I never got round to posting this last year for some bizarre reason. So here’s a blast from a Christmas past!
This Christmas felt different. Yes, it crept up on me this year and with a hint of maturity in the air. I was excited, of course, but what I really wanted to find under the Christmas tree was something that couldn’t be wrapped, or bought. And no, for once in my life it wasn’t a boyfriend. It was the desperate, overwhelming desire for a job. A publishing job, where my days are spent talking to authors and illustrators and making marketing campaigns and writing press releases for beautiful tales.
Most of the time, especially at Christmas, unemployment is pretty nice, it’s relaxing and easy. But it is so incredibly, unutterably boring the rest of the time. And I feel a little bit useless. Worthless even, that after three years of working hard and procrastinating superbly, the real world doesn’t seem to want me. Part of me says i’m naive to hold on to this publishing dream and it’s this part of me that tells me to just get a job, anything because my money is running out. But the other, larger more dominant part of me, says no, don’t. Don’t you dare cave in and give up, because by the time I’m thirty I’ll be miserable. So I’m holding out, not for a hero this year but for a career.
Christmas eve morning involved eating warm chocolate brioche in bed half asleep, whilst swigging pulpy ice cold orange juice with Britain’s Got Talents best bits playing in the background. SUE-BOOOO! When I’d finally come to, from my fog of sleep, I showered dressed and hopped in the car ready for a visit to a little old lady.
Except she isn’t little, she is incredibly tall, immaculately dressed and smokes like a chimney. She’s 92. Her name is Jean or Mrs C and she’s made of steel. She’s one of these no nonsense ladies, brave and strong, alone but comfortable like that. Her flat is spotless, not a speck of dust to be seen and her sideboard hosts a vast array of Christmas cards. She was my Grandma’s good friend, who’s dead now, I think she’s been dead for about 12 years now. But I remember her, especially if i put my face in a bag of fox’s glacier mints. Or if I catch sight of freddo the frog bar in a newsagents, her jangle of brass bangles comes flooding back to my ears and I see that fish tank in her porch that was so thick with algae that you could barely see the goldfish that rotated constantly in that dark water, somehow surviving, the occasional flash of luminous orange making an appearance through the murky glass. And the miniature piano that used to fascinate my sister and I for hours. And the ceramic cat that lay curled up on the mantelpiece, so typically Grandma, we have it in our house now, on our own mantelpiece. And her real cats, Twinky and Daisy that she used to put on the phone when Dad rung up. And the time that she told me that if I didn’t eat my fish fingers then my parents would never ever come back. And how scared I was, so scared that I wouldn’t let my parents out of my sight, which stemmed my OCD and my love of seafood. It swings in roundabouts I suppose.
She was a little bit mad, as all Grandma’s are. She threw tantrums in her time and she actually threw a sewing machine down the stairs, not in my lifetime but I’ve heard it so many times from my Dad and my Uncle, I feel as if I’ve seen her perform this liberating shot. She was a real character, always wheezing and sucking on mints, her handbag heavy laden with sugary treats including the amazing Taz bars. Crisp chocolate encasing a pool of sticky caramel, Cadbury’s at its finest. I loved her, I still do. I have a feeling she’d be proud of me, that she’d have some words of wisdom for me. I miss her mild insanity. I miss my Grandma Pussycat, as we used to call her.
So today, I jumped at the chance of seeing Mrs C. I wanted to be with someone who knew my Grandma as a friend because I only knew her as my doting Grandma, the mint dispenser, the women who would plant a big kiss on my resistant cheek, her soft, fluffy powdery face brushing against my youthful rubbery flesh. But instead of hearing about Joyce Palmer, I heard about my idiot father (I mean this in the nicest way) and my young mother, in their first years of marriage and a rather hilarious turkey incident. Because my Dad, the Gordon Ramsey wannabe, bought a 20 pound turkey, which he described as a ‘3 year old child’ and carried it home in a bin liner with its feet sticking out. And my mother peering out of their Streatham flat, like some short haired rapunzel awaiting her husband’s return, saw him struggling up the high street with what looked like the remains of a body, two large feet protruding from the black liner, like some perverse Santa.
We laughed and sipped tea and munched biscuits. We shared the Christmas cheer and I endured the usual questions regarding my rather blank future. But left encouraged that 2013 held good things for all of us. On the way home we stopped off in our local town and whilst my parents looked for various last minute things I wandered off into the charity shops in search of nothing in particular. In my last charity shop, the one I rarely frequent because it harbours some odd sorts, I stumbled across a delight whilst perusing the shelves. This delight wasn’t literary or fictional but human. She must have been about late 60’s, early 70’s and she had to be the most avid reader I have ever met. At first I was reluctant for conversation with a stranger as so many of us are when we are cold and wet, but whilst I was looking at the books, standing next to her, she waved The Time Traveller’s Wife in my face. Not his actual wife, the book. My initial thought was something along the lines of ‘Good grief, I knew I shouldn’t have come in here’, but it was Christmas eve and so I smiled.
‘Have you read this?’ She asked, her eyes all lit up ready for a chat.
‘I started it but…’
‘Oh, could you not get into it?’
‘Yeah, I found it hard to get my head around, is it worth pursuing then?’
‘Oh yes, I think so, its a fun, quirky story.’
And so we chatted and I left the shop with a bag laden with her recommendations. Including Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy which she spent a good ten minutes raving about. One pound poorer, but three books better off, I was most content and with a jovial cry of ‘Merry Christmas!’ I departed for the warmth of the car and the promise of Dad’s Christmas ham.
The magic of Christmas was truly palpable that Christmas Eve. As the shop door chimed my departure, I turned back to reiterate my goodbye. But she had gone. Disappeared…
…behind the changing room curtain that is.