Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Christmas....Present


Getting older means a certain curmudgeonliness creeps into my festive spirit. Gone are the halcyon days of my childhood where I'd anticipate Christmas in a state of fevered excitement. How much I loved kiddy Xmas. Waiting for Nanny and Grampee to arrive on the 24th of December. Not minding a jot that they got to have my bedroom and I had to bunk up with my brother in the spare room. For the first eight years of my life I believed in Santa Claus and vividly recall opening my pressies aged 4 at half past stupid in the morning. Every time the wrapping paper came off I would exclaim "Thank you Father Christmas!" in a tremor of little person gratitude for whatever Fisher Price toy had been bestowed on me by the fat bloke. My brother was still a baby at this point and this moment of joyful solitude was the only one I remember of opening gifts on my tod.



Christmas Eve was always loads and loads of F.U.N. (as this post illustrates) Making sure the tree hadn't been too badly vandalised by one of our cats, maybe playing with my toy soldiers amongst the fake pine leaves and even surreptitiously breaking one of the ornaments on purpose. After all, being naughty was something that I didn't do openly, so I could only be a little sod when it was a time where getting caught wouldn't result in the usual punishment. Oh, that childhood satisfaction of treading on a hanging tree ball in my slippers and feeling the muffled shattering beneath my feet.

But I digress...

Christmas Eve we'd watch The Wizard of Oz and in later years maybe something "epic" like Ghostbusters or Gremlins or The Empire Strikes Back. My family plus Nanny and Grampee, in the lounge with the gas fire on, the dog and cats asleep on the floor. The presents under the tree, bulging temptingly in their wrapping paper. A few Christmases in and it was possible to guess who had bought what just by looking at the style and quality of the wrapping. Gifts from my mother were heavy on the sellotape. Presents from me were wrapped with the pauper stuff from the newsagent I did a paper round at, double dosed to prevent those pesky edges from poking through. Stuff from other people always seemed to be wrapped properly mind you.



Me and my brother would go to bed as late as possible and, pumped full of adrenalin, be unable to sleep until VERY early in the morning. Long past the revelation that Santa was merely a lie, we'd still get our presents in pillow cases at the foot of our beds and there was something so very wonderful about waking up (after fighting sleep for hours and not even realising that you'd been asleep) to see your prezzies in the half light of the room. We'd always try not to flush the bog when we went for a wee, as the water tank was in the airing cupboard in the bedroom my Nanny and Grampee were in and Grampee got woken up by the sound of the tank refilling.

Xmas Day morning and we'd have a light breakfast, watch Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and then open some more presents. Lunch time would be the pork pie, cold meat and salad ritual that we all enjoyed, while trying to save room for the much longed for Christmas Roast Dinner. Turkey every year with veg and gravy. Followed by Christmas cake, maybe a chocolate Yule log and Xmas pudding (set on fire, of course). All the while sat in party hats and pulling crackers, squabbling over the toys that came out of them and trying to find a technique of cracker pulling that meant you got a better chance of getting whatever was inside (basic cheat = grab as much as you can before you pull it).



Then to play with our prezzies until bedtime. One year I got James Herbert's killer rats/ nuclear holocaust novel "Domain" as a side gift, and eagerly read at least half of it in front of the fire while everyone else watched The Great Escape. Another year I got my very own TV  and sat in our empty dining room watching The Spy Who Loved Me in black and white, thrilled that I finally had the ability to watch what I wanted to, when I wanted to.



My Christmas had a magical quality that a lot of people experience. It was mass marketed, materialistic and shallow BUT it was a special time where my family got together and rocked each other's worlds.

Then I got a bit older and the magic dried up like three day old snow on a pavement.

The last time my family Christmas resonated with the energy I've just described was 1984. Beyond that point things lost their glory and everything became strained. In 1985 me and my brother woke up to find no presents at 3am. None at 4am and none at 5am either. At 6.30am we went into my parents' room to enquire what was going on and the pillow cases stuffed full of gifts were at the foot of their bed. We then had to sit in front of them and open our gifts. This totally ruined the moment for me, a moment which had up to that point been a special and rarely intimate occasion between my and my bro. Without being consulted or even informed the ritual had been changed. Opening gifts under the watchful eye of your parents while they sit up in bed in their pyjamas IS NOT FUN AT ALL. When I later asked why this had happened my mother replied that "Part of the pleasure of giving presents is seeing other people's faces when they open them, so you're being selfish wanting to open your presents on your own and not letting us see you do it."

Seemed a reasonable argument, even though I didn't agree with it at all. Days later my mother had two glasses of wine and told her friends while I was listening, that the ONLY reason they'd done that was because she objected to being woken up at 3am every Christmas Day and was determined to get a full night's sleep this time.



Christmas dinners became boring. Turkey every year and the party hats were worn as some kind of perfunctory duty with no joy or celebration. Christmas 1986 and I had had a big present for my birthday in October which, as I'd been told at the time, was for "birthday AND Christmas." On the 25th everyone opened their presents and I had nothing from my parents except a book from my father. As soon as I opened it my mother said "That's not from me that's from your father. I told him not to get you anything as you've had quite enough this year but he did anyway so that's not from me it's from him."

The same year we didn't get any small presents like we always did because my mother said on the 23rd that she "Was going to go today but I haven't had time."

As my parents' marriage began to erode over the next few years Christmas became only a chore. My Grampee died in 1988 and every year my Nanny would come round to spend Christmas with us. We were her only immediate family and her surviving sisters were themselves very old. She had lost the will to live and spoke to my other grandmother on a rare meet up to say that she "wanted to die and be with Roland" (my awesome Grampee). Every Christmas she would arrive and be shephereded to the sofa while we took turns to "do our duty" and sit with her. She was helpless, depressed and no fun any more. My mother held her in so little regard that she would usually only communicate with her through me, my father or my brother. On Xmas day my parents would take her to the house of the woman from THIS story and after an hour of being sat in the corner, ignored by everyone I would come round and pick her up, so my parents could "relax" and have a glass of wine or three without having to worry. By this point my Nanny never got a present from my mother for Christmas. My dad got her something and said it was from both of them. He also got her a card and signed it on behalf of both of them. 



The final two Christmases we were together were some kind of situation black comedy. My mother drank to excess, bleating that she was unhappy in her marriage and resenting that she had to still make an effort. Swearing, crying and insulting everyone, while simultaneously regarding any and all retaliation as unprovoked attacks. I still can't watch the Kevin Costner movie "Field of Dreams" after hearing the woman who gave birth to me loudly shout that she "wouldn't mind a bit of his runt!" after my brother jokingly called Costner " a little runt". I was in bed by about 9pm but awake again at 4am, too many demons chasing away the last vestiges of my drunken slumber.

The last time we were all together was 1993 and it was beyond awful, only 9 years after we had our last perfect Christmas. On the Eve she asked me how much I wanted for my cheque, as she hadn't had time to go out and buy me anything. The conversation went like this:

Me: "How much can you give me?"
Her: "Well, how much do you want?"
Me: "Well how much can you give me?"
Her: "Well, how much do you want?!"
Me: "Errr...About fifty?"
Her (snorting derisively): "Huh! Can't afford that much!"
Me: "How much can you afford?"
Her: "About thirty."
Me: "That's fine."

Opening my presents less than 12 hours later and the cheque was for....£20.

Looking back I wish I'd told her to stick it up her arse but of course I didn't.

My grandmother was abandoned in hospital old, unwanted and alone. Me and my father went to visit her and the nurse looked at us with a smile and some relief as we walked in, saying "Are you here for Elsie? Oh, I'm so glad someone's come to see her. She was a bit upset earlier." Nanny held my hand , her voice a croak and her fingers bony and warm. Later my mother said "I bet she didn't ask where I was!" 

Later as we were setting the table for dinner I heard her drunkenly shout "Where's the fucking turkey?" My father replied that it was in the oven. She snapped "Well why isn't it on the fucking tray then?" When I then asked her to stop swearing in front of me she replied without even looking at me "Where am I supposed to do it Lance?" My response that I didn't care then led to 4 hours of sulking and silence that I got blamed for.



Later she was blubbing in the kitchen that she "should have left years ago" and blaming my father for every little bit of unhappiness in her life, even though she had ruined Christmas yet again for the rest of us. 

So now it's 2015 and I'm not married and don't have my own kids. My father lives in Greece and my brother in Asia. My mother remarried 8 years ago and has selective amnesia about EVERYTHING I've described here. Christmas with her and her new husband is superficially pleasant but I sit in front of the Doctor Who or Downton Abbey special, glass of beer in my hand, drunk and warm and remember those really fucking awful Christmases. We don't talk about them and my brother's absence from the table is never discussed. Christmas now is more or less what it should always have been but the Ghost of Selfish Tantrums Past still lingers in the hallway and on the stairs. Sometimes the ghost even makes its way to the garage where the cold beers are kept, or maybe even visits the bathroom when I nip for a slash.



I can't enjoy Christmas because I'm still haunted by just how fucking bad the Christmases from age 15 to 23 were. So this year, I'm gonna spend Xmas on my own. No pressure, no stress, no tantrums. And although I know it's gonna feel lonely and the triggers will activate to remind me that I'm missing "a good old English Christmas" I will be at peace because I'm not spending it doing something that makes me feel miserable.

The past shapes the future but also the present.







2 comments:

  1. A tad self indulgent Lance. We all have bad family memories. For a writer I would expect better grammar too. But there we go. Rant away

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Feel free to point out where (grammar).

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