Thursday, 29 November 2012

Great Expectations

Whenever I hear Wizzard singing: “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” I always think: Yeah, I bet you don’t really. It would soon lose its appeal, too much of a good thing and all that. Like the time I told my Dad I loved NestlĂ©’s Golden Nuggets so much that I wanted them for every meal for the rest of my life. He said he doubted it and that I’d soon go off them. I said I wouldn’t. So off he went and bought five packets of  Golden Nuggets and I set about eating them for breakfast, dinner and tea (as meals in our house were called in those days) On Day Two, I’d had enough. I had to admit defeat. It’s the same with Christmas; no one in their right mind would wish it could be every day.

I used to work in a book shop in London where American students came for temporary work placements in the summer.  One sweltering August afternoon, one of the students came in from his lunch break with a Christmas compilation CD.

 “Why are you buying Christmas music in August, John?”

I still remember his answer to this day, although it was nearly 20 years ago.

In a thick New Jersey accent: “Hey, every once in a while Christmas rolls around and I’m gonna need some choons!”

He is right, of course, every once in a while, Christmas does roll around and that’s how I like it! (ie not every day)

I think of John every year the moment I spot the first Christmas item in the shops. I do love Christmas and I am as excited today as I was in 1971 when I received an ‘Etch-a-Sketch’ on Christmas morning. I honestly thought I was going to have a heart attack and die of joy.  

There was a period in my 20s when I went off Christmas a bit. It meant going home to stay with my parents, sleeping in my childhood bed and going to the pub to see long lost school friends on Christmas Eve. I would wake on Christmas morning (sometimes in a pool of vom) with a thick head while Mum poured the Buck’s Fizz and Dad ran about the house knocking on doors and shouting: “He’s been, he’s been!”  I’d haul my sorry self down stairs and wear a rictus smile while opening practical gifts of soap and socks. (Nothing has ever matched the ‘Etch-a-Sketch’ moment) Then, feeling as rough as a buzzard’s crutch/badger’s arse, I would be forced to get dressed and peel the Brussels sprouts. Later in the day, when everyone was asleep in front of ‘The Two Ronnies’ I would slink back to my room to sulk over the unsolicited toiletries and slippers, consoling myself with a tin of Quality Street and yearning for  the day when someone special would buy me stuff from Tiffany’s and Agent Provocateur.

The Joy of Christmas returned when I got married and we went to Bermuda for a Christmas Honeymoon. On Christmas Eve we went into Hamilton and agreed to spend no more than $20 on each other. I went into Trimmingham’s of Bermuda and bought a pair of loud Bermuda shorts (obvs), a bottle of rum and a Cuban cigar (naturally I went over budget)  Turns out Mick panicked, bypassed the perfume and lingerie counters and came out with a Gordon tartan woolen scarf and a cribbage set.  I could see where he was going with the Gordon tartan, ie that I had recently become Mrs. Gordon but the cribbage set? WTF?  I had to tell him that this was not acceptable and he would have to try much harder in future. Simple guidelines…perfume, lingerie and jewellery. That was 17 Christmases ago and I am pleased to report that he has adhered to the guidelines ever since  - with the exception of a very nice ceramic owl that I had admired in a shop window. Good work, Michael xx

The nicest memory of that first Christmas together as man and wife, was waking to find the hotel management had left us a gift outside the door of a glass bauble filled with pink Bermuda sand and decorated with a tiny starfish. Amazingly, after all this time, it is still intact. Since then, we have collected Christmas decorations from everywhere we’ve visited and un-wrapping them each year is always a fuzzy time to remember their individual histories.

When Mick’s brother got married in Mexico City just before Christmas in 2002, we bought two painted wooden figures from a street seller. As we walked off, she followed us, shouting in Spanish but we didn’t understand. A minute later, we stopped in our tracks, looked at each other and shouted simultaneously: “THE THREE KINGS!” We realized we had bought only two of the three kings so went rushing back through the market to find her, which we did and duly purchased the third king. Much laughter all round. One of the kings has lost his crown now, but he will never lose his place on our tree.

We bought a blue and white porcelain Santa icicle in Delft, a Baby’s First Christmas bauble when Hugh was born in ‘97, and a felt Fox Terrier with a Santa hat on when we got the dog.  There is a glass London Bus, an Eiffel Tower and a Statue of Liberty. I’m kicking myself I couldn’t find a glass Burj Khalifa bauble in Dubai this summer! (But I do have a pink glittery camel!)

 I confess that I stole a lovely red bauble from a table setting at a hotel in Thailand in 2010. I’d had one or two glasses of Champagne as had the wife of the Hungarian Ambassador to Pakistan who happened to be sharing our table (a bit random, I know) We both concluded that the Christmas Gala Dinner was a bit over-priced so felt justified in nicking a bauble each.  Good times.

The most precious thing on the tree, besides all the little cotton wool snowmen and robins the children have made over the years, is the spire at the top, hand-blown by my Uncle Arthur who died years ago but is fondly remembered every year when we crown the tree. This year I am adding some exquisite hand-embroidered red velvet hearts I bought from an NGO here in Mumbai. I am also on the lookout for a sparkly little rickshaw.

For me, the best thing about Christmas in Mumbai is Hill Road with its market stalls selling ‘kwality’ fake trees, plastic snowmen and tinsel - all glittering in the hot sun amid the Catholic churches and tombstones. It’s as far removed from Liberty’s Christmas Shop in Regent Street (another one of my favourite haunts) as it’s possible to be, but it makes me just as excited!

I think the secret of a good Christmas is to lower your expectations - the greater the expectation, the greater the disappointment.  I have always felt vaguely let-down when it doesn’t snow on Christmas Morning even though I can never actually remember this happening. And don’t be crestfallen if you un-wrap a set of coasters from someone to whom you have just given a basket of LancĂ´me products, it’s not necessarily a reflection of what they really think about you or if it is, get over it! Expect cribbage sets and coasters, that way, anything else is a bonus!

This year my dog (who resides in the UK) has gifted me a lovely Mulberry purse and phone holder to match my Bayswater. I had to help him buy and wrap it,of course, but I really appreciate the care and thought that went into it. Good boy, Otto xxx

Be kind and generous to everyone, including yourself and that way you can be sure of a very merry Christmas!