Christmas feel-good factor can’t come soon enough


There’s a farm near our house selling Nordman Firs, Norwegian Spruces and Scotch Pines.

This is where yours truly will be driving home from at lunchtime on Saturday with the top of a six-foot tree sticking out of one of the rear passenger windows of his tiny motor.

It may only be December 3 but that’s when the festive season will officially commence at chez Tideswell.

There are those who will tell you you shouldn’t put your tree or decorations up until Christmas Eve.

They are the kind of people who moan about the families in their street who light up the outside of their homes with 40,000 bulbs and have an inflatable Santa hanging on a rope ladder from their roof.

All I can say is they don’t half cheer me up when I’m walking the dog on a cold December night.

Unfortunately, I’ve got a Scrooge living a few doors away from me.

When he moved in a couple of years ago, just to be neighbourly, we knocked on and handed him a Christmas card – only to be told: ‘Thanks, but we don’t send cards or gifts.’

‘I bet it’s fun in your house on Christmas Day morning’, I thought to myself as he closed the door and returned to drying out used tea bags on a clothes horse.

Suffice to say he won’t be invited round to our house on Saturday.

Against the backdrop of carols from King’s College, Cambridge, we’ll be decorating the tree and the living room, eating mince pies and sipping sherry.

We’ll even enjoy writing masses of Christmas cards – rather than viewing it as a huge chore or something you can wangle your way out of by sending a blanket email to all your friends and colleagues and donating a fiver to Save The Whales.

The way I see it, Christmas cards present the one genuine opportunity each year to reach out to people you rarely see or speak to – such as relatives and friends who live far away – and show you care by putting pen to paper.

Conversely, they give you the chance to show your work mates – those people you spend more time with than your own family – that they are more than just colleagues. To thank them for being friends.

In our house we choose our cards carefully. Traditional festive themes, Father Christmas, snow men, charity cards and even Nativity scenes (if we can find any) all make the cut.

But there’s absolutely no joke cards or children’s TV characters to take away from the sentiment expressed inside the cards.

By the same token, the advent calendar for Lois and Mina which is going up on Thursday won’t be advertising Hello Kitty, Glee or Peppa Pig. It’ll be a plain red wooden truck filled with chocolates by mum and dad.

It will sit next to a traditional Nativity scene complete with stable and ceramic figurines to serve as a constant reminder of the true meaning of season of goodwill.

We’ll even make a rare trip to church for the Christingle service so my girls can sing Little Donkey and Away In A Manger while eating Jelly Tots and trying not to burn themselves with candle wax.

Given that all the anticipation and the magic evaporates by around teatime on Christmas Day I take the view we should make the festive season last as long as possible.

It was interesting that – even with a much-reduced budget – the Hanley Christmas lights switch-on event attracted thousands more people to the city centre than the previous year.

Proof – if any were needed – that, given the grim state of the economy, the job losses, the austerity measures and the looming strikes – we need the Christmas feel-good factor more than ever and it can’t come soon enough.

PS: I wasn’t joking about wanting a Santa sack again, mum.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

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Eighties children’s telly stands the test of the time


Being the father of two small children you can’t help but become something of an aficionado with regard to children’s television.
Mercifully, we’ve made it through the painful In The Night Garden and Dora The Explorer phases and the girls have finally given me permission to sling their Peppa Pig DVDs.
I long ago converted my four and six-year-olds to the delights of Scooby-Doo (which they still lap up).
It is a source of great pride to me that I also recently switched them on to The Avengers – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and they are now hooked to such an extent that both can now name every Marvel superhero from Iron Man through to The Punisher.
Even so, despite the plethora of kids TV channels available I reckon the youngsters of today are poorly served compared to children of the 80s like me.
Maybe it’s the rose-tinted glasses syndrome but I just can’t imagine my girls looking back, misty-eyed in 25 years’ time and reminiscing about Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom.
Contrast that then with my memories of arriving home from Holden Lane High at 20 to four and flopping on to the settee with a bag of Monster Munch.
Perhaps I recall my pre-teatime telly with such fondness because children’s TV was still something of a novelty in the early Eighties.
Or perhaps the absence of computer games, mobile telephones and social networking meant that we were all actually limited to viewing the same stuff on the goggle box.
I prefer to think that what was on offer to children of the Eighties was simply better – with characters and theme tunes which are imprinted on our brains.
For example, do you recall the cartoon which first aired in the UK in 1983 and began with the words: “I am Adam, Prince of Eternia, defender of the secrets of Castle Greyskull…”
It’s all coming back now, isn’t it? Yes, He-Man and the Masters of Universe burst on to our TV screens during my first year at high school.
There followed 130 episodes of Skeletor-bashing action, numerous toys and even a duff movie starring Dolph Lundgren.
Another cartoon favourite of mine was Dogtanian and the Three Muskahounds with its annoyingly catchy music.
I am sure you remember: “One for all and all for one, Muskahounds are always ready…” Ahem.
Yes, this little gem which was created in 1981 followed the adventures of canine versions of the swashbucking heroes from Alexandre Dumas’ novel. Enough said.
Then there was Battle of The Planets – a Japanese cartoon series involving the G-Force team of young superheroes (overseen by their robot 7-Zark-7) who battled against the evil Zoltar. Suffice to say I have the DVD.
I also adored the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon – based loosely on the roleplaying game of the same name – which saw a bunch of children take a theme park ride into a world of magic and monsters.
In truth, I never left that world and yes I do have the DVD.
Away from cartoons, I dare say few of today’s children’s programmes could hold a candle to The Book Tower.
Personally, I preferred the show when it was hosted by Doctor Who’s Tom Baker. His rather eccentric style of presenting coupled with the spooky Andrew Lloyd Webber theme tune really did the job of hooking me into reading – which was, of course, the whole point of the show.
Then there was the slapstick genius of BBC show Rentaghost which ran until 1984 and followed the antics of a number of ghosts who worked for a firm called, unsurprisingly, Rentaghost.
But the daddy of all Eighties children’s TV shows has to be Phil Redmond’s Grange Hill which enjoyed its halcyon period while yours truly was at a similar age to most of the characters.
And what characters they were… ‘Tucker’ Jenkins, ‘Ziggy’ Greaves, Fay Lucas, Ronnie Birtles, Roland Browning, ‘Gripper’ Stebson, Gonch and Hollo. The list is endless.
Groundbreaking at the time, Grange Hill pushed the boundaries of children’s drama with storylines such as Zammo McGuire’s descent into addiction to heroin.
With it’s wacky theme tune and comic book title sequence involving a flying sausage skewered by a fork, Grange Hill is as instantly recognisable today to the children of the Eighties as it was when Mrs McClusky ruled the roost.
Tracy Beaker and Horrid Henry eat your heart out.