The Spirit of Christmas Present.

Don’t believe the bitter picture.

I’ve been sticking a middle finger up to ARC’s ‘Down’s Syndrome is a life sentence’ rhetoric for twelve-and-a-half years now, just by choosing to continue and thriving on the life I now live. But today I am putting that middle finger down just long enough to wish them, their corporate partners, the Emmerdale Production team, and the Uncle Monty’s at ITV a very Merry Christmas indeed. May the Spirit of Christmas Present sprinkle his magic dust over all your festivities, filling your hearts with love, joy and goodwill to all men.

Because, God knows, you need it. More than most.

A person, or persons, in, or close to, the Emmerdale Production Office has had a termination on the grounds of Down’s syndrome, that’s my betting. That’s their choice and their private business. But, triggered perhaps by the presence of ‘Leo’ in the show, they are now having a hard time reconciling themselves to that choice, and in their grief and anguish they have started lashing out at the Down’s Syndrome community in a very public way. This is not acceptable, no matter how much they are hurting. This is an attack on a vulnerable group of people with protected characteristics, whose rights were not considered during production. It breaches Section 2 of the Ofcom broadcast code (harm and offence) which states: ‘If there is an under-representation, the use of stereotypes and caricatures or the discussion of difficult or controversial issues involving that community may be seen as offensive in that it is viewed as creating a false impression of that minority’. It may also be in breach of Article 14 of the Human Rights Act (Protection from discrimination). It cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged.

If there is one thing for certain it is that seeking to exorcise their ghosts in this way will not, ultimately, make them feel any better. What will their Christmas festivities be like? Filled with thoughts of what might have been. If only …

If only their baby hadn’t had Down’s Syndrome?

How about if only we gave people accurate and balanced information based on real-life experience? If only we stopped automatically equating a pre-natal diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome with termination of pregnancy and funnelling people down that route? If only we could let go of our age-old prejudices and allow people to believe the happy picture? How about that?

Despite the best efforts of Emmerdale and ARC to piss all over people with DS and their Yuletide celebrations, here at HMP Stripey we are already getting into the festive spirit with a vengeance. On Friday, sick of spending a bloody fortune on delivery charges, I treated myself to an in-person visit to Sainsbury’s.

Face mask – check.

Hand sanitiser – check.

Nail-studded baseball bats strapped to back – check (wrapped in tinsel – it is Advent, after all).

It felt like a cross between a dangerous mission and an illicit love-tryst, going into an actual shop for the first time in months and browsing at things that are not, strictly speaking, essential for my day-to-day needs, like Christmas pyjamas, colourful table runners, and candles that smell absolutely nothing like figgy pudding. I was really disappointed to find that they hadn’t got any of the ‘Pugs and Kisses’ variety among their collection of Yankee candles. I’m really intrigued to find out what the fragrance of that might be. Pug farts? Burning dog hair? Never mind. I came away with some praline syrup for my coffee and some nice things for the Christmas Eve box.

I make no secret of the fact that I find Christmas as a mum equally as exciting as I found it when I was a little child. And, as Freddie is maturing more slowly than his brother and sister did, I am selfishly quite glad that we get to keep the little kid Christmas magic for a while longer than most. Maybe forever. We all need a bit of magic in our lives, don’t we?

Unlike my friends in the posh county next door, here in the cheap seats we haven’t been given any official edict detailing the precise date and time at which residents are expected to switch on their Christmas lights or risk being run out of town by the neighbourhood watch on their mobility scooters. But, me being me, I would probably have ignored any such edict and put them up whenever I damn well liked anyway. So, on Saturday the first batch of mince pies was baked and consumed while me and my mother (put the phone down, Doreen, we’re a support bubble) assembled our new, fake, will-it-be-a-tree-or-a-giant-toilet-brush.

Prices for a decent, realistic-looking artificial tree seem to range from about £400-£1,000. My budget was £30, so I really didn’t hold great hopes for the contents of the box that has been standing in my hallway for the last two weeks, whispering of disappointment.

D’ya know — it’s not half bad, this budget bog-brush. Once festooned with all the lights, garlands and baubles it looked quite a lot like a Christmas tree, after all. In fact, it might just be our best tree ever. We put lights up in the kitchen, too, and hung baubles from the dining room light-fitting with invisible thread. We are far more grotto than grot-hole, whatever you might imagine about the living conditions of people like us.

Sunday morning saw me sanding down my crusty drawers. No — hygiene conditions around here aren’t that bad — I was buffing up the drawers for our home-made advent calendar. Actually, it’s not so much home-made as home-decorated. I wish I was that good at woodwork, but when I was at school girls were not encouraged to pursue such subjects — our choices were being controlled even then. Those ‘technical’ or vocational subjects that were considered most suitable for girls were so de-valued that no boy would voluntarily choose them even he had an aptitude for that sort of thing. It isn’t the case that all men control all women, but that some men (the ‘elite’) seek to control everyone who is ‘beneath’ them in rank. The Patriarchy hurts men too. Perhaps this lack of technical education is why I managed to superglue a number six to my thumb and why my fingerprints were glazed over with adhesive, glitter and splinters. Looking on the bright side, at least I didn’t need to use an exfoliating mitt in the shower.

I tried to get a bit creative with the Advent chest, putting the drawers in a random order so that we would have to look for the correct number each day, but Freddie did not like that idea. He kept chanting the numbers 1-25 until I got the message and agreed to put them back in date order. With calm soon restored, we played a board game, then made warm drinks and watched ‘The Bear’ together with only the tree lights on. I can think of worse ways to spend a Sunday evening even when we’re not in some kind of lockdown.

Because of the ongoing Coronavirus restrictions, this year, in a fit of goodwill, we treated the gingerbread semi to a set of outdoor lights, to spread some cheer to our neighbours, passers-by and weary travellers on the A-road. If we can do nothing else this Christmas we can at least get out for a nice walk on the crisp winter evenings and go fairy-light spotting, wrapped up snug in our Christmas jumpers. Freddie loves a Christmas jumper, he’d wear them all year round if I let him, which I tend to do because I know what it is like to be told that the choice you want to make is not a valid choice.

‘Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, your branches are so gaudy. Your baubles cheap, your tinsel’s naff, your angel is so tawdry. It’s my own fault you’re not much cop, I should have shopped till fit to drop, in Marks & Sparks and Debenhams instead of in the Pound Shop!’

3 thoughts on “The Spirit of Christmas Present.

  1. Pippa Hodge

    Great blog. I wish a plague of locusts on ARC’s Emmerfail storyline, and will hug my Precious even more over the next 6 weeks to ward off their pernicious energy!

    Liked by 1 person

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  2. Les Johnstone

    I went from anger to pissing myself laughing reading your article.

    We still have a magical Christmas, with Bruce often rolling his eyes and exasperated cries of “Daaaaad” at my giddy antics.

    The tree will be dug out the loft next week as Im off work fir most of December into early January and we will venture to the shops (tesco or sainsbury) so Bruce can get us our presents.

    We have the small matter of his birthday on 19th, he was due 25th, thank goodness he came early our very own bundle of Christmas joy who bore a passing resemblance to Yoda. We managed to get him and Tracy home just before the big day but had to wait until after that fir a diagnosis. That said we’d already said fuckit whatever they say we won’t be sending him back or seeking a refund.

    Christmas 1984, was a very different experience for all of us, a new baby, our first as a married couple, new flat and our daughter’s first as a big sister. It was to be one of many firsts in the last 36 years, but probably, no definitely, our most joyous.

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