What’s been your most memorable Christmas? Do you prefer the traditional cold winter festival or get away to sunny climes to escape the hype?
As I’m sat here in the sun and everyone goes about their regular business I’ve been thinking back to the different Christmas’s I’ve experienced, where I’ve been away from the family home. My folks can’t imagine a Christmas out of UK, but I l quite enjoy seeing the different contrasts and would ideally alternate the traditional at home with one away.
In 1993 I was eking out a living in Sydney Australia, messing about with copper pipes in an air conditioning factory in a western suburb. It was my first Christmas in the sun and it felt wrong to see Santa Claus yo ho ho’ing on the beach. On Christmas DayI headed off with all the other Brits to Bondi Beach, where I was delighted to see that people had set up living rooms with lamp shades and Christmas trees on the beach. After surfing, we ate barbecued turkey and quaffed VB.
Two years later I was snowed into a remote b&b on the Isle of Skye with my Italian girlfriend. There’re worse scenario’s for an enforced incarceration, I’m sure. We hiked the Cuilin, snuggled up by the fire and ate fresh scollops that our host had dived for. Sadly, my car reappeared from the snow drift and the roads became passable in time for me to get back to work in St Andrews and then a memorable New Year in Edinburgh to watch Gary Glitter and Big Country performing on Princes Street.
I’ve previously written about my worst Christmas, which was 1997 in Hanoi here…
For the millennium, I attempted to get down to a remote Vietnamese island on the south coast, way below Ho Chi Minh and the Mekong delta. After a speaking engagement at an agricultural conference in Can Tho, I spent hours on local buses crossing the salty lowlands of the southern delta, a couple of days in Rach Gia which only really warranted a few minutes and eventually gave up – the sea was too rough and the only option was to travel with pirates; an option I declined. After returning to Saigon, I grabbed a cheap flight and flew to Bangkok. I have hazy memories of Christmas lunch in an Irish theme pub and then catching up with an American mate, Alex, in a country and western bar – slightly surreal in the heart of Bangkok. Alex mysteriously died a few months later after a night out in Hanoi.
I was back in Hanoi for the millennium new year, boogieing in Apocalypse Now night club – a dive where the DJ spun discs in a B52 cockpit, all the ceiling fans had helicopters painted around them, 90% of the women were pro’s and an odd mural of Marlon Brando surveyed the entire scene. I miss that place.
In 2000, I hopped, skipped and jumped down to Perth which was only a few hours from Hanoi. Perth is famously closer to Singapore than Sydney. We stayed with my ex-wife’s friends, the male half of which was a chef and provided the perfect Christmas dinner. We followed it up with an eski of cold beers on the beach where someone had been mauled by a great white shark a week or two earlier. Happy days.
I’d spent November and December of 2001 hiking around “the Pearl of Africa” which still ranks as one of my favourite country in Africa. After trekking with gorillas I went down to Lake Bunyoni and canoed in a dug out wooden canoe to an island with a chap called Moses. And there I spent my Christmas with a bunch of seventh day adventists, which was nice. I don’t know what it was about Uganda, but everywhere I went, I met fundamentalist missionaries. Whilst hiking to see chimpanzees, with a guide called “Bless-you”, I was accompanied by mormons who explained that not only they didn’t drink alcohol, but also tea or coffee. As one explained his creationist theories, I mused on the irony that they termed the chimps “dumb apes” whilst I was viewing them as man’s closest relatives.
Last year didn’t go to plan. Not surprising, seeings that there was no plan. I peaked a little early, giving lots of gifts to Khady and Gulliver at the beginning of December after a trip to England. There ain’t much to buy in Abene, apart from some tourist souvenirs. But then again, Khady has never really known or celebrated Christmas, and Gulliver was only 8 months – happier with a twig than his toys. I think I got away with it.
On Christmas eve, Khady was informed that the 25th was the three month ceremony following her fathers death. It was imperative she went to her village and thus, for the first time since ’97, I spent Christmas (mostly) alone.
Then Khady and Gulliver left for the village, so I grabbed some chicken and chips – the closest I could get to a turkey roast, hit the beach for a swim, chatted with an English friend Hawa and her husband Sanna, and then sat back at home alone as the sun set with a tube of pringles (ketchup flavour – I believe I had sour cream and chives in 97) and a pretty cruddy bottle of red. The late Scrappy was laying at my feet. The crickets sang their hearts out and the stars had to be seen to be believed.
This year is better. We’ve decorated our straw roofed gazebo and organised a chicken roast dinner with English friends. I’ve found some toys for Gulliver and a little something for Khady’s first ever Christmas present. Then we have guests arriving for Abene Festivalo that kicks off on Boxing day.
Happy Christmas everyone!