Christmas struck Melbourne last week, much as it struck the rest of the world. Of course, it went tits up. I was considering going home for Christmas for a long time; in fact, I hadn’t planned to be travelling this long at all. But my money ran out when I reached Australia, and for various reasons I still don’t have much, and so my travel options were limited. Plus, I received word from Seth, Casper, Yonna and a few others from the farm that they would all be heading down to my city for the big day. I knew I would feel homesick, but I was excited to spend Christmas with my farm family.
That did not happen, unfortunately. Casper and Yonna’s car broke down for the third time, and Seth said the money was too good to leave the cherry farm. Fair enough. The plan changed, and Christmas was instead spent with a new friendship family, albeit a smaller one. Jeanne, Justine, Jeremy (a lot of Js), Will, Robyn, Vic and Rob are my close circle of friends in Melbourne, and we meet up two or three or four times a week to lounge in parks, splash about in the sea, barbecue on the shoreline, or get thrashingly drunk in the many bars of Prahran, St Kilda or Fiztroy. Each member of this little group brings something unique and lovely and special, and we all get along splendidly.
As we knew we would not all be present for Christmas, we celebrated a week early so we could all be together. We headed down to St Kilda beach for a barbecue, and when Vic arrived she had brought Santa hats for everybody. I got royally plastered and donned my fluffy red and white hat despite the beaming sun and 32 degree heat, and we cooked up a storm on one of the free-for-all public barbies that line the coast. We shared the barbecue with a meet-up of surfers, who had all come down to eat food and make new friends. I chatted to surfer dudes from Chile, and they taught us how to work the barbecue because I am useless at that sort of thing.
Later in the day some public order folks in fluorescent jackets wandered over and informed us that we weren’t allowed to drink on St Kilda beach anymore. There is a ban in place until sometime next year, due to a bunch of fucking drunk British kids getting into a huge scrap a few weeks back and ruining it for everybody. Not to be deterred, we headed over to Elwood beach, a mile away.
By the time we reached the next, far less populous beach, I was sloshed and so merry that Santa himself would have balled his mitted fists in envy. We played drinking games and I was targeted for many forfeits, including forced to commando crawl in a very big circle around everybody every time I wanted to take a sip of wine, and having to speak with an outrageous French accent for a solid hour.
I had worn black trousers that day, because I am stupid, and it was sweltering. I removed them and my t shirt and sat clad only in a Santa hat and boxer shorts, and drank my bag of cheapest red wine. Sprawled nude on the grassy hillside overlooking the beach and the sparkling ocean, I was at peace.
Some clouds blew over in the late afternoon, and ten seconds after the first raindrop, there was a downpour. We ran into the nearest public toilets by the beachfront, speaker still playing tunes, Santa hats still firmly on heads. Jeremy had been playing grime all afternoon, and after Vic and Robyn left to visit the ladies toilets, they returned to the open, covered area outside the men’s toilets to find the rest of us skanking to Boy Better Know, hats pulled down over eyes. I was laughing at lot at the unintentional irony of blasting the song ‘Too Many Man’ – featuring the lyric ‘we need some more girls in here, there’s too many man’ – in the male toilets.
After, somebody put on my favourite Christmas song and one of my favourite songs of all time, Fairytale of New York. Though she didn’t know it previously I’ve played the song for Jeanne a million times, and when the violins and all the merriment kicked in after the first sombre verse, Jeanne and I linked arms and skipped around in a circle. Thinking about that moment makes my heart sing. I was so, so happy. You can have all your fairy lights and your turkey and your presents, you can have your Christmas films and your tree and baubles, keep all your consumerism; one of my favourite Christmas moments ever was simply skipping in a little drunken circle with Jeanne in the Elwood beach men’s toilets, while a rainstorm roared outside.
Later that night we headed back to Will and Robyn’s, and we drank coffee and another glass of wine, and we watched Love Actually, and I had to hide my eyes so nobody knew that I was welling up during the scene where Liam Neeson bursts through the doors after his son’s drum performance, brimming with fatherly pride. I had to blink back a tear during Hugh Grant’s speech about England, too, feeling a flare of pride for my country that I’ve not felt for some time. My lip wobbled too as Alan Rickman’s betrayal came to light, and Emma Thomson put on a brave face in front of her children. Ah, what a softy I am becoming in my old age.
The days passed, and as Christmas drew near Jeanne left for Tasmania, where she met her family who had flown over from Strasbourg, and spent the festive period taking photos of Tasmanian devils and eating nice food. That left seven of us, until Vic and Rob set off for Sydney, where they would be passing Christmas with Rob’s uncle in a nice wilderness spot. Down to five then – two couples and I the fifth wheel – Christmas came.
It was a sorry start to the day, I’m afraid to say. I woke up deathly hungover with no real memory of the night before, and lay in bed until 10am texting Jeanne and whoever else was awake that I could wish Merry Christmas to. I felt a little sad when I realised that at that exact moment all my friends and my brothers would be in Wetherby at home, crammed into the local pub in festive jumpers, singing to Slade and remembering the good old days. But there wasn’t much I could do about it, and besides, I’m getting used to missing out on events back home now. Birthdays, weddings, Christmas; there’s been so many now that I’ve grow accustomed to that longing pang. It hurts less and less.
I played Xbox all morning, because I didn’t have a lot else to do. I ate the chocolate in the advent calendar that Jeanne had made herself, and took out the little toy she’d put in each box and positioned it neatly alongside the others she had dutifully assembled over the advent. Bless her. I dressed and showered and, to be quite honest, felt pretty numb for most of the morning. It certainly didn’t feel like Christmas. I missed that a bit. Back home Christmas – though in reality of course it is only a day – always felt like there was a little something in the air. A little dusting of magic over everything. Scorching weather and loneliness does wonders to damped the festive spirit.
I headed over to Will and Robyn’s place at 2pm wearing my finest Hawaiian shirt and noted the strange fact that I seemed to be the only person in the city centre who wasn’t Asian. As I rode the tram, I found every street to be dead except for Chinatown, which was bustling as usual. I arrived at my friends’ flat and we shared hugs and merry Christmases, and Robyn had put on a lovely spread of cheese and wine and grapes and these peculiar cinnamon doughnut things that I didn’t dare try.
We smoked a festive joint on their balcony and donned our Santa hats once more. We tried playing Christmas songs but to be honest, ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ sounds surreal when the reality is something more akin to ‘Baby It’s Fooking Sweltering Outside I’m About Three Seconds From Having A Panic Attack’. Robyn had made some festive goon, which was normal goon but served from a jug with lemons in it. Justine and Jeremy arrived, we ate a lot of cheese, it was nice.
We headed down to the beach around 5pm with a crate of Corona, wishing everybody a merry Christmas on the way. We sat in the sand and watched the sunset together, and everything was going very well at this point apart from the fact I was missing Jeanne. Then my luck began to turn, because it always does.
Walking (stumbling) barefoot to the public toilets (what is it with me and toilets?) I stubbed my big toe and sliced it open nicely. It bled a bit and hurt like a bastard, and walking back to my friends they observed that the wound was full of sand. They made me stagger into the waves to clean it, but of course by the time I walked back it was sandy again. It was rather macabre; I would probably have felt faint had I not been steaming.
The beach grew chilly once the sun was down, and we made our way back to Will and Robyn’s for a film, which sounds simple but took about an hour because we all kept getting separated, somehow. We regrouped in a McDonalds but found Jeremy and Justine absent, and later learned that Justine had got lost, cried, vomited, and gone home early – the big 4. She’s a trooper.
Now, if you’re eating anything while reading this: stop it. It gets dark hereafter.
At this point in the night, everything is a blur. Here are the key details. While waiting for my order I evidently felt the need to go for a festive poo, and for some reason thought that before McDonalds could produce one cheeseburger, I could race upstairs, do my business and come back down. In my haste, I ran into the disabled toilet and locked the door. I said down and did what had to be done, and it was only at this point, dear reader, that I reached for the toilet roll. There was none. There was no toilet roll to be found.
Now, I have experienced this before. I am a professional toilet-roll-runner-outer. I reached up inside the dispenser to grab the cardboard tube; I could pull it apart, unravel it, and use that. Alas: plastic. I sat there in my Hawaiian shirt and Santa hat and considered my options. I could, perhaps, use my underwear. But they were Calvin Kleins; they cost the earth, and I hadn’t many pairs left. I could use a sock. But they were Jeanne’s socks, and it felt quite uncouth to soil my girlfriend’s socks while she was on holiday. That left one option. The red velvet Santa hat.
I contemplated the series of events that lead to my only available option being wiping my arse hole with a red velvet Santa hat on Christmas Day in a McDonalds bathroom. It did not feel like a particularly festive thing to do. I felt trapped, lost. I felt scorned, mocked like Rudolph for his red nose. I felt desperate, like Mary and Joseph seeking an inn. I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge, furious at the world, and heartbroken.
No. Not in my name. I will not wipe my arse hole with the plush red hat of St Nicholas on Christmas Day. I will not. I will not do it. And so, a bit like Jesus of Nazareth, I made a sacrifice. I took a deep breath, and thought about my life. Regrets, mistakes, joyous moments, happy memories. It has been a wonderful journey, in all. I thought of my loved ones. I thought of England. I thought of Christmas. And, swaying a little as the room span, I did what any sane person would do.
I wiped my arse with the toilet brush.
Merry Christmas everyone!