Having teenagers and a six year old is not the best combo at Christmas. Daughter one was up watching The Exorcist – a festive treat – at 2am which left a small window for Santa to do his [her] magic before smaller overexcited people were up. Daughter three had set her alarm for 6am. Only son said he was not even going to go to sleep at all. In the event, he conked out by around midnight and was awoken by daughter two who was up at 5am.
We had to wake daughter one up at 11am because people couldn’t wait any longer to open their presents.
Daughter two doesn’t do a Christmas list. She says enigmatically that she prefers to be surprised. She is then genuinely bowled over by anything that she gets. Daughter three had hand-made a lot of her presents, including a projector for daughter one – made of a box with a magnifying glass that daughter one places her mobile in so its pictures can be projected onto a wall via the magnifying glass. Only son loves everything, even the toothbrush Santa gave him. Daughter one got a pile of philosophy books and looked pleased, though slightly tired.
We had a bit of a lazy day, talking to family in far-flung places and watching films. Daughter three and I went out for a walk in the evening – she likes to absorb the full Christmas atmosphere. Then I took only son off to bed. I was just coming downstairs when daughters two and three came running up. “George Michael is dead,” they said. “It just came up on the tv.”
Daughters two and three have been brought up listening to Wham! and, most recently, I introduced only son to George Michael’s greatest hits. Daughter two’s favourite songs ever are Club Tropicana and Last Christmas. Only son, who is a dance fiend, is a big fan of Freedom 90.
I was a bit of a Wham! fan, despite my brother’s disapproval back in the day. He was into bands like Scraping the Foetus Off the Wheel and the Mighty Lemondrops. He spent days holed up his room – painted black – listening to the Velvet Underground and Sisters of Mercy. He took me to a Fall gig. I took him to Tina Turner and Bryan Adams.
My brother teased me endlessly about the lyrics of “You can have your credit card, baby” and the like, but Wham! kept me sane during some dark days. When I went to university I was not mentally in the best state. I could have gone for The Smiths and felt even worse, but instead I bought a Wham! tape and listened to it with my earplugs in so that no-one would know. I would go into shops just because they had Wham! songs on. Freedom – original version – was big at a particularly low spot.
When I went to Spain in my third year to teach English, I decided to use Wake me up before you go go to give my students – trainee teachers – an introduction to England. I could have chosen Hey Jude or Yesterday. I should have chosen Hey Jude or Yesterday. I had not realised until that point just how fast Wake me up before you go go is and I had to field questions about what ‘go go’ means. I think they expected some sort of deep transcendental meaning. “It just rhymes with yo yo,” I said. It was around the same time that I offered the students walnut whips and a Fray Bentos steak and kidney pie as an example of British cuisine…
I confess that the only Wham! song that people seem to take seriously – Careless Whisper – is the one I didn’t like. The thing I liked about Wham! was the sheer upbeatness and energy. It was an escape from what I was feeling and a promise of something more fun and optimistic. Plus they grew up only a half hour’s drive from where I lived.
I have been more upset about George Michael’s death than any other well known person who has died this year. I am still upset. Coming as it does as we prepare to confront 2017 and all that could bring, it feels like the world I grew up in is dying.
So on Boxing Day we all piled into the car and drove to London, singing the entire back catalogue of Wham!/George Michael songs. We went down Holloway Road, where I used to live, and past lots of very familiar places and memories. And we ended up in The Grove, Highgate. A group of people were huddled outside George Michael’s house. There was a four by four outside with flowers and photos on it. There were candles on the ground and more flowers. People came up one by one to lay down more. A man in a suit with a briefcase, tourists, old people, young people. There were lots of photographers. It seemed quiet and odd. It was as if everyone was expecting him to emerge and give an impromptu concert.
We went home and daughter two gave me her Christmas present. It’s a sunflower in a pot, all made of jute. It is sitting on my desk, bobbing around, to remind me that this generation badly needs hope and inspiration and not parents grieving over the past. Just give me a few more days to get over this year.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.