Friday, December 23, 2011

1979: Simply having...

I can't remember much about Christmas 1979. It may have involved my cousing sobbing because he had to wear a suit and have his hair blow dried, but perhaps I'm mixing that up with Christmas 1974, which would be a better fit. It would have involved the much-missed usual suspects and plans of action, and as for what I got as a present that year I couldn't tell you, though I do recall coining in the tips from the kind souls on my paper rounds. Yes, I had three at that time. I was minted.

Other than that, this was the song of the season for me, along with Daytrip To Bangor (a favourite of my aunt and uncle), I Have A Dream, Another Brick In The Wall and Brass In Pocket. I love the video for it, odd and crude as it is. There's a nostalgia there for something I've never known. That pub reminds me of pubs in the country villages around the outskirts of our small town. You didn't have to drive far before you found one. I've never had the sort of wonderful time they're having in a pub like that at Christmas, but I ache to do so. I think it's the lights.

So as it's my last post of the year, a very merry one to you all. Some of you I know, some of you I feel I know, some of you I'll never know, seeing as you're reading and not commenting, but all visitors gratefully received.

See you in 2012!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

1989: I'm not here to ill

We've all done it: made a fool of ourselves at the work Christmas party. We have, haven't we?

I'd been at the law publisher since September, and I'd made my presence felt. I was rather taken with my boss, a salt-and-pepper-haired ex-barrister who was now at the helm of this important publishing company. And she was only 33, 10 years old than me then, but seeming so business-like and sophisticated. I made it my mission to brownnose her at every opportunity and never let the chance to make her laugh and toss back her hair go by. I was firmly on her radar, and I hoped that despite both of us having discovered by this time that this job was more than likely not for me, she'd fast-track me up the ranks and I'd be involved in management-level decisions in a company I cared little for but was happy to progress in just so I could be party to high-level decision making. It was nosiness really. Becoming a journalist was always meant to be, it seems.

The Christmas party was held in a small downstairs of a wine bar in Aldgate. There was little food to be had, and unlike later Christmas parties the firm would lay on, no dancefloor or raffle either. But there was lots of wine.

So a sliver of brie and a skip of red later I was calling her a cheeky mare, talking about her naked and waking up on the floor in a lavatory stall wondering if I might still have a job. I needn't have worried. She thought I was a hoot.

When I got home I was sick in my bin. Whenever I hear this song a wave of nausea comes over me. As you were.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

1976: Crash! Whizz! Bang! Boom!*

Christmas had come and it was that in-between bit where you're usually forced to accompany your parents to their friends' drinks parties and then co-erced into pretending to be friends with their ghastly children with whom you have nothing in common, not even school.

So it was with relief by the time I was nearly 12 that I didn't have to go with them if I didn't want to. There'd be less whining that way and besides, I could stay home and play with my new chemistry set as that isn't likely to pose any threat of danger whatsoever, is it?

I had been given a fantastic chemistry set for Christmas. Not that I was mad on chemistry but now that we were doing it at school I found it quite interesting, especially the experiments, that involved naked flames and minor explosions. I have a feeling that most boys in the class asked for a chemistry set that year. But did any of them nearly burn down their dad's shed?

Our shed was not a normal shed. It was tacked onto the garage which was in turned tacked onto the house so was kind of an indoor shed if there was such a thing. It was a large, square, flat-roofed affair and provided ample space for Airfix, Shakermaker, painting-by-nubmers and anything else that was banned from the house for being too messy. It also housed all dad's tools and lots of liquids and chemicals that would go up in a moment, like white spirit, meths and oil. So all in all the perfect place to set up a chemistry set unsupervised. Someone call social services.

Though this tinderbox didn't catch fire, it came pretty close. I was as reckless as I could be with the mixing and heating of chemicals, but it didn't stop there. I'd melt stuff over the burner and drip into a test tube containing God knows what just to see hwat happened. If it bubbled and boiled over, all the better. And I still have the scar on my thumb to prove it.

My love affair with my favourite toy of that year lasted until all the chemicals ran out and there nothing left to play with, so about three weeks then. And then music happened, which was just starting to really grab me. I remember hearing this song on the radio a lot while fiddling about in the shed but I didn't know what it was. Just a jolly tune to nearly die to. I've not been near a chemistry set since. Can you still get them?

*Being an instrumental, I have nothing to call this thread from the song, but you'll find Mike making all these noises and more in this brilliant vid

Monday, December 19, 2011

1977: My desire is always to be here

I know I'm not alone when I say this song drove everyone nuts when it stayed at number one for about nine weeks.

But I now have a huge soft spot for it. I'm a sucker for bagpipes in pop - who doesn't love the Band Of The Black Watch's 1975 Top Ten hit Scotch On The Rocks, after all? - and I find it incredibly moving. The bit where he sings about the sweet sweep through heather and deer in the glen, carrying him back to a place he knew then while the bagpipes skirl quietly in teh background... I'm welling up just thinking about it. And though I didn't regret selling on tickets I had to see McCartney in concert at the O2 last year for one minute, there is a part of me that was kicking myself when I heard he'd done the song accompanied by a full band of pipers.

But like I'll Find My Way Home, it's not actually a Christmas song. It just evokes the emotion of the festive season. So I make no apologies. I wasn't able to listen to it for at least 25 years, but when I stumbled across it again and gave it a listen, a huge wave of nostalgia washed over me. Those bygone Christmases spent with the family, 16 people round the table, now either dead, off with their own families or scattered to the the five continents. How I miss them.

What I don't miss is having to wear my 'best' clothes, having to talk to Auntie Maggie and the slight disappointment you felt later in the day that it was all now about to be over. I still think Christmas ends on Christmas night. After that, I don't want to hear a festive song and I'm keen to dejunk the decos and take down that tree. But I still love Christmas.

It's different now of course. It will never be like it was back then, but it can still be fun. I hope yours will bring you what you want.

Has anyone actually ever heard Girls' School?

Friday, December 16, 2011

1981: A season's wish will come true

The doorbell rang., waking me out of my slumber. I glanced at the digital alarm clock. It was before 7am on the eve of Christmas Eve. From downstairs I could hear the lilting, Christmassy sounds of Jon & Vangelis' I'll Find My Home, a big hit and a Radio 2 staple at the time.

Under my duvet I was warm and cosy. It was still dark outside. But I was home with the family for the first time since I'd come back from Bahrain on my own to live with a schoolfriend and his family while everyone else stayed behind forging their new life in the Middle East. I'd had a miserable time and I'd missed them. It was my first long-term separation from the family and it had been hard. There was nothing like being at home and were all together again for Christmas.

At the door it was Hazel, the postwoman on whose route our old house was. She'd kept in touch after we'd moved, and because my dad worked in publishing sought his advice over a novel she proposed to write about the people she'd grown to know on her round and fictionalised accounts of their lives. She sent weekly installments over to Bahrain and we all played let's identify our friends and neighbours, which, despite giving everyone different names wasn't hard. It was total tosh but she had a good heart and dad was gentle.

And here she was, hearing they were back and popping in for a dawn Christmas cuppa to the strains of Jon & Vangelis. Mum and dad were thrilled to see her.

I turned over and drifted back to sleep, lulled by the opening bars of Elkie Brooks' Fool If You Think It's Over.

I don't think I've ever felt so safe in my life.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

1985: Far across the world

Some people want to spend Christmas in warmer climes, banishing winter chills and with only sunny blue skies and the feel of the hot sun on your skin.

But not if you're me.

Famous for my preference of slate-grey skies over bright blue ones any day, to have to spend Christmas in Bahrain was never a pleasure, weather-wise.

Those stories you heard about Australians eating Christmas dinner on the beach always sounded like a nightmare to me. At Christmas, nothing was less appealing. I wanted frosted holly trees, the moment when day turns to evening and you're in the car whizzing by Christmassy shops while Roy Wood was on the radio wishing it could be Christmas every day. I wanted to be collecting my grandma while DLT played selections from Phil Spector's Christmas album. Even if it wasn't snowing or that cold, there was nothing cosier than Christmas in England.

Before 1985 I'd only had one middle eastern Christmas, in 1982. We went to another family's place for lunch, and in true expat style drew the curtains and watched last year's Christmas Day TOTP and the most recent episodes that featured tinsel and Kid Creole and the Coconuts doing Annie I'm Not You're Daddy, then switching vids to the Two Ronnies or a costume drama. No one even looked outside.

So why did we do it? Seeing as i was the only on in the UK it was far cheaper to get me out there than it was for the family to decamp home just for my benefit. But we all agreed it just wasn't the same. Christmas had always been a huge family affair, with everyone to ours for lunch then over to theirs in the evening, with Boxing Day always a big party at my aunts, Uncle Tony mixing endless G&Ts in the kitchen and people dancing to Tie A Yellow Ribbon once they'd got a bit squiffy. I still miss those days.

So we were doing every other year. But I really didn't want to go. My uncle came to my student house to collect me and drive me to the airport. As I was packing Walking In The Air was playing. Not my favourite, but when you couple it with footage from The Snowman it's the ultimate in cosy, traditaional festiveness. It was a very dark day, chilly and cold, really Christmassy and I had a new (secondhand) overcoat. There was no point taking it with me. It would be t-shirts once I got there. Oh how I wanted to stay in England.

It was never so bad, and I look back on it as on odditty I'm now rather nostalgic about. Coming down in the morning with Carols From King's on the stereo followed by a Christmas album. Mum and Dad did their best to make it seem like the 'real' thing. It wasn't that Bahrain wasn't Christmassy at all, surprising reallly, it being a muslim country. All the shops were geared up for it and the radio played the usual fare. But there's nothing like Christmas at home, is there?