A Heartwarming Christmas Story from the Miners’ Strike

So, I did my Superman bit today. I’ve been donating platelets for over a year, now, because I fit their bill. It’s a sort of blood donation amped up: they take less stuff out of you, so you can do it more frequently, and as a result, you’re in every month rather than every three months; also, the period of the donation is about an hour and a half altogether, about 55 minutes of which is being hooked up to the machine with blood cycling in and out, rather than the 20-30 minutes for a standard pint of your finest A-negative. When they gave me the brief on how it all worked, I was most impressed to learn that, should they need platelets, they spin that standard pint to separate it, and they get about a quarter of a useful unit. Four donations are therefore needed to do one job at the hospital. When you give platelets, they usually take two units, but it is possible to give “a triple,” which would mean you’re really doing the work of 12 human beings over the space of half an afternoon.

Punch line: today I did my first triple.

I’d tried before, but it hadn’t worked out for whatever reasons. They have computers and such that work out of it’s going to go ahead or not, and despite my willingness, conditions were not right. Until today.

Give a little extra at Christmas, sez I. Chatting about Christmas with one of the nurses as she unhooks me, and somehow it gets round to one from the past. “You weren’t here in ’84, were you?” she says. Charitably, I just say, “No.” I don’t need to add that I was five.

“Well, that was the time of the miners’ strike, and my husband was a miner.” Tough times, and they had a bairn, too. She knew it would be long, and she knew that Christmas would be tight. But she put aside her coppers–her ones and twos; she couldn’t stow five-pences in the jar, because they were too precious, too useful in the day to day. Because every day was tight, not just Christmas.

At Christmas time, she goes down to the shop and buys the biggest turkey she could afford with all those copper coins. It was, she says, the size of a chicken. Smallest one there. But no bother: a turkey. She cooks it, gets the whole feast ready, goes and gets her nice dress on. Comes downstairs… and the dog has eaten the turkey. “Couldnae believe it.”

I laugh ruefully. “Well, at least the dog had a nice Christmas.”

Ah, but you see, dogs shouldn’t eat hot meat. Bad for their doggie stomachs. So he goes out and vomits it up in the front garden.

She narrates it plain, but it’s clearly my cue to laugh. “You should have taken a picture,” I say. “Sent it down to Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, Number 10 Downing Street.”

“She would have laughed. She would have said, ‘You deserve it!'”

She looks in her fridge, and all she has is three sausages. She cuts them up and kind of spreads them out on the plate so they look like a more substantial piece of meat than they are. Pours over the gravy she’d been making, and all her husband can say is, “Ah, this is excellent gravy. This is amazing–best I’ve had.” I think he was probably a quality bloke for that, though she says she was still just devastated over it.

Now, times have been tough here at the Munnik household, too. Really, since I lost my job with CBC in 2009, we’ve had to be mindful of our spending. We must have already laid some good habits down, as we had enough aside to cushion us through that time, to get us over to the UK, and to fund half of my MA. I got a sponsorship for the PhD, so for three years, we knew our expenses were covered. It wasn’t “get ahead” territory, but we didn’t slip behind, either. We knew that window would eventually close, so we’ve kept prudent, and now we’re back in mindful territory as I put the doctoral study behind me and work the ac-job market. Through it all, my wife has been working to keep us a going concern.

What am I saying, here? It’s tight, but I hear stories like that–in a good, Scots kind of way where you’re having a laugh but what on earth is funny about this?–and I think I don’t know what tight is. My kids don’t know what tight is. You know, they keep their “Santa” requests modest: my daughter, bless her, said she would quite like a pocket dictionary so she doesn’t have to keep lugging down the big one when she wants to look something up. Whatever happens Christmas morning, she won’t be disappointed. Our turkey is not at risk, as we’re going across the river to the home of good family friends to share at their table, as we’ve done every Christmas since arriving in Edinburgh. There is no dog to feature as the centrepiece–though if the grandkids’ rabbit eats the Brussels sprouts, both I and my daughter will be devastated. What stories will she tell of her childhood Christmases? What stories will my wife and I laugh about these years? They won’t be as wild as the dog eating the meagre turkey. Nor, I expect, will they be so grim.

3 thoughts on “A Heartwarming Christmas Story from the Miners’ Strike

  1. We shall keep you all in our prayers for Christmas, New Year’s & for the future, that some wonderful employment will be coming your way. Let us hope that the stories you will have to tell years down the road of life will be good ones & remembered with humour. Here’s hoping that the turkey/dog-type stories will be kept to a minimum too.

    Blessings, M&D

    • Thanks, Mom. It would have been easy in this post to fetishise my own childhood–“We never had much money,” etc. Sort of it’s true, but I can’t remember ever feeling deprived. As Paul Simon says, “If I could tell my mom and dad/ that the things we never had/ never mattered, we were always okay/ Gettin’ ready – oh, ready/ Ready for Christmas Day.”

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