Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Christmas rock-maker

Christmas is a time of stories . . . traditional stories. Stories round the fire in the long, dark evenings . . . stories when sleep is elusive and Santa's arrival is imminent.
I came across this one, curl up and enjoy it . . .

Once upon a time there was a rock maker. During the summer months he did a good trade, selling his wares to the seaside towns and doing good business. But, in the winter, no-one wanted rock and he and his young wife found life very difficult.
One day his wife said to him, "Why don't you make a special Christmas rock? Then people will want to buy it in the winter."
The rock maker thought this a good idea, and he went to consult a wise man.
"How should I make my Christmas rock?" he asked, "I was thinking of making it green with red spots right through it, to recall the ivy and the holly berries."
But the wise man disagreed, "You make it pure white," he instructed, "as white as the promise of peace, as white as the innocence of the new born. And, down the middle of the rock, you place a beautiful, five-pointed golden star to remind everyone of the joy of Christmas. When people eat your rock they will get the true Christmas message. They will look beyond their own desires and anxieties. They will notice the birds singing in the bushes, they will see the spring bulbs pushing up through the earth, the stars shining in the sky, they will be filled with hope and joy and the love of God"

The rock maker went away feeling a little worried. It was a beautiful idea, but the ingredient to make the gold star was very expensive, it would take up all his remaining savings, and what if the rock didn't sell? But his wife persuaded him to give it a try, for, as she said, they had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
So they sold all but the most essential of their possessions and they bought the expensive gold ingredient, and the rock maker made the special snow-white Christmas rock with the shining star right down the middle.
And what was the result? The people couldn't get enough of this wonderful Christmas rock. And this was the amazing thing, once they had tasted it they bought it again and again, not for themselves but for their friends. Even more amazingly, the star didn't stop shining once it had been eaten. The people who ate the rock also started to shine. The shine came out of their eyes, it echoed in their laughter, it radiated in their faces. And the rock maker and his wife would have been very wealthy - only they, too, were inspired to give their money away.
And the rock maker and his wife came to a wise decision. They decided that they would continue to make Christmas rock, even in the summer, so that the joy of Christmas would permeate the whole year . . . and they did.

So, if you are lucky enough to come across some of their special rock, why not buy it and give it away? We all have need of it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Fayre!

Well, I must say it's good to be home without further mishaps!

As I walked down to the High Street to do my pre-Christmas shopping, I thought that everyone had gone away. The street was blissfully free of traffic, there were very few pedestrians on the pavement - Kensington, it seemed, had debunked for Christmas.

But no! As I entered the Food Hall at M&S I discovered my mistake - there had indeed been a mass migration, but the residents of Kensington had not moved to the country, they had moved en masse into the Food Hall to stock up on their Christmas fayre!
Never have I seen such chaos - people, people everywhere. Mothers with prams and toddlers underfoot, fathers looking bemused and wishing themselves elsewhere. One elderly lady with a walking stick had a small dog on a lead. Can you imagine the hazard caused by an active small dog on a lead in a Food Hall . . . ? Exactly! The baskets and trolleys were filled to overflowing and, as fast as the shoppers stripped the shelves, so the poor, harassed staff rushed around with replacements, restocking supplies.

It took twice as long as usual to locate my regular goods, but at last I reached the check-out queue. Even here there was a problem. The queues stretched back into the food aisles, finding the least slow-moving was quite a feat. Finally, having positioned myself behind a young couple with a small child, I was able to lay out my purchases on the conveyor-belt.

They seemed a nice young couple, although, caught up in the demands of their Christmas shop, they were a little frenzied.
"The mackerel!" cried the young man abruptly, "We've forgotten the mackerel!"
His wife obediently rushed off to make good the omission.
"Sausages . . . " she hissed in annoyance on her return, adding the mackerel to the mounting pile, "I've forgotten the sausages . . . " and she rushed off again.
Finally, all their purchases were accounted for and, at what should have been a brief moment of relaxation, the young woman's face went pale.
"Walnuts!" her voice was anguished, "I've forgotten the walnuts!"
It was too late to go in search. I tried to console her with the thought that at least walnuts would be a treat to look forward to in the New Year . She gave a wan smile, but seemed far from convinced.
My mind was taken up with thoughts of this strange Western society, where the absence of walnuts can ruin a Christmas, so I was a little surprised when the woman at the check-out till asked for my credit card. I handed it over, thinking that she had whizzed my goods through with commendable speed.
"Your number . . . " she said.
Obediently, I registered my number on the pad.
"Seventy-one pounds, fifty-nine pence," said the check-out lady.
I looked at her aghast. I knew that I'd had to buy Rupert free-range turkey as there wasn't any alternative, but surely this was ridiculous?
The young couple, who had been loading up their trolley with the overflowing carrier-bags, turned round. The check-out lady turned to me looking worried, "I thought you were all together?" she said.
It turned out that, all unwittingly, I'd paid for this young family's Christmas lunch!

They were a very nice young couple, with an attractive small daughter, but they could hardly be classified as the deserving poor - it didn't seem my Christmas role to pay for their lunch.
We none of us knew what to do. Apparently it's impossible to cancel a card once the number has been accepted.
Then inspiration struck, "Have you a cheque-book?" I asked the young couple.
They had.
They gave me a cheque, I wished them a happy Christmas - and we all said goodbye on the best of terms!

As you can imagine, rather than run the risk of being involved in any more festive confusion, I came straight home.

One way and another, this is turning out to be an unexpectedly costly Christmas!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

In charge on The Thames!

This is a story for you to read when you think that your life is a little tough. Believe you me, it has nothing on the toughness of life as a Special Needs Governor in charge of a Christmas Outing. Only Joyce Grenfall could truly understand what I mean!
Have you ever forced a large boat to change direction mid-stream whilst under Waterloo Bridge? I bet you haven't! Anyway, now read on . . .

It started on a unpredictable note.. The prospect of taking a large bunch of Special Needs kids out of school and on public transport is not one that you contemplate with total equanimity. But everything had been planned carefully. I had booked our places on the boat, ensured that the boat company were expecting us, all that we needed to do was to reach Westminster on time.

I arrived at the school to find the excited, but volatile, group far from ready. At least twenty minutes later than planned, all thirty-one children were finally making their way down the hill to catch the 'bus. The Head of the Department led the way, two more teachers were in the middle, and two helpers and I acted as sheep dogs in the rear.
Once on the High Street, we waited patiently for a ‘bus.
Finally, it arrived . . . full!
Time was already runnng short, after a moment’s hesitation, we decided that, if we were not to miss the boat, there was no alternative . . . we had to get on!
We pushed, we shoved, children were crammed up the stairs and under seats, teachers and helpers drew in their breaths and one helper, who walks with crutches, was seated unceremoniously on the luggage stand!
The driver refused to start the 'bus - he was overcrowded and he wouldn't break the rules. We pleaded, we implored, we called on his better nature, we told sob stories of Special Needs children and Christmas treats until, worn down by our entreaties, he set off!

We reached Westminster Bridge with ten minutes to spare. Everyone was exultant. In high spirits the children trooped down to the jetty where the other helpers were waiting. I went to the ticket office with the cheque to collect the tickets.
"Go to Landing Stage 2," said the man at the ticket office.
I waved in the direction of Landing Stage 2 and everyone set off.
Within minutes we had reached the landing stage (which had been in sight of the ticket office during the ticket-buying process) but were surprised to find no boat there. A rather gormless official came down the ramp.
"Who's in charge?" he asked.
I said that I was.
"Well, you've missed the boat," he said with a certain grim pleasure, "It went two minutes ago. There it is . . ."
We swung round to look in the direction of his pointing finger, and, sure enough, there it was - a beautiful red-and-white boat, sailing speedily away from us under Waterloo Bridge.
We could none of us believe it. How could they possibly have set sail with all of us awaiting instructions just yards away on the pier?
"Then it must come back!" I demanded.
"Sorry . . . can't do that. You'll have to wait and catch the next one," and he walked off.
Never have I felt more angry. With all the speed I could muster, I rushed back to the ticket office.

I really think that I did the children proud! I was furious! I demanded that the boat turn round,
that they honour their agreement, that fifty people should not be forced to wait on a wet and windy jetty when the booking had been made for over a month!
I was just drawing breath, and about to charge them with negligence and heaven knows what else, when a cry went up from the landing stage. The boat was returning! The poor, harrassed ticket inspector must have signalled to his colleague to accept defeat and call the boat back!
You can imagine the cheering when the boat arrived!

So, there we are . . . it turned into a wonderful trip, everyone enjoyed themselves, even the most harrassed teacher was laughing happily on the bus journey home. As for me, I can add it to my CV that I've been in temporary charge of shipping on the Thames . . . !
Well, if you don’t delve too deeply into the details, it sounds good . . . !