Ghosts of Christmas Past

28 Dec 2020

Well, it’s all over – the Christmas that never was for some people. Yesterday’s guests had all spent their working lives in Africa – good climate, good pay, endless servants, and expectation of retirement on handsome pension. Then came Mugabe. Out, hardly any pension – all they can afford is a near hovel in the French countryside, can’t afford UK. Our main memories (we had several Christmases in the tropics) were of obligatory turkey and Christmas pudding when it was over 30 degrees. If we were lucky, despite too much food and alcohol, we could fall in the pool.

My easy-going second son has become a sadist. In Australia, restrictions have lessened. Photos of a tanned family on the beach. Phone call – discovery of new tapas bar. Son with them after 135 days lock-down in Melbourne. Another son, had tickets for Perth via Singapore – Australia will have them, obligatory 15 days in a hotel – but Singapore will accept no flights from UK. No rush to ski slopes, shut. No rush to second homes here in France, Brexit and no restaurants or bars. This son’s best effort, Christmas on Phi-Phi Island (Thailand) with a donkey to carry the champagne.

When the family was young we’d load the whole lot in Land Rover and escape relatives to hired villas in Italy or South of France. Presents on roof rack. But stockings! A nightmare. Traditional comic, French Bandes Dessines not the same. British kids did not like French and Italian chocolates. One Christmas ‘Fritto Misto’ huge range of fish deep fried, delicious. Marvellous cakes, ice creams. Rosa, maid, never moved from her village, near Naples, illiterate – came in on Christmas day. Our four kids (then) ‘belli bambini’ hugged and kissed (memories of boys’ faces).

The ‘Great Escape’ from kind relatives, but feeling like the foie gras producing geese. In Durham, all day stuffing, no chance of a walk. We did not have our car. And Durham Cathedral! The music! Midnight mass! The joy of all those people! But Mr G’s brother and wife did not indulge, we dared not get a taxi. Most boring Christmases ever – but we HAD to go – the last one my sister-in-law had terminal cancer.

The best HAD to be India. The nuns in the refuges were worried about jealousy among the kids. But they accepted that our ‘sponsored’ girls could have personal presents. Otherwise group presents, artists materials, musical instruments, TV (first visit). Sponsored meals, so nuns could have a day off. 58 girls, ex-beggars, abused, daughters of prostitutes – all new dresses – dancing. Neighbours, including boy who had rickets, in callipers, he had fallen, covered in bandages – gayest of them all in the photos. I was so proud of Mr G – suffering indignities, eating disgusting cake (only for the sugar content and stickiness, did not dare lick fingers). When our lips erupted from too-strong curries they took pity on us. Midnight mass in Bangalore Cathedral, attacked by mosquitoes. Carol singing, going round in the private school bus till the early hours. It was tough, but SO good.

The Gardener

A Moodscope member.

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