birds, Christmas, Dickens, exercise, Fresh Air, neighbours, Wildlife, Winter

Six Ways To Enjoy Christmas, Despite Everything…

Floods, disasters, relationship problems…not everyone feels like celebrating this year. If you haven’t been able to face making plans but you don’t want to be lonely this Christmas, here are a few ideas.

Be Good To Yourself… get some fresh air. During the shortest, darkest days of the year, things always look better in daylight. Even if the weather’s foul, get outside the four walls of home for an hour or two. The sun’s still up there somewhere, and exposure to natural light will raise your seratonin levels to increase your feel-good factor.  If you feel the need for company, there are bound to be other people out and about, trying to work off all those mince pies. 

Make Something…if it’s only a mess!  Fat cake will be gobbled up by wild birds. Very gently warm some lard until it melts. Careful—don’t leave the pan unattended, and don’t burn yourself. Stir in some wild bird seed, crushed unsalted peanuts and maybe a little grated cheese. When it’s cooled almost to setting point, pour the mixture into ice cream containers or yoghurt pots and leave to set.   Put it out close to a window, near to a dish of water (but away from bushes or other cover, where cats might hide).

Visit a Neighbour…England’s not a big place and most people live cheek by jowl in towns, but a 2013 poll by Churchill Insurance discovered that about 70% of us don’t know our neighbours’ first names, and more than a third wouldn’t recognise them. If you don’t know the name of your neighbours, Christmas gives you the perfect excuse to find out. Playing postman is a great ice-breaker. Simply write “with best wishes” inside a non-denominational greeting card, knock on their door and say, “I would have made it more personal, but I’m afraid I didn’t know your name.” Who knows—they might have been screwing up the courage to make contact with you!

Join in…every year, our village’s silver band travels around the surrounding countryside during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, stopping every half mile or so to play a selection of carols and collecting for charity. The sound travels a long way up and down the various valleys, so even the most isolated houses can track their progress. Everyone comes out to listen, and the more adventurous follow them round as part of a spontaneous choir. Think of it as a slow-motion flash mob! Find out if there’s something similar where you live such as carols in the mall. Even if you aren’t religious, services over Christmas should give you a warm welcome. Music is very therapeutic (and there might be a mince pie or two involved, too.)

Give A Bit Back…foodbanks are grateful for donations of dry and long-life goods all year round. Christmas is no exception, but it’s a time of year when people in difficulty feel more isolated than ever. How about putting some chocolate or a fancy packet of biscuits in the collection for your local foodbank?  Eating the wrong things is never the answer to any problem, but everyone needs a bit of non-verbal comfort now and again. Offer a listening ear to a lonely person. Take a few small, non-controversial and prettily wrapped presents such as notebooks, cotton handkerchiefs, or calendars along to your local hospital, if they run a donation scheme for those who have to be in hospital over the holiday.

Whatever you do, have a a peaceful, happy Christmas.

Christina Hollis, Crickley Hill, exercise, running

Monday Fun Run

Writing is such a sedentary occupation. My daily commute between desk and fridge could hardly be called exercise and although I wear a pedometer everywhere and try to do 12k steps per day, all that chocolate cake was heading south and staying there. You know what they say – “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips”! I belonged (reluctantly) to a gym for years, until I was seven months pregnant with my last baby. When I fell asleep on one of the static bikes, I decided it was time to give in gracefully. Actually it was a relief – I had no interest in the competitive aspect of who had the latest kit, and the fees were rising every year.
Spool on a dozen years. We were on our way to The Organic Food Shop, which involves driving up Crickley Hill.  This is notorious locally as the graveyard of juggernauts, especially in icy weather. Here’s the view from the top:
 As we ground our way slowly up the endless incline, I heard myself saying : “I wonder if I could run up here?”. I have no idea where that idea came from. I hadn’t done any sort of exercise for a dozen years, beyond walking to and from school on the daily delivery. At school, I’d been the kid who was always last to be picked for teams. My love of food and driving a desk all day had a terrible effect on me. To cap it all, a bout of reactive arthritis had left me nervous of stressing my joints – well, that was my excuse, anyway. That one idle thought would have gone the way of all the rest, but a few weeks later our local clinic offered free health checks. As walking wasn’t shifting my excess baggage and I’m congenitally unable to diet (I was born without willpower), I decided to go along in the hope they’d say “You’re fine. Keep taking the chocolate cake.”
Unfortunately, they didn’t. I had to get active, and they recommended the NHS’s “Couch to 5k Plan”. I tried it, and it almost killed me. Too unfit to risk ridicule by running on the roads, I started on a treadmill. Week One was supposed to be a brisk five minute walk, the running for 60 seconds followed by walking for 90 seconds, repeated for twenty minutes. I did one repetition, had to walk for two minutes the second time, then gave up. It felt like the NHS was trying to drum up business rather than get me fit. There had to be another way, but I was too exhausted to look for it. Luckily, a few weeks later DD came home from the library with a book called “Running Made Easy”. It was funny, it was non-threatening, and best of all, it made me want to try again…
I’ll be updating my progress regularly, so call back to see whether I ever get to run up Crickley Hill.
Have you got a huge ambition?