Tag Archives christmas

This is not a bauble.

Posted on 2 min read
This is not a bauble. Photo Sicily, December 2016.

I was tidying up Christmas decorations in my grandparents house when I reached into a large plastic box, the sort my grandparents store baubles in eleven months of the year, up in the roof. And ouch. My finger hurt. Sharp pricks in my skin. A brush with something sharp.

I peered inside the box for a better look, and discovered, to my astonishment, a cactus.

Round, pale green and spiky, I carefully picked it up and showed it to the Grandmother

She wasn’t at all surprised. She knew there was a cactus in the box. She had already stuck her hand in and pricked herself that morning. And then she’d done nothing about it. She was mildly amused that the cactus had survived what she assumed was a full twelve months in the box, but otherwise unperturbed by the situation.

Personally I think she should have been more bothered, bothered enough not to leave it in the box with the baubles waiting for the next poor soul to reach inside.

“Put it in the bin,” the Grandmother said.

So, as a dutiful granddaughter, I placed the cactus by the compost bin.

A short while later I heard a commotion in the kitchen as the Grandfather discovered the cactus and decided to investigate. It was, he claimed, very much alive. Just in need of replanting.

The Grandmother insisted that the cactus be binned.

A short while later the Grandfather was seen trying to find a home on one of the overcrowded windowsills in the back bedroom of my grandparents’ house, a room filled with more plastic boxes, bags, cardboard and evidence of Christmas. The Grandmother, well, she was heard to be rather disparaging about his efforts.

Tensions were rising.

Which is when, as the dutiful granddaughter, I stepped in and volunteered to rehome the cactus. Now obviously, you can’t take a cactus in your hand luggage to Spain… so I wonder how it’s going to appreciate the care of its new warden… the Mother.

Mid-winter blue skies (and dealing with disorientation like a grown-up)

Posted on 3 min read
Rooftops. December 2018.

I’ve been in England a week and I remain somewhat disorientated.

Writing this, I sit at my desk. It’s an old-fashioned, green-leather topped desk with drawers (some of which lock) and the scars of a life spent existing full of things. It has history. I acquired it from a junk shop in the middle of a public carpark in some small unpronounceable Welsh town. It’s lived in four different houses under my ownership alone. And, whilst I admit that it’s not the ideal shape for perfect ergonomics, it makes up for it by being psychologically wonderful. It feels like a desk where one writes. It’s a comforting presence. Something sturdy and reliable. Homely.

A week ago, I was sweating as I dragged my tiny suitcase into the Spanish airport

I wore coat and a scarf over the layers I imagined would be necessary in such a cold country as England. The sky outside was bright blue. Straight from the tube bright blue.

But, when I arrived, three hours later in Yorkshire, I appreciated the layers. I pulled my gloves out of my pockets and tugged them onto my hands. The chap at passport control hoped I’d had a lovely holiday, I laughed and told him the holiday was yet to come.

Disorientating.

We went to my sister’s house for Christmas

Yes, the Midget (and the Blacksmith) own a house. That’s my baby sister. It’s got walls and ceilings and multiple toilets. They had just (and I mean just) had an oven installed. My baby sister owns half an oven.

I curled up on the corner of her sofa and started working through the Blacksmith’s library. In the past my very small baby sister would have asked me questions about the cooking or would have wanted me to give some sort of guidance, but other than a brief explanation of how Grandmére (that’s the French grandmother I once lived with) made soup, I found myself off the hook.

Afterall, if we’re being entirely honest, nowadays the Midget is the better cook. She (and the Blacksmith) made the Christmas dinner appear (other than the parsnips) on the table in a manner you might otherwise only believe was possible in photoshopped recipe books. Wise elder sister advice is unrequired. I know nothing of such grown-up activities as house ownership.

Once upon a time I would have got all hung up on the concept of home

I would have felt the disorientation and instantly felt a need to reaffirm my identity. I would have felt my role of bigger sister changing and compensated with bossiness. But sometimes the best seat is the corner of the sofa, and the best response to disorientation is to smile, with pride.

Now I’m back in my bedroom at my own desk. Well, the bedroom that sometimes I sleep in when I’m here. I have my records spinning, the music floats out of my speakers filling the room in a fashion I daren’t try in the ‘habitación’ I rent back in Spain. There are Spanish verbs on the walls and a piece of masking tape labelling the small cupboard inherited from my Nonna as ‘la mesa de noche’. It feels a long time ago that I read those words.

For the first time in a week, the sky looks somewhat blue. Not out of the tube blue, something somewhat mellower. A wintery, Yorkshire blue.

The Tortoise and the Turtle of the Sagrada Familia

tortoise

I’m standing staring at a tortoise that represents the land. It’s squished by, or holding up, a column. The column’s symmetrical partner is held up by a turtle representing the sea.

turtleNow, I’m not very good at understanding Christianity, and much of my knowledge of Catholicism comes from reading historical fiction (the Borgia books by Kate Quinn or the Tudor books by Philippa Gregory) or that one time I went to a Catholic mass and got told off for crossing my legs. So when I looked at the ‘minor basilica’ (it’s not a cathedral because no Bishop sits there) and I saw a Christmas tree, I wondered why.

I consulted Wikipedia on my phone and a friend consulted a guidebook.

Turns out, the whole scene at that wall of the fancy church is the story of the Nativity and Jesus’ early life, tortoise and turtle included. There’s babies being slaughtered, shepherds with their lambs, some rich men and a cow and a horse looking surprised to see a newborn baby. To the side are scenes of Mary and Joseph escaping to Egypt on a donkey, the precocious child Jesus lecturing the priests on how to be good, and a young man practicing his carpentry skills.

My strongest memories of learning and writing about the Christmas story are from primary school. First, there was the day that I was ill from school and my three best friends all volunteered to be wise men. I ended up as a star. The second is the time the teacher spent the first ten minutes of the lesson talking about angles instead of angels and saying how we were all certain to spell it wrong, so much so that when I finally came to describe dear Gabriel I was convinced that my spelling ‘angel’ must be wrong that I went through my work and carefully changed my angels to angles.

The same teacher had criticised my work on the turnip story four years earlier. I’m not bitter much.

three-wise-men

Having seemingly missed out on the real religious meaning behind Christmas, I went on to study the Victorians, who I discovered introduced the idea of the Christmas tree to England. This is also apparently wrong, as according to Wikipedia Victoria already had Christmas trees as a child. The tradition it seems did however come from Germany which since the royal family were German makes sense.

In any case, for Gaudi, who took over designing the church in 1883, to have thought to put a Christmas tree on the facade seems to me forward thinking. And yet, maybe this is because it isn’t quite a Christmas tree. According to the Sagrada Familia website:

“The cypress, a long-lived evergreen associated with hallowed ground since ancient times, symbolizes the eternal love of Christ. In Catalonia, the cypress is planted as a sign of welcome in local farmhouses.”

I want to know if in Catalonia they really do plant trees inside farmhouses, or they plant them by farmhouses, or what they mean is at Christmas time they have a Christmas tree.

I don’t yet feel enlightened.killing-babies

When things don’t go to plan

It’s kind of funny.

Christmas trees sparkle through living room windows and signs on lawns tell Santa where to deliver presents, but not at our house.

Our house with its bare walls and empty bookshelves is being evacuated as I, yet again, move.

While some people are unboxing ornaments and hanging them up to the rhythm of songs with sleigh bells, I’m wrapping mine in bubble wrap and stuffing them into suitcases. Most everything is being removed to the North for temporary storage.

I have much stuff.

My car, aged 14, is not impressed. The chap from the breakdown service and the men at the garage all have a cheerful way of stating ‘he’s broken’ that’s not so cheering to me. They’ve got the Christmas spirit, even in the chill of a December night.

Mulled wine and mine-pies soften the blow.

The humour in my life doesn’t end there. My computer doesn’t want to speak to me either. It’s no longer recognising its own vital organs. It won’t even wake up to say hello. I’m writing this post from the Boyfriend’s super powerful cinematic experience of a computer, but right now I’d prefer to have my own little netbook for company.

Hey ho. It’s Christmas. There’s chocolate, marzipan and cranberry sauce to distract me from my mishaps.

“… good company, good wine, good welcome, can make good people.”

Shakespeare (or John Fletcher perhaps?), Henry VIII