The Christmases preserved in my childhood memories were filled with uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents. I also have recollections of highly decorated (and highly flammable) plastic Christmas trees. There were more mince pies than anyone could possibly eat. And I spent my time unwrapping presents, watching TV and staying indoors out of the cold, although it never snowed.
None of that happens any more. My adult experience of Christmas is completely different.
Because my family and in-laws live in other parts of the country, Christmas is now mostly about long car journeys in inclement weather.
The location that has become most etched in my mind is the motorway service station at Leicester Forest East, and my most vivid recollections consist of dragging the children from the car, and fighting through torrential rain into its welcoming concrete shelter.
Leicester Forest East is a historic building. It was built on the M1 – Britain’s first motorway – in 1966 and based on a contemporary Italian design. Can you spot the continental glamour? I fear that some crucial design element may have been lost in translation, or perhaps it’s just the different climate that’s to blame.
I like LFE because its restaurant is located on a bridge over the carriageway, and you can watch enormous lorries and other vehicles hurtling towards you as you eat.
Originally, the restaurant offered silver service dining. Now it offers McDonalds and KFC, which is evidently what people actually want, not what they pretend to want.
I read that LFE may close in 2017 as part of a junction-widening scheme. Again, this shows what people actually want (to reach their destination quickly) rather than what they say they want (to be served gourmet food in faux-Italian surroundings, while large trucks roar beneath them). But it fills me with a sense of premature nostalgia.
One day, as I zoom along the motorway so efficiently, without needing to stop for infant feeding time or knife-edge toilet breaks, I will think of those Christmases of my middle years, with nostalgia and longing. I will remember the stench of soiled nappies, of greasy burgers, and of diesel fumes. And I will miss them more than I can say.