By the time you read this piece I will (I hope) have had a lovely pre-Christmas weekend with my little sister. She's 13 and this will have been the first time she's stayed with me on her own. Despite what I think my step-mother (her mum) fears, I have no plans to let her have her nose pierced as an early Christmas present or get an outlandish goth haircut when I take her around London's Camden Market. I also promise I won't tell her my tips and tricks for being a terrible teen. Well, perhaps a couple, although she's forging her own path on that front.
What I will tell her is how lovely it is to see her. I remember her first Christmas, togged out in a little Santa outfit, just two months old. I'll tell her how she was the perfect present for a teenager who thought she'd never have siblings. I'll also attempt to tell her that however annoying she thinks her parents are, they love her very much. Even if they find her every bit as annoying. I'll tell her to try and be good this Christmas, to try not to get into a shouting match with our Dad. He'll win: he's got much more experience. Just back down, it's easier.
I've already bought her some presents, so I won't upset the horses by kitting her out in punk gear and I've managed to fight the urge to buy her one of the things I most wanted at her age (other than a time machine or a boyfriend with long hair): a five-year calendar. So I could tick off the days until I turned 18 and could leave home because, y'know, life as a teen was SO UNFAIR. I will try and make the case that while being a teenager can be boring, frustrating, excrutiating and scary, she'll look back at these years with a great deal of fondness. Especially the Christmas Eves down the pub when she's a bit older (if she's like her big sister).
Of course, I'll tell her all this and I'm sure she'll give me the eternal teenage gifts: a sigh and an eye-roll but I mean well, and hey, maybe she'll take something in.
I've heard miracles happen at Christmas...
In last week's column I wrote about shops I'd known and loved, and mentioned Baldocks, an outdoors and army-surplus store that used to operate in my home town of Maidstone, Kent. I said it had shut down, but I received an email from its owner, Tim, to correct me. It's "alive and kicking" in West Malling and is in its 134th year of trading, amazing since it is still in the same family. While it no longer stocks ex-army stuff, it sells skiing and outdoors equipment. If you're in the area, pop in, buy something and do give them my love.