At this time of the year, it is only to be expected that while reading the newspapers one will discover ten million baby-boomer-penned articles on what an Australian Christmas was like when these people were children. It seems that they miss the old days, when they truly appreciated being able to eat turkey, and when their parents would give them only a few, wholesome and thrifty, presents, which they also sincerely valued, as though the entire nation was populated by the March family in Little Women. As it happens, I still enjoy this time of year as much as I ever did, because I really, really like being given things, and because, being a childless spinster, I have never had to be responsible for Christmas dinner. However, there are a few things from Christmases past about which I do feel misty eyed.
When I was a child in the nineteen seventies, Christmas simply wasn’t Christmas without imitation snow being sprayed all over every possible surface. In my mind, I always associate this substance with another childhood treat, Cottee’s Ice Magic, a chocolate sauce that would harden over your ice cream to give the impression that you were somewhere more exciting than home – ie, the movies – happily eating a Choc Top. I used to like to apply so much Ice Magic that my dessert resembled a big stalagmite at the Jenolan Caves. The same principle existed with the fake snow, which needed to be applied so plentifully that it was as though we were living in that hotel in The Shining. At that time, everyone was much more enthusiastic than they are now, in these seafood-only-Christmas-dinner days, about pretending that we were celebrating the occasion in a cold climate. While I would actually hate to have a yearly white Christmas, as, aside from anything else, I find real snow to be vile, I do approve of artifice, and would like once more to feel a can of fake snow in my hand.
Speaking of things of which I approve, the Christmas present from which I think I have got the most joy was Totem Tennis, given to my sister and me by our parents in 1979. I have no idea if this contraption still exists but, in case anyone doesn’t know what it is, it’s a pole with a tennis ball attached to it by a long cord, and two – or, conceivably, more – people hit the ball back and forth to each other. The moment that we unwrapped the Totem Tennis still represents practically the most excitement that I can ever remember feeling, and amazingly so, considering that the only things I ever really liked doing over the Christmas holidays were watching television all day with the curtains drawn, and lunching on cheese sandwiches and iced coffee Mooves in department store cafeterias. After we received the Totem Tennis, though, I would go to bed and dream of it, dying to get back out there on our rapidly browning back lawn. Once the word spread that our family had Totem Tennis, people came from far and wide to see it, as well; friends would visit and stay all day, chugging down Start orange drink, just so that they could have a go on the Tennis.
Something that really made Christmas a happy time for me was the prospect of British Smash Hits magazine arriving in the local newsagents (I should say ‘eventually arriving’, as we didn’t get it till February) with a seasonal ‘flexi disc’. It’s difficult to convey the degree to which Smash Hits was essential reading for a discerning thirteen-year-old in 1982; sadly, as so often happens, an immeasurably worse Australian edition was produced, which put paid to newsagents stocking the British one. The magazine was a detailed and witty examination of the issues of the day – such as the latest line-up changes for Tenpole Tudor (or ‘Tampon Tudor’, as they were drolly known at my school); how those two untalented girls were able to join The Human League and then tour the world living it up; the naissance of Toto Coelo; and Tracey Ullman’s brief, yet surprisingly successful, career as a pop star – were it written by a laddish Truman Capote. There are things that I read in Smash Hits that I will never forget, among them Duran Duran complaining at length, after having spent months in Sydney recording Seven and the Ragged Tiger, that ‘you can’t get decent clothes in Australia’.
Then, as if Smash Hits weren’t great enough anyway, every now and then, an issue would come with a flexi disc attached to its cover! This was a plastic circle that you’d put on top of one of your regular seven-inches, drop the needle on the portable record player, and sit back and let the enjoyment begin. The enjoyment was often merely a Culture Club B side, but at Christmas, flexi disc pleasure included tipsy seasonal wishes from, at least some of, Heaven 17 and Bananarama, and a clearly reluctant Roland Orzabal from Tears for Fears. The Internet is all very well, but it’s not going to give you flexi discs.
Well, I suppose that’s all for my salute to great Christmas joys of yore. The only other thing that comes to mind is that one used to be able to depend upon a Christmas Day afternoon broadcast of A Very Brady Christmas, in which Mr Brady miraculously survives a construction-site accident while Mrs Brady gives forth an affected rendition of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’. Yes, I miss this onetime festive staple, but who doesn’t, so I don’t feel the need to say too much about that. All I can do is hope that humanity at large has as happy a Christmas as possible, despite this probable tiresome lack in the television schedule on the day.