Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmasses past

1963. Brooklands, Long Moss Lane, New Longton, Lancashire. Aged 5. Too young and too far away to remember the day coherently, but almost certainly the year I got this jeep from auntie Enid and uncle Tony who were in Singapore (Tony was in the navy). It meandered around randomly bumping into things, then reversing back and firing its machine gun, swinging wildly with crackling noises and flashing lights. US foreign policy in toy form...

Big front room with the Rousseau jungle picture on the wall, the jaguar I thought was a frog. The rug where we played with our lego and Britains models (brother had farm animals, I had jungle animals). The telly in a wooden case. The couch we jumped behind for Dr Who. The warmth of a happy family.


1973, Ty Celyn, Newbridge, Gwent. Presents in the billiard room. We'd moved into the old colliery manager's house, and this biggest room had a billiards table in it when we arrived. We needed a bigger house when father remarried, and extra children came ready-made with the deal. Almost certainly spent ages building a model aeroplane. The Christmas sack that I woke to would have contained, among heaps of other silly things, a bottle of aftershave, which I would burn on the windowledge of my attic room. This became an annual ritual; the last one I got was an aerosol, and I built a fire round it then blasted it with a shotgun. It put the fire out. I'd hoped for a fireball.

1983, Karen Bravo, North Sea. Working on a seismic survey ship. The weather was too choppy for working, so we partied instead. It was an American company and officially a dry ship. But not at Christmas. I think the booze was on the manifest as potatoes.

 1993. On board the ferry Havelet. Can't recall whether this was the year we did the dramatic run to the Channel Islands on Christmas Eve, and were the only ferry running, and did a BIG roll as we rounded Corbiere so that, on the return trip, lots of folk, myself included, went on deck so that if we went over, they'd have a better chance- I'd been down in the engine room and suddenly found myself standing on the bulkhead with a cylinder block rolling across the deckplates towards me..... I do recall New Year's Eve when Weymouth went into party mode, and my partner came down from Bristol, and, to join in the mass fancy dress theme, we swapped clothes.... a bit of a lightbulb moment. On New Year's Day I picked up a scallop shell on the beach and thought of a journey that I was overdue to make.

2003. On board the ferry Pride of Bilbao. (I seem to have spent a lot of Christmasses at sea, eh?) -here is my account, written at the time....

 Christmas at sea… since we were taking 1300 minicruisers to Spain for the occasion, the crew had their main celebration in advance, on Christmas Eve. We anchored up in the Solent, ate a huge lunch, and then partied on down in the main bar, with a discotheque, as you youngsters say, and FREE FANTA AND CRISPS. …. Hey, we were just wild childs… and tried not to be resentful of the other P+O boats alongside in Portsmouth, which had relaxed their “no alcohol” rule for the occasion… it rather reminded me of those uneasy social occasions of my youth, when the local Air Cadets and Girl Guides would meet up in the church hall, and eye each other mistrustfully.

…and Christmas Day in the Bay of Biscay. In honour of the occasion, I wore my festive flashing Christmas tree earrings, as I loped around fixing air conditioning and vacuum toilets.

“There’s something wrong with your ears,” said a passenger; “They’re flashing”

“It’s the radiation sensors,” I said. “They must’ve had another meltdown in the engine room.”

…and, in the evening, to the bar again, to see the special Christmas show that the entertainment team had come up with, and to see if Santa’s podium, constructed for the occasion by the repair shop, would collapse. At one point late in the evening, young Tim the singer bounded through the audience distributing rather unconvincing plastic imitation mistletoe; he rather gallantly proffered me a sprig; I looked around for a suitable snogee, and gave up on it. And so a day of mass self-indulgence, gluttony and drunkenness ended with a rendition of “Feed the world”, with audience participation and a complete lack of irony.

2013. At home. A quiet day; getting over a lurgie, so no mountain climbing this year. House Teenager and I will be starting on our traditional Christmas cake later. The tradition being that it's made of chocolate and is soaked in alcohol, and has our robin, alarmed-looking angel and solitary tree on. Happy days. And happy Christmas to you, dear reader!

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