On Friday night this week, the Christmas lights will be switched on to mark the beginning of the festive season in our town. The shops open late and the high street becomes pedestrianised, so that the whole town can wander freely and can socialise, spend and support some local charities too. It has always been a fun night, though it is usually wet and windy, and occasionally snowy, as it always takes place on the last Friday in November.
Before we had Joshua, it was often a boozy night as the shops would serve mince pies and wine, as a thank you for a year’s custom. There was one memorable ‘Switch On’ when the local pub had a ‘Find the cherry in a Mince Pie’ contest and the prize for spotting the obvious bulging bump was a free drink. We spent too long winning that particular game and were rewarded with brandy.
Then since 2001 we have been taking Joshua to his home town Switch On, as it is a rare community event. As a young boy, the sight of Santa and pretty lights was exciting and once he left the local primary school it was a time to catch up with old friends.Latterly he is less impressed by getting cold in is wheelchair and by going out again after he has got in from school – especially on a Friday by which time he is exhausted often . So our more recent Switch On experiences have been briefer, we show our faces but we tend to walk down the high street to see what is going on and to see who is out. My husband has often had a portion of hotpot or stew at the local Methodist church and the ladies there make a fuss of Joshua, as they have rarely seen him since he was christened there in 2001. He tends to respond well to the elderly attention and he is usually ready to get warmed up by the time we reach church.
It has changed somewhat since the days when we first moved here when it was about free refreshments and late night shopping. There are now many more fair ground rides and fast food stalls that come in specially for the money-making opportunity. The bank branches were well known for supplying the best quality wine and mince pies, but now our seaside town, like many others across the country, does not have a single bank branch to serve our community. In my Mum’s home town we ate out last week in what used to be the Nat West branch and has now been converted into a swanky restaurant!
We continue to support Switch On as it is one of the rare community events in our town but also, becuase it is important that Joshua is not invisible in his home town. He left the local mainstream school when he was just 7/8 years old and since then he has few links with the town and his peers. His peers will all be almost 18 years old now, so probably think that Switch On is too lame to get involved in, as they may not see the value in maintaining a community spirit. In these frightening days when we are hearing news about gangs and daily stabbings of young children and teenagers, it seems vital to me to support events that remind us of where we live – where Joshua has lived all of his life and where we have called home for 30 years next year!