Christmas Then and Now

Travel Talk

The Bone Boffin looked at the x-rays, peering through spectacles whose frames rested on his face mask.  

“You now have Osteoarthritis in both hips and in your left knee,” he declared.

He said nothing about the right knee, which was just as well because, four years ago he put an artificial joint there.

Then he switched off his computer, signed a slip of paper and thrust it into my hand. “Come back in 2022”, he said.Goodbye”.

I’ll say this for the Bone Boffin – or, rather, the Orthopaedic Surgeon – he is no time-waster. I admire him for that. And the fact that he is a very good surgeon.

As instructed, I left the slip of paper at the reception desk on my way out.

Two days later a letter arrived from the hospital. I am to return at 11.30 on the morning of 6 October 2022.   

I thought it was nice of the hospital to assume I’m still going to be around then. I fully intend to be, but when you get to my stage (dare I say ‘our stage’) of life’s journey, you become cautious about long-term planning.

I was also somewhat concerned that the letter reminded me I should put on a mask on arrival, be prepared to answer Covid-related health questions and have my temperature taken.

Either it was computer-generated, or the folk at King’s College Hospital know a lot more about Coronavirus than they’re letting on. 

Now I’m sorry to start off this ‘Now & Then’ like an episode of ‘Casualty’, but do so as a reminder that life is going to get back to normal, and we need to start making post-Covid plans.  

Maybe not as far ahead as October 2022, but certainly from the late Spring of next year. (About which, more in a moment.)

As far as I can tell from the television news and the newspapers, most people are fretting about making plans for the coming Christmas. Quite a lot are bemoaning the fact that it will be ‘miserable’ or ‘gloomy’, if they can’t get together for a family celebration, spending oodles of money on gifts and grub and alcohol.

John Carter My (our?) generation remembers Christmases when there were very few presents, little cause for celebration, and a severe shortage of food and alcohol. Those Christmases during my wartime childhood were not miserable or gloomy, however. We made the most of what we had, enjoying a brief respite from the unrelenting seriousness of life.

As far as I was concerned, Christmas presents came wrapped in brown paper and string, and were always books. Bought at jumble sales, their original owner’s name had been erased or, if inscribed in ink, cut carefully from the page. For years, I thought all books came with the top corner of that first page cut off.

Then the Italian prisoners of war arrived on the scene. They made simple toys and sold them for a few pence, via their guards. My first Christmas toy was an H-shaped wooden frame with a wooden figure suspended from an elastic band stretched across the top of the H. When you squeezed the bottom, the little man jerked and jumped and turned somersaults.

I got as much of a Christmas thrill out of those second-hand books and the little jumping man as my grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) get from the electronic gadgets and other wonderful gifts that seem to be a compulsory part of a modern Christmas.   

In an odd sort of way, I feel a little bit sorry for them, for they have no concept of those earlier, pared-back ‘celebrations’, and don’t realise how fortunate they are to be living at such a wonderful time, Covid notwithstanding.

I concede it may spoil Christmas if you can’t give your grandchildren a hug. But ‘ruin’ it? Come on, there’s the telephone, and Zoom, if you can master the technology (or get the person at the other end to master it for you, as I do). There’s wall-to-wall entertainment on television (they’ll pull out all the stops this year, I can tell you), doorstep deliveries of food and drink. And proper presents via Amazon and eBay and the delivery and click-and-collect systems put in place by the High Street stores.    

Merry Christmas Personally, despite the dodgy hips and knee, I toddle up to the High Street a couple of times a week for fresh air, exercise and some human interaction – oh, and shopping, of course. 

At the end of this month, I may not be mingling with my family and friends as much as I would like to, but I shall not have a ‘miserable’ or a ‘gloomy’ Christmas. And neither should you.

Now, as far as Spring 2021 is concerned, I am scheduled to go on a Fred Olsen cruise in April.   I hope lots of Silver Travel Advisor readers will take advantage of a special offer and join me. I am giving a few talks, too. 

I say ‘a few’, but I think the actual number is three. It may be less, of course, if people throw things and boo. I hope they don’t.

I wish to send you Christmas greetings, and think I can do no better than quote a verse from a song sung by Judy Garland in the 1944 film ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’. It was subsequently rewritten, for modern consumption so you may only know the revised version.

However, the original lyrics are prescient.

“Someday soon, we all will be together.
If the fates allow.
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
So, have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now.”   


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John Carter

Long-time presenter of TV’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and BBC holiday programmes

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