Over on Twitter the other day, I asked what was the weirdest Christmas people have had. Only got the one reply, but it’s one that rings true from my wife’s job:
Most of mine are weird.. I have to work.. U never know what ur going to get
That was from Sarah James, you can find her on Twitter at @apartyofseven. Sarah gets a random object from my desk as a prize, assuming I get her address and I can find something randomly suitable among the drifts of post-it-notes, account creation forms and broken bits of computer. Still, those hard drive controllers make for decent coffee mug mats.
Anyway. Weird Christmases. I’ve had a few over the years. There was one year we moved the whole thing to Boxing Day as my wife was working on the day itself. The first couple with children were pretty strange as well, making that whole mental adjustment: Christmas is no longer about you, it’s about your kids and any presents you get are entirely a bonus and you should be grateful whatever they are! I’ve also had my fair share of weird Christmas presents over the years but that’s a post for another week.
Hands down the weirdest Christmas has to go to 1994 for me. It was my first Christmas spent with my girlfriend, away from my family – in Zimbabwe, as it happens, so you can’t get much further away without some serious effort. It was also the first holiday I kept a daily diary, so I’ve got a contemporary account to refer back to…
We were staying at my wife’s relative’s ranch roughly a third of the way between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls and it was hot. I’ve never experienced heat like it before or since. We’d been up to Victoria Falls and had South Africans complaining that it was hot. 45, 50C, something like that. Extremely, very, unbelievably, brain-meltingly hot.
Try putting up a tent in that heat! Go on! It was an exercise in extreme silliness. “I need a rock,” thought I, “to hammer in this tent peg. There’s a rock over there.” So I went and picked up the rock. “Hmm. I had a tent peg,” I thought, “that I was going to hammer in.” Quick look around, and there’s the tent peg – right where the rock had been. And repeat. It took us the best part of an hour to put up a tent it had taken 5 minutes to do in the (relative) cool of Bulawayo.
While at Victoria Falls we went white-water rafting on the Zambeze! An amazing experience but I swear the guy in the front of the raft with me had wire-wool socks on. Between his socks and the sun, my knees got incredibly burned. Looking back on it I can smile wistfully and maybe muster up a laugh at my condition. At the time, though, complete and total catastrophic sense of humour failure. The other extremely irritating thing about the holiday was that I’d borrowed my brother’s camera – which promptly chewed up the film, ensuring I had no photos – the images below are from that marvelous resource, Wikipedia.
So a couple of days before Christmas we arrive at the “farm” and set about getting the place ready. No TV out there, so we’ve the radio on – Merry Christmas Everybody, from Slade, Wizzard’s wishing it could be Christmas every day. All these “traditional” Christmas songs banging on about the snow, the cold… It’s 40C in the bloody shade! The only ice around here is in the cool box along with the Castle and the Coke! That night, we head off in a rickety old Landrover (the best kind) to hunt some kind of big rabbit thing for the farm workers and to track down a Christmas tree. Well, I say “tree”, what we ended up with was a branch of some kind. Not exactly your six-foot Spruce.
Christmas Eve we went for a drive around the farm – 2 hours in a large loop – during which we saw elephant! 3 of them. Big bulls, too. Add that to the lizards, moths, assorted species of ant, chameleon and praying mantis. Certainly made going to the loo in the dead of night an interesting experience. Our dinner that night was roast haunch of Impala. Lovely, if a little dry but then maybe it’s supposed to be like that, not having had it before or since.
Christmas day – rain! Much to the delight of everyone not from the UK. We were out for a post-mince-pie drive around the lake and got seriously cold (blue fingernails and lips, my diary says). Dry clothes, presents under the branch, chat, siesta, long game drive after a late lunch (Impala, warthog, waterbuck, loads of birds I’m nowhere near good enough to identify). Amazingly, they trusted me to drive the 4×4, leaving the people in the back doing the Bavarian Slap Dance (that’s what my diary says) to try and get rid of the mozzies!
And that was pretty much Christmas. Boxing Day we packed up and drove north to Hwange game reserve.
The only thing weirder than Christmas was New Year. We were still in Zimbabwe, this time camping down near the Great Zimbabwe in the south. The campsite had a New Year’s Disco which finished, somewhat abruptly, with these words:
“Happy New Year! One more song and we switch everything off.”
So… Weird Christmas stories, please!