Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jingle Bells...

As Christmas draws near, being a Soutie becomes harder than ever. Harder in what way? Well, it's difficult to hear the sad longing in your mother's sigh which screams with her ache to spend her grand-daughter's first Christmas with. It is unbearable to face the guilt that it is ME who is robbing her of this. It is also hard to be a tiny little South African family, celebrating alone amidst the Christmassy chaos of huge English families - where Christmas seems to go on and on and on and on... and on... Christmas is so very different here that it doesn't feel so much exotic as alien. Having grown up on songs and imagery of the iconographic white Christmas, I still hunger for my hot, sweaty Christmas where we swim to cool off and sommer stick the turkey on the braai. (Saying that, I must admit that as the softest flurry of snow swirled outside our lounge window, I did think it was beautiful and special. Especially as the log fire burning in the fireplace glowed lovingly just for us.)
Another way in which I find Christmas here hard to bear, is the whole Christmas card thing! It is a national hobby here, where everyone competes for the supposedly covetable prizes - namely, "I Got The Most Cards" and "I Sent The Most Cards". I see my friends' FB status updates about how many cards they've managed to write out, despite suffering from various viruses etc etc etc - and here I am, the disorganised new South African mum who hasn't even managed to THINK about shopping for Christmas cards, let alone actually managing to buy them! At one point I had the idea of doing the charitable thing and sending online cards - i.e. save trees, save clutter, save time and save the world's famine/homelessness/etc in one happy swoop! But, alas, I haven't been back to the site to actually do it - but I have a few days, I suppose. (It's a wee bit of a cop-out from my usual way of doing things - but heck: being able to get to the post-office in this s*%$#y weather and about 300 other excuses would be a success I am not sure I'm very capable of achieving these days! Last year, it was because I was heavily pregnant. Hang on a minute - I did manage to send postcards to South Africa last year! Ok. So we can blame it on Layla then!)
Layla's first Christmas is going to a complicated affair, but one which will never be forgotten! To keep it as concise as possible for you (and for me!), here are our arrangements in point form:
21st Dec: Craig gets paid and we'll put our heads down, hold our noses closed and plunge into the claustrophic depths of Kettering's white-trashness to hunt for affordable gifts for our guests.
22nd Dec: Get the house ready for the onslaught of friends and family (what was that I said earlier about our little lonely Christmas?! lol)
23rd Dec: Welcome Ricky and Emma who'll be arriving in their Spaceship (a converted Toyota camper van) as well as Gary (Craig's boet who lives near Reading.)Craig and Gary will probably do a massive food shop (good luck to them!) at Sainsbury's.
24th Dec: eating, drinking, sleeping, talking - what else can you do here?! (Celebrate my mom and dad's wedding anniversary, and also relish my inexhaustible collection of memories where we celebrated Christmas Eve as a family because of our Norwegian roots: swimming all day, into out pyjamas, singing carols, waiting to hear the reindeers' bells approaching from the golf course, looking out the window to see if we could spot Father Christmas who would invariably interrogate us about having been good all year long (or not!) and checking to see how tidy our bedrooms were, before sitting down in the family room with his big black bin-bag spilling over with the gorgeousness of Christmas! All the kisses that would be bestowed on the givers, and that magical feeling of waking up the next morning, knowing you had all this new stuff! (Sjoe - this is when I wish I had access to the amazing photo-albums my mom has created for us over the years -- I know EXACTLY which photograph I would scan and stick up here: the photo of me with my twin sisters, 8 and 7 years' old respectively, neatly pyjamaed up, my hair in a just-brushed plait - our skins burnished with the summer gold of swimming and playing outside every single day of the holiday. Our eyes are actually glittering with the overwhelming excitement of anticipation - over our sung carols, we are straining to hear the gentle jingling of bells... and the soft plodding of my father's black rubber gardening boots on the brick paving outside. Realising my dad was Father Christmas at six years' old actually did nothing to diminish the perfection that was Christmas. Thank you, Mommy and Daddy! WOW! What a lucky girl I was - and am!) From next year, I am hoping my dear old Pops will dress up again - but this time, for another little girl he adores! Oops - sidetracked. What's new?!
25th Dec: An Antipodean-style Christmas with our Aussie pals, minus the swimming and braai/BBQ. i.e. lots of alcohol and meat!!!
26th Dec: Gary and Craig will drive to Heathrow to pick up their youngest brother, David, who is going to brave the UK to teach for a few years. And then Christmas all over again: with the addition of David, Dinee, Gareth (their aunt and uncle) and two cousins (teenage boys who eat mountainously huge portions). So: more booze and more meat.
27th: say adios to Ricky and Emma, and go to the most bizarre but lovely couple for drinks: I met her while singing in our village choir: a bit deaf, talks louder than me (!), and with teeth as crooked as her sense of humour. Her skinny-ness and spiky, thinning, dyed-red hair contrasts so blaringly with her husband's soft roly-poly quiet well-spokenness (a barrister), that it binds them together in a kind of perfection so touted by that cliche of 'opposites attract'!
New Years? Fireworks (if you can't beat them, join them!!) and something random in the cuisine department: Mexican maybe, with Tamara and Dave: South African friends we made here!
I hope your Christmas will be delicious and divine!
PS. We met Ricky and Emma the day after our wedding in Addo - and spent the night happily cementing a friendship which feels like we have been friends forever! Here they are with Layla the day we met them:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rainbow Nation

Layla's asleep, and I'm about to try and get as much done on my A2 watercolour of a rainbow trout - a surprise gift for my darling landlord's 60th birthday. Who knows how long Layla will sleep for - but hopefully long enough for me to lay down the basics in pencil!