Liz is a crip activist and actor, now trying to gain experience as a stand-up comedian. Originally from the North West, she recently moved to London, lured by the bright lights and the promise of fame and fortune. She's still waiting.
The ghost of Christmases past
16th December 2009
I’d wake up in the early hours, unwrap my fuzzy felts and start munching through my chocolate selection box. We’d go to church to sing carols and then, when my cousins came to visit, I’d race around the house excitedly in my best frock and an oversized paper hat from a Christmas cracker. At 3 o’clock, all the children would sit quietly in front of the TV for the Queen’s speech, because that meant there was only 5 more minutes until the Top of the Pops Christmas Special. After that, everyone would stuff themselves with Turkey, vow not to eat as much next year and then, depending on age, would either have a nap or go and play with their presents.
Every year was the same and every Christmas was a happy one. Once I became a disabled child however, that all changed.
This meant that Christmas became a very different experience for me. I still woke up expectantly in the early hours and there was still that pillowcase full of presents at the end of the bed, but now I couldn’t lift my head to look at them, never mind reach them. Santa was a cruel, cruel man. Instead of the frenzied unwrapping of gifts, I lay in bed waiting for my parents to get up. Eventually they’d appear, help me get washed and dressed, carry me downstairs and then presents? No. It was time to start peeling the vegetables for Christmas dinner.
Whilst my parents were busy preparing the meal, I was subjected to what can only be described as ritual humiliation by my older brother. He thought it would be amusing to plonk a red and white Father Christmas hat on my head. He knew I couldn’t reach to take it off. He does it every year. Ho Ho Ho.
When I did finally get a chance to open my presents, my parents had been as generous as ever but the type of gifts they’d bought me were now quite different. Roller skates had been replaced by books, the space hopper had been replaced by books and even the board games that I could have played had been replaced by ... books. Essentialy, after I became disabled, I received a lot of books. Oh, and bedsocks.
Next came the visitors. First, it was the local priest, Father Frank, who turned up to give me a Christmas Blessing. Suspiciously, at the exact same time, my entire family would always disappear to deal with an alleged ‘crisis’ in the kitchen. He laid a little alter out on the coffee table, lit a couple of candles and began to sing Silent Night. It wasn’t all bad; every year he would bring me a present. It was always a book. It was always the same book.
Relatives usually began to arrive around midday and whilst the children ran upstairs to play, the adults would surround me in the living room and tell me how well I was looking. For the rest of Christmas day, I was a child forced to sit in an inner sanctum of adult hood. It was here that I was entrusted with all kinds of family secrets: Aunty Betty had a third degree prolapse, Uncle Michael had been visited by the bailiffs and goose fat is the key to the crunchiest roast potatoes.
I began to enjoy being an honorary adult for the day. Not only did it mean I was privy to classified information but I was also allowed a tipple. My uncle Bernard gave me a snowball, “to put some colour in those cheeks”, my gran poured me a glass of Stout for my blood and then dad offered me a tot of rum for my circulation. By the time The Sound of Music had started, the living room would inevitably be filled with the sound of snoring and at long long last, I would start to feel full of the Christmas spirit.
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