30 November 2001



Ive started! The Christmas shopping has begun. This is slightly earlier than usual for me as we have a tradition in our house that the festive season only begins after our family weekend at Corrymeela.

This weekend has been going on for the past 10 years when we started going with a group of Catholic and Protestant families to a reconciliation centre up in Ballycastle. Now that all sounds very heavy, but it is the opposite, with loads of Christmassy fun and none of the horrible commercialism.

Ten years on, our family is very different and the appeal of making Christmas shortbread and hand painted decorations has somewhat dimmed, faced with the competition of city lights and boyfriends. Nonetheless, four of us are still heading up this year and I think if it hadnt been for Jennys mock A-levels starting on the Monday, she would have been tempted to come too. The problem is, we are going to Corrymeela a week later this year and I think it is a bit risky to leave all the preparations until after Dec 10 and so my mother-in-law Nancy and I are heading off today to make a start.

Now I think Im bad with three daughters, but Nancy has eight granddaughters, so Christmas shopping is a bit of a nightmare for her, especially as they are all into the fashionable clothes era. How does anyone over the age of 25 have a chance of knowing what is going to pass the teenage test? Well just have to keep all the receipts!

Ive also started the University interview circus with Jenny, who has applied to six universities to do Occupational Therapy next year. Only one is this side of the water and all require an interview before they will offer a place. So today I have spent hours checking on the cheapest way of getting to the North East of England and basically there isnt a chance. One possibility was flying to Leeds at a mere £260 return – each! Then of course, theres the train fare or car hire and an overnight stay. The whole family went to Tenerife last year for not much more than its going to cost Jenny and I to go for one interview!

We could have chosen boat and train, but that would have meant three days off school and with those mocks just a couple of weeks away, the teachers would not have been happy. Once she has one trip under her belt, I hope Jenny will be confident enough to do the rest on her own, although it is always nice to have someone to travel with.

Johnston is simply not an option, he doesnt mind travelling, as long as he has to take no responsibility for getting there.

Sadly he feels rather the same about shopping and so it is a task that falls almost entirely to me – except at Christmas, when I insist on Johnston getting in to Belfast for at least one day. I used to have the excuse that I needed him to carry the parcels, but now that we are beyond the toy stage the packages tend to be smaller, but still I hate making all the choices myself.

So his compromise is to spend a couple of hours in the music shop buying everyone a CD that HE likes and taking me out for my lunch. I think for a farmers wife thats as good as Im going to get!

Ready to shop: Judith and Nancy tackle the Christmas present list.

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