There was a pattern to Christmas when I was growing up. It was to do with the midday meal.
Until recently my mother had a large, dark wooden dining table with matching chairs and a hutch dresser. This was the time for all of these items to shine. Out of the hutch dresser came the good set of china, and the best cutlery. There was a very tall wooden candle stand with a large candle at the top which we lit as a gesture towards my father. Usually in the morning, after presents, we listened to Handel’s Messiah. We weren’t religious but it was a tradition. I say we listened to it, but my mother was usually working away in the kitchen while I was enjoying my new presents. The Christmas dinner was, for a long time, a chicken, new potatoes, halved peaches with cranberry, peas, sausages and bacon. My contribution in later years was to make a pavlova.
Just to be clear, this pavlova was from the Alison Holst Microwave Cookbook and is one of the top ten abominations ever to be made in a microwave (number one must be “roasting” a chicken in a microwave which took about as long as a conventional oven, and you had to paint at the end with brown to make it look edible instead of a sweaty heap of plucked bird). It was the 1980s and at the time it was assumed that microwaves would replace all other cooking appliances because it was so super fast and snazzy. Also it used magic to cook things. Possibly it didn’t use magic but I feel like it must of because how else did it heat things? Anyway, there was no attempt in the early days of the microwave to admit that it was actually a lot worse at doing certain things; it was just a matter of buying more bits of equipment and then making a massive compromise in taste. Like how putting a pie or bread in a microwave turns it into a soggy sponge. I digress. The “pavlova” was just a small mound of quivering marshmallow that resembled an anemic cow pat. Still, it was sweet and lots of cream and strawberries make even a cow pat palatable.
I remember getting a board game called Stratego for Christmas in 1981. I played it with my cousin’s husband. It’s sort of a military strategy game. Except eight year olds can play it. I feel like I lost. My cousin’s husband had a job that involved complicated systems and logic and, aside from being eight, I am terrible at all forms of board or card games. I’m so bad at card games I refuse to play as a pair in anything because I know there will be a point where my partner realises they have been teamed with someone who has the intellectual capacity of an orangutan (one of the smarter primates, but still a primate).
1983 was our first Christmas out of the house where my father died in 1978. This photo is taken in the barely used dining room of our townhouse in Malda Grove, Ngaio. This is a “classic” photo taken by mother which crops out something key. In this case it looks like the man might be a happy go lucky surgeon about to do a triple by-pass on a lucky fella. He is about to butcher the Christmas chicken. The man is called something close to Igor. And there is the table, and the chairs, and the candle and the hutch dresser. Like I said it was all this stuff, and the food that made Christmas have a routine for me; not the houses which always changed. Here’s another “classic” mum photo (see bottom left):
The decapitation may not have been accidental at this point in the relationship.
In terms of the relationship between myself and Igor the photo top right tells you everything you need to know about how comfortable that was. I’m no expert on body language but I reckon this could be used in a body language textbook with the caption “I don’t think so, bro”. I can look back on this relationship and feel like I was a bit stink to him. I really did not make an effort to warm to him, or involve him in my mental or emotional life. But, even now, I only feel that a bit. Although he was married to my mother for a number of years I have never thought of him as my stepfather. In fact, even writing that here, makes my hackles rise.
The present in 1984 was a chess set from Kirks. I remember picking it. I can’t remember now what the theme of the pieces was, but they were all animals. It was cool. I loved that chess set. On the other hand that thing about being shit at all games. Yeah, that. Igor was very good at chess. He played me about 50 times and I won once. Not that I’m petty or anything but I remember that the one time I beat him was on a tiny little plastic chess set while we were on the Picton Ferry. Fuck it felt good. Still, the other 49 times weren’t so great. I once complained to him that it seemed a bit stink that the king was the lamest piece on the board. Shouldn’t he be leading from the front? Igor was unimpressed. I guess it sounded like I was a sore loser.
I would like to say that this photo shows that Igor had disappeared, but he’s probably taking the photo. It does represent the last Christmas as a teenager before I headed off to Kapiti College as a Third Former. It also represents the last Christmas before the world had Last Christmas to sing every year and forever (1986). My favourite Christmas song. Probably my second favourite is Do They Know It’s Christmas? even though the correct response to that question is, “Of course they fucking do, the Ethiopian Orthodox church is one of the oldest in the world.” Never mind: blithe, patronising charity is often one of the hallmarks of Christmas.
For me it was about getting Hitbusters: Volume One which featured the song and trying to remember which awesome star had sung which line of the song in 1984-5. Who did it better? Bono, Paul Young or Boy George? For me it was Bono. Shame about his actual line.
Happy whatever you do on 25 December.