IT’S beginning to look a lot like Christmas 2020 at the services on the M62. An exchange of presents is taking place in the rain, bags being moved between cars. A grandfather stoops into his boot and lifts something out.
I have parked here after swapping presents at my father’s house nearby, staying only five minutes as he’s 88, vulnerable and worried about the new strain of Covid-19.
The plan had been for a coffee and a chat with my dad and his wife, lunch at my mother’s in Knutsford, then staying the night before driving home for Christmas Eve. Boris Johnson kiboshed that by cutting Christmas from five days to one in his last-minute special offer.
That’s why I’m sitting in the car in the rain, listening to Keith Jarrett being a piano wizard. The CD is The Koln Concert, recorded in 1975 but new to me. This reminds me of another pianist I love, a Cuban whose name is just out of reach. I’ve seen him twice and have three or four of his CDs; how can that name just disappear?
After a while my mother and her partner turn up in their car, with bags of presents to swap for the bags of presents in my boot. We go inside for a coffee. It’s a Costa, enough to sink the heart of a coffee snob, but the cappuccino isn’t that bad, and it’s a comfort to sit and chat. Not as good as lunch in their house and drinking wine in the evening, but even in dismal surroundings the chat lifts things, in the way family chat does if you are lucky.
We talk about this and that, touching on why it’s a relief my brother didn’t come over from Hong Kong for Christmas, as planned. He’d have been quarantined halfway to next Christmas if he had. We touch also on my other brother, who lives in Barnsley, generally a less troublesome location and mostly without the geopolitical complications.
Now we are outside in the rain, swapping presents as that family had done earlier. An icy wind is lending a hand to the rain, so the parting is swift, nudged elbows with my mum’s partner, a sort of fist-bump instead of a hug with my mother.
It doesn’t stop raining on the way home. Never mind driving home for Christmas, how about shuttling across the M62 in a sideways gale. The wind off Saddleworth always seems to come from the side. That farm stuck between motorway lanes like a traffic island is barely visible today.
The Keith Jarrett CD is back at its beginning, so I switch to the news on BBC Radio 4. Thousands of lorry drivers are stuck in Kent, desperate to get home; some are shouting at the police. It’s a spectacular mess all round. They’re not all in Kent though, as plenty are on the M62, spraying water everywhere.
Back home I unload the presents and my daughter the teacher arranges them neatly around the tree.
Before switching the kettle on, I go to the CD rack. Ah, yes, Roberto Fonseca – glad to put a lens on that mental blind spot.
Now I am writing this by the light of the Christmas tree and it does feel a bit like Christmas. Everyone is making strange accommodations this year. If I were a vicar appearing on Thought for The Day, I would probably point out that Christmas began with strange accommodations in that manger in Bethlehem.
But I’m not, so I won’t.