Legends from our own lunchtimes

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Christmas Day

There was always something wonderfully mysterious about Christmas Day in Brisbane's suburbs, the weather always ended up being sultry if not steamy, warmish at the very least, tending to tropical mostly, and exactly not suited to the heavy roast dinner that we never missed, simply because that's what one did at Christmas.

Modern Christmas celebrations in Australia tend to turn their backs quite sensibly on our Colonial past when it comes to things gastronomical, and many families these days treat themselves to lashings of cold seafood, tropical fruits and things which gloriously celebrate our sub-tropical environment. Often this happens in the cool of the evening, an altogether sensible and satisfying turn of events.

Our family isn't at all like that though. We still unashamedly cling to the past, honouring our forebears from the Mother Country by partaking of a feast of roast meats, baked vegetables and healthy doses of plum pudding (if indeed there is such a thing as a healthy dose) with brandy custard and lashings of cream, all served at midday at the peak of the Antipodean summer.

Eating Christmas dinner in the backyard or under the house is, I believe, a strangely Australian tradition, and while I suspect that no other culture could accept the casual juxtaposition of Christmas roast and compost bin in quite the same invisible way that we do, it also probable that the mix of formal dinner setting, crepe paper hats, bare feet and singlets is also uniquely ours.

Bung a tarp over the clothes line, hang some tinsel and you've got an instant shade tent for the Christmas "spread" (and what a beauty it was too!) in perhaps the coolest part of the yard.

After the dinner things have been cleared away, when most of the horizontal surfaces in the host's house become occupied by all manner of aged family members in varied stages of repose, and before someone pulls out the bat and ball and the French Cricket commences, I often find myself perambulating around the neighbourhood, just a short walk to ensure that at least some of the newest contents of my stomach are usefully redirected. This year was no different.

One of the things I have always loved about Christmas Day in the suburbs is the heavy cloak of silence that descends on suburbia. Just as I have read of the silence that accompanies new snow, the silence that accompanies Christmas Day is quite astonishing, as the daily grind of traffic disappears and ambient sound disappears almost entirely. Were it not for the crisp, clear sounds of the odd cheery child playing with a new toy, or some excited laughter as an Aunt unwraps a new pair of lacey underwear, all would be completely silent.

As I set off this year for my stroll and noticed there was something quite out of place. The silence was in it's usual place, but something wasn't right, something quite discomforting had happened.

The other sounds were missing; there was no activity visible from the street.

No new bicycles being ridden.

No groups of Uncles sitting on Eskies behind open garage doors.

No arguments in backyards.

No people to be seen or heard.

All the houses were clearly occupied, and judging by the number of cars in some front yards, there were parties in full swing within, but the windows and doors were closed, and the curtains drawn.

It took a while, but suddenly it dawned. There was a sound. A new one; a pervasive, dull buzzing hum, like a million baritone bees and it followed me everywhere I walked.

I was surrounded.

If the first nails in the coffin of neighbourhood interaction were hammered in by six foot high timber fencing, then the household air conditioner has finished it off. The neighbourhood was silent except for the hum of a thousand split units and the drip of the morning's humidity.

While they all sat inside their temperature controlled boxes, playing with their computer games and staring goggle eyed at their new plazma screens, eating their prawn salads, I wandered home and sat waist deep in the blow-up pool with a glass of ginger ale and a piece of Christmas Cake in my hand and thought smugly to myself.

"They just don't know what their missing."

Thanks Matt and Ab, it was a fabulous day!


Anonymous said...

what a classic mental image of you sitting in the blow up pool in the backyard with your glass of ginger ale - would love to see a photo of that :) hahaha
Sounds like a perfectly wonderful Xmas day - Happy Christmas to all your loved ones.

Joan Elizabeth said...

It's only in Queensland you can sit "under the house" to get cool.

Having done the hot Christmas dinner with you guys (on a thankfully cold Christmas day here) you will be interested in what we did this year ... coming up on SW in a week or two.

As always, I love your stories. Keep them coming in 2009.

freefalling said...

Was it Kirks ginger ale?

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