Thursday, December 29, 2005

And so that was Christmas...

… and what have I done?

Well, much the same as most times, I suppose. With the odd little tweak and twist here and there to mark the passing of the years. Which is how I like it. Times change, but much still stays the comforting same, the ghost of Christmas past keeping a light touch on his Christmas present colleague, thanks to age-old family rituals.
For example: ever since I was a baby, we have been going to Finchley Memorial Hospital first thing on Christmas Day morning to sing carols to the patients, with the ‘Friends’ of the hospital. My mum and dad actually started doing this the first Christmas they were in London, which was seven months before I was born, so this year was their 30th visit. As a kid, with much shorter legs than now, I remember feeling the tour of the wards and corridors lasted FOR EVER. But now it seems over almost before it’s even begun, finding ourselves strolling into the canteen at the end of the journey, for mince pies and cans of Fanta, at an alarmingly early moment. Comparatively so, anyway. ‘What, no more wards?’
Of course, this no doubt has much to do with my longer legs and sturdier sense of patience these days – and greater enjoyment, especially as I now take my guitar along to accompany the straggling carollers, to bolster my dad’s playing – my youngest brother Christy also joined the musicians this time, eyebrow-furrowedly peering at each change of chord grasped at by myself.
Also, the hospital is sadly shrinking. The Father Christmas leading our way this time explained this would be our last visit to the Dickens rehabilitation wards, which are due to close this year – apparently because they are just too dilapidated to renovate properly, though shutting them entirely instead appears a rather offhand option.
For all the beauty and joy of the Christmas anthems, and the bright beams of momentary appreciation on the odd patient’s face, it does also feel a little demoralising touring the hospital – full of ancient, incapacitated skeletons, most in what seem to be catatonic trances and fated only to have us few strangers as Christmas Day visitors. The staff are always unfailingly cheery, despite their own arduous Christmas responsibilities, but I can never come away, an hour or so later, without feeling both downbeat, and relieved to be so much happier off at this time of year.
Our Santa guide also thanked the dozen or so of us there for continuing to come along – apparently now the only hospital in the area where people visit on Christmas morning to sing and hand out gifts. Another sad sign.
At least this time there seemed to be more family visitors accompanying some of the patients than usual – in fact, it was the first year in ages I can recall struggling to find enough spaces in the unusually-packed car park.
Until next year, then, when it seems even fewer patients will be there…
To be honest, the rest of the day then becomes a ‘shut-the-door-on-the-world’ type of insular affair. We had entertained a steady stream of visitors on the Christmas Eve, which had been predictably hectic before, during and after, before the annual ritual of reading a page each – in alphabetical order – of a Nativity story pop-up book my parents bought for me as a baby. And the equally-repetitive ritual of laughing at how I had broken every pop-up feature in the book through overuse. Then the hanging-up of stockings – including an additional, frankly-gargantuan new one for Lyndon’s new wife Jessie – then off to Midnight Mass.
Christmas Day followed similar alphabetical patterns – the order in which we would take turns to open a present, the line in which we queued to enter the front room for Christmas evening tea. But I wouldn’t have it any other way… The usual patterns were covered overall – the pre-lunch walk with newly-shorn dog Frannie (wearing one of Christy’s old woolly jumpers for effect); the singing down the phone to relatives in the Midlands.
And yet with some new features. The excitement and novelty of Jessie’s first Christmas here. Next brother down, Noel, and his girlfriend Vicky becoming engaged, sealed with his present to her of a ring (she got him a PSP…) And instead of someone hauling out old videos of us brothers as kids, we instead watched a beautifully-put-together DVD of Lyndon and Jessie’s recent wedding. Then the Coronation Street Christmas special (old habits, etc etc etc…)
Boxing Day was similarly laidback, though I did get out of the house for longer, for the important ritual of Spurs v Birmingham. If the performance was pretty woeful, luckily the result went our way – 2-0, though with hefty thanks to two ‘penalty’ decisions going our way: one, when Robbie Keane went down and won a penalty, the second at the other end when Muzzy Izzet’s fall earned not a spot-kick but a second yellow card for diving. At the match, I suspected neither should have been a penalty. Watching the TV highlights, I decided both probably should have been, but ah well – as the Mirror report suggested, perhaps we really were finally showing our top-four credentials by winning games without playing well: Though I also thought, maybe we were also showing we were top four by actually getting refereeing decisions going for us instead of us being the undeserving victims – three home matches in a row with penalties our way, unheard-of! I can’t remember the last time we won three penalties in a season, at least not since the 1993-94 season, when we managed to miss three in four days against Chelsea and Aston Villa…
But anyway… Spurs then went and put a ‘bah humbug’ dampener on the week by losing 2-0 at West Brom last night – I suppose our below-par performances were bound to end in a deserved defeat eventually.

Hopefully onwards and upwards from here…

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