Sunday 19 September 2010

A Practical Guide to some of life's top things - A Digestive Special Issue (part 3 of 10)

When she was probably half the age she is today, Minnie came to be crying demanding to know if Father Christmas existed or not; she sobbed through her tears “I really need to know.”

It is a moment that haunts me, if I allow it.

In our house Father Christmas had been pretty real: sooty footprints all around the stone fireplace (a hell of a mess to clear up), reindeer pooh on the roof (did you know they eat mistletoe and holly) and one year a piece of red fabric torn and left on a jagged corner of the chimney – duly returned, and thanked for in Elvin script, the following year.

When Loui was twice the age that Minnie was then, a moment that worries me if I allow it, it was unclear if we were indulging his fantasies, or he ours: nothing had been said from either side and the rituals continued - though I stopped short of circling the house in deep night ringing bells as my sister had for her children.

Clearly though, as his teenage years took grip on his inability to keep his trousers above his waistline, a defining moment had been reached – something had to give.

At about two in the morning I woke him in torchlight.

“Loui”, I whispered. “Loui, Loui” – why is it so hard to wake a teenager before the afternoon?

I shook him a little, “Loui, you’ve got to wake up.”

Sleepy eyes examined me.

I took a conspiratorial look over my shoulder and continued – “I have to tell you a secret”. He was awake now. I think the torchlight was a good touch.

“You know this Father Christmas stuff? Well, no one knows for sure if it’s really true or not, but there are a few people who think it would be wonderful if it were and they become official Secret Santa Helpers – they believe because they want to, even though it’s madness.”

He said nothing, so I continued.

“There are quite a lot of them around, but you have to be initiated by another.”

Still nothing.

“Ok, the thing is,” his silence was beginning to unnerve me but I decided to plough on, “I am one, and if you want to you can become one too. If you choose to you have to do some pretty weird stuff, just because you think it would be fun. Starting tonight.”

Every Christmas the local village – a few kilometres from where we, I, was talking – puts up a Christmas tree, decorates it and takes it down sometime in February when the battery powering the lights finally runs out.

The responsibility for this falls to Pol, who also cuts the roses in the summer, plants the flower beds in the spring, sweeps up the leaves in the Autumn and ensures that the school bus picks up the children every school day, way into their teens.

“So I’m an official non- believing Father Christmas believer and official helper - an ONBFCBOH (you say the letters independently and quickly) and tonight I have to put a present on the tree in the village - for Pol, and he mustn’t know.”

The tree, by the way, is about 5 meters high.

He got up, gave me one of those looks teenagers reserve for their dads, and I passed him a torch.

As we went through the kitchen I let the light from mine fall on the collection of socks and tights hanging from the chimney.
“Hmm, empty.”

I had a cardboard box, gaily wrapped in festive paper – it contained a bottle of good red wine and a handwritten label, in Elvin, which read – Pol; luckily Pol is the same in Elvin, and since Pol is also responsible for taking the tree down and storing the battery until the next year, I was confident he would find the present amongst the pine leaves.

We also had a ladder.

It was cold outside, as it should be on Christmas Eve. There was a light frost, a promise of snow and the village was asleep.
“We have to put it right at the top.”

I was holding the ladder, loui was wrapped in Christmas lights and struggling through the branches when, somewhat unexpectedly a car drove up from the valley; the tree was at the top of the hill and the headlights would shine directly on us.

So we froze.

We tried to blend into the green, though our pyjamas stood out fluorescently.

The car approached, the headlights swept over us and then the car turned and drove away.

We held our breath and then exploded into giggles, Loui pushed the present as high as he dared and we went back to our own car hidden behind the church.

We sat there for a moment admiring our handiwork and sipping from a thermos of hot chocolate.

We decided to drive home through the village, somewhat unnecessarily as home lay in the opposite direction. As we reached the boulangerie we saw a light on in the distant and as we approached we saw that it was coming from Pol’s house. Someone was standing by the open front door. It was Pol. He waved. We waved back.

Back home, still giggling, we entered by torchlight, still giggling. I let the torch fall on the chimney where the socks and tights were now bulging with presents.

“Hey, there must be another ONBFCBOH around here, probably female,” I said.

Loui looked at me.

“Grow up dad.”

Er…. why are you telling me all this?

It’s Sunday, the Bitsnbobs Digestive Special series– a practical guide to some of life’s top things. NUMBER THREE – surprises. (number two in the series here)


Yep, surprising if you prefer.

But aren’t some surprises unpleasant?

Yep, can be, but on the whole I think surprises and being surprised is what it’s all….. on the balance I think it keeps you al… what was it that that guy said?

Which guy?

You know, John or something.

Are you going to quote him?

Ok, “Life is what happens to you, whilst you’re busy making other plans.”


Mary said...

Mmmm ... surprises? If you mean that we should be open to the possibilities of each day in a spontaneous way, then I agree. Not trying to control the agenda or the outcome is good. On the other hand, planned surprises as in "SURPRISE!" parties, don't thrill me. Not sure -- Maybe they should. Definitely sthg to think about.

I caught up on BnB's this weekend as I've been on almost constant deadline since the beginning of the school year. Won't slow down for a number of weeks but quite a variety of topics this week --

Don't feel badly about walking away from that mind bending book about the universe. For me it's enough to know that there are people who do understand it.

Have not been a Calvin and Hobbs devotee but it seems very clever so you've sparked my interest.

The blood pudding and the blood picture -- GAWD. Every morning when I drive into work, a truck full of pigs passes me on the road on their way to a single remaining downtown abattoir. Then on the way home, an empty truck passes me. A case of daily cognitive dissonance that is very unsettling.

You and Loui and that Santa (Father Christmas) story - enchanting!


popps said...

Welcome back Mary, i missed you.
I meant both - i change an initial "surprise and be surprised" to "surprises".
I think giving surprises, like a toothbrush holder to Dave, to others gets a shout in there as long as you don't give them a surprise they are not going to like - like surprise parties for you.
The only surprise party i was at was in a car park in Japan - very odd.
I think i would hate to have one thrown for me too.
Let me know how you find Calvin and Hobbes - it's a gem.

Mary said...

I think that I might translate surprises into 'WONDER' -- all of it all of the time -- the universe, the stories and sleeping outdoors. The big questions and the little questions -- the enormity of every day life with its confounding smallness. The unfathomable immensity of what is out there that passes through our world, our veins and our hearts.

Work is in high gear but I will be peaking in when I can.

You mentioned Krissie has been flying here and there -- What has she been up to?


popps said...

Normal planes, several thousand feet i think. Do they go higher in Canada then?

Mary said...

You got me -- too clever by half you are! :-)

Send Krissie [whatever she's doing and wherever she is] my best.


popps said...

Sorry Mary, couldn't resist that.
She's always flying off somewhere, sometimes i think the airline industry would grind to a halt without her.

Mary said...

Oh Chris -- thanks for sending the link to Krissie's one woman show. I'm watching it now. A well-deserved gift after a long work week.

So funny! She's great.


popps said...

you're welcome - she has a little tour with Mark this winter - Dinner for Two.

Anne said...

wow :-D

popps said...

hi Anne thanks for dropping by.
Is this a wow as in "oh my god that's long" or a wow as in "oh my god part 3 already"?

Anne said...

Just wowing over Krissie as the Queen.

popps said...

Thanks anne, i'll pass it on, she's off somewhere this weekend but if she comes to Berlin i'll let you know.