So this is Christmas

This! This is how Christmas should be! Like this! Or it's just rubbish and it's all your fault!
This is how Christmas should be. Like this. Or it’s just rubbish and it’s all your fault. Especially if you can’t be bothered to look like this first thing on Christmas morning. Oh it just doesn’t matter, does it? No. Don’t you worry about it. It’s probably too much trouble, isn’t it? Nothing. I said nothing, alright? Jeez…

I didn’tused to like Christmas. Mostly because it was nothing like the Christmases I liked, to paraphrase the old song. It wasn’t just because Christmases were hardly ever white; where I grew up in Wiltshire they were mostly damp and muddy along with cold, a time of runny

I mean maybe it's me, but I just can't see how it's very, you know, Christmassy, somehow...
I mean maybe it’s me, but I just can’t see how it’s very, you know, Christmassy, somehow…

noses and sore nostrils in way that doesn’t happen with colds now. I haven’t given much thought to why, except not using cotton hankies might have quite a lot to do with it. Christmas always got like this quite quickly. Boxing Day was moderately worse. It wasn’t just that everything was shut but we’d have to go and follow a hunt somewhere. Which was rubbish because we didn’t even ride, let alone hunt. I never knew why we were there at all.

When I say we didn’t ride, we did. A bit. Once a week I had to go to Jenny Dyke’s riding school at Brokerswood. Look, I didn’t give her that name, ok? And I’m sure she was a perfectly nice, well-balanced girl with an active and mixed social life. Albeit one with quite a lot of horses in it.

Riding aside, there were lots of odd things like that about my childhood. We were flat broke. Seriously broke. When one of our succession of rubbish cars broke down once we got £1 for it. So I’m still not sure how come when twice before I left home I needed a suit I was sent to a tailor and a suit was made for me. Seriously. I still don’t understand that, really.

But Christmas was weird. Two films were always on, neither of them anything to do with Christmas. The Great Escape and The Blue Max. Every Christmas. One was about Steve McQueen jumping a motorbike over a hill to not escape from Germany in the Second World War (except it obviously wasn’t and the acting was rubbish). The other was about German pilots stitching each other up in and after the First World War. A sort of NotVery Great Waldo Pepper mit Schnitzel. With that bloke who was in the A Team. Peppard. An easy mistake to make.

It was the one on the right, apparently.
It was the one on the right, apparently.

There were presents, obviously. The one I remember best was the Suzi Quatro album. I was told it was just a phase I was going through, although it doesn’t show much sign of wearing off.

The back cover was the same picture but faded. For a while there that Christmas dawn I thought my eyesight had suffered.

I did a milk round one Christmas eve, getting up improbably early. That was really good. A brilliantly sunny morning even if it was cold. I can remember the bang of the gearbox on the electric motor as the milk float started off. That and the smell of milk from the bottles people didn’t wash. That was how we judged what people were like, on the milk float. Did they wash their bottles? It wasn’t a social class proxy, even if we’d known what one of those was. It was much more fundamental. It showed whether or not people gave a damn about anybody else.

One summer I saw Holiday Inn. And no, White Christmas was the name of the song, not the film. I loved everything about it. But more so, It’s A Wonderful Life. The older I get the more truthful that film becomes. It could just be the sherry, obviously, but the mix of the very dark side of Jimmy Stewart (oh, you didn’t know he flew in a bombing raid in Vietnam then?) and his character, combined with the moral of the tale, that you have to try to be a good person and if you try to do that then you’ve done a good thing in itself works for me. Something in me reacted to the sheer nightmarish terror when Jimmy Stewart got his wish, that he’d never been born, trapped seeing the world that would have been, unable to do anything to make it better because that was what he’d asked for, the total abnegation of self. Or as I said, it could have been the sherry.

Shut up. You'll spoil it.
Shut up. You’ll spoil it.

So here’s my ideal Christmas. And I don’t want to hear any happy holidays or crimble or festive season or any other crap. It’s Christmas. December 25th. If you want to talk about other festivals, please do. I hope they’re great. I’m talking about Christmas. Christmas eve and good company and a fire. Midnight mass.

Carols. Proper carols, all about death and cold and the dark and just the smallest glimmer of hope. Ok, you can get all that at home but there’s something about going to church at Christmas.There just is, ok? It’s only once a year.

Preferably somewhere like Blythburgh, some fantastic medieval place either in the middle of nowhere or Norwich Cathedral, in the middle of everything. Either way, a decent choir and a fabulous building. And a driver. Except when I was 18 I used to like driving those midnight black roads, not drinking, just the engine running and no-one around. This is a fantasy Christmas, after all, so both of those things can happen at the same time.

Preferably somewhere like Blythburgh, some fantastic medieval place either in the middle of nowhere or Norwich Cathedral, in the middle of everything. Either way, a decent choir and a fabulous building. And a driver. Except when I was 18 I used to like driving those midnight black roads, not drinking, just the engine running and no-one around. This is a fantasy Christmas, after all, so both of those things can happen at the same time.

Given that, it’s easy to arrange that at midnight I go to check to see if the animals talk, the way that in my family we say they do, remembering a stable. And of course they do. What kind of stupid question is that? Nobody ever said they have to talk with a human voice. Then bed. Then waking up with a stocking filled with presents.

Look, it doesn’t have to be a big stocking, but it has to be one. Or a big sock. And it has to have a satsuma, which I don’t really like, a sugar mouse and a walnut, apart from anything else. Because it does or it’s not Christmas and you’re RUINING IT.

Breakfast, ideally coffee, good bread, gravadlax and of course, as it’s Christmas, chocolate. On the plate, thank-you. Proper chocolate, that’s never been anywhere near a Cadbury’s factory, because they don’t make chocolate, they make chocolate-type confectionary. Even those Belgian sea-shell things from Lidl are better than Cadbury’s. At least they’re chocolate. Maybe, if it’s fine, a walk. Maybe Southwold beach. Could be Aldeburgh. White Lion afterwards if it is. Snape Golden Key if I’m allowed on the way back.

Lunch. The best one ever was a huge cold seafood table my girlfriend of the time did a couple of years back. Apart from the strain of keeping the cat off it, that was the best eat-what-you like-when-you-like Christmas dinners I can remember. It wasn’t quite in the same quantities as Stenna Line used to do on the Newcastle-Kristiansand run, but it was close. And better company.

And a point-to-point meeting on Boxing Day, in a new coat, with rooks calling somewhere and frost on the grass. And friends in the pub afterwards. Friends above all. That’s really what Christmas is about, as we huddle round the fire, just past the shortest day, pretending that even now you can tell the days are getting longer, and in just a few weeks you don’t have to pretend that any more, as we welcome back the Spring.

It’ll happen one day. All of it. I’ll just keep watching stuff like Love Actually until it does.

 

 

 

 

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