JUST LIKE IT IS: Christmas memories
My editor called just after three o’clock Tuesday. The news was dread. “Pedro, the paper is closing early. We’re coming Christmas Day and I want your column tomorrow.” I replied: “So Christo, you wait till now to call?” He was off Sunday and Monday and knew I would understand nobody wanted to work Christmas Day producing a paper.
Indeed! It was the Yuletide season and I need not write anything too heavy, he said. That meant a complete rearrangement of my Wednesday which I had allocated to getting the essentials for Christmas Day pepperpot, my signature dish and one of my contributions to our annual tribal feast.
I had to collect the authentic cassereep Rudy brought from Guyana, pass by Vin to get some pork and collect the oxtail, pig tail, cow heel and beef.
There were other stops for green peas and sorrel. I fired a few with a friend and went to bed wondering where I would find time to finish before Christo brought down the guillotine.
The other over-arching problem was what to write? Something light, but what? The thought dogged me but I hit the hay sustained that God moves in mysterious ways. Waking at 5 a.m. and tuning into my favourite Trinidad station 105 FM, my spirits soared immediately. Sparrow was singing his remixed Christmas medley with brilliantly arranged musical backing.
Suddenly my reticence was in recession, spirits buoyant and Christmas 2010 came alive as the greatest, in his own inimitable style, sang carols Oh Come All Ye Faithful, Holy Night and The First Noel and standards White Christmas, I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus and Rudolph, The Red Nose Reindeer.
Parang, the Christmas music of Trinidad and Tobago, has evolved into parang soca, and when my favourite female calypsonians, Sandra and Francine, took over from Sparrow, the Yuletide spirit rushed at and overwhelmed me. The captivating music inspired me to knock out Christo’s column.
The new-found motivation was a helpful catalyst, but the question remained what to write? I put it to the wife who said I was around long enough, spent so many Christmases in so many countries, in so many different circumstances, that with my peerless powers of recall it should not be a problem.
I recall my boy days at Dodds, the visits of and to family and friends, exchange of gifts, food and drink, the whole enveloping atmosphere. My parents made sure that the 100-plus young boys and girls in their care enjoyed some of the seasonal goodies gifted by Bridgetown merchants, supplemented by my mother’s wonderful homemade cakes and ice cream.
Having a drink recently with a “Dodds graduate”, he reminded me how she would freeze the mango and soursop when in season to make Christmas ice cream for them and how much they appreciated the efforts to bring them seasonal cheer when they missed their family and friends most.
It was a feeling I experienced when I went to England in 1963. Arriving there after working at the Advocate straight out of Lodge School, one of the useful rites of passage in which I was initiated was elbow-bending at Mustor’s and the Press Club with such nationally renowned journalists and imbibers as O.S. Coppin, Joe Brome, Mitchie Hewitt and Willie Burke.
My reputation as a promising young consumer preceded my arrival in London and my first Christmas Eve a cousin took me to a soiree in south London. The fare was Jamaican – ackee and saltfish, curry goat, escovitch fish, bammy and more. Wonderful food, wonderful company and the waters were flowing.
I took a bottle of Mount Gay. It went in a hurry and was replaced with a Jamaican white 151 proof. We ate and drank like if there was no tomorrow. I got home rum-soaked just before midnight, slept through Christmas and got up in the early hours of Boxing Day. Never me and that 151 again!
A flat-mate and Mustor grad had a similar experience. Toddie left our Finchley flat Christmas Eve to meet Rad in Earl’s Court at “Stud” Beckles for cou-cou and red herring. Early evening we heard he was “sweet and stepping high”. Coming home, he immobilised two trains, bringing up his lunch to the disgust of passengers but glee of the Bajan driver getting off early. He too slept through Christmas Day.
Such were the Yuletide excesses of early manhood and elusive panacea of finding home away from home in a bottle. Hearing of the current brutal weather in London, in 15 years I living there snow was a rarity. The worst I ever saw anywhere was Christmas 2001. Going to have lunch with a niece in New Jersey, we drove from Brooklyn in a snow storm, got comprehensively lost and had to be rescued.
That was an unforgettable white Christmas.
Wherever you are today, I wish you a blessed, pleasure-filled day, happy, healthy holidays and God’s richest blessings in 2011!
• Peter Simmons, a social scientist, is a former diplomat.