Hazel McHaffie


The Apprenticeship

Saturday 28 December 2019: our twentieth (!!) Christmas story/play with the grandchildren. The culmination of a year knitting over forty hats while I devoured all those psychological thrillers you’ve heard me talking about!

It’s now twenty years since the first child was born and I was asked to create a new tradition for a new generation. Back in 1999 I wrote a simple story for a ten-month-old that involved her floating away on a balloon to a distant land and rescuing a little African girl from poverty. Actual printed-out photos of our baby granddaughter enacting the story back then were glued into position on the page to illustrate it. Never in my wildest imaginings did I think I’d still be doing this two decades later! But of course, in that time, technology has changed out of all recognition. The hard-copy books of the story are digitally produced, liberally illustrated; the narrative and the moral within it infinitely more sophisticated.

This year the drama took place largely outside – a first, and a big gamble given our uncertain weather! Thankfully it was dry and relatively mild, although slushy mud in one place claimed one victim (me), and a keen wind towards the end made lighting sparklers tricky. The in-between generation took responsibility for being one step ahead of the actors, setting up each scene in different places throughout our local nature reserve and town. I simply had to trot along, narrating the story, with the youngsters following a lantern, working out clues at each stop.

The story basically revolves around four young people who notice an advert in a shop window for an apprentice to an inspirational and magical milliner. All four decide to apply. Selection is through an initiation ceremony where they have to identify desirable attributes for such an employee, using magical thinking caps and various tools and artefacts – a different colour of the rainbow at each stop.

Puzzling …


Concentrating …

Recording …

Collaborating …

We began at 1pm and it was dark by the time we stood around a fire in the garden, finally  learning who had been successful in gaining the apprenticeship.

The day ended with a rainbow meal, some of it assembled by the teenagers themselves, using colourful ingredients.

Now here we are, post the event I’ve been preparing for all year, racing to get the books created before 12 January – our annual target date for publication, which this year coincides with our second granddaughter officially becoming an adult!

It only remains for me to wish you all every blessing in 2020. To those who are sad or struggling: may you find peace and solace. To those whose lives are rich and full: may you find contentment and gratitude. To those who fear the future: may you find hope and confidence. And may God bless you, everyone.

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Preparations and procrastinations

Not much novel writing going on here this week, I’m afraid. But I have been writing for hours and hours.

Most fun has been composing the now-traditional annual story for my grandchildren for 27 December. Each year it presents more of a challenge as the youngsters become increasingly discerning and sophisticated. (They’re now aged almost 12 down to 6.) There’s always a message in the story, and lots of potential for activities because the children act out the tale as I narrate it. DJ takes hundreds of photos (literally) during the event, and we then create an illustrated book personalised for each of them.

This year it’s about the highly eccentric Professor Devine who opens an emporium with magical qualities, and tries to train apprentices, and there’s a moral in the tale for the adult audience. I’ve been making costumes and collecting props for weeks because the story evolves around the things that catch my eye. A lovely change from my more serious scribbling, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of preparation for the festive season as far as I’m concerned.

I’ll give you a sneak preview of the opening paragraph:
If you go out of your front door and take a sharp right, and then four left turns, walk up the hill in front of you, go right round the roundabout, climb the second tree on the right, swing through the pines for eleven and three quarter minutes, shimmy down the monkey puzzle tree, take a hop and a skip and a ginormous jump, hop on one foot to the bottom of the next hill, and take the third turning on the right, you will come to a shop.

You’ll be relieved to hear that’s the only mile-long sentence. My aging lungs wouldn’t take kindly to many of those. And I do have to think of  my reputation with the children’s  schoolteachers.

Then there’s the writing involved in the Christmas mail. You’ll all know the hours that takes. Less compulsive than the children’s fiction, I must admit, but I do try to write something personal for almost everyone I send to. And the thoughts in a wee anonymous poem sent to me by a friend in 2008 spur me on. It starts off:

There is a group of folk I know, all written on a list, and every year at Christmas time I go and look at this. And that is when I realise that these names are a part, not of the list they’re written on, but of my very heart.

Sending a few hundred cards can feel like a chore but less so when you actually take time to think of each person specifically as you write.

Never think these Christmas cards are just a mere routine of names upon a Christmas list, forgotten in between. For when I send a Christmas card that is addressed to you, it’s because you’re on that list of folk that I’m indebted to. For be you relative or friend, or just folk that I have met, you happen to be one of those I prefer not to forget. And whether I have known you for many years or few, in some way you have had a part in shaping things I do.

OK, I know it’s not prize-winning poetry but I like the sentiments.

However, truth to tell, the biggest spur to getting all the mail ready this week has been the imminence of visitors chez nous. I can’t leave mountains of parcels everywhere in the spare rooms, so I’m clearing them off to the post office early. Then I’ll be able to see the beds! Then I might find time to make them up. Feels like the equivalent of a colonic cleansing before a surgical procedure. Great when it’s all gone!




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