“What time is it, Mum?” I’m sure I must have asked with irritating frequency.
“About five minutes after the last time you asked?” a patient answer would probably return.
“What time are we going?” a change of tack, cunning.
“Not for a few hours yet!”
It was torture for a young’un still steeped in a level of selfishness and desire for instant gratification perfectly natural for the age. Coupled with me having a brother probably mithering and hassling to the same degree, unaware of the not inconsiderable preparations underway in terms of preparing the next days dinner, not to mention the shifting of presents (possibly the wrapping of them too), the coaxing of the guinea pigs to nibble on the carrot left out for Rudolph and friends. No, blissfully unaware, we wanted to go out.
When I look back at it like this, it becomes all too clear why my parents introduced an ‘early present for Christmas Eve’ policy, presumably to try to provide a suitable distraction to us whilst we awaited the moment when we finally got to leave the house. Remember that as a child particularly time drags sooooo much when you’re looking forward to something, much more so than the sickly John Lewis advert will have you believe. An hour seemed liked an age – a few? Well it might as well have been days. A strategically given toy car or similar was probably a genius ploy to at least confine our waiting to some kind of playful productivity.
That was our routine for Christmas Eve – and it’s easy to rose-tintify the past when you look back, but it was magic – and if I try to describe it, it won’t seem it. We used to go to our friends John and Andrea’s house for a party in their basement bar – we’d eat, listen to music (usually music that Rich and I didn’t like), as children we’d make ‘cocktails’ out of a mixture of different soft drinks, sometimes adorned with miniature umbrellas, novelty stirrers and straws – one year we hit the jackpot by finding a cache of mini sparklers to add some real pizzazz to our creations.
There’d always be a gigantic Christmas Cracker that I can remember Rich and I pulling with Alan, John and Andrea’s son, I can remember John sneaking to the stairs outside adjacent to the bar and simulating sleigh bells (not that we knew it was John at the time, of course!) to ease our departure to make sure we got to bed before Santa arrived at home. As we advanced to adulthood I spurned developing traditions of going to the pub near our school to be with family and friends – and don’t regret it for a minute. Naive mixed cocktails would graduate to alcohol, I probably went to some as a smoker, others with a girlfriend – but would never want to miss it.
One year when John and Andrea spent Christmas in South Africa I joined my friends in the pub instead – it was nice, we were into our second or third year of university and it was a nice reunion of sorts – I genuinely enjoyed myself, but it wasn’t quite the same. It was good to have normal service renewed the following year.
Since John passed away the routine has been understandably broken – Andrea spends Christmas with family in Luton and, in truth, I have generally spent Christmas Eve without any particular plans and feeling rather out of sorts – so it’s quite sad but I’m actually really quite pleased to have something to look forward to this Christmas Eve. Rich and Em have just moved into their new house and decided to have a couple of casual nights of drinks last night and tonight – I’ve opted for tonight, because whilst perhaps (no offence Rich) it doesn’t give the buzz of those childhood anticipations, it gives something to look forward to.
I’m such a maudlin sod. However, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – and perhaps be a little more receptive to the inevitable march of time and that in life things will change, and perhaps allow for the fact that sometimes those changes might just be for the better. And of course, appreciate the good times whilst they’re there, too!