The Thing Is With Steve Canavan - December 22, 2016

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My mother (if you’re reading mum, please don’t continue past this point; no, seriously, stop reading now...) has always been slightly bonkers, but I do believe she’s getting worse.

I say this after calling at her house the other day and witnessing her go into a blind panic over a Christmas card.

As I walked in, I noticed a card on the doormat. I handed it to my mother, who opened it and started to have what I can only describe as a nervous breakdown.

She began twitching, let out a gasp, and said “oh no” with such feeling that I thought it was a note telling us Aunty Beryl had passed away (she’s very ill at the moment, but is hoping to make it to Christmas Day because she wants to watch Bake-Off).

“What’s up mum?” I asked, alarmed, as her face turned ashen.

“This card’s from Jean in the church cafe,” she mumbled, breathing heavily and reaching out for something to hold onto so she didn’t tumble to the floor.

She looked me right in the eye and in the tone of voice used by a vet when telling you your beloved 14-year-old Afghan Hound needs to be put down, said: “She’s sent me a card, but I haven’t sent her one.”

Now maybe this is something that happens with age, but I can’t envisage a point in my life when the arrival of a card will cause me such stress, well not unless it is from someone claiming to be my child as a result of an extra-marital affair (which, I hasten to add, is highly unlikely, not because I don’t want an extra-marital affair – they sound darn exciting – but the chances of any member of the opposite sex, or the same sex, taking a fancy to me is more remote than the Outer Hebrides).

After making my mother a cup of tea and mopping her brow with a damp cloth, she regained her composure and power of speech.

“Right, I think I’ve a spare card in the bureau, I’ll go and write her one now,” she said and darted off through the doorway.

You’d think the procedure would then be simple, but not for mother.

She is the only person I know who, just to avoid making a mistake, writes out a draft on a plain piece of paper first, even if it is the most informal of cards she is penning (“Dear Paul, have a lovely birthday, love Pat x”). To my mother, the thought of crossing something out or making a mess on a card is a crime akin to murder with a sawn-off shotgun. “What can I put?” she asked.

I suggested she perhaps wish Jean from the church cafe a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

“But she’s served us all year and the food has been lovely,” said my mum.

Well, I ventured, why not write ‘Dear Jean, thanks for the lovely food you’ve served all year, happy christmas, Pat’.

My mum looked at me as if I’d announced I was quitting work and divorcing my wife to join a Greenpeace campaign aimed at saving the Mountain Snow Leopard from extinction. “I can’t put that,” she spat, voice riddled with disdain.

“Will you shut up so I can think about it.”

Around 20 minutes later, after much huffing and puffing and crossing out, she finally finished.

“What does it say?” I asked, eager to discover what literary masterpiece she had come up with.

“Dear Jean, have a very happy Christmas and a prosperous 2017, love Pat”.

If I have any writing talent – which is, I concede, open to serious debate – I’m pretty sure I don’t get it from my dear mother.

All this fuss is a simple case of ‘handbags’

As I usually say at this time of year – as opposed to late February when, somehow, it just doesn’t feel right – happy Christmas to one and all.

It’s not exactly been the cheeriest of run-ups to the big day, what with a terrorism attack on a Christmas market in Germany and a pretty gruesome shooting (is there any other kind?) in Turkey.

But I’m sure that 2017, with the calm and reasoned Donald Trump coming to power in the United States, will be a whole lot more settled.

I’m due to become a father in March and sometimes, when you look at the madness around, it does make you wonder what kind of a world you are bringing a little’un into.

Then again – and I’ll recount this tale in a bid to end what should be a cheery Christmas column on a positive note – I was driving in South Shore the other day when I abruptly had to slam on my brakes because the car in front suddenly stopped.

I was initially cheesed-off, thinking this idiot was a terrible driver.

But then the car door opened, a young lad jumped out, ran to the side of the road where a elderly man and lady were standing, and stopped the traffic from the other direction to allow them to cross.

As the couple ambled across the road, it occurred to me that this was one of those moments when the whole world suddenly seemed okay again.

He then nicked the woman’s handbag and sped off, so swings and roundabouts, but at least they got across the road safely.