(Image from Australasian Post, June 29, 1972. Photographer unknown)
No one can quite do bleak like the Scottish. I find this seasonal little song by Malcolm Middleton (ex-bedsit miserabilists, Arab Strap) so bleak that it cheers me up. He must have been well-pleased when he came up with the 'season greeting' pun, 'greeting' being a Scottish word for crying.
I have been a Christmas Orphan of sorts for years, my whole family having stealthily fled interstate over the years. I am still resisting the urge to take that personally. I looked around one day, and suddenly no one was there but me, bleating in my bedraggled Christmas Crown. I have, therefore, long depended on the kindness of strangers at this time of year. The one time I really felt it most keenly, was the Christmas of 1994 which I spent in Edinburgh.
I thought I would remember the minutest detail of that Christmas for ever, because it was the only one I spent outside Australia. I am, however, struggling to remember the details of what we ate, or wore, or drank. I do know that I spent it with a lovely Glaswegian girl called Carol with whom I worked at a cafe. She was quite a person - amusing, tough, and unfailingly elegant in her crisp white shirts, pearls and platinum blonde movie star hair. She was cool. Cool as in 'unflappable'. There was always a bit more distance between us than my oversharing self was used to, but that was fine. She had been through a lot for a girl in her 20s, and she could be politely wary. Or maybe she thought I was a sheltered, oversensitive Australian drip, but had no one else to spend Christmas with. Anyway, we survived Christmas together. What I remember is the fact that everyone else seemed to have left town for Christmas, her apartment block was so empty, quiet, and the streets seemed to be deserted. I cannot remember if her sister put in a cameo appearance, or was there for the whole time, or not at all. We joked about how sad were were buying our turkey roll from the supermarket. We had to make a special trip on a bus to find that turkey. We ate stale food pilfered from the cafe, I am sure of that, because we both had not much money. The walls of her apartment were a warm deep red, which makes sense in that climate. I crashed on the couch and as I staggered homewards the next day it snowed for the one and only time I remember of that freakishly mild winter. I was so excited that I began touching cars just because they had snow on them. I look back on that morning as one of the last days of wonder. I felt like I was alone in the world, but that was not such a bad thing. I did feel kind of free or something.
Things got pretty darn conventional after that.
Last year I got knives for Christmas Stayed at home and no one missed us Lying on the bathroom floor I don’t want to ho-ho-ho no more No one knows that I’m not well As I stare in awe at this burst Noel Lights burning from the street in I know I’ll spend this season greeting When good King Wenceslas looked out Everything was fucked and I was just about To carve the turkey and watch Eastenders Because they’re my friends and my friends are strangers now
Last year I got knives for Christmas
Stayed at home and no one missed us
Lying on the bathroom floor
I don’t want to ho-ho-ho no more
No one knows that I’m not well
As I stare in awe at this burst Noel
Lights burning from the street in
I know I’ll spend this season greeting
When good King Wenceslas looked out
Everything was fucked and I was just about
To carve the turkey and watch Eastenders
Because they’re my friends and my friends are strangers now