Mum’s popped up again. I don’t write about her much, in the same way that I don’t talk about my breakfasts or my shoe size, but she appears now and then as I may have mentioned briefly before. Like I said, it’s never in a haunting way – she’s not in the wardrobe or sitting next to me on the bus. In a weird reflection of the real-life Mum, our meetings are ad-hoc and surprisingly intense. Last month, having not swung by for ages, she was suddenly filtering down through my self-tour headphones at the Changi War Museum, making me sit on a bench to catch my breath with the immediacy of her arrival. As emotional as that museum was, I’m not sure the sudden sensation of her presence (or memory of her, whatever you want to call it) was entirely down to the harrowing prisoner stories and sad sepia photos. I reckon it was because of the beautiful hymns being sung into my ears – although she was by no means madly religious, Mum loved a hymn or two, and that’s for sure what caused her to pop up then. Well, she’s back again, and this time I blame the carols – and the baubles.
Mum had an interesting approach to Christmas. With her it began in August, and an out-of-the-cornflower-blue-sky email to each family member asking where we thought we might be many miles ahead, on Dec 25. We would then all be required to engage in a series of slightly bad-tempered messages until we ended up in Cornwall, or London, or wherever, and then there’d be nothing, nothing at all, in fact if you mentioned it again she’d sound harassed.
As with most people it would be about now, mid to late November, that my sister and I would begin to email each other again about the festivities. We would share lists, float ideas, place Amazon orders, email the folks and the cousins and get the whole thing going. With carols in the shops and the first light flurry of party bookings falling onto our diaries, the mighty cogs of Christmas would start to turn.
What about Mum? Stuck in the office, glued to the phone, totally ignoring the jolly hollies in an effort to shove the latest deadline out of the way.
Then the Amazon orders would start to arrive and my sister and I would confirm what we’d got, and add to or subtract from our lists, and while we were at it we’d put in some last-minute warnings about being overhung on this, or this, or this date.
Mum? Off to Bognor to meet a man about a statue, then tea with the girls the next day, a PMSA meeting or two, all the while doggedly dealing with the same tortuous deadline.
First person to mention the C word, last one to do anything about it, Mum always managed to somehow be utterly late to the party yet was still one of the best gift-buyers I’ve ever known. The choices were at times random, unusual, but almost always spot-on, an impressive fact when you knew that she did absolutely all her shopping at breakneck speed somewhere between the 20 and 23 of December. When all our gifts were serenely wrapped, stacked and ready to go, we’d get a bossy email fired into the inbox, lit up with a red ‘URGENT’ flag, full of bold text, shouty underlines and panicky jokes. There’d be far-out ideas for Dad that we’d already nixed several weeks before during a rushed cup of tea. There’d be a blindingly clever way of doing absolutely all of the cousins’ kids, late but perfect ideas for close friends and other rellies, and at the same time she and Dad would rattle off 142 Christmas cards, machine-gunned through every letter-box on the block at the speed of light, while attending roughly three drinks parties a day in that last crazy festive week.
Usually on around 23 December the hire car would heave onto the M40 and limp towards Cornwall, where the gifts would be dragged through the inky rain into the upstairs bedroom until the next night, when wrapping would finally commence in earnest with a glass of something strong at about 7pm on Christmas Eve. At least one present a year was left in London. A little something for later on, we’d all agree, kindly.
Back to now, and another Christmas in the tropics. Orchard Road lights are pink this year, with glorious unicorns and strange pyramids stacking slightly athletic Santas under puce stars swinging in the warm rain. It’s a confectioner’s dream, with absolutely no link to the baby Jesus or any little donkeys, pine trees or puddings, and Mum would have absolutely loved it all, especially the huge golden hanging globes. Every year part of her amazing speed-of-light shopping would include a new bauble for each family member: beautiful glass creations, hand-blown and webbed with delicate colours in just the right shade for each of us. How she picked them all out in time, got them so beautifully right, I’ll never know.
Nowadays, I do the same for her. This year’s choice is a little hanging horse for the lunar zodiac, made by hand-knitted Cambodians, purple with pretty silver detail.
Merry baubles, Mum. Hope you like it.