Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Stop The Bedroom Tax

    I don’t usually comment on political issues. I do vote, but often feel that being just one in the several million who live in this country, my voice is very small.
    However, I have become aware of something that make me want to scream on behalf of all the people it is going to effect.
    Under pressure from the well-heeled the government of the day is not going to introduce a much needed Mansion Tax. It seems the rich can keep their money.
    On the other hand they, as art of the Welfare Reform Act which comes into effect on the 1st April 2013 , will be taking housing benefit AWAY from those who can barely afford to live.  What is this plan? Well, if you live in a house larger than you need, you will not get housing benefit for the extra rooms and you will have to pay for the privilege of staying there.
    To whom will this apply? Almost everyone who lives in rented accommodation and has more bedrooms than they need, or the government deems they need.
    Now I might hear some people say, too right. Make these unmarried mothers who live off benefits suffer. But it is not only unmarried others, in fact such people will probably not be touched at all.
    The people this will effect are those in middle age who have raised a family in a house and now live alone, put down roots, have no desire to move, have, until now, paid their way but who, for one reason or another, no longer have a job – all those job cuts councils and other services are having to make because of cut backs – sick and disabled people who are unable to work and are probably fighting to keep their disability benefits, too. Mothers and fathers, widows and widowers, aunties and uncles. People who have lost their own homes because of job losses and repossessions.
    If this were a move to make larger housing available for waiting families it might make sense. It is, however, nothing more than a gimmick to claw back money from people who have none.
   The penalty for not paying – eviction. Advice given on how to pay when you don’t have the money – don’t pay a different bill. Honest, that is what some people are being told to do.
    This doesn’t just impact on single people, although they are obvious targets; how dare the son stay in the house his parents raised him in after they have passed away and he gave up his job to care for them? Couples without children should only have one bedroom, no matter if one needs a separate room because illness or disability makes it impossible to share a room. After experiencing the problems a relative had when dealing with a partner with dementia in a one bedroom flat, I strongly believe no one should live with only one bedroom. Children should share bedrooms until a certain age.
    This wouldn’t be so bad if there were alternative places for all the people to move to, if they wanted to move, which most don’t. Unfortunately there are not. So these people on benefit will have to pay regardless.
    And while people who rent from private landlords can possibly get around this by sharing the house they live in with other people, council tenants are not permitted to sub-let parts of their homes.
    I don’t agree with people falsely claiming benefits. But when help is needed people should be able to get it.
   I am appalled that this Bill seems to have gone through Parliament with very little objection from the opposition or, indeed, back-benchers or coalition members. I know the government needs to reform welfare, but this is not the way to go about it.
    Not so long ago there was an email going around saying how much better the country was one hundred years ago. There were far fewer taxes (some because the things that are now taxed hadn’t been invented!). The email didn’t mention the fact that there was no health service, that alms houses still existed, that poor people barely made it to their sixties let alone live long enough to draw a pension.
    Are we going back  to those days? Already food is being handed out to people who can’t afford to buy it. Are we going to end up forcing good, honest, people out onto the streets and into homeless shelters?
   I sincerely hope not.
   Pass this blog on to everyone you know if you care about ordinary people.  

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Fact or Fiction

Ask me when I started writing stories and, although I can’t give you the actual date, I would say when I was about twelve years old and my English teacher said “Write a story about…”
My pen hit the paper and I haven’t stopped writing since.
    I can’t remember learning a great deal during my English lessons. I must have learnt something because I seem to have the ability to edit and know where words belong. My school days were a long time ago when we were still taught things like – “never end a sentence with a preposition”, “never start a sentence with a conjunction”. I sometimes sit and wonder “What did they teach us that for?” But never mind, I just get on with what I’m doing.
    The best thing about English lessons was the homework. After sitting through all the dross of English grammar, or the painful reading aloud of some set text, we would be set some homework and I would wait eagerly for the first words of the instructions. If the teacher, Mr Williams was his name, he is either dead or in his nineties by now, started by saying : “Write a story …” it didn’t matter what came after that. It might be a story to illustrate a particular point we had been discussing, alliteration or onomatopoeia (I love that word). The words would flow. I went from writing huge letters as I was taught at primary school to writing as small as I could to get more onto a page.  Then when the homework was marked I was nearly always asked to read out my story to the class. I felt great.
   The words I dreaded hearing were “Write an essay…” That meant something factual, something real. For ages I didn’t even really understand what the word ‘essay’ meant. I did know, however, that I couldn’t let my imagination fly. Sometimes it meant doing research, which I hated because it takes me ages to read anything, especially if it is boring facts!
    So imagine my horror when, after writing four novels, I was asked to write something more factual. I won’t say what in case it never comes off. I’m trying, honest I am, but the words just don’t flow the same way they do when I write fiction. This is why I wanted to be a writer not a journalist. Words are the province of both professions but they are used  differently. For me facts are conveyed in short sharp bursts while stories can run on for ever. Give me fiction every time.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Check Out This Interview

No, not on this site I'm afraid. I have  been interviewed by Tricia Drammeh on her website Authors To Watch.
   Read this insightful interview and find out what inspires me to write.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Monday, 3 September 2012

Are you a .99p or a Round Pound?

Believe it or not this post was inspired by reading Agatha Christie. Why? Because she lived and wrote in a time when a penny had worth. You could actually buy something with a penny and get change. So in those days it was well worth offering things for 5/11d (that's five shillings and eleven pence to any younger readers, OR 29p in the money of today. And, yes, even back in 1972 it was possible to actually buy something for 29p).
   Inflation has now raised prices and devalued the money we use. It now costs more than I used to get as pocket money for a week to buy a chocolate bar. But still some advertisers cling to the thought of giving you a penny or a pound change when you go to buy something.
Some in the marketing industry cling to the idea that offering things at a penny or pound off attracts more customers. I think they are wrong. Whether this is  male/female thing I don't know. I have noticed, however, that shops that cater mainly for women - supermarkets, clothes shops, shoe shops etc, tend to have all their goods labelled in round pounds. The supermarkets offer bags of fruit and veg at  Only £1 not Only .99p. I have to confess whenever I see the word ONLY in front of the price I tend to think - but last year it was only 89p. But that's another matter.
More expensive things are often advertised at £8,995 (the price of a car maybe) or £139,995 (a very cheap house these days in some places). I'm sorry but that is £9000 for the car, you wouldn't even be able to get a gallon of petrol for the £5 change you would get. The same applies to the house, although you wouldn't need any petrol for that.
   The thing that really annoys me is when some retailers offer discounts or special deals on good over, say, £200, then price their goods starting at £199. Because it is under £200 you don't get the discount. Once again, £199 is close enough to £200 in my mind that this is nothing more than a marketing ploy which I don't respond to. Maybe I'm different to the rest of the world.
   I haven't noticed it hurting ASDA, Tesco, Sainburys, M&S, BHS et al charging by the pound, so maybe it is time we got rid of the phoney .99p. I ALWAYS round up. I was taught that was the quickest way to add up in your head and as I'm rubbish at mental arithmetic that is what I do. Especially with petrol prices where you see  131.9 .  I have yet to be given point anything in change when I buy petrol. I know for commercial suppliers who are buying tens of thousands of litres, the .1 adds up to a lot of money, but to the ordinary motorist it means nothing.
   So let's make some sense out of our prices. It's time for major prices to be in round pounds. That's not saying pennies should be ignored. It should still be possible to buy things at £1.20 or £120, but let's stop trying to fool people - The general public is more savvy than the advertisers think.

Monday, 13 August 2012

And Now....

Monday 13th August and the Olympic Games are over - until the Para-Olympics start at the end of the month.
I am glad it has been a success, that so many people came and enjoyed the experience. I am glad we did well, well done to all those people who have worked so hard to achieve a medal. I am glad it's all over, can we get back to normal now, please?
Apart from the athletes in Team GB who did so well, I would like to spend a moment thanking the unsung heroes of the games. The people who built all the venues and got them finished on time. The people who came in and cleaned up every night after the spectators had gone, the gardeners who kept the Olympic park looking so wonderful, cutting the grass in the dark! The hundreds, maybe thousands, of Olympic Ambassadors and Marshals, not only in London but in the other cities involved, who gave their time, paid their own expenses and gave their services for no reward other than the honour and thrill of being part of it all. Without you all doing your bit the games would not have been such a great success.
And me. Well, I'm not interested in sport. I hate being in crowds. I like my life to be stable and things to be the same all the time. I turned the telly off on the 12th August and I'm not sure I will ever switch it on again, except for the News and Doctor Who, of course. While I'm sure millions of people enjoyed the constant coverage, in this day and age I could not see why it had to be on BBC1 all day and most of the evening, too. BBC3 ran all day, so why did everything else have to be shunted to BBC2? It's not as if people can't get other channels these days. Now that the country has gone digital I would think everyone has access to Freeview, so, yes, open up BBC3 and maybe even BBC4 and leave the other programmes as normal. Or maybe it's just me.
I hope something positive will come from these games; that a few, maybe more than a few, will be encouraged to take part in more sport in the future. But the training provision needs to be in place, all over the country, if the children of today are going to be the champions of tomorrow.  And let us not forget that getting to these dizzy heights means, hours, days, years of intense training and dedication, often involving pain and injury that will last for longer than the glory of a medal. I'm too lazy, always was, but good luck to those who regularly get up before dawn to swim, run, row or whatever. May your dedication bring you the triumph for which you strive.
Now, put your feet up and buy a book!

Friday, 3 August 2012

I've Got the Hump with Humps

This blog has been brewing for a fortnight - ever since my business partner got knocked off his motor scooter going over a road hump. He slowed down, the car behind him didn't. Result. Smash. Two weeks later he is still suffering with concussion and related side effects.
   What I would like to know is - How many people have been killed, injured or had their vehicles damaged by these so-called safety measures? Does the Office for National Statistics keep such records? How can we access them if they do, or do we have to wait for figures to be released?
   I have never liked these things. They are dangerous in the dark and wet when the markings for them have worn away. You can be driving along at the correct speed and suddenly, bump, you hit one. Once installed they are immovable so humps meant to slow traffic outside schools are still there in the middle of the night, all through the weekends and holidays.
   You cannot get into some towns without going over these obstructions. On entering one road I use frequently, the speed limit sign says 30mph. Then within yards there are humps which you have to crawl over. Why not simply reduced the speed to 20mph and have done with it?
   I drive a little two seater Smart car, mainly because I am usually a solo user and don't need a bigger car. But tackling speed humps in one of these short wheel-based cars is a nightmare. You have to slow down to about 5mph to negotiate it and if you don't hit it at the right angle it feels like the car is going to turn over. I know it won't, but it feels like it. Older humps are a bit better than some of the new ones that have appeared. Going into one of my local towns which has recently installed humps narrow enough for buses and vans to pass over without effect, is like running an obstacle course. These humps seem higher in the middle than older types, and do nothing for a car's suspension.
   So how many cyclists and motor cycle users have been knocked off their machines at these things?
   How many cars have been shunted from the rear because they have slowed down?
   How many accidents have been caused at night because people have not realised a hump is there, either because they don't know the road or the markings have worn away?
   How many cars have been damaged by these?
   I have little sympathy for people who were driving too fast in the first place, but even driving at the correct speed for the road seems dangerous when these things suddenly loom up ahead of you, especially in the dark.
   So if anyone knows the answers to these questions please let me know. Are they really cutting down accidents or causing them?

Friday, 22 June 2012

Changes A-Font

   Big changes are happening in the publishing industry.  Technology is moving rapidly and where once an author was beholden to the publishing houses and literary agents, they can now ‘go it alone’ and self publish by e-book or using print on demand companies.
   The idea of e-books has been around for a long while but it’s only in the last twenty or so years that they have really taken off.  Probably only in the last five years that they have  become of service to new authors.
One of the initial ideas was to put every book ever published into e-book form by scanning old copies into a huge database.  Books that are no longer in the public domain are available for free.   The Gutenberg Project,  founded by Michael Hart, is dedicated to making these books available to anyone who wishes to visit their website.  So now, instead of shelves accumulating dusty books, people can carry a library around with them in their pocket.
   Not everyone takes to this idea.  Many who have never touched an e-book reader declare they prefer to feel a paper book, to turn the pages and smell them.  They don’t mention sneezing when the dust gets up their noses.  But I have come across many converts in the last year or so.
It’s not only old books that are being offered as e-books.  New books can be had, too.
No longer is a budding author bound by ties to an agent, if they are lucky enough to get one to sponsor them.  No longer do publishing companies dictate what the public wants.  It is sometimes said that everyone has a book in them – and now everyone can offer that book to the world.
   Not that publishing an e-book is likely to bring fame and fortune.  Writing the book is the easy part.  Getting people to read it is where the work begins.  Promotion through whatever means possible is the key.  Social networking sites are full of people trying to ‘flog their wares’.    E-books by independent authors are usually cheap – or free.  They are even cheaper than the shops like The Works who buy up the rights to books and flood their shops with piles of book going at three for a tenner, with little or no money going to the author.
   Does quality diminish with quantity?  Possibly.  Some authors take more care than others when preparing their work.  But if you find a diligent author who has worked hard on their manuscript before submitting it, then you can find some real gems.  But if you haven’t paid a great deal does it matter if you don’t like that book?  Before now I have gone into a bookshop and paid a great deal of money to discover that, really, I don’t like what I have bought.  Likewise, I have looked at books and thought to myself, ‘why has that even been published when others that are far better have been rejected?’
   The other form of new publishing I mentioned is Print on Demand.  Again, this was started as a way of printing ‘out of print’ books, but has moved on to provide the independent author a means of getting their book published without the need for a big name publisher or even a vanity publisher.  This does come at a cost, but not as great a cost as vanity publishing, and maybe hasn’t got the real kudos of having a publisher.  But it does mean that your precious story is available at a reasonable price to anyone who goes along to somewhere like Amazon and orders it.  It also means that massive print runs that end up being pulped don’t happen.  It means that no one has really lost out if the book doesn’t sell; apart from the author, of course, who hangs their head and wonders why their masterpiece hasn’t set the world alight.
   Will these innovations change the face of publishing?  Not immediately.  But as more people turn to e-books, and cheap e-books at that, ideas may have to change.  Some publishers are fighting back by putting their books out as e-books, too.  But usually they are priced at the same rate as paperbacks.  Why this is when they don’t have any printing costs, I don’t know.  Maybe they have paid the author a huge amount of money for the rights and have to re-coup that to make a profit.  No one from a major publishing company has ever offered to handle any of my books so I can’t comment on that.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

More Houses, good or bad?

I kept a very diplomatic silence in the pub last night as a discussion developed about the proposed new housing developments in a couple of local villages. I had already started reading my Kindle when those around me began talking about football and kept my head lowered and my mouth shut when it moved on to this new subject.
Two very anti-development members of the group were worried about the fact that there would be no jobs for the people who moved into these houses. The people concerned don't seem to be able to get their heads around the fact that people do not work within walking distance of their jobs any more. Which is strange as one of the people taking part in the discussion travels for 30-40 minutes each day to get to his job. And another has a son who lives in a village and computes to London to work.
Other concerns were the extra demands that would be placed on services, everything from roads to schools and health services.
I sat quietly reading my book - very good book, by the way, the latest from Gerry McCulloch, a wonderful new writer, this book is called Angel in Flight - saying nothing.
The fact that these houses are due to be built will bring a welcome boost to the flagging building industry.
The fact that the road system might not cope could led to improvements in the roads, along with more schools, more medical centres, upgrading to all sorts of services that are currently struggling to cope.
More houses means more council tax coming in.
And people need somewhere to live. For every young family with two or three children, when those children grow up they will need homes of their own. With people living longer, houses are not becoming so readily available. With so many families splitting, two homes are often needed where once only one was used.
One member of the discussion group said these developments would encourage people to leave the cities.
Good! Has he every lived in a city? I have and couldn't wait to get out.
And while all this was going on I couldn't help but think the very village where this discussion was taking place has changed beyond belief over the last 50/60 years. Ok. Now it seems well established, but a huge redevelopment took place back in the 1960, which brought an enormous number of new houses to a tiny village. It also brought a bigger school, a better doctor's surgery, and a decent sewage system that up until that time had not existed!
So there can be benefits to new developments.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Flaming June - Not

Over the last few weeks I have been promising myself I will post things more regularly. I am a writer, I should be writing. But that's the trouble, I have been writing and editing and doing all sorts of writery things, writing a blog hasn't had a look in.
I promised myself this blog would not be about writing. It would be about ME. What I thought was important. MY reactions to the things that are happening in the news. I'd be topical. Up to the minute. Then I get out of the bath and life takes over. Oh what I could achieve if I could take my laptop into the bathroom with me! That is my thinking time.
So what have I missed?
Pasty tax. What was all the fuss about that. It hasn't even really been abolished. Piping hot pasties, baked and kept hot, will still be subjected to VAT. And you don't want to eat a pasty that has been left to cool - not unless you want to be ill. The only cases of food poisoning in my house in the last 40 years have been caused by pasties that were not piping hot. And let's work the figures out here. How much is a pasty? 80p? 20% of that is 16p, (I think, I'm not noted for my ability to do sums), so a hot pasty should now be 96p. Bet the shops round that up to a £1 and blame the government. And so be honest , would an extra 20p stop someone snacking on a pasty in their lunch break? I don't think so.
The Jubilee. I'm glad that went well, although I'm not a demonstrative person myself. You would not find me standing around Pall Mall waving a flag, or camping out for a glimpse of anyone, not even the Queen. But each to their own. Pity about the weather.
Which brings me to the ultimate topic of British conversation.
The weather.  It's June. It's raining. The media would have us believe this is something unexpected, unusual, not what we should be having. Well, I'm afraid these people have very short memories. I don't know where the idea of 'Flaming June' came from, or where 'Ne're cast a clout til May is out' originated, but for most of my life June has been a big disappointment. Why else did they put a roof on Wimbledon's centre court?
Remember 2007? The country was almost floating! The worst floods in ages. That was in June.
My daughter used to be a Guide and I later followed her as an adult leader. Every year a big camp was planned for June, around the longest day usually. Every year in the weeks and days leading up to the camp it was either wet or cold. In all the years I went to camp only about 2 were really hot. Admittedly only two or three were complete wash-outs, but it nearly always rained at some point.
So why do we continue to live in the belief that we live in a Mediterranean type climate? Why do all the D.I.Y. stores and garden centres stock patio furniture that would be find in Spain or the south of France, but might get used two or three times a year in England? Even more to the point, why do we actually BUY the stuff? Is it some kind of ever hopeful belief that the sun will shine for more than two days in a row?
And when it does, everyone complains. Fortunately heatwaves are far fewer than cold and rain. So enjoy what sun you can. In the meantime I am counting down to my winter holiday when I will be off to sunnier skies.  

Thursday, 10 May 2012

New Venture

Well, hasn't life been exciting since the last time I wrote anything here?! So busy, I've not had a chance to write! First the Editing Service, ticking over steadily, I must say. And now I have embarked an a new venture, or should I say Adventure, as a partner in an ebook publishing service.
Blue Hour Publishing was set up in April with Stephen Hulse taking care of the technical stuff, including promotion, while I am doing the editing, trying to ensure all our books have consistency throughout. We now have a blog of our own entitled, strangely enough Blue Hour Publishing. Also a Facebook page, called, you've guessed it Blue Hour Publishing! Find us here
Some people may ask, why do you need a publisher to publish an ebook? Well, lots of people don't. They are quite capable of doing it all themselves and good on them if they can. But some people are not so savvy when it comes to technical stuff like loading a book onto Kindle. They might, cautiously, use the internet, send emails, join writers groups, but that's about it. They want help, need help. We offer help with editing, formatting, marketing (that's the biggy) as well as getting the book up there on Kindle for people to buy. We prefer authors to have a thumbnail ready to advertise their book, we are not artists, and we hope the manuscripts we look at will only need minimum editing, but it always helps to have a fresh eye to look at things for you.
So keep an eye on Facebook and our new blog and see what happens!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Each To Their Own

The bane of every new author struggling for recognition, apart from typing/printing errors, has got to be the celebrity author; the person who has made their name in some other field and now thinks they can write a novel or tell the world their life story, even when they are not old enough to have had an interesting life.  We all know the sort of thing I mean.  I don’t know who started it but Dick Francis certainly made the most of it when he finished racing.  Now it seems everyone from jockey to gardener, think they can write a novel and because of their celebrity status the publishers give them a chance when possibly hundreds, with better story telling abilities, are knocking at the door to be turned away with nothing more than a note saying ‘thanks but no thanks’ to show for all their hard work.

Authors take heart.  You are not the only people to suffer from this syndrome of celebrity kudos.
I am a fan of classical music.  Why, is another blog I might write one day. Suffice is to say every morning while I am waking up to the world (and that could take anything up to two hours – not all spent asleep I hasten to add) I listen to Classicfm on the radio.  Once the dog has had her first walk of my shift the house tends to stay silent. 

On my return from holiday this year I find that an honoured and respected actor has turned his hand to composing. It is reported that he has always had ambitions to be a composer; has always written music.  Now he has recorded an album of his own work with a well-known symphony orchestra.

Fine.  I have no problem with that.  What bugs me is that this album has been advertised almost every hour, every day since I returned to the UK on the 9th January (it’s now the 29th).  First as a ‘coming soon’ and then as ‘now available.’  No doubt it is flying high in the classical charts regardless of the quality of the music because it has been given so much publicity.  My heart goes out to all those young, talented musicians who are struggling to be noticed or even find a place in an orchestra, let alone get new and exciting compositions heard by the public.

A few years ago a similar thing happened when a girl band broke up and one of the members released an album of piano music.  She had been to music school and could play, a bit, but she was no Lang Lang or Stephen Hough (I would quote a Russian pianist here, as well, but can’t spell his name  well enough to even look it up!).

As a struggling author I promise, if I ever make it to the big time as a writer, I will not make my public suffer the trauma of listening to me playing the piano.  Yes, I can play – especially if it is a slow piece!  Bit I consider myself a writer not a pianist.  If I tire of one I won’t take up the other as a career.

It is not just the fact that these people, musicians and authors alike, get the chance to showcase their work but the fact that so much effort is put into promotion by the publishers or record companies.  While indie authors are busy Facebooking, Twitting and making trailers for YouTube in the hope that people will notice and buy their work, these celebrities have the full PR machine behind them, presumably at no cost to themselves.

Is there any way to thwart this ‘cashing in’ on celebrity?  I doubt it.  For my part I will not buy anything from someone trying to start a second career, especially if their first has been lucrative!  I’ve never been into biographies, so that part is easy; and now I only buy books by new authors. Maybe I’m being unfair.  But until some of my fellow independent authors are featured side by side with celebrity authors on their second career, I will remain committed to the belief - Each To Their Own. 

Saturday, 21 January 2012

What Have We Done To Christmas

I’ve been a bit slow getting this out as it is now the third week on January, but I wanted to wait until the retailers started announcing their Christmas sales figures.  At least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

I am so relieved Christmas is now over and life can get back to normal.  Okay, that might sound a bit bah humbugish but I do feel it all drags on for a too long these days.

I have no objection to people celebrating Christmas but can recall the time when it lasted two days and that was it.  If people want to make the ‘Christmas week’ part of their annual holiday, so be it, it’s what I do.  But why do we have to have the TV schedules messed up for the whole period between Christmas and New Year.  It raises the question that if we only need fifteen minutes of news during this period, why do we get twenty-five minutes the rest of the year?  It’s not as if everyone has the week off.  While factory and office workers might get a long break, most people are still working – all those shop assistants dealing with the sales, transport workers, hospital workers, in fact the list is almost endless so why do the controllers of TV schedules think we need different programmes all week?

I am also disturbed by the commercial emphasis the media places on Christmas.  Every day for the month of December we were getting daily reports of how much people were spending, with comments about how people were not spending as much as before.  It was enough to make people feel guilty about not going out to shop.  And next will be the reports of how people have put themselves into debt to fulfil Christmas expectations.  There were a couple of interviews where people were shaking their heads and saying ‘I’m only buying what I really need.’  Well done!  Too much food is wasted over this period.  We should all follow that example and cut back on buying for the sake of it.

Then come the reports from the retailers.  Spending was up/down on last year.  Cheap stuff sold well, expensive stuff didn’t.  What a surprise!  It bit like the surprise that last year people couldn’t get to the shops because of the snow.

Now I may be the wrong person to be writing this blog.  For one thing I’m not a Christian, for another I do not make a big thing of Christmas.  The two parts of that sentence are not related.  We made a family decision about 30 years ago that we would buy presents only for the children of the family.  Because Christmas happens in the winter and family are scattered all around the country, we don’t risk travelling to see each other.  I visit my sister in the Spring or Summer, we enjoy a meal out somewhere and catch up on family gossip; we don’t spend weeks anticipating a journey that might or might not be disrupted by snow, hail or sleet.  I visit my daughter and grandkids in time for the birthday season at the end of October and the rest of the year we phone, email and keep in touch via Facebook.  None of us are emotional when it comes to family ties. I blame my father who never spoke to his family, it just seems normal for me not to see mine very often.  But we are straying here!

Have we lost the point of Christmas?  Christmas should be a celebration of the birth of Christ, not the highlight of the year for shop-keepers.  If you don’t spend at least a few minutes singing carols or thinking about the first Christmas then you are not celebrating Christmas but something else.  There was outrage a few years ago when somewhere tried to rename Christmas ‘Winter Festival’.  Despite what the media would like us to think, this only happened once, but to be honest I think December should be renamed ‘Shopping Fest’ as that is the only thing we hear about.

I have no objection to the streets being decorated with lights or even people putting them up around their own homes (electricity prices can’t be that high!) but where are the angels and the cribs amongst all the santas and snowmen?  I have spent several Christmases in Spain or Tenerife and there nativity scenes abound in shops and shopping centres.  I have only ever seen one in my local area.  I know Spain is a Catholic country, but the story of the birth of Jesus is still the whole point of Christmas.

So if you want to have a big family get together, why not have it in the summer.  If you really have the urge to buy things for other people do it when they need the thing and not make them wait for the end of the year.  Spread the commerce throughout the year.  And let’s put CHRIST back into Christmas.