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Diary: Catherine Fox

18 December 2020


Sonless days

I HAVE had to resign myself to the fact that I might not be seeing my sons over Christmas this year. This is the kind of thing I’ve learned not to say on Twitter for fear of being scolded. There will always be people keen to remind me about those who won’t be seeing anybody at all. I would do well to remember those who are in prison, or shielding; those not lucky enough to have sons.

Sometimes the scolding is fol­lowed by an emoji, which is the online equivalent of putting your hazard warning lights on when you know you’ve stopped illegally on double yellow lines.

All this is intensely irritating. Per­haps I should remember how fortun­ate I am to have a smartphone with which to mute random annoy­ing strangers on Twitter. Back in the days when I was a judo player, I once broke my toe mistiming a foot-sweep technique. (Or to put it an­­other way, I kicked someone.) If you’ve ever broken your toe, you’ll know it’s excruciating.

The fact that you might instead have broken a leg doesn’t lessen the pain. Nor will it really help to listen to horror stories from an ortho­paedic surgeon. Your toe will still be broken, and it will still hurt like hell.


Keep on keeping on

NOBODY actually needs the sup­port of Twitter here. We are quite capable of scolding ourselves when we’re in pain. This disqualifies us from feeling what we’re feeling, on the grounds that we should be grate­ful it’s not worse. Covid-19 has amplified this tendency. We have all been living with varying degrees of “Ow, ow, ow — this really hurts!”

But it’s obvious that the pandemic is not a great leveller, and it hurts far more for some than for others. The virus does what wealth is anecdotally supposed to do, only rather more effectively. It trickles down. Down through the cracks in our society.

So what do I do with my pan­demic pain, that’s the question. Ac­­know­­ledge it. There’s a good reason why I’m limping. But there are also many, many reasons why I’m still able to walk when others can’t. And that means that I need to carry on following in the way, and doing those good works lined up for me to walk in.


Virtual reality

ONE possible strategy for com­pensating for the lack of sons in the house over Christmas would be to buy life-size cut-outs — like those cardboard coppers you see in de­­partment stores to deter shop­lifters.

A quick internet search re­­veals that I can order one of each son, at £67.36 a time (£80.83 includ­ing VAT).

That might strike you as a bit steep, even for a six-foot cardboard standee on robust bubbleboard up to three times more durable than trad­itional cardboard cut-outs. Inter­est­ingly, you can buy a life-size card­board cut-out of Pope Francis online for a much more reasonable £39.97. They’re probably mass-produced.

I suppose that, somewhere in this country, there’s a lucky woman whose son was the model for that shoplifter-deterrent. If he can’t get home for Christmas, she can order a life-size version of him for £29.89 from Partyrama.

There’s no denying that £161.66 is rather a lot of money to shell out for a brace of 2-D sons. Mind you, I’m tempted by the centre folding-crease for easy transportation. There were definitely moments while they were growing up when that feature would have been very handy. But no. I will make do with Zoom, and the photos on my phone, until we’ve all been vaccinated and can meet in safety again.

Peaks without troughs

WHAT do we really want from Christmas? Suppose all our wishes were granted? Recently, I watched a video-clip of a dad who decided to have a “Yes Day” with his children. Madness. This certainly wasn’t around in the 1990s for me to say “No” to. I learned not to give rash, open-ended permissions, after the time when my younger son was worried about what to call his pet gerbil. “You can call it whatever you like!” “OK. I’m going to call it the F-word.”

The family in the video-clip seemed to have a great time, how­ever. Computer games before break­fast? Yes! Can I have a new toy? Yes! Can we go to the farm? Yes!

The only time the dad said no, was when his son asked: “Can we have Yes Day tomorrow?” Clearly, that’s against the rules. It’s as scurrilous as using your third wish to ask the fairy for three more, and we all know no good will come of it.


Heavenly wish-list

IT DID make me wonder what I’d do if God told me that today was Yes Day, and anything I prayed for would be granted. The thought made me panic. What about the un­­fore­seen consequences? I was intro­duced to W. W. Jacobs’s short story The Monkey’s Paw at an im­­pres­sionable age. That £200 you blithely wish for might come in the form of compensation money after your son gets tragically mangled in a machine.

Well, obviously, this is not my model for how the Lord operates. God knows how to give good gifts. Perhaps if my faith were more childlike, I’d think “Yay! Ice cream!” rather than focusing on what could go wrong if I phrased my request badly.

In the end, I think there’s only one prayer I’d pray for Christmas 2020, and it’s the one our Lord taught us: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Catherine Fox is an author, senior lecturer, and academic director of The Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Forthcoming Events

21 April 2021
Book launch: Miles to Go Before I Sleep
Claire Gilbert in conversation with Richard Holloway. 

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Book launch: How Not to Be Afraid
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