well, but like so many people of her age she was frustrated by enforced isolation and extremely limited excursions outside her home. Christmas Day 2020 would be her first return visit, so I was understandably nervous of my duties.
But it started well enough. I couldn’t help smiling when I collected her. She was standing there, dressed all in black apart from a fluffy white hat that somehow made me think of Cruella de Ville. The hat was a Christmas gift, and not her normal choice of headgear, but what the heck? I noted with slight concern she was wearing a long skirt that came halfway down her calves, possibly restricting her movement. Hmmm… But we managed the first leg of our expedition, reaching the car without incident.
Our driveway is on a slight incline, potentially hazardous for elderly passengers entering or egressing vehicles, so I parked up on the level ground in front and walked round to assist Edith on the final leg of the journey. What came next could have been straight out of a Christmas Panto. Bearing in mind the previous calamity ten months ago, I was playing it extra careful. Guiding Edith to grab the edge of the door with one hand and my arm with the other, I was relieved to get her to stand with both feet on solid ground. But then it happened: Edith’s long black skirt dropped around her ankles!
Life, eh? The circle was complete. Mother-in-Law’s return was a total triumph. I did help Edith restore her dignity by pulling the skirt back up to its correct position (hem just below the knee) – but I was laughing my head off while I did it. To give the old girl her due, she handled it well. We got her safely in to the house, where she had a lovely meal before snoring gently under the noise from the telly. And yes, I also delivered her safely home, a smile on her face as if she’d planned the whole thing.
2020 has been quite a year, and I don’t apologise for beginning this post with a non-original phrase. I’m a little rusty, not having posted anything here for what - two months? That’s a little unusual for me, but then it all comes back to that phrase about Fact and Fantasy. Let me explain:
We’ve reached a time of the year when, in between the rush to be ready for Christmas, we tend to look back on the events of the year. I’m no exception to that, and as I’ve spent those last two months referred to above catching up on all manner of tasks, I’ve now started to count up the good stuff from 2020 against the bad. I’m one of the fortunate ones, having completed writing two books (*), enjoyed trips to both Crete and Australia, and spent time with the people I love. Against that, like many others, I have seen much of my normal expectations in life disappear. The virus caused that, but at least I was never close enough to personally fall victim.
My initial impressions in March were of a distant threat that was probably no more dangerous than a strong dose of the flu. My latest experience in the last week was of the death of the father of a close friend, a resident in a care home. Some lessons from life are the toughest to learn.
The coronavirus epidemic has been an education for us all. I’ve learned a lot. The most important one I will take with me into 2021 is the amount of influence politicians have over our lives. I was in Australia when the various governments around the world began to place restrictions on our daily lives. I saw what happened there, and then I left to endure the shambolic knee-jerk nature of decree exercised in Britain. It happened alongside the diminishing time for the UK to negotiate a trade deal with the European Union, another event which we hoped our political governors would handle with due care and urgent responsibility. No such luck!
So, this is where I come to the fact and the fantasy.
This year I can look back and realise how easy it is to be led by a fantasy and ignore the facts. That virus thing so far away is now ever-present around me, and affecting everything I do. I wrote a book that highlights the damage done to us all by politicians – a fictional story, but one based on facts. I watched the television news and noted how a US President could be so openly delusional, believing his own fantasies, while millions of Americans placed their trust and still gave him their vote. And here in the United Kingdom I saw the trust placed in our own government to do the right thing betrayed over and over again.
But, on the plus side, this year I’ve learned the power of a smile – even from behind a mask. I’ve seen communities come together and help strangers. I’ve found that people in other countries are just like us, and I know how good it feels to open up and to share our knowledge and our resources.
There’s a New Year ahead. Let’s all go into it better prepared from what we learned in 2020. We need to turn the fantasy of a better world into reality. And that’s a fact.
* Three Bears and a Jackaroo was published through KDP in June, and The Titanic Document is currently with my publisher Matador, due for publication in March 2021.
Need to know:
(I don’t just write fiction.