My colleague called me in to her neighbourhood WhatsApp group as the non-resident; 15 photographs later I had scored them all and written my feedback in true educator’s style. They all had something nice said about them, but the fun was in the nit-picking.
This ranged from a lazy critique of height, width and shape to barbed commentary on curtains, wire placement, skirting boards, wrapping of nearby presents and the positioning of the tree. There were trees clearly done by children with no adult help, trees with just TOO MANY COLOURS and trees with nothing on the top. There was one perfect tree, tastefully done in two colours only, perfectly proportioned and set against a beautifully finished living room. They didn't win, I told them it was 'too perfect' and marked them down accordingly. Christmas trees should be a bit chaotic.
I heard it all went down well. They enjoyed the gentle and not so gentle jabs.
'There was one perfect tree … They didn’t win ... Christmas trees should be a bit chaotic.'
Will I get away with any such criticism this year? I am not so sure. Everyone seems a bit more sensitive. There is so much tiredness about and people are just fed up. Decisions are harder. I think there will be at least three garden centre trips before I get the right tree this year.
I have been asked back to judge the trees in a certain street in Tynemouth. In the remote chance that one of the participants reads this, my overly particular tree preference are:
- it has to be real
- it should be a little over six feet tall, just about touching a modern house’s celling
- it should have well-spaced branches with good layering
- not too wide at the bottom with a gradual taper upwards
- decorations and lights should be well spaced and should not overburden the tree
- no tinsel
- not too many colours
- some traditional and old decorations should be there, with one on the top
- positioning and backdrop is everything
- the base needs attention too, tuck the wires away and vacuum the needles up.
I realise that Christmas is going to be very hard for a lot more people this year. There will be more empty chairs than ever before. It is a time of reminders with that strange mix of sadness and happiness. A time we remember and miss loved ones with the important reflecting we all do over a good break. The problem is that 2021 reminds me of one of those over long camping trips I did in my youth. A trip that started well with the fun of something different − a challenge and a change with friends. But after days of rainy disappointment in a poorly equipped campsite the trip needs to be over, we need to be home. The year needs to be over with. We are all sick of the challenge, the change and the 'new normal'. We want to go back to the comfortable warmth of a familiar settee. That weariness has turned into arguments, sensitivity and inflexibility, at a time when we need the complete opposite.
'The year needs to be over with. We are all sick of the challenge, the change and the 'new normal'. We need a normal we recognise… that lets us relax and enjoy any time we have off.'
We need a normal we recognise, the normal that lets us be normal. The kind of normal that lets us relax and enjoy any time we have off.
Criticising anyone about anything right now is just not going to go so well. So, see that list above – ignore it, shred it, bin it. There are fewer rules this year. Choose the tree you love, chuck anything and everything that glitters at it. Make it look like it was covered in glue and you ran through the Christmas section of a garden centre. The tree is for you and not for anyone else.
'Choose the tree you love, chuck anything and everything that glitters at it … put something on the tree that reminds you of friends and family.'
The only thing I can recommend is that you put something on the tree that reminds you of friends and family. An object that gets you talking and remembering times with them and times when we didn’t have all this stress. Make sure it becomes the ornament you put there every year, so you never forget them. We have a stupidly large bauble, so large it bends the branches. It came from my parents after a trip to Poland. It is horrific, but I love it and it will always be there.
When it comes to criticism you receive, try not to worry about it. I find that really hard to do. Criticism is coming too freely at the moment because people are tired. It feels hard to ignore it because you are tired too. Let things be and try not to criticise the small things yourself. 'Criticism is coming freely at the moment because people are tired … Let things be and try not to criticise the small things yourself'
‘Criticism is coming freely at the moment because people are tired … Let things be and try not to criticise the small things yourself.’
Any long journey needs rest stops along the way. It’s the same with the year that is 2021. Make sure you take your holidays, book them now. Make sure you go home on time. If you are in charge of a department go home on time too. Don’t be sending emails at midnight. Don’t be criticising the small things, concentrate on the bigger issues. Eat well, sleep well and do some exercise.
2021 is the long week that needs a weekend, make sure you take one.