Christmas. The traditional time of unfulfilled expectations and almost unfailingly the death of a friend or relative. I have to admit that the best bit about Christmas, for me, is the day we get back from whoever we’ve been staying with that year, and I can relax in the knowledge that it’s all over for another 12 months.
It pains me to confess it but I am the original Scrooge, although this year I think I am finally beginning to understand why. If it’s OK, I’d like to share my breakthrough with you (phnark). So let’s have a rummage through my season-specific navel lint.
Warning: this one’s outrageous and fairly lavatorial.
When I was a kid, I thought that Christmas would always be a time of fun and light and laughter. Strangely, when I look back over the actual Christmas Days I can remember then 99.9% of the time it is exactly that – even the years people died or got sick.
Yet it hangs leadenly on my spirits and I dread it more with each passing year.
Looking at it, the big thing, for me, has always been that I’d like to ‘do’ Christmas, myself. My Mum always told me that once you have kids you can put your foot down with the grandparents and tell them that from now on, you’ll be having Christmas at home. My Mum did this successfully. However, she was younger when she had my brother and I. Furthermore, both sets of grandparents were hale and hearty and perfectly able to hop in the car and drive to us if they wanted to. They were only about 45 minutes away, anyway.
Our world is different.
Nonetheless, the dream persists of waking up in my own home on Christmas morning. In 20 years. we’ve managed two home Christmases, yes I’ve managed to cook two turkeys (and a goose but that’s another story). Both those Christmases were lordy-never-again style jobs. One because McOther and I were going through a rough patch, I didn’t even know if we’d be together in a few weeks’ time and we had to present a united front to the visiting grandparents for 8 days when I had no idea if, in 20 days, we’d still be an item. McOther was at work the whole time anyway, to the point of spending two hours in a conference call on Christmas day. The next year, the other set of grandparents stayed for less than 24 hours and gave us flu. I spent the turn of the millennium in bed with it. Later, my father’s condition, coupled with the cold temperature of our house, meant that if he visited us in winter he went completely loolah (too cold = not enough blood to the head) so that was out.
In other words; we know Christmas at home doesn’t work. Now that neither set of rellies can actually stay here, we also know that, were we to tell them, “We were having Christmas at home this year,” we would have the most awful time, sitting at home feeling guilty. We’re talking a level of guilt that eating our free range, local butcher’s, locally sourced turkey with actual red meat; that having our boy get his stocking in one hit, because we haven’t had to leave the 3/4 of it that doesn’t fit into the car on his bed at home and pretend Father Christmas delivered here too; that being around to help with the Church flowers etc and even finding a lonely local to invite, would not do anything to assuage.
Why then? Why this endless longing to make Christmas my own instead of bolting onto other people’s? It’s a completely insoluble problem. And yet once I actually get to whichever set of parents house it is, then, even with its strange or too-distant bathroom, the strength sapping levels of vigilance required to take a lively small boy and incredibly clumsy mother somewhere else for a week without their accidentally breaking something precious or spilling something dreadful or eating something they shouldn’t, it’s actually fun.
I do enjoy myself. We all do. And it distresses me deeply that I feel this utter misery and curmudgeonliness about going to see people who I actually want to see and love dearly.
Why the dread?
Well I think I’ve finally sussed it out.
It’s the travel. I loathe and detest using the British motorway network. However, at Christmas when there are high winds so the QE Bridge is closed and we have to queue for hours to get through one side of the tunnel. Or when we are driving through six inches of freshly fallen snow for two hours, with an ice covered road beneath and a sheer drop into the River Tweed a few feet from us pretty much all the way and meeting something coming the other way on. Every. Single. Blummin’. Corner. It’s really grim.
In a nutshell, Christmas is an absolutely rubbish time to attempt to travel. It’s not just because every other git in the UK has climbed into his car to clutter up the roads. It’s because the weather can be unremittingly awful and we all get stuck in it.
Borne out of the travel comes the second downer: organising stuff. I am incapable of organising a piss up in a brewery. Lord knows I try but even when McOther organises everything – because he is a control freak who runs like a smoothly oiled machine – I still manage to balls up the few things I’m supposed to be doing. There is always the Eureka moment, as I unpack the stuff in the kitchen at whichever of our victims we’re descending on that year, and I remember about the very important thing I’ve left on the kitchen table at home. Something without which the other five bags of gubbins I’ve brought are completely pointles… you know… something like… the turkey or the pump for McMini’s blow up bed.
Naturally, the reason my organisational skills are so poor is because I actually dislike organising things.
After travel and my piss poor organisational skills we come to the third factor: my social lumpiness. The minefield of staying with other people and trying to adjust your routine to fit in with theirs when what is natural and instinctive to them is less so for you.You know deep eternal questions like these, which are all real:
- Is there enough hot water/time to wash my hair this morning or do too many other people need the shower for us to a) all shower before we go out or b) for me to spend the prerequisite 10 minutes rinsing my hair?
- If I don’t have a shower, will I smell (I usually have a cold so can’t tell).
- Will I manage to get through the whole week without having an IBS attack?
- Talking about IBS. When’s the time the other members of the household are statistically least likely to follow me into the loo for at least an hour – or to put it another way, can I have a poo now, or will I be asphyxiating a whole succession of subsequent lavatory and/or shower users?
- How many times can I ask for seconds before it becomes rude?
- What are those odd noises in the night?
- Are those really bits of wasp coming out of the cold water tap and is that why the loo cistern won’t fill up? Because the outlet on the header tank is clogged with dead wasps?
- Will next door invite us all round to drinks and poison us with dodgy pate?
- Can I make my way to the loo without falling down the stairs?
- If my knee clicks on the stairs in the dark can I manage to yell quietly?
- Can I get past the stair lift to go down to the drawing room and retrieve my iPad/Phone/Book without falling and waking the rest of the house?
- Will I successfully fill up the cistern using the bath tap and the bucket provided, or will I spill a whole load, sending a flood of water through the ceiling onto the lap top at the desk in the room below?
- Have I remembered my torch?
- Have I remembered my cough lozenges?
- Do they have a dog? How much of it’s attention will it give my crotch? A: all of it’s attention. If dogs are the rule of thumb I have the smelliest girl parts in Christendom.
- Where are McMini’s pyjamas? A: on the kitchen table at home.
- Should I put this utensil away where I think it’s kept and risk unwittingly hiding it from my hostess forever, or should I ask her for the umpteenth time? Is the least irritating course of action to leave it on the table?
- If both the taps in the guest bathroom basin bear the letter H, which one is actually the ‘real’ hot?
It’s the left hand tap*, by the way, if you ever visit my parents.
- Will I leave my horrible gacky ear plugs under the guest bed?
- Will I snore loudly enough to keep people in other rooms awake? I am more than capable of this.
This is not a side of me I like. It feels disloyal and mean to dread going to see the grandparents – especially when I love both sets so dearly. They would be horrified to read this!
But at least I’ve spotted the difference between Christmas when I was a child and now; why it was different when we did pretty much the same things. Amazingly, I think I’ve hit on the answer and it is all down to journey time. My family was local. It was 45 minutes to each set of grandparents so even if we weren’t at home on Christmas Day, itself, it wasn’t a big deal because we woke up there and we went to bed that night in our own beds. If we had to be on our best behaviour and not eat too much, not spill anything and help out in a succession of relations’ strange kitchens day after day over the Christmas period it was OK because at supper and breakfast we were in our own.
WE NEVER STAYED THE NIGHT.
And that’s it in a nutshell. None of the worries I have about my social lumpiness are ever going to impact on a day trip, hence it was a breeze as a kid. But on a week long stay, when I’m also responsible for the behaviour of my own child it’s very different. They become monstrous spectres in the days and weeks beforehand. I even have dreams about stuffing it up and letting down smoothly oiled, robotically organised McOther. There’s nothing I can do about it but at least, now that I know what it is, I should be able to deal with it better next year.
Furthermore, if I could find a way to do the two journeys in say, 35 minutes… or maybe an hour… I could pop home to poo, or wash my hair on a morning when everyone else wants to use the shower, or relax about cutting myself shaving without noticing and bleed happily over my own scabby (rather than someone else’s nice guest) towel. Hmm… Flying’s no good, sure it’s 35 minutes in the air, if that, but it’s still two hours each end phaffing about in an airport and an hour in a taxi at the other end.
Snurds may be imaginary right now and a magic thimble is right out. But I think I have the answer.
Yeh. So. If you’re listening, Father Christmas, I’d like a gyrocopter, please.
See that? That’s me that is, nipping home for a poo.
What I want to know is, am I the only person who gets all worried like this? Tell me about your experiences peeps!
* That’s a faucet, if you’re French or American.