There’s a thing that happens around the time my face becomes routinely obscured by a rediscovered scarf from the back of the wardrobe; when the cold streets suddenly fill with little woolly spheres which I presume are the small children I saw the day previous, now frenzily bundled by their parents, more weeble than human; when other parents make bad decisions with respect to buying a little red hooded coat for their spawn, thus bringing back screaming memories of Donald Sutherland’s naked bottom for everyone within twenty feet. But lest the point of this paragraph floats away like a post-it unhinged, let me scrabble on the floor for it in my mittens. There’s a thing that happens: I get some emails.
It’ll generally be November when they arrive so they’re not yet Christmas wishes, instead they are missives from a few people who like to remind me of the things I left behind half a decade ago, and what I like best about them is that they’re probably dashed off by people in their underpants. Here’s an example from one Mick Evans, whose descriptions are no less graphic or eloquent in real life. In the tropical underside of the world, these are the things that come out of people’s mouths over polite tea and scones:
“Just thought you should know that today was the first genuine day of the Queensland summer in all its moist glory. That’s right, hot as hell, sticky as molasses, time for spots and pimples and rashes around your rude bits. Hope you’re freezing your tits off. Much love, Mick.”
Shops in Australia get Christmassy in a way that only appears absurd and surreal when you’re far away. If it’s your first one in England it will probably occur to you as you walk down Oxford Street at 2am, colder than you’ve ever imagined, despite being wrapped up like an Edward Gorey character. The Christmas lights are on. You’ll notice the spraycan snow nestled fakely in the corners of windows. You’ll think about Christmas back home and you’ll realise: it doesn’t make any fucking sense.
Christmas and its lead-up are some of the hottest days of the year – usually the high 30s, or, for the Americans, I mean about a hundred I think (I did a Google and you’re welcome) – and yet despite the soupy heat that causes your beshorted bottom to become glued to leather couches, your naked sweaty feet to slip on polished wooden floors, your will to live or even change the channel on the TV visibly ebb from your body along with the buckets of sweat dripping from your shiny red face: despite all this, they still spraycan snow on the windows. They still pay a middle-aged man to wear a big red fat suit and sit on a red velvet throne in a sea of white packing foam while children try to yank off his beard. Sitting on Santa’s knee was always a moist affair. As he peered down at you, occasionally wiping the sweat from his brow with his furry white cuff, you’d forget what you wanted for Christmas and you’d just want to say: Santa, your lap is sweaty. I can feel it through my culottes.
Look through the childhood album of any Australian and you will see a photo of a sweaty older man of no relation bouncing a traumatised under-5 on his overheated knee.
One year the council thought it would be a brilliant idea to set up a Winter Wonderland in the centre of town so that finally, finally, films like Home Alone: Lost in New York would make sense to the inhabitants of a land where there is no such thing as a “Christmas jumper”. But like the Game Joy one might receive in lieu of the Gameboy one had listed quite clearly on the Christmas list, it just wasn’t right. It was worse. It was like some sadist’s reconstruction of a thing they had never actually seen but merely had described to them. And so I and a dozen other kids who had never seen snow were pushed over the edge of a “mountain” (ledge) on our “toboggans” (large buckets) and sent careening down a slope that was not made of snow but slick ice, the kind of hard unyielding diamond-hard ice that insane Swedish people might construct a hotel out of. And should we make it all the way to the bottom without capsizing our “toboggans” (again, large buckets), we would smash our faces into a wall of upturned plastic-coated mattresses and have ourselves a Christmas nosebleed.
On Christmas Day you have two options, food-wise, being either a BBQ, or what most families (certainly mine) opt for: the traditional roast. With sweltering heat outside in lieu of postcard snow, everyone gathers to have a totally inappropriate meal based on half handed-down, half made-up conceptions of what a “proper Christmas meal” is. There’ll be a turkey and potatoes, etc, though you’ll probably never come into contact with an actual brussel sprout because these are things that exist solely in books and films so that children have something to hate, universally. It’s prepared by one near-dead mum having eschewed offers of help, and is such a complicated procedure that it’s bound to end up late and half-cold while everyone gets drunk and stroppy in the amplified heat. Once stuffed with seasonally-demented turkey and steadily soaking up tryptophan, most everyone will fall asleep on a sofa in a crumpled paper hat, with odd rivulets of sweat forming in their inner thighs. On Boxing Day someone will wail that we all forgot to eat the store-bought Christmas pudding, into which 5-cent pieces had been clumsily poked because no one knows how to bake thrupenny bits into a from-scratch pud.
One year, apropos of nothing, someone might insist that in addition to the roast turkey and all the vegetables and whatnot, that another roast creature, that a leg of ham is likewise essential, in order to supply a cold slice to sit alongside the aforementioned on the dinner plate. Reports from the frontline of one such incident suggest that “The fucker would still, wrapped in incrementally-growing-stickier muslin, be taking up a third of the downstairs fridge in late March.”
The other option is the Christmas barbeque, so here comes another list of stuff that you put in your face: instead of turkey you get sausages or prawns, and instead of warm Christmas pudding you get, well, warm Christmas pudding that you eat in your wet swimming costume (or “togs”) having just got a stitch and nearly died in the pool after neglecting to wait the suggested half hour after eating. And with all of the above you have beer, which is steadily warming in the sun despite a thing called a “stubby holder”.
On Boxing Day the post-Christmas sales work the same as anywhere, but there is the added draw of air-conditioning. Those who don’t have it in their own homes and are bored of driving around aimlessly in their air-conditioned cars flock to the Westfield shopping centre for a hospitable climate just as much as discounted TVs. But all those hot people standing around exuding bodyheat cause the machines to splutter and heave and inevitably pack it in entirely, and Westfield becomes an oven. We all abort the TV mission and get back in our air-conditioned cars. We drive around for an afternoon shouting at each other as those riding shotgun block the cool air vent with the expanse of their moist, pink face, before going home, shifting the dog out of the way and curling ourselves around the cool of the toilet bowl, panting.