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In Praise of Christmas Round Robins

posted 12 Dec 2019, 04:55 by Fran Brady
I know lots of people scorn them - and, in these days of social media, they are probably less necessary - but I've been doing one to mail out with my cards for about 30 years now. If nothing else, I will have plenty material for when the world starts begging me to write my memoirs. 

But the best reason for continuing is that, after about 20 years of mutual letters, an old friend/colleague and I decided to meet up in 2013. We sat in Sainsbugs café in Stirling for three hours and, by the end, it was as if we'd never been apart. She is now a close friend, we have had Hebridean holidays together, and she is a mainstay member of the writing group I started in 2015. If it hadn't been for our Round Robins, we would have not only lost touch, but the will to or interest in renewing our friendship. 

So here's this year's offering:

Dear friends

Time for the annual catch-up. As you can see from the photograph, we have had a happy event this year! Last Christmas Eve, we went tentatively to look at a litter of golden cocker spaniels - and fell immediately in love with this little beauty. We brought her home on 4thJanuary, and life has never been the same since. As you see, she is beautiful and very appealing. ‘Good enough to eat,’ said one of the many callers in the first month who came to see our new baby. But: the breeder ‘sold us a pup’ (sorry!) by telling us she was the quiet one of the litter: ‘Just wants cuddles.’ The other two remaining puppies (both male) were creating havoc and tearing around like dervishes. ‘We’ll have her,’ we said. ‘At our time of life, we really should go for a wee quiet doggie.’


Eleven months on, we look back at our gullibility with pitying disbelief. Keltie (called after her birthplace, Kelty, in Fife) is no ‘wee quiet doggie’. She has boundless energy and a very determined personality. She can be treat-coaxed into doing what we want/need her to do but she cannot be commanded. She has developed a fine line in standing docilely still, looking demure, as we approach with harness/lead/treat-bribe, letting us think we have made it, then jerking away at the very last minute and bounding off. She has now grown very strong, with powerpack shoulders, and has pulled me off my feet several times. 


Get her trained, I hear you cry. We did. Eight weeks of it and she was the star pupil, doing everything perfectly at the class, then reverting once home to being ‘the worst puppy in the world’. Remember the film Marley and Me where Owen Wilson says to Marley, after a particularly awful bit of doggy bad behaviour, ‘You’ve always been up there in the top ten, but now it’s official - you are the worst dog in the world’). Keltie must be a direct descendant of Marley.


However, when she’s not driving us crazy, she is adorable, and we have laughed a lot more since she came into our lives. The positives are: lots of walking in all weathers - good for fitness; lots of chewed up cardboard and half-chewed cuddly toys/balls/squeaky bones littering the floor - good for any OCD house-proud tendencies; and lots of laughs, sometimes verging on hysteria - good exercise for our sense of humour.


Since I have spent so long wittering on about Keltie, you are probably thinking, ‘Sad people. Nothing else happening in their lives.’ Not so. We have fitted in:

·       two carpal tunnel operations in February and April (me)

·       an eighth grandchild born in March (gorgeous baby girl called Eloise) 

·       a trip to Lincolnshire in April for the funeral of my cousin, Jennifer. She was a brilliant character, one of my favourite people.   I so admired her wit, kindness, and courage

·       a fortnight in June on the Isle of Iona with friends, family, three dogs, and a corncrake family in the garden

·       conversion of our sad, semi-derelict garage into an ‘outdoor living space’ which started off as a new shed and grew and grew … 

·       hamming it up in am-dram in the village holiday club in August (me)

·       entertaining Californian relations in August, doing the Edinburgh Fringe, and finding/visiting our mutual great-grandmother’s grave in Dundee

·       getting back to my fifth novel in September after a break for the hand ops and adapting to life with canis horribilis - aiming to finish it by end Feb (this one is time-travel)

·       retirement from the NHS in September (John)

·       a number of speaking and selling/signing-books engagements with local groups and fairs (me)

·       the usual round of family stuff with our four children, eight grandchildren (aged 9 months to 23 years) and my nine-year-old goddaughter. They are all well at time of writing and doing great, and very different, things. It’s such an interesting time to watch them as the older six progress into adulthood and shape up for their futures. And the two little ones delight us, of course, whenever we see them. 


One big sadness for me was losing my oldest and dearest friend, Anne, in January. We had a ghastly day dashing through bitter, sleety weather to drop off Keltie (plus puppy-pee pads) with daughter, Hilary, for the day; racing to Perth and getting stopped for speeding on the way; just getting into the church at the last minute in time for me to do the reading I had agreed to. I was nursing an extremely painful arm, just prior to the first hand-operation, and had been up most of the night. Sometimes, it seems as if the random happenings on a hateful day just reflect its utter awfulness and all we can do is just let them roll over us and wait for the clouds to part again. She had dementia at the end, so I had had the slow torture of watching her lose her memories and her personality and of acknowledging my own gradual loss of a dear friend. We shared so many life events, both major and minor, happy and miserable, over fifty years. I laughed and cried more with her than anyone else in my life. Irreplaceable and never forgotten.  


But let’s not finish on a sad note. It’s Christmas again and life is for living - and, no doubt for eating, drinking and being merry, until it’s time to hit the (dry) January diet again. I wish you all with a Happy Christmas and a joyful New Year, whatever it (and elections, referenda, and Brexit) throw at us! 

God Bless. xxx

             conversion of our sad, semi-derelict garage into an ‘outdoor living space’ which started off as a new shed and grew and grew