Towards next Christmas

Well that’s Christmas done and dusted for another year. I came out of it feeling weary and less than healthy – not unusual for this time of year. Certainly it was a busy schedule, and naturally I enjoyed the variety of food and alcohol on offer. It’s very easy to come out of those few days and heave a sigh of relief knowing that the post-Christmas break has come just in the nick of time. Sleep-in, watch the cricket, read a book or two, turn a lazy steak on the barbie, and so on. It’s just about my favorite time of the year for those reasons. Christmas is full-on, but the period between it and new year is super-chilled if you do it right.

Christmas Eve I popped over for a pre-Christmas drink with A, mum’s dearest friend, who has made a conscious effort to maintain contact with me because of mum. She’s an unusual woman, very loyal, but also prone to volatility. For her I’m extension of my mother, who she truly loved and still misses. For me I’m happy to turn up because of mum – it would please her. And because A is the only person in my life for whom mum still matters. We have that in common.

Stop me if I’ve said all this before. A married a guy a little over a year ago who is a self-made millionaire. They live in a lovely house in Canterbury which I’ve visited often and sat out on the rear patio drinking wine in the sunshine.

On this occasion I was invited because it was Christmas and it seemed apt to catch-up before the big day. Also in attendance was her mother, who commented how much I didn’t look like mum. There was cheese and dips and bottles of wine. A’s husband is a wine fancier like me, so generally we end up comparing notes and opening different bottles. We didn’t always see eye to eye, but over the last year have become quite friendly.

Late in the evening after A’s mum has gone we’re sitting drinking wine on what is a lovely, balmy evening. I’ve brought Rigby with me, and he’s lying contentedly at my feet. We’re catching on recent things, I tell them of my stint in Rosebud, about how the partnership fell through, about the settlement stuff up, and so on. It’s news, but just the tip of the iceberg really – so much more happens in my world, so much in fact that the stuff that shocks other’s I generally react to with a shrug of the shoulders. I’m used to it, and generally as I can do little about it I cease to worry (until I wake up in the dead of night). You learn to roll with the punches.

Anyway, I’m telling these few things and leaving out most and their faces grow grim. I understand why. It sounds like a litany of bad news, and hearing it for myself realise how depressing it sounds. M, A’s husband, says bluntly in response “basically it’s all gone to shit.”

Well, yes, I guess so, but still I found these words coming from him hit me hard. I couldn’t argue with it, but I didn’t like it either. If you’re like me misfortune is more than a matter of luck. When it’s you misfortune is very personal, and feels like a character flaw you hate admitting to. That’s how it is for me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if M saw it much the same way. His words bit not just because they lacked any sugar-coating, but because they came from him. You have to understand that M is the sort of person I feel instinctively competitive with – though with more hope of success in a previous incarnation. The last remnants of my alpha self are roused.

His comment resonated with me throughout the rest of the night and into the next day. I’m certain that the phrase will take on extra significance from now. I can’t deny it however, just have to work to change it. I don’t want to be misfortunate, to coin a phrase.

Christmas Day I woke up in my hotel room and took Rigby for a walk. I had a cooked breakfast to mark the occasion and then set off across town to my sister’s. I gave my gifts, and received one in return. Then we set off for my aunt’s, living now in the cultural wilderness called Doreen. Traffic was so bad it took twice as long as it ought to get there. Once there it was much the same as before, just a different location. Happy, smiling faces, kids everywhere, the resplendent spread of roast pork and turkey and all the trimmings.

I find myself continually seeing children and thinking what great kids. I don’t know if that’s a product of my age or my situation, or simply because all the kids I meet really are great. I get sentimental, would you believe. I feel a great affection for their unspoiled nature. They’re true and good and they inspire confidence: if they grow up like this then the world is in good hands.

I remembered when I was a kid and the Christmas Day’s we enjoyed. Go back 40 years and it’s not terribly different, just different people and venue’s. The menu is unchanged, the order of events, the good cheer and childish delight, all remain the same. There are more kids now than there were then because the tree has branched out further. When I was that age there were between 5-8, depending who was were when. I was the eldest, and in retrospect I can see how that was important. I was the one closest to the adults, the constant as in the years ahead more kids would come along. Today it means I’m still the one everyone defers to, though full-grown now, and the one the ‘adults’ feel most comfortable having an adult conversation with. In fact I think I have inherited some of my father’s aura, though I have absolutely nothing to show for it these days.

Yesterday I was invited to share Christmas with a friend and his family. I was very grateful for the invitation. The alternative was loitering around my hotel room with Rigby. I’d have coped with that, but at Christmas no matter how much you grumble you really want to feel a part of something. And so I went along with Rigby to enjoy Christmas on the other side of town, a nice barbecue lunch, convivial company, and another shot of that particular Christmas joy. Rigby was great and warmly received, especially by the kids. It was a nice day, but just like the day before at the back of my mind I was aware that I was more an observer than participant. I could accept that. These were other people’s celebrations in which I had no stake. It was nice to be included, but it wouldn’t have mattered if I wasn’t.

So it is, for now. That’s all a part of next year’s project.

Surviving Christmas

Christmas Day is but a few days away, but unfortunately it’s not something I’m looking forward to at all. To the contrary, actually.

How different that is to years past. Christmas always used to be a special time. In my family it was always, both in scale and importance. Not 10 years ago there might have been 20 odd people celebrating on the day. Even a few years ago, before mum died, there would have been 10-15 in happy attendance. Mum was the key to that. Every family needs someone with the energy and passion and maybe even the sheer sentimentality to draw  everyone into the same fold. Mum was that person for us. I admit to some fashionable cynicism over the years, but from where I stand now I understand how precious it was. It feels like another life.

As it stands right now I don’t even know  where I’ll be  sleeping through Christmas – eve, day, and Boxing Day. It’s a tough time of year to scrounge a  bed, and I’m conscious of other people’s family duties. I don’t want to intrude on that.

That’s a practical consideration, but otherwise there seems a distinct lack of Christmas cheer. I had been invited to share Christmas with some friends. I would have loved to knowing that at least I was with people who care, and in their way, love me. Instead I’ve  agreed to do the ‘right thing’, though this will be the last year I do that.

I’ll be spending Christmas Day at my Aunt (Mum’s sister) and Uncles place. I like them and I’m fond of my cousins, but I’ve not seen any of them since this day last year, and not heard from them until a few weeks ago when they issued the invitation. It’s nice of them to do this, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy many aspects of it, but clearly the invitation is more from obligation than affection.

Joining me there will be my sister and her kids. I love the kids dearly, but there’s no great love otherwise. I was told to not bother buying the kids presents, which I’ve ignored.* It’s been made clear to me from my sister that she doesn’t really want me to be part of their Christmas celebrations. She doesn’t really want me coming by their home at all on Christmas Day, but if I must, not until after 11.

How do I feel about this? To be blunt, I feel surplus to needs. I can deal with that. I’m in an unfortunate family situation – my mother dead, a non-existent relationship with my father, and my sister and I despise each other. I’m close with her kids, but she  rules  the roost. Come the day I’ll bounce around between engagements not really feeling a part of any of them. In part that’s my fault, and otherwise I’ve come to terms with. I’ll go through the motions and make the best of it. I’ll get through Christmas Day, and come Boxing Day my focus will be making it different in 12 months time.

I can’t live like this, without joy. I made the mistake the other night of watching Love Actually. I think I’m probably one of the few men who don’t think it’s a crock of shit. I like the gentle humour of it, and the overarching affection it embodies. This is how life should be, even if it might be a tad idealised. I would argue that for many years that’s what life was like for me. It’s hard thinking that, but also nice, and not a little surreal. Ultimately from where I stand now they seem years of happy complacency.

Given my circumstances I think I do pretty well. In general I’m a positive, optimistic person. I’m thoughtful, articulate, intelligent, compassionate I think. I’m fortunate to have a sanguine temperament. I avoid the extremes of misery, depression and hopelessness, but remain capable of feeling great pleasure. The problem is that merely subsisting is not enough on an emotional level, let alone economically. Those moments of joy and pleasure barely exist in my life.

That has to change for me to survive. Longer term I can look at next year’s Christmas Day and know it must be different. I think central to that is feeling some kind of security, and having some dear to share it with. It’s not much really.

It has to start a long way before Christmas. I won’t survive another year of this. I don’t want to, and there seems no point to it. I’m setting some hard goals. I’ve got to make this finite. Right now I’m looking at April 30 next year. I’ve got to have made some progress towards those goals, otherwise all bets are off.

The goals are simple, and what most people take for granted. I want my own home again. I need a kitchen where I can cook again – how I’ve missed that, and how normal it appears when you cannot do it. Of course this predicates  income, which presumes a job – I don’t care what type. I need space  and freedom to live again as I remember, to meet friends in city bars, go out for dinner, spend an hour or two in a bookshop and actually walk out with some, and browse the delis and indulge every so often with the sensual delight I recall, but haven’t experienced for so long. Above all, I think, I need to open up and share myself.

I’m proud and stubborn and possibly over-principled in some situations. I’ve refused to put myself in a position where I might fall into a relationship. It’s not fair, I’ve thought, not fair to them in my circumstances – impoverished and distracted. True enough, but maybe the bigger part of it has been embarrassment. The mighty have fallen, and here I am H, crippled, like Humpty Dumpty.

I have to trust there is a woman out there who will love me despite all of this. Embarrassment is a conceit I can do without.

I’ve had many interpretations of my travails, and doubtless I’ll indulge myself in a few more before they end. Right now I feel as if I’m meant to survive the myriad and constant challenges being put in my way. There have been times I’ve felt persecuted by that. At this moment I accept them as part of the journey. They are tests for me. If I fail them, I fail. If I can get by them though I will be better for it. I’m not sure how I’m doing, but I’m still on two feet. I suspect I’m becoming a different man.

*As I don’t exchange gifts with friends I don’t expect to receive any Christmas presents this year.