‘I REMEMBER picking him up and thinking: ‘bloody hell, this is it. I’m a dad and this is my wee boy’.”
The words of Joseph of Nazareth on the greatest moment in the Christian calendar? No, it was the raw, heartfelt reaction of Sir Chris Hoy when he held his son, Callum, for the first time.
Callum arrived a little prematurely, giving his dad a run for his money in the speed department, but of course that meant hours of worry.
That wonder, that awe, that feeling of “now I am really a grown-up”, the sudden weight of responsibility the overwhelming desire to protect the tiny person in your arms – it’s the innate response to the miracle of holding your child. Even if it’s more an everyday type of miracle rather than one on the Jesus scale.
Children are never far from most people’s thoughts at this time of year. The majority of the mad frantic present-buying is done for them – even though, if a Spanish Ikea advert is to be believed, what they most want above anything else is to spend more time with their parents.
It’s a time of babies’ first Christmas, nursery nativities, school carol concerts and Christmas parties, of opening the advent calendar and the promises to be good to stay on Santa’s Nice List.
So for those who have lost a child, the festive time must prove impossibly hard, a kind of madness which no-one who is mercifully free from the experience of that gut-wrenching loss can possibly contemplate.
And if they have other children to get excited for about Santa’s visit, it must be the nadir of a host of bittersweet moments.
Friends of ours lost their nine-year-old son, Saul, earlier this year after a long battle against a rare form of stomach cancer. We saw him just in August, a thinner version of himself but still full of nonsense and joie de vivre. By the next month he’d gone.
His mum talks of a robin who has visited her garden since and how she likes to believe that it is Saul coming to check on them all, the mischief in those bright eyes is apparently unmistakable. It helps. They, at least, were able to prepare for the day he left them. They knew it was coming.
The parents of 14-year-old Jamie Skinner did not suspect for a moment that they’d lose their wonderful boy on the football field, struck down by heart failure just three days before Christmas.
How they got through December 25 last year I cannot comprehend. How they will get through it this year is also beyond my ken – perhaps the Shockingly Easy campaign they have backed in this newspaper helps to channel some of their, still raw, grief.
The parents of Keane Wallis-Bennett are also facing their first Christmas without her. The 12-year-old lost her life at school after a wall fell on top of her in April. Maybe the song her classmates have recorded about her will ease some of the pain. Knowing your child was so loved by others, it’s comforting to think, might lift a little of the burden.
Michael, Susan, Roddy and Alexander McLean are attempting to celebrate Christmas without their daughter and sister Millie. The 16-year-old died just last month after her cancer proved ultimately too much, but she left behind her a fundraising legacy – and the promise of Peter Capaldi to be the new patron of the city charity which helped her while ill.
As was said at her funeral: “Cancer killed her but cancer did not define her life. Millie herself did say that although there were lots she still wanted to do she was able to say that she had had a good life.”
A good life. A wonderful life, perhaps. The wonder of which began, like every child’s, when her parents held her in their arms.
Hangdog look not a good one
PERHAPS it’s just me and my miserable, flu-filled state of the last week, but the photographs of people’s pets dressed in festive costumes which have been flooding in at this paper’s behest, seem more than a little sad.
Those poor dogs and cats with their mournful expressions peering out from under the brim of a Santa hat . . . well they just seem humiliating.
These are proud beasts who either guard our homes and love us slavishly, or ignore us entirely until hungry. They are not miniature replacement reindeers. Nor are they elves or even four-legged figgy puddings. Let there be peace at Christmas for our pets.
Will there be a happy ending?
EVER since it became the loser of the landmark building world, losing out to a shiny new construction at Holyrood to house the Scottish Parliament, the old Royal High School has grown increasingly decrepit.
But now Duddingston House Properties is apparently hoping to entice a major luxury hotel chain (think The Ritz in Paris) to transform the place. Big figures are being bandied around.
It all sounds great, but this is the same firm which, a number of years ago, took over another of Edinburgh’s great old buildings, the Odeon cinema in Clerk Street. It is still sitting derelict.
This is my last column of 2014. So let me wish you all a very merry Christmas and a peaceful, happy new year when they both arrive. Here’s to 2015, may it be as eventful as the last year has been – although personally I could do without any more scooter accidents.