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We’ve started to get the house ready for visitors, fetching vacuum bags of linen out of their usual hiding places and running sheets through the washing machine to make sure they’re clean and fresh. This seems frankly ridiculous, as we’re still several weeks away from Christmas.

Oh wait….

Yes, well – fortunately we’re pretty much there with the purchasing, apart from the anxiety-inducing final supermarket delivery (which essential will be missing this year?), and the horrible necessity of a Christmas Eve trip to Waitrose to collect an ordered main course for Boxing Day. Talk about middle-class problems.

I usually love Christmas, and have no truck with the “Bah! Humbug!” brigade, but this year I confess to being rather down about the whole thing. 2016 has been an utterly vile year, what with the Brexit referendum, the election of Trump, and the outrageous number of famous and admirable people who managed to depart the planet – I read this round-up by The Observer earlier this evening, and reduced myself to a snivelling wreck. And then there’s the situation in Syria and Yemen, and especially the genocide currently going on in Aleppo; and the terrible economic hardship being felt here, with the gap between the haves and have-nots seemingly widening by the day, and in increasing number of people living – and dying – on the streets.

It feels as though anything one can do in these situations is just a drop in a bucket – but doing anything at all is better than doing nothing. Fortunately my and R’s extended families came to an agreement many years ago to stop buying each other Christmas presents, and instead to give that money to charity; so this year R and I have given donations to Crisis, Shelter and Centrepoint. And yesterday I came across this helpful list of practical ways to help the situation in Aleppo; we’ve already given a donation to UNICEF, and I’m currently pondering which of ICRC and MSF will receive a second one.

I’m not trying to make us sound special here, you understand – the people I admire are those who put themselves in the front line of crises and work directly with those who need help. But as we can’t do that, I’m happy that we can at least give some money towards the work those heroes do. I think of it as a mark of gratitude for the accident of birth that has us living in a safe country, and the good fortune that keeps us fed and clothed and living in a warm, comfortable home.