Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Friday, December 28, 2007

An Aussie Christmas (whatever that is), described.

Christmas Day the weather was perfect. By perfect I mean mid to high twenties, blue skies and sunny. Not too hot for those of us cooking a roast. Not too cold for those celebrating in parks and gardens around the city. For there is no one way to celebrate here in Australia; it depends on where you come from, originally, and who you are celebrating with. If you are Vietnamese, Greek, Italian, Chinese, Dutch, Swiss, Faroese ... or one of the many other nationalities living in multicultural Melbourne ... We all do it differently.

We cooked a roast because my parents were British. But it was not a decision entered into lightly. It was bandied about on numerous occasions leading up to Christmas Day. Seth invariably raised the subject while smacking his lips because at seventeen years-of-age he is perpetually hungry. We never decide until a couple of days before hand; we wait for the weather forecast. If it is not going to be mild we roast. If it is going to be sweltering, we cook the meat early in the day and have a range of salads. A warm, sunny Christmas is normal to me. I have lived here most of my life but for my Mum and Andrew’s Mum (who is from the Netherlands) I doubt it ever feels like the real thing.

This year we had roast pork with all the trimmings. We also branched out and had an entree: Chicken and Asparagus Crepes, which were made by my Mum, as was the Christmas Pudding. We have ice cream on our pudding, by the way, and brandy cream. Hot custard would not be conducive even on a sunny day in the mid-twenties. We all ate far too much, of course, but ... I am running ahead of myself.

Christmas morning we rose early to prepare the veggies and to put the meat on. We had breakfast on the back deck in the morning sun (Sorry Sparkly, I feel like I am boasting). We then went to Church, as is our custom throughout the year. There were two things to note about the Christmas service this year. Firstly, someone had been to the two dollar shop and bought a number of pulsating Christmas lights which had been strung up around the Church. It was festive in a kind of I’m-getting-a-headache sort of way. It made me long for an advent wreath and candles. I am getting old, I think. The second item of note was that worship leader was wearing a very swish, silver grey suit with a canary yellow tie. He was the only person in the congregation thus attired and he copped a lot of good natured teasing. ‘Look!’ he finally said by way of explanation, ‘It’s new. If Geoff (on drums) can wear a Metallica T Shirt to church, I should be able to wear a suit.’ He was right of course. No one should have blinked an eye-lid. But to tell you the truth it was kind of scary; he looked like a Tele-evangelist.

After church we had morning tea as we sat around the tree and opened our presents. There were only a few genuine surprises this year but we managed to make the most of it anyway. There was a lovely Sinterklaas gift and poem from Carine in the Netherlands, a parcel from Winnie in the Faroe Islands and a board game from Paul which had to be tried out immediately! We had, of course, opened our surprises from Switzerland at Alice’s farewell dinner. One of the benefits of hosting exchange students and having far flung family is the feeling of being part of something global on Christmas day.

Our good friend Rose Ho and her two sons Joseph and John joined us for lunch. Happily we had bumped into Rose and John at the shopping centre Christmas Eve. After discovering that were both planning small family Christmases with no extra bodies we decided to combine. The Ho’s brought a salad, some nibbles and wine to add to the festivities as well as their lovely selves. It may seem strange that we would desire extra people on what for many is a strictly family occasion but for me growing up in Australia without extended family Christmas always involved others. Whether it was breakfast with the neighbours, lunch with friends, or a light tea with another migrant family, we forged a common bond. There is a precedence for inclusion, after all. It lies at the heart of what we are celebrating. Two thousand years ago, on the very first Christmas, a harassed hotelier found room for the Christ Child and welcomed him in.

So there you have it, Christmas 2007, done. We played Bocce on the back lawn between main course and desert. I am not sure what Mum put in the pudding but it seemed to have a soporific effect. We were all yawning widely before Rose and the boys had even left. We slept the afternoon away and ate light leftovers for tea. Actually we ate them for a number of days (we are still eating them). We normally go away camping on December 27th. But this year we are taking Priya back to her country of origin, the lovely Fiji Islands. It is a place we were fortunate enough to live in for four years and where we spent many a happy Christmas ... but that is another story ...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Christmas letter to Sparkly

I have this friend called Sparkly Sparks who blogs on Yahoo 360. You might think it strange to have a friend called Sparkly but it isn’t, not really. I am Lizziejane to Sparkly We are both writers, that’s how we met, and we also share the enormous privilege of being Hanner Cymraes (that means half Welsh by the way, in case you were wondering). We made a deal, my friend Sparkly and me. I would tell her about Christmas in Australia if she told me about her Christmas in London. Well it is Christmas Eve and with a big hello to Sparkly, I thought I would set the scene.

What you need to understand about Christmas in Australia is that it is a summer thing: a season of peaches and cherries and strawberries, of salads and cool drinks, ice cream and air conditioning. The Festive Season starts way back in November when we turn our clocks back. The weather warms as daylight lengthens and the parties begin. It is not just a Christmas Season. It is also the end of the academic year. Exams are finished and students are celebrating. There are end of year concerts and BBQ’s. Carols by candle light is an outdoor, picnic-in-the-park event. By the last week in December the whole country is winding down for holidays at the beach.

But before we can go on holidays we have to do the Christmas thing. This year we have had two days of torrential rain in the lead up to Christmas. We have jumped puddles and dashed from door to door under dripping umbrellas. We have pulled moth balled cardigans out of the bottom drawer all with an extreme confidence that the rain is temporary. Today Christmas Eve the sky is full of soft scudding clouds tomorrow the sky will be blue from end to end. Lawns are mowed and gardens trimmed the roads are busy and the shops are packed as people make their last minute purchases.

Last night my Mum and I went to the Melbourne Welsh Church. We had a service of lessons and carols in English and Cymraeg. It is the first time we have done this and I think it will become a tradition. The Chapel was packed and as the Reverend Sion Goch Hughes lead us in worship, the hwyl was amazing. For that is the other thing about Christmas in Australia. It is a migrant thing, a time of absent friends, of crackling phone calls and distant family; a sometimes displaced sensation of seasons back to front, a time for drawing together and remembering...

I will write more later, but for now to my friend Sparkly and to all my friends on Blogger and Yahoo 360, Nadolig Llawen which is Merry Christmas, by the way, in the language of Heaven.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Alice is Leaving us Soon ...

I have a new water bowl. It’s is the lounge, which is considerate, considering how hot the weather has been. The only trouble is that my bowl has a tree in it. Liz’s has hung some shiny balls on the tree. I wanted to tell her that I don’t need my water bowl decorated but, for some reason, she was looking all misty eyed ... and I didn’t have the heart to mention it. Never mind. It is a nice green water bowl. I just have to stoop low and crawl over a mound of paper packages to enjoy a refreshing drink.

The weather is warm and summery. Most days the sky is blue from end to end. Fortunately we have wooden decking and can lie in the sun and keep an eye on things. Life is pretty busy at the moment. Phoebe is working almost full time at the library and going out every night doing all sorts of busy miss-twenty-year old things. Seth is working full time for an environmental contractor which I think is code word for watering trees. Liz is busy getting ready for her master class with the author Alison Goodman and she is very excited about it. Priya is still at school, until Friday. That’s when my work begin.

Andrew has started a new job with Exxon Mobil (some people have to keep working). I don’t know what he is doing. He seems to spend most of his time in the studio spying on me. Yes, that’s right spying. That’s the sort of people they employ in these big oil companies. Andrew’s boss is in America now, so he is making the most of the work from home policy. No one consulted me about it, and I am finding it rather restrictive. For some reason Andrew doesn’t want me barking at birds or welcoming the postman while he is in international phone meetings.

Alice is busy packing. She leaves on Friday but we are trying not to think about it. Tomorrow night Jack and Ness are coming for her farewell dinner. It will be a Christmas Dinner complete with pudding and Christmas Crackers and farewell gifts. I am going to miss, Alice, even though she has made a concerted effort to discipline me. She is going home to see her dog, Toffee, who I gather is better behaved than me. I have tried to show her things are different in Australia — more egalitarian less authoritarian. I have made symbolic forays into her room to rummage through her rubbish in order to illustrate this. When she complains I remind her that’s what international exchange is all about, respecting difference and growing in tolerance. She has learned a great deal, thanks to me.

Tonight she is having a farewell party with her school friends. Sunday she had two farewells, one at Church and one at AFS. Tomorrow is the family party and then the countdown begins. I’m not going to the airport. Someone has to stay and take care of things. I may not be as well behaved as Toffee but I will make sure Alice’s bin is empty for Grandma’s Christmas visit.