As a child, I spent Christmas with my parents and grandparents in N.E. England. These extracts from my memoir Heaven’s Rage describe the drive from London, my excitement once there, and the behaviour of the extended family. The two poems are additional. Leslie Tate
‘The first big trip was the annual Christmas drive from London to the North East. It took twelve hours through hail and snow with my dad white-knuckling the car around corners like Ahab in a storm. I sat in the back being good. At the end of that drive there was Christmas with family and lights and parties where everyone loved me. It was the kind of journey into darkness where the battle against the elements had a bright-and-shiny ending.’ – Heaven’s Rage, Part 3.
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral & 20 Questions on the Drive North
It’s an animal. Eats sweets.
Hasn’t got a tail. Inside the car.
Sits still all day on the long ride north.
Has a wet patch, hidden. Doesn’t have a name.
Can be animal; can be nice too, or better.
Mustn’t say what. Or touch things. Holds in smells.
Names the different cars. Knows the route well.
Wants to fly a plane. Counts up legs on signs.
Plays twenty questions. Doesn’t like vegetables.
Dreams of coming first.
Can scent the sea ─ it’s in everything.
All day looking forward.
‘And on Christmas Night I hardly slept, appearing very early in the morning white and shaking with anticipation, as if I’d caught a cold.’ – Heaven’s Rage, Part 3.
‘When I sang at Christmas in front of my family the notes seemed to fill the room. I was my performer-self: charming, bashful and yet ‘out of my skin’. Although my pieces were short – a few well-known carols accompanied on piano by my grandmother – I was entranced by their beauty and gave myself up to them.’ – Heaven’s Rage, Part 1.
‘Christmas and birthdays were full of surprise of a different kind. Anticipation-surprise made everything pleasurably breathless and charged with significance, like the moment in a theatre when the lights dim and the curtain goes up. Rooms and objects glowed, faces smiled and anything could happen.’ – Heaven’s Rage, Part 5.
‘My parents thought of themselves as reasonable, down-to-earth people who viewed prayers as slightly suspect and congregations as stand-offish, so going to church was Christmas-time-only. I think the war had interrupted regular worship, there was a reaction against rationing or ‘making-do’, and as belief waned, people wanted gadgets not God.’ – Heaven’s Rage, Part 5.
Good cheer in the backroom with coasters and napkins
and undersea faces in shined up stainless steel.
Red face, red hat; in rolled up shirtsleeves
with saucepots and servers and white turkey slices
that shine like ice cream.
Crackers set them off – pre-pack plastic,
knock-knock and how – as the best plates fill up.
Ho-ho-ho, knees and elbows, knees and elbows
and mind that door.
For him boy’s best can do no harm.
Their smiles say more. Hee-hee-hee.
Cheese straws, Tizer and icing from the sides.
Eat up speak up for sixpence in the cake.
Here’s the whole family with big hands,
paper chains, joke words, punch bowls,
song sheets and prizes passing around.
Ha-ha-ha. These are our ways. Admire them.
- ABOUT LESLIE TATE’S BOOKS:
- Love’s Register tells the story of romantic love and climate change over four UK generations. Beginning with ‘climate children’ Joe, Mia and Cass and ending with Hereiti’s night sea journey across Oceania, the book’s voices take us through family conflicts in the 1920s, the pressures of the ‘free-love 60s’, open relationships in the feminist 80s/90s and a contemporary late-life love affair. Love’s Register is a family saga and a modern psychological novel that explores the way we live now.
- Heaven’s Rage is a memoir that explores addiction, cross-dressing, bullying and the hidden sides of families, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake. You can read more about/buy Heaven’s Rage here.
- The Dream Speaks Back, written by Sue Hampton, Cy Henty and Leslie Tate, is a joint autobiography exploring imagination and the adult search for the inner child. The book looks at gender difference, growing up in unusual families and mental health issues. It’s also a very funny portrait of working in the arts, full of crazy characters, their ups and downs, and their stories. You can buy a signed copy of The Dream Speaks Back here.