Despite a few exceptionally enjoyable ones that I can recall, I’ve long had a horror of holidays. For a start, as a writer I carry my work around in my head and thus can’t walk away and forget about it. Then there’s the equally inescapable fact that, as we freelancers aren’t entitled to holiday pay, we personally foot the bill for every day we take off. And finally, though I feel kind of pathetic that I have in all honesty to admit to this, I find it almost impossible to relax.
I used to be able to do it. Years ago I could happily lepak with a few friends at the pub, or forget the real world for a while by going to the movies or a football game, or simply sit slumped in front of the television set letting a stream of soap-operas and sporting events lull me into a state of brain-dead bliss.
I also used to at least pretend to relax by working hard at what I thought of as hobbies, like home improvements and gardening. But lately I’ve lived in rented houses and apartments, whose owners naturally don’t want amateurs tampering with their precious properties, and my current domicile has a garden so small I can weed and water the whole thing in half an hour flat.
Thank goodness, then, that I still love reading as much as ever, and that there’s a library just up the road. But unfortunately there’s a limit to how many books I can get through before I start feeling guilty I’m not busy writing one of my own.
So pronounced has my leisure-phobia become that these days I’m finding it a bit of a stretch to make it through a lazy Sunday afternoon without feeling restless, let alone a long weekend. So you can imagine how much I was dreading what’s always seemed to me the almost interminable interval between Christmas Eve and the start of the working New Year.
Christmas is a big enough problem in itself, in that it has a nasty way of turning into Christmess. I have to say, however, that Christmas 2008 started out full of promise. I had more money to spend on it than I’d previously counted on, thanks to $1000 the Rudd government paid me and about four million other pensioners to try and stimulate the Australian consumer economy. Then my publisher in Malaysia told me he’d decided to go ahead with my next book.
So I was feeling in quite a festive mood by Christmas Eve, and had a very pleasant time with the friends who invited us over for dinner that night. And I thoroughly enjoyed Christmas Day, when my daughter and I celebrated at yum cha with my wife, whose birthday happens to coincide with that of Jesus.
I should have just relaxed and gone with the flow from there. But unfortunately I made the mistake of watching and reading the news, which quickly sapped my slender reserve of Christmas spirits.
First came the tidings that a guy in Los Angeles had worn a Santa Claus suit to a party at his ex-in-laws’ house, shot a whole bunch of people dead and torched the house, then driven to his brother’s place and turned the gun on himself.
Then, as if that wasn’t horrible enough to mar the holiday mood, there was the story I read on Malaysiakini, from the Sunday Times I think it was, about Christmas in Zimbabwe.
Starting with a description of the mansion with 47 en-suite bedrooms that’s under construction for Gideon Gono, governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and financial adviser to President Mugabe, the article made the point that “Gono is hardly facing a miserable Christmas, unlike the millions whose lives have been wrecked by the once-prosperous country’s economic meltdown.”
“They are coping with constant power and water cuts, food shortages and now the terror of cholera. The disease has struck because the government has spent so much money corruptly rather than investing in a clean water supply for its people. More than 1,100 have died in the epidemic, nearly 21,000 have been infected and there is no end in sight.”
But such trifles weren’t going to spoil Christmas for Mugabe’s financial wizard and head goon, the article continued, as in the next few days Gono was heading off for a holiday in Malaysia.
“Mugabe would normally go there too. Apart from a holiday, both men have assets in the region in the aftermath of western sanctions and it is a favourite destination.”
I’ve long been aware, of course, that former Malaysia PM Mahathir has played the part of crony and Santa Claus to Mugabe, but I hadn’t previously realized that it was Barisan Nasional policy to play holiday host to other Zanu-PF thieves and thugs.
I can only hope that it’s a reciprocal arrangement, and that in Christmases to come we’ll see BN figures fleeing to Zimbabwe for their vacations, or better still forever, instead of jetting down this way to their holiday homes in Perth.
But whatever the future may bring, the thought of the likes of Mugabe and Gono being made welcome in Malaysia has eliminated any chances I had of feeling a yuletide “goodwill to all men”. Just as the latest upsurge in the vicious circle of violence between the Palestinians and Israelis in the so-called “Holy Land” has made mincemeat of that other festive fantasy, “peace on earth”.
So it’s been a vast relief to have an excuse to take a holiday from the horrordays, on the grounds that I have this column to write. But now it’s almost finished I’ll soon be going spare and getting on my own and my family’s nerves all over again. Unless I can find another assignment, or put myself to work thinking how to prevent next year’s Christmas from turning into a mess, or better still how to give it a total miss.