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The title of this month’s blog may seem a little misleading.  I’m not wallowing in self pity or vying for an easy life, but rather taking a view on the need to just make life a little less stressful in all sorts of situations.

So, here I sit surrounded by lots of things designed to make life easier.  I have my all-singing all-dancing computer, a phone that I can instruct to “phone so and so” and now I have a music system that allows me to play our entire CD collection without so much as slipping a CD into the CD player. 

More of that later, but let me take you back to early December.

For various reasons, mostly family, the preparations for Christmas in this house were, to say the least, running behind. 

Fortunately, we have never been traditionalists, and so an artificial Christmas tree has always been our preferred choice of marking the festive season.  This choice does avoid the need to go traipsing off to the local garden centre and coming back with something that you imagine would fit in the house, only to discover you need to lop a bit off the top before you can even get it through the front door.

Over the last twenty three years, in addition to getting through a number of artificial trees, we have also gathered an array of festive décor.  You know the things I am talking about – the bauble you bought from a Christmas shop whilst on summer holiday, the remnants of a primary school education, and even (in our case) an inflatable goose (bought when Steve and I went to our first pantomime together back in December 1988).  You’ve probably gathered that the panto we saw was “Mother Goose” and Steve insists that this relic comes out every year, and sits (along with other festive cuddlies) under the tree. 

As our Christmas tree was being taken out of its box this year, Steve and I mused over how our family Christmases were etched with memories of father’s struggling with tree lights that were not packed away neatly the previous year, and so with unerring regularity, the ritual of untangling tree lights would begin in earnest with tempers fraying at the first knot to be encountered on the long road to festive heaven!

I can still picture the scene in our house.  My Dad, having had a long day at work, would come home on the dreaded day of tree decoration.  He would be sweetened with his favourite dinner, and then banished to the front room, and told to stay there until the tree lights were working.  Sometimes my Mum would take pity on him and smooth the rocky path with a glass or two of whiskey, but the outcome was always the same … After a couple of hours, and very many expletives, Dad would emerge from the front room, triumphant, having won the annual battle of the lights. 

But, we all knew it would end in tears on twelfth night.  Taking the lights off again was another battle, which did result in Fatherly defeat.  The surrender would see my Dad, with a mixture of frustration and temper, rolling all the lights up in a ball, grumbling with post Christmas misery, and packing the problem away for another year. 

Determined not to make the same mistake as our fathers, and to avoid a December Armageddon, we decided that our tree lights would be packed away in meticulous fashion.  And I have to say, it worked perfectly until … and this is where I come back to making life easier (and your patient reading has paid off) after one particularly stressed tree decorating session, Steve decided that trying to balance his bum on the arm of his wheelchair whilst wielding a string of fairy lights and striving for symmetry on all areas of the tree was just too much.  A hasty trip to B and Q was organised, and hey presto, a fibre optic tree materialised that disposed of one Christmas problem.

The next issue that desperately needs to be addressed is how to make wrapping Christmas presents easier.  We have a major problem in our house.  I am Rose amongst two thorns – well actually two blokes – who have absolutely no idea how to wrap presents! 

With me, the small matter of four fingers doesn’t help either, but try as I might; I have not been able to coach my men in the art of present wrapping.  Granted things have got better since those heady days of our first Christmas, when I spent hours on Christmas morning unravelling yards and yards of wrapping paper that had been rolled and rolled and rolled around my presents and secured with copious amounts of sticky tape.  But I always knew the one to leave until last.  It was the one with nice shiny paper and swirly festive twine – that had been wrapped by the nice lady in the jewellery shop.  Need I say more!

It is fair to say that things have moved on a bit.  We have reached a situation where a little thought is given to the choice of wrapping paper.  Now, at least, Steve does try to alternate the wrapping paper that he uses when wrapping presents.  It is an attempt – albeit a vain attempt – to avoid the “production line” syndrome which constitutes present wrapping in the Moriarty-Simmonds household.

Just before our annual wrapping fest started this year, we watched a programme on TV which espoused the virtues of wrapping made easy.  Ha (!) the premise of the programme presupposed a household where the kids were in bed, or down the pub (dependent on age), the partner was manfully hoisting a Christmas tree onto his broad shoulders and marching it into the living room where the log fire was blazing, and the lady of the house was sitting, all designer clad, on a newly waxed wooden floor surrounded by parcels neatly stacked into piles.  Wrapping paper and sharp scissors were at the ready, and the sticky tape dispenser actually worked!

For most of us, as the reality is so far removed from this fantasy, the programme presenter might just as well have come from another planet – and the further out in the galaxy the better.

With us, wrapping is either done during the day, in between work and business commitments or at some unearthly time of night when you’re so tired the sticky tape seems to stick to everything except the wrapping paper. 

There is however, a problem if you have time to indulge in festive wrapping during the day.  And that is you can guarantee the door bell will ring unexpectedly.  Then a panic of nuclear proportions erupts as you try and get the presents hidden for fear that the caller may be the recipient of one of the gifts that you are trying to wrap with such care and creativity!

There are at least two people reading this blog who go to inordinate lengths to produce beautifully wrapped parcels with baubles, bells and bangles.  How I yearn to produce such wonderful creations … Utopia!

This year, I got James to give me a hand to wrap some of our parcels.  I thought a little festive bonding between Mother and Son was the order of the day.  Well, that was the theory.   James has obviously inherited his father’s ability on wrapping.  Let’s just say that the wrapping paper industry will not flounder unless James grasps the idea that unwrapping Christmas presents is not a new innovation in the game of “Pass the Parcel”.  To top it off, we ran out of labels, and had to resort to post-it notes.  Steve’s pressies had yellow ones, and James used what was left.  Lurid green seemed to be in vogue.  If that wasn’t enough, we both got decidedly bored of writing messages on post-it notes, and by the end of the session, my labels had gone from expressing undying love “for my wonderful husband” to “Love Always R xx”.  That reminds me, I must also make a mental note of the need to find a more efficient way of writing labels for next year.

Fast forward to Christmas Day.  The effort of wrapping presents and decorating a fibre optic tree had taken its toll.  You know you are exhausted when your father (remember, he of the fairy lights battle) who stays with us for Christmas Eve, marches into your bedroom at 9.20am and demands to know why you are not yet up and dressed, and if you want tea or coffee to go with the Christmas Day breakfast that he has prepared.

And so, all bleary-eyed with wonder and excitement – well it used to be that way – we trundled up to the living room.  Twinkling fibre optic lights and an array of presents surrounded the base of the tree.  Presents to Steve, Rosie and James, were all easily identified by the psychedelic post-it notes, and were interspersed with those fancy parcels from … I shan’t name you but you know who you are!

There was the obligatory present from Steve, all nicely wrapped, but this time it was wrapped by the shop assistant in the rather expensive perfume shop.  Then I got down to the business of unwrapping my other less elaborately wrapped presents.  The music system to which I referred earlier is one of the most useful presents I have been given for a long time. 

I really do love music, and I will now be able to listen to my CD collection without having to trouble anyone to load or unload the music.  The only problem is that the CDs have be loaded into the system first, and having started on the task, it has quickly become apparent that my taste in music has changed dramatically over the last twenty, maybe even thirty years or so … Aled Jones and the Snowman; Charlotte Church and the Voice of an Angel .. What was I thinking of!

So in the last couple of days, whilst I am learning to operate my new voice activated phone (a present to myself whilst spending wisely my birthday and Christmas money from Dad – he of previously mentioned crumpled fairy lights saga), and Steve spends his evenings loading CDs onto my new music system, we have discussed how we can make things even easier.  I’m told it is going to start with storing the Christmas tree in a Christmas tree storage bag.  The recycling bank will be in for a treat when the old boxes end up in cardboard heaven.  I think a collection of storage bags arrived from Amazon the other day.  There will also be storage bags for all our other festive bits and pieces.  The theory is that by cutting down on unnecessary festive trinkets we will have more time for packing.  We shall see.

Let’s just say that festive gift bags, with tissue paper for protection and labels already attached to the bags become more appealing by the minute as I write this blog.

I am however worried that Steve is taking this make life easier crusade a little too far.  Today he suggested we do away with our lawn in favour of synthetic grass, and has even suggested a “Wallace and Gromit” style machine to help me get dressed in half the time, it takes me to get dressed at present.

If he thinks I am going to be propelled from my bed into my clothes rather like Russell Grant was fired out of his canon on “Strictly” then he can think again. 

Making life easy – whether at Christmas or any other time – is one thing, but the root cause of the problem has to be tackled.  As I see it, there are two solutions to making our festive fun more feasible.  Firstly we hire someone who provides a nice tree decorating service to decorate our Christmas tree, and secondly I enrol my boys on an intensive course on gift wrapping. 

However, to be absolutely honest, I rather like the over-dressed fibre optic tree, with the mish-mash of baubles collected over the years.  Yes, it would be nice if the presents were all wrapped in the style of an expensive department store, but does it really matter how the gift is wrapped … Isn’t it the thought that counts? You can let me have your thoughts on this point, in next year’s Christmas cards please … Or by posting comments on my blog site!

To end this first 2012 blog, I hope the New Year is kind to you and your family, and that all your dreams and ambitions are fulfilled just as you want them to be.

Happy New Year!