Merry Little

So many of the songs we hear for Christmas were written for Christmases like this one.

Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow”

“I’m dreaming… with every Christmas card I write…”

These songs, and others like them, come from times of war and tribulation. They suggest separation and an element of melancholia and sadness as well as a hope for some better times ahead.

It’s going to be that kind of Christmas this year, isn’t it?

Twitter is terrible in so many ways but it’s still a central tool in my life. One reason for this is that it shows me the implications of things. It shows me what the rather amorphous twists and turns of the news means to real-live people out there in the world.

Yesterday evening, London and other places got an un-signaled Tier 4 lockdown imposed on it. I’m not in London, I’m not even in England but that news made me nod sadly and say to myself, “that’s a tough one.” Then Twitter started to show me just how tough it will be on people and I understood better.

There was the nice lady who had just done her huge shop for the family who were coming to stay for the allowed few days. Sitting in a house full of food and drink and bright lights. Nobody coming.

The elderly gentleman who was packed up and ready to be brought to his daughter’s house for Christmas Day, his first family contact in so many months. Nobody coming for him.

The young son, first time away, who couldn’t come home before this, ready to roll homeward for his already-warmed electric blanket and a little well-deserved pampering. Not happening. Stay put. Muddle through somehow.

Here in Ireland, as I type, we will still be allowed meet in limited ways. But it is tenuous, tenuous. The numbers are on that climb that they do. They will not level off by themselves. Every little joy we allow ourselves seems to make the situation worse.

My own little family unit, the four of us, won’t see anybody else this Christmas. Our extended families must use the slender opportunity to see sons and daughter and mothers and fathers, rather than the aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews that we constitute.

Still we are lucky. Lucky and we know it. The four of us are here now, in our home, and here we will stay, together for the Christmas season. For us, it won’t be massively different from other years although the three or four key family and friend interactions we always traditionally have will be sorely missed.

A few more days of work and I’ll be finished until the New Year. The way the dates fall this year means there’s a few extras days over the weekend so it will be the 4th before I trundle back. This time of year is my annual holiday, I rarely take another. So, I look forward to it and treasure it.

I thank the fates that they have allowed the four of us to be together for this Pandemic Holiday.

But my heart goes out, it flies over fields and rivers, over mountains and seas, to those of you who must miss out on the things you need this year. It is tough on the remote factual level, but it is even tougher, down on the single human-being level, where Granny and Mother and Son and Daughter and Dad and Grandad cannot meet just this once and greet each other face to face, as in golden days of yore.

This next thing is easy for me to say, from where I sit, and I apologise if I sound trite or privileged.

I think it almost behooves us to have ourselves a merry little Christmas this year, no matter how hard that may be to do. The kindest thing we could do for the people we cannot see, the people who will worry and fret over us, is to show them that we are okay. We may not be together, but we can smile a little and shelter a little and interact in every way we can. The greatest gift I could get would be to know that my friends and family are muddling through somehow and that someday soon we all will be together once again. It’s not a gift easily given because there’ll be sadness and loneliness and a fervent wish that things could be different. And, of course, we can't all do this. Some people's Christmases are just too hard. 

But, if at all possible, for that moment at least, let your hearts be light, if only for those who will worry about you and miss you. Let’s raise a glass to those we cannot be with us and those dear ones who are no longer with us and those brave ones who are going through even greater trials than us this Christmas. Let’s remember them well.

And perhaps next year, as the old song says, all our troubles will be miles away.

Here's hoping. 

Happy Christmas, wherever you find yourself.

K x

Stepping Out Before the Rain Has Stopped

(Photo by Patricia Wilden)

We’ve all done it.

You’re on the High Street and it starts to rain. Strike that, it starts to pour. You find a shop door to stand into and you shelter there. You wait and watch the rain pummel down onto the pavement. From your place of cover, you watch all the other people either dashing for their own shelter or continuing to brave the deluge regardless. After a while you get bored and you check out the merchandise in the shop window. Any bargains? Any oddities? That also gets boring quickly so you start to scan the skies for signs that the shower will pass. There’s a bright streak up there, in the west. All should be better soon. The rain eases. Then people start emerging from adjoining shop doors where they have also been sheltering. With newspapers over their heads, they hurry onwards late for their appointments. You twitch a bit. You’ve been in here for too long now. Time is ticking away.

It’s time to go now. It’s time to go.

To hell with it. You go.

You dash out into the world again and it’s better, it’s far better than it was when you first ran from it but here’s the thing…

The rain is not over.

Not yet.

You march along. The sky is brightening, and it feels like it might yet become quite a nice day. But there’s no avoiding the obvious. It’s still raining hard and you are getting wet. You are getting just as wet as you would have been if you’d never stood in out of the rain in the first place. All your good sheltering work has been for nothing because you are now as wet as you could be.

Five minutes later and the rain suddenly stops. The sun bursts out. Wiser people who hung in their doorways for that crucial extra few moments now emerge, businesslike and dry.

You carry on. You squelch and the papers under your arm are soggy and falling apart. The rain got you in the end. You jumped too fast.

Yes, folks, you guessed it. It’s ‘Tortured Metaphor’ week again. Don’t they come around faster and faster as the years go on? It’s spooky really. And you’ll see where I’m going with all this rain palaver. We’ve known each other long enough at this stage. We know all our little ways. There are few surprises to be had. Let me spell it out for you though. Mostly because I’m not up to my word-count yet and I have nowhere left to go. Hell, I’ve even done the weather.

There’s a feeling that the rain is almost over, isn’t there? Christmas is coming, it feels like Christmas, doesn’t it? We can get together, as Bruce Willis said in that Christmas movie, and have a few laughs. We can forget about our troubles and be like we were. After all it’s the Holiday Season and the rain is nearly done.

But it isn’t done yet, is it?

If we all run out in the last remains of the shower and dance around, as we long to do, we may end up just as wet as if we stood out there all of that time. And we didn’t stand out there. We sheltered and sheltered until every item in that bloody shop window was known to us inside and out and we could recite them all by rote. Still, we stayed and stayed. We did good.

Are we really going to get drenched now and, in drenching ourselves, drench the people closest to us too?

There’s a definite light now, in the western sky. Can you see it? You must, It’s right there.

But it’s going to be a little while yet before it gets here. Before the rain truly stops.

So, hold on. Don’t get yourself soaked right at the end. That would be quite the shame.

Particularly now when a brighter day is so near.

Guest Post - Waiting To Go On - Ronan Egan

Some people are natural performers. They belong on the stage. They can unselfconsciously transform themselves into a character, completely inhabit a song and lose themselves in their performance. They come alive on stage and thrive in the presence of a live audience. One performer I know says that the safest place to be is on stage. But even the most talented and experienced performers know the terrible fear of live performance. It is often not performing that they fear the most but waiting to perform. Waiting to go on. 

I am not a natural performer. I am not someone who can entertain at a party. I’m no raconteur. I’m no comedian. I’m shy and I don’t like to draw attention to myself. The spotlight is not for me. I like the company of friends in small groups. I am more comfortable listening than talking and I feel awkward and uneasy in crowds.

It is strange then that performing on stage is what I do for fun. It’s my hobby. It’s been my hobby for 15 years. I discovered in my thirties that I could sing. In fact, it turns out that I sing pretty well and am able to sing for people. It turns out that I am able to perform. It doesn’t come naturally; I have to work at it but I can do it. I have performed in concerts, in musical theatre, in plays and in shows. I have become a competent performer and I love that. I don’t have that elusive talent that dazzles and I don’t “own the stage” but that’s okay. Once in a while I even shine a little bit. I like doing it very much. I love the preparation, the rehearsing and the convivial company of likeminded people. I love to sing or play a character. I love everything about it… except waiting to go on stage.

Waiting starts long before the performance begins. It starts to build in the days leading up. There is an uncomfortable something in my mind and body that I cannot quite put my finger on. In the early days I didn’t know what it was but now after many years I recognise it creeping up on me. This slowly growing sense of foreboding. Then there are the dreams. As the performance draws closer there are dreams of being on stage with no idea why I am there. I know I am there to perform but have no idea what or how and I wake in a blind panic. I have become accustomed to these dreams. I expect them now and I know it’s just part of the waiting.

The day of the performance is the longest wait. The sense of dread builds over the course of the day. The normal tasks of the day provide a helpful distraction but I cannot really concentrate and eating is out of the question. In the evening I go to the venue. I like to get there early. The greetings of colleagues and the preparations; warm up, costume, make up, provide another useful distraction as the waiting continues.

Eventually it’s time to make my way side stage and prepare to go on. Every performer has their own way of waiting. Some bring their script or piece of music and study it intently. Others like to chat and laugh to ease the tension. Some can be seen making the sign of the cross and saying a quiet prayer. I like to wait alone, quietly avoiding other people as the terror builds. I have this habit of sort of dancing from one foot to the other and walking in small circles. The movement helps to control the trembling that fills my whole body. Standing in the wings waiting for my cue to walk on stage is the most terrifying place I have been. It is dark back there and as I wait alone in the dark looking out at the brightly lit stage those last few minutes feel like an eternity.

It is akin, I imagine, to a parachute jump, waiting to jump from the plane. Once you step out there is no going back. Once you step forward you are committed, you are vulnerable, you are free falling. Even though you are told the parachute will open, there is that raw fear that it just might not.

Once you do walk onto the stage and begin to perform, the terror begins to dissipate a little and you become busy with the task in hand.

It’s the waiting, the interminable, stomach churning waiting that I dread. I never feel lonelier, more vulnerable than when I’m waiting to go on. Each and every time I curse my stupidity for putting myself into this hell. I don’t have to do this. I don’t make my living from performing. I do it for fun but what kind of fun is this? What kind of hubris made me think that I have the ability to do this? What kind of arrogance made me believe that I have the talent to entertain an audience. They will hate me. I will be humiliated. I will be mocked for my hubris and arrogance and absence of any kind of talent. I have absolutely no business being here.

I can’t and won’t step forward. There must be a way out. I imagine a multitude of escape routes. I am ill and can’t go on. The power goes down. The fire alarm goes off… or I could just turn on my heel and run away.

How easy that would be… but I stay. Every time I stay. And I wait and I wait… 

And I step forward… 

And I go on…

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Ronan Egan is a good friend and a wonderful singer and performer. He was kind enough to let me post this new piece of writing  which he shared with me recently. 

Thanks Ronan. Please keep 'Going On'.