Today, I am in sunny Statford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace, with someone very, very special to me and, as if it didn't before, it really is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Between sparkling lights, cobbled streets and an all-year-round Christmas shop, I have flown well and truly into the Christmas spirit and, from here, there is just no going back. I love Stratford for so many reasons. I love the feeling of walking through the streets and knowing that - though modernity has taken its hold of the town- so much of what I am seeing hasn't changed in a good century. I love the number of sweet little shops, places of art and the many buskers filling the streets. And, more than anything, I love the atmosphere: the feeling that something more important than getting from A to B is happening and everyone is a part of it.
I am well aware that this makes me sound like a pretty strange kind of little weirdo but there is no denying that the place has something about it that continues to draw me back, time after time. This time though, the trip is a little more special. Having been with other friends and family before, I know Stratford well and have a story for every other street corner. Taking this person today was like introducing them to important memories and what it has felt like to, at some points, be me. And, of course, in the process, we made new memories that I will most probably widdle myself about for years to come. Stratford touches the musician and writer in me, drawing me into the oh-so-slightly upper-class, bohemian environment. Equally, the tiny little town could be anywhere: it's the sharing of memories and the making of new ones that has made me quite so mushy and, of course, well and truly in the Christmas spirit.
On Monday, we took the children at school to see The Snowman Musical, a screening of the animated classic, accompanied by live orchestra and choir. For a four-year old, sitting still for such a long length of time is really quite a challenge. Add to this a less than modern-type animation, no dialogue and a whole lot of noise and you've got yourself a potential recipe for disaster. But, to my very pleasant surprise, there was not a disaster in sight. Every single child absolutely loved it. They sat up straight, heads up, eyes wide, some of them not even blinking. Not a whisper, not a fidget, just complete and utter awe.
Their excitement started the second they walked into the theatre. "Instruments! Real instruments!". The overture began and, were they to have been filmed in slow motion, I'm certain it would have caught them all straightening alongside each other. The reflection of the snowman flying across their eyes was nothing short of delightful. And it reminded me of something that I've felt for a while. Speak to any well-meaning adult and they will tell you that childhood just isn't what it used to be: children don't play, they don't explore, they simple sit, sedentary, before a screen, gawping. They do not appreciate tangible things, don't understand art, work only with technology and sofas. In my experience, this could not be further from the truth. Certainly, childhood is far more influenced by technology than it ever was and yes, sedentary lifestyles are rising in prominence but, to me, the suggestion that children no longer appreciate those things that we used to is nothing short of absurd. No matter how expensive the toy, if I give any one of my children a cardboard box and tell them to 'just play', their faces light up. If I give them the opportunity to dance, sing or make music, their little hearts swell. And they most certainly do appreciate live work: the number of times they have begged to go back since Wednesday makes a sure thing of that. If ever there was a time for taking children out and giving them the chance to enjoy some of the most magical delights our culture has to offer, it is most certainly. So, no matter how computer obsessed or art-ignorant you think the children in your life are, take them some where magical and just see what happens.
The saying, the old ones are the best, is never more true than at Christmas. There's nothing quite like a bit of tinsel to get even those with the greatest moral opposition to singing, belting their hearts out. And everyone, young and old, loves and knows the same round of Christmas classics. But, every year, new Christmas songs are released. Most sink to the bottom of an already over-flowing barrel whilst a lucky few are good enough to rise up with the foam. Here are my top five christmas releases of 2017: Drink Till We Go Home - Lucy Spraggan