Third in my series of Christmas Memoirs, a journey through the stuff that makes up my collection of Christmas Past. A journey through the misty idealism that surrounds this, the most Wonderful Time of the Year!
My first real experience of a Christmas not spent at home with the immediate family was when we traveled to visit my ailing Grandfather and spent Christmas at his assisted living apartment. I think I had to be about fourteen or so at the time, not a great age for me; a stroppy teenager struggling with, what I am sure now was depression and constantly worried about the future and the next new single from Duran Duran. It was NOT COOL at all to be at an assisted living community for Christmas and by God I would make sure that everyone around me knew it. I"m not totally sure why but I only remember my Mother, my middle sister and myself being there. My brother at that time was already in the Navy, my eldest sister was married and probably spent the holidays with her in-laws (wise girl) and I'm pretty sure my parents were already on their way to divorce. So that left the three of us spending Christmas with Granddad, squeezing in every last holiday before the old man shuffled off his mortal coil.
When you're a teenager in Eighties Britain all you care about on Christmas Day is how much loot you get under the tree, watching the Christmas Day Top of the Pops and sneaking in a little wine at dinner. All the other stuff is just ridiculous and embarrassing, you literally get dizzy from all the eye rolling! So, I remember trying to watch TOTP (as us cool cats called it) and Granddad had the remote. He sat there in his throne, he had a recliner that was mounted on a platform so he could get his aging self in and out of it, and he would just rule from the corner of the room. Now, Granddad liked music as much as the next geezer, as long as it was from the thirties and forties and didn't have a hint of that Rock n Roll crap, he was appalled to see the hipsters of the early eighties on the screen. "What the hell are these boys wearing make up for? they're not girls are they?" he just didn't understand the likes of Simple Minds, Spandau Ballet and for the love of God, Culture Club. So the old man sat there and very gradually he turned the volume down, just little by little, until I was watching the screen but could not hear a damn thing!!! What's the point of watching TOTP if you can't hear it? Grrrrrr.
We made it through to the afternoon, my Mum managed to come up with a Christmas dinner in his tiny little kitchen and we set the table ready to sit down and enjoy the fruits of her labor. I remember Aunty Gill (pronounced Jill) coming over to spend the afternoon with us and have dinner. I think she was sick that Christmas, so you had a real mix of miserable people thrown into close proximity on a day that should have been the most joyous of the year! We sat at the table and as is tradition in England we pulled the Christmas crackers and all donned our paper hats, then raised our glasses in a toast, Gill looked around the room at all of us sitting there and announced "Merry Bloody Christmas!!!". Well we all cracked up and soon the gloom was lifted and we relaxed into a nice dinner, enjoying each others company no matter what our current issues were! At that moment she was elevated to super cool in my estimations, a woman who tells it like it is!
I have to say that every year since then I have thought about Gill's toast, it's a little frustrating that it doesn't really translate to American. There's no way the timing, the midlands accent and the sheer execution of that statement would ever be replicated but I love that I can clearly hear her voice in my head and it still makes me laugh. Who knows, maybe one day soon we'll travel home to England for Christmas and see Aunty Gill and ask her to make the legendary toast once more!