At this time of year, I often remember the first line of a little poem in English that has been passed down the generations:
‘Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat’. I learned it as a kid and it hides in my memory like a silver ‘sixpence’ coin in a plum pudding.
Something else I remember from my childhood – the day my brother opened my eyes to how the world really works. As you may know, the advantage of having an elder sibling is that you pick up their ideas early by cultural osmosis.
The disadvantage is sometimes, you learn things too soon.
I was 5 or 6 years old when my elder brother Eddie summoned me upstairs and poked a broom handle at the ceiling to open the trapdoor to our attic. “See that, Mikey?” he said, pointing a finger.
I stood on tiptoe and peered into the attic. It was dark up there but I soon spotted a cardboard box showing model racing cars and a track shaped like a number ‘8’. I knew immediately what I was looking at: Scalextric, the exciting toy that every little boy loved. But wait – why was it in our attic?
“Because it’s our Christmas present,” Eddie said, and raised a finger to his lips. Bug-eyed, I asked him about Santa Claus coming down our chimney on Christmas Eve. I’ll never forget the pitiful look Eddie gave me, or the difficult questions his revelation raised: Why would Mum and Dad lie about Santa? Should I tell my friends?
“No, you should be quiet,” said Eddie, and Christmas was never the same.
But times change and twenty-five years later, as an adult, I helped my Dad perpetuate the myth for his grandchildren. Want to try it? Listen up.
You need a red Santa Claus suit and hat, a silver wig and beard, a black bin bag with a few gifts inside and a video camera. Here’s what you do.
First, you film ‘Santa’ with his black sack, creeping around the house, late on Christmas Eve, enjoying whatever ‘snacks’ you left for him (in England, we leave a little alcohol and a mince pie). Then you film Santa as he enters the kids’ bedroom and places their presents, while they are fast asleep. Next morning, you show the kids the video and say, “See that? Santa came while you were in bed.”
Trust me, the look on their faces, when they see a video, is worth the effort. But be prepared to answer difficult questions. For example, our ‘Santa’ insisted we film him walking up the street at midnight, in his red suit. Next day, my nephew said, “Why was Santa walking, where are the reindeer?”
Also, when our ‘Santa’ sat down on our sofa to sip his whisky, my nephew froze the video and said, “Santa wears the same socks as Granddad.” We told him it was a coincidence; Santa probably shopped at Marks & Spencer, too.
Eventually, of course, it’s time to grow up. One year, I was based in Yekaterinburg, 1,400 km northeast of Moscow. The December weather was awful and getting worse: non-stop snow and temperatures of minus 40C. My girlfriend suggested we visit her sisters in New York for Christmas. It sounded like a good idea, but New York would be cold too and if we wanted good weather, we should head further west, right? We checked a map and counted the days. We drank a vodka martini and came up with a plan that would change our lives.
We flew to the States, spent a few nice days in the Big Apple then took a Greyhound bus into Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah. En route, the weather got warmer. I remember how I tried to talk to some Amish about that but they refused, presumably because I represent ‘modern’ and they prefer ‘traditional’, in which case, why were they on the bloody bus?
But most of all, I remember getting married, on Christmas Day, in Las Vegas, Nevada. It takes a few days to set it up online, but it’s fun and our pastor’s speech was profoundly moving. We had one guest – the lady who worked at the Little White Wedding Chapel. The walls were covered with photos of all the happy couples before us: Bruce Willis & Demi Moore, Slash and Mrs. Slash, Mr. & Mrs. Michael Jordan etc. I doubt they used Greyhound.
That’s all from me for 2012. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
[First published in Playboy by Mediafax Group, Romania, Dec 2012]