Brophy at Christmas
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Christmas with a mother who was a strident opponent of hypocrisy, a vegetarian and a proselytising atheist wasn’t much fun for me, a child without siblings, in 1960s London. In fact, Brigid was a pragmatist and a besotted mother: My parents ensured my childhood Christmases were enchanting. We didn’t have a tree (until I was old enough to see to one myself), no bird was cooked, no burst of socialising took place. Yet as a child I fully revelled in the anticipation of Christmas Day, on which I was ridiculously indulged. With her customary rational attitude, Brigid told me truthfully that she and my father were responsible for the pillow case delivered to my bedside while I was asleep on 24th December. I woke to an aesthetic feast: Brigid and Michael were both inspired gift-finders, so my pillow case was always filled with delightful, unusual, colourful objects; some were what my father termed ‘frivols’, meaning, approximately, small attractive ephemeral items. Brigid was not the least bit puritanical when it came to buying for others, indeed she often spotted amusing and sophisticated pieces.
I felt no lack of Father Christmas or of the infant Christ; but actually, my maternal grandmother, Charis, offered me both, and, in addition, had I wanted it, a turkey dinner. I was able to supplement my ‘alternative’ home experience with Charis’ traditional seasonal rituals, in a sort of alternative to my ‘alternative’ Christmas.
Brigid fundamentally loathed the whole Christmas occasion. The enforced suspension of normality disrupted her writing. She deplored the celebration which led the nation’s conventional parents to collude in lying to their children. Less intellectually, there was the social agony of her parents’ Boxing Day drinks, when their many neighbours assembled to make conversation for an hour or so before lunch. I presume her parents intended to show Brigid off, as she was then becoming known as an author, yet she was excruciatingly awkward when called upon to perform socially and I saw how she steeled herself to attend- she really was exceptionally shy; my father was much better at that sort of event. I enjoyed taking round dishes of cheese footballs; it was something to do on what was otherwise a null, dull, non- pillow- case day.
Years later, Iris Murdoch wrote to Brigid, ‘I’m sorry you don’t like the Christmas Festival. I love it. Doesn’t it symbolise something wonderful?’ I can’t imagine she received my mother’s assent.