Thursday, October 21

I swore I’d be home for Christmas, but it took some angry Canadians to make it happen | Christmas


Tthere is very little written here about the tyranny that children impose at Christmas. We pretend that adults are setting the tone, but they look at Santa’s sleigh and it is the children, desperate for excitement and stuff, who are in the driver’s seat.

It has always been that way in our house, with the Christmas routine established almost as soon as our two girls were able to get to their feet. The note coming up the chimney (or rather wedged into a mantel to make up for insufficient updraft), the tree dressed with communal effort and ceremony. Lights? Check. Tinsel? Check. Foil covered chocolates? Check. Manky cat? I have to have the manky stuffed cat.

It was delivered to us during our first recurring visit to the Santa Claus train attraction within the grounds of a large house in Essex. Even then the cat looked disheveled, and also, indeed, Santa Claus, who looked as if he had had a liquid lunch and had thrown himself into a fist fight. But it does not matter, the cat, once received, came for life and not for a single Christmas. Worn out, dirtier and dirtier, it occupied a prime position in the tree every year. Check.

Manky cat: the Muir family Christmas heirloom
Manky cat – the Muir family Christmas heirloom. Photograph: Provided by Hugh Muir

These things were laws, not guidelines. Any planned adjustment was not opposed, because that assumes that the intention was taken seriously, rather there was a sad shrug of the shoulders, a joint dismissal that said: ‘Poor mom, poor dad. They have gone crazy. They believe that they can change things. Let’s go see Mary Poppins again. It’s just not going to happen. “

Then came 2004, the year he did it. We have had a family tragedy, I told them, two weeks before the big day. That’s interesting, they said, looking up from the television (Mary Poppins again). I have to fly to Jamaica. OK, they said (Mary, Bert and the kids were flying over the house). Flights are hard to come by. I could be out for Christmas. Heads turned. Eyes narrowed. From the couch, two hard glances. “But you’ll be back on Christmas day, right?”

On the page that looks like a question, but it wasn’t. It was rhetorical, the pronouncement of an expectation. As if they, aged seven and nine, were saying, “This is ridiculous and we don’t approve of it, but we want you to know you have an agency, as long as you understand that there are parameters.” There was silence and I found myself saying that of course I would be coming home to London on Christmas Day. They went back to their agenda (Chim chiminey, Chim chiminey, Chim chim cher-ee!). I went looking for a last minute flight before Christmas.

In the years leading up to all of this, before the notes to Santa Claus, the grumpy cats, Mary Poppins, and the hard stares of children, I had been somewhat distracted by a Steve Martin / John Candy comedy called Planes, Trains and Automobiles. In this opposites-repel-and-meet-last-last road movie, Steve Martin is a white-collar executive who tries against all odds, with all his might and carrying the dead weight of blue. irritating necklace John Candy, to get home in time for Thanksgiving. They share mishaps, antagonistic episodes and in one stage, a single bed, all in the unbreakable and unbreakable quest to complete an unlikely mission, at the end of which there will be turkey.

I laughed at this in a selfless way, but it wasn’t until my own commitment-pressed attempt to get home, starting with the time-trial ride to the Montego Bay airport, navigating bumpy roads, dodging taxi vans that they wanted to die. and trucks hurtling like carriages at the amusement park, I understood why Steve’s blood vessels swelled like cartoon water pipes.

Hugh Muir and his sons, circa Christmas 2006
Hugh Muir and his sons, around Christmas 2006. Photograph: Provided by Hugh Muir

It wasn’t until I sat for a third hour on a plastic seat staring sadly at a flight board that showed no movement, and at a desk attendant whose facial features seemed just as stiff, that I really understood why Steve wanted nostalgia. kill. all preventing him from getting there, and John Candy.

My flight might be coming, it might not, he said. It was hard to tell. Frankly, who knows? She was quite a philosopher. And what about connecting flights, through the United States, through another island, through Uranus? No, he said impassively. Everything is full, it is Christmas. She was not John Candy. She was worse.

Steve Martin never gave up. At one point, I gave up. I wanted to be angry, at her and the situation, at the thought of failure and the disappointment it would cause, but I couldn’t fan the anger. I don’t do barrel rage, that levitating fury that stops clocks, and the airline lady, all cardboard demeanor and monotonous responses, offered no flammable material. No friction, no fire.

But I learn pretty fast. In the departure hall came a group of boisterous Canadians who had attended a wedding, were ready to fly home, and were certainly not totally averse to spending Christmas in a plastic chair in transit. They were mad, they screamed, each an article of combustible material, together, a roaring conflagration. I stood near them. Soon I was furious too.

We are a curious species. We long for answers. That night, we didn’t really get one. But through the haze of anger and tears, strange things suddenly began to happen. The inscrutable flier forgot her training, lost her game face and started screaming, but only for a short time because she was soon replaced by a smiling colleague who said she was terribly sorry and that we would like to board a flight that would take us. to Kingston? And somewhat puzzled, but seeing a flight to somewhere better than a flight to nowhere, we did.

It rose, soon descended, and when it stopped at Kingston, an official tapped me on the shoulder pointing to another much larger plane next door. A little confused, I grabbed my bag, ran down the runway, and boarded. He had traveled the world as a reporter, but changing planes that way was the first time.

In 10 minutes, we were in the air and, improbably, I was on my way home.

There were things I missed that Christmas. Playing Phil Spector’s brash and raucous Christmas CD while dressing the tree. The wrapping and labeling of gifts. The recovery of the manky cat from its box. My wife observed the law and did all of that.

But I did it. I got into hugs and smiles late on Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day was like Christmas Day always was. Chim chiminey indeed.


www.theguardian.com

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