Driving Home For Christmas …  How I wish I was.  That song has been in my head – and on the radio – a lot of late, not least following Chris Rea’s collapse on stage last weekend.  Not Chris Rea!  Cheggers has gone too soon but not Chris Rea!  Too many memories.

One of my favourites, it seems to, effortlessly, capture the true essence of Christmas: family. I remember going to see Chris Rea at the Playhouse in 1986, I think.  Almost Christmas Eve, it was snowing as we left, all singing along to that very song in the car.  Offices closed, the holidays had begun and now there was only one thing left to do – get home.

It’s funny but ‘home’ takes on a different connotation at Christmas.  Not necessarily where one lives the rest of the year, it is where one truly belongs; where one’s heart is.  For me, that will always be Lyndhurst, that beautiful old house in Cupar; the keeper of all those happy memories.  It drew us back, every year, long after we were married and then with children of our own.  Chris Rea got it so right.  Christmas didn’t start until we walked through that welcoming front door, enveloped at once by the warmth and lights; familiar smells, familiar voices and that comforting blanket of family.  We were all safely ‘home’.

We had a routine.  Depositing our bags in our old rooms, it was then time to comment on the atrociously decorated tree in the dining room window before opening the wine and catching up in the conservatory.  All seated, once more, round the table in the Breakfast Room (now in Becca’s ‘squat’ at Glenalmond), dinner was noisy and animated; lots of laughter, sarcasm and ‘remember when’s as we revelled in each other’s company and the comfort of familiar surroundings.

Dinner over, Pop would depart to his seat in the Morning Room to watch something on television leaving us to continue drinking wine with Nanny round the table.  Invariably, though, she would produce a pile of unwrapped presents from the cupboard and we would set to work with the rolls of paper and sellotape taking instructions from the Chair!   Proceedings would rapidly deteriorate as the brandy made an appearance and we collapsed in laughter whilst wrapping our own presents!  A ridiculous routine, usually accompanied by Wham’s Last Christmas on repeat, but it was ours and we all loved it.  I miss it.

Christmas Eve in Cupar.  The best of times.  Every family has their own routine, their own ‘home’ to which Chris Rea refers.  Well, I like to think so but perhaps that, too, is a thing of the past.  Our family is splintered now – like so many – and, somehow, the fun diminishes with the numbers.  It is impossible to muster the old days but we should be thankful for the memories.  We went away for the first time, last year, returning to St Wolfgang in Austria, the scene of childhood summer holidays for Becca and Manny.  It was an experiment which could have backfired but it proved to be just what we needed and Austria, as one would expect, was magical at Christmas.

Edinburgh at Christmas?  I am trying to find the words.  Perhaps it is a good thing that George Street now lends itself to the drinking culture, littered along the way with haunts suitably flash for the brash!  Perhaps, only suitably imbibed, can one appreciate the massive monstrosity which has landed at the top of Castle Street.  Glittering with silver and blue lights, it seems to be nothing more than a dome resembling the shape of an unidentified spaceship devoid only of little green men who, I presume, have debunked to Tiger Lily in the quest for intelligent life.  First mistake!

Essential Edinburgh at its best.  There is a ridiculous tower behind said ‘spaceship’ which would appear to charge for the opportunity to be dropped from a great height at great speed – preferably having just left Tiger Lily.  Christmas?  In Blackpool, maybe!

One mustn’t forget the ‘silver’ trees, sparsely placed along George Street stretching down to St Andrew’s Square and its attempt at an ice rink.  Behind a plywood ‘wall’, one can pay a vast amount to join the masses skating round in a circle to … well, didn’t sound like White Christmas to me!  Whatever happened to pretty lights stretching across the road from one end to the other, twinkling into the distance?  Thank goodness for The Dome.  Beautiful.  Traditional.  Sheer class.  If only somebody had told the little green men …

If they ever make it out of Tiger Lily unscathed – and fully clothed – they should head to St Andrews.  There, not only will they find intelligent life but also Christmas!  There is a magic about that historic little town which perfectly lends itself to this time of year.  The floodlit cathedral ruins, little cobbled lanes and fairy lights strung from one side of the street to the other – as they should be; as they used to be.  Becca and I were there, briefly, last Saturday for a much-needed injection of its charm.  I forget which church played host, most often, to our school carol concert – Hope Park or Holy Trinity?  No matter.  Each holds memories of the excitement we felt as we sat in our allotted pews in our brown tweed coats, rehearsed to within an inch of our lives, watching as the parents arrived and desperately looking out for our own!  Yet another reminder that one’s parents’ approval is one of the most coveted treasures in life …  I heard Oh, Come, All Ye faithful on the radio recently and I was immediately transported back to those days.  These beautiful carols transcend time but, for me, they will forever evoke my school days, the end of the Christmas term and those magical concerts.  Lucky girl!

Arriving in the little village of St Wolfgang on Christmas Eve, last year, Becca and I walked up to the 11th Century church for the Midnight Service.  It was freezing cold.  Packed with locals in their wonderful Austrian attire, we felt privileged to be there – and to sing Silent Night in German.  Boy, it’s amazing what your brain retains from ‘O’ Level days!  However, the real ‘pinch yourself’ moment was when, at the end of the service, we all gathered in the square and, from the church tower, the brass band could be heard playing Stille Nacht.  Here we were, on Christmas Eve, in Austria!  St Wolfgang, situated on the lake’s edge, surrounded by snow-capped mountains … the stars were twinkling and we thanked them.

I am loathe to drag myself back from Austria but the contrast is nothing if not funny.  Here we are in a culture of drunken office parties complete with the obligatory Secret Santa presents.  The latest?  Someone gave a spaniel puppy as said present!  Contained in a box, the recipient was oblivious until returning home.  These little green men would be wise to confine their search for intelligent life to St Andrews.

On the subject of ‘intelligent life’, let me leave you with a quote from Stanley Johnson on his recent ‘confinement’ in the jungle – ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here‘.  He could only have been conducting a social experiment but faced with the likes of Amir Khan who not only had never heard of Margaret Thatcher but, also, had no idea where he was when trying to locate Sydney on a world map, Stanley was gentility personified.  The power of language in the hands of a master!

‘His mind is unsullied.’    Stanley Johnson referring to Amir Khan, December 2017.

This is Trish, signing off.