Family: Who says we can’t choose them?


Image from Pinterest, quote from Disney’s Lilo and Stitch

Most of us use our Christmas break to spend time with family, some who you’ve missed for months or even the whole year, and can’t wait to catch up with, others who, if you were being totally honest, you don’t really want to see but feel like you should. Why do you? Most people simply answer, ‘Because they’re family’. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Don’t get me wrong – if you have elderly relatives who are likely to be lonely, they will appreciate your company, but if this is your reasoning, a visit once a year is not going to stop this loneliness, so I would assume, if you’re seeing someone out of kindness and fondness, rather than a sense of family Christmas duty, you will have a relationship with them, and would see them fairly regularly anyway.

The type of people I’m talking about are your superficial aunt, who doesn’t give you the time of day unless she wants a picture or some gossip to share with her ladies-who-lunch club. Or the cousin who can’t hold a conversation because they are apparently incapable of listening to any voice other than their own. These are not terrible crimes. But if you had friends who behaved like them, how long would you remain friends? To me, family loyalty trumps any other kind – say something even slightly negative about any of my brothers or sisters and I am highly likely to jump down your throat – but I know that (even if they wouldn’t admit it) they would all do the same for me. Relationships, whether family or otherwise, have to be maintained, and they have to work both ways. As much as I love and appreciate the family members I am close to, I am entirely unconvinced by the idea of unconditional love for all family.


Image from Pinterest

I have also realised that I have gradually and selectively added to the people I consider family; friends I count among my (admittedly numerous) siblings, role models and surrogate aunts and uncles I have found in teachers and friends of my parents. At what point does an unrelated friend reach the status of family? Here are my top five things I have found are common to all my relationships with my (extra and selected blood-related) family members:

  1. Trust. You trust them with your random, at times odd thoughts and questions about life, and they are fully aware that you might be certifiably insane, but they love you anyway. For me personally, this one is really important, because I don’t trust many people – if I trust you, you have made it into the inner circle, and, if you don’t already, I will work hard to make sure you know you can trust me.
  2. Conversation, or silence, is never awkward between you. Sometimes you talk for hours about anything and everything, other times you’re happy to be quiet together, watching movies or crap TV, or listening to music, without worrying that you need to fill the silence.
  3. You can be mean to each other, and know the other wont be offended, (although they will often dramatically protest that they are mortally wounded by your insinuation) but if anyone actually hurts them, you will plot their downfall together. By extension, this also means you automatically hate everyone they hate. Even if you haven’t met them.
  4. You become an accepted member of their actual family, and find that you know as much about their crazy relatives as you do about your own.
  5. You feel like you have known them forever. This might be because, as with biological siblings, you grew up together, and have witnessed all of one another’s questionable choices in dates, fashion, music, and anything else you could possibly have got wrong. You know all of each other’s secrets, so it’s in both of your best interests to keep them, and each other, close. This could also apply to a relatively new friend, who has become a fundamental extra family member to the extent that you are unsure who you went to in a crisis, or phoned to relate your latest ridiculous escapade before you met them.


Instead of guilt tripping yourself into going to yet another extended family lunch, or visiting your dreaded Aunt Beatrice, choose your family. Surround yourself with your favourite people, whether that is your family, your friends, or a mixture of the two, and enjoy their company, whether it’s Christmas or any other time of the year.


A Year in Ginger

Yesterday I realised that it has been a year since I gave in to my hair’s slightly ginger tendencies, and went from blonde to full-blown red head. Over the year, the colour has ranged from bright cherry, to strawberry blonde, and has currently settled at a suitably Christmassy auburn. And after my year of giving up the platinum, would I say blondes have more fun? Absolutely not.


On a practical note, being blonde required much more upkeep, and regular salon visits, which gets expensive. My various shades of red have been maintained by a fabulous friend and her skills in kitchen hairdressing, and my hair is the healthiest and shiniest it has been since pre-bleaching, which said fabulous friend likes to remind me is NEVER ALLOWED TO HAPPEN AGAIN.


Image from Pinterest

What does my hair have to do with people watching, you ask? Well, more interesting than my newly discovered appreciation of having shiny hair is other people’s reactions to red hair. They have been mixed. One brother says he “preferred it blonde”, the other, in a manner appropriate to the school playground, says “ha, you’re ginger”, while my mum loved it so much she decided to join me and become a redhead. Long-time friends found the change a bit of a shock, in a “why would you want to be ginger?” sense, but the general consensus among my trusted advisers has been to keep it red. Strangers tend to assume red hair is natural, maintaining the playground attitude of disbelief that anyone would choose to be ginger. On the one hand, this creates a camaraderie among redheads, and a compliment, or even uncertainty as to whether my colour is natural from a fellow redhead has left me more than a little smug.


On a less positive note, however, something I noticed almost immediately was that as a redhead, I get catcalled much less in the street than I did as a blonde. Unless I have aged so dramatically in a year that I am no longer of interest to builders, “lads” in cars etc., I think we can safely assume this is down to hair colour. The attitude of some men that it is acceptable to wolf-whistle at passing females seems to apply more to blondes than to other hair colours. This suggests that blonde stereotypes are very much alive and well, and, somewhat disturbingly, the belief that blondes have more fun comes from an idea that they are more desirable to men. Before dying my hair red, truthfully I had never really thought about stereotypes associated with hair colour, but in switching from “Dumb Blonde” to “Soulless Ginger” (or “Carrot Heid” in Scotland) I have noticed a real difference. While I am not suggesting that this is by any stretch of the imagination the biggest issue of stereotyping in our society, it touches on a wider issue that, for whatever reason, people tend to categorise according to appearance, and to associate certain character and personality traits with aspects of appearance, whether based on fundamentals like race and gender, or something as trivial as hair colour. With red hair or blonde, or indeed with dark or light skin, as male or female, I am no more or less intelligent, promiscuous, or anything else people might associate with hair colour, or any other aspect of appearance.

Types of Christmas Shoppers

Ah Christmas. Hoping for snow, alternating between sparkly party outfits and all of the cosy layers, catching up with family and friends, eating and drinking too much because Christmas calories don’t count, and of course, shopping. There are many different approaches to the art of Christmas shopping – most of us have probably tried a few of these, and at this time of year, shoppers make for great people watching. Here are five of my favourites that I have encountered this year – drop me a comment with any others!


  1. That one smug person we all know who is super organised, has all their gifts planned and bought in plenty of time, and because of their top organisational skills, doesn’t go over budget. You would hate them, but they always get you a really good present, so you can’t.
  2. The person who tries really hard to start early, but is easily distracted and ends up buying themselves a motivational present or two (or three…) before they manage to think seriously about their gift list. Upon reflection, gifts bought for self are often divided between like-minded friends and family.
  3. The coffee-breaker. They hate shopping, and can only cope with trawling through those pesky shops for 1-2 hours at a time before they need a break. Coffee (or mulled wine), and possibly a festive-themed cake is required to rejuvenate them, and allow them time to brace themselves to deal with the next few people on their list.
  4. The online shopper. He or she has an introvert’s aversion to crowds of people, and will have a pretty good idea of the latest possible order dates in time for Christmas. Depending on organisation levels, the online shopper may have a tendency to go over budget on express delivery, because it is totally worth the extra pennies to avoid people at all costs.
  5. The person who does it all in one day. There are two types of people who tend to take this approach. The first is the person who is very busy, and so allocates a specific date in their diary to Christmas shopping, and just makes it happen. The second is last minute Annie. ’Tis the night before Christmas, and for whatever reason, Annie has failed epically in all her grand plans to actually start Christmas shopping. With a list and a mapped out route of shops, this approach can be very efficient, but without, it may result in running around like a headless chicken and fighting other shoppers for the last copy of the only video game you are certain your cousin doesn’t have.


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