Brenda’s Unfortunate Record Of The Week #13


I was gonna refrain bringing up ‘the season’ til next week, but seems there’s no avoiding it – the festivities are most definitely upon us. My street is lined with glowing windows. It seems every year the trees get posher. Is it a really middle class thing to leave your curtains open? Dunno if my neighbours are purposely flouting their taste or if, like me, they find drawn blinds claustrophobic and a source of anxiety. Only our front room isn’t much to boast about. Behind the overgrown shrubs, you catch glimpse of the chaotic mantle-piece, piled high with CDs, books and strange, dusty objects. You also see the cheap Argos printer, perched atop a speaker the cats have torn the front off. There’s no fairy lights or ornament-adorned evergreen. I like to think (knock on wood) burglars would go elsewhere, although I always leave the lights on just in case. 

Christmas in London is funny when you’re not from here. What with no family to retreat to and little interest in the season, it can get a bit dull. I know we’ll be in town this year, but aside from an exciting Christmas Eve invite, not too sure what we’ll get up to. Having spent many December 25th’s in airports, arriving home late just in time to nurse a cup a soup whilst sitting on the counter, skyping my dad in Montreal, I’m sure it will be a day just like any other. In saying that, they’re not always mundane. 

In my early 20s I went to visit my sister in Taiwan. She was teaching English in Taipei and it was my first visit to Asia. From the moment I touched down I experienced the total ‘Lost In Translation’ / where the fuck am I, thrill. We got a coach from the airport into town. The seats were incredibly comfortable and spacious, the décor a kind of turquoise 60s bliss and the double decker was kitted out with little doily curtains. It felt more like some Jetsons spaceship than a bus. Francoise (my sis) was living in a super cool, first floor flat, with large outdoor spaces & surrounded by exotic trees. From the animated hum of the neighbourhood to the unfamiliar birdsong & scents wafting up from the street below, everything seemed new and exciting. The room I was staying in had sliding paper doors which felt sooo Oriental. I loved it. 

We got up to all sorts of fun stuff. I remember staring down at the carp in Chiang Kai-shek memorial gardens and suddenly getting why folk would have fish for pets. You fed them pellets and their little personalities shone through. We visited strange mining towns where kids laughed at my nose, stayed in a monastery in a marble gorge, took the bus far out of the city to check out an abandoned resort that never was (one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen. There was a whole ‘Planet Of The Apes’ vibe, full of giant chimp statues which had been knocked over by the elements and the buildings were shaped like flying saucers. Unfortunately I can’t find the photos and don’t think it’s there anymore. This imagery is c/o Mr Google). We nearly booked ourselves a cheap flight to Thailand for Crimbo itself, but at the last minute decided to stay put. This would prove a lucky escape. It was 2004 and our thwarted plans would’ve taken us into the heart of the Asian Tsunami. 

As it was, my sister arranged a last-minute post-hot-pot Christmas do round hers with some ex-pat friends. We were all young and living on budgets, so a present exchange was arranged. Everyone bought one bit of loot which would be distributed at random. There was some sort of game where you could try to swap if you didn’t like what you’d received. 

I may’ve felt grown-up at the time but looking back now, realise I was still a total child. Gifts were serious business and I wasn’t gonna settle for anything under par. The details are vague but when it came my turn to tear open the wrapping, it couldn’t have been worse… Someone had lumbered me with a box of Ferrero Rocher and a copy of the Da Vinci Code. WTF?! My wee heart sank. How the hell was I gonna flog this shite? I remember looking at my sister in desperation – who were these folk she’d brought round? We were in the land of crazy cool and I couldn’t think of two duller objects. As the game went on, more parcels were opened. Again, my memory fails me but there was one I coveted more than any. It was a sheep-skin cushion, shaped like a wonky sheep. Boy did I ever want it but could tell from the look of the receiver she was not keen to traffic for my crappy wares. The game was convoluted. I persisted. I’m sure alcohol was involved and I’m sure I made it clear what I was after. I think in the end Francoise came to the rescue, managing to swap her present for the wool which she subsequently exchanged with me. What a gal. I brought that cushion home and held onto it for years. It might still be packed away in a cupboard. 

These days I tend to think back of the whole incident as less victorious, more shameful. The little spoilt Christmas brat, snubbing unimaginative chocolates and run of the mill literature. I’d like to think I’d be a bit more grown up about it now, but you never know. Away and after, yule does funny things to the noggin. 


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