Charles Dickens, christmas, Liverpool Echo, Liverpool Playhouse

Dickens of miracle on Church Street

“I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women  open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

So wrote Charles Dickens, the man responsible for A Christmas Carol, which celebrates its 175th birthday this year

Now, some of Mr D’s writing can be a bit hard to understand – he never used one word when 50 would do – but that quote is as clear as a bell.

And all these decades later it still resonates.

I was thinking about Dickens and his old miser Scrooge this week as I battled crowds, rain and queues in pursuit of my last bit of seasonal shopping.

On the face of it there was a singular lack of kindness or charity or forgiveness to be found in the city centre five days before Christmas.

Fellow shoppers barged past. Over-excited kids screamed blue murder while tired mums juggled rolls of wrap with bags and pushchairs. 

Rough sleepers endured the wet to sit on bits of cardboard and watch as the rest of the busy world scurried by.

Meanwhile, the news agenda was dreadful, dominated by squabbling politicians and grounded planes.

But then came a series of minor Christmas miracles.

I met a shop assistant who went so far out of her way to help I could have kissed her. Then came the woman behind me in the queue in Marksies who made me laugh so hard I lost my place in the line and didn’t mind.

Carollers were collecting loose change by the fistful and a group of the kids forgot it was cold and wet and they were bored as they gathered around the Nativity scene in Church Street, faces alight with wonder at a collection of plastic figures.

It was Christmas and the spirit of the season was abroad after all.

It took a bit of finding but Mr Dickens would have been proud.

I touched a nerve this week when I mentioned on Twitter that I couldn’t open my wardrobe for fear of a precariously balanced stash of gifts tumbling out.

Lots of readers got in touch to sympathise, many saying what a nightmare it was to keep prying little eyes at bay at this time of year.

I couldn’t agree more.

Except my kids are 21 and 18.

First published in Liverpool Echo, 22 December 2018.

christmas, Liverpool Echo

Mandatory fun that’s not worth your dignity

Christmas jumpers. Discuss.

I have no problem with them on small children. I have no problem with your uncle wearing one on Christmas Day after several glasses of Bailey’s. I will even tolerate them on a celebrity or two as long a sit’s on the Graham Norton show.

But in the work place? I don’t think so.

I have lost count of the number of reasonable, grown-up people I see – usually attired for 11 months of the year in businesswear – who lose all sense (both common and fashion) come December and take to sporting hideous knitwear.

From 3D comedy Rudolphs to flashing snowmen and giant Christmas puds, the Christmas jumper remains as ubiquitous and as irritating as ever.

I just don’t get it. Why spend even a few quid – because let’s face it, these things are usually as cheap as chips and won’t stand to be near a naked flame – on something you can only wear a handful of times?

And God forbid you’re caught rolling your eyes at Gary from Accounts in his festive sparkly number because then you’ll be labelled someone who is No Fun and possibly even Miserable.

And at this time of year Fun is Mandatory. Whether you like it or not.

So, if you haven’t succumbed as yet to this fashion fiasco I urge you not to.

It will be the saviour of your dignity.

And my sanity.

It’s only worth looking ridiculous for one day a year ….

And talking of eye rolling – I did my fair share when I heard some radio stations had decided to ban that staple of many a Christmas playlist, Baby It’s Cold Outside. 

The argument is that in these post #MeToo times the lyrics are questionable at best and at worst frankly disturbing.

My first thought was: what a load of nonsense.

It’s a cheery tune, beloved of department stores and covered by everyone from Dean Martin to Lady Ga Ga.

What could possibly be the problem?

But then I listened to it. Then I Googled the lyrics. And the problem is there for all to see.

“I’ve got to get home,” warbles the woman. “But baby it’s cold outside,” replies the bloke.

“The answer is no,” she continues before asking“Say, what’s in this drink?”

And so it goes on – her trying to leave, him pressing her to stay.

It’s creepy and inappropriate. 

I know it may have been written in simpler times – the 1940s to be exact – but that’s no excuse here in 2018.

Time to change the record.

First published Liverpool Echo, 15th December 2018.

cheshire oaks, christmas, Liverpool Echo, royal mail

Posties: the human touch in online world

DID you read the story of the little lad who sent a birthday card to his dad in Heaven and got a note back from the Royal Mail saying it had been delivered?

Jase Hyndman is only seven and lost his father four years ago. Nevertheless, he sent a card to him, asking the postman to make sure he received it.

He was, as you can imagine, thrilled when a reply came back, confirming delivery and how Royal Mail had had to “avoid stars and other galactic objects” to get it there.

What a lovely thing to do. An act that cost nothing but brought so much.

Meanwhile, here in Merseyside the ECHO recently highlighted a scheme where posties are keeping an eye on elderly customers, calling on them to check they’re safe and well as the winter weather bites.

All it means is that they knock and say hello to customers but for many that might be a lifeline – and the only human interaction they get from day to day.

The Royal Mail sometimes get a bad press and it’s all too easy to take posties for granted.

But in this digital world when so much is facelessly online they remain embedded in the community, a humanitarian resource.

We should treasure them more.

SO, off I went last weekend to the seventh circle of hell – also known as Cheshire Oaks at Christmas.


Don’t get me wrong – there were bargains to be had – but the pay-off was the stress caused by a lack of parking, the queues, the crowds. And the toilets.

How can somewhere as big as Cheshire Oaks get toilets – specifically the ladies – so badly wrong?

I get there are renovations going on at the moment. I get temporary loos are nobody’s idea of fun.

But why are there so few of them – and so many out of order? Where was the water to wash your hands? The cleaner to empty the overflowing bin?

Meanwhile, over at the gents, there was no queue in sight.

Given it’s predominantly women who’ll be lashing out a fortune this Christmas it would be nice if shops made it a pleasure for us to spend a penny.

First published in Liverpool Echo, 1 December 2018.