Another Freebie Christmas!

Christmas can be really depressing. Don’t get me wrong – I love all the decorations and the food and everything, but it’s so damn expensive. Even if you don’t have a lot of people to buy presents for, those you do have to get can really add up. On top of the expense, there’s always the feeling that most of the things you buy are unnecessary and perhaps even unwanted, too. How many of us can honestly say we’ve never received a Christmas present we didn’t want? Come on, be honest. We all have. Each and every one of us has, at some time or other in our lives, received something hideous and groaned at its inappropriateness. But did we stop to think that the present had cost someone money? That perhaps the giver had agonised over whether or not it was the right gift?

Choosing gifts for people can be a minefield, and even more so when you’re on a budget. That’s why last year my Mum and I started ‘Freebie Christmas’. Throughout the year we collect as much free stuff as we can for each other, and save it all up for Christmas. The aim is to spend nothing at all (although I did pay a few pounds postage on a couple of items this year, which I suppose is technically cheating), and we’re allowed to get things through any legal means (that means, using your Boots points is ok, buy one get one free is ok, stealing is not ok – except in the case of tea bags in hotel rooms, which we all know is not really stealing). 😉

If you missed it, here’s last year’s post. This year I think my Mum outdid herself:

Christmas freebies

A magazine, tea, hot chocolate, free coffees, a notebook, pen & pencil, chocolate biscuits, sweets, hand cream, shower gel, a DVD, a Hello Kitty purse… ALL FREE!

Not only did we both have a lot of fun collecting things and rising to the challenge, all of the usual pressure was off. There was no concern over one person having spent more than the other, just a fight to see who could collect the most. There was some thought (some of my presents are really cool!), but there was also some silliness (but really, who doesn’t love free tissues?). I didn’t receive a single thing I didn’t like or couldn’t use, and even found joy in the surprise of opening things.

I’ve mentioned Freebie Christmas to a few people and everyone I’ve spoken to seems to think it’s a good idea. It’s amazing how much good stuff you can get for free (just see above!), and think of how much stress and money you could save yourself if you agree to a Freebie Christmas next year.

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Jubilee and FOMO

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a blight on London life. It is why your mate is checking his iPhone under the table every five seconds; it is why you agonise over what to have for dinner; it is probably why you have a Facebook account, too. In Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life (Hamish Hamilton) psychoanalyst Adam Phillips formulates an elegant argument about why what we don’t do is just as important as what we do do. Frustration is fundamental to satisfaction; regret is nourishing; not getting is good. I would have found it comforting if I didn’t have a hundred other books I could have been reading. (Richard Godwin, Evening Standard, 30th May 2012)

It was towards the end of last year when I first heard the term “FOMO”, or “fear of missing out”, and I’ve been meaning to write a post about it ever since. As soon as I heard the term I recognised it as the way I have been feeling not just since I’ve been back in London, but also while I was living in Japan. There’s just always so much going on, never enough time in the day, and no way I’ll be able to do everything no matter how organised I am and how many post-it notes I use (and believe me, my world is wallpapered with post-it notes!). Today, with the Jubilee weekend almost upon us, I seem more full of FOMO than ever.

In the same issue of the Evening Standard there was an article called Should I Stay or Should I Go? in which two writers were asked if the Jubilee holiday was a cause for celebration or a great chance for a four-day getaway.

Nirpal Dhaliwal responded saying that like many thousands of other Londoners he would be celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this weekend. He pointed out that it was a good time to get to know your neighbours and have a street party, and to celebrate being British (something people often regard as “somehow backwards or even sinister”). I agree that it would be nice to know the names of the people on my street but, as far as I know, no one is planning a street party (we could actually, and it would be lovely, as I live on a dead end street). If there were a street party going on I would no doubt pop down and join in, but I somehow can’t see it happening.

The other side of the argument in the article comes from Jasmine Gardner, the “Jubilee Jetsetter” who has worked out that this Jubilee weekend offers a “17 for the price of nine annual leave deal”. She has no qualms about leaving all the bunting behind and going off on holiday somewhere fuss-free, and I can’t say I blame her. If I had the money, I would be packing my bags for the airport to catch a flight to anywhere-but-here.

Sadly, I don’t have the money, which leaves me in London for the weekend. I’m sure if I was abroad somewhere, a little part of me would be wondering what I was missing out on back home, but I would be too excited by being in another country to really care. However, I’m here in England with no real distractions, left with this feeling of obligation that, seeing as I’m here, I really ought to join in. If I don’t do something for the Jubilee, will I regret it on Wednesday morning when I get back to the office and everyone is talking about what a jolly good time they had with their families and friends, or how amazing the flotilla was, or how many cupcakes they ate in the vintage village fete they attended? Will it haunt me forever that I wasn’t part of this historical event?

The fear has set in. I’m scared I’ll miss out on something good if I don’t join in some jubilee shenanigans, but actually I would love to have a quiet weekend at home catching up on blogs, tidying my flat, uploading photos, etc.

The next hurdle I stumble at is, if I do go out and do something, what should I do? Squeeze in with the rest of London (and half of the rest of the world, or so it seems) to watch some boats go along the Thames and hope for a glimpse of the Queen. Surely I’d get a better view (without the leg cramp) if I watched it on telly. Have a picnic with my friends in Hyde Park and watch the concert on screens? Er… isn’t that just like watching telly in the park (and it will probably rain…). The only event that might actually tempt me out of my cynicism is the event at Boxpark in Shoreditch, but only if the weather’s nice.

So, what are you doing for the Jubilee weekend? Do you have your bunting and Pimms at the ready? Have you already left the country? Will you be down at the Thames or in Hyde Park? Or are you going to hide from it all and just watch a bit of telly at home? Do let me know… because I’d hate to miss out on what you’re doing too! 😉

Union flags for the Diamond Jubilee


Great Britain? It’s not bad…

Britain is very patriotic this year, what with the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee. You can’t move for red white and blue right now, and everyone seems more proud than ever to be British.

It was with this in mind that I allowed myself to be persuaded to attend the Saint George’s Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square today.

St George's Day celebrations at Trafalgar Square, 21st April 2012

I’ll admit that I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy myself. When I had gone down to Trafalgar Square for Chinese New Year it had been very crowded and uncomfortable, and I basically ran away (well, shuffled – it was impossible to run anywhere). However, what I found today was very different. The Saint George’s Day celebrations weren’t very well advertised, and so it wasn’t hugely crowded down at Trafalgar Square. The space did fill it, but it never became impossible to move, and I always felt like I had enough space.

My friend and I were met with a very quaint, English country garden atmosphere, complete with temporary flowers, fake grass, and plastic ducks and swans swimming in the fountains.

St George's Day celebrations at Trafalgar Square, 21st April 2012

The event consisted of music…

Robbie Boyd Band

Robbie Boyd Band

Pearly Kings and Queens…

Brick Lane Music Hall

Brick Lane Music Hall

Living statues…

St George's Day celebrations at Trafalgar Square, 21st April 2012

Flower arrangements…

St George's Day celebrations at Trafalgar Square, 21st April 2012

And, of course, tea and scones…

St George's Day celebrations at Trafalgar Square, 21st April 2012

I almost forgot I was in central London while I was in the tea tent, as it felt very Sussex-y, like I was in some country park somewhere.

I really enjoyed the music, especially ZeTrio:

And the Robbie Boyd Band:

The music hall performances from the Brick Lane Music Hall were fun, too.

The whole event got me thinking about how patriotic (or not) we Brit’s are. There was a smattering of red and white flag-clad, Stella-swilling football fans, and a few people dressed in red and white getting pretty into it, like these sweet ladies who let me take their picture:

St George's Day celebrations at Trafalgar Square, 21st April 2012

Thanks ladies!

But overall it wasn’t too nationalistic. However, whenever there’s a chance to be proud to be British, there is always this slight feeling that “British pride = not open to other cultures”, which simply shouldn’t be the case. As a Londoner, I feel privileged to be able to enjoy the St George’s Day celebrations just as much as the Chinese New Year, Japanese Matsuri, or any other festival.

I’m no royalist or nationalist, but I did really enjoy indulging in a little British culture today. It’s so easy to forget where you come from when you live in such a multicultural city. I spend so much of my time submerged in Japanese culture, even though I live in England, that I sometimes forget to enjoy my own country’s culture.

I think the Londoners and Brits at the event enjoyed it, and I do hope the tourists and people from other countries also enjoyed the taste of British culture displayed in London today. I’ve realised that British culture is perhaps not as sophisticated or mystical as some other cultures, but we certainly do know how to have a good knees up! 😉

St George's Day celebrations at Trafalgar Square, 21st April 2012


Wishing our lives away…

As I was browsing the shelves in my local supermarket last weekend I happened to spot a nice little selection of chocolate reindeer. Beside them were gigantic tins of Quality Street. This can only mean one thing – Christmas is coming!

Except, unless I’m mistaken, it’s only September. Kids have only just gone back to school, and we haven’t had Halloween yet. Surely, if anything, the shops should be full of pumpkins and witches?!

I feel like every year is getting shorter, and people are in too much of a rush to move on to the next big thing. We all know Creme Eggs will be available to buy before Christmas Eve and, as much as I do love them and wish they were available all year round, that’s just wrong.

Let me compare England to Japan for a moment. In Japan, there is a very distinct changing of the seasons, and this is reflected in the goods available in the shops. But there is never any overlap. It’s simply not possible to buy Halloween goods and Christmas goods at the same time in Japan. In England, I sometimes wonder if it might actually be possible to buy reduced Halloween goods, Christmas goods, and early Easter goods all at the same time – late November, perhaps?!

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t getting excited about Christmas already. I’ve seen some lovely Christmas cards in the shops, and I’m already imagining where I’m going to put my Christmas tree in my new flat. But I think we need to slow down. If we’re not careful, we’re going to forget to enjoy the moment completely.

So, what am I looking forward to right now? Moving house (again!) next weekend. That’s just about as far into the future as I want to go at the moment.

If you can’t help get excited, there are:

35 days until Halloween

90 days until Christmas

198 days until Easter

(Image source: I think I received it in an email once, but I don’t know whose image it is originally.)


Christmas spirit?

“Bah, humbug!” No, that’s too strong
‘Cause it is my favorite holiday
But all this year’s been a busy blur
Don’t think I have the energy
To add to my already mad rush
Just ’cause it’s ’tis the season.

The above is a quote from ‘Christmas Wrapping’ by The Waitresses, a song I was appropriately reminded of this evening. I’ve been out finishing my Christmas shopping today and, while it is true to say that Christmas is my favourite holiday, I do often find myself wondering about the true spirit of Christmas.

I was raised in a traditional way – Christmas is a time to give presents to your nearest and dearest.  Buying presents is something I enjoy – it’s a great feeling when you find that perfect item for someone you really care about; something you just know will make them smile.  But what about all those other presents you have to buy?  The presents you have to give out of duty?  Or the presents you have to find for the friend who already has everything?  I can’t help wondering if somewhere along the lines Christmas has gone wrong.

To be honest, I found a whole bunch of things in the shops today that I would have really liked to receive for Christmas.  But I won’t get them, because people who buy me presents don’t know what I want, or aren’t in Japan to see what I see.  I’m not complaining, I’m happy for anything I receive for Christmas, and I would be happy receiving nothing, but I can’t help thinking “Wouldn’t it make more sense if we all bought ourselves the things we want instead of buying for others?”.

Would that take the fun out of Christmas?  I don’t think so… Personally, I LOVE shopping.  So, if I was allowed to go Christmas shopping for myself, that would be awesome!  Especially here in Japan, where most shops gift wrap (beautifully) for free.  I could buy myself all the things I fancy,  have them all wrapped, then go home and put them under my Christmas tree!

I think as we get older it becomes more difficult to buy presents.  My friends have jobs and houses now, and they can buy what they want for themselves.  I’ve known them for so long that it’s hard to think of something new.  And when you add having to post it to another country into that mix, well, it can be hard to find something good.  So, I say we start a revolution!  Take Christmas back and keep it for yourself… 😀


It's the little things…

It’s the little things in life that make me smile. I walked in to Starbucks this morning, my home away from home, and discovered that xmas drink flavors are back!

I chose to sample the brand new Caramel Eclair Latte (which is delicious!), but I was also happy to see that my old favorites, the Dark Cherry Mocha and Gingerbread Latte are back.

There’s something so familiar about seeing the red cups in Starbucks at xmas time. Sipping coffee while listening to xmas classics. I know some would say it’s too early but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s never too early for xmas in Starbucks!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

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