Sunday, December 17, 2006


The Sunday Scribblings scribes obviously had Christmas on their minds when they thought up this week's prompt. Me, I'm trying really hard to get past Frankenfurter mouthing 'antici-', stockings hitched, bustier tightly laced, high heels poised, leaning ever so slightly towards the audience as we scream, as we have done so many times before, 'say it, say it, saaaaayyyyyy it'!

Finally the not-so-lady sings, as the words ring out breathily around the theatre... '-PPPPatiooonnnnn'. The crowd goes wild...

From a youth misspent learning the audience's lines to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (the writer was a New Zealander), it's a difficult segway into my childhood Christmas reminisences, but I'll try anything once.

Christmas was always a big deal in our household. Mum made us Christmas stockings out of pillowcases, painted with fabric paints. On Christmas morning the stockings would be overflowing, propped up against a pair of child-sized rocking chairs next to the Christmas tree.

Santa was a man of habit. There was always a book in the stocking, usually some kind of inflatable toy for our pool, a whole series of cheap and disposable plastic games and other amusements. At the bottom of the stocking there was always a handful of Mackintosh's lollies, an orange, and a couple of peaches or nectarines.

Under the tree there was always a present from Santa. There was always a 'large' present, and there were always presents from both Mum and Dad. We were spoilt rotten, but only once a year, and I think that somehow we always realised how lucky we were. We certainly never took anything for granted.

The smells of Christmas were always tied up in the anticipation of the day. Christmas Eve was almost as important as Christmas Day itself. There was, of course, the odour of the pine tree in the corner, the Christmas pudding and mince full of alcohol on the bench. When we buried our heads in our pillowcases to get to the very bottom they always smelled of the fruit lurking in their bottoms. To this day a bowl of summer fruit reminds me of Christmas. There's nothing like a few Christmas plums to get me homesick for childhood and Henderson Valley. All that is gone now. There is nothing left of that house, and the trees are too far away to harvest.

Christmas Eve meant lights on the tree, carols playing on the cassette player, running around on the grass in the warm dark night, driving around the city spotting other Christmas trees in other lounge windows, all lit up with the same gaudy decorations. Christmas Day meant presents, swimming, then lunch at an Aunt or Uncle's place, comparing our bounty with that of our cousins.

Christmas dinner meant turkey, ham, roast potatoes, Kumara, pumpkin, peas, Christmas crackers, trifle, chocolate log, pavlova, fruit salad, Christmas cake and Christmas pudding. It was the one time of the year we kids drank sparkling grape juice, pretending it was wine.

One year Dad took us into town to test out our new fishing rods. On the way home it was getting late, so he bought fish and chips, which we ate in the car. When we got home Mum had cooked a huge Christmas dinner, and so, secretly already stuffed, we sat down and ate the lot. I don't think Dad ever admitted to his blunder.

Ever since I left home Christmas has become a slightly fraught experience. With my parents living in Taranaki and Hamish's in Auckland, there's no way we can be everywhere, with everyone. Last year we stayed with Hamish's brother and his wife in Auckland, and my mother got extremely upset when I tried to change our arrangements to have a pre-Christmas dinner with my family the weekend before. The anticipation was gone. We were tired of messing around with all that driving, staying in beds other than our own, trying to keep everyone happy.

This year Hamish and I quietly put our foot down. This Christmas there will be just the two of us, at home, in Wellington. It will be heavenly. We will eat all day - pancakes for breakfast and something luxurious and not too complicated to make for dinner. I'm stockpiling bubbly and good wine. It won't technically be Christmas. We won't hang decorations, and we will celebrate summer solstice. If we decorate our house it will be with branches of some sweet-smelling native.

The anticipation is back, and the anticipation is also partly for what will follow Christmas. Every New Years we spend two weeks in Golden Bay, pretending to be feral hippies. I say that in the nicest possible way, full of aroha for the wonderful people we would meet up with there. For several years we would head South on the ferry on Christmas Eve, spending Christmas Day with the hippies, often cooking in a vegan kitchen. We would spend nearly two weeks under canvas, setting up the festival, helping run it, then packing down, before heading home to Wellington and going straight back to work.

A couple of years ago we were helping out at the first year of a new festival, Full Circle, in Cobb Valley. Facilities were slightly more primative than we had been used to, but that was fine, and the people involved were some of the nicest we'd worked with. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side. We ended up camped out in three days of heavy rain warnings. Water gushed forth in springs from the limestone beneath our tents. We were all forced to abandon set up and pitch our tents in the relative shelter of a large marquee that was to be the chill-out cafe during the event.

Just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, I developed food poisoning. I was bundled into a four-wheel drive and transported the half-hour drive into town where I was hospitalised on New Year's Eve. I spent the night warm and dry in a pleasant little room of my own, watching the truly awful Coyote Ugly on my own private television before falling asleep. Hamish spent the night wet, cold, worried and trying desperately to VJ from the back of an old Holden on the main dancefloor. With the wind too strong to erect a screen, he was forced to project onto the side of the hill. It was, to slightly understate things slightly, not the highlight of his VJing career.

I returned back to the festival on 1 January, still feeling fairly miserable, and not altogether certain I wanted to be back in our damp tent, with thousands of mosquitos for company. However things did finally start to dry out a bit. I spent most of the night curled up in the front seat of the station wagon, where I could see the dancefloor and hear the music, and where our friends could come and talk to me. I dozed until 3am then went back to bed.

The next morning Hamish woke me at around 7am. He'd been up all night and felt he had to get me up. It was, he said, a gorgeous morning, and the sun was just about to come up on the dancefloor. It was as I was walking across the site towards the dancefloor, in tears because everything was 'just soooo beautiful and there was sun and it wasn't raining' that it occured to me I might be slightly messed up. Still, that was a great party for a few, warm and dry hours. Unfortunately the weather and poor promotion led to some very nice people being left very out of pocket.

I've been to two parties at that site, Cobb Valley, now. The first was the last Gathering, a miserable affair in which a group of previously-close friends did their best to rip each other to shreds. The second was no less stressful, if ultimately rewarding. Cobb Valley is an imposing place - a steep valley with a river down one side. As I mentioned, the ground is full of limestone and quartz. Originally there was a whole commercial pine plantation on the left wall of the valley, but when we returned for Full Circle the trees had all been torn from the ground. There were rumours a forestry worker had died there.

Some places have an unexplained energy, and Cobb Valley is one of those. It is a strong place, and could potentially be the site of many amazing parties. However the people who choose to put parties on there also need to be strong. The site needs to be blessed, and permission needs to be asked for people to gather there. None of those things were done. A number of the women involved in the party felt threatened when they first arrived. Several of us had questioned what we were doing there, and had wanted to leave. We were sent a challenge. Cobb Valley is not a place where you can party without intention. You need to assert your right to a place there.

One of the things I needed to do when we returned to Golden Bay last year was to visit Cobb Valley. The photo at the top of this blog is of me at the entrance to the site. After that photo was taken I sat down quietly and told the valley that it hadn't defeated me. I hadn't given up and I had returned. I wanted to make peace with the land. I hope that it listened, because I really do need to experience another party there.

After that we decided to take a bit of a break from crewing parties for a while. Last year we stayed at home, which was ok, but it wasn't exactly something you look forward to with anticipation. We did, however, spend a lovely couple of weeks in the South Island, just chilling out and enjoying spending time with the people we knew down there. We met up with the Full Circle organisers in a lovely valley near the Riwaka Source on the other side of the hill. The land welcomed us, the weather was kind, and we danced in the sun and lay in firebaths at night. When the party began I was overwhelmed to tears, but over the next few days I could feel I was beginning to heal.

This year we are making a cautious return to the festival scene, with Hamish VJing at Uprising, a party at the legendry Canaan Downs site on Takaka Hill. We're arriving on the 30th, Hamish is vjing, and then we're leaving (or hanging around for the afterparties) to go wherever we wish. We may stay in Golden Bay, we may head to Central Otago, where Hamish's father has bought part of a vineyard. The anticipation has returned.

1 comment:

Rose of Sharon said...

I enjoyed reading your memories of your childhood christmas. Your upcoming anticipation of this christmas is definitely understood too. It's so hard to split time between families, especially when they are so far apart. And the trip to Golden Bay, sounds like fun!