Part one of our journey by Greyhound Bus.

Greyhound Bus travel was on my bucket list, and since we were now in America, and stranded in Atlanta after the Lion had morphed into a Hyena, it looked like this was going to be a reality. Although well covered by travel insurance, I considered that was purely for his intensive care in Atlanta University Hospital. I drew the line at taking an expensive taxi just to catch up with our pre-booked tour that had left without us and was now some 120 miles away. $350 seemed ridiculously expensive for a taxi and since bus travel presented a cheaper and available option, that was what we opted for.

We had elected to carry cash on this holiday, we were not big on credit card use and since we had no idea when we might get to a bank that had seemed a sensible option. But when we left the hospital, with the Lion in Hyena mode, I felt vulnerable. I clutched my handbag close to my heart, while struggling to manage two wardrobes masquerading as cases and the bewildered, pain-ridden and disorientated Lion. We took a taxi to the bus station and should have become concerned when the taxi driver asked with incredulity “are you taking the bus???”

The bus station was awash with travellers; families and individuals, all ages, ethnicity, shapes and sizes. My senses went into overdrive as I scanned the vast area in an attempt to orientate myself with these unfamiliar surroundings. I spotted a bank of seats where I could safely lodge the Lion while I sought to purchase our tickets and work out which bus we needed to take to Chattanooga. He looked so small I thought as I trundled toward the desk with the two overly large cases. I waited in the queue for about 10 minutes before being called forward by a smartly dressed but intimidating Atlanta woman, scowling at my bags. I asked for two tickets to Chattanooga and she looked as if an alien had just asked her for directions to NASA. She stared at me for what seemed minutes and I panicked that she had mistaken me for a fugitive on the FBI most wanted list, who happened to be my doppelgänger.

It was the bags and the accent that usurped her. After she gathered herself together, she advised that I had to have the bags weighed first and assess whether they had met the criteria for transfer to the bus. A bus I had no ticket for yet, I have to add. The Lady pointed to another desk and asked me to lodge the bags there before returning to her desk to purchase the ticket. I glanced across at another lengthy queue, gave her my finest forced smile and trundled the large cases over to the weigh station. I could feel the tears threatening to spill, but I drew in my breath, glanced at the Lion who was half asleep and hoped no one tried to steal my handbag. After a fashion, 15 minutes to be exact, the baggage handler took my cases only to advise me, unsurprisingly, they were overweight. In order for her to accept them I had to decant items into hand luggage and represent them. In response to my information that I had no hand luggage, she pointed me in the direction of the first desk where I might buy additional bags. Sufficient to say that queue had also filled up again.

I trucked back to the first desk where smarting with frustration at another 10 minute wait, I bought the bag before returning to the weigh in desk decanting knickers and other oversized items into the hand bag. After a further but shorter wait, my lighter cases were finally accepted. I was provided with the required luggage tickets to present for my onward journey and returned to the ticket desk where I finally purchased the bus tickets and some 45 minutes later, returned to the Lion. He was struggling to stay awake and I noticed he had been joined by a young black American boy, who was taking up two seats with his expansive backside and a large red velvet pillow that was totally incongruous with his physique.

Despite my initial reservations and ill placed fears, he smiled at me and asked if the New Orleans bus had left yet. He too a bit vulnerable and uncertain. No sooner had I responded and alerted him to my alien status, I turned to start fussing over the Lion. But was prevented by an announcement “They are getting in Line at Door number 9” which came lilting lyrically over the loudspeaker. This colloquialism brought a smile; a uniquely American phrase, that reminds you that travelling is real, different and so interesting. For a nano second I was lulled into tourist mode, only to crash to reality when the Lion was unable to stand up and walk to the Line. Johnny Cash he was not.

With the help of the rather large American boy, the Lion was frogmarched (getting to be a habit) to the Line and I escorted him to the coach stairs where we had to identify our luggage, match the ticket numbers and acknowledge the HEAVY banner that had been strapped across the buckles.

My first impressions of the greyhound bus was that it was grey. Inside the chairs were plastic and mostly burst with foam spewing out, it was cold and unwelcoming,hardly the bucket list ride I had hoped for. The coach was clean enough, but it was clear that it was pre-loved. I guided the Lion to the mid section and again left him to the aisle seat. Most people were travelling solo and had taken single occupancy of the seat, sitting in the middle to ensure no strangers dared to share it. Some required the whole two seats just to accommodate their bulk. I felt so slim, there were some benefits from this experience at least.

The Driver emerged and walked the length of the bus, I thought he looked like Slim Whitman, with a pencil moustache, slick backed hair, and warm brown eyes. He wore a smart, creased shirt and was impeccably presented with a slim black tie held neatly with a gold pin, belted slacks pressed with knife-edged seams and shoes that shone and sparkled as he navigated the narrow passage of the bus. He quickly checked the toilets at the rear before clearing his throat and loudly declaring in a southern drawl. “This is the finest greyhound bus in the fleet, we will be travelling to Ohio and on my bus I will not tolerate no alcohol, no knives and no narcotics” I tried not to process that information and watched him closely as he thrust himself forward dominating the other passengers, establishing himself as the alpha male, marking his territory and making sure that everyone understood who was in charge. We sat in awe of this entire experience, terrified but somehow strangely safe, as the bus slowly edged its way out of the station……

From Lion to Hyena

Grey’s Anatomy is not a show I have ever seen before, despite my previous albeit fleeting  reference to it. All the same here we were in a hospital in America, living the medical dream. The Lion was still sedated no longer in pain and unaware of the drama unfolding.  The hospital room we were allocated was small,  a range of wires attached to the lion were tied near his shoulder  to monitor his vitals. There was a large wing-backed chair that doubled as my bed, for despite being offered to stay in the Sheraton Suites, I couldn’t leave the Lion alone, without support in a strange country. Our cases, come wardrobes, sat side by side at the end of his bed, a stark reminder of how devastating this episode had been,  leaving just enough room for the nurses to edge past and take his blood pressure.

He lay motionless on the bed, breathing of course, but still and for a time, peaceful. They brought him in a tray laden with food three times a day, but his current comatose state prohibited any enjoyment. When no one was looking I devoured it, starving I was not the recipient of any meals during our stay. Although this was in 2003, the mobile phone was not widely used or owned equipment by me or the Lion. I had travelled to America with no phone, only cash and the iPad had not yet been invented.  I was keen to speak to someone at home to let them know what we were facing. During one of the monitoring visits I asked the nurse how I might be able to use the phone in the room and learned I had to purchase a credit from the store and use that to make international calls. Never take the convenience of the mobile for granted, its a godsend in these situations.

Realising that I wasn’t exactly overflowing with visitors, the nurse also contacted the hospital chaplain to attend and comfort me. He was a welcome intervention but really there was nothing anyone could do while the Lion was incapacitated. I had been thinking however, and wondered if perhaps  we could rent a house here in Atlanta for the two weeks,  that might allow the Lion time to recuperate and prevent any flight re-arrangements. BA had been so good they’d think I was at it surely, if I called back and said the same passenger needed to go home now two days after we had arrived.

I made calls to the kids, who, although young, were supportive and helpful. I spoke with my sister-in-law who’s brother, rather conveniently,  lives in Nashville. Perhaps there was something they might be able to do she suggested and made some contact. Meanwhile  I tried to see whether RCI, which we had points for, could provide us something in Nashville.  (Anyone with RCI will have fallen off their seats laughing by now since they never have anything anywhere, still worth a shot). Nothing seemed to be working in our favour, and an alternative to the trip we should have been on just wasn’t forthcoming.

In the darkness of the room at night, I tried to find a comfortable place to rest. The night nurses were at their station nearby and I overheard them talking about the Scottish Man who was in with back pain, ‘he’s so handsome’ one declared. I glanced across to the bed and had to agree he was handsome and peaceful but he was my Lion. In that moment I was overwhelmed, we had so looked forward to this trip and now this you could not have predicted this was how it might end.  At 0400hrs that morning, the staff nurse came into the room suggesting they were going to wake him up and, pending a confident circuit of the ward,  might discharge him. I did feel slightly elated, but our experience of this kind of episode usually meant there was a slow progress toward improvement and I was nervous that he might not manage it. Nevertheless at the stated witching hour, she woke him up and by 6am, he was sitting up eating his breakfast.

Nothing for me to eat that day, then. He was feeling much better, seemingly relaxed and reasonably pain free, given the drugs they had given him but it was evident that he was struggling to stand up straight. Much of his gait was tentative, protecting his back,  twisting and contorting the muscles to conceal his discomfort as he tried to manage the circuit, determined to be released. They appeared pleased and confirmed we could re-join our tour two days after they had departed. It was the easiest solution to be honest,  and so the wheels (pardon the pun) were set in motion for us to join the tour as it was about to depart Chattanooga. I collected his prescription and retuned to the ward where it was clear the Lion had shrivelled in size and was nothing more than a hyena in stature now. He looked to have lost weight, his pallor was grey and clammy, all the hallmarks of a junkie. So it was that we opted to re-join the tour by taking the greyhound bus. It was something I had wanted to try and the $350 taxi journey did not appeal to me so we headed off to the bus station, me trying to manage hand luggage, two wardrobes/cases and my Lion, little did we know what would take place next……………………………………..

grayscale photography of hyena
Photo by Frans Van Heerden on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Backing into a corner.

Tour buses are always well equipped and super comfortable, air conditioning as standard with reclining seats and arm rests, the ultimate in luxury, In normal circumstances this would be fine, but actually with a sore back of this proportion nothing short of morphine will do. Instead he made do with a coffee and was tipped out onto the bus from the wheelchair. Our other travelling companions,as yet unknown had already boarded and so we four took our seats somewhere near the back. We were the youngest on the trip but not obviously, the fittest. The Lion wanted to sit in the aisle seat, I have learned during these testing times to forgo all territorial power grabs and points winning. I sat at the window and watched him wince in pain as he swung his behind in from the aisle onto the seat and gasped in pain as it seared across his lumber region.

Our travelling companions, once very good friends, had some sympathy but it was not sincere and I was only too conscious they had to have a holiday too. I was mostly focused on our situation to be honest, I could see the Lion grit his teeth and he was perspiring, a sure sign he was in considerable pain. The coach chugged into life, we made our way out of the hotel and toward the Peachtree Road, remember Elton… As we settled into the journey I noticed the Lion retained hold of the seat in front and had not really relaxed into the tourist role. I watched closely as he struggled to find a comfortable position, only slightly aware of the white noise of the tour guide retailing us of our wonderful trip ahead. I have very little recollection of that journey other than the drama I am about to describe as I was working our what possible options I might have to get us out of this tour. It was clear that continuing on the bus was absolutely the most unhelpful thing for the Lion. My mind went in to overdrive as every bump in the road resulted in a wince or gasp of intense pain.

The bus stopped near a shopping centre and under any other circumstances I would have been first off. It was clear we were going nowhere. So we let everyone off and remained on the bus. The driver eyed us suspiciously in his rear view mirror. The Lion used this time to try to rectify an un-rectifiable problem. He wanted to just lie on the floor for a minute and things would surely settle down. I knew he was not thinking at all straight, he would never have considered any small change in his posture as a potential remedy for this level of spasms. But nevertheless he wanted to try and so I did my best to help him out of the chair and onto the floor. In actual fact I took no part in this manoeuvre since every time I touched him he winced in pain. It was clear we were truly off this trip.

The driver. who watched closely from the comfort of his suspension floating driving seat, recognised trouble when he saw it. He lurched toward us, all 6 feet 7 of him his bulk only managing to transverse the coach side on. He asked if we needed help. The Lion stretched out on the floor was now writhing with pain, he almost lost consciousness. I said I think we might need a doctor and the driver agreed. With a single grip he lifted the Lion to his feet. This giant was gentle and caring waiting until the Lion could get his breath, while all the time I knew he was cringing with embarrassment, feeling that this level of attention was not what he planned. I was just grateful the driver could lift him up from the floor.

Balancing him on his feet the driver frogwalked the Lion slowly to the door. I exited ahead of them and noticed a taxi flying past, I waved my hands in desperation and although he failed to stop, he seemed to have noticed us and within a few minutes another taxi arrived. The Lion was dwarfed by the giant driver and dangled like a puppet under his massive biceps. The taxi drew up and the Lion was laid along the backseat, now with tears silently falling, he had finally accepted this was not going to be an easy fix.

We were transported to the Atlanta University Hospital where a team met us at the door. It felt like Grey’s Anatomy. Alone in a strange country with no idea what was ahead of us we were wheeled in to the emergency room. The Lion was prepared for a doctor and someone asked me for a credit card. Long before we had paid them a nurse practitioner entered the room, the Lion was still in some pain. I have become accustomed to medical practitioners not really believing people have such a thing as a bad back. I learned later that bad backs are the main source of people looking to source major drugs. So we have to jump through hoops to get help, thanks for that!

The nurse practitioner asked the Lion if she might check the extent of the problem, she took his foot, and I braced myself, as she thrust his leg in the air. It soon turned blue with expletives as the Lion tried to restrain the pain he was experiencing. The Nurse left the room rather hurriedly and soon we were alone, awaiting decisions that would inform our fate. Time passed and before long a Doctor, no more than a youngster, entered the room and the credit card pinged like a crescendo toward expensive.

It was clear the Lion needed treatment and was instantly sedated to alleviate the pain and for an instant I was relieved he had some respite from the pain. The tour guide joined me and took our insurance details to make the necessary arrangements since my credit card could not manage the incessant pinging we were facing, Then we were advised he had to stay. I knew that the tour guide needed to leave with his tourists. I just didn’t want to be left behind, I never felt so alone. The Lion was now in an induced coma unaware but no longer in pain. I went to the door desolate and saw our friends had thoughtfully brought out our cases to me as they waved goodbye and sailed on to Chattanooga. Me. I sat out at the back door to this hospital with two cases and no one and I cried……………….

Back to back disasters.

Of course we know that British Airways provide excellent service but this was our first long haul, which was now very much in jeopardy, so we needed them to be on the ball. First, however, we needed to find out if the lion had had a stroke. It was certainly very frightening to observe but the whole episode had in fact lasted no more than a minute. When he finally rallied all he wanted to do was sleep and all I wanted were answers. As is normal in these situations we were made to stand out even more by waiting until everyone disembarked at Gatwick. Pitiful glances from our fellow passengers did little to advance our wait and, as you will hear as the story unravels a bit more, our travel companions waited with us… on this occasion. It was all so uncertain, we had no idea if we were on a flight to Atlanta or heading back to Edinburgh.

Once we were helped off the plane with a wheelchair for the lion, we were transferred to a buggy which rushed the patient to see a Doctor. The lion was still very much slurring his speech and perspiration was dripping from him. He just kept on about sleeping, but the doctor didn’t seem too concerned. He deemed him fit to fly and carry on our journey. It sounded like a fit he determined and I was mighty relieved at that. Although it was the first time, it would not be the last.

British Airways ground staff accompanied us throughout the process, remaining anonymous but coming to the fore if we had any questions or actions we needed taken care of. We didn’t have time for the luxury duty free shopping as this whole process had taken over a couple of hours and now it was time to get to the flight. Our driver careered the buggy through the droves of meandering public who seemed to have lost all awareness of safety on entering the airport. They were quite unaware why we were being chauffeured around and nothing but an inconvenience to their meaningless meanders. I wanted to shout out that we had every right to have this mode of transport MY HUSBAND NEEDED IT. There that felt better.

We were driven right to the gate where we handed over our boarding cards. There was an unwelcome pause as they were studied then ripped up. Oh no we were not being allowed to travel but then our BA companion advised we had all been upgraded to business. Well, not much takes me by surprise but this did, it was completely out of the blue. All 4 of us travelling together were upgraded, it was astonishing, but if I am honest rather welcome after the trauma we had suffered. And of course it would be much easier to deal with dead people in business, they’d just be left in their beds.

Champagne was such a welcome to receive, but all the lion wanted to do was get his head down and no sooner had the seatbelt sign flicked to off he got into the bed and fell instantly asleep awakening only some 2 hours before landing. I on the other hand indulged myself with the seared filet of beef, the smoked salmon and cream cheese washed down very smoothly with a perfect Rioja. Damn them it is so very hard to travel economy when you’ve sampled that experience. BA you won that round.

We landed safely in Atlanta and met our tour rep and bus driver for the next fourteen days. We were high on life, champagne and the tour that lay ahead. The lion seemed better, was rested and relaxed and up for a wee trip downtown before bed and the start of our fantastic trip. I didn’t bother ringing the kids to alert them to the disaster which had befallen us, it had after all turned out alright and their dad seemed fine now. We spent the first night in the Sheraton Suites in Atlanta, as the next day our trip would begin with a visit to Peachtree Road, where Elton John occasionally resides, although just our luck he wasn’t in. Followed by a brief reconnaaitre to ‘Tara’ the home that featured in the epic Gone with the Wind. before setting off for few days in Chattanooga.

We had two rather large suitcases that were doubling as wardrobes for the fortnight as we had rather a lot of stopovers. I flung the discarded socks and pants into a bag for laundry and closed the case. The lion spotted a scrap of paper no bigger than a fly on the floor, clearly it had annoyed him, at least it had caught his eye. He bent over and picked it up, then in a squeal of pain crumpled in a heap on the floor. He was struggling to move, I knew immediately it was his back. He could not get to his feet so lay on the floor and his muscles went into spasmodic overdrive. I watched in horror and could do little to alleviate his pain. It was incredible that within 24 hours my poor lion had gone to the dogs.

I managed to help him to the bed but what were we going to do about this trip now, was the primary thought I had in my mind. ‘I’m fine’ he kept saying and I kept hoping he was, but i knew this was bad. With much effort and pausing with every spasm we managed to get to the lobby. I found a Starbucks and ordered him a coffee but every movement, even holding the cup sent splinters of pain up and down his spine. His face was contorted in pain, it was clear he was in trouble.

There is something in the makeup of tour reps; they are eternally optimistic, ours was no different. He didn’t feel too phased by my pain beleaguered Lion and quickly produced a wheelchair to transport him to the bus, as if that was all that was required. I suppose getting him on the bus was his priority, he had 40 other passengers desperate to set off. Our friends joined us on the bus but in all honestly no one had a clue about the trouble he was in, except me and I just had a feeling it wasn’t going to end well. Even the lion thought if he got on the bus everything would be fine………………………………..

Markets are calling me away.

January always leads you into thinking about holidays but it’s the advertising that calls me to action and is the real deal breaker for me. Adverts on TV, FB or email seem to flood you with ideas and tempt you to book a wee break. I don’t need much encouragement to be fair. January is a time when I would start to look at booking something. But we are still meeting family needs at the moment so immediate holidays are not on the cards, for obvious reasons.

When British Airways sent me an email about their January sale ( it’s still on btw) I always want to browse the delights on there as soon as possible. So I did, and within a reasonable amount of time I have identified a holiday to Mexico. We have already been to Mexico, it was one of the few places that we did not have any dramas, so you will appreciate the appeal of it. We looked at various options, but by far the best resort was Moon Palace. We enjoyed our visit there previously because there were about 20 restaurants to chose from and you can golf. The lion was sorted then! We organised the flights, our travel arrangements and our hotel, all inclusive for 6k. I have paid more for a holiday there with Thomas Cook so if you think BA are expensive, think again. That price included business class flights.

A dialogue with my lion throughout this dithering decision, meant I hovered over the ‘continue to payment’ button for about half an hour. We debated back and forth about this holiday, but in the end a quick shift onto the Jet 2 site revealed a two week stint, albeit with only bed and breakfast included, to Spain was £1200. Now when you are retired on limited income, and with a big holiday to Australia already planned, my sensible head did come into action. We had been to Spain last year but it has everything we need; heat, food, wine. What was not to like with that deal? So there I was , flicking between the two pages before making the big but sensible decision to take the Jet 2 trip, and that is it booked, decision made.

I flicked onto the BA site again still tempted by their wares, wishing we could go stateside or take the trip to Mexico but remembering there is plenty time. We can always go another time, maybe next year. That is the problem with this kind of marketing, good customer service and enticing you in with a range of deliverable delights. You get seduced into random action. I know I like my brands, but we have had tip top service from BA so my loyalty is guaranteed to an extent, because I know if things go wrong they fix it.

And another reminder of just how powerful these marketing strategies are. The next morning, because it was clear big brother was watching me, I received a letter from BA. It was notification that we had not maintained our tier points (we should have booked Mexico) and were being down graded from silver to bronze status. Shock and horror.

Now it is the maintenance of this silver status that takes me right to the BA site to buy my holiday, so this subtle marketing strategy works for them, on me anyway. I don’t want to lose it, but in all honestly all it does is give you permission to choose your seat ahead of everyone else. Not that much when it comes down to it. When you are that loyal and there are incentives like tier points, it doesn’t take much to tempt you back, or hook you into other purchases. But you never forget you have a choice, so on this occasion BA lost out, mainly because we had already booked a big holiday for next year and finances are not limitless.

If you are thinking of booking a holiday try BA or Jet2 both very good quality for the prices they set. Jet 2 have not yet been tested with any of our dramas yet, but I’m sure there’s time…………………

Getting away from it all.

It’s been a while, and I am making a poor excuse, but Christmas is always so busy. Haven’t you been busy?? And now here we are mid January and not a jot has been written, it’s frankly a disgrace! Just when I might have reached the dizzy heights of 3k views I go and get lost in a virtual outer space, flitting between family dramas and falling out of favour with my followers for failing to report on them. I have committed the most incredible sin; I have omitted to provide insight, social commentary and details of the ongoing, albeit somewhat dreary, dramas that drift in and out of my life.

January is always such an awful month; moneyless, dark, wintery, dark, everyone on a diet and off the drink, oh and dark. Of course we are now 26 weeks into my injury and I am making considerable progress so I suddenly want to do things, be places, see people, have fun and party. Problem is no-one else does. A bargain weekend was available and no-one wanted to go. I was cheesed off. I was hoping that would help ease my humongous gas bill, since it’s been on full blast all the while I have been house bound, but nope no-one wanted to go out or away. So there was only one thing for it, let’s go away ourselves for the weekend to………………our own house!

Turns out this was actually a fab idea and I seriously urge you to try it. We do have a lovely home, it is our pride and joy. It was built in 1750 and was previously 5 farm cottages knocked into one. We have put our heart and soul into this house, on every level we have invested love, care and attention to very corner, every room. So often when we go away I will catch myself remarking that we have just as good at home. Hence the mad idea of spicing up our January by pretending we were visitors in our own home.

Off I went on the Friday morning for a meeting with the feeling that today was going to be different. It was the excitement and anticipation combined that you get when you have a planned weekend away, albeit this was not away, but it was creating the feeling of being away, if you follow my drift. The lion was tasked with changing the bed and cleaning the house ready for the arrival of the guests, us. He even mentioned later he tipped them for a job well done. We laughed at that.

We were not allowed access until three so when I returned from work at 1pm, we went off shopping to buy what we needed for the weekend and of course that included shopping at a different supermarket and trying different brands. Then, as it was still a tad early to get the keys, we went to the cinema to watch Stan and Ollie. It was now nearly four so we made our way to our home for the weekend, pretending we had never been there, making hilarious comments like ” wonder what it is like inside” the pretence just added reality to the event.

When we opened the door, although it was with a sense of deja vu, we nevertheless continued with the drama, gasping at the size of the kitchen and delighted there was a wood burning stove, cleaned and set ready for ignition. We couldn’t wait to check out our bedroom for the weekend and later, after our first night we were so happy the bed was just as comfy as our own. Every action was designed to value what we had here, to look at it through a different lens. We took it all in, surveying what had become routine and making it mean so much more. I even posted pictures on FB # weekend away LOL.

On Saturday morning I set the table for breakfast using every piece of Denby I owned, including the toast holder that I bought three years ago but had never used. It gave me a simple but satisfying pleasure, I cannot explain, but the thrill of feeling that it was all new. I was making the most of what we had been taking so much for granted. The lion went off to play golf ( he had been taxiing me about all week to hospital appointments) while I stayed in our “holiday home” and made a goulash with yoghurt dumplings and even baked bread. I felt so invigorated.

We went to church to try out the local religious arrangements, then came back, lit the fire had a glass of wine before we enjoyed a romantic winter supper surrounded by candles and music. I cannot tell you how satisfying this weekend away in our own abode was. We made the most of what we had, and I’ve rarely been more satisfied.

Over the past 26 weeks I’ve come to realise how precious my health is. It made me want to live my life again as soon as I could. A simple slip took so much away from me, standing up, walking, dancing, cycling, catching up with friends, shopping, eating, visiting family, it had all been affected by my inability to move.

We also look after our parents and over the same period a lot was happening for them both and we lost some of our closest family members. All of that provided us with a mirror on our own mortality. I don’t know when I might get any clearer an insight to my future than I have these last few months, but I do know that what I have decided to do is make the most of it, however big or small that most is.

Marvel in the minutest things, love, laugh, dance, smile and be thankful for everything you have because you have no idea how long it will last or how important it has become.

Looking for Christmas (part 2)

My mother was clearly distraught, at 7 I wasn’t all that adept at knowing how to respond it these situations but her distress seemed to search inside me for the best response I could find. I gave her a hug, tapping her shoulder repeatedly and slowly to affirm my concern and telling her it would be ok. I had no idea if it would be ok, but it appeared to be the right thing to say. She released me from my hug, indicating for me to sit before her and drew in a deep breath.

“I’ve lost some money,” she said, and continued, “this money was for Santa to pay for the presents he was bringing”. There was a lot of information in this statement, I took time to digest it. I wasn’t aware you had to pay Santa for presents, I was trying to work out how payments might be made or where the conversation took place to barter between humans and Santa? I knew we had sent letters, perhaps Santa sent a receipt in the post, and you arranged to leave the money beside the mince pies and carrots for collection on Christmas Eve?

Usually there was a limit on spending, we knew about it, not always sure what it was but knew it existed because if we asked for too much the retort would let us know it was too expensive. ” That’s just not possible, move on” my mother would say and we knew we had to forget about it. There didn’t seem to be the same regulation with things we asked for in our letters to Santa.

Then the realisation began to dawn that if she couldn’t pay what would Santa do? Did he take tick? Tick was the colloquial term for Credit in Shotts, I had no idea what credit was either but I knew, or rather had pieced together meaning from adult conversations, that sometimes things could be bought now and paid for later. A man in a smart suit and hat would come to the house weekly and write things in a book and mum would give him money. I understood him to be the ‘tick-man’. Did he know Santa? I was perplexed by these revelations and worried about the consequences.

My mother wept into her handkerchief and I asked how much she had lost. She looked straight at me for some level of insight or understanding about how much a 7 year old could appreciate the loss of £300. In today’s terms that is about the equivalent of a purchasing power of £6, 700. I recall thinking we must have been getting a lot of presents! Dad was due home on Christmas Eve so we had to bear this knowledge alone. Mum had done what she had to do and finally called the police. It was unthinkable for her that someone had stolen it, but as it had been lost for so long and every corner searched, every piece of furniture overturned, every nook and cranny examined and still no trace, it was all we had left.

Two days til Christmas and there was a gloom around the house; the sparkle of the Christmas lights had dimmed and, as a 7 year old facing her first major crisis, I experienced a deep sadness and insecurity. The order of my world had been turned upside down by this loss; it had affected my mother so much there was an incredible change in her personality, she seemed to switch between hopelessness and anger. We kept out of her way. And we kids started to accept that Santa might not come and there would be no presents, or at least not what we had asked for.

On Christmas Eve, eve we went to bed and mum was settling all three of us down for the night. The wardrobe door was lying open and as she chatted to us she walked over to close it. In mid sentence, she stopped in her tracks. My bed was at right angles to the wardrobe, I could see her face, it contorted from realisation to horror, a memory flashed before her eyes, which diverted to look at me. And suddenly she was in the wardrobe pulling out a fur hat. This was my grandmother’s hat, it was real fur (a thing back in the day) with satin brown lining. Part of the stitching holding this lining in place had parted the satin from the fur and offered you a fabulous hiding place. She put her hand into the lining and pulled out the missing cash.

I leapt out of my bed, jumping up and down on the mattress nearly banging my head on the ceiling. My sisters knew something amazing had just happened but not what. My mother threw the cash in the air and it fell like feathers floating to the floor, just missing the roaring fire in our bedroom. Santa would be coming after all………………..