A seventies Christmas to forget

Christmas was looming and she dreaded it. Lack of funds and only being allowed Christmas and Boxing Day off work, made it impractical to spend Christmas in Jersey, even though she yearned for home. Although in her mid twenties, she still needed her mum at Christmas. Her estranged father lived in America with his new wife. She envied her teenage sister and twenty-three year-old brother. They would be experiencing a proper, full-blown festive season in Jersey, pampered by their mother, who was a wonderful cook, always knowing how to make Christmas a special, magical occasion. Mug earned paltry wages as sole graphic artist at a West London printers and needed to find a better-paid job. Asking her boss for an extra fiver a month had been greeted with a menacing reply of, “You know where the dole queue is!” He had caught her scanning the job vacancy section in a media magazine and gave her the sulky, silent treatment for several tense weeks.
Her bedsit, near Swiss Cottage and Primrose Hill, seemed Dickensian. She was on the top floor of a large, antiquated building that had seen better days, sharing a dilapidated bathroom, complete with corroded taps, scummy bath and poorly flushing toilet, with the occupants of the seven other bedsits. Everything in the house seemed to be shades of brown with none of the vibrant, psychedelic colours prevalent in the seventies. Her low wage made buying furniture impossible. She had to rely on the armchair, single bed, perilous gas cooker, sink and ancient gas fire. The entire house reeked of gas and she feared that she was gradually being poisoned. The rug was so threadbare that the floorboards were visible, draughts rising through it and whistling through the rattling window frames. She was sad to be spending Christmas Day alone in such a hovel, but had no option. At least she had a television for company even though the choice of programs in the seventies was dire. She also had her cassette player if all else failed.
After work on Christmas Eve, she bought a chicken portion, a few potatoes and brussel sprouts to eat on the big day. It was all she could afford, thanks to the stinginess of her boss. As she had neither fridge, freezer, nor table, she placed her purchases on top of the cooker, confident her room was chilly enough to keep it fresh until the next day’s special mealtime. She went for a brisk walk in nearby Regent’s Park, as it was warmer outside than in her bedsit, with its high ceilings, draughts and ineffectual gas fire.
Her best friend, Gill, had given her a bottle of white wine for Christmas and it was to be her one treat. She had no spare cash to buy Christmas decoration or treats.
‘Are you sure you’ll be OK on your own over Christmas? You’re welcome to spend it in Yorkshire with me,’ Gill had kindly offered.
‘Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine,’ Mug reassured her anxious friend.
The big day dawned and a thrill of excitement tingled in her belly, even though all she had to look forward to was eating her Christmas dinner. To get into the Christmas spirit, she switched on the blurry television to seek out some festive cheer. There was not much choice, in the seventies but the sight of children singing carols warmed her heart, reminding her of how excited she had been as a child at Christmas, when the nativity held more significance. Mobile phones did not exist to contact friends and relatives. There was a pay phone three floors down but she had no money to call home. Her mother may have phoned her to wish her a merry Christmas, but, being so far from the phone, she never heard it ring. There was no internet back then, no opportunity to seek out online human contact or entertainment.
The big moment came to cook the Christmas dinner. After peeling the potatoes, she unwrapped the chicken portion. A strange, fishy smell wafted up from the slimy object. Its pink colour was tinged with an unappetising yellowish green. She was devastated to realise that her chicken had undoubtedly turned rancid and was now inedible. For a split second, she considered cooking it anyway, as she had nothing to replace it with and no money to buy an alternative, even if there had been any shops open. Not wanting to be poisoned she threw the chicken in the bin. She still had to eat, so roasted the potatoes, boiled the sprouts and finished eating in time for the Queen’s speech. Christmas dinner was supposed to be the culinary pinnacle of the year and the severe contrast with her bland meal made her want to cry. The lump in her throat, which felt as big as the brussel sprouts, made it hard to swallow.
Depressed at the thought of the fun Britain was having on what should be a magical day, she uncorked the wine Gill had given her, drinking every bit to numb the solitude. The other bedsits were eerily quiet, as everyone had disappeared to be with relatives or friends over the festive season. She felt like Tiny Tim out in the snow, looking through windows at happy, Dickensian families celebrating Christmas in style. A desire washed over her to jump off any one of the London bridges. She settled instead for crawling into bed, even though it was late afternoon, preferring to sleep the day away in a drunken stupor than to sit wallowing in unattractive self-pity. One thing was certain. She would do anything in her power never again to spend Christmas Day alone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s