This has not been my year for blogging it turns out. However, I have two weeks off work and I think I will dip back in. First let me explain why I am not been able to write when I am not on holiday. It is hugely practical, I could try and make it sound like I have been inflicted by a creative inability to be introspective or reflective in writing, because of the sheer time I have alone with my thoughts every day. But that would be – errr – total nonsense (those who know me in person, know that the word in my head is not ‘nonsense’).
In reality, the reason is much more prosaic. It’s my eyes. It’s my back. Yes. I suspect it is my age. Since 16thMarch my life has been focussed on two laptops, a monitor, and an iPhone. For literally hours every day. My work life is totally on the monitor and one of the laptops, with a huge amount of video calling in it. My volunteering life is on the phone and my own laptop, with a lot of video calling. My social life is pretty much via WhatsApp, text and Zoom. There are occasional walks with friends and coffees outside depending on what is allowed. My family life is in person with the lucky pair who still live with me. With everyone else – yep it’s via a screen.
I know none of this is all that different to lots of other people, but it has left me reassessing what I do in the downtime. I started to suffer with eye strain and the thought of starting my day in front of a laptop as a hobby was just not pleasant. I am doing all I can to overcome the physical stuff. I have new specs for being on the computer. I am conscious of moving around as much as I can and walking 10k steps every day. I stand for some of the calls. Most importantly I try and move away from the screens as much as I can in the day. Hence not writing this in the mornings. The days when I tried to get this written before marching up to the station to get on a train seem like the heady days of abandon now. So, it feels like a treat to recapture some of that feeling of freedom by writing again in the mornings when I have a bit of screen-free space in the day.
I do enjoy Christmas, and very much enjoy it as a season, rather than just one day. The lead up to Christmas feels very pressured, as does the day itself. Now, having been around for nearly 50 years, I can honestly say that a perfect day is nigh on impossible to achieve and frankly when they do happen it’s by happy coincidence and not through planning a day of perfect presents, perfect meals and perfect entertainment. And that view is coming from someone with a stable family life and a steady income to ensure Christmas budgeting can happen.
As I write, I am listening to stories of people’s Christmases marred by financial instability and domestic violence. Those who are sick, caring for the sick, or bereaved have a tough time at Christmas. Actually, why should the day be perfect for any of us? Why would Wednesday this week, above all others this year, be perfect? What other Wednesday have our families conversed in a calm happy manner with no arguments, tantrums? What other Wednesday has every meal gone perfectly to plan with everyone loving everything put before them? What other Wednesday have I had the perfect amount of sleep and adequate energy all day? What other Wednesday has every TV programme and board game been engaging and fun for everyone? Getting all that right on one day is a huge expectation.
I much prefer seeing Christmas as 12 days – in that time various things could go wrong, there is time to be grumpy, or sick or just overwhelmed, but over the 12 days there are wonderful highlights, which make for a really merry Christmas. Some of those highlights may be with family, others with friends, or even an afternoon alone with a good book. A walk in the sun, a Christmas card with a lovely message from someone, delicious chocolates brought to a work meeting. All combine to make this a season of mostly joy. That’ll do for me.
The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) is a renowned symphony orchestra and an integral part of the varied cultural scene in Birmingham. CBSO has suffered huge cuts to its budget for community outreach, although at least one part of their work has remained in place – the large unauditioned community choir, SOVocal, created to bring the joy of singing in a choir to anyone who fancies joining it. The choir rehearses in the south of the city and is a joyful collection of up to about 200 people meeting weekly to sing together.
The husband has sung with them for several years now and his decision to join a choir positively changed the fabric of the family in some ways. He had never sung really before (hymns in church was the limit), so this was a new experience and a chance to hone a skill. He gained a regular hobby as a focus in his week and he has met new people, making new friends and having fun – all hugely important in life. And all that before we even get to the health benefits of singing. It’s a great hobby.
And just before Christmas every year we get to share in it, as the choir joins their parent Symphony Orchestra for a Christmas concert in the city’s Symphony Hall, an immense venue which imposes a real sense of occasion with SOVocal joining two other choirs and the full and very loud orchestra. It is a family occasion for the McMillans. It’s fun to be going to watch Dad in a performance, after many years of Dad having to watch offspring in various things. We gather the wider family together and last night it was good to see my niece cracking up to Alan Titchmarsh’s Christmas-themed antics.
Every year the concert feels like the proper start to our family Christmas celebrations and one of the best nights of the year.
I made it through September. I feel a real sense of jubilation at that fact. September is always the hardest month. It is a month of transition from the endless days of summer to the full days of autumn. The mornings are very different to August mornings. Mornings are important to me, as I am sure is abundantly clear from this blog.
Lots of my social and voluntary groups take an August break and then we all try and catch up in September. The challenges we were able to hide from in August suddenly take centre stage again. The teachers start putting pressure on parents to ensure their children are all top of the class. Countdowns to Christmas pop up on my social media feeds – seriously they do, I have a Christmas-obsessed family.
Even the news becomes more serious again, I feel less able to pretend it’s all going to be ok. And as for work – those gentle hours of August where I have the time to think before responding, where I have the space for a bit of creativity – all gone and replaced by more emails and more demands on my brain than I can possibly cope with. And not enough space in my day to stop and work out which fire to fight first.
I also added to September some amazing family weekends and a week’s work travel to Rome, as well as another two weeks of travel in UK for work. What I have abandoned are my friends and Scouting. Which is why I now feel a joy at the new month. Everything that I got wrong last month can be put right in October. To all those who have not seen me for a month, or who are waiting for something from me – it’s a new month. All shall be well. I shall once again be efficient and available. Here’s to blind optimism induced by an arbitrary dating system.