By Ray Petersen — Well, here we are again, only a week to go in 2016, and it seems like only yesterday we celebrated New Year’s Eve for this year. It’s been asked before, and will be again, but “My oh my, hasn’t time flown?”
Christmas Day, a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, unlike the Islamic celebrations remains a fixed date, not governed by lunar influences, and is celebrated on the same day each year, today, the 25th of December. It’s also my Dad’s birthday, which was a bit sad for him as a kid because he only had the one celebration a year, unlike all of the other kids, who would get gifts, and have celebrations on both their birthday, and Christmas Day.
He reckons the upside is that he’s “never had an empty sock drawer though, as all of the family seem really conscious of the fact that it is his birthday, and usually wrap up a pair of socks for him (no doubt in leftover Christmas wrap) as a birthday present. At 85 years of age, and with his kids, grandkids and great grandkids, that’s sure as heck a fair few pairs of socks!
He was named Noel, after the old French translation, meaning ‘Christmas celebration.’ It’s a pretty elegant name I’ve always thought, and in many ways Dad has lived up to that loftier perch. He has impeccable manners, is intelligent, articulate, and very well spoken for someone who left school early to go to sea as a fisherman. He has always worked hard, was a very much more talented athlete than I could ever hope to be, and while I found academia, albeit late in life, I have often pondered where Dad could have finished up if he had an academic opportunity. Who knows?
But the thinking in those days, immediately after World War II, was that, “boys from Bluff don’t go to university.” In fact, they didn’t go to high school for long either. As soon as there was a job on the wharf, the railway, the fishing or oyster boats, that was it! “Start earning money, and support your family. No messing around boy!”
One thing I did get from my Dad was a love of horses. Even as a fisherman, Dad was rarely without some sort of interest in horses, and though I wanted to be a good rider, initially, the idea of ‘little me,’ controlling half a ton of horse was neither realistic or appealing. But we stuck at it, and I think we both developed an equine empathy, and had our horse-racing successes.
We would delight, and share in Dad’s orange and white, or my blue and white racing colours, passing the post first, and often be just as pleased with lesser placings and performances. Right there with us, the ‘force behind the throne,’ was Mum, Dawn. As diminutive as Dad is tall, I can’t ever recall a day when there wasn’t a hot cuppa tea, hot toast and honey, or jam, waiting for us after early stables, that was Mum. She would always be ready on time, when we left for the races too, sitting in the car, all dressed up, and waiting patiently.
And talk about an enthusiastic supporter at the races! Dad would be quite deliberate, and even when he was confident, he never let that reserve slip, and would watch a race keenly. He would actually know, long before the finish, what the outcome would be, I think. I would be the optimist! I never liked to see a horse go to the races without a winning chance, and that coupled with being torn between my rider’s, and trainer’s perspectives, I experienced high highs, and low lows, with little moderation, and that’s when it was great to have Dad around.
Mum. Well, she was a whole different ‘kettle of fish,’ as they used to say. She was rarely anywhere near the horses, but was friends with everybody associated with racing in the South. For her, racedays were a chance to socialise with everyone, and ‘Mrs P’ as she was affectionately known, enjoyed herself immensely.
Especially when the family’s horses, or even those ridden by the stable jockeys, were running. She would find her place to watch the race, and was impossible to miss, yelling at the top of her voice for ‘her’ horse. Woe betide anyone who stood in front of her and obstructed her view of the race too! They would get a ‘proper’ tongue-lashing! But never made the same mistake twice!
This will be the first Christmas in 65 years, that Mum and Dad will celebrate Christmas/Dad’s birthday apart, as Mum’s health issues have seen her go into a nursing home. Dad has a wee flat nearby, but I know it just won’t be the same. I know though that Dad’s renowned stoicism, and Mum’s irrepressible nature, along with a healthy helping of my sister Sue’s constant care, affection, and concern, will get them through. Happy birthday Dad. Happy Christmas all of you at home. To all of the Observer team, our readers, friends, and those friends we just haven’t met yet, the best of Season’s Greetings, from Ray, Lena, Sasha, Chris, and the pets. Love you all.