Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Ex-mas

So here it is - Merry Christmas to all my regular readers.  Not that I have regular readers, mainly due to the absurdly large gap between posts on this blog.  But I'm determined not to apologise for that, having said I would merely be posting as and when I felt moved to do so.  And I feel so moved now, as the Christmas break begins (for me, at least - apologies if you've still got another couple of days to go.  Oh, dammit, there's an apology. Sorry.)

Having revived this blog in the summer in the wake of my electoral defeat, and been rather gratified by the response my musings on that subject evoked, I thought I should return briefly to the subject here - I mean, why change a winning (or losing) formula?  So at risk of sounding tiresomely self-indulgent, here goes.

After been ejected from the Town Hall, this is the first Christmas since 2004 that I haven't been a Councillor.  More pointedly, it's my first as an ex-Councillor.  This has had a number of noticeable effects, I've discovered.  Towards the end of November I instinctively began to do my Christmas planning, to sort out which local events, parties and meetings I would need to fit in around this busy time.  Carol services at various local churches, festive markets and celebrations around the Borough - and of course there was the extensive Christmas card list to tackle... it took a little while for it to dawn on me that things are different this year.

Put bluntly, that's not my job any more.  Carol services and Christmas markets are great fun, but as a local representative it feels like a duty -albeit a pleasant one- to get round to as many as possible.  Like the classic Vicar of Dibley episode, you accept all invitations and end up rushing from one event to another to show your face, meet people, thank them for their efforts and show your support for community groups and charities (and, of course, to get lots of photos to put on Twitter charting your festive marathon of mince-pie eating in the public interest).  It's what local politicians do - and rightly so.  But I'm not one of them any more.

So I shelved Operation Goodwill to All and embraced a different approach.  Instead of having to cross-reference committee meeting dates with the local "what's on" pages, I was able to start with family and friends - those who have too often in the last decade found themselves fitted in around other commitments.  So at the start of December I headed off to Cambridge to stay with a college friend I haven't seen in a while - then spent a lovely long weekend at a country house in Suffolk with a large group of old friends for our now-traditional early festive celebration.  Unlike in previous years, I didn't arrive late, or spend any time fretting about the events I "ought" to have been at. I just enjoyed their company.

This week, I returned to the south coast for a friend's funeral.  It was heart-wrenchingly sad, but I was glad to be able to drop everything to attend, without having to cancel other arrangements or send apologies.  And instead of rushing back to London, I was able to spend a couple of days with my parents.  This weekend I'm going to a number of birthday and Christmas celebrations that in previous years might have been squeezed out or foreshortened by Councillorial duties.  Then on Monday I'm setting off for a family Christmas earlier than I might otherwise have done.

So it has been somewhat liberating, and a welcome chance to catch up properly with people who are important to me.  But I would be lying if I said I didn't also miss the festive round of civic engagements, and the feeling of having a formal role in my community.  Since May, despite still being very interested in local politics, I've resisted any temptation to go along and watch Council meetings from the public gallery, not wanting to haunt the chamber in which I no longer have a seat. Part of me felt the same about community events I used to attend -  isn't it a bit sad to keep turning up at things now I'm a has-been?

That, I realised, was the wrong way of looking at it.  I'd lost an election, not been sent into exile.  I'm still a local resident, I'm fortunate enough to own my flat in the heart of my old ward, and I still enjoy living here in Eltham.  I'm also (party politics of its leadership aside) immensely proud of the Royal Borough of Greenwich:  it's a beautiful place to live, with lots of wonderful things to do, and full of friends and acquaintances I've met over the years.  Why on earth wouldn't I continue going to local events?

And so I have:  the Summer Fayre at Well Hall Pleasaunce, Medieval Jousting at Eltham Palace, the Tall Ships Regatta, Eltham Lights Up - and many others.  The only differences are that I'm now going to them purely because I want to, and that I don't feel a politician's urgent need to have my photograph taken to prove I was there (now, any selfies are just for fun - or regular Facebook vanity).

No longer having any civic obligation, I've been gratified to find that many of the things with which I filled my diary as a Councillor were genuine pleasures.  So it is at Christmas, too.  Local festive events are pleasant, and reinforce that warm feeling of being part of a community, whether you have a formal role in it or not.  So whilst I've rebalanced my diary in favour of loved ones this Christmas, I'll still find time for a few local celebrations too.  Just not ALL of them.

No comments: