Arriving in Disneyland (Paris) on a cold, rainy Friday afternoon in early March gave me something I never dreamed it might.
Of course, I’d been looking forward to spending some really good quality time with my family – something that’s been in very short supply for so long that I couldn’t remember when it wasn’t. You know your life is going wrong somewhere when you realise you are miserable all the time and there seems to be nothing that can break the downward spiral of discontentment and despair. When it feels like even your closest family members really have no reason left to love you anymore because you feel so toxic.
When the FAB Hubby suggested it just before Christmas, I’d shrugged and assumed that, like many other dreams from the past, this one too would never see the light of day. I mean, what grown woman wants to go to Disneyland, for goodness sake? The thought HAD crossed my mind when my girls were much younger, and then again when my son was small – especially when one of my students was the son of one of the project managers of the much anticipated Hong Kong Disneyland Park – but somehow, it just never happened and frankly, holidays are not something I’ve ever really known how to take. I’m not so good at the relaxing part and enjoying life, like many people I know.
So once I saw the tickets and the many conversations between the ten participants of this jaunt to the Continent confirmed that it actually WAS happening, I found I was really quite happy about the whole event. I am aware that I can be a bit of a killjoy at times and so decided that success for me during this holiday would be to have some good photos and some cherished memories of shared good times together. I hate roller coaster rides and to be honest, Disney itself has never been a massive influence on my life, so I really wasn’t expecting the place to work any kind of actual *magic* upon this world-weary, somewhat lost soul. How wrong can a person be?
It first happened about twenty minutes after arriving at the Gotham City-sized car park, which was remarkably empty at 2.30pm on this particular Friday afternoon. Perhaps, not surprising in itself of course, especially considering the cold, damp weather forecast and the fact that most people would be at work or school or otherwise engaged in their everyday lives.
We’d trekked the hundred miles from the car park to the main entrance (seriously – travelators help, but it’s a really long walk!) and not been too put off by the large green hoardings just outside the magnificent Disney Hotel, declaring that Disney Magic was being worked upon this particular area just now, so it was closed for visitors. I hoped that wouldn’t be too much of a recurrent theme for the next three days. These hoardings had shadows of the Seven Dwarves and characters from Peter Pan that we adults recognised but that scared the bejeezus out of my three-year-old granddaughter, Scarlett, who imagined they were real.
And then we found ourselves in Main Street, USA.
And there was the actual Disney Magic Castle.
Right in front of us.
That’s when I first felt the magic. ‘Dah, dah dah dah, dah dah dah! ‘ trilled the loudspeaker somewhere above my head (you KNOW the tune).
It was so familiar and yet so very strange. Actual goosebumps. And not just because it was about 2º.
And suddenly my face was wet with happy tears and I smiled for the first time in a very long time, from a place very deep within my soul.
This was going to be awesome.
A lot of other stuff happened during the rest of the afternoon – I’ll skip that for now (don’t worry – I’ll come back to it later, in another post!) though to get to the next time my face got wet. I KNOW! TWICE… in ONE DAY! Who’d ‘a thunk?
Again, it took me by surprise – because one thing on my list of ‘Things I hate with a passion‘ are fireworks. Ask anyone who knows me well – fireworks leave me cold. When I was about nine or so, I used to watch one of my favourite TV shows, called ‘Magpie’ which was a bit like ‘Blue Peter’ with a really catchy theme tune that immortalized the old wives’ tale about magpies –
‘One for sorrow, two for joy;
Three for a girl and four for a boy;
Five for silver, six for gold and
Seven for a secret never to be told‘.
They added some extra lines that went ‘Eight is a wish and nine a kiss – ten is a bird you must not miss, Ma -aah- ahh- ag- pie!‘ (clicking on the link will take you to the theme tune on YouTube, in case you’re interested!) Murgatroyd the Magpie was their logo – I loved him!
In the UK fireworks are generally only used at one time of year, unless (nowadays anyway) there’s some kind of special celebration such as a royal wedding or a summer outdoor concert or something, but when I was young, all through the month of October small groups of children would make effigies of Guy Fawkes, using one of their dad’s old shirts and trousers stuffed with straw (or mum’s old tights) and wheel him round in a barrow shouting ‘penny for the Guy?’ to all and sundry in the hopes that some would offer you some dosh so that you could go and buy some fireworks to let off on Bonfire Night – ‘Remember, remember the fifth of November; Gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason, why gunpowder treason. Should ever be forgot!‘.
Frequently, of course, some children (usually the older ones, who were generally out to create a lot of mischief) would let off their fireworks, throwing bangers and crackers willy-nilly before the designated night of merriment, much to everyone’s delight. Well, everyone who wasn’t me. You see, I had watched those awful episodes of Magpie when they featured the consequences of such mischief-making, gone horribly wrong. It seems that gangs of older kids (and I knew some of these people) routinely found it very amusing to tie Catherine Wheels or Rockets or other such delights to the tails of unsuspecting moggies and even occasionally small pooches and then light them and run for safe cover, to see the object of their handiwork desperately struggling to free themselves, before the inevitable awful lift off, lighting up the sky as they flew through the air.
This practice simply terrified me, all the more so since I knew several very unpleasant characters that were responsible for such atrocities, although I had no actual evidence that they were involved of course, so couldn’t substantiate my claims to any person of authority. In truth, I was very afraid of these louts myself so I wasn’t about to endanger my own safety so recklessly – even though I felt like a terrible coward for choosing this path.
Photographs of maimed cats and later, when the campaigns became more aggressive, there were pictures of maimed children too, were quite sufficient motivation for me to hate the source of such evil – fireworks, even tiny little sparklers, became the thing I feared and hated most on Earth. It’s taken nearly forty years for me to change my mind.
We’d had a long day travelling, arriving, exploring and being enchanted by Disneyland. We stayed in the park for the big fireworks show at 8.00 pm, seated on wet chairs in a huge crowd of people waiting for the same thing. Hot chocolate and some bright flashes and then we could go to our lodgings to get a good night’s sleep – that’s what I was looking forward to most at this point.
Until the show began.
And what a show!
As soon as it began, I could feel that *magic* happening again. I smiled once more. It was all so charming and adorable, so exciting and – what was it… thrilling?
I had to leave the family group to get a better view for my camera – we were too far away. I snickered in between other small groups and eventually found a reasonable vantage point to watch the show – me, who hates fireworks!
And before I knew it, those tears were streaming like Colorado Rapids down my face. The rain had definitely stopped, so it wasn’t Heavenly precipitation causing this flood. No-sir-ee. I was crying, smiling, laughing, pointing delightedly at nothing in particular, wiping away my tears with the back of my hand and never taking my eyes off the fireworks show.
When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you
If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do
Fate is kind
She brings to those to love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing
Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true
It really is *Magic*!
–Thanks for reading this one, there will be more because it was such a great experience, so do come back again!
It is now well into the Chinese New Year holidays and I felt it was about time to share my good wishes for the coming year of the horse with all of you. May you have good fortune, excellent health and double happiness this year!
Chinese New Year is, of course, the biggest of big holidays in Hong Kong. When we first moved there in September 1992, we had yet to experience what this period means to all residents of the Fragrant Harbour, as Hong Kong was known.
Our first Chinese New Year was in 1993, when we were beginning to get the idea that, in spite of the heat and humidity we had been learning to live with, this was a period that heralded truly cold weather; bone-shiveringly chilling, the air seemed to change very quickly through January and the apartments, which are designed to get rid of heat as efficiently as possible, turn into ice-blocks. Our flat had no insulation in the concrete walls or floors, no carpets and very few curtains and we quickly learned that the shops sell out of heaters PDQ just prior to the holidays. Now we knew why!
The other thing that struck us was how empty the vibrant, bustling city seemed. Overnight, as families converged on their ancestral homes, usually on the mainland, the entire population departed through Kai Tak or Lok Ma Chau/ Low Wu and by New Year’s Day there were fewer than 2 million people left in a city of 6 million. It was amazing! For the first time since we had arrived, you could walk around the streets and hold your arms out wide without touching another human being. You could get served at the bar (at least those few, mostly run by Gweilo’s, that remained open) in a flash – there was no-one else there. The place developed the feel of a ghost town – it was eerily quiet and I almost expected to see little roundels of straw blowing down the middle of the road, like in those old westerns, films that entertained us when we were young.
Of course, the place was well decorated with red and gold lanterns, as well as some beautifully colourful calligraphy decorations. The Christmas lights were seamlessly morphed into brilliant traditional and modern versions of these decorations and were (still are, I suspect!) a true sight to behold.
In later years, when we lived way out of town, up in the New Territories, Chinese New Year was always heralded by the constant serenade of firecrackers, loud, incessant explosive sounds that individuals used to ward off the Kitchen Monster, for fear that he would bring bad luck to the newly-swept homes. Funnily enough, in spite of my personal hatred of all fireworks displays, I do actually miss this!
Another tradition is to bring flowers and fruit trees into the home – if they can be persuaded to bloom on New Year’s Day, it is considered extremely auspicious, the harbinger of prosperity and good fortune for the coming year.
So, imagine how pleased I was then that our kumquat tree, purchased last week in London’s Chinatown, bloomed beautifully and the fruits began to colour lovely bright oranges yesterday morning, in perfect timing for the Year of the Horse. It could be a good year! Kung Hei Fat Choi!