The Illustrated London News’s illustration of the Christmas Truce: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches” The sub-caption reads “Saxons and Anglo-Saxons fraternising on the field of battle at the season of peace and goodwill: Officers and men from the German and British trenches meet and greet one another—A German officer photographing a group of foes and friends.” Originally published in The Illustrated London News, January 9, 1915.
It’s the Christmas season again. A time for goodwill to man and womankind, love and harmony (unless you are a Putinite, an Iranian cleric or Taliban fanatic). Except, two days before I was due to return from the UK, where I was visiting family, shopping at Christmas markets, enjoying the Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House in London etc., my wife called from Australia to say that we had been burgled.
Apparently, according to the police, it was a gang of young teenagers who have made a habit of breaking into people’s houses to steal cars and take them for joy rides amongst other things. The feeling of helplessness, being half a world away was palpable. Fortunately, we have supportive and civic minded neighbours who stepped into the breach.
We have an automatic roller garage door, but these thieves simply jimmied up the door sufficiently to enable the skinniest to crawl underneath and then enter the house via the connecting door. They took car keys and Victoria’s handbag, which included her purse, personal ID and cards but were stopped from doing further damage by our dogs who chased them away with their barking. However, that didn’t stop them coming back the next night to attempt to steal Victoria’s car although, by then, this had been driven away to change the locks.
All very unsettling, costly and inconvenient.
It’s not the first time we have been subject to what amounts to a personal violation. I recall one time in Birmingham, England where we arrived to stay with a cousin and parked our car outside her house, leaving a suitcase and my briefcase in the car. I went down to the pub for a lunchtime drink and returned to find the car gone. The police said they knew who had stolen the car but that they did not want to make an arrest yet because they wanted to catch them on a more substantial charge. Very helpful!
In the papers the next day, we read that our car had been used to ram the window of an electronics shop and steal several items. Eventually the car was returned to me in a damaged state but everything else was gone including several irreplaceable sentimental items. I never heard whether the police ever charged these criminals.
We were also in Milan, Italy on one occasion on holiday. We were happily walking along one of the main streets when we were surrounded by about a dozen gypsy kids who danced around & touched our clothes and bags. Then they just as quickly disappeared. About 20m further on I discovered that they had stolen my wallet. We went back to the railway station to report it to the police and on the way, Victoria sighted one of the culprits who I was able to detain. We took her to the police station and the police advised that this was a common occurrence, that they knew all about the group and that there was nothing they could do about it because they were underage. They did at least manage to get the girl to tell them where the wallet had been discarded (less the $300 cash) which was a benefit, as it included my green card which allowed me to stay in the USA.
I recall this not because it gives me any pleasure but simply to contrast what Christmas should be and sometimes what it is. In truth, our experiences, in the grand scheme of things, are not that significant especially when as I write President Zelinskyy is flying back from his historic address to Congress in Washington DC and Russia continues to inflict horrors on Ukrainian civilians with a total disregard for civilised behaviour. I also know that I am a privileged, fortunate human being in a world in which millions struggle to feed themselves, stay warm and enjoy basic freedoms.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Today I’m heading out to get last-minute items from the shops such as cranberry sauce for the turkey. I count myself very fortunate to be able to do this and it allows me to put my small misfortune in perspective. Regardless of the evil in the world I firmly believe that the message of love that underlies the Christmas story must always be paramount and, in that spirit, I hope that the young kids that broke into our house recently, like the Grinch, have a moment of realisation and turn their lives around. Also, in the same spirit, I wish everyone a peaceful, happy and hopeful Christmas and a New Year to realise wonderful dreams.