Thursday, 19 December 2013

A Butfield Christmas Carol

Christmas, a time for family and friends, fun and laughter, but for some it exacerbates loneliness and despair.
In the period of time covered in Glass Half Full we experienced Christmas in Alice Springs 2008/2009, Christmas in the UK 2010 and Christmas in Tasmania 2011. It resembles 'A Christmas Carol' with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future visiting us, making us consider the past, appreciate the present and wonder about the future.
Here are some extracts from the chapters involving Christmas.


Chapter 8

It’s Christmas, but not as we know it.


What have we done?


Our first Christmas in Australia was always going to be a tough and testing time for us. However, we naively thought we had prepared for it, by reappraising ourselves of the benefits of our new location and lifestyle. Christmas, is summer time in Australia, with guaranteed good weather, and plenty to do and be involved in. However, it did not feel like Christmas, and my heart was heavy.  I felt so utterly miserable and empty inside. In theory, we were ‘living the dream,’ so what was wrong with me? 


Would any of the new improvements, to our lifestyle, really numb the pain that I was feeling? Despite delving into my hitherto bottomless reserve of positivity, the simple answer was no.

The heartache, I already felt, due to the physical separation from the older children, worsened as Christmas approached.  The almost hourly emotional roller coaster journeyed, peaking then sinking, as the mere thought of it being just the three of us, loomed ever closer. Christmas would be poles apart, from anything we were familiar with at Christmas time in UK. Christmas past was all about us as a family: a big, complicated, but loving family. As a blended or step family, Christmas always involved commitment and logistical planning, in exchange for a lot of fun, happiness and laughter. Everyone, Jack excluded, strives to ensure that all of the children spent some of the Christmas and New Year period with each set of parents and stepparents, as well as extended family. This was not an easy feat to achieve; with the personalities involved, and having to contend with the tantrums, of our ex partners, when they did not get their own way. However, overall we achieved it; year after year, getting slightly better at it, as the children grew up and could verbalise their personal preferences. Obviously, there were times when not everyone always got the amount of time, they would have hoped for or liked, but that goes with the walking on eggshells territory of divorce and child custody arrangements.

Here we were then, attempting Christmas in a new country. Alone, feeling deserted in the desert. In the height of the Australian summer, with daytime temperatures above forty-five degrees, this was in stark contrast to the UK Christmas temperatures with which we were familiar. In the UK, the temperatures in December hover around zero, with everyone eager to see if there will be snow on Christmas day; the elusive ‘White Christmas.’


The long Australian holidays, and missing the children in the UK so much, made emotions run high for both of us. At a time when it appeared, everyone else was congregating with his or her families, we could not even find enough time for the three of us to spend quality family time together; it was too much to bear.

Was this what we came here for? I was unhappy, for the first time since we arrived, and I could not hide it from my closest friends at work. 


We made a decision, that next year would be different; we had not come this far and endured so much, for Christmas and Alice Springs, to bring us crashing down. Next year had to be different, or we would not make it here in Australia.

Chapter 11

Grieving Bushman





When Nigel returned to Alice Springs, he did not return to work at the prison. Instead, he went back to his roots as a taxi-driver, and began work for a private hire Cab Company. He loves driving, and it was the perfect way to achieve earning money for our plans, and to give him a sense of purpose, with less stress and anxiety. The working hours meant we had lots of time together, as a couple and a family, the healing process was in place –‘time’ was working.

Within a few weeks of his return, it was Christmas 2009. Another Christmas in Alice Springs, would this be de ja vu?   Despite, what we said last Christmas, circumstances meant we were spending Christmas here again.  Some things had changed, but it was another Christmas with just the three of us. However, as always trying to put the positive spin on this situation, we knew that it was part of our longer-term plan and therefore this short-term sacrifice was for our long-term gain. Living in our two-bedroom unit, near the telegraph station, we were busy replacing the bathroom, decorating and generally making it ready for tenants in a few months’ time, when we hoped to be moving to Queensland.

With Nigel no longer working at the prison or as a bouncer, we had much more time together over this Christmas period to plan our future. We were searching the Internet for our next project, a renovation property in Queensland. 

Chapter 15

Losing it all to flood water


“If I am what I have, and if I lose what I have, who then am I?”
Erich Fromm

Samantha was due to get married in Looe, Cornwall on 11th January 2011; we decided to surprise her by arranging earlier than planned flights to the UK, so that we would arrive on her doorstep on Christmas Day. I do not know why we even considered travelling so close to Christmas or that it would be good idea. Maybe we, or I, became carried away with the romantic, chick lit notion of it all. My perfect vision consisted of Samantha, whose family lived on the other side of the world, answering the door on Christmas morning to find them standing there. Just like in the movies, when she thought she would spend another Christmas missing them.  Well, I suppose I am a fan of girlie films and read too many romantic fiction novels.

As we stood at the baggage reclaim area the realisation soon dawned that we had not been as lucky with our luggage, as first thought. Sadly, our luggage did not complete the journey with us. This became quickly apparent as the other passengers left and the dizzying conveyor belt circled in front of us, empty apart from some stray remnants of luggage tags and a broken pushchair that no one claimed. Nigel and I looked at each other, it resembled the scene from ‘Home alone,’ when they realise that Kevin is missing. The sense of realisation, denial and then horror at the implications of what this meant. This was not mere holiday luggage that failed to arrive. It was items of Samantha’s wedding ensemble and suitable winter clothing, which we desperately needed at this particular moment. We moved and stood shivering at the lost baggage desk completing numerous forms. All of our wedding outfits, gifts, paperwork, etc., missing in action.

Walking through customs choosing the ‘nothing to declare’ exit, when the ‘nothing to wear’ exit would have been more appropriate, we must have looked very suspicious in our limited casual clothing and sunglasses. My imagination got the better of me with visions of being called to one side and strip-searched, as with no bags there were few clothes or places to conceal anything. However, we were not stopped and we proceeded to the courtesy bus, which would take us to the car hire pick up point.  Everyone around us was wearing thick coats, boots and scarfs, whilst we tip toed through the snow and ice, shaking from head to foot, I could feel everybody looking at us, but what could we do they don’t sell winter clothes in the duty free store.  Luckily the car hire documents were in Nigel’s hand luggage and so once the car keys were obtained and we were inside the car, the heater was put on full blast. It remained on for the entire journey.

We drove cautiously through some treacherous conditions and finally arrive in Liskeard just after mid-day. In our simple plan, I would call Samantha on her mobile phone, at the same time as Nigel would go and ring the doorbell. She would say hang on there is someone at the door and I would wait on the phone for the ‘surprise!’ Pretty much that is exactly how our little surprise panned out. Lots of hugs, tears, and laughter especially at us standing in snow and ice wear summer clothes. Jaime and I quickly took advantage of Samantha's wardrobe and its contents.

Now this is Christmas as I remembered it. Christmas day television on in the background, dinner being cooked with anybody willing to help doing so, and Jaime eager to open a present, any present even if not for her. We made telephone calls to the other children and our schedule of visits and pick-ups was made. We were happy; we were going to see all of the children over this Christmas and New Year period. It felt awesome, and the memories of the last two Christmases were now deeply buried.

The Christmas and New Year period with all of our children, in the lead up to the wedding, was amazing, having not seen them altogether for such a long time. As a big family group, we took over two eight-berth caravans at the holiday resort in Looe where Samantha was working. The day after New Year, we moved to a holiday house on the sea front with four bedrooms and plenty of space for the wedding day preparations.

Chapter 19

It’s Christmas! Tasmanian style

What can I say; Christmas over the four years since we left the UK have taken us through a disorderly range of emotions and misgivings. Twice, we spent Christmas lonely in Alice Springs. We spent one wonderful Christmas in the UK visiting all of our children, only to come back to find our house had been flooded. This year, Christmas 2011, our first in Tasmania as bankrupts, which although it does not affect Christmas, it hangs over you like a dark cloud. There had to be some ‘positive spin’ that we could apply to this, surely.
   

My positive spin was that this, the first Christmas since the flood, was also our first Christmas spent in Australia with two of our children present – Samantha and Jaime. With the ghosts of Christmas past haunting us, we decided to break with tradition and go camping by the sea for the Christmas weekend. With John, in his camper-van and me, Nigel, Jaime and Samantha in three tents, our accommodation was sorted.  The ‘boys,’ of course, would have the luxury of the backseat of Samantha’s car because they needed a bit of comfort!

Christmas morning and Nigel was first up, as always, and he went off for a walk to the beach leaving us all sleeping in our tents. As I started to stir, I could hear Nigel talking to Jaime. He had spotted a pod of dolphins just off the shore and had come back for his camera, what a treat ‘Merry Christmas’ from a pod of dolphins playing just metres from the shore. He took some amazing photographs, and Samantha and John were annoyed that they missed them.

We walked on the beach to find a spot to put up a pagoda for some shade. We marked out a space in the sand to dig a fire pit for our Christmas Day, BBQ lunch. We had bought an array of seafood, for the vegetarians, and meat for John, Samantha and Jaime, plus salad and bubbly to toast our first Christmas in Tasmania. As we climbed the bank back to the camper-van to get the provisions, guess who was walking towards us? Yes, you guessed it the park wardens, at midday on Christmas Day! Who would have thought that councils would pay treble time for them to patrol the day-camping spaces, but they did.

They greeted us with, “G’Day, Happy Christmas.”

“How ya going? Merry Christmas.” Nigel said in his pomme, Australian accent.

I suppose the tents and camping gear had been a giveaway that we were illegally camping there. Anyway, Nigel explained our plight about expecting to camp at Mayfield and that no other sites were accepting dogs nearby.

“Well, as its Christmas and you’ve probably already had a drink to celebrate,” wink, wink, “it would be wrong of us to move you on. So how about you take down the tents and put them up again later. We don’t want to encourage others to join you.”

After Nigel promised that we would head off the next day, they let us off without a fine, ‘as its Christmas,’ for which we were very grateful.

We took down the tents and then returned to the beach for our Christmas lunch. Later that day, just before dusk, we set up our make shift camp-site again for another perfect nights camping. It was so special being there together as a family, we wanted to enjoy our whole Christmas Day, but we would leave as promised in the morning.

Our Christmas lunch was a family cooking affair, with everyone taking a turn at cooking prawn skewers, fish, steaks etc. A lot of laughter and hilarity prevailed, especially as the bubbly flowed and John fell off his camping chair, luckily into the soft sand around us.

During the day, we fished from the rocks with Jaime catching the first fish, but with Nigel catching the biggest fish of the day, of course. As we were still quite short of money after the flood induced relocation, funds were short so the Christmas present plan was that everyone would pick a name from the hat and would buy for that person only, thus ensuring everyone received a gift. 

To read these chapters in full, Glass Half Full is available at: