The Queen did her first Xmas speech to her people as well as to the Commonwealth in 1952 – mostly reflections of developments during the year, etc. etc. And this year, we are told she has snubbed her new daughter –in – law! But why am I blogging about this? Well, this is just a good excuse to tell you that for about twelve years, from a small cubicle at the BBC, I was broadcasting the Queen’s speeches ...in Malay!
The speech, in a firmly sealed envelope, was usually kept under very tight security – just in case it was leaked out to the press before Christmas. I’d get it just the day before Christmas, translate it and in a voice so unlike Her Majesty’s, I’d sit in my self op room and play Queen! So, that’s it. The next day, on Christmas Day, it’d be played out, while I sit in front of the TV at home and watch repeats of The Sound of Music.
So there – it is not as if I could write a book called, “Once I was the Queen”, hehe!
When we were small, Christmas was always with Uncle D and Aunty T. They celebrated Christmas and we just joined in the fun. I remember one particular Christmas in Port Dickson where we booked a bungalow to see the new year in. Uncle D dressed up as Santa and we children had so much fun. Aunty T cooked her delicious chicken curry and roti parata to go with it. That used to be Christmas. I don’t know where Uncle D and Aunty T are now but I certainly hope they had a wonderful Christmas. For us, we just sat in front of the TV, like every other year to watch repeats.
Our arrival in London 26 years ago was just a few days before Christmas and I had expected a white Christmas of course, just like the ones we see on TV. I was very disappointed. Christmas is of course, very much a family affair. So we were quite touched that for the first few Christmases, we were invited by close friends to join them at the family table. There I was, with funny paper hat, perched uneasily on my head trying to tackle those horrible Brussel sprouts. And again, after dinner, we’d watch repeats, play scrabbles or do the jigsaw puzzle. The mother died a few years later, one of the brothers migrated to Brazil and the other died recently. But I must add this, we became so much a part of this family that when the brother died, I was in the car following the hearse and was seated in the front row as a family member. So, this year, M won’t be knocking on our door with gifts for the children or papayas from his brother in Brazil.
Christmas parties at the office start very early. At the BBC where I used to work, there were a lot to cover but none would match parties by the Far Eastern Service. While the Eastern Europeans would serve nuts, cheese, crisps, sandwiches and of course drinks, ours would have mee goreng, currypuffs, rendang and satay – very popular indeed! This year, I gave Christmas parties a miss.
In our own household, when the children were small, they would insist on a Christmas tree and presents but we explained to them that it wasn’t our culture or religion. The children, however, did involve themselves in Christmas plays at school. Little T was one of the three wise men, and much later his father gently told him that perhaps we should just be in the audience and watch and not participate at all. He pleaded and became one of the donkeys instead. That sort of minimised the role a bit.
When halal butchers started stocking halal turkey, we used to have roast turkey but I have never really taken to turkey. The meat is dry and tasteless – but perhaps it is the way I cooked it. We’d have roast turkey with nasi tomato – don’t get me wrong – we were not celebrating. This is so we could keep stuff our face while watching repeats. The next day, it’d be turkey sandwich. And if there’s anymore leftovers, it’d be turkey curry!
One particular Christmas break, on impulse we booked a cabin in Wales. Of course, I had with me a ready roasted chicken, loads of ingredients for curry and bread. The place we booked was a long way away from Swansea but it was a good break – no tv, no repeats for that year. A friend who had booked a cabin for his family had already arrived and we had a wonderful Malay dinner in a cabin in the outskirts of Swansea. The wind was howling outside, it was bitterly cold but the chicken curry and bread kept us quite warm throughout the night, while we played scrabble. The next morning the children went to feed the farmer’s goats and chicken while the grown-ups went to fish – and we had salmon and air asam for lunch. And I wonder what they had for repeats that year.
A good friend of ours decided to tie the knot of Christmas Day – so since then – must be about ten years ago, we would be over at their place to celebrate their anniversary. And we’d have turkey of course, among other things. After which we’d watch repeats or perhaps some old Malay movies. But this year, they are celebrating their anniversary in Bali. Why is everyone going away?
But a couple of Christmases were quite tragic. One night we came back from a celebration at a friend’s place. Before turning in, H, as usual, called out to the cat to come in. He was one of our first few cats. We didn’t even have a name for him. Then H was too tired and went to sleep. The next morning, there was a knock on the door and a neighbour told us that our lovely cat had been knocked down by a car. H was full of remorse – blaming himself for not going out to search for his cat. AG cried silently for it was this cat who kept him company while he did his work at home and we were all in tears.
I was wrapping presents a few days ago for our neighbours when Nona reminded me that I had forgotten someone. So, I went out and bought a box of chocolates for Sandra’s mum. Sandra was Nona’s childhood friend. Sandra used to knock on the door for Nona in the morning to go to school. And Sandra, in her sweet voice, would always stop me on the way out to say cheerfully, ‘Hi, aunty – how are you?’ But not anymore.
Two Christmases ago, I came back and found Nona in tears. Sandra died in a hit and run, yards from her house. Her mum was inconsolable and so was Nona. This Christmas, Nona took the box of chocolate to Sandra’s mum and came back with a present. It was necklace – Sandra’s necklace and her mum wanted Nona to have it.
And of course, how could we forget last Christmas – indeed, how could anyone forget last Christmas when we woke up the next day and saw tragedy unfolding on our TV screens.
And now in my best Queen's high pitch voice "Beta ucapkan selamat tahun baru - dan senyum-senyumlah selalu".