I’m not sure when exactly Christmas got banned in my house. There was an awkward stage where we pretended it didn’t really exist between 1993-95 following an incident involving my father dressed as Magnum PI dressed as Santa after he was discovered under the Christmas tree in nothing but his underpants, my mother and a simple keyboard dedication that he was serenading her with on my new Yamaha keyboard. It returned for a short while until 1997, when my mother upon getting yet another frying pan banned Christmas until her family learnt not to buy ‘crap’ presents, and with that in mind, now looking back that perhaps the moment the festive season ended in the Sanz house.
Personally I agreed with mum. Our family ritual of Kris Kringle had been less than spectacular and had been growing worse by the year. It started off with potential; an indiscriminate statue I used to hold open my door from my brother, but it was downhill from there –the next year I got that extra bag of crisps you get when you buy a chocolate bar and a soft drink at the petrol station and the year after that I got a film poster with the ‘Now Showing’ sticker still attached and the blue tack still firmly in place on the back (just to clarify, my brother had recently taken a job at a local picture theatre).
As far as I was concerned Christmas was what other people did, much like home buying, private health insurance and coffee grinders. Well that was until I moved to London.
I lived with a gay man, who didn’t go in much for Christmas, because according to governing legislation at the time the cultural ideals behind Christmas didn’t really go into him and anyway, Ibiza wasn’t nearly as packed at this time of year, and a Jew. A Jew who was surprisingly more into Christmas than any Christian I’d ever met, but his logic was reasoned enough – given he didn’t believe in Christmas it was easier for him to enjoy because it didn’t have to mean anything.
I’d agreed to bunk down for Christmas at an Australian friend of mine’s orphan’s lunch. She’d gone as far as to extend the invitation to my Jew flatmate, who was on the verge anyway of becoming my long-term on and off again better half (I use that term liberally, but hey it’s Christmas) and even with my Grinch like ways I was kind of excited about spending a white Christmas around people I actually liked, free of movie posters and crap statues – I could hold my own doors open thank you very much…and then of course everything pretty much went tits up.
Four days before Christmas, my friend rang, she was pregnant and feeling rotten and there was ‘no f&*king way’ she was going to cook a full Christmas lunch for people quite capable of cooking themselves – and then she apologised, blamed hormones and hung up.
‘Merry Christmas to you to’ I mumbled into the dead phone as my flatmate came around the corner.
‘What’s up?’ He was so good at acting concerned; I knew now why I thought I might kinda like him.
‘Di’s cancelled Christmas.’
‘Oh…can she do that?’
‘But I didn’t see anything on the news about it.’
‘I was exaggerating.’
‘You’re a bit prone to that isn’t you Lou?’
I practised ignoring him and if I do say so myself I was getting very good at it.
‘Anyway, maybe I can just cook something here and we can grab some videos and just hang out together….’
‘Sure, sounds great.’ He agreed, as he grabbed his coat, going off to see her.
And with that he left the flat. I was totally ok with him still being good friends with his ex-girlfriend and if anything it was reassuring, I mean we’d probably end up being exes one day and if we still hung out and stuff that would be totally fine to and nothing at all to be concerned about (hindsight has been something fundamentally lacking in any decision making about my life from such an early point I never thought to consult it in moments such as this one).
So off he went and as if almost on cue the house phone rang. It was my friend Lisa. She wanted to say good bye before her and a bunch of my friends headed off to the country for the holiday.
‘It’s such a shame you can’t come Lou’
‘…well my Aussie Christmas just cancelled…’
‘Oh Lou, I’d ask you to come with us, but only if we’d known sooner, like when we asked you, cause there’s no room in the car and cottage, well we don’t have a floorboard to spare…but if you’d told us earlier…’ her guilt trailed off….
‘I’m ok really, Nathan and I are going to cook a turkey or something to that affect and just hang out.’
‘Nice to see you’re shaking things up Lou, I mean you and Nathan hanging out and doing nothing together is just so…what’s that word I’m looking for……come on Lou, you’re good with words, help me out.’
‘Sad, tragic…come on Lisa, I’m giving you gold here.’
‘It’s just so retired.’
‘You make it sound like an afternoon of canasta and self-defecation for two.’
‘I’m sorry Lou, it sounds charming and remember darl if I could be bothered agreeing to take both cars to the country like Marcus wants than we’d be more than happy to have you tag along.’
‘– anyway, must go Lou, drinking and merriment to be had you understand.’
She hung up, leaving me perplexed as to why she even bothered to call. She was so not getting an eCard this Christmas, maybe a text, but she’d be out of range so what was the point? And I really couldn’t afford to just be throwing money around.
It was decided then, no text either. Lisa would have to resign herself to having me ask her how her holiday was, as opposed to me wishing her a happy one.
I had plans anyway, I needed to decide if I was going to cook chicken or turkey, or could I possible pull off a multi-bird lunch? But of course the first thing to do was to get a tree, and living on Columbia Rd, the home of the flower markets I was going to get the best tree ever.
…of course, I’d left it rather late and so instead of a towering green Christmassy foliage decorating my living room, I was sold a stick in a pot, that looked like it might be related to Christmas in the way that Anthony LaPaglia’s younger brother kinda looks like him, but isn’t really him. I tried not to cry, I could make it look pretty, nothing some tinsel and self denial couldn’t fix.
I was just about finished with the decorations when Nathan came home. He took one look at our Christmas tree and commented that maybe I should throw last nights left-over’s out as opposed to decorating them – I told him it was our brand new Christmas tree. He told me my tree was why Jews didn’t celebrate Christmas.
‘I’m trying to make Christmas special.’
‘You know what happens when you try Lou.’
‘I succeed in bringing the spirit of Christmas right to your doorstep?’
‘Now you know that’s not true LouLou.’
He took his scarf off and plonked on the couch. The uncomfortable couch – why was he punishing himself….
‘Lou…I don’t think I’m going to be here for Christmas.’
‘What? I’m cooking, I even got a retarded stick in a pot that God knows I’m trying to convince myself is a Christmas tree – look I even stuck up stockings!’
I pointed at two odd little socketts I’d sticky taped to the mantle, and as if on cue one fell to the ground – mine.
‘Yeah, it’s just that Carrie, well she’s had a bad year and she wants me to come with her and her family to the country and I’m her friend…’
‘…you’re her ex boyfriend…’
‘Yes, and with that comes certain obligations…’
I looked at my little sockett; thought of my multi bird feast I’d just ordered online at Tesco’s and did the only thing left that I could.
‘You’re right, you should go, and I’ll be fine here alone on my own.’
He jumped on to the comfortable couch, self imposed punishment over.
‘You’re tops Lou, I thought you’d say that, you’re much better at being alone then anyone I know, you can do some of your writing stuff.’
He flicked over the channel to watch some carollers singing with Mariah Carey.
‘Yep, I’m great at the alone…and writing stuff…’
I glared at the telly, trying not to cry. Shut the cock up Mariah, bullshit you don’t ask a lot for Christmas, stop with your lies and just leave me alone.
Christmas day arrived; I woke up, decided not to wash, scratched myself and looked out the window. London town was completely empty, not a soul in site, except for the occasional mini cab driver and prostitute who’s kids were with dad on his dad day.
My phone rang, it was Nathan. He was feeling bad, and had decided to return on Boxing Day, I pointed out no trains were running that day, he fell silent before adding ‘it’s the thought that counts’…or the lack of thought in your case I joked to myself, glad I could still make funnies on a day I wasn’t entirely sure I’d make it to the end of.
There was nothing on the tellie except for floats, God and good will to all. I decided 9am was not too early to start the celebrations and so I opened a bottle of champagne, sat under my stick in a pot and opened my Christmas presents. Mum had sent me a card saying my present was her renewing my car insurance so my sister could drive around, or as she phrased it ‘your dad and I thought peace of mind was what you needed this Christmas.’ My brother had sent nothing, and Nathan had left me a plastic tomato to put ketchup in – that was it! Christmas was officially over!
I packed up my stick and pot, ripped the socketts from the wall, washed myself with a flannel and decided to go for a walk.
The air was cold and brittle as I looked up and down the length of my street. I was excited, this was liberating. I wasn’t going to be sucked into feeling sorry for myself. Nothing was going to make me feel any worse, not my sister driving my car, not Nathan maybe or maybe not fingering his ex girlfriend by a warm lit fire, not this strange man looking at from across the street…the empty street…the completely empty street.
Great, I was going to be offended sexually and it was going to all be my fault because I was so unloved I was spending Christmas on my own that the attentions of a would be rapist was my Christmas present to myself (Note to self: stop spoiling yourself so much Lou, it’s just got to stop.)
He wandered over as I searched for my flat key – I just had it, where the hell was it?
‘Hi’ he spoke in a clipped English accent.
I didn’t reply.
‘You don’t speak English?’
He was the politest potential sex offender ever, but hey it was Christmas.
‘..Um I’m just trying to find my key.’
‘We could go to my car if you like; I mean if that would be more efficient?’
Oh, I smiled to myself…he wasn’t a sex offender, he was just a regular old punter looking for sex on Christmas day…his family probably waiting for him to return from the Indian off-licence with much needed Worcestershire sauce that he was sent out for – and him thinking while he was out he could get his end in, after all as I kept reminding myself, it was Christmas.
‘I’m not a prostitute.’
‘Oh, it’s just you were on your on your own.’
‘And so you assumed I was soliciting?’
‘When you say it like that it sounds dirty.’
‘Don’t you have a family to be with?’
‘I could say the same of you.’
And so there I was locked in a stale mate with a man looking to pay for sex on Christmas day and me, an Australian expat standing alone in the middle of London trying to convince herself she didn’t care.
‘Listen, maybe we can grab a drink’ I remarked – after all aren’t all men who are looking to pay for sex really just wanting companionship?
‘As lovely an offer as it is, I’m really just looking for a decent hand job before the in laws come over.’
He looked down at his shoes, as he fumbled with his car keys.
‘I better be off than, might try round the corner.’
He started off down the street and then suddenly turned around.
‘Merry Christmas strange Australian girl.’
‘Merry Christmas to you to’ I shouted back and then smiled to myself – I still had that Christmas spirit and at the end of the day that was the most important thing.