It starts last week. We’re all ready to put up the Christmas tree! I’ve dug out the box of decorations from under the stairs. I’ve carefully unwrapped the Christmas fairy which my Godmother had given our mother sixty years ago. She has a beautiful silk dress and had been made by one of my Godmother’s patients who had been blind.
“The children are coming round to help us decorate,” I tell my husband excitedly.
And then we get the phone call.
“Mum,” says my daughter. “Rose’s school has just emailed. Someone in her class bubble has tested positive.”
My heart sinks. Not just because Rose now has to isolate until Christmas Eve along with all the others affected. But because I hope and pray that she and her little friends don’t catch it. My heart also goes out for the person who tested positive.
I look at the tree which is standing bare in our hall…
“We won’t decorate it until Rose is allowed out,” I say.
“Thanks, Mum. They were so looking forward to coming round.”
Me too. But as I write this, something else has happened. The whole nation’s Christmas plans have just been changed. You and me and many others are having to make last-minute cancellations with loved ones for one of the most important days of the year.
It’s heartbreaking. But at the same time, we have to stay safe. Don’t we?
“I do understand the logic but I’m so upset,” says one of my local granny friends whom I met at playgroup when Rose was little. “We were meant to be visiting my son and daughter-in-law and my lovely new grandson. But now we can’t. All I want to do is hold him.”
Her voice is full of tears. I want to give her a big hug. But we’re talking on the phone because we’re all being very careful about not meeting up. So instead I pop a little “thinking of you” card through her door. People have been doing that a lot round here to others. It’s extremely comforting.
I am very aware that I am so lucky to have my daughter and son-in-law and their children round the corner. We’re part of their childcare bubble so, according to the rules, I am still allowed to help out even though Rose has to stay inside until her quarantine is over.
During the first lockdown, I couldn’t help feeling envious of friends who lived with their grandchildren – even though I don’t like to think of myself being an envious person. So I take care not to talk too much about my grandchildren to friends who aren’t able to see theirs. I also feel for Rose and George’s other four grandparents who can’t have contact because of tier restrictions.
The strange thing is that normally, at this time of the year, there are lots of magazine and newspaper articles on how to keep the peace at Christmas. Now all we want to do is see each other. My sister and I have had our ups and downs over the years but now, I’m glad to say, we are very close. In fact, she and her family were meant to have been coming down to our part of the country. They were renting a cottage so they could see other relatives too. But overnight, they have been moved into Tier 4 and have to stay put.
“I’ll have to post your presents,” I say, thinking about the very expensive bottle of perfume I’d bought her because – let’s face it – a sister is special. “But I’m worried that my surprise might break.”
“It’s a pity I’m not there to wrap it for you,” she jokes. That’s true! It’s a well-known fact in our family that I’m terrible at wrapping parcels neatly and that she is the Queen of sticky tape. (Why can’t I ever get hold of that end?)
Of course none of this is important in the scheme of things but it’s good to have a little laugh.
Then my 97-year-old father rings
I call him every morning but this time, he’s beaten me to it. Something must be up. And it is. “The surgery rang and asked us if we’d like a vaccination at the shopping centre,” he says. “I told them I hadn’t been out of the house for five years but they can’t come to me.”
Surely there has to be some kind of arrangement in place? After all, there must be lots of elderly people who can’t get out. It’s not just a question of getting a taxi to take him. It’s finding someone who can push his wheelchair – something which my 80-year-old stepmother who also has health problems obviously can’t do.
Not for the first time I wish they’d taken my sister and I up on our suggestions that they move near us.
So I ring the surgery and speak to a very nice receptionist who says they are “looking into” the logistical situation. In the meantime, my brother-in-law is looking into the possibility of private ambulances. It will cost but he’s our father…
“Shall we write great-granddad a card?” I suggest to Rose when I go round later. My daughter is having a difficult day with her arthritis and needs a short break. It’s not easy looking after two little children when they are running round a small (but very pretty) house.
“Yes,” chirps my little granddaughter. “That’s a good idea. But I’ve got to finish my homework first.”
I have to say that I’m so impressed at how this latest section of home schooling is going. Rose’s teacher is in constant touch with all the parents who are then screen-shooting back their children’s exercises.
“But what about families who don’t have smart devices?” asks my husband. “How do they manage?”
You can also only do homework and watch Frozen so many times. Children need fresh air. Rose and George’s garden doesn’t lead directly out from the back door. You have to go up some steps and round “the backs” to reach it.
“Please hold my hand,” I plea when I take them there to let off steam.
But they zoom ahead and I have to run to keep up. I like to think of myself as being pretty fit although recently I’ve got a definite twinge in my back.
Rose has already grabbed a child’s tennis racquet left over from the summer and George has his hands on a muddy football. “Throw it to me,” I call out. Splash!
“Yuk!” laughs George. “You’ve got dirt on your face.”
Oh well. It’s keeping them happy. Besides, we seem to have invented a new game. I’m going to call it Granny Kiddish. Get it? A bit like quidditch!
Time to get back to writing
Then I go home and carry on writing my novel. I’m working on my 2022 book at the moment for Penguin but I am also about to read through the final proofs for my book which comes out in 2021. Very exciting!
The next day, just as I’m about to make up a foursome for tennis, the phone rings. I can tell immediately from my daughter’s voice that something has happened. “Please,” she says. “Can you come over now? I’m not allowed to take Rose because she can’t go out of the house during her quarantine.’’
George is covered with blood. It’s his ear – the same one that he hurt two weeks ago. “I told them not to run,” says my poor daughter tearfully as she jumps in the car to take him to the surgery.
Poor little Rose is rather subdued. “Don’t worry,” I say. “It will be all right. Why don’t we open your new sewing set?”
Luckily I’d brought this with me. I’d already bought it as one of her Christmas presents but something told me she might need a distraction. It’s one of those already cut-out sets with thread and a plastic needle. And it turns out to be a great success! I also thought it was quite good value. You can make a bag, a photograph frame, a purse and lots of other things for under a tenner.
That’s at least three hours of quiet time!
By the time we’ve finished, there’s a knock on the door. George dances in with a bandage on his head. My daughter looks exhausted. “We’ve got to keep the dressing intact for ten days,” she says.
Ten days? How can we keep him still for that long?
“We’ve got to be positive,” says my husband when I tell him. “I’m not only talking about the ear. I mean the world too.”
I look at the Christmas tree which is still waiting. It might be bare now. But soon it will be shining bright once the children have got their hands on it. Just like the beacon of hope in our hearts. If you feel you don’t have much hope right now, pick up the phone. Ring a friend. Ring family. Ring a helpline.
Happy Christmas everyone, wherever you are and whatever your situation.
Stay safe. See you next week.
Jane Corry is the author of five top ten best-sellers. Her latest novel I Made A Mistake is about Betty, a grandmother who lives with her son’s family. Published by Penguin, £7.99 in paperback and also available as an e-book and audio, narrated by Emilia Fox. http://bit.ly/IMadeaMistake OR https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jane-Corry/I-Made-a-Mistake/24376830
You can buy another of her thrillers, The Dead Ex, for 99p on Kindle during December only. Visit Kindle or click amzn.to/33Ar0hn.