Snow-ward bound

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It is the second day in December and the silly season is starting to set in. It’s also the second day of winter here in Singapore. I’ve been layering the bed with thick doonas and cosy blankets, I’ve wrapped myself in a warm cardigan and the kettle is boiling for that first winter cocoa. Not really. Right now it’s only 28 degrees which is actually cooler than usual. The kicker though is that it’s 88% humidity. Oh Singapore, never change. Winter is more of clothing style than an actual season here. More accurately, it’s monsoon time. Our second of the year, the northeast monsoon is characterised by loud, thundery storms that build up through the morning and explode in the afternoon. Similar to Australian summer but here the storms are all bark and no bite. Anyway, Singapore’s “winter” is making it difficult to fathom what Christmas will be like this year.

This year FS (future spouse? We’re workshopping the labelling thing still) and I are spending Christmas with his family in Europe. His parents are flying over from Australia and we’ll come from Singapore. We’re collecting his sister and her partner in London then heading to Denmark for Christmas with FS’s brother and his family. Christmas in Denmark, in December, in Europe. Winter is coming. And I am not ready.

My last 25 Christmases have been spent in the Southern Hemisphere. To me, Christmas is summer. It’s beach and stone fruits and mangoes and salads and sunburn and cricket and cold beers. It’s light hair and dark skin, and always having a layer of sand (and an empty beer bottle, thanks to a littering passenger) on the floor of the car. It’s not cold and dark, unless you’re sequestered away in air conditioning nursing a hangover or catching a Boxing Day movie.

A white Christmas looks lovely on TV or in movies, or when Bing Crosby is singing about it. But it’s going to be cold. I’ve always wanted to sink a few pints in an old London pub and complain about the tube (also to call it ‘the tube’ without feeling like a twat). But it’s going to be cold. Plus snowboarding and snow kiting sound like so much fun! But it’s going to be cold. I can’t quite get past it.

I don’t cope well with cold. It makes me grumpy and hungry. I also just don’t have the wardrobe for it. The warmest thing I have is a recently-acquired hiking jacket. It’s very much a function over form situation and, though it fared admirably on a volcano hike in Indonesia, I’m sceptical of its worth (aesthetically and practically) on the London High Street or in a snow-swaddled village in Denmark. Also on a shallower, less practical note, how do you look nice and respectable at all those ‘trendy London nightspots’ when you’re swaddled in 13 layers of clothing and resemble someone trying to subvert a Ryan Air baggage allowance? I just don’t know.

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Cold aside, and for me that’s a very big aside, I’m crazy excited. It’s going to be amazing. Apart from a teenage exchange trip to Germany, I’ve never been to Europe. I’ve only seen snow twice. It will be great to spend some time with FS’s family too, it’s been years since they’ve all been together so it’s going to be very special. And if it’s cold, it’s not the end of the world. I can always go shopping or borrow something. What better way to bond with my future sisters-in-law than by stealing their clothes?

Christmas cake

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The cake!

I made my first Christmas cake last year. It was a bit of a production. I foraged far and wide for the ingredients: dried fruit, slivered almonds, brandy, gluten-free flour. The fruit soaked in the brandy for a week and gave out head spins to those foolish enough to open the container. For some reason or another, the baking itself was to take place at my parents’ house. It went without a hitch. A beautiful, gluten-free Christmas cake, heaving with fruit and glazed to shining perfection. My work was done. The cake was left with my parents and I went home. I hate Christmas cake.

A week or so later, stopping by for coffee, I asked for a review.

“How was it?”

It was good, they assured me. Lovely with a cup of coffee for morning tea.

“The taxi driver really enjoyed it too.”

“What?”

An unexpected review. They invited a taxi driver inside for a cup of tea and a piece of cake. Rolling my eyes at this old-fashioned behaviour, I chastised them. Inviting a stranger into your house? After you’ve come from a Christmas function where alcohol was most likely consumed with vigour? And a taxi driver? Collectively they’re not known as the most trustworthy bunch of people, at least in Brisbane anyway. My long-suffering parents let me finish and then exchanged a look. A look with a long history and, most likely, a long future of making me feel like a child who’s been told they’ll understand when they’re older. But I want to know now!

“We had a chat with him…” my mother explained. He was a young man, probably no older than my younger brother. He spoke with an accent and came from Afghanistan. They asked him how long he had been here, if he liked it, if his family and friends were here too. The young man started to get upset, though he tried to hide it. He was a refugee, his family, his parents, were still in Afghanistan. They had turned into my parents’ street by this stage and the young man had fallen into a stoic silence, his voice raspy when he asked for the house number. I can just picture my parents exchanging another one of their looks, and my mother leaning forward in her seat, straining against her seat belt:

“Why don’t you come in for a cup of tea and some Christmas cake?”

The young man refused, out of politeness and embarrassment, plus he was working.

“Take a break,” my Dad offered.

The poor man didn’t stand a chance. To say no to my parents you need to weave a delicate web of distractions, alternative suggestions, procrastination and, finally, shifting the blame on to external factors like boyfriends, work or the alignment of the stars.

So he parked at the end of the driveway and came in for a much-needed cup of tea, piece of cake and two pairs of sympathetic ears. He didn’t stay long, but I’m sure Mum tried to convince him to stay longer. And that’s how my Christmas cake got its review.

“There’s only one slice left, just enough for Dad’s morning tea tomorrow.”

I was taken aback by the whole story, and vaguely responded with something about making another cake and charging per slice.

It’s strange how something simple, like a cake, in the hands of the right people can be something so much more. I’m sure it was to the taxi driver and it certainly is to me. But, in what also is a testament to my parents, they have probably forgotten about it entirely. It was a small and habitual encounter, something they’d do for anyone at any time. It’s probably sad that a simple act like this sticks in my mind so firmly, and that my initial reaction was one of cynicism. It’s just kindness. Something we definitely need more of. I hope my parents don’t mind me sharing this but there needs to be a place in this hard, suspicious world for tea and cake with someone who needs it.