Clare’s mum starts planning for Christmas, and Clare has a whole list of eco suggestions. However, her mum has some bad news.
It’s the end of September, the day after our school’s Harvest Festival in fact, which means traditionally, Mum has started planning Christmas. It may seem a bit early to be thinking about it, but you have to remember that my mum has to organise – the Christmas dinner party she always throws for her colleagues, clients and neighbours, organise travelling to the big extended family do and then planning our actual Christmas – and we usually go abroad, normally to the Dolomites, to ski and enjoy the snow. This means, that from the Harvest Festival onwards Daisy, Ben and I will all go to Dad if we want anything or have got into trouble of any kind, as Mum’s stress levels start to increase as Christmas draws closer.
This year Mum seems particularly stressed, and strangely, so does Dad. He’s normally quite laid back about everything, but since last week when he had a ‘discussion’ with Mum, there’s been an odd tension about the house, even Ben and Daisy have noticed. So far though, none of us have mentioned it.
In the meantime, instead of keeping clear of Mum when she holes up in her office to start planning the family Christmas, I take a deep breath and walk in.
“Clare, I’m a tad busy at the moment”, Mum replies, not looking up from the multiple windows she has open on her computer, “I’m trying to find a reasonably priced chalet.”
“For our Christmas holiday?” I ask.
“Yes”, Mum says, “And for some reason that nice place we went to the year before is booked solid!”
“Mum”, I say, taking the plunge, “You do know we can’t go away this year.”
There’s a pause. I think I see Mum’s back tense, and then she swings round in her chair to face me.
“I’m sorry?” Mum cries puzzled and stressed, “What do you mean, we ‘can’t’ have a holiday?”
“Because we’re trying to be as carbon neutral as possible! Think of the carbon dioxide we’ll create for one week in Italy!”
“Oh Clare,” Mum smiles, “Don’t worry, I’ve already taken that into consideration. I’m going to look at environmentally friendly airlines and carbon offsetting, so we can go.”
I should be glad that Mum has already thought of this solution, but in fact, I’m not really. I had been looking forward to doing an eco-friendly Christmas at home. Energy saving Christmas lights on a real tree, with presents wrapped in pieces of cloth, Japanese style, below, beeswax or soy candles on the mantle piece, a glass of organic milk for Santa….
Then there’s the obvious thing that, despite carbon offsetting and eco-friendly airplanes, surely just staying home and not going is better in the long run? What about all the carbon dioxide involved in driving to Heathrow? Has Mum considered that? Or the rental car we’d probably hire there?
Mum obviously senses I am not happy with her suggestion.
“Don’t you want to go?” Mum asks.
“I was kind of looking forward to an eco-friendly Christmas”, I explain, “And you’ve forgotten all the driving we do on holiday.”
“And…” I continue, without even realising I’ve been thinking it, “Couldn’t we stay at home and have a lazy Christmas for once? Instead of a five in the morning start, and tons of travelling and you stressing for two and a half months over Christmas?”
Oops. Darn, darn, darn. I shouldn’t have said that. Mum just gives a sharp hollow laugh.
“I wish it was just Christmas I was stressing over”, Mum says bitterly, “Look, Clare, your father. Your father…has been given two months notice.”
“To do what?” I ask.
“Nothing. Your Dad’s been made redundant”, Mum says quietly, “The finance company are cutting back on advisors, and your Dad has been let go. Next year we’re going to have to cut back, dramatically. We didn’t say anything to you, Daisy and Ben because we didn’t want to upset you.”
I stare blankly at her, as I take this in. It explains why Mum and Dad were acting so odd.
“Look, perhaps you’re a bit young, and don’t understand how important this is at the moment”, Mum sighs, “But it’ll mean some changes. We won’t have as much money as before, we won’t be able to afford everything we used to.”
She falls silent for a moment.
“I just wanted to give you one proper holiday”, She finishes quietly, “Whilst we could still afford it.”
I don’t know what to say. There’s a long pause.
“We’ll be okay though.” I say slowly, “We won’t need as much money, now we’re going green. Reuse, Reduce, Recycle, remember?”
“You haven’t seen my credit card bills Or the mortgage repayments. It’ll take more than compost to fix this problem.”
“Then why are we spending money on a holiday?” I ask. “Let’s do an eco-Christmas! Listen, I found solar Christmas tree lights, in yellow or red, that charge up and stay lit for three days running. It’ll save electricity, and we could even earn some money by selling our old lights online! And instead of buying a really expensive Christmas pudding, we could use all the old dried fruit and left over sherry in the back of the cupboard and make our own! We could even make Christmas presents for each other! Like I made Daisy that jewellery for her birthday.”
I’m starting to sound a little desperate as I rattle out my ideas, and then suddenly everything sinks in, including the worry. I stop.
“Unless we’re not going green anymore. Will we have to stop now Dad doesn’t have a job? Can he get another one? We won’t have to move house will we?” I cry, “They don’t still have workhouses, do they?”
Mum gives a small smile and comes over and gives me a hug.
“No, they don’t. Not that it’s that bad anyway. We’ll still have the house, and we’ll still be going green. We’ll just have to be more careful with money”, She says, “Which means you’re probably right about the holiday. We should save that money instead. Just in case.”
“But then we may not have another chance to have a holiday for months. I think we need to ask Daisy and Ben what they think about the whole idea. It’s about time the whole family knew. I’ll go tell your father we need to break the bad news.”
She straightens up, and heads towards the door. I still feel uneasy.
“And in the meantime”, She says kindly, “Why don’t you find those Christmas lights for me on the internet?”
I smile. Everything is going to be okay. I hope….
It starts snowing, and Clare realises they’re wasting heat, and starts looking at ways to help insulate the house.