Sunday, 30 December 2012

Christmas, A.K.A. The Annual Self-Restraint Test

So another Christmas has come and gone, and, once again my mum, my sister and I have all failed to exercise any form of self control over the festive period. Our family traditions aren't the most conventional - by the 8th of December, there was no evidence whatsoever that any Advent calendars had ever even existed in our house, and by the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, every single present in the household had been ripped open and poured over, leaving us in a mess of wrapping paper, socks, and empty Terry's Chocolate Orange boxes. (I was extremely disgruntled at the lack of knickers in my stocking as I had purposely refrained from doing any laundry, assuming I would receive the gift of underwear from at least one member of my parental unit). The first time this happened it was a mistake, and I remember feeling riddled with guilt and shame when I woke up on Christmas morning, surrounded by wrapping paper and chocolate coins (which I distinctly remember thinking were real for at least ten minutes). The second year it happened, it felt strangely liberating, and by the third year, it was assumed tradition. People tend to be genuinely horrified when they find out that we do this, and the general response is usually something along the lines of, 'but why do you do that?! You're ruining Christmas!' - I think they're forgetting that, for us, Advent ended on the 8th of December, so really we've held off opening gifts for a good 2 and a half weeks and there's only so much self restraint we can manage. (I'm aware of the twisted logic that statement presents, but such is the way of my life).

We ensured that all of our family traditions were honoured when we had a spate of falling outs the next day over a board game, which resulted in me telling my cousin he was a prick after he answered a question about horseradish incorrectly and everyone stomping out into the garden for a calming down cigarette. Luckily, tension is easily eased in my family - it's nothing locking Auntie Sue in the cellar for a cheap laugh couldn't sort out.

Taking into account that one my favourite things to do in life is mock others, I think it's a given that one of my favourite things about Christmas time is receiving family newsletters from my mum's old friends that detail every single event in their life, large or small, that has occurred in since this time last year. God knows how we'd cope if we didn't know that Bruce and Carol had broken their kettle and had to buy a new one - it makes me feel like such a terrible friend for not already knowing and having to find out in a generic letter because I didn't care enough to ask. In fairness, I didn't even know their kettle was ill. When I was sharing this heartbreaking news with my friends the other night, my friend's dad told us how he once received one of these wonderful letters from some friends boasting about the time their child saved a princess from a riot in Pakistan (like we've not all done that at some point or another). Carol and Bruce's letter was filled with similar excitements - for example, and this is a direct quote, "Both Bruce and I are showing signs of wear and tear. Bruce has had to give up playing badminton for the time being, as he is experiencing trouble with his knee. I, too, have been plagued by carpel tunnel syndrome and arthritis in my right hand." I know, your heart bleeds, doesn't it? She then goes on to talk, in extensive detail, about their trip to the Caribbean, including a short history of the Caribbean islands, the "vibrant and colourful" buildings, and the pink Cadillac they hired to see the sights of the city. After a few bits and bobs about her wonderful children and their perfect partners and their perfect partners perfect jobs, she then dedicates an entire paragraph to her mother's ill health - arthritis, oesteoporosis and low blood pressure, if you're interested. There is a ray of light when she mentions that her mother was getting much better, but then the next sentence is, "Then in September, she collapsed and was fitted with a pacemaker." I'm not entirely sure how we were meant to respond to this information, but if it was up to me, we would respond in the following manner:

Dear family, friends, family-friends, neighbours, colleagues, the postman, the milk man, and whoever else we've sent a Christmas card to,

     Whew! What a year! Although the Rooke family are still reeling from the death of our beloved pet cat Shelley, who sadly passed away some time ago, we have banded together (as all great families do - am I right, Osbournes?) and soldiered on through this tough time. It is lovely to have such wonderful friends when we are grieving and we thank all who have offered their condolences, though they have somewhat lessened over the past several years as many of you believe that the wounds caused by Shelley's passing should now have healed. We will be having a moment's silence in memory on New Year's Eve should anyone wish to join us.

     On a happier note, Alison has now retired from her teaching position and has been jetting off here, there and everywhere over this past year, drinking shots and frittering away her children's inheritance on Mediterranean cruises, American road trips and sangria. She has not completely disregarded her children, however, as they all received a pair of socks from the Norwegian fiords - almost as good as being there!...

    Although only one Rooke child is living at home, there is still plenty going on around the house. In the past three months we have blown up not one but two of our kettles - can you believe it? We couldn't! Alison has splashed out for a new one that cost more than £7 in the hopes that this one will not explode all over the kitchen and completely ruin breakfast time for all of us. It is a sleek, silver model, very modern and flash - it's quite the treat!

    Kezia has flown the nest and is continuing to do charitable work around Bradford. Her job is going well and she is making good use of her masters degree, despite still, at the age of 25, not being able to tell her left from her right. We are all very excited for the day when she finally does learn, and we will all be extremely proud of her when she does. Kezia now has pets of her own, but, for obvious reasons, Alison is not allowed to go within a 30ft radius of them.

     Amy returned from a five month backpacking trip in July and whilst she was gone, for a few unnerving months, we thought that she was actually going to do something with her life. Thankfully, she is now back on track and has settled back into the minimum wage peasant job she has had since being a teenager. Although her degree is proving entirely useless, she is proficient at differentiating between left and right, and we could not be more proud. 

     We hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year! We should meet up sometime soon - it's been ever so long!

                                           Kind regards,
                                                   The Rookes


Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Ceilidh Dancing? Just. Say. No.

It's been a fair while since my last blog post and, to all my truly dedicated fans that have noticed my absence (all three of you), I apologise profusely. The truth is, I wasn't sure whether or not I'd make it to December after eating some spaghetti that I found in the cupboard which went out of date in April 2009. That was three years ago. I was nineteen years old when that spaghetti was in date - the end of the world was a good three and a half years away, Michael Jackson was still alive, and Furbys had not yet made a comeback. (In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have eaten it, but, in my family, food is often held in a higher regard than life - the other day my sister nearly crashed her car trying to save her maltloaf from falling off the seat...) So much has happened since that spaghetti was in date that I've begun to think we should probably start clearing out our kitchen cupboards a bit more often. (And by 'we', I mean 'mum'.) The last time it got cleaned out was about 4 years ago when we got a new kitchen and we unearthed packets of pasta sauce from 1998. We had food in the kitchen that wasn't even from this millennium. I'd be ashamed, but I think it just shows that we have a life... Thankfully, I made it through the ordeal and lived to tell the tale, and now here I am, ready to enjoy the festive season, alive and well. I've always been a big fan of Christmas. Nice food, lots of alcohol, time off work and free stuff? What's not to like?

Christmas is also a good time of year to test my self-restraint and see how it improves, if at all, as I get older. Since I turned 17, I don't think there's been one Christmas where I didn't a) eat my entire Advent calendar at least 2 weeks before the end of Advent, and b) get drunk on Christmas Eve and open all of my presents. (The only reason this never happened before is we never had chocolate Advent calendars when we were little, and, despite what my current state of intelligence may suggest, I did not drink (much) as a child). In my defense, there's only so long one can stare at a Christmas present without grabbing it in typical Western fashion and eagerly tearing it open. I remember one Christmas when I was younger, I got so excited on Christmas morning that I just started frantically ripping open presents, regardless of whether or not they were actually mine. (In most cases, they weren't, causing a fair amount of annoyance for the rest of my family.) I'm not especially bothered about what's inside the paper (unless it's a Terry's Chocolate Orange, in which case, it could come wrapped in pig skin and I would still be happy), it's the unwrapping part that excites me. Nothing ruins Christmas like getting a present in a bag, a pathetic bit of tissue paper shoved in the top and a gift tag lacklusterly dangling from the handle. There's no guessing games to be had here - you open the bag, you look inside, and, just like that, all the joy is sucked out of Christmas. You've seen your gift, and the fun is over. There's no feeling through the wrapping paper, shaking the gift, seeing half of it mid-unwrap and becoming increasingly baffled. There's just nothing, and then, all at once, something. And that is not what Christmas is about.

There are, of course, things I dislike about the festive season. Along with Christmas hats (a nice tradition, but I just can't pull them off), cranberry sauce (it's fruit! It doesn't go on meat!), and sprouts (obviously), I also hate the Christmas CD that began its rotations at work on the the first of December and has been playing, over and over again, every single day since. I like Christmas songs, I do, it's not that - it's just that this particular CD only has six songs on it. Six. It plays them, and then it starts again. All day. For ten hours. And they're not even the real songs! You know when you go into Asda and they're playing The Beatles, but then, upon closer inspection, you realise that it's not actually The Beatles, but a group of Asda employees from the Wakefield branch, doing their own versions of pop songs? It's like that. The only thing that gets me through it is knowing I can go home, put Bob Dylan on, and eat my way through yet another Advent calendar.    

To be honest, I've not actually been in work much over the past two weeks, so my Christmas CD listening has been relatively limited, although by all means no less distressing. I went to Loughborough to visit my friend Belinda, then had a quick break to see some more friends in London where I realised, not for the first time, that I am not cut out for Big City Living. Within two hours of being there, I had been on the receiving end of no less than three,"for fuck's sake!"s and one, "make your mind up, darlin'!" - it's a good job the capital city was not established in the North or there would no doubt be a massacre and the streets would not be littered with cigarette ends and newspapers, but rather lifeless flatcaps and tobacco pipes, their owners lying in a field somewhere, bruised and broken because they took more than three seconds to decide which way they needed to go.

I left London (much to the relief of its residents) to carry my tour up to Nottingham to see my friend Bella play a gig. (If you're interested, here she is). I use the term 'friend' lightly - she has now been demoted to 'acquaintance' after tricking me into going to a ceilidh on Friday night. If, like me, you do not know what a ceilidh is, then when someone asks you to go to one, do not just casually agree until you know what you are in for. I have since discovered that a ceilidh is, according to Wikipedia, a "traditional Gaelic social gathering, which usually involves Gaelic folk music and dancing." If you know me in real life, or if this blog has in any way enlightened you to the type of person I am (which it should have by now), then you will know that a social gathering requiring anything that falls into the category of active participation is not something I am fond of, especially if said participation requires me to be coordinated. On an average day, I trip at least three times before I've had my breakfast (most of the time over my own feet), I trip up the stairs at work and I don't think there has ever been an occasion that I have ridden a bicycle and not fallen off. Coordination just isn't my thing, and it especially isn't my thing in the backroom of a pub as I am looked down on by a 70 year old man wearing a sweater vest and Diadora trainers.