Thursday, 20 December 2012

The day Ulrika died

Ulrika ka ka, my beautiful Ford KA, finally breathed her last this week. After five months of sheer bliss together (sort of), taking her for a long-distance spin when she was on her last legs spelt disaster. 

High on fumes, running on empty and having narrowly avoided several collisions, I managed to make it to Fords of Winsford, a well-known used car supermarket in Cheshire. It had taken me five hours to get forty miles.

I got Ulrika parked in the humungous car park and bundled myself through the glass doors towards reception. A friendly looking chap greeted me and was sympathetic to my plight. What I really needed at this point was a hug, a nice cup of cocoa and… well, a new – and preferably free – car.

I sat down with a man named Paul Atherton to discuss my options, and we were joined by another lovely chap whose name I’ve forgotten (I blame the fumes) who was learning the ropes. They talked me through my options and it soon became clear that I couldn’t afford any of them. No surprises there.

But Paul was undeterred. Unlike most car salesmen (sorry for the generalisation, but there does tend to be a ‘type’), he was honest, helpful and resourceful. First he arranged for poor Ulrika to be ‘reappropriated’, for a better sum than I was expecting. He haggled hard on her behalf, and I was immensely grateful.

Then we looked for a smallish car that would get me from A to B with the occasional long-distance run thrown in. We found one that was just the job, but unfortunately it was reserved for another customer. We found another and the same thing happened… it wasn’t looking good. But then, third time lucky, we found a handsome little wagon that ticked all the boxes. A 2008 Ford Fiesta Zetec without even the slightest scent of burnt engine.

There were still a few problems to overcome though. I needed to secure the necessary finance… I needed Fords to agree to lend me a courtesy car for more than a week as my car needed to be thoroughly checked before I could drive it away… And I needed to source my missing V5 certificate to prove that I was indeed Ulrika’s rightful owner. I asked about 100 questions and Paul answered them all. He even threw in a free cup of cocoa to sweeten the deal (see what I did there?).

Once the paperwork was signed, he drove the courtesy car round to where Ulrika had conked out and we unloaded my many bits and bobs, furry dice included. I gave her one last stroke and managed to hold back the tears. It was time for her to go to scrapyard heaven, and time for me to get to grips with the Hyundai I’d be borrowing for a week.

After a quick demo from Paul, it was time for me to say goodbye to Fords of Winsford and its wonderful employees. No hugs were exchanged, although I gave Paul and his deputy an imaginary one (I hope they don’t mind if they’re reading this). I drove off into the freezing fog, toasty warm and excited about my new wheels. It’s going to be hard for my family to match the present I’ve gifted myself!

You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you all this. Well, it’s partly because I wanted to voice my gratitude to the guys that helped me in my time of need (including the lorry driver who stopped to help me on the side of the road and ended up making the problem worse… his heart was in the right place). 

And I also need name suggestions for the new car. At the moment she's called Fiesta ta ta (Fi for short), so if you think you can do better, add your suggestions in the comments section below. All sensible options will be considered! 

Finally, it occurred to me that we are bound to experience disappointments, breakdowns and losses in life. If things are going well for you at the moment, and I hope they are, be grateful! Thank the people that have helped you this year. Remember to enjoy the good times because you never know when they might end; especially if the Mayans have anything to do with it. If things aren’t going so well, I pray that the New Year will bring better times – don’t give up hope.

And with Christmas nearly upon us, let’s take time to remember why we have the fairy lights, the pigs in blankets and the warm mince pies: that Jesus, not turkey, is the reason for the season.

A very Merry Christmas to you from all of us at Sorted xxx

Friday, 7 December 2012

It’ll be lonely this Christmas

In three weeks’ time, Christmas will be behind us. The turkey will be gone, the presents will be dotted round the house in perfect piles for tripping over and every relative in the land will have been visited – probably twice. And hopefully we will all have remembered to celebrate the birth of Jesus at some point, too!

One of the saddest things about Christmas, though, is that many people don’t enjoy the perfect festive period the way some do. Many elderly people are completely alone at Christmas having lost loved ones, and a large number are unable to afford all the fancy trimmings. In fact, many struggle to cover basic costs such as heating.

Then there are homeless people, some of whom have to fight to stay alive in blisteringly cold conditions. For whatever reasons, they’ve fallen on hard times and now they are vulnerable to cold, loneliness and violence. Many are struggling with substance abuse.

And having done some work with Bristol International Student Centre (BISC) over the last few months, I’m also aware that a large number of internationals will find themselves alone and away from home come December 25. Imagine being thousands of miles away from your family and friends in a land that is cold and where the food is more than a little strange.

Finally, there are the people whose relationships have suddenly come to an end. Did you know there is usually a flurry of marriage/relationship breakups just before and after Christmas? Maybe it’s the stress of all the preparation, or the fact that couples actually have to spend time together that brings it on… Whichever way you look at it, this can make for an extremely sad and lonely time for the couple involved and for their children, if they have them.

So as you go about your Christmas shopping or plan what to wear to your office party, spare a thought for the people around you that might not be looking forward to Christmas. Is there anything you can do to help?

Maybe you could buy an extra gift for someone who doesn’t have any family around them at this time; a warm blanket for an elderly neighbour, for example. Or perhaps you could make an effort to include that person at work who is having a tough time at home. 

I’m not saying you have to invite every homeless person you meet over for Christmas dinner (although it might be that you could invite someone to share in your family feast), but small gestures can have a massive impact people who are hurting.

Many churches and charities host special services, meals and festive events for those that are alone or in need at Christmas time. Make an effort to find out what’s on offer and get involved. For example, my church has a Christmas hamper project that provides low-income families, single parents and those in sheltered accommodation with a basic meal and some treats on Christmas Day.

This is a great opportunity to share God’s love with people in a practical way. If you really can’t afford to give (and I question whether that is true if you really think about it), give of your time. Offer to help pack up the hampers or to drive them to where they need to go.

Don’t just turn up the Christmas tunes and zone everything else out. We remember at Christmas that God gave everything He had for us – His own Son – so let’s be prepared to give generously to others at this special time of year. 

Read more from Joy in the upcoming issue of Sorted magazine - out soon! There's still time to buy a gift subscription for that special man in your life...