In the last View from the Blue for 2019 – which was split into two parts (both reproduced here), Darren talks about what makes Christmas so special – to him at least.
Christmas night out
I don’t know if I’m the same as others – or completely different – but my favourite part of the Christmas night out – and possibly Christmas full stop – is the lead up to it. Wherever you’re working – whether it’s an office, shop or factory, there’s a little buzz about the place on the day of the Christmas Party. The women head off a bit early to get their hair and nails done, while the men go out in clothes not too dissimilar to what they wear on a daily basis (unless that is, their day job is a painter or some such). Every Christmas Party will have a lot of common elements: bitching – along the lines of “I bet so-and-so won’t even come out”, “I bet so-and-so will be messy later”, and the controversial “I bet X will end up going home with Y later”. The quiet one will usually become the loud one by midnight, someone will invariably tell someone else what they really think of them, and there will always, without fail, be a moment, at approximately 1:30am, when a man and a woman will get into a conversation in the corner of some night club about how they really respect each other’s work and how they always thought that there was some kind of mutual disliking going on (there is), but with a load of Jagger bombs in each other, they are now the best of friends. Disclaimer: none of this happens at the Waterford News & Star Christmas Party – we all act in a manner befitting of a well-respected media organisation.
Christmas shopping is stressful, there’s no doubt about that. The moment you walk into Tesco Ardkeen and see about 200 check-out staff, all staring at long queues, is usually a moment where you question your life choices. Why didn’t I do my Christmas shopping in September? Why didn’t I get the three boxes of chocolates for a tenner in the Hyper when they were going? Why did I do the right thing by buying boxes of sweets in October but eat them in November?
This is the shop where literally all of Tesco’s Christmases come at once. Boxes of crisps, gallons of coke, slabs of beer and bags and bags of “party food”, which realistically speaking, nobody is actually going to eat. I don’t think this type of food was around back in the 80s and 90s.
Spring rolls, chicken wings and vol-au-vents are rarely items of food that one should be making at home, and never reach the taste levels of the local Chinese or your cousin’s wedding. Getting things “just in case” and adding an unnecessary €50 to your shopping bill is a fool’s errand. Don’t be fooled this year. Don’t buy sweets, crisps and drinks just in case visitors call, you’ll only end up eating it yourself, fatty.
I’m going to make a controversial statement here, Christmas goes downhill rapidly after Christmas Eve. There’s something about all the shops closing, the streets emptying at Winterval packing away that puts a hell of a lot of pressure on Christmastime itself that it’s rarely able to live up to. Sure, if you have young children and a relatively happy family, Christmas morning is a joy, but then you have to go to meet relations that you’re still on the fence about, even after a few decades. Most of these people, whom you are tied to by blood only, have nothing in common with you whatsoever, and are usually all Liverpool fans.
Christmas Eve is great because you have all of this anticipation going on – even though we all secretly know that there’s a massive anti-climax around the corner. We get the last few bits of shopping in the morning – unless you’re a man like me and get 80% of your shopping – and then it’s off to the pub or someone’s house to drink and try your best to be merry. If you go to someone else’s house there’ll always be a gadget man who will impress the older guests with the app that allows him to play music in every room in the house and that fire that you see in the corner? It’s actually an app on the television – not a real fire at all. I understand that this is all fairly random but hopefully some of you will relate.
Last year, I bought my Turkey from Comeragh Mountain Poultry and it was simply the nicest bit of animal that I’ve ever tasted. I’ll be doing the same this year, except a few more people have asked me to put in orders too. It’s a little bit more expensive than you’d probably be used to paying but Sweet Baby Jesus in the Manger, it’s the tastiest turkey you’re ever going to experience. The skin and fat alone are enough to make me dizzy just writing about it.
Those who know me relatively well will know of my penchant for games – the board or parlour variety. For many families around Waterford, Christmas night is the only time of the year when they’ll indulge in such festive frivolities. I think that’s a bit sad, but I won’t get into that now. For some families it might just be a game of cards, which leads me to think about some of my favourite Christmases as a child. We’d go up to my Uncle Maurice’s house in Lismore Park, my family, my mother’s sister’s family and my Nanny and her sister Kitty. It was a fairly typical presentation – game of cards in the sitting room around the sofa, couch and chairs brought in from the kitchen. Maurice’s wife Ann would cook up some nibbles in the kitchen while the pet dog would smuggle attention from wherever he could find it. The games were about as far from poker as you could get it. 31s, Gin Rummy and something called Gong. I’ve never met another human being on the planet who has played this game so I’m sure it must be some kind of Scanlon (mother’s maiden name) family tradition. It’s so simple, but still manages to cause serious fights. Everyone has three lives and is dealt five cards. You take turns playing a card in the centre – so let’s say, a Jack. If the next person also has a Jack, they can put it down and the first player loses a life. If the next player also has a Jack, then the second player will lose two lives. If the next player, inconceivably, also has one…well you get the point (the third player will lose three lives). I think there may have been a rule whereby if four of the same cards are played in a row, the person who played the last card automatically wins the game.
It was madness, but did lead to a lot of humorous interludes when the player up next would pretend that they were about to ‘Gong’ someone by saying, “Darren, I know you’re my son and everything, and I’m sorry to have to do this…” and me, sitting there with one life left, about to throw in the towel and she’d throw down an innocuous ‘ten’ and everyone would laugh. Of course that laughter would turn to uproarious belly laughter when the next person would slap down a ‘ten’ and knock out my poor cocky mother! That was quite a long story… and you probably needed to have been there… but anyway.
Board games are also fantastic and in recent years there have been some really superb, and also really rude games such as Cards against Humanity, which never fail to bring the house down (however, if you’re easily offended, or if someone in your family is, I’d avoid it like the plague). In the last few years, games like Pie-Face and some other – extremely unhygienic one – that involved putting what was essentially a plastic mouth guard in your gob and trying to make other players understand the saliva soaked gibberish that was coming out of your mouth. I think that game was singlehandedly to blame for the outbreak of flu in Waterford last Christmas…
Receiving presents is great, but there’s no feeling in the world like giving a present that you know someone is going to love. For a while there, I became known as quite a good present-giver, which has a couple of drawbacks. Firstly, people become petrified of buying you a present as they feel that they are inevitably going to be upstaged. This will always be the case if they have purchased a gift voucher. I know a lot of people love these things, and to be fair, they can be very handy for the post-Christmas sales, but come on, they kind of betray you with the fact that you didn’t put a huge amount of thought into this year’s present. Secondly, it’s not something you can realistically keep up every year.
Sometimes, instead of trying to think of the perfect present for someone, I’ll get them something that they would never dream of buying for themselves but would secretly quite enjoy. I’ve recently enjoyed giving the gift of Alexa (Amazon Echo) who I find to be great fun but very few people in my family could justify paying for. “Alexa, remind me to buy toothpaste tomorrow,” “Alexa, play some Christmas music”. This was something I thought would be great for my Dad but poor Alexa struggled to understand him at first because he was simply too polite. “Hi Alexa, could you please put on WLRfm, please”. “I do not understand you,” Alexa would reply forlornly. I told him that he had to demand things of her, which of course was not his style. “ALEXA – TURN ON WLRFM”, I told him he’d have to shout. I’m actually not sure if he’s ever got the hang of it but I do hear the radio on in the kitchen when I visit so there is hope.
My mother spent a lifetime going above and beyond for our Christmas presents and I think she’s finally starting to run out of steam… or so I interpreted from a recent message she sent me “TELL ME WHAT THE HELL YOU WANT OR YOU’RE GETTING SOCKS”. I don’t think she’s ever put a foot wrong in the past when it comes to prese… actually, there was one time. I remember one Christmas morning I woke up to a book about Phil Babb and Jason McAteer – two Liverpool players that this Man Utd fan hated with a passion. It was a strange choice but I ended up reading it and actually liking. After all, it was about Babb and McAteer so there weren’t that many words in it and what ones there were, were quite large. Still, my last word on presents would be to think outside the box with people. Remember that generally speaking, people love getting anything for free.
Anyway, whatever you give and get this Christmas, I hope you’ll all be healthy and happy.
Talk to you in 2020.