I thought I’d try to get this in while it’s still kind of relevant. A little festive romp through Europe.
‘Twas the night before the night before Christmas eve and my two Irish friends descended upon London. We crashed my mum’s “work party” (cocktails with her only employee, my stepdad) and went on to Soho, drinking cocktails in the intoxicating Freud Bar (where the music is loud, the floor is sticky, and the crowd is more than the basement room was made for).
It was my first Christmas since leaving Granada.
My girlfriend MDB and I visited my friend JD in Aachen, a town I’ve raved about already. That year, I had started making a belén, a nativity scene that the Spanish go all out for. I made a papier-mâché windmill with rotating blades and an adjoining stable for the baby. (I got a little carried away).
In Aachen, we searched the Christmas market for a few figurines to add to my display but found only Glüwein. In Leuven on the way home, we saw a shop filled with what I wanted. Alas it was closed.
Imagine my delight when I opened my present from MDB to find a couple of tiny sheep and a rooster. They were put in display again this year.
I argued with my stepdad this year when he suggested women should tell their bosses they are barren if they want equal pay. It had escalated from him asking – quite shocked – why I might have suggested that women still weren’t treated equally.
Now I wasn’t particularly blown away by my step-dad’s misogyny. Sadly, I’ve come to expect it. But before he would have backed down when he realised how badly it had gone down. This Christmas, however, he seemed to feel quite safe saying all manner of nasty things.
My mum was the real disappointment. She has always been (in my mind) open-minded and free thinking. And while she may make the occassional slip, I’ve always been able to convince myself it was borne of ignorance and a lack of exposure to anyone outside her bubble. Now it would seem that bubble has turned quite toxic.
Populated by people like my step-dad’s brother-in-law who told my girlfriend to “pack her bags” the day after the referendum, I’ve been deluding myself to think she would remain as she used to be. Instead, once everyone else had gone to bed, we ended the night with a full blown argument.
My mum told me that I was only upset because I put Europeans above my “own people” and that she knows I “hate this country”. A lot of nasty things were said (on both sides). The worst was when my mum mentioned my girlfriend as an example of those Europeans here to benefit from our university system. A system that, despite my crushing student debt, she believed MDB (and others like her) received for free.
When I hazarded to point out that she had spent the following years caring for mentally ill (British) people, she dismissed this as MDB furthering her career. “Obviously she wants to go into management”. (She doesn’t. I doubt she can imagine anything worse than sitting at a desk).
So sure was she that these ideas would show me how wrong I was that my mum didn’t see a problem with insulting my girlfriend, friends and the countries I love so much. I know I lay it on thick when I attack the ignorance and xenophobia behind the Brexit vote but after much shouting and many tears, I still couldn’t convince my mum that these vile things she was saying were the problem, not the way she voted. (My dad voted Brexit too. But without anger and to give the middle finger to David Cameron; a sentiment I can better understand).
I went to bed apologising for the rift I felt between us; hollowed by the sudden absence of the mum I had known; appalled by the ugly sight I had witnessed.
It started snowing late in the evening and soon everything was white. I had already packed, ready to leave the next morning and I sat inside watching it fall.
I’ve never seen fall so thick and fast in this country. Within an hour, the roads were free of cars. I quickly booked a new ticket and raced to the station.
Crossing Bristol under that blanket of fresh snow, in the eerie silence and artificial twilight, I fled. Still it snowed and I was sure my train would be cancelled. But I made it on the last train out, passed through a snow covered Bath and away from the storm.
Soon, the snow grew thinner and by London it was patchy. When I arrived in Lille a few hours later, there was snow on the roofs and ice on the ground. But none fell from the sky to soften my step.