So Christmas and New Year weren’t perfect, but were they ever meant to be?



For the first time ever this year, I was kind of ready for Christmas. In spite of having the usual and it has to be said, particularly nasty winter bugs in the few weeks before, necessitating PCR tests as we were feeling pretty rotten. Fortunately they were negative.

So I headed into Christmas a little washed out, but nevertheless with an air of unmitigated excitement. My youngest daughter is now twelve and having eeked out the magic as long as possible, she is now aware of the reality of parental involvement in the whole Father Christmas charade. Sad in a way and the end of an era in this house, after twenty years of my playing the role with dedication and relish. Staying up until 3am on Christmas morning, frantically wrapping toys, stealth like under the cover of softly played Christmas carols and hidden gift wrap adorned with the girls’ favourite things; unicorns, dogs, cute snowmen. Yet in another way, I felt relief that I could finally wrap presents in advance, be a little organised. After all, the magic was still there, hand decorated gift lists and stockings hung over the fire on Christmas Eve. And in any case, the best laid plans and all that – somehow I still managed to be wrapping until 1 am.

We usually spend Christmas day just the six of us as a family. It’s more relaxed somehow. Classic FM on the radio, all of us helping with the veg prep. Later on, gorging ourselves silly, a walk, then the Queen’s Speech and Christmas pudding. This time, we reminisced over last year. How odd it had seemed. Traditionally we always have my wider family around on Boxing Day. It’s hard work, as there are a lot of us, twenty in fact, but it’s one of the rare occasions we all get together these days. Last year, due to the bubble system, we were unable to do it and we had all felt strangely bereft on Boxing Day 2020 – no one coming round to eat the cold cuts of meat, no creating a buffet of tasty morsels and left over Brandy sauce and trifle.

But this year, it wasn’t going to be that way. Boxing Day was back on. The food was prepared and ready in the fridge. Miraculously the extended family presents were already wrapped and labelled under the tree, thanks to extra help from my sixteen year old. The tree looked particularly spectacular, taller than our usual one, with baubles and the angel on top sparkling, radiating joy and Christmas spirit. The house looked more Christmassy than it ever has. For once everything was Christmas perfect. Except…

The evening of Christmas day, my husband started coughing. I have to confess; I did peer at him a little suspiciously at first. We have been married long enough for me to know that the invasion of my family en masse can be a little trying for him. But as the evening went on, the cough worsened and it was soon apparent we had a problem. Lateral flow was negative, but my ninety year old Dad is currently unwell with renal disease and therefore vulnerable. His illness came on suddenly last March when he went from being quite amazingly fit and healthy (in spite of having cancer five times since his late fifties), walking the dog twice a day, picking up shopping in his car, moving heavy concrete bricks in the garden and digging the veg patch, to exhausted and barely able to do anything. He is now immunosuppressed due to his last pioneering treatment to prevent the deterioration of his condition. Even a cold can make him really unwell – he was hospitalised in the Autumn with pneumonia.

With a heavy heart I messaged everyone and cancelled Boxing Day festivities at the last minute. At least I could drop food to my sisters who kindly took over the celebrations at her house. But I confess I had a lump in my throat when talking to my Dad through the doorway, all dressed up and spruce in his best Christmas jumper. I so badly wanted to spend that time with both him and my Mum. We have already lost so many occasions, they’ve missed so much with the girls the past couple of years due to the constant necessity to shield them both.

So once more, Boxing Day was quiet. It felt all the more poignant because I knew we might not get the next opportunity to celebrate later in the week as planned. With my Dad’s health as it is, such occasions are precious, rare, to be treasured like gold dust.

My fears were realised, the following Wednesday, Dad was admitted to hospital on my parent’s wedding anniversary. He’s been in a ward with no visitors, over an hour away.

Now, since the New Year, my Dad has contracted Covid at the hospital and his kidney is beginning to fail fast. On top of this, my daughter’s mental health issues have seriously worsened. I had hoped like any other New Year, this would be a fresh start. A time for new beginnings, as though somehow magically, this year would be better than the last two. Unrealistic I know, but that’s part of our wonderful human condition, we live in hope.

However, I was lucky enough to speak to Dad on the phone yesterday and was blown away by his sheer strength of spirit and the fact he told me to look after myself following the covid booster (feeling rough with it) even though he is struggling with the illness itself. And I know it sounds trite, but I was incredibly thankful to be able to speak to him at all. My twelve year old, played the piano to a phone held aloft and finally last night, my Mum was able to come round for dinner and see our lovely decorations.

Perhaps this last couple of years has readjusted our expectations, put things in perspective. Somehow it’s peeled back the exterior, the tough outer decorative skin of the toot and things that simply aren’t relevant and allowed us to focus on what seriously matters inside.

Life, love, friends and family are precious.

For many reasons this has been, as we saw empasised so beautifully on Princess Kate’s glorious celebratory ‘Together at Christmas Service,’ an incredibly difficult time, impossible for so many. The Duchess described the event as, ‘a celebration of life in our communities and illustrates how acts of kindness, empathy and love can nurture and reconnect us.’

This was the theme of my pandemic romance, ‘Love in Lockdown.’

‘In lockdown nothing was definite, nothing was certain except the strength and resilience of love and community…the reality is that when everything else stops, love is all that’s left.’

This year the Queen spent her first Christmas as a widow at Windsor with only direct family members. How poignant was the song in Princess Kate’s service, ‘For those who can’t be here.’ There were so many who once again couldn’t celebrate Christmas with those they love.

But Christmas was never designed to be perfect. According to the original story of Jesus’ birth, Mary arrived at Bethlehem, hugely pregnant, riding on a donkey and due to the decree ordained by Caesar Augustus, for all to return to their home town, all the guest rooms were full. This must have been a complete nightmare. In the end as the story goes, Mary gave birth to her son amongst the animals in the stable. Yet this miracle of the baby Jesus, laid in a manger, surrounded by oxen, presents an iconic and beautiful scene. It simply wouldn’t have been the same if he had been born in a typical house of that time, in a bed. Sometimes out of difficulty, miracles are born.

We put so much pressure on both Christmas and New Year being perfect. The presents have to be just right, the baubles need to match, the fireworks must be amazing, the alcohol flowing, the party the best. Yet all that really matters when all is said and done is love.

If this pandemic has taught us nothing else, over the past two years, we have learnt that even if we couldn’t all be together in person once again this Christmas and New Year that we were and are all united in love and community. And whilst love, like Christmas may not be perfect, it is pretty special and something worth celebrating.

Top tips for looking after your mental health during lockdown!

woman celebrating sunshine

I don’t know about you, but at times, this Lockdown feels as though it is going on forever. I think it’s because the weather isn’t great, the evenings are still dark and we’re just about fed up with the whole situation.

The truth is however, Spring is on it’s way and with the vaccination programme, the end is in sight. So we just need to keep that in view. But sometimes it can still feel hard each day to just keep going with the humdrum day to day slog of it all.

To help with this and maybe to help you to change things up a bit, I’ve devised a list of top twelve tips to help keep your pecker up during this lockdown.


    1. Read. Anything and everything that takes you away from this situation. Sometimes when I’ve had tough times in the past I’ve turned to children’s books; Kenneth Grahame, Enid Blyton – The Adventure Series, anything to remind me of safer and more secure times. My other favourite when my daughter’s health conditions flare up or things are really tough is Pride and Prejudice. Once when I was in hospital with my eldest after renal surgery, really struggling to sleep on a busy ward, I drifted away to the familiar audio-recording of Jane Austen’s famous words. They are so comforting and brought the familiar to the scarily unfamiliar.
      You can either read whenever you want and just escape generally whenever you feel the need, or set a time to look forward to reading, especially if like me you have work and children to be helping with homeschooling, dinner to cook etc. The past couple of weeks, every evening after dinner, I treated myself to reading JoJo Moyes wonderful book, The Giver of Stars. It was a wonderful escape. I was no longer sitting there on the sofa in my lounge in the dingy winter light, I was riding the stony hillsides, with those brave women in 1930’s America, delivering books to the poor and isolated, as part of the first mobile library. Pure joy!
    2.  Watch escapist television. When I was super anxious after having my fourth baby and my eldest daughter was ill at the same time, I remember a wise GP saying, ‘do anything you need to in order to feel happy. Watch Mamma Mia several times over if necessary.’ I’ve never forgotten this advice. Try to get into a series, or rewatch Jane Austen movies (I never need an excuse to do that) no one is counting how many times you’ve seen them. The main thing is it can make you feel happier. The other week, was really tough, as my eldest daughter had been going through another mental health crisis, with some serious results and having done what I could (she lives in residential care) I tucked myself in bed and binge watched Bridgerton whilst eating bowls of Coco Pops. I can thoroughly recommend it, it didn’t solve the problem, but gave me a break so I could return to the situation with a refreshed mind.

    3. Get outside and walk. I try to vary my walks depending on my mood. Some days I go if I can where there aren’t many people, difficult I know at the moment, but there are some quieter paths in the forest. It’s nice to try to forget about things  and watch nature around us getting on with it. There’s a comfort in that.  The fact Spring is coming and the bulbs and catkins are appearing. Within a few weeks the fresh green shoots with be budding on the trees and next month the clocks go forward. All things to look forward to. Other times, if I miss human company or if I don’t have time to go far, I walk the local streets, smiling and saying hello to familiar faces. It’s nice to just try to reconnect even at a distance. Within the lockdown rules of course. Some days it’s tough to do because the weather is horrible and it’s cold, but then you’ve got the reward of coming back in the warm and having a nice hot drink and a snuggle in front of the fire, or heater, or even under a blanket. The air does you good and walking is great for mental health. If you have a dog, it’s even better as walking is compulsory and so enjoyable as you can often meet fellow dog walkers at a safe distance of course.                                                                                                                                                                                                  
    4. Routine. It’s good to have some kind of routine, even if it’s only the basic things such as trying to get up at the same sort of time each day at least in the week and then maybe a bit of a lie in at the weekend. Whatever we may think, we are all creatures of habit and a routine can help us feel more secure. It doesn’t have to be rigid at all, but planning meals/snacks to look forward to or a certain programme each day at a particular time can help us feel in control and have something to look forward to. In the first lockdown last March, we all sat together each lunchtime during our break from work and school and watched Four in a Bed. It became a bit of a thing to look forward to. At the moment in the evening we all watch Merlin or Lupin on Netflix, whilst eating our tea. We found quite quickly with these little things, we soon look forward to finding out what happens next.
    5. Keep busy. Projects, art, sewing, tidying out your cupboards (only do so, if you’re feeling very strong, if you’re anything like me, I hate tidying and they’re a real mess!) Along with the above point, it’s good if you can to find some things you like doing, especially if it’s creative, maybe some paint by numbers or colouring. Or write that poem or article. You might be completely tied up in work and home school, so keeping busy isn’t an issue, but it’s still important to keep a tiny slot of time for yourself, to do something that’s of interest to you and changes things up a bit.
    6. Make plans. If you’re worried about planning things that might not happen, make those things small and possible, not reliant on outside factors. It’s good to think of something you can plan for the next month or so. Gardening is a great one. If you have a garden, now is a great time to pick which seeds you want to grow and get them ordered, ready to plant next month. If you have a small space, you can grow seeds in recycled pots or cups in a window sill. I’ve often grown sweet peas like this, they’re easy to grow and smell lovely. In the spring, they can be transferred to pots on a balcony or outside space. Or on a small level, you can grow cress seeds, there’s something really cheerful about the miracle of watching tiny green shoots sprouting out of the soil or a simple dish. Kids love making sandwiches with the cress and mashed boiled eggs.
    7. Try to help others. It’s often difficult, especially when we all have busy lives, to manage our own needs let alone those of other people, but it really can help to think what might make things easier for someone you care about. It can take our mind off our own troubles, even if it’s for a moment. Just adding a few items on your own shopping list for those who need help, or can’t go out at all. Or seeing if they need help with the computer remotely, or by lending someone a good book. You can always phone them to discuss it after.
    8. Reach out – stay connected. Sometimes when you’re really struggling, it almost feels too much effort to speak to someone. I also secretly worry that however sociable we may be, we are all getting more and more used to not mixing. Picking up the phone even if it’s occasional and speaking to a neighbour or old friend can just help us to reconnect. It doesn’t matter if it’s to have a moan about how we’re feeling, or to listen to what they’ve been up to. Make an effort to smile under your mask and wave, or say hi to people on your walk. (It always makes me laugh as I try to smile with my eyes, I probably look in reality as though I’m squinting, but at least I’m trying!) We’re all in this together and at the moment it’s easy to forget that.Sometimes from horrible situations, unexpected treats can arise – one of the most wonderful things that has happened this year was something I really didn’t expect. My old room mate at Uni reached out to all of us and suggested a Zoom reunion. It was an amazing experience, to chat to my old friends, who I haven’t spoken to in over twenty years. Really moving, to see how in some ways we’ve changed but in others, not at all. It was a beautiful, uplifting and cheering experience and helped me reconnect to my old pre-children self. We were all reunited on a screen from all over the world, Texas, Kuala Lumpur, New Zealand – all over the place. Whoever thought it would take a lockdown to achieve that?
    9. Exercise – if you can, exercise is a great mood booster. Whatever floats your boat, do it. I love my Zoom Zumba classes a few times a week. It’s not quite the same as meeting all my friends at the sports hall, but at least we can still dance together and wave on screen, or laugh in the same way, when it all goes wrong. If you don’t like dance, there’s keep fit classes a la Joe Wicks, kicking a football round the garden if you have one, going out on a bike orYouTube has great Yoga to do each day – although don’t hurt yourself – I did manage to crick my neck trying to do one of the moves the other day! If nothing else, put on some music and dance round the room. It doesn’t matter, there’s no one watching – I love Dua Lipa and just the sound of her music makes me want to bop around. If you aren’t so mobile or are simply too tired, I find waving my arms around sitting at my desk is quite stress relieving. Just find your jam and do your thing. The kids love it too!
    10. Mindfulness – this is a big one. It’s tough to make time for, but if you can, it is so helpful to try to get that feeling of being in the moment. I like Headspace, it’s free to download the basic package for a month so you can give it a go. My kids don’t like the man’s voice who does the mindfulness exercises, but I quite like it. Also you can change him to someone else if you find him annoying (shame that doesn’t work for some real people – lol!) I’ve done quite a lot on the Action for Happiness Website – I really can’t recommend these guys enough; there are excellent seminars on ‘Coping with Stress’ and various other self help techniques and monthly planners to help you get through the winter months. They can be found on There’s also Calm, an App which does sleep stories, but if you don’t like any of these, you can just put on some relaxing music and shut the world out for a few minutes. Try not to fight the thoughts which will come through your mind, I’m a frequent overthinker about what’s for tea, or next on my to do list. But merely pretend you are lying on your back looking at the clouds in a summer blue sky. Observe them, note them, then return to letting your mind idly drift. It won’t happen straight away, but after a few days, I promise it does really help to give you just a short break from all the background noise.
    11.  Take some time for yourself. If you’re having a tough time, or even if you aren’t, practice some self-care, take an evening for a pamper and bubble bath session. Or do something you really want to do and haven’t had a chance, like painting or writing a letter to a friend. You can include others in your plans, plan a stay at home date night with your partner or a movie night with your family with popcorn and icecream. So often it’s the little things that count.
    12.  Give yourself a break. It’s okay not to feel okay and we all get off days. If you’re having a particularly bad day, be extra kind to yourself, watch something nice, plan a special snack or dinner, something you enjoy and accept this is how you feel for now. It doesn’t mean you will still be feeling that way tomorrow or at the weekend, or next week. Acceptance is particularly important, okay this is the situation, it’s pretty rubbish, but it will get better. But if you really feel you can’t cope, which happens to all of us at times, reach out to someone, to anyone – family, friends if you have them. You might find they are struggling too and are happy to talk about it. Or if you’d rather talk to someone you don’t know, somebody impartial, of if you have no one to discuss with, the NHS is still accessible for mental health support, call your GP without delay. Or the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day
      My daughter who has autism and really struggles to communicate her difficulties, says Shout is really helpful. It is a texting service with a great response time and is there for anyone, whatever your worry. There is always someone there to talk to about your problem.

Remember we are all in this together, I know it may not feel like it, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve done most of the hard bit and we can do this. I really hope these tips help and if you have any further ideas, do please add them in the comments section below.

Lots of love and virtual hugs,

Fiona/Chloe xxx