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NICKY MARR: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse and how people, not ‘props’, make Christmas

By Nicky Marr

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A book that provides reassurance.
A book that provides reassurance.

There’s a copy of Charlie Mackesy’s book The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse on the table beside my bed, and I read it from time to time.

It’s not a long book, nor a particular page-turner, it’s more a book to flick through and ponder. It’s a quiet book.

It provides reassurance and soothes the soul.

Described by someone far more eloquent than I am as “a wonderful window into the human heart” it reminds us that as humans, we are all flawed, and all a little bit scared.

It reminds us that sometimes the bravest thing we can do is ask for help, that one of our greatest freedoms is that we have the choice over how we react to things, and that ultimately the most important things we have in life are kindness, love and friendship.

All of which might just be improved with a slice of cake.

Mackesy’s text within the book is handwritten.

Nicky Marr. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Nicky Marr. Picture: James Mackenzie.

His sparse, yet densely meaningful words are punctuated with sketches of the four unlikely friends as they travel through an unspecified wilderness towards an unknown destination.

Every time I pick up the book it’s a different one of its pages that speaks to me.

Last night, after a weekend of Christmas preparations – decorating the tree, writing cards, wrapping presents, trying to work out what we will all eat – the page that resonated most was one that contained just a dozen words: “The greatest illusion,” said the mole, “is that life should be perfect.”

At this time of year, the pressure on all of us to be perfect is of course greater than ever.

We’re urged to wear the perfect Christmas outfit and spend shed-loads of money on the perfect gifts.

We must find and decorate the perfect tree, send perfect Christmas cards, and fill every available cavity in our bodies with the perfect food and drink, over, and over, and over again.

And then we must photograph it all (and here I’m as guilty as the rest) and put our perfect lives on Instagram, so that everyone else can see just exactly how perfectly we’re doing everything.

Let’s scrap all that.

What really is important isn’t the stuff beneath that beautifully decorated tree, but the people who will be in the house with us.

The people enjoying its light and its collection of vulgar and tasteless decorations, each one a precious memory from three decades of family life.

Of course, lovely food is lovely, but it’s not the food and wine I’ll remember after the dishwasher has been loaded (preferably by someone else) but the conversation, the laughter and yes – those fiery, unscheduled differences of opinion that are always likely to flare up.

Thanks to Charlie Mackesy’s wisdom, I’m not expecting perfection.

As I write, I’m fearful, that with the Omicron variant taking hold, our family might not be able to celebrate together again this year.

No matter how many presents I wrap, cards I write, mince pies I make, or cocktails I shake, it’s the people around you who make Christmas perfect, not any number of props.

So, with apologies to Mariah Carey, all I want for Christmas, is them.


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