The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - cook­fi­delma@hot­ Twit­ter: @fi­del­ma­cook

MY first Christmas in Las Molieres and France was one of my hap­pi­est ever – and that’s say­ing some­thing, since I truly be­lieve I have never had a bad one. I wouldn’t al­low it. Noth­ing – noth­ing – will ever change my still child­like be­lief in the magic of Noel and the glo­ri­ous feel­ing of joy and op­ti­mism on the morn­ing of De­cem­ber 25.

Even if this year I have no sweets­cented tree (im­pos­si­ble with Ce­sar) and the hall isn’t be­decked with boughs of holly, I’m still an­tic­i­pat­ing Christmas Eve and Day with lit­tle flick­ers of ex­cite­ment.

Sadly, I can­not fly at the mo­ment, so will not be with my son and my grand­child. But thanks to the glory of the in­ter­net we will see each other in the new form of real time and raise our glasses as one.

I’m thrilled to watch from a dis­tance to see that my son has in­her­ited the sparkle dust and put up his enor­mous tree while qui­etly get­ting soz­zled as Mario booms out in the back­ground.

It’s true: the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, par­tic­u­larly the Christmas tree, and I draw plea­sure from the thought, God will­ing, of this con­tin­u­ing gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion.

My mother, how­ever cash strapped as a young wi­dow, daily cranked up the ex­cite­ment to come and hid Santa’s presents with the cun­ning of a se­cret agent.

I was 10 be­fore I dis­cov­ered he didn’t ex­ist and even now I don’t be­lieve that’s true.

She blessed each day in the run-up with her en­thu­si­asm, and had set aside money at the newsagent’s each week to pay for the pile of an­nu­als so lov­ingly wrapped un­der the tree.

Even now, I can smell the new­ness and feel the glossy pa­per and re­mem­ber the lurch in my stom­ach at the thought of all the read­ing to come.

And I can smell the capon – more than enough for two – and hear the siz­zle of the roast pota­toes as she danced around the kitchen.

Ob­vi­ously we’d been to mid­night Mass, wrapped in scarves and hats against the icy blasts in the packed church, and I’d watched in awe as the plaster baby Je­sus was car­ried through to his crib.

We sang out with such in­no­cence then, with no aware­ness of what was to come in our beloved Church. Even the faces of the stum­bling drunks who’d found their way to the back shone with grace on this night.

And, much later, at far ends of the ta­ble, a ta­blescape lov­ingly cre­ated of a win­ter’s scene be­tween us, we toasted each other be­fore the bird was brought out.

I was al­lowed, af­ter 10 years old, a small sherry and – un­think­able now– a cig­a­rette to ape her so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

After­wards we went our sep­a­rate ways, each to lie or re­cline be­fore the fire, books in hand, rais­ing our heads to smile at each other ev­ery so of­ten.

Oof … Writ­ing that cat­a­pults me back to those mo­ments with a sur­real in­ten­sity. I see her face, then young, so clearly, that tears rise un­bid­den.

What a gift to give to a child. What a gift to give to all our chil­dren. To give our­selves and to give our be­ing to those we love.

Right – sniff – where was I? Ah yes, my first Christmas here.

I had two of my dear­est friends and my son, and I was about to give a Box­ing Day party for all my new neigh­bours, my house work­men and those Brits I’d met. I’d bought into the French tra­di­tion of Reveil­lon de Noel and had a most dis­gust­ing pile of seafood in place on Christmas Eve. I swear some of it was alive and kick­ing off the plate.

My guests were close to vomiting but I told them: it’s eff­ing French. Bloody eat it.

We sang, we danced and were too drunk for mid­night Mass. In­stead we lay on sunbeds and watched the stars, all of us wrapped in scarves and hats as once I’d been as a child. An­other sacra­ment. So much won­der. And then the sep­tic tank ex­ploded in the bath as my fe­male friend pre­pared to en­ter, clutch­ing cham­pagne and singing, as I in­sist ev­ery Christmas, the carol Joy to the World.

But it brought me Pier­rot, my neigh­bour and help­mate all these years on. So? Sil­ver, sort of, lin­ing. There is al­ways a sil­ver lin­ing.

It mat­ters lit­tle now that since then the cou­ple di­vorced, the child has cre­ated his own fam­ily and I have railed and kicked against the many tra­vails that have brought me low here.

That is bloody life. That is how it is. It can be tough. It can be seem­ingly un­fair and cruel. We all learn this in the hard­est of ways. Oh, but the fun, the ex­cite­ment, the joy, the ut­ter mad­ness of sim­ply stut­ter­ing on. And be­ing so grate­ful to do so. Oth­ers have it far harder.

And so, here I am, an­other Christmas, an­other year. Thank you God.

Out­side the trees are bend­ing in the wind; it is cold and rain­ing hard.

But in­side, my house is warm. There is food. There is light. And there is the joy of hope. Al­ways, al­ways … hope. Joyeux Noel, mes amis.

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