The Hubby and I had the conversation we had to have a few weeks ago. About cake. Christmas cake to be precise. You see, one of our lovely neighbours comes around every December selling Lions Christmas cakes. Every year we buy one. In the past we have been known to give them away but last year we ate the whole cake before Christmas even arrived. We love Christmas cake.
This year we decided to buy one and divide it into thirds. We’d keep one-third for ourselves and give the other two-thirds away. Never happened. Once again we ate the whole cake in less than a fortnight, way before Christmas day had a chance to dawn. Did I mention we love Christmas cake?
But for myself, it wasn’t always that way.
My grandmother used to create amazing Christmas cakes. They were works of art. She would bake the cake months in advance and regularly soak it in brandy. Then as the day grew closer she’d cover it in marzipan and then finally a coat of royal icing with all the trimmings. As a child I’d try to grab a piece with the most icing. The cake and the marzipan always remained on my plate, naked and dishevelled. Back then I hated fruitcake but I loved the icing. Kids! My grandmother must have despaired. If only she was still alive, I’d give her Christmas cakes the respect they deserved.
Granny was a great cook but there was one thing I could never fathom. At Christmas she’d serve up jellied peas. Who in their right minds would put peas in jelly? My mum explained that the jelly was aspic, a kind of savoury jelly, but I was not impressed. However, in retrospect, I can see how devilishly clever my grandmother was. She solved the problem of children and peas with a two-pronged attack. Peas in jelly won’t fall off the fork, plus it makes peas so unattractive to children they won’t want to eat them anyway. There’s no danger of peas getting squashed into the carpet if no one under 14 is eating them.
I hope you have a joyful Christmas and I also hope that, unlike The Hubby and myself, you have some Christmas cake left to eat on the day. And wherever you are and whoever you’re celebrating Christmas with, may there be no jellied peas on the menu.
It’s the time of year to retrieve the Christmas carol albums from the bottom furthermost rung of the CD stand where they’ve been waiting their moment of glory for almost 12 months. After dusting the cobwebs off mine I’d put them on one of the stereo speakers ready for the big day. It’s a shame that I’ve got such a great collection of Christmas tunes and they only get played once a year. Clearly The Hubby thought so too and very early this morning blasted me with The Huddersfield Choral Society doing a jolly medley of Joy to the World and Ding Dong Merrily on High. I felt like donging him merrily on high, that would have brought great joy to my world. Needless to say The Huddersfield Choral Society had an abbreviated airing. Bah humbug! They’ll have to wait their turn on Tuesday along with The Blind Boys of Alabama’s Christmas album “Go Tell it on the Mountain” and my personal favourite “Christmas Cocktails“. This album has a wonderful selection of festive faves including Julie London singing “I’d Like You for Christmas”, “Jingle Bells Bossa Nova” by Eddie Dunstedter and Kay Starr’s rendition of “Everybody’s Waiting for the Man With the Bag”. Hand me an eggnog I feel like hanging out under the mistletoe!
I’m an old-fashioned girl and I like to keep the Christmas tunes to the day itself, well maybe a few on Christmas Eve but that’s about it. So I decided to visit a few ghosts of Christmas past as I’ve been wrapping presents, writing Christmas cards and doing a bit of fattening festive baking (why does everything to do with Christmas have to contain quite so much butter!).
Sometimes it takes a bit of courage to revisit the soundtrack of your life, knowing that songs and music have a powerful way of bringing back the memories and the emotions of that time. Dare I play Radiohead’s album ‘The Bends” and go back to a summer in Sydney and the boy who’s heart I broke, seriously damaging mine in the process? Much easier to choose The Leisuremasters, the precursor to Karma County. Every morning I’d swim at the Boy Charlton pool in Woolloomooloo, walk back home and eat a mango for breakfast while listening to their E.P. Sweetness, heat and satisfaction.
The one Christmas I spent in Tamworth you’d think I would have Slim Dusty’s Greatest Christmas Truckin’ Greats glued to the stereo. Instead I almost wore out my copy of Shawn Colvin’s “A Few Small Repairs”. I had the CD in the house and the cassette in the car. Luckily I got a job in Townsville otherwise my friends would have run me and Shawn out of town I’m sure.
And what did I listen to while gazing out over the Coral Sea towards Magnetic Island? I revisited Moby’s “Play” and was amazed and how slow and melodic a lot of it is. My memory was of a grooving’, jumpin’ album that gave me the energy I needed to go and work the 16 hour days I was putting in. Seems I never had time back then to listen to the whole thing.
My time living on the Sunshine Coast has been dominated by The Woodford Folk Festival at this time of year. It starts on the 27th of December and wraps up on the 2nd of January. Last festival The Hubby and I by happy accident found ourselves sitting almost front and centre at a Nick and Liesl gig. We were both entranced and have been all year. Their album and EP have been on high rotation all year. It’s always wonderful to find music that we both enjoy. And who knows I maybe I’ll learn to enjoy The Huddersfield Choral Society doing a jolly medley first thing in the morning. Maybe…
Every family has iconic photographs that tell a far greater story than the dots imprinted on paper or the pixels on the screen. One of my family’s photos is of me, at not much over a year old, wearing a pair of faded red overalls, dirty feet and a cheeky smile. For support I’m clutching the arm of an old rocking chair on the veranda of our shack. The composition of the photograph is perfect; the colours, the lighting and the moment, all captured with the deft hand of a very experienced photographer. Which he was. My grandfather. He left us a legacy of our childhood years in photographs and slides that adorn our walls, mantelpieces and bookshelves and still get shown at the special slide nights my sister arranges so beautifully.
The Rocking Chair, as we call this photo, was amongst the last he ever took. He and my grandmother were driving back from the shack. There was an accident. He died almost immediately. My grandmother died in hospital not long after. Two more holiday statistics. The photos were developed later, after funerals and wakes and many tears. Over the festive season I wonder how many sons and daughters, or mothers and fathers, will be left with holiday snaps taken by someone they love who has just become a statistic.
Often when I pull onto the Bruce Highway, especially at this time of year, I find myself doing a quick calculation of the odds. I like to think of it as awareness. A momentary lapse in concentration, an unexpected occurrence, that’s all it takes. Some years ago a fellow driver decided they’d merge from a slip road across both lanes of traffic, forcing me onto the meridian strip and straight towards a concrete bridge. I’m still not sure how I managed to safely manoeuvre the car back onto the highway while the idiot sped off in front of me. I was shaking and crying from the near miss but determined not to show the shock and fear to my young niece who was happily strapped into her booster seat in the back. She was not going to be a statistic that day.
Statistics. We hear a lot about them during the holiday season. And those statistics don’t reveal the heartache experienced by those left behind at this time of year, every year, for many years to come. Or the trauma of the survivors who may be left with permanent physical and emotional injuries.
As you strap on your seat belt spare a thought for your friends, your family and the families of those you don’t know and ensure you have a Happy New Year.
*You’ll also find this post in the December issue of Holistic Bliss Magazine.