Any photographer on the planet will tell you that the run-up to Christmas is manic.
As in M.A.N.I.C
At one point you could barely get through my front door for abandoned packaging waiting to go for recycling and for stacked, identical 'white boxes' waiting to go to clients as courier after courier arrived with orders.
And it is usually around this time that I start to think a) that Christmas is never going to happen and b) that I really need a wife.
At around the same time I start to have a wobble about Christmas Cards.
I really think that I should send some. To my family. To my friends. And to all my lovely customers to tell them how much I have loved photographing their Babies. Their Littlies. To let them know what an honour it has been to share their Wedding Days. Their Pregnancies. Their Children and Families. Their Lives.
And I am always caught out by the loveliness of people who do this to me:-
My friend Catherine for instance.
I last saw Catherine over a decade ago when we caught up at a school reunion (one of those amazing events where you all have to wear white, sticky labels on your chest proudly boasting who you are because you've got so old no one recognises you). Prior to that I hadn't seen her since her wedding day.... circa 1980's.
Despite this, Catherine (far left, with a glass of wine far too full ..... leading me to now think it must have been her 5th) ....sends me a Christmas Card without fail. Catherine doesn't do the whole 'social media' thing. She relies on old fashioned means (like the post.....seriously!!) to keep in touch.
So - every year - for the past quarter of a century , I get a Christmas card packed with news and photos.
(This year she excelled with a photo of both of us at some random Guide Camp....all skinny armed and lanky legged..... me dressed as Andy Pandy, her as Looby Lou. And no - I am not sharing it....so don't even think about asking)
In contrast every year - for the past quarter of a century - she gets nothing in return. Instead I open her card and, racked with guilt that somehow another whole year has passed, pick up the phone. And we chat for an hour. And the years fall away. And we promise to catch up properly in the New Year...... again.
And I hang up convinced that I am the most rubbish friend you could ever wish to have.
So I try and console myself with the fact I am B.U.S.Y. at this time of year.....what do people expect?
And then this consoling exercise is scuppered by the likes of Harry from Hatty Bakewells (who has made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end with tales of her Christmas orders) when she leaves a Christmas Card on my desk.
A HANDMADE Christmas Card! (#feelinginadequate)
Or the lovely Lou - whose family I have photographed in just about every guise this year......from Grandads Birthday Portrait with all his family (33 of them!) to the newest arrival -Suzy Mabel.
Lou arrives with homemade brownies, beautifully packaged in a red box tied with white ribbon.
Of course - Lou has NOTHING to do other than make homemade brownies, package them in red boxes tied with white ribbon and hand deliver them to people.
Other than - I am reluctantly forced to admit- keeping tabs on this lot who had all broken up from school for Christmas just the day before! (#feelingevenmoreinadequate)
But - in amongst the guilt, and the inadequacies, and the realisation that I am actually probably the most disorganised blob of humanity that ever existed, there is another reason that I don't send Christmas Cards.
Two years ago I really DIDN'T think Christmas was going to happen. My six week old niece was on life support in Birmingham Childrens Hospital having suffered two strokes.
Now - I always knew that there were amazing people out there. Doctors and Nurses. Doing the impossible.
But what I had never given any thought to was what happens to parents when their children are suddenly rushed into hospital. Not for a day. Or for two days.
But - like my brother and sister-in-law - for weeks and months.
Obviously they want to stay with their children....but where? And how?
By the time Erin was transferred to Birmingham her Mum and Dad had already done a two week vigil next to her bed in our local county hospital. 'Sleeping' in a hard backed visitors chair next to her bed.
And were shadows of their former selves.
When they arrived at Birmingham they were given a room..... right there in the hospital. With a phone linked to paediatric intensive care so that they could be contacted at any time.
There was a kitchen. A bathroom. There was normality in the most abnormal of situations. And not just for them......but for every parent there.
And I had no idea that this even happened!
But is does. And no one knows about it until they need it.
When Erin finally came home her Mum and Dad had a charity auction in aid of BCH. The response was beyond phenomenal and saw them raise well over £17,000.
But little did two of the main gift contributors know that they would find themselves in exactly the same position less than two short years later.
Another lovely Lou - this time from Farmer Lou - who supplied gift boxes of her Posh Pork and Lush Lamb - found herself, earlier this year, living with Joe on paediatric intensive care in Stoke when twins Harry and Zena decided to put in an appearance almost 12 weeks early.
And then towards the end of this year (so too late for photos......but they will follow!) I learnt about Kate.
Kate was one of my 2015 Brides. On hearing about the BCH auction she subsequently donated a Balloon Flight. I was massively touched.
I was equally horrified , just weeks ago, to discover that her baby daughter Freya has been diagnosed with a cyst on the brain. Kate and husband Jason have also found themselves PICU residents in 2016.
Kate is now raising money for the Ronald McDonald Trust, a charity that funds and supports 'home away from home' accommodation for families whilst their children are in hospital.
So - this is the REAL reason you didn't get a Christmas Card from AWP:-
I am giving Kate the cost of sending you all a card as part of her fund raising (which includes running a half marathon in 2017. She did invite me to join her but - given the fact I can barely run a bath - I will be doing the photographs)
I just think that you all know I love you...... and you probably don't need a card at the end of the year to confirm that.
And there are probably families out there (like us in 2015, and Lou & Joe and Kate & Jason in 2016) that could use ALL of our love and support so much more.
Wishing you all the bestest of New Years.
December 2016 Update:-
Erin is now two and beyond adorable
Twins Harry and Zena finally made it home 6 weeks ago having more than tripled their weight at birth.
They are now tipping the scales at between 7 and 8lb.
And Freya is home and doing well!