The best gift

My mum did something rather special this Christmas. Some of you may know that I live a very, very long way from my family. I think the closest member is my dad and he lives more than 640 miles away. They’re not easy to get to by plane and it’s about 10 hours drive, so I don’t see them much. This Christmas was the first that I’ve spent without any members of my family present because I was working up until Christmas Eve so there was no time to drive south, especially with the storms.

I didn’t think it would be that big a deal, to be honest. It’s a tradition now that every year I cook Christmas dinner for the Police officers in Wick that are working Christmas day and don’t have family to go home to. There were 7 of us this year and we had a great time when they came home from work at 3pm. We opened presents, ate too much, laughed a lot and then went to bed about 8pm lol. I’d spent most of the morning in the kitchen so we had roast turkey and beef, 3 kinds of stuffing, 2 types of potato and a mountain of vegetables, including my mamma’s braised red cabbage. I’ll put a recipe up for that in a bit.

It didn’t really sink in until a couple of days after Christmas when a parcel arrived from my mum. We had agreed not to send packages this year because the postal service is getting so expensive and so unreliable #DamnYouRoyalMail so it was a nice surprise in itself. I went to pick it up and opened it immediately. I then spent the next ten minutes crying my eyes out in my car outside the post depot. The ache of missing them was suddenly so sharp and so overwhelming that it stung like hell.

You may wonder what she had sent me that caused this reaction. It was a small felt stocking containing a stack of gift cards. That wasn’t what set me off though. It was the way she’d packaged them.

When I was growing up we always had certain things in our Christmas stockings. We always had a box of Thorntons Special Toffee (usually brazil nut), there was always a luxury toiletry of some kind (like bubble bath or shower gel), there would be a small item of jewellery (a pair of earrings or something), a puzzle and some pants and socks.

Mum had very carefully gone to all of the shops she would have bought these things at, collected a gift card to the value of what she would normally spend on them and then packaged each one individually. She had labelled each one with a picture of what it was for and then labelled it with the word “IMAGINE”.

Imagine.

2013 was kind of a special year for me for so many reasons, but one of the most special was the fact that my family finally changed their view of me. It was the year that my mum first referred to me as a “writer”, the very first time I’d been able to have a serious conversation with any of them about writing full time where no-one had shouted me down for being an idiot or unrealistic or a dreamer. They’ve always known that I like to write books but none of them took it seriously until quiet success after quiet success made them think that maybe it was more than just a hobby. My dad and stepmum actually read a couple of my books and surprised themselves by how much they enjoyed them. They’re now my biggest fans.

It made them sit up and take note. They reassessed a lot of things about me, including the things I like to make. A couple of members of my family tried to do the things I do and realised for the first time how hard they are. My mum actually commissioned a really expensive item of jewellery because she now knows the time, effort and skill that goes into it. It means so very much more to her now.

I think, for the first time, they’ve realised I think in a different way.

And that was what made that present so special. My mum finally got it…got that the way I imagine is so vivid and so present that it would be almost exactly like being at home with them all. Normally we keep our presents for a couple of months until one side visits the other to exchange them but not this year. I might not have had them physically in my hands, but I was still opening the same things that my brothers and sister and stepdad were all opening on Christmas morning. I could taste the toffee, smell the bubble bath, see the sparkle of jewellery…she trusted me to infuse that tiny parcel with a big sense of Christmas and home and family. A little imagination can travel 700 miles with ease.

So I guess that’s my message to you all this holiday season and as we travel into the New Year – learn to imagine and you’ll never be very far from the people that love you.

Best wishes for 2014 to you all xxx

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