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Sunil Peck

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Sunil is a journalist based in London. He supports Manchester United, and says he will never forget the time he answered his mobile phone to be greeted by the unmistakeable Scots burr of Sir Alex Ferguson.

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Deck the school withboughs of holly

2nd December 2003

I'm looking forward to Christmas this year. It's not the idea of choirs in the street singing about shepherds and mangers that are jingling my bells though.
It's also not the idea of tucking into a plump turkey with the family on Christmas Day, or giving and getting cards and presents that have me brimming over with festive cheer. No, it is the two week break from the daily routine that is worth celebrating, as far as I'm concerned. Having lived in a tightly-run disability institution for fourteen years (special boarding school), I'm now almost phobic about routine.

It was my showbiz debut in the school play aged 6 that made me realise how Christmas and its festivities could be a rather pleasant distraction from the daily grind. As well as extended school holidays on the horizon, there was an opportunity to break the routine even more by legitimately skipping lessons to attend rehearsals. The production that year was about a magic snowman, played by one of my classmates, Melvin. The plot escapes me now, but I do remember that Melvin - either overcome with excitement or because he drank too much orange squash beforehand - wet himself in the middle of a rendition of the magic snowman song as a hall full of sniggering parents looked on.

The plays were often the highlight of a few days of festivities, which brightened up an otherwise predictable and suffocating routine. During the rest of the year, Melvin the peeing snowman, myself and everyone else who boarded at school were turfed out of bed at a quarter past seven every morning, had to get dressed for breakfast at ten to eight, sing a couple of hymns and sit through a prayer at a quarter to nine before we started lessons fifteen minutes later.

Lunch was at half past twelve, there were more lessons between two and four, and our evening meal was at six. We were back in the classroom for an hour of homework at half past six and were packed off to bed at about 8.30pm. We were allowed to stay up later as we got older but the regime was rigid, and because we lived too far away from school to go home every weekend, it could be hard to deal with mentally.

December was always great though, because the teachers and pastoral staff who ruled over us would enter into the Christmas spirit in their own way. Miss Wright, who usually spent her time patrolling the dormitories shouting at us for not tucking the blankets under the mattress when we made our beds or were a minute late for six o'clock tea, didn't yell at us for being ten minutes late at bedtime after the Christmas party. She helped us put tinsel and paper chains up in the dormitory instead. She even took us into town so that we could have a quarter-pounder and chips and buy prezzies for our mums and dads!

The teachers forgot about giving us homework and livened up proceedings by bringing in biscuits shaped like Christmas trees and chocolate Santas to scoff on during lessons. German lessons were the biggest hit amongst us because the teacher would feed us hunks of garlic sausage and Stollen, a German Christmas cake.

For me, growing up in boarding school, the small pleasures of decorating the dormitory and eating in class at Christmas time were things that broke up a life I didn't like much. But nowadays, even though I don't have to jump when the dinner bell sounds or walk crocodile-like in line to say prayers at an ungodly hour, I still very much think of Christmas as my saviour.

I can't wait for the big day. Of course, family traditions dictate that Christmas Day will be exactly the same as it was last year, and I'll bet you five gold rings and a partridge in a pear tree that Christmas 2004 will be the same too.

In fact, Christmas Day - ironically - is extremely predictable. I'll get up at nine-ish, watch telly till the French onion soup is ready to consume, be back in front of the telly in time for Top of the Pops, sit down for dinner (turkey, stuffing and all the works as usual), crash out afterwards, then wake up two hours later and drink more wine.

My twenty-eighth Christmas on this planet will have its own very special familiar routine ... though I'm sure that if I followed it day in, day out for fourteen years, like the relentless daily torture of blind school, I'd be weeping and begging for it all to stop. Christmas was very much my saviour back then, but thankfully even though memories of that educational institution still haunt me, the ghost of Christmas past is quite a pleasant ghost when all said and done.

Hope you have a fantastic Christmas.

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