Thursday, 24 December 2015

The Christmas Tree.

The Christmas tree stands naked and wonky in the corner of the kitchen for nearly a week. We're waiting for an evening when we’re all in together to decorate it, and that’s how long it takes. Without baubles and lights it's a sad and brooding presence. Raw and pagan, it's left neglected in the middle of our domesticity.

Finally, on day six, with a meal to be served and everyone about to gather, I find the time to untangle the fairy lights, unwrap some of the precious glass ornaments and set aside the cardboard loo roll glitter fairy the boys made when they were little. It’s strangely cathartic. How many Christmas trees have I decorated, I wonder, and how many more will there be? By the number of such rituals a whole life could be measured.

“There is only this moment,” booms Derren Brown, two days later, alone and centre stage at the Palace Theatre on the Saturday before Christmas. A clock hologram ticks ominously behind his head, then stops. 

We’re here because five months ago, when I booked the tickets, Middle One was going through a Derren Brown obsession, which he is now over. “When will it finish because I have to be at a party later?” he asks, as we’re about to set off for the show.

 “This is real, this moment, everything else is stories,” says Derren. “Stories we tell ourselves about our past, stories we tell ourselves about our future, but we can change them. We don’t have to tell ourselves we are broken or fat or useless, we alone have the power to alter those stories.”

It’s showbiz, so much flimflam, but it’s also weirdly powerful. Sitting below him in the stalls, looking up, I feel, probably like everyone else in that audience at that moment, as if he’s talking just to me.

Eldest bites into his burger as we sit outside a restaurant in Soho after the show (outside, in December!) because it’s incredibly warm. “I probably won’t come back next term because there isn’t a reading week,” he says, between mouthfuls, “so you won’t see me for three months.”

“Three months?” I say. “I can’t not see you for three months.”

He shrugs. He’s having a fantastic time at university, the time of his life, you might say, which is how it should be.

We finish the meal and head home.

“What GCSEs should I do if I want to be an animator?” ask Youngest, on the tube.

“An animator?” I say. “Wow, that sounds good, probably Media Studies for a start. Let’s look into it.” Youngest smiles, he often feels left out, overshadowed by his two much louder, taller brothers.

Back home Middle One plays his guitar at me. He does this a lot, walks round the house with the acoustic guitar round his neck and stands and plays and sings to me, full throttle. I watch his fingers move expertly across the instrument and I’m in awe. He’s good, very good, as is Eldest, they're both in bands and writing songs.

Middle One says he wants to try and make it as a musician. He’d like to go to the States. If it doesn’t work out he’ll come home and go to university.

“Good plan,” I say. “Sounds amazing.”

If it works out he might have the time of his life, I hope so, although I’d also rather like him to stay at home with me forever sitting on the sofa and watching Frasier, like we used to.

Derren Brown's show is arresting, his timing unfathomable, but he's right about one thing: we are alone in our stories and we have the power to change them. We arrive into them alone; we will leave them alone. It’s tempting to look at them and think they’re like ones in books or films, with proper beginnings and middles and ends, with a narrative arc, with reasons things happen, with everything relating to everything else, but there are really only moments, lots of moments linked together like a string of fairy lights on a tree. Some are great, some are terrible, some are warm and cosy and Christmassy with family and friends by the fireside, most are pretty dull.

We decorated the tree. Husband put the music on: Rock Around The Christmas Tree, I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day, Sleigh Ride by the Ventures, which is a family favourite, then Christmas With The Rat Pack, as we always do. 

We discovered all the old ornaments in the box, one by one: “Hey do you remember this one?” “Look at this!” “Oh, this is the best.” We placed the cardboard fairy on top as we sang the song, which is our tradition because my mother does it: “Every little girl would like to be the fairy on the Christmas tree... except we only know the first verse so it always rather lamely peters out.

We stand back and look. It’s spectacular, and for a brief while it will reign resplendent in the kitchen, the centre of attention, because this is its moment.

Merry Christmas.

Love E x


P.S. Shortly after I wrote this the Christmas tree fell over. Husband said he’d get some rocks from the garden and stand the tree in a bucket of them. I said that would be using a hammer to crack a nut. We stood it back up and it was a bit wobbly for a while, then appeared to steady itself. Now it’s out by the bins.

“Elizabeth was excessively disappointed… But it was her business to be satisfied – and certainly her temper to be happy; and all was soon right again.” Guess the book. Amazing how a bit of reading can lift the spirits.

And by the way, those rare bright moments, like fairy lights on a tree, are what make life worth living. Here's me having one with my dad...

With my lovely father, 23.12.15. He's grown a beard and now looks even more like my grandfather.

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