Christmas has always made me think of the beach and palm trees. Even as a child I used to fantasise about escaping to a deserted beach.
I enjoyed parts of it, way back then, the presents, of course, and gorging myself of ridiculous amounts of chocolate, which went completely unnoticed by my parents. They were too engrossed in themselves, constantly locked in verbal combat. Turning up the volume on the TV helped. Slade belting out Merry Christmas Everybody was guaranteed to drown out the sound of their constant bickering.
As a teenager, I used to meet Andy in the copse behind the rec whilst my parents went to the pub with his. I don’t know who Andy was getting his stash from in those days, but he was getting the money to buy supplies from playing gigs with his band, Bhang. He would always share joints with me and I was eternally grateful to him for that because it helped numb the ongoing nightmare at home. By the time I crashed through the door, my parents would be engaged in an alcohol-fuelled row and never notice I was as high as a kite.
As soon as I turned eighteen, I moved out. Bhang had been signed by a major music mogul who thought the band would benefit from having a female lead singer. I was the obvious choice. Not only could I sing, but I knew their music inside out and had been telling the band for some time that I was Watford’s answer to Stevie Nicks. Shortly after I became an official member of Bhang, we embarked on a UK tour as the warm-up act for Genesis.
The rock and roll lifestyle suited me. I was the happiest I’d ever been, moving around from town to town. I was Andy’s girlfriend, but I had a major crush on the Genesis drummer. It never amounted to anything though. After we played our set, the Genesis rock royalty would arrive. Stepping straight out of their limo and on to the stage before being swept away after their performance by their entourage, not giving their adoring fans, including me, a chance to get anywhere near them. He did speak to me, once. He was waiting in the wings as I came off stage. He told me I had a great voice. I was so in awe, I couldn’t speak. He must have thought I was a real dumbarse. Ah, well, he went on to become a household name and Andy, bless him, ended up in rehab, so touring for Bhang, went on hold.
I had earned a few bob with the band during the early years, so I took myself off to Jamaica to catch some rays over Christmas and didn’t return to the UK for ten years. By that time, I was the proud mother of two beautiful Rastafarian boys.
In hindsight, bringing them to the UK for the first time in January, of all months, was not the best idea, as the temperature plummeted to -3C. But they, as I was, were in shock anyway as their dad, Barclay, od’d and died on Christmas Day. He’d just sung My Christmas Carol to me on the beach under a palm tree. It was the first time I had heard that song and he had written it especially for me. In some ways, my life ended on that Christmas Day, but I had my boys to think about.
I came back to the UK and moved in with my Dad. My Mum had succumbed to Cirrhosis of the liver the previous year and my Dad was in a bad way. So I stopped taking stuff then. I took on the role of looking after my Dad, as well as bringing up my boys. If I hadn’t stopped then, I’d have probably ended up in the same life-saving haven as Andy had and the boys might have spent half their childhood growing up without either of their parents.
I am so proud of my boys. Jacob is forty and living back in Jamaica now. He could never hack the British winters. He’s the CEO of Warrior Man Records in Kingston and his thirty-eight-year-old ‘little’ brother, David, 6′ 6″ and 190lbs, runs a vegan restaurant in Sydney, Australia. He wasn’t too fond of the British climate either.
I could go and spend Christmas 2018 under a palm tree, in either Jamaica or Australia. Both my boys have young families now and as grandma flies in regularly to inflict herself on them, I always give them a break over Christmas. I will speak to them both and my grandchildren via video chat on the day and I’ve already booked flights to go and see them in the New Year.
I have commitments with Andy anyway. No! We are not back together romantically! For me, there could never be another Barclay. Bhang reunites at Christmas every year and we gig around London playing in treatment centres and homeless shelters. Towards the end of our first set, I take a break and Andy says, ‘this one’s for our Carol.’ And, for a rock band playing Reggae, over the years they have made a pretty good fist of My Christmas Carol and for 2 minutes, 45 seconds I’m transported back to that beach in Jamaica with Barclay, the fronds of the palm trees rustling in the balmy breeze on Christmas Day.