Hard News by Russell Brown


Uniquely Refreshing

Christmas had an odd rhythm this year. The natural conclusion of 2007's business was Friday, and it seemed as if half the town was packing up and clearing out by the afternoon. I wrote and recorded a script for the Public Address Radio Christmas special in time to arrive at the gates of Prego for lunch with Paul.

As ever, we were fed admirably and served like friends before decamping further up the road to the Living Room for a festive glass with David Slack, Michele A'Court, Jeremy Elwood and a number of members of the comedy fraternity. The showers cleared and we yarned, watched dazed crowds from the offices wander the footpaths and laughed like buggers.

Michele is an old friend of my darling, who appeared in good time to share some cheer and then transport me away before I caused any embarrassment. I had Japanese takeaways and nodded off on the couch.

On Saturday, I had the available members of the Public Address whanau around and cooked a whole chicken, some squid and sausages on the barbecue, with home-smoked salmon, salads and satay vegetables. The appetiser was hand-stretched mozzarella, sliced vine tomatoes and basil leaves, drizzled with Paul Holmes olive oil from Mana Lodge (an early Christmas present). It was particularly nice.

As usual, we became talkative, more so after the Duncan Taylor 'Rarest of the Rare' Glenlochy was passed around, but, by dint of a cunning plan, I was able to usher the crowd out to see some live entertainment later in the evening. Two absolute angels stayed behind and cleaned up.

The taxi driver on my way home confirmed my impression that it was quiet on the town. It seemed that the exodus had already taken place -- until Monday morning, when the butcher was a throng of meat and money and food retail in general was mad.

More than any previous year, I was aware that we now share Auckland with many people who have no particular religious or cultural grounding in Christmas, but who still want it to be nice for the rest of us. Disproportionately, they sit behind tills and checkouts, and they all seemed to wish me season's greetings. Keep Christmas secular and inclusive; that's what I say.

We still have one member of the household who is excited enough about Christmas presents to start the day at 6am, and we couldn't refuse to emerge for very long. My best present was a beautiful black leather satchel that had been on lay-by at Minnie Cooper for months. Apparently my old satchel looked like crap.

The day still yawned after our pancakes, dry-cured free-range bacon and maple syrup, so I got on my bike. The morning was warm with fluttering breezes, and down at Coyle Park, Pacific Island families had already set up their canopies and barbecues; family members not required for cooking dozed unselfconsciously. The tide was lapping high and the water looked inviting. Down at the beach on the west side of the peninsular, three or four people were swimming.

I got back home and told the family they should accompany me down to the beach; and they did, although I was the only one game for a swim.

"You'll want to get in that water -- it's great," said the fit bloke as he dried off and fitted his running shoes for departure, which had the effect of intimidating me.

It had clouded a little, and I hesitated, knee deep, before getting one of the kids to give me a countdown. Zero, and I plunged. It was great. And brilliant and special and uniquely refreshing. I floated out and remembered what is good about New Zealand.

At home, I browsed webcams to see how the rest of the country was having Christmas. Courtenay Place was swept with rain, Cathedral Square was being wandered by bored tourists, St Clair beach seemed inviting and the view from Hanmer Springs was a Rita Angus version of paradise. We read our new books and played our new games. Conflicting advice and a desire to avoid poisoning my family got the better of instinct, and I cooked the turkey breast too long and dried it out. Lots of gravy, then.

On Boxing Day, we watched the Doctor Who Christmas Special off the torrent, and I bought this on Trade Me. Like seemingly all "local" Trade Me vendors, the seller lives at the edge of the observable universe: ie, Albany. Well, he can put the thing in the mail, I think. Because I am learning, again, to do nothing.

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