Monday, 28 December 2009

Would the real baby Jesus please step forward?

Let's face it, you have to be a particularly abhorrent two year old not to be adorable. Especially if you spend most of the day immersed in a pretend (and much more satisfactory) world. This week I’ve been reminded that things are not always what they seem, and that sometimes this is a decidedly good thing.

I've been reprimanded for stepping on the Impster's imaginary dogs, not hearing her imaginary cats meowing, and accidentally washing up a chopping board with her imaginary olive pesto ('and now,' she hollers outraged, 'I have to start all over again!' Oops). To get her into the bath it is necessary to make believe picnics and train rides, and to get her out again, tents and camels; to get into pyjamas, ball dresses and glass slippers, and to bed a hastily improvised story on a subject of her choosing. I have been allocated the unflattering roles of Ugly Sister and Big Ears, but happily have also been permitted to marry a prince and eat strawberry tart, which seems like a fair enough trade.

It turns out that Christmas time has been specially designed for two year olds. On Christmas Eve I took the Impster to the children's service at the cathedral, dressed as an angel (any occasion which calls for the wearing of fairy wings in public goes down very well with the both of us). Just a few minutes before the service I hastily bastardised her white bridesmaid dress, fashioned a tinsel halo, and accidentally stabbed her with the needle a few times in a fervent attempt to attach the wings. Ta-da! - one angelic child.

But when we arrive, things get kind of complicated. 'Where's the Angel Gabriel?' she asks. To which I point out all the other angelically-attired children. 'No, the Angel Gabriel'. Oh, the real one. I see. 'Well, he's probably in the sky somewhere at the moment. He only pops down occasionally when someone really needs his help.' She ignores this unsatisfactory response and provides her own: 'He's upstairs with the baby Jesus I 'spect.' I nod sagely.

Ditto the wise men, ditto Mary, ditto the shepherds. Yes yes, she can see the children dressed up (durr Mummy!) but when are the real ones going to turn up? 'I can see the stable,' she says, looking up at the wooden screen in front of the choir. And as a baby starts crying mid-carol, she turns to me and says, 'That's the baby Jesus going waa waa waa I s'pose.'

The service, heaving with several hundred barely-continent toddlers does not last long, and there is a rush for the doors. But not for us. The Impster is not leaving until she has located 'the real baby Jesus'.

My explanation of how he lived a rather long time ago and isn't a baby any longer and how we are just remembering the story, suddenly seems fraudulent. You see, only the day before we have taken her on a steam train and she has met 'the real Father Christmas' who has given her presents and everything. Just like the story.

Now, if a two year old indulges in pretend it is a beautiful and charming thing. But somewhere along the line, pretending becomes dishonest and wrong, and we despise grown ups with any hint of 'pretence' about them. That’s why some very dedicated Christians actually refuse to let their children believe in Father Christmas. But without him, surely childhood is a bit, well, serious. If we stoke our imagination when it's young, let it run riot, fuel the furnace with all sorts of fantastical nonsense and whimsy and amusement, then just maybe we are expanding our capacity for belief; to believe in whatever we finally decide is worthwhile believing in.

So right now, as well as being ceaselessly entertained, I'm utterly evangelical about indulging in as much Christmas magic as you can conjure. I will never stop believing in Father Christmas. And if you've spent the week playing charades and feeling all bah humbug, do me a favour and just pretend.

Friday, 4 December 2009

You are where you live (well, maybe)

No one could accuse me of impatience when it comes to housing matters, though one might be justified in questioning whether my tenacity doesn’t suggest a mildly alarming psychosis. Having offered on our future abode no less than 18 months ago, at last we appear to be in danger of actually moving in. The intervening period has taught me the value of waiting for what you want (as if) and (more truthfully) the nature of my housing personality. Now what about yours?

1. If someone mentions moving to the country, you
(a) offer to accompany them for all viewings no matter how far away
(b) lend them your copy of John Seymour’s Complete Book of Self-sufficiency
(c) ask them whereabouts in Surrey
(d) laugh your stilettos off

2. When looking at property details you
(a) know you can’t afford it but can’t resist a peek
(b) book a viewing if it has a family-sized kitchen
(c) immediately check the square footage
(d) only pick them up if the house has serious curb-appeal

3. You know if you’ve found the right place when
(a) you’ve been waiting for it to come onto the market for the last 10 years
(b) you walk in and it feels like home
(c) it ticks all the boxes
(d) you spot the Eames lounge chair

4. You idea of home is
(a) the house where you live in your dreams
(b) the house where you were born
(c) the house where you live now
(d) the house on p24 of The World of Interiors

5. Your partner falls in love with a house by the sea, so you
(a) immediately check out
(b) assume they mean a beach hut
(c) wonder if its insurable
(d) enquire about the view

6. When viewing a house you
(a) look to see how much value you can add
(b) are blown away by the period features (including the original Burlington cistern)
(c) hope to move in without needing to even redecorate
(d) envisage knocking down two walls and moving the staircase

7. For you, suburbia is
(a) regrettably more affordable
(b) lovely if your friends live there
(c) where you currently live
(d) hell on earth

8. When asked the current value of your home, you
(a) can cite three recent agent’s quotations
(b) have no idea, you’ve been living there too long
(c) make a quick calculation based on the national average
(d) ask whether that includes soft furnishings

9. The thing you value most about your home is
(a) its location
(b) its contents
(c) its spaciousness
(d) its interior

10. Your favourite property programme is
(a) Property Ladder
(b) The Home Show
(c) Location, Location, Location
(d) Grand Designs

If you answered:

Mostly As – you are a property Obsessive. You’ve just moved, but you still subscribe to Rightmove updates. You think about property approximately once every three seconds, and never visit a new house without mentally redesigning and revaluing it. Your local estate agent now thinks you fancy him because you unavoidably slow down every time you pass the window.

Mostly Bs – you are a property Romantic. You are hugely attached to where you live and have lovingly restored all the cornicing and architraves. Home is very much where your heart is and a bit of mess just makes the place feel lived in. If you don’t live in it already, you’d like your next house to be your home for life, and you’re likely to pay over the asking price for it.

Mostly Cs – you are a property Pragmatist. You love the built-in storage, double garage, and the fact that the station is just 10 minutes walk away. You’ll move if you’re relocated but otherwise would rather stay put and have more money for holidays.

Mostly Ds – you are a property Stylist. You believe your home and haircut confer serious style and offer a window to your identity. One of life's perpetual worries is finding a decent cleaner. When you have a life crisis, redecorating your house provides instant solace and maximum therapeutic benefit.