Everyone’s memories of Christmas day when they were young differ and of course it is difficult to know if time has altered your memories of the actual events. I can however clearly remember how from around 1970, our Christmas day settled into a rigid routine. Honestly, for most of my life, our Christmas day was like the movie ‘Groundhog day’, it just repeated every year.
My sisters and I would of course wake early on Christmas morning and be buzzing with excitement but we had to learn self-control as all we were allowed to do when we got up was to sort our presents into our respective piles until our Dad had finished what he referred to as ‘his ablutions’ and gotten dressed. Christmas for us could only really start when he finally wandered down, by which point we were bouncing off of the walls!
Once we were told we could start, there followed a frenzy of unwrapping, with piles of torn wrapping paper, thrown everywhere, accompanied by lots of excited “thank you”. Back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s Mum and Dad didn’t earn a great deal, but they would always try to get us what we wanted, even if it meant them going without, something that I only came to realise in recent years and as hard as my dad could be to live with, I know that he loved us and I am grateful for what I had.
It has become a habit for people to say “oh kids have more fun with the packaging than the toy”, well maybe that is true of some kids but I can tell you that this is not the case when you have just unwrapped a 10” toy Thunderbird 2!
Once the chaos of present unwrapping had subsided Dad would head off to collect our Nan while Mum would begin cooking the Christmas dinner. She never told us at the time but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the highlight of her day. Dad would arrive home with his Mum and settle her in front of our TV, which is where she would stay for the whole day apart from when eating dinner.
Then would begin the ‘Sherry Ritual’. This was the annual argument over what she wanted to drink and went as follows:
Dad: “Mum, would you like a sherry?”
Nan: “Yes please”
Dad: “We have Gin and Tonic as well”
Nan: “Oh well, that would be nice too”
Dad: “So which DO you want”?
Dad: “Oh for Gods sake make up your mind”
It always ended with Sherry but still this ritual took place every time!
As soon as Nan was finally settled with her bloody Sherry, Dad would take this as his cue to head off to the Railway Pub in Countesthorpe (conveniently about 200 feet from our first home in the village) to join his mates, all of whom had left at home their long-suffering wives, stuck with unwelcome relatives, uncooked Turkeys and unhelpful children.
Dad would eventually arrive home, shall we say ‘Relaxed out of his face’ for his Christmas dinner. This had to be served at 14:15 as the pub closed at 14:00 and even Christmas dinner was not allowed to cut into ‘pub time’. I can’t honestly remember how many pints of beer dad would get through on Christmas day, but you could definitely describe him as ‘mellow’ when he got back. This usually ensured that the dinner would go smoothly, apart from the year that he managed to knock a full glass of red wine over my Christmas dinner and we had to salvage one for me by everyone else donating parts of theirs.
Full of beer and Turkey, Dad would retire to his favourite chair and be asleep by the time that the opening credits of the Christmas day ‘Bond’ movie ended. As I am writing about the time before VCR’s and DVD’s it was years before I was able to watch a James Bond movie without the accompaniment of a constant and deafeningly loud ‘pig snort’!
By the time dad woke, thirsty and hungry again, it was time for Mum (who had to remain sober until one of us kids learnt to drive) to take my Nan home. When Mum was back, we would settle down to watch whatever Christmas Special the BBC had on offer (usually Morcombe and Wise) and this was the most time that our family would ever usually spend together and this is probably only because the pub was closed so Dad had to stay at home.
And there you have it, year after year the same, yet I still have good memories of Christmas; kids can filter out the memories that they didn’t like, I guess.
For my tumours and I, 2021 was our first official Christmas together and it would appear that Marty my Meningioma and Gary my Glioma decided that they should celebrate this by giving me some gifts to go with the ones that originally gave me and that led to their discovery in the first place.
The first of these gifts is a gently worsening fatigue in my right arm and leg. I have been using my running as my way of keeping my fitness up for my surgery, but even though I managed to run 5K parkruns on both Christmas morning and New Year’s Day morning, I am finding the effort required is definitely increasing.
I am also starting to lose sensation in other places now, most noticeably on the back of my head and on the fingertips of my left hand which are significant changes. The tips of my fingers on the left hand feel as if they are frostbitten and my feet and hands on both sides of my body are colder than the rest of me.
Developing these new symptoms has finally triggered a sense of anxiety in me, which is really annoying as I have managed to be completely calm and upbeat until now. Lying in bed at night, trying to clear your mind for sleep, they become more noticeable and my thoughts end up focussed on the evident fact that my illness is both progressive and progressing. Somehow up until now I have been able to avoid facing that fact.
The sensitivity issue has however provided me with one of the funniest moments of recent months that I am sure I will chuckle about for a long time.
I was discussing with my wife, Andrea, the fact that I have almost completely lost feeling in another (rather important) part of my anatomy and I referred to it as ‘my old chap’. A few days later and my wife and I are sitting with one of the two Neurosurgeons that will carry out my operation and after discussing my various symptoms, he summarised and then asked me if I had any other symptoms that we had not yet talked about.
Me: “No I don’t think so”
Andrea: “What about your ‘Old Chap’?
Consultant: Blank Expression
Andrea: Gently turning red in the face!
At this point, under the pressure of the moment my mind blanked on the word ‘Genitals’ and I raced through a list of ultimately worse alternatives including; ‘Man Parts, Wedding Tackle, Meat and Two Veg and The Last Turkey in the Shop’ before finally blurting out “Down Below”!
Consultant: “Hmm OK”? Writes something down. Please let it be true that this senior Neurosurgeon wrote down ‘Old Chap’?
I’m really hoping to get my operation date for Marty very soon after I write this, for an operation in January 2022, that is something that will help with my anxiety. Once my second operation of the year to get Gary out is done (well as much of him as possible) I am desperately hoping to be well enough to spend Christmas 2022 in New Zealand and finally meet our twin Grandchildren.
I have to face the fact that although surgery and treatment can reduce both Marty and Gary, it can never completely get rid of them, so we will be spending every Christmas that I have left with them in the background and if I live long enough, Gary will get me in the end. However, if I can manage 15 to 20 more years, then I will have done well and if Gary is not due to get me in that timescale, then as a man, it’s quite probable that something else will take me out anyway based on the law of averages, so I’m not going to worry too much about ‘Prognosis and Timescales’ so long as when Pathology takes a look at Gary, he turns out to be benign as expected.
I hope you all had a great Christmas and wish a happy new year for you in 2022, and if you are one of the tumour gang, may all your test results be good news!
The Brain Tumour charity has been a great help to me since my diagnosis. They have a podcast which is always of interest to people with tumours and their families and also have the ‘Brian App’ ( yep that is spelt correctly, it is ‘Brian’) which offers advice and the ability to track your symptoms, appointments and treatments.
If you can spare even a couple of quid, it would make a big difference to the charity and the people like me that they support.
My Brainstem Playlist.
Since my diagnosis I have found myself looking at life differently including reflecting on my past life. Music has always been important to me so I decided to put together a playlist that includes songs that I love, songs that remind me of places and times in my life, and tracks that I have discovered more recently that help me to keep positive. I hope it’s something that you might enjoy too.