Please forgive a little personal history, but our theme is ghosts, and our ghosts usually appear when we put up our decorations. Only today they didn't. It seems we've rather carelessly annoyed them.
You see, over the summer, we altered the house. When the final child went off to university, it was either that or moving. So we shifted the kitchen, changed the sitting room, did a few things up. We’re very pleased with the result, but it wasn’t until I began to prepare for Christmas that I fully realised how gains entail losses. The doors of the ‘old’ house were pricked full of small holes from Christmas drawing pins; one wall was blotted with strange stains from enthusiastically lit puddings; the hall carpet was pitted with evidence of the Advent candle’s waxy wobbles; and the kitchen table bravely bore the heavy scars of a wreath that went up in flames more than a decade ago.
Our decorations - so randomly collected they might be an Emin art installation – rattle with the ghosts of all the Christmases we’ve had here. I’ve grown accustomed to bumping into them as I tread a well-worn path round the house. However irritable I am gathering bluetack and ladder, as soon as the decorations tumble out of the ancient and most inconveniently sized cardboard box marked ‘Christmas’, a spell is cast. Here's the rather hideous horse that inspired an (unpublished as yet) story that cartoonist Annie Tempest illustrated for me. As you can see from the picture further below, the Christmas Horse* she's created is utterly delightful. You'll also see the little present that one child, or was it another, made when in primary something, and here's the wooden pig sent by my oldest sister 26 years ago, the Christmas after our wedding.
Pride of place always goes to the clown my mother made in ten minutes for the top of the tree the first Christmas my husband and I celebrated alone, unable to go to my home because our second child, just three months old, was too ill to be out of range of the hospital. (This is not a sob story! The baby’s illness was only momentarily serious: she’s now 22 and fit as a flea.)
As these and a multitude of other familiar comforts have slotted into their usual places, I have happily given in to mishy-mashy sentimentality. Oh come all ye ghosties, joyful and triumphant.
Not this year. Impolitely ousted from their dens by joiner, plumber, electrician and painter, the ghosts are in a huff. As I put the decorations up in unfamiliar locations, not one ghost came to visit. Not only that, but it seems we have a fightback on our hands. Cross ghosts must be the reason two sets of lights are operating a ‘go slow’, another set has ceased to function and the bow I tie round the banisters keeps coming adrift. I’ve tried to placate, but I don’t think I’ll succeed because I must have hoovered so robustly after the alternations were finished, I can’t find even one elderly pine-needle to offer as an old welcome.
I was sad at first. I pottered around in a pleading, apologetic kind of way. Now I say stuff it. No irritable ghost is going to ruin my favourite time of year. Never mind Christmas past. Our children are either already home or on their way home. One is bringing her new husband. If the old ghosts want to join us, splendid. If not, I’m doing no more grovelling. New ghosts will arrive in due course. Welcome, all.
*The Christmas Horse image is copyright Annie Tempest.