It’s lovely in Abu Dhabi at this time of the year. Every day for a month it’s like South Australia on the morning after a cool change has rolled in to break the heatwave. We have the windows open and don’t even mind the dust. I can smell the mangroves and hear the sea birds. Each sunset is perfect. The light is soft but full and it glows against the lounge room wall. Up in my room, the light is reflected in the wardrobe mirror. As a wardrobe it’s not up to much – it’s old so the rods run from front-to-back instead of side-to-side. I can’t see anything except what’s hanging in front and it’s hard to hang things in any useful order. But it’s one third of my mother’s bedroom suite along with the dressing table and washstand and I love it. The wood is glossy dark and the washstand has a marble top that still hasn’t been screwed in place since we moved it here. The mirrors have black cracks in the corners and the dressing table has two enormous scratches made by a big, stray cat that used to steal its way into our house through my mother’s bedroom window.
Sometimes when I’m waiting for the mister to come home, the lads to come back from the park, and the night-in to begin, I lie on my bed and watch the sunset in the mirror. I think that the weather and the light that we grew up with live inside us, as much a part of us as our blood and our soul. It seems strange that I live so far from the place that I grew up in, and yet, the smell of the mangroves, the breeze that blows at this time of year and the orange glow of the sunset doesn’t stir feelings and emotions so much as it settles me, grounds me. Makes me feel that this is the time and the place where I am meant to be.
Who knew that an industrial Australian town nestled between a mangrove swamp and the outback would have so much in common with an oil-filled Arabian city nestled between a mangrove swamp and a desert?
None of that is what I came in here to say. I came in here to talk about Christmas, it being Christmas Eve and all that. It’s the nostalgia I guess. It made me talk about the breeze and the sunset.
It’s up and down, isn’t it? Christmas and all that goes with it. There’s all of the deadlines which, on many days, have to be faced with half a hangover and not enough sleep. There’s braving the shops and then going back to the shops because you’ve forgotten the thing you went there for in the first place. There’s New Year looming which is just another day but still somehow forces a person to account for herself and all of the things she didn’t achieve. And then, waiting underneath it all, there’s all the people and all of the relationships and all of their complexities.
My dad loved Christmas. He had a full head of hair and a bushy beard all of which went from fiery red to snow white long before he got to middle age. He worked in high schools for most of his teaching life, but ended his career at a regional South Australian area school which meant that he was the principal for the full range of ages. On the day of his retirement one of the youngest children came and said to him, ‘You’re not really Father Christmas, are you?’
My mum, for reasons many and varied, didn’t love it at all. We left my father’s family Christmas with my dad driving at blood alcohol levels far in excess of .08, my brother and I passive smoking my parents’ Marlboro reds, and my mother singing her Christmas refrain, ‘Merry Bloody Christmas.’
Our last Christmas Day before we moved to Abu Dhabi was terrible. We all knew that it would be Dad’s last, and my grandfather – 90 at the time – slipped on the pavement and cracked his ribs, forcing me to admit that I had to take on the guardian duties he’d trusted me with and face the consequences of his age. It was a rough year.
But this one is good. The four of us – me, the mister, youngest lad and the floppy adolescent – are, individually and collectively, in a good place right now and we’ve embraced the season like never before. We somewhat spontaneously put the decorations up together one evening, youngest lad and I suspending tinsel from every door- and window-frame in the house and the Floppy Adolescent moving behind us, neatening and straightening and symmetrifying it all. In a genius flourish, the Floppy Adolescent finished it off with red baubles hung on the antler’s ears to remind us of my dad who spent every Christmas Day that I knew him with cherries hooked over his ears. The mister never got used to cherry earrings, but I still get a thrill every time I find cherries still in a pair.
I’m making Christmas desserts today and tomorrow we’re taking them around to a lovely friend who has invited us for Christmas. It’s pretty nice being invited places for Christmas and I love making desserts. The last couple of days I’ve been in my happy place, in the kitchen, testing new recipes to share with friends while I alternate my music between my Christmas playlist and Double J. Really, is there a better way to spend time?
The first time I was in charge of Christmas dessert was at the mister’s mother’s house. ‘Can I do anything to help?’ I asked, expecting to grate carrots and peel potatoes. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘Perhaps you could do this,’ and handed me a recipe for Bombe Alaska. Fark. It worked a treat, but I’m not doing it this year. I’ve probably got the ingredients for it – I think I’ve bought the ingredients for about twelve different things, plus extras because you never really know whether Spinneys is going to have cream so you have to buy extras when you see it. I’ve had a bit of trouble with my egg whites the last couple of days, and I thought I’d have masses of yolks leftover but I curdled the custard I was using as a base for the ice cream so that sorted that.
This is all a bit rambly, isn’t it? And you probably don’t have time to be reading blog posts. You’ve got ribbons to tangle, champagne to pop, tears to dry, memories to sift through. I don’t know, I started out trying to say something, but I haven’t got there. Some of my close friends are having a rough time of it at the moment, and I wanted to try and write something useful. Something that said, ‘Hang in there, it will be okay.’ But life is complex, isn’t it, and some years Christmas is fantastic and some years less so.
Well, since we’ve already popped the champagne up there in that last paragraph, let’s raise a glass and toast. To the people we love and the people who love us.
Happy Christmas, my friends.
PS Sorry for the typos, I’ve had to type in a rush and I don’t have time to go back because I have to make an uncurdled custard now. Also sorry for the quality of the photograph. I suggested getting my real camera and tripod out, but the Floppy Adolescent would only agree to a selfie taken on my phone.