My Christmas Shopping Hero

Do you remember that Christmas episode of “The Good Life” where Margot orders the whole of Christmas from Harrods? It doesn’t arrive on Christmas Day (say what? Who delivers on Christmas Day?), so they have a jolly old homemade style knees up round at the neighbours, while Jerry has political Chicken Pox? It was a cracker (pun intended) of an episode, but the thing that got me was how disdainful all the characters were of Margot ordering “Christmas to arrive in the back of a van”. Like somehow it was less, somehow not as virtuous or Christmassy as it would have been if she’d gone out herself and dragged it into the house while singing White Christmas.

But that was the 70s and oh how things have changed. Almost my entire Christmas arrives in the back of a van these days. Not all at once and not from Harrods a la the Leadbetters, but delivered all the same. I’ve outsouced nearly my entire Christmas operation. And yet I don’t think people would be disdainful of me for doing that these days, would they? Home delivery is such a regular part of my life my life why should it not be the backbone of my Christmas prep too?

You see I gave up trying to Christmas shop with the masses years ago. Seriously who needs that stress? Food and drink will mostly be courtesy of Ocado this year, via the Christmas Eve delivery slot I proudly booked back in October. The only exception to that is the turkey. Although I usually order and have delivered my Turkey most years, this year we decided to try the local butcher. Fingers crossed for that!

Gifts are predominantly from places like Amazon or other online specialists (one of whom I can’t mention for fear of giving the game away!)

Decorations are never replaced in this house, but this year’s decoration has come via notonthehighstreet.com. Personalised and unique and delivered.

This year’s Christmas jumper was even delivered by the lovely people at Next online.

Yes I have used the occasional physical shop, particularly those local to me to provide my Christmas cheer. And in a nod to Tom Goode, our parsnips will be coming from Bens allotment, but largely, and I have no issue with this, Christmas is coming in the “back of van”.

The chacters of that Good Life Christmas special had a lovely Christmas in the end, but I honestly think they shouldn’t have been so scornful of Margot wanting her Christmas delivered in a van.

She was clearly just ahead of her time.

 

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Margot Leadbetter, my Christmas shopping hero!

How I met Father Christmas – and why I wouldn’t do the same thing for my son


When I was a kid, going to see Father Christmas (because back then he really was just Father Christmas. I’m a bit more interchangeable with what we call him now. Father Christmas, Santa, I don’t really mind, Oscar knows they’re one and the same) was one of the highlights of my year. I can’t tell you how magical it was for me and that was due, in no small part, to the Father Christmas we used to go and see.

If you grew up in or around Coventry in the late 70s/early 80s, I’m guessing you also went to see Father Christmas at the Co-Op, a department store in the city centre. I say that simply because I don’t remember ever going to see him anywhere else. And to be honest I never wanted to go anywhere else. I went with my mum and Nanna (and probably my brother although I don’t remember him being there) and it was almost more exciting than Christmas Day itself. Almost 😉 !

It was super special to me and thousands of others over the years, because you see they didn’t just have a Santa in a chair that you queued up to see, oh no! Before you went anywhere near a guy in a red velvet suit you had to get the sleigh to Lapland. Because you see we weren’t going to see any old Santa in a department store. No, we were travelling to Lapland to see the actual man himself.

My memory of 35(ish) years ago, is some what hazy, but I clearly remember that the experience began with queuing up and being taken through a door into a room. The room was small and dark and lined with benches all facing a wall, in front of which where two (models) reindeer! Once everyone was seated, music and jingle bells would start, as would a projection of moving snow in front of the reindeer. It looked as though they were actually ‘dashing through the snow’. Suddenly we weren’t in just a room, we on a sleigh and we were off to see Father Christmas! My memory also wants to say that the seats moved, tilting as we dashed through the snow, but I honestly can’t see how that could have been and maybe I’m imagining it. Did it?

The most jaw dropping bit of the whole experience for me, was when we ‘arrived. The ‘sleigh’ would stop and we would be shown out of the room, but, and this is the best bit, everything outside the room was different to when we came in. We were in Lapland. As a three and four year old that blew my tiny mind. It was the most exciting part of the whole deal. We had actually traveled to the North Pole! While I’m still not 100% sure how it was accomplished, I’m pretty sure now, that we were just taken out of a different door than we’d come in. But however they achieved it, at the time and for far too many years after I believed we’d actually traveled somewhere. It was truly magical.

After all that seeing Father Christmas was just the icing on the cake. I sat on his lap and got my present wrapped in garish 70’s paper. I smiled for the photo.

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Seeing Father Christmas at the Co-Op, Coventry, circa 1981. Note the reins. Oscar truly is his mothers son! Also who knew Father Christmas wore grey suit trousers under his coat?

Well I did eventually. The first year I was taken I was just one and having none of it. And quite right too. Now I have children I know how frightening that must have been to a one year old. But it’s still gone down in family lore that I wouldn’t sit on Father Christmas’s lap the first time I met him and my mum had to sit in his chair with me instead.

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My first visit with Santa circa 1979. I was just one. I look pretty terrified of the man in red. I’m still not a big fan of beards now 😉

Because the whole seeing Santa thing can be overwhelming.  The experience I had as a child was so sensorially exclusive. There’s no way I could ask Oscar to do any of what I enjoyed (eventually) as a child. Because we are/were very different children. We have in fact only taken Oscar to see Santa once in his life, when he was 5 months old and it really was more for us as parents than for him.

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Oscar meets Santa in 2012. He wasn’t fooled by the beard. He tried to pull it off minutes after this!

The following year he was already struggling with things such as waiting. And following his Autism diagnosis we stopped even considering putting him through an experience we were pretty sure he wouldn’t understand or appreciate and could cause him great anxiety. Like I said, very different children.

However, as he grows, his capability and understanding grows with him. He’s much more aware this year of who Santa/Father Christmas is and this year for the first time in years we actually feel we want to give him the opportunity to see Santa; for him, rather than for us. It is true that some places are becoming more aware of inclusivity or even just providing a range of experiences to meet all needs when it comes to big events, such as Christmas. Last year I even read about some shopping centres (unfortunately not near us) running Autism friendly Santa grotto experiences, which is fab. All children should be given the opportunity to meet the big guy if they want to. However we have plumped for a very different kind of meeting all together this year, one that hopefully speaks to Oscar’s interests and needs.

Following our fabulous day out on the Watercress Line in the summer we have decided to take him on the Santa Special where you “travel in a festive traditional train carriage, while Santa and his jolly helpers visit you in your seat with a special gift.” I have high hopes for this as it combines two of Oscar’s favourite things in the world; trains and receiving presents! It also removes any need to queue, something Oscar finds so hard to do. It also gives us our own space and we can take toys and snacks to help him if needs be.

I honestly can’t wait. But wait I will have to, because I’ve booked it for Christmas Eve. This may sound bonkers to some of you, but Oscar struggles with the concept of time. My concern was if we saw Santa too soon, he might want his presents NOW, and not cope with having to wait weeks to get them. I could be wrong of course, but that’s AutismMamas for you. Always trying to second guess, always two steps ahead!

Anyway, Christmas Eve it is. Who knows it might work out perfectly and bingo, we’ll have ourselves a new Christmas tradition. I mean it’s not as amazing as actually travelling to Lapland, like I did.

But I think it could still be pretty magical 😉 .

 

Why I’m helping the PTA

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People chuckle and tell me I am good for getting involved. They may surreptitiously raise an eyebrow at my keenness to join the PTA and help with this event or that event. I mean my son’s only been at the school five minutes and here I am helping with the raffle, helping with the bonfire, helping with the committee, attending every PTA meeting so far this term.

But honestly, and though I tell people it is, none of this is for me. All of this raises money for the school. And the truth is I, we, owe the school so much. Oscar’s Autism meant deciding where to send him to school, was one of the most stressful decisions I’ve ever had to make. But so far, I’ve yet to be proved that the mainstream school we chose was the wrong decision.

The school are due so much more than I can ever give them. In just this term alone, Oscar’s speech and behaviour and understanding and capacity has out and out exploded. And that’s not something I’ve done. Not something I could have ever done on my own. It’s a mixture of everything they’ve done for him and with him. Their patience, their insistence that he be included.

Yes I get involved. Yes I do my bit. Yes I raise funds. Yes I give back.

But no matter how much I do, or raise, or give to the school, it could never be as much. Not nearly as much…

As they have done for us.

 

Halfords Black Friday Giveaway

Oscar’s Autism meant that he didn’t start using language in any meaningful way until he was 3 and a half. And yet every day since then it seems like he learns another word, grasps another concept, answers another question. For me it’s thrilling. Only last night did he described his book case as a “library”! Asking for things has also been slow to arrive. We focused for the longest time on getting him to express his needs, which he still sometimes struggles with to be honest. So you can imagine, asking for things he wants, verbally, hasn’t been high up on his agenda. Until recently. Suddenly he can tell me when he’s hungry and two weeks ago he told me he wanted a bike. And when your child, who has only just (at four and a half) learnt to sit for long enough in order to learn to pedal, asks you, with words, for a bike, you start looking for a bike. Believe me.

If you follow me on Facebook you’ll have seen I asked my lovely readers where they’d recommend when looking for a first bike, particularly one that was good quality but also value for money. The answer from almost everyone who joined the discussion was Halfords. To be honest I’d completely forgotten Halfords did bikes but I had so many recommendations for them, I couldn’t not check them out online. I had no idea how much a child’s bike cost. Looking around the internet it would appear you can happily pay whatever you like. Bikes are one of those things I think. So I was pleasantly surprised to find the ones at Halfords weren’t crazy expensive.

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Now I don’t know about you, but I love a bargain. I’m the kind of person that takes great pride in finding something I want in the sale. However, I’ve never really got involved with the whole Black Friday thing. The images of people trampling each other to get a cheap telly always left me cold. There’s no bargain on Earth worth that kind of behaviour. But then I saw that, this year, Halfords are having an online Black Friday sale on 25th November. Not a trampling in sight. They are discounting things every day until the main event on 25th and I’m keeping my eyes on the site but I think I’m going to wait for the biggie, the main event on 25th, to be in with a chance of a really decent discount.

Now I love a bargain, but what’s a bigger bargain than free? Alongside their Black Friday discounts Halfords are also running a Black Friday Giveaway. You can enter any time up until 22nd November to be in with a chance of winning one of three prizes of either £2000, £1000 or £500 worth of Halfords goods. That’s a lot of Christmas pressies right there! I’ve put a link to the Halfords Black Friday Giveaway page in the image below.

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I’ve entered. And you’ve got until 22nd to do the same! Good luck!

Right, back to looking at bikes. I only hope Oscar doesn’t ask for anything more expensive. Like his own private jet or a Ferrari. If he asked me with words, I’d probably get it for him!

 

This is a collaborative post.

Friends, fish and fire – our first school Half Term

Half term has been and gone and while Oscar definitely showed me that he was missing the routine of school, he did really well and we had lots of fun.

Cousin love

We started the holiday with a lush visit from Ben’s sister and her two little ones. I love my niece and nephew so much and watching Oscar play with them (sometimes happily, sometimes grumpily!) just makes me so happy. We had such a lovely time, I was even willing to forgive that they both asked over the course of two days “Auntie Lisa why is your house so tiny”. Out of the mouths of babes I guess!

Cousin cuteness

Cousin cuteness

We took them to our favourite hangouts while they were here, including Applegarth Farm and Dylan’s Milk Barn. Rachel said she felt like she knew Dylan’s already having heard me talk about it so often. I might start charge Ben, the owner a PR fee!

The Neicephews discover Dylan's

The Neicephews discover Dylan’s

Home Start

Once they’d returned home we had a lovely visit from our old Home Start Volunteer. Despite being released from the programme that helps preschool families, our wonderful Rent a Gran (as I lovingly call her), was worried about how Oscar had got on since starting school. It was so touching to know she’d been thinking of us. She popped over for a catch up and bought me such a lovely begonia. It reminded me of the one’s my own Nanna would always have in the house when I was small.

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A kind and thoughtful gift

National Marine Aquarium Plymouth

We finished the week with a short trip down to Plymouth to see some friends. Oscar loved having a sleep over with their daughter and they played so nicely (he kept asking for her once we left). Our friends couldn’t get over the improvement in Oscar’s language. When you hear it every day it’s hard to remember just how much has changed in such a short space of time.

We couldn’t go all that way without a trip to Oscar’s absolute favourite – The National Marine Aquarium. You might remember we went at Easter and I kid you not it’s the only place Oscar has ever asked to go back to. Again and again! Periodically since April he’s just asked “We go Quarium?”. It’s been heartbreakingly cute. And so we planned to take him for the last hour when we arrived on Friday, as we did last time. And like last time we didn’t have to queue and we kind of tailed the majority of the other visitors. Or rather we would have, had Oscar not just been sat in a car for four hours. He went in at top speed and raced around glancing at the tanks as he flew past. When we got to the end he announced he needed the loo. So we found one near the beginning and when he came out, we just started the Aquarium all over again, this time much slower. It worked a treat!

The main tank at the National Marine Aquariu

The main tank at the National Marine Aquarium. Stunning

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“Look daddy it’s broken!” Oscar was fascinated by the environments created at the aquarium

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Oscar loved getting up close and personal with the biggest fish tank he’s ever seen!

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Happy Boy

A rare still moment.

A rare still moment.

The staff at the NMA were just as lovely as always. I realised half way down to Devon that I’d forgotten our DLA and Carer’s letters to prove we were entitled to concession tickets. Just in case, I tweeted them to ask if there was any other way of getting the concession price. I was told to ask for Olly at the desk. When we arrived we did just that and he told the front of house to waive our fee. It was just so kind and much appreciated. Thank you Olly!

Out of interest I also saw this while we were going round. I’m gutted we will miss it again, but if you know anyone who may appreciate a quieter session at the National Marine Aquarium then the next one is on 16th November. Find out more here.

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Bonfire

We finished our stay with a family bonfire at our friend’s dad’s beautiful cottage just outside Plymouth. We had an amazing bonfire, a bbq and a chance to catch up with friends we’ve known for years. And I mean years. I met our hosts sister on her first day at secondary school. 26 years ago! It was so lovely to see everyone and to watch our children get to know each other. Oscar was nervous of the dogs to begin with, but once he started playing with the children he relaxed and stopped noticing them. He had so much fun. And it was a night of firsts for him too. His first sparkler, that he loved and was very good with (with 100% supervision) and his first McDonalds, that he didn’t like at all. Fair enough. Thank you to the Pringle clan for making us so welcome. As always.

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Family Bonfire

Oscar's first sparkler. I held his hand until he said, "no mummy I do it" !

Oscar’s first sparkler. I held his hand until he said, “no mummy I do it”

Back to school

I was worried how the holidays, the first break from school since he started in September, would go. And I know I definitely saw some signs that he was missing it, but really, he coped amazingly well, showing off his improved language and social skills. And despite being ill this week (impetigo apparently, no I didn’t know what it was either!) he’s had a great return to school.

And today he had his first fully dry day without accidents since he started.

This year just keeps getting better for him!