‘Hell is other people’

The Christmas I remember best is the one in which my father pulled over the Christmas tree after we had set it up in the lounge room.

It must have happened during one of his many fits of rage, where he wanted to make a point. Drunk and feeling rejected or unloved, he inflicted his pain on the rest of us. 

It seems almost trivial now, by way of memory, but at the time it felt indecent. 

My mother had brought ornaments all the way from Holland, small shining tear drop shaped baubles in golds and reds. One indented and coated in silver, the other deep crimson and round as a plum. 

These two broke and shattered across the floor. We kids stood back in our summer bare feet to stop ourselves from taking on splinters. 

The fallen tree had a sacrilegious feel, as though my father had smashed open the tabernacle in church. The place where the priest housed the left-over hosts after communion; the place where Christ’s body in the form of those white round Farex tasting wafers was meant to rest. 

Our Christmas tree was sacred. With its angel at the top and all the promise it held. 

This morning I listened to a short video of Marian Keyes in which she gives advice on how to treat yourself over Christmas, the stuff of being kind. 

Christmas is tough for many people, she reckons. She an Irish woman, in a Catholic country filled with people who drink too much, including her, though she describes herself as no longer drinking. 

One expression has stayed with me. Keyes talks about not allowing too much perfectionism, which to her mind leads impossible expectations. 

‘Expectations are disappointments under construction,’  she says. 

How’s that for an idea? 

It’s true: when you expect too much, you’re heading towards disappointment.

Yet expectation would have to be a close cousin of hope and I reckon we all need hope, otherwise why bother.

I hoped our Christmas might be good enough for us here, and it was. More than that, it was fun and no one who shared Christmas day with us seemed out of it, though I imagine inside their hearts there were some who found it tough. 

While others revelled in it.

Come Boxing Day, I’m blessedly relieved, to rest for the first time in an age and to enjoy our afternoon Boxing Day tradition of taking in a movie, the more magisterial the better.

In the last, we’ve watched all of the Hobbit movie and Lord of the Rings trilogy, year after year on Boxing Day, and now we’re onto Star Wars. 

This year’s Star Wars does not cop a good rating, but who cares? 

It’s not a movie I’d watch as first preference but two grandsons who love such hype and others too, it’s enough for me to bathe in reflected joy.

Afterwards we eat together, those of my lot who can make this pilgrimage to the Rivoli or the Lido, whichever movie house offers the best time and we debrief over Christmas and get ready for the holidays ahead. 

For most take holidays at this time of the year. 

And then to suggest something of the Grinch at Christmas, my husband showed us this newspaper clipping he’d kept from years gone by. 

His Horoscope in 2003, which presumably he shared with other Virgos:

Jean-Paul Satre’s famous saying that “hell is other people” is truer for Virgos than anyone. You’re surrounded by fools, nincompoops and absolute ning-nongs – but you can’t fail that patience exam, can you?

He and Marian Keyes might share something in common in terms of their awareness of the dark side of life, and both might plead for more good will. 

It’s a tough time of year, so watch your expectations. 

Even our gargoyle agrees.

3 thoughts on “‘Hell is other people’”

  1. So strange! I literally just listened to the Marian Keyes video, clicked off of the site and came to you! We are far, far from one another and even farther from Marian Keyes, yet we are all connected in this weird way. I am so grateful that Christmas is over. I am hopeful that the New Year brings a bit more joy and less anxiety to my family. Happy New Year to you!

  2. Ah, expectations. Guilty as charged. Carrie reminded me (again) this year that one of the reasons I don’t care for Christmas these days is that no one (not even me) can meet my exacting expectations. And she is right. I never wanted to grow into the old fogey who wallows in an imaginary version of the past and whinges and bitches about a present that’s become harder and harder to live with or in but I have. I’m sorry I have. I’m sorry I’ve been forced to. And yet it never turns out quite as bad as I anticipate. Not even this year. I got the pressie I was most after—from my daughter, a diecast model of the U.S.S. Pasteur (one of the classier starships IMHO)—and my gifts all seemed to go down a storm even if what I gave my wife was a smidge predictable and safe.

    I don’t believe in astrology although like most of us I have read my horoscope from time to time for a bit of fun. Many years ago I received a book of tests from a book club and much pleasure was had from that single volume over the years. I’m not (not even when I fudged the answers) a sex addict but I am a typical Taurean and, perversely, I do get a kick out of telling people that. Carrie is a Gemini; I had to look it up. We’re probably not compatible and have been kidding ourselves for the last twenty-two years. Oh well. (I just checked an online calculator and we got 16%.)

    Happy New Year BTW.

    1. Happy New Year, Jim. I don’t know what’s happened these pasty two weeks or so, but I’ve been caught up in the usual holiday madness of getting my life and house into order such that I haven’t posted in a while., I’m back on board now.

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