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advent-calendar

Oh GOOD! It’s advent again…

Time to wheel out the age-old tradition of arguing with your children about which advent calendar they’re not going to get.  Whichever one it is.

I probably should have gone down the smug mother route of hand-making my own wooden/embroidered/hand-thrown-pottery version many years ago when they were little, and then that would be THE advent calendar.  But then you have to go to the fiddly faff of hand-filling 24 pockets with 24 handmade little treats, so maybe not.

Up until a few years ago I would reveal two basic model, card advent calendars with pictures behind windows and my two children would go wild with excitement.   Then, one year, in a moment of weakness, I gave in to mounting consumer pressure and bought them Lego advent calendars, and that was the end of the card calendars.

After that the chocolate-filled ones were the MINIMUM acceptable offering, and while I’m not the strictest mother in the world with their diet, cheap chocolate on empty little stomachs every morning didn’t sit particularly comfortably.

As it happens, my mother happens to think along similar lines (funny that), and on cue, arrived at our house recently with a vast, practically life-size, very traditional, card advent calendar.  The children could barely disguise their disgust, but thankfully just about managed to retain their manners to thank her.

Later, in recognition of their self-control in the face of such disappointment, I kindly offered my daughter a chocolate calendar as well.  ‘No, that’s OK, Mummy,’ she replied calmly.  I couldn’t quite believe my ears and replied happily, ‘Oh well, we’ll just have the card one then.’  ‘NO!’, shouted my nine-year-old, outraged, ‘I want a makeup one.’

Thus followed an in-depth ‘discussion’ on the nature, point and origin of the festival of advent and Christmas, which included such conversational gems as:

Me: ‘Who’s birthday are we ACTUALLY celebrating?’

Her: ‘Mrs Abbot’s.’ [a teaching assistant at her school]

Me: ‘What’s Christmas really meant to be about?’

Her: ‘Presents.’

 Me: ‘It’s actually about Jesus, who was about giving and love and looking after poor people.’

Her: ‘Well I only believe in Jesus when he was a baby, not when he was a grown up.’

Last year we had an advent candle.  I think I’ll stick to that.

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This is the story of a brown gerbil, called Clover.

One day, two little gerbil sisters, one brown and one gold, were living in a pet shop in Sydenham.  They were about 6 weeks old, and they were small and shy.  On a grey day in May, a little girl came in to the shop to buy two gerbils;  it was her 8th birthday and they were going to be her first ever pets – not counting woodlice.

The little girl and her best friend and brother and mother all crowded round the cage.  There were only two gerbils in there, so there was no need to worry about which ones to choose.  They put the gerbils into the travelling cage carefully and the little girl carried them home in the car, cradling them on her lap.

When the gerbils got home they were released into their new home and they went wild with excitement, scampering this way and that, burrowing down into the grey bedding and running in and out of their tunnel.  The little girl said that her brother could name one gerbil and she would name the other, so she named the brown one, ‘Clover’, and he named the golden one, ‘Tiria’ (after a brave otter warrior in the Redwall books).

At first the gerbils lived up in the little girl’s room, but when they decided that the best place to do their wees was all over the wall, they moved home and lived downstairs in the utility room.

Clover and Tiria seemed to be happy in their new home.  Then, one evening, there was  a dramatic turn of events. The little girl’s mother was sitting downstairs relaxing in front of a boring grown up TV programme, when she heard a clanging noise from the utility room.  Now, a clanging noise in and of itself wasn’t unusual to hear, as the gerbils seemed to make all sorts of noises in their cage, but she felt that this particular clang was worth investigating, so she popped her head round the door, only to see Clover, the escapologist, racing behind the microwave!  Keeping her cool, she gently moved the microwave, scooped up the escapee and put her back in the cage.

In the morning, the little girl and her mother agreed that Clover must have nudged a little wooden bridge underneath the top door of her cage and pushed it open, slipping out and jumping to freedom.  This was not the only time that clever Clover escaped, in fact she was to escape 4 times in her life.

Her clever escape was the first clue the little girl had that Clover was a gerbil of more than average IQ.  The other clue was that in a fairly short amount of time, Clover the gerbil became immensely fat.  If you looked at Clover next to Tiria, it looked like Clover was double the size.  ‘How has this happened’ wondered the little girl, ‘when I give the gerbils the same amount of food and seeds -as-a treat?!’

So, next time the little girl gave the gerbils their regular treat of sunflower and pumpkin seeds, she watched them carefully, and soon it became clear why Clover the clever gerbil was so enormously round.

When Tiria took a seed, she would sit daintily eating each seed one at a time, nibbling it delicately while holding it between her paws.  Meanwhile, Clover would rush at the little pile of seeds on her palm, hoover up about 7 at a time into her cheeks, and then scarper down the ramp to the pile of bedding, where she would bury her hoard of seeds to consume at her leisure.

After that, the little girl tried to ration the amount of seeds she gave to Clover to try and put her on a diet, but despite all her efforts, Clover stayed incredibly large. However, the upside of this was that she was very nice to hold as she felt so squashy and soft.

Then one day, after many months of a happy gerbil life, Clover began to get ill.  At first, she had a cold, and the little girl did her best to keep her warm, but then she got a chest infection, and not wanting her to suffer, the little girl and her mummy took her to see the vet.  The vet was very kind and took all sorts of scientific measurements, and then prescribed Clover a tiny course of antibiotics, and gave her an injection to help her breath.  The little girl couldn’t watch the injection happening, but Clover was very brave and didn’t even squeak.

For the next few evenings, Clover the clever gerbil was brilliant at taking her antibiotics, clasping the syringe fiercely and biting the end so that she had all of her medicine.

But sadly, although she seemed a little better at first, she began to lose her energy again and one day she stopped wanting seeds which the little girl knew was a bad sign, especially for Clover.

The next day the little girl’s Mummy found Clover lying near the mouth of her tunnel.  She was very still, and her little body had stopped breathing.  Clover the clever gerbil had breathed her last.  The little girl was heartbroken when she was told that Clover had died.  She couldn’t quite believe that Clover wasn’t scurrying and scampering any more.

She looked at her lying so still, and noticed that her eyes were open and her mouth seemed to be smiling.  ‘I think she’s happy’, said the little girl, stroking her soft fur.

The next day the little girl had a funeral for Clover in the garden.  She wrapped her up in a box with wrapping paper round it – to keep her safe from worms – and put her in the hole that her mummy had dug.  She sprinkled some sunflower seeds over the box, and placed a little white flower on the top, before spreading the dark earth over Clover.

‘I’ll always, always remember you, Clover,’ said the little girl.  And then she stood in silence for a whole minute, thinking about her wonderful, clever, brown, fat little gerbil.

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