A Christmas Carol

listFrom around the 12th of December, her life is ruled by lists. As a mother of four adult children who all come to spend the Christmas celebrations at home, together with their boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses and children, lists are her lifeline.

Shopping lists. Food lists. Menu lists. Lists of phone numbers, per shop, per ingredient. Lists of what to order and pick up, where, when and at what time.

Candles, a few more decorations. An additional gift for an additional guest. Wine and champagne. Beer for the boys. Bottled water, still and sparkling and soft drinks for the children. Biscuits and crisps. Lots of crisps. Toilet paper. Wipes. Extra wipes.

She takes out bed linen and towels. She hauls mattresses from the attic. She irons tablecloths that have remained folded for far too long. She polishes silver. Makes sure the glasses shine.

She makes pot-pourri and buys the biggest tree that will fit, leaving just enough space for the white glittery angel her youngest daughter once made.

From around the 22nd of December, the first kids arrive. She picks them up from the airport. Happy, happy, happy. She picks them up from the train station. Happy, happy, happy.

The house is full and warm and noisy. Bags and suitcases. Eat, drink! The TV is on the Disney channel. More and more gifts under the tree. The baby coughs, a slight fever. They go and see a doctor. No panic.

The bathroom is forever occupied. That’s the way it is with six women in the house. The washing machine turns and turns. The dishwasher constantly on ‘Express’.

A first minor dispute between siblings. Nothing new. Old stories, familiar tunes. Open wounds that never healed. ‘You always…’ ‘You never…’ and ‘Why do I always have to…?’ Soon forgotten after a glass of wine or two. ‘Remember?’ somebody asks. And the good times return.

Her husband finds the children unruly. ‘Bad table manners,’ he complains. She tries not to agree. But then he mentions the daughter in law she could never quite stomach. And there she goes. Yes, it is all her fault.

The 24th of December. The big night. The anticipation. The children would like their presents now so her husband agrees on a pre-present. ‘One to warm up,’ he says. He is like that. Soft. Malleable. Enthusiastic.

The meal is delicious. Chaotic. But delicious. Excellently paired wines. And real napkins are so much nicer than the paper ones. The seafood fresh. The bird moist and cooked to perfection. A gratin des gratins. Cheese to pass the time. Dessert, not too sweet and very Christmassy.

Later on, around the tree. Coffee. Tea. Brandy. She has made a Christmas playlist.

Everybody likes their gifts. It is way after midnight when she turns off the Christmas lights.

The 25th. A late morning for most and while she and her husband do the dishes one by one a pale face appears. Coffee. Left over panettone. Toast. More coffee. The daughter in law, yes, that one, prefers breakfast tea. Fresh leaves.

No lunch but an early dinner so everybody can spend the afternoon outside. A walk. Or a play. Or a nap.

She checks her list. Check. Check. Check. And now for the phone calls.

More dinner. More drinks. Another dispute, a bit harsher this time. Less good cheer. But they survive even if they do not make up.

They all leave on the 28th. The day of the Massacre of the Innocents.

She has three days to prepare for New Year’s Eve. She lies in bed and goes through her mind list. Leftovers. Washing. Recycling.

She looks at her phone. She waits for their messages. Have they arrived safely? Are they all well? Did they have a good time?

She waits. Her husband tells her to sleep. She tosses and turns. ‘Surely a message can’t be that hard,’ she thinks.

The next day, the 29th the daughter in law, yes, that one, calls. She is the first one. The only one. She is wearing the sweater Santa gave her. It is such a good fit. And warm. Cosy. The children are fine. They had a great time. The food. So good. The bed. So soft. And can she send her the recipe for that delicious rabbit terrine? They say goodbye. She goes over to her desk and takes out a fresh sheet of paper.

‘To Do List 2017’ she writes.
1.Recipe for rabbit terrine

Happy New Year  


The Old Man On The Moon

Looking at this year’s calendar, I’d say we have two more weeks of normality ahead of us before we will be bombarded with Yuletide cheer. Already the first signs have, no matter how insidiously, started to creep up on us with, as always, supermarkets the first to jump on the end of year bandwagon. Schools count down and slow down, friends and family carefully inquire ‘at whose’ the festivities will take place this year, Lego predicts a huge shortage of bricks, and, my personal favourite, major manufacturers and retailers turn storytellers, trying to melt our hearts and make us spend, using Christmas ads.
Corny, colourful, tear-jerkingly sentimental and funny, Christmas ads perfectly encapsulate our deepest, neediest Christmas wishes.

Coca Cola knows we want joy, Ferrero knows we want Mon Cheri, Sainsbury’s knows we want wars to end and soldiers to shake hands, Mulberry knows every woman wants one of their bags rather than a unicorn and Tiffany instinctively knows that when it is all too red, we want a bit of blue.

They know what we want.

But perhaps we want something else too. Christmas is after all about sharing and giving. In the UK, John Lewis has therefore come up with a different campaign, linking its blatant publicity with raising awareness for AgeUK. Good. So here we have little Lily, looking through her mega telescope as all young kids do, when she spots an old man, living in a shack on the moon. Touched by his sadness and solitude, she tries to get in contact with him and eventually finds a way of floating a gift his way; you guessed it, a telescope.

“Show someone they’re loved this Christmas.”

Oops John Lewis. Oops and oops again.
Let me illuminate you.
Children should not, unsupervised that is, contact strangers. Children should not remain unsupervised to begin with. Furthermore, never spy on neighbours, no matter how far they live, through a telescopic device. Never offer a neighbour, no matter how far off he/she lives a telescopic device, enabling him/her to spy on you. And most of all, John, OLD PEOPLE DO NOT LIVE ON THE MOON.
Old people live amongst, with, next to, above, under and across from us and everybody else. They are part of our families and our neighbourhoods.

‘Old people’ is not a species.

AgeUk and many other organizations worldwide make it their priority to find strategies to help break down generational barriers. Having the Lilys of the world gaze at the stars at Christmas time and letting balloons carry the empathic weight of our bleeding hearts is not one of them.
It is easy, making an ad (slash tear-jerker) to emotionally manipulate and blackmail consumers, pretending to sell them what money can’t buy. At Christmas this is easier still.


Jolly and Merry

We know, from his diary entries, how much Evelyn Waugh disliked Christmas.
“The prospect of Christmas appalls me,” he writes, finding Christmas “rather dreary” and each year “duller and duller”.
Surprisingly however, he does not allow his characters to share his feelings.

“But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”
“Can’t I?”
“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”
“Oh yes. I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”

Christmas, a lovely idea.

“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.” Charles continues.
“But I do,” Sebastian says. “That’s how I believe.”

Not yet tragic or decrepit, still the Sebastian we all like to remember. Sebastian with his broken ankle, spending summer at Brideshead. Friendship and love; boutonnières and insouciance. The same Sebastian who wishes for it to  “… be like this always – always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe and Aloysius in a good temper.”
Sebastian, filled with youthful nostalgia, innocence and hope. Like a child in December, watching the sky, hoping for snow.

All is red and gold and peace. Cheerful tunes, carols, latin verses and polite lyrics. Scented candles. The smell of pine, cinnamon and clove. Deep red and lily white poinsettias line the windows. Last minute purchases, hasty and hurried, a tired wrapping counter running out of ribbon.
Glitter in the nail polish, mulled wine in our cups. Greeting cards for the traditionalists. E-cards for the late; personalized and musical. People behind counters and desk smile helpfully and if there is no glass panel separating us, jovially hold out their hand. Grumpy neighbours turn amiable. Boys and girls wearing last year’s reindeer hats.

An excuse for excess or a chance to go skiing for some, an intense moment of belief for others. And with no room at the inn, a manger in a stable becomes the birthplace of faith. Stars and kings, oxen and asses.

Tomorrow then the big day. Christmas Eve, midnight mass, Christmas lunch… to each his own tradition.
One tradition however we all share. That of the sales man, holding up his tree, repeating the season’s biggest lie.

“This tree will not lose its needles.”

A lovely idea indeed.