In the twenty five years I’ve lived in London, or should I say London’s reluctantly put up with me, I’ve never had a white Christmas but in Northern Ireland it’s a much more frequent occurrence. From the ages of eleven to sixteen I helped my older brother deliver milk and usually that involved trudging through the rainy streets of Bangor, cold and wet and looking forward to 1 Old Belfast Road, our last delivery and then it was off to school for me. As a general rule, apart from the postmen and the odd person doing The Walk Of Shame, we’d be the only ones awake and up, the vast majority of house lights would be off with the good folk of Bangor safely tucked up in bed, lovely and cosy, dreaming away whilst Raymond and I trudged around the streets and up their drives delivering milk. It could be a bit lonesome, him, me and the odd ferocious dog chasing us down the streets but around 6:30am we would start to see bedroom lights coming on as folk dragged their fat asses out’a bed and got ready for work.
However, on Christmas morning it was a completely different kettle of fish. We would see lots of houses with the lights on much earlier, sometimes even at 4:30 in the morning, and not just one bedroom light but all the lights and we knew there was a house with kids in it, we could even hear them talking excitedly and occasionally at 6am we’d see some child out on a new bicycle that Santa had brought, too excited and impatient to wait to try it out and riding it up and down the street. Invariably the parents would be standing at the bottom of the garden path watching them, nearly always dressed in their dressing gowns half smiling but knowing they had a snowballs chance in hell of getting back to bed.
One Christmas morning it had snowed quite heavily, a downer for kids with new bicycles – not like that didn’t stop them trying – but wonderful for me. There’s something special about snow, especially at Christmas, I have very clear memories of doing my milk round through virgin snow, the air is always incredibly still when it’s snowed, the world quieten and the only sound is of your boots crushing the snow with each step.. magical. As a milkman – or should I say milkboy – one tried to be invisible, you want to deliver the milk quietly and not wake up the street and this is why we used electric milkfloats and by and large we were invisible – except to large dogs – and Jehovah Witnesses. The whole world is transformed when it snows, snow makes everything clean and white but more than that it makes everything look like we are living in a fairy tale. Occasionally we would see tracks in the snow, tracks of foxes as they went about their nightly business but mostly Raymond and I would have the virgin snow all to ourselves and it was like a blank canvas, waiting for us to start filling it in with the tyres of the milk float and our clodhopper boots. We were always a bit quieter on these snowy morning, like we knew this was a special morning, something to be savoured – though of course Raymond would occasionally lob a snowball at the back of my head when I least expected it to wake me up!
In Australia it’s the height of summer and one of my friends will be on a beach watching Santa arrive on a surf board whilst she cooks Christmas lunch on a barbeque, it’s strange to think of her catching a few rays whilst unwrapping Christmas presents but to steal a line from a 1954 movie White Christmas, which I’m sure will be shown many times around the world, ‘May your days be merry and bright; and may all your Christmases be white’ – even in Australia! Merry Christmas everyone.