Wednesday, 16 January 2008

New Year 2008

Gosh, well, it’s 3.31pm on Wednesday 16th January 2008. Where does the time go, eh? Happy New Year anyway to my reader. It’s just about OK to say that until the end of January, isn’t it? I tried it once in February to someone I’d been slow in getting a Christmas card to and it sounded a little hollow. But mid January? Hey, yeah, that’s ok. Positively on time for me.

So how did it all go, the festive season and all that? Peace and joy? Horror and chaos? Laughter, love and merriment - or tears, flu and vomiting? It’s a funny old time of year, I reckon. All that rushing around for a few short hours of yearned for peace and joy or dreaded time boxed up with The Family, depending on how you look at it and whether Auntie Elsie’s been at the gin or not. You spend weeks buying and wrapping presents, they’re all ripped open in an instant with nervous mutterings of ‘I’ve got the receipt’ before everyone sinks back into their chair, looks disconsolately out of the window at the pissing rain and wonders, ridiculously, whether there might actually be something decent on telly.

No, no, no, no, no. That’s not a good Christmas. But the nadir came for me last year when we spent an ominously awful New Years Eve at a bowling alley in an industrial estate in Macclesfield with one half of a couple who’d had a blinding row. It was not a good start and the year never quite recovered. So this year we decided to try something new and headed to France for the holidays. It was a good move.

While the wind and rain lashed against the window pains in the High Peak we woke every morning to frosty ferns and blue skies. We took long walks along the beach in sharp golden winter light while aquamarine waves crashed rhythmically onto the yellow sands. We collected shells in our pockets and played catch with the surf; we walked over dunes and through sweet smelling pines; we drank pink kir and slurped salty lemon oysters. We sat up late with friends on Christmas Eve, stockings swinging above the fireplace; we rose late on Christmas Day, opened stockings on the bed, had a lazy breakfast and watched Santa Claus 2 in pyjamas on the sofa. We went for a bike ride in the forest and had Christmas dinner at friends, opening presents in front of the fire before laughing our way through Shrek the Third. Boxing Day saw the arrival of parents and brother and a new phase was entered. Days in, days out, more walks by the sea. A little bit of illness, a little scratchiness from time to time, but, looking back I remember only the good bits, which, indeed, was most of it. New Years Eve was spent with friends in an old house in the forest – more oysters, eaten outside around a roaring fire with glassfuls of fizz – then inside huddled round a table for more food, wine, laughter and conversation till the clock struck 12.

New Year's Day included a foolhardy dip in the ocean in the time-honoured fashion by my absurd husband (he never learns)followed by champagne shared in plastic cups sitting in the quiet lee of the dunes with the crowd from the previous night, our gaze resting on the wild Atlantic shore as it stretched endlessly before us and yonder to America.

Yes, reader, it was pretty idyllic, I make no apology, and it was the most relaxing Christmas and New Year I’ve had in years. I can only hope this is a good omen for the 12 months ahead. Fingers crossed, eh.

From Marrakech to Matlock

Quite a journey! At the end of the October Half Term holiday I left the hubbub and hurly burly of the Moroccan medina for the uptight bureaucracy of a County Council meeting in Matlock in Derbyshire to decide the fate of Combs Infant School. The contrast was profound. The startling colours of the Orient compared to the washed out greys of County Hall: the vibrancy of North Africa to the drabness of the meeting room. Councillor Charles sat at one end of the table. We gave him a cursory nod. Parents, teachers and other interested parties were squeezed into the alcoves around the room. The Moroccan sunshine had no place here. One’s spirit felt sapped as Mr Charles started to speak: ‘I find myself in the unusual position of not agreeing with what the Educational Officers have recommended.’ The recommendation NOT to close the school was wrong, he said. The legislation which states that no school can be shut if there is not another in the vicinity which matches its quality (and which they should have all known at the beginning of this absurdly time consuming, costly and ultimately futile process) did not, in his view, apply to schools such as Combs Infants. Who, then, is it aimed at, one could ask? This was a man who had been thwarted. A man who had wanted our school shut at any cost. It was startlingly clear that reason, educational excellence, even money, had nothing to do with it. It was, quite simply, as had been stated by a fellow councillor from the beginning, the politics of envy. He went on local radio immediately to state his intention of getting the 'loophole' in the law changed. He just wanted to piss on our parade.

We fought the battle and we won. We beat the authorities and the politicians. Power to the people. It can be done. It must be done. I just wish we had not become such a nation of ‘Yes, sirs’ and ‘Can’t be bothered-ers’. Just think what we might be able to change…

November, 2007
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