Monday 23 December 2013

Pre-Christmas Dramas

We were so nearly there. At the beginning of the week, the end of term had loomed like a horrible deadline, before which I needed to fit in doing the rest of the Christmas shopping, attending various end of term events without forgetting anything, writing the Christmas cards and writing a final feature for work.

But now we were an hour away from the end of Littleboy 1's term. I was finishing off my last few bits of work before a break for the holidays, while Littleboy 2, having broken up a day earlier, was happily esconsed on the sofa with an iPad, having slept in till 9am. All was quiet in the deep dark wood.

And then I got the call from school. The nurse's office. "We seem to have a very unusual problem here, Mrs NVG. Littleboy 1 appears to have a 5p coin stuck to the roof of his mouth, and we can't get it out. We think he may need to go to a dentist, or even A&E."

Littleboy 2 and I rushed up there to find a distraught Littleboy 1 with, indeed, a coin somehow suctioned to the inside of his mouth. Whether or not the crying was to do with embarrassment, pain or the fact that he knew I'd told him a million times not to put money in his mouth, I'm not quite sure.

Having not registered the boys yet with a dentist in London (I was waiting until 6 months after their last American appointment), I was faced with a dire wait at the busiest A&E department in London, and had visions of a dreadful Christmas ahead with Littleboy unable to eat or drink anything, having had the coin surgically removed somehow.

Luckily the school nurse thought of a local dentist who helps the school out with fitting rugby mouthguards. A phone call later and we were down there; the dentist removed the offending coin in seconds.

"Have you ever seen this before?" I asked her. "Er, no", she replied. "I can't say I have."

This is the second time I've been told by a medical professional that something unique has happened to a child of mine. The first was when Littleboy 2, as a baby, managed to get a hair so tightly wrapped around his little toe that it had to be removed by a plastic surgeon.

However, it may run the family; my father-in-law tells me he swallowed a penny (old penny, so quite big) at much the same age. He had to have it removed under chloroform, a most unpleasant experience. So, I think we got off lightly.

Anyway - Littleboy 1 is fine again, and we are excitedly counting down to Christmas. But I don't think we'll be putting any coins in the Christmas pudding....

Monday 16 December 2013

The Great Transatlantic Christmas-off

Not my neighbour's partridge; but it's a good old English tradition
"Look, it's a partridge! In a pear tree".

This was about the third time I've pointed out to Littleboy 1 this most inventive outdoor Christmas decoration from a house near us. A stuffed bird sits atop a tiny tree, which is hanging with golden pears, outside their house. (While America still wins on the classy decoration front, England is definitely improving - I've seen lots of fairy lights on trees and bushes this year, and not so many flashing garish reindeer).

When he finally managed to see the thing, he asked quite simply: "What's that got to do with Christmas?"

The boys have certainly missed out on some English Christmas traditions during our time in the US, but they're making up for lost time now. Although sadly too old to actually be a shepherd/wise man in the Nativity, they've sung in choirs at school as younger children perform it. We're one carol service down, two to go (Littleboy 1's was at a large London cathedral, a really special experience, while the other two will be a tiny country churches). Although I realise I'm a hypocrite for wanting them to experience carol services, given that I'm the most Dawkins-eque critic of religion, I do feel they missed something in the US, with its strict banishment of anything religious from school. After all, you can't be critical of something you've never been exposed to, can you? (And after all, I like singing carols).

Littleboy 2's been to one pantomime with school, and I've booked tickets for all of us to go to the Theatre Royal, Stratford, to see Dick Whittington. I'm not sure panto even exists in New York where the Christmas theatre experience is either The Nutcracker, or The Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.

This week we're off to The Snowman in Covent Garden (at least they know what this is, having watched it repeatedly on video since they were babies and played the theme tune in their piano recitals in America). In a fit of Christmas enthusiasm I bought the DVD of the rehashed Snowman (The Snowman and Snowdog) in the supermarket, having not seen it on television last year. Disappointingly it was a far inferior version; Littleboy 1 immediately announced that music wasn't as good, and the adults among us were dismayed that the original house in the film was now depicted in the midst of urban sprawl. We don't want realism from our cartoons!

Work-wise, I've been incredibly busy, mainly because my American colleagues are fascinated by the glut of over-the-top Christmas ads coming out of the UK. Why, they asked me, are British Christmas ads such a big deal? I tried to explain that in the UK, Christmas IS the really one really big occasion of the year when we go totally overboard. Americans have so many; Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine's, even Mother's Day have special advertising created just for the occasion, and then of course there's the Super Bowl.

The UK has also has Special Christmas Telly for advertisers to get their teeth into, with guaranteed large audience numbers. We show special episodes of all our favourites on the 25th, whereas in the States it's all repeats of A Charlie Brown Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street. Hell, America has to wait until March to get the Downton Abbey Christmas Special. While I've gone off Downton rather, I'm looking forward to Call The Midwife and the return of Benedict Cumberbatch (sorry, Sherlock).

Yes, for all that I miss about America, in the great Transatlantic Christmas-Off, the UK definitely has the edge.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

On Guilty Secrets

David Emanuel: Jungle camper and all round nice man

I'm not a big watcher of reality TV. I'm not into the X-Factor, or Strictly, or Celebrity Big Brother, or American Idol, Britain's Got Talent - anything like that. It's not that I haven't watched them - usually I watched one series in the past, then got bored. I couldn't see the attraction of the Great British Bakeoff, beyond being mildly amusing. I do watch The Apprentice, but not so religiously that I can't miss a single episode.

But then there's my November guilty secret. My name is Nappyvalleygirl and I'm addicted to I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.

 I love I'm a Celebrity, and this year has been no exception. It might help that it's on at a particularly grey and gloomy time of year, I suppose; I seem to remember that when I watched the very first series, I had a stinking cold and the idea of being glued to the TV for three weeks was extremely appealing.

But what I really love is the way that all the "celebrities" (and I deliberately put that in quotation marks, because usually I've never heard of half of them), once they've been in the jungle for about a week and deprived of decent food, hot water and their dignity, lose their "celebrity" veneer and almost forget they're being filmed. Never mind the "bushtucker trials", it's fascinating to watch their real characters emerge as they subsist on a diet of rice and beans, wash in a stream and have to empty out the "dunny".

Who would have thought that previously not-very-famous boyband member Kian Egan would win this year, closely followed by rather camp wedding dress designer David Emanuel? I certainly wouldn't have had my money on those two at the beginning of the series, against TOWIE reality show star Joey Essex (not that I'd heard of him either, but apparently he's hugely popular) or gorgeous model Amy Willerton. But three weeks in the jungle revealed that Emanuel and Egan were the most down-to-earth, lovely, helpful people in camp. And so the public voted for them.

I'm A Celeb has also got me through some difficult times. In 2006, when I was pregnant with Littleboy 2 and banged up in St Thomas's Hospital, not even allowed to leave the ward, it was a lifesaver. I watched it every night on my bedside screen - it was literally an escape from the fact that I was trapped in hospital away from my husband and 17 month old baby for a whole month, sharing a room with three other women and worrying about my baby being born prematurely. Maybe it wasn't even a coincidence that Littleboy 2 was finally delivered just a few days after the final episode. Last year, when the onset of my mystery illness was making me deeply anxious and I felt as if my world was falling apart, it was the one thing I looked forward to all day.

These experiences mean that however mindless the series might be, I will always have a fondness for Ant and Dec (although I do hope they get sent to the jungle themselves one day). One thing I've never done is voted (except once, in the infancy of reality TV, for Will Young on Pop Idol). I try to restrict myself just to watching. At least I can keep one aspect of my dignity intact.

But I reckon everyone has their reality TV guilty secret. The Doctor's uncle, an eminent left wing academic, loves watching Strictly, while other serious-seeming friends of mine seemed obsessed with the Bakeoff. In America, otherwise sensible working Moms got all giggly over The Bachelorette and the Real Housewives series.

So go on, then, what's yours? Or are you so admirable you eschew them all?