Every year was the same. I'd fly up to Tauranga, get picked up by one of the family at the glorified airfield Tauranga calls an airport. A round of plastic guddays, out to the shack out back where I always crash. It's my father's den. 27 deer skulls mounted around the wall, a single bed, a desk, the stereo. One man's heaven is another man's purgatory. I've been there five minutes and already I'm regretting it.
Unpack the necessities; cigarette tin and lighter. Stop to breathe for as long as I can drag out the rollie. Trapped in Tauranga and all the family is here. How long before the plastic wears thin and the arguments begin? Go up the stairs. Uptight Rodriguez and Trev are deep in a discussion on marginal taxation. Randy has brought along his friend from Orkland. As always, she is beautiful. As always, it's a different one every time. Uptight's husband, Chip, is slowly acclimatising to our thermonuclear tradition. I always enjoy seeing Randy's chick's reaction when the fireworks begin.
One year, we had a yelling match in a nice restaurant in Bethlehem for Xmas dinner. It was about nothing. Politics. The old man reckoned that higher pay meant people didn't work as long as his day. Uptight and Randy insisted the working week is longer now. I went out for a cigarette. That was one of the better ones. The dinners I dreaded were the ones at the house. Anything you say can and will be used as evidence against you later on. It's best to keep answers to a concise minimum. Elaborate at your peril.
In 2000, everything changed. December was the beginning of the end, the end of happiness. September had seen my relationship with Ms Machete fall apart. October, I walked out of my Telecom job. November, the old man had cancer again. 2001, I knew, was going to be a hell of a lot worse (I was right). So, I pondered, what to do for Xmas? One last Xmas fight with the old man? No. He had made it abundantly clear earlier that month that he didn't want me around and, besides, he never believed in Xmas.
So, what were the flatmates doing? Ms Machete (don't ask) and her new boyfriend, Tapanui Joe, were staying put. Michael Jackson was there for the duration too. No, not THAT MJ of course. This guy was born in India and had a ginger afro. In one way shape or form, we all wanted to take a break from the hollowed virtue of duty and actually have a Xmas we enjoyed.
December 25th, 2 pm-ish. Phone unplugged, mobiles off. The people who sublet the garage from our landlord had already been round to pick up a bushy pressie from their pungent lock-up. We had changed into the Gen X&Y version of our Sunday Best, that individual uniform of our most comfortable and favoured garments. The Mt Cook Slug House lounge was all laid out. A gargantuan antipasti sat dwarfing the crate it was placed on. Tomatoes, artichokes, olives, roasted capsicum, feta, pastrami, proscuitto, olive oil and salt. And bread, lots of bread. On the coffee table sat dessert; four Hoffmans on a Bike and an ounce of Xmas tree courtesy of Cousin Mork from Orkland, and a bottle of champagne I'd won off Jonathan Hunt in a bet.
Later, we headed out the front door to a brilliant Wellington afternoon, stopping at the dairy for chewing gum and liquids. We walked. Taranaki Street to the sea. Acid babble would just as suddenly and naturally give way to silence. Not silence, clearly. Distracted by beauty, this This. Someone suggested parliament. A quick consensus. Mishing through town, the only others on the street are the ethnics. Hedons and heathens, Dagg bless 'em. Sure there were cars, but cars aren't people.
Parliament grounds deserted. Mooch around the Parliamentary Library a bit without bother. Go across the road to the church. 5:30 on Xmas day and no-one's there. Place is locked up tight. Someone suggests the Thorndon hills. Good for a view and all. So we mish up through the grey sector of ACC and IRD offices, past the State Services block with its statue on the lawn with birdshit on its head. Make a beeline for the Green Belt through the overpriced cottage boxes of Thorndon.
Halfway up, we stop for a breath. Just as we're about to sit, I catch a movement out of the corner of my eye. It's The Man With The Bucket setting up his shelter for the night. I turn around and for a moment I see what he sees, the sunset forming a shadow arcing across the harbour. The pines sway as the breeze sighs through them. Sunset. Somehow, that was important. Then it clicked. Sunset. Dark soon. I mooshed the crew back down the hill before we ran out of light. Merry Christmas, Mr Jones!
Later, I head off to Hataitai and Ozzy Scotty's flat. Everyone's pretty mellow, except this lippy chick who was on this completely different trip called bourbon. I hate bourbon. And rum. I wish she would just leave me alone. During one of her longer tirades, my beer can turns into a can of mace and I laugh at an inappropriate moment. Eventually, she has pissed enough people off to get her poured out onto the street. NZ women should stop whingeing about this alleged man drought. Due to substandard and even hazardous working conditions, NZ men are on strike.
A bunch of men sit round the table playing Grass, chain-smoking, telling stories and forgetting whose turn it was. Many many hands later I head off home, timing how long Mt Vic Tunnel takes to walk as opposed to long it seems to take. 7 and a half minutes. Nah, that's wrong. Home, physically stuffed but the brain still wants to play. I turn off the light, lie down and close my eyes. I sit at the back of my head chomping neurotransmitter popcorn as the Cinema Show and fireworks go off on the frontal lobe's widescreen.
In the morning, I open my eyes and everything was exactly how it was. But I had had one glorious Xmas. All the best to all the readers, the dreamers, the freaks, geeks and queers. Hope you have a glorious Xmas and an interesting '007.