A Life of Christmases

The nature of Christmas changes as you go through life but the Christmases of your first memories stick with you into your dotage.
I can still remember the fever of excitement of going to bed on Christmas Eve having left one of my father’s woolly socks at the end of the bed and of waking with the heavy, crackly weight of a stuffed sock on my feet. I remember how mercilessly I was teased by my brothers because I’d christened my new doll ‘Dereline’. Derelict Dereline became their chant for the next few weeks until they tired of my wails.
Then there was the year that my longed-for book, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ was there, an oblong wedge along the ribbed sock, above the toe which contained a satsuma and a sixpence wrapped in newspaper as well as a walnut.
There were always family gatherings, when more gifts were bestowed [Fuzzy Felt was a new innovation in toy technology then] and we’d be coerced into writing a list in preparation for thank -you letters.
Once we were teenagers the obligation to spend the day with our parents jostled with the desire to be with our friends, others’ homes often seeming to be more fun, more welcoming or more riotous than our own. We no longer wanted to sit around watching the Queen’s speech or playing pencil and paper games with my parents, preferring the anarchic hilarity of drinking games in darkened rooms and puerile jokes and tricks.
Later, as a student I’d often need to work over the Christmas period, a requirement that would set me free from family obligations. Later still marriage and parenthood provided new difficulties as the emotional tugs of two sets of parents clashed.
Parenthood allows you to relive your own childhood festivities for a time as you work to create the magic you experienced yourself. You stay up late wrapping up small gifts and tiptoeing into bedrooms to leave a stocking or a sack. You remember to eat the mince pie, down the sherry and bite into the carrot that was all left as an offering before falling into your own bed for what will be a ludicrously short sleep. You are rudely woken in the small hours by electrified tots jumping all over you…
Having assumed you will never get enough sleep again the tots morph into teenagers, rarely making an appearance before midday and no longer excited by Christmas stockings. They resume their solitary commune with screens and games while you jostle the pans to make a gargantuan dinner they may or may not want. It is clear that mince pies and Christmas puddings will die a death, as subsequent generations reject traditional fare for chocolate concoctions and ice cream.
Then they are gone. They make their own lives [you hope] and in what seems like a blink, have their own children. Your role as a grandparent is an attempt at non-judgmental support. You provide when requested. You step back when not.
In an extraordinary twist and for the first time in twenty-one years, this year we are not playing host on the day. We’ll be celebrating with a late start, brunch, a good walk and dinner in a local hostelry. Magic!

Advertisements

Christmas is not for Life-it’s just for Christmas.

Christmas is almost upon us again, returning with almost indecent speed. With a couple of weeks to go I’ve begun to turn my attention towards gathering up some gifts and writing some cards.

As I stood at a till yesterday the cheerful sales assistant enquired as to whether this was the end of my Christmas shopping quest [we were waiting for the card issuer’s response]. It made me smile. “No!” I told him. “This is my first go.” His eyebrows shot up. “I did all of mine in September. I’ve followed my mum’s example. She always begins in January and does it all throughout the year.”   I explained that in September I would just be going off on holiday and still in summer mode but his behaviour is not unusual. What kind of lives do people lead, that their entire year from January is devoted to preparing for the one day that is Christmas?

Husband is at the other end of the extreme, proclaiming each year that he will begin on Christmas Eve and reminding me of the time-honoured male boast that ‘the garage will be open late the night before’.

Christmas, however is changing. It takes on elements of other cultures and evolves like other celebrations and festivals. In my childhood my mother made Christmas puddings months in advance to allow the flavours to develop and we undertook the magic ‘stir-up’ process of making a wish. I am sorry to say that I haven’t perpetuated this tradition due to the fact that none of our progeny can stand the sight or smell of Christmas pudding. The same applies to mince pies and Christmas cake. Having been brought up in a similar way, Husband and I are more partial to these treats than is good for us, so I’ll be purchasing a tiny, delicious pudding for us to share and some chocolatey, indulgent desert for the next generation. I will, however be making some mince pies because it is an activity and an outcome that I cannot resist.

As a child Christmases followed a routine-from the arrival of one or other maiden aunt to the strict recording of who’d given what [in preparation for the hated ‘thank-you’ letters]; from the division into three of the pound or ten shilling notes [a tricky business] given by aunts and uncles to the round of Boxing Day visits and evening party games. If we’d seen Santa Claus it would have been in a department store with a sparkly grotto.

We woke on the morning to feel the weight of a crackly, knobbly, woolly sock filled with the expected items [a tangerine, a sixpence] and some unexpected ones. I can still remember the excitement of finding a hardback copy of ‘The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe’ next to my stocking, the gift I had longed for more than anything on earth.

Christmas is no less exciting for small people these days but I do wish it didn’t have to start cranking up in September!

 

And so that was Christmas- [sorry JL]

We have now had the feverish consumer-fest that is Christmas 2014. All of that deliberating, researching, stressing, purchasing, sending back, re-purchasing, stressing again, decking the halls, stressing, preparing, wrapping, adapting, teeth-gritting, cooking, overeating, unwrapping, lying around, overeating again-all of that was about one day.

I do it all. I do the researching, purchasing, wrapping, preparing and the stressing. I also do the overeating, the lying around and the regretting. Then I look forward with a lover’s yearning for it all to be over and done with. I wait until the very last moment to festoon the house with gaudy tat and I am more than ready, by the end of Boxing Day, to tear it all down and stow it away for next time. What an extraordinary waste of time, energy and resources it all is!

But nothing beats the heady euphoria that the smooth, clean nakedness of the unadorned house presents. It induces [in me, at least] a gargantuan sigh of relief-so much so that it is almost worth the effort involved in all the preparations and clearing away to achieve the feeling.

Of course I don’t clear it all away the day after Christmas day. Don’t get me wrong-I do wait a decent interval before blitzing everything; until the last mince pie is consumed and the last guest has shuffled off to the station. But I can never stand to wait for that traditional ’12 day’ period to elapse. Nothing is more depressing than the sight of tired, dusty tinsel flapping in the drizzle and gales of a shiny new year.

In empathetic reflection, the post-Christmas news broadcasts are undergoing their own detox. There may well have been terrorist attacks, beheadings, invasions, tsunamis or Biblical-style famines but we are spared any intelligence of such events. The number one spot for news items is that of the Boxing Day sales. Whoopee! For those suffering sale-scrum withdrawal after Black Friday there is a chance to rise at 2.00am and stand in a queue for six hours with the possibility that they may purchase five or six handbags at a price of £500-a mere half of the [alleged] £1000 presale price.

Reader, I cannot think of a single item I want enough to queue up through the night in the damp and cold then plunge into a screeching, tearing pack of sale hounds for. Besides the fact that I am not a handbag person [this has been addressed in a previous post] I understand that the over-hyped prices of August are merely set lower and termed ’sale’ prices. In addition I actually want less stuff, not more[this was also addressed in a previous post]. On Black Friday one triumphant woman, flushed with the success of having snatched two flat screen, HD televisions proclaimed ‘I got two and I don’t even know if I want one’. Others were injured by falling TVs or trampled in the stampede. I’m betting these same people are in the queue for the next sale ruck. Happy Christmas one and all!

The Mysterious Case of the Missing Christmas Shopping

I have explained in a previous post my reasons for letting my fingers do the walking this year and undertaking all my Christmas gift purchases via the internet. Once I’d got over mourning for festive strolls along decorated streets lined with extravagant window displays and popping into coffee shops for chocolatey, spicy treats before perusing the German style market accompanied yet again by Slade’s ‘Here it is-Merry Christmas’, Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ or Wizard’s ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day’ I began to throw myself into digital shopping with gusto.

I was cautious at first, prudently comparing prices and products in the way that internet shopping encourages you to; shave a few pounds off here, get free delivery there, 10% off next purchase, BOGOF et al.

After a while the availability and range began to work their seductive magic and comparisons began to fall by the wayside. The shipping address and personal details were filling themselves in, curtesy of ‘Chrome Autofill’. My bank card number was committed to memory in a kind of ‘brain autofill’. Wonderful! At Amazon a mere ‘click’ would do the trick; forget the card details, even.

I sat back in a satisfied haze of anticipation. I would only need, now to wait for the various parcels to arrive. This haze also had the capacity to obliterate all memory of the items ordered and organised saving of order numbers, invoices etc had of course become sketchier as the shopping frenzy had progressed.

What had I ordered?

I had a vague idea that one or two objects’ origins were not of this country-or even of this continent. No matter. I was in plenty of time.

Wasn’t I?

My fickle fingers made their cautious way back to Amazon, where a reassuring ‘where’s my stuff’ part of the menu led me to at least a reminder of the Amazon purchases I’d made. I looked down the list-a mysterious, eclectic mix of items-and wondered who it was all for. To be fair, some things had arrived, resulting in some unseemly collisions on the stairs [I am not the sole internet shopper in this house] or some resolutely grumpy peering from windows, depending on the time of day.

Some purchases had, allegedly been dispatched. Others had tentative delivery ‘windows’. These tended towards the flexible, eg ‘delivery between 28th November and 20th January’.

Which year? I wondered.

There were helpful notes alongside some. ‘This item cannot be tracked’ announced one. Great. ‘Contact seller’ said another, which I did, via the accompanying proforma. WHERE’S MY STUFF? I shouted in capitals. The thing was supposed to have originated in Hong Kong.

Reader, there are now four days to go and this story is turning into a suspense drama. Will the mystery items arrive in time? Will they arrive at all? Forget Frantic Fridays, Manic Mondays, Shopaholic Saturdays and Tension-filled Tuesdays; It’s all about Waity Wednesdays. I’m off to print out a picture of the missing purchase, which will have to do for now.

London Heatwave

                The underground train is a stifling capsule of wilting passengers, staring mute into the clammy air.

                A slim, elegant woman in a long, floaty dress, large, ugly feet restrained by thin, strappy sandals. Her big toe gross, like a giant’s thumb-

                Stepping out on to the platform; a surge of cool air pursues us through the rounded tunnels.

                Heedless, purposeful travellers walk between us, barge into us or stand in the way, intent on their tiny screens.

                Throngs on the shady side of Bond Street-a forest of smooth, bare legs in the shortest of buttock-skimming denim shorts.

                I grimace when I spot my baggy knees reflected in the mirrors of the hotel lobby as I await the lift.

                We are the ‘Out of Towners’-Jack Lemmon and his wife-I am a tourist in a city where I lived for years-aeons ago-

                The restaurant terrace overhung by subway tracks-trains squealing by overhead, their wheels grinding as they round the bend, counteracting conversation; the waiter beams and his lips form a question, soundless in the train’s passing hubbub.

                Shoppers clutching bags-Dolce e Gabbana, Liberty’s, Reiss-

                The gift stalls crammed with a million items no one could want-Union Jack mugs, fridge magnets, Tee shirts, metal models of Big Ben, Buck House in a snowstorm.

                I fall exhausted on to the soft, white sheets in the air conditioned room-am asleep in seconds.

                When I wake I am sixty years of age…