I enjoyed Christmas as a child, when it was an almost magical time. The paper decorations in the ‘Good Room’, the hustle and bustle of preparation on the farm to stockpile everything necessary to save a few hours from work and swap them for some free time on Christmas Day. Extra loads of kale were cut and loads more mangolds pulled and stored for the big day.
The day always started at about 4am when the morning milking was brought forward by a couple of hours to buy that couple of hours of rest later in the day. This invariably meant that Dad spent most of his Christmas free time fast asleep in his chair.
But it was a big family day and I remember those moments far better than the toys in my stocking or pillowcase. Whatever those ‘must have’ presents were have long been forgotten but memories of sitting down to Christmas lunch in the Good Room are still very much with me.
There wasn’t much to be conspicuously consumed in the late 1950s and I’ve no idea of the presents my aunts gave me one year, probably new clothes from Gabriel’s, but I do remember them dressing up as witches with tall pointy hats and just as pointy noses to pull the presents from a papier maché cauldron, keeping in character the whole time.
As I grew up, Christmas became less special and more of an irritant than a pleasure.
But then I got married and had children of my own. And I married a woman who made Christmas magical every year. She is no longer with us but her love for Christmas is embedded deeply in our little family. Memories that are priceless were her great gift to us.
However, at the time it wasn’t easy for the Spirit of Christmas being married to Scrooge. For many of those years we were as poor as a church mouse. Poorer in fact because no church mouse had a huge overdraft and credit cards over their limits run up trying to keep a hopeless dream alive.
You can’t tell me anything about austerity.
I shopped with calculator in hand, seeking out the best food bargains, determined to feed the family well on a pittance. No brand loyalty, no preferred foods, but the best bang we could get for the buck.
And it worked. From January to December the credit card balance reduced, the overdraft shrank (a little) and there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel. No holidays, no eating out, no trips to cinemas and no ‘on trend’ clothes or toys for the kids. Until the start of the Christmas season, when all fiscal restraint just fell away and we moved from journeying to a safer future to enjoying a life of fun and plenty which I believed we just couldn’t afford and for which there was no real justification.
The result was that every year we would have a wonderful Christmas and with the added bonus of creating memories and traditions that are still with us and are worth every penny we didn’t have that we invested in them.
Then it was back to belt tightening and fiscal responsibility.
As we approach Christmas 2019, it seems to me we have endured a decade of faux austerity with no festive periods to cheer us up and give us the hope we need to keep going forward. I call it faux austerity because we have actually contributed more and more money to the States of Guernsey, which has chosen to hoard it rather than spend it.
Our current ‘Administration’ is more Scrooge-like than it is the Spirit of Christmas. While denying us an extra few pieces of coal (sorry for the analogy, Greta), it sits upon a great treasure chest overflowing with money. Each year, as we shiver a little more, our chancellor squirrels away a few more tens of millions, while at the same time explaining that we need to pay more for the fine services our government provides.
We don’t have enough affordable housing but we do have a bank account with millions in it waiting for the day we decide to build some. Off the top of my head I think we have nearly £500m. which has been allocated to future projects, plus the unspent portion of the huge loan we took for some unknown reason.
We read this week that 26% of us would struggle to cobble together £100 to meet an unexpected expense. I’m not sure how many of the 26% are States deputies or senior civil servants but I would imagine a fair few nurses and other public servants are within that group.
A government does need money to operate and governments must be fiscally responsible, however much of the financial pressure on the ordinary Sarnian is down to the decisions of the 2012 and 2016 Assemblies.
As an example, the decision to abolish the 11-plus has added £100m. at least to the cost of Education’s infrastructure plans. Retaining the 11-plus would have cost £60m. or so to build a spanking new La Mare and avoided dividing our community and further alienating it from government.
That £100m. equates to about £4,000 per household in Guernsey. Which means one political decision will mean that the same number of children will be taught the same things by the same teachers at a one-off cost which could have given all of us a great Christmas present.
In the UK, Comrade Corbyn was offering Christmas every day, which, sensibly, the UK electorate realised wasn’t possible. Mrs May and her predecessor Scrooged it up big time, which again the UK electorate didn’t buy into.
I predict that Boris will be more akin to me and my dear wife. He will be Scrooge-like most of the time but he will be prepared to release the Spirit of Christmas when necessary.
What do I hope the new year will bring? A new Assembly that will put ideology and political theories behind it and focus on closing the divide between people and government and restoring the respect and trust that has been lost. And one which gives us at least one good Christmas every year and leaves us with happy memories of a great place to live in.
Merry Christmas, everyone.