Pad Life 17: So Here It Is
It’s going well so far.
The Scion rang. ‘I’ve got Covid.’
‘Told you you shouldn’t have moved to Leeds.’
‘But assuming I’m not too godawful poorly with it, and Girlfriend doesn’t succumb, we should be out of quarantine by Christmas Eve, so don’t throw away the turkey yet.’
Half an hour later the Princess rang. ‘I’m at work. Waiting for the paramedics.’
‘Oh dear. Seizure?’
‘An iron bar fell on my head.’
‘I’m not allowed to move until they come. One of my colleagues is mopping up the blood.’
‘Oh. OK. Big iron bar?’
‘I’ll be there shortly.’
‘And you,’ I said to Little Cat, on my way out, ‘don’t even think about it. Stay right where you are. Do not move from that sofa until I get back. Two is do-able. Three is beyond a bloody joke.’
I don’t think we’ve had this auspicious a start to the festivities since my late mum was mugged in Marks and Spencer’s food hall two weeks before Christmas. I have to say, M&S were beside themselves with horror, and she couldn’t move for flowers and gift vouchers for the next month. It was a gang, apparently, working the Christmas crowds, eyes peeled for little old ladies who had, in a moment of abstraction, hung their handbags on the hook at the front of the trolley. One of the arseholes ruthlessly shoved our little old lady into the chilled veg while making off with her worldly goods. The Scion did enquire if the local branch of Murder Inc was interested in a bit of follow-up work, but they were fully booked.
As Mum chose the M&S food hall to have her fatal heart attack in a few years later, I do sometimes wonder if they have a tracker on my Sparks card. Just in case.
After a two hour wait for an ambulance, the Princess was declared more spectacle than substance, no bits of brain showing, a glancing blow that produced a lot of blood but no real damage. The iron bar considerately chose the right angle to cosh her. A few centimetres either way, and it could have been very different.
Sometimes I long for the days when the only thing that threatened Christmas was the unavailability of Thunderbird vehicles or the right Cabbage Patch doll, or the potential catastrophe of someone dropping their new Tamagotchi down the toilet on Christmas morning. Simple, carefree days. We was harassed, but we was bloody better off than we are now.
It’s not just me who yearns for the old days. Last time the Scion was here, he arrived at the front door clutching a copy of the Christmas Radio Times. ‘I got you one in case they sold out,’ he said, beaming. I don’t think any of us has actually read the Christmas Radio Times for at least ten years, but every Christmas the Princess and the Scion anxiously enquire if I’ve got the Christmas Radio Times. Girlfriend, who is Swedish, looks at them as if they’re mad.
‘But…there’s the internet, if you want to know what’s on TV.’
‘But it’s the Christmas Radio Times.’
‘But…you don’t read it.’
‘You come from a country that puts a 1950s Donald Duck show on TV every Christmas. Live and let live.’
‘But we watch Donald Duck.’
The nostalgic heart knows no logic.
I was quite a stranger to Christmas telly before I met Bugger Lugs, my ex and the kids’ dad. I spent most of my childhood in Bahrain, and we had no telly until the final year we were there. A US forces’ network in Saudi Arabia became available for a couple of hours a day, so my parents bought a set. Oh, the revelation of Bonanza, the Twilight Zone and Perry Mason. The only TV I’d seen before was ‘Watch With Mother’, ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘Laramie’ when I was very small and we were still in the UK. After a mind blowing couple of years back in the UK in the late sixties, when the rich world of three TV channels opened up for me, my parents decamped to Iran. They decided two years of three channels was more than enough. Apart from when an Iranian friend of my mother’s would invite me round to watch the Tom Jones show, as it was inconceivable to her that anyone would not want to watch the Tom Jones show, I saw no more telly until I came back to England to do my A Levels and go to university.
Our Christmas Days involved games, quizzes, and people coming round. Even when they finally returned to the UK, my parents thought the only TV permissible on Christmas Day was Morecambe and Wise. We watched the Queen if my granny was staying.
I was totally gobsmacked when I first had Christmas with Bugger Lugs’ family. There was telly, and there were videos as well. It felt very transgressive. There were also long walks on Christmas morning in the Derbyshire Peak District, and Bugger Lugs’ mum made her own stuffing. I didn’t know you could make stuffing. I thought it was invented by Paxo, my mum taking the view that if you could get something out of packet, why the hell bother making it yourself. (Hence her later addiction to M&S ready meals.) As for yomping through the countryside – no, no. The countryside was for viewing from the car. Or possibly a scenic layby. Swiftly followed by a nice cup of tea somewhere.
My children had a Christmas which celebrated both sides of this mixed heritage. There was a degree of telly, but there were also games and quizzes. We went out on Boxing Day morning; as far as I was concerned, on Christmas morning I got enough exercise cooking the damn dinner and lifting up glasses of fizz.
The subject of Christmas traditions came up when the Princess and her flat mate put up their Christmas decorations. The flat mate has been brought up to believe tinsel is tacky. You don’t put it on a tree. In our house, you can’t have too much glitter on a tree. I justify this by pointing out that Christmas is as much pagan midwinter festival as anything else, and the point of such festivals is lighting the darkness in the depth of winter. Yeah. We just like bling. They compromised: no tinsel on the tree, but the Princess was allowed to drape some on the shelves, and her own room, as ever, looks like an explosion in a tinsel factory.
The Scion and Girlfriend have their own mixed heritage Christmas. Swedish Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, British Christmas dinner on Christmas Day. They can’t move on Boxing Day. Their tree goes up on the Feast of Santa Lucia, 13 December. I refuse to put mine up before the solstice. Before we had kids, Bugger Lugs and I used to put it up on Christmas Eve. The Princess puts hers up as early as whoever she’s sharing living space with will permit.
Such harmless, innocent differences.
I’ve been listening to Jon Ronson’s podcast ‘Things Fell Apart’, which looks at the origins of what we now call the Culture Wars. If I have a quibble, it’s that I think he doesn’t go far enough back in exploring how all this nonsense started, but what he does do is fascinating, and the sheer absurdity of it all would have you rolling in the aisles if it wasn’t so tragic. There are, of course, several genuine culture wars. The battles against the culture of corruption, the culture of galloping, not creeping, authoritarianism (which is nothing to do with wearing a mask or having a jab, but involves stopping protest, ignoring parliament, curbing the right to judicial review, etc etc et bloody cetera), and the endless shrieking about ‘cancel culture’ on every TV channel and social media platform going. We have always had cancel culture. It’s just that those who’ve been used to doing the cancelling are shit scared now that the traditionally cancelled are speaking up.
Gentle reader, you may view it very differently. That is, as I fervently hope it will remain, your right.
Now I’m the little old lady (OK, I know, not so little) I find myself torn between seething rage and wiffly nostalgia. How dare Covid take my kids’ economic futures away? How dare the Chief Twerp possibly put their actual lives at risk by his incompetence? (Yes, the vaccination programme is a marvel, but it’s not going to solve the problems on its own.) How dare the government pretend that its xenophobic ranting represents all that’s best about this country? Oh, shit, I don’t care about any of that. Just let my daughter’s skull not be caved in and my son not die of Covid. That’s all. Let’s just gather round the table on the 25 December, have a quiz afterwards, then sing along with The Muppets Christmas Carol, as we do every year. Let the Scion enquire politely if I’ve kept the receipt for his jumper, and the Princess commit the ultimate sin of preferring ice cream rather than brandy cream with her Christmas pudding. Let me celebrate that I now have a sprout ally in Girlfriend, after years of enduring ‘How can you eat those?’ across the table. Just let it all be how it used to be. However that was.
Of course, it’s never really about how it was, but how we choose to remember it being. And I’m very, very lucky, because apart from the odd Tamagotchi down the toilet, and the day the Christmas Cava exploded in the pantry before breakfast, and the Christmas Eve I didn’t get to bed until 4am because that fucking toy garage wouldn’t allow itself to be put together, and then the little bastards were up half an hour later – apart from all that, my memories are pretty damn good.
I am reluctant to say ‘hope your Christmas is wonderful’, because I know that it may very well not be. I hope it is as good as it can be. The Pad thanks you for your company this year, and hopes, really hopes, we all get to do it again next year. Only with fewer Greek letters.