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Christmas 2023

In the blink of an eye, the panic of this most recent Yule recedes and the relative austerity of January looms outside in the miserable wintry murk.

The last of the guests depart from a blustery Heathrow, and a previous departee lands on some windswept island in the Indian ocean – both events causing me huge travel-envy, and propelling me onto tourist websites and into my Europe by Rail (Christmas gift) book before I can even think of tackling the much-needed housework.

In fact, I wonder how long I can make this “The world/my family owe me a complete rest” vibe last? Until the weekend? Until the end of the month/year? Twelfth night? – might be pushing it a bit there! 

In fact, after wondering for a short time, and wandering for a slightly longer time in the park, I determine that I would rather relax in a clean and tidy house, and set to with the vacuum cleaner and the mop. At least an hour of domestic whirlwind-ing passes, resulting in fewer crumbs and glittery bits around the place, a much more hygienic kitchen and dining table, and a wonderful feeling of entitlement…entitlement to replace those skivvy-expended calories with a few (ok, more than a few!) of the festive cheese and mincemeat varieties.

After an enormous plateful of cheese and crackers, and my third mince pie, I am almost unable to move, but take to pondering this year’s Christmas highlights.

  • Mother Christmas and her tiny helper – after a disastrous substitute Santa last year, we were informed by our 11-year-old niece that there was no need to ask Father Christmas to call with his large sack during the daytime, as has been his wont, but that perhaps Cousin K (confusingly known as Daughter J elsewhere in my meanderings) would like to play the role of Mother Christmas with Niece H helping to hand out the pressies (which were already amassing around the tree and encroaching dangerously ever further across the floor) to the assembled family members. And so it came to pass that, as we contemplated a second go at the Mimosas (I later found that this is simply the American name for Bucks Fizz and I feel cheated), a cheesy grin and a flash of red-and-white appeared at the front room window, presaging the arrival not of wise men but of two intrepid women of the J tribe, gloriously accoutred and (hilariously) bewailing that they had come to bring us presents but had somehow forgotten to pack any or even to bring a sack at all! Although lacking in double-entendre opportunity this year (Santa’s sac having almost always reduced the supposedly adult members of the family to veritable chuckle-jelly), the appearance of a normally responsible 28-year-old businesswoman in an oversized Santa suit alongside her young cousin also in red but with reindeer hair bunches and shuffling on her knees on an old pair of gardening shoes provoked much merriment.
    Where’s yer sack Santa?
    Of course, there were the usual suggestions of locking them outside to parade up and down the street, but despite their apparent lack of presents, we wanted their help in dismantling the living room parcel mountain before the cat beat us to it. 
  • The aforementioned Santa suit has more than proved to be money well spent. It has previously been modelled by ALL Daughter J’s immediate family members at different times – a rite of passage for each, perhaps, although Mr J is showing worrying signs of attachment to it, having once again this year been co-opted to dress up and hand out presents to neighbouring children, this time at the local refugee hotel. A highlight I missed by contriving to be in a pub drinking wine and eating pizza with Pilates friends.
  • Panto!!!
    Splendidly ugly sisters
    Oh no it wasn’t! But, oh yes it was, and possibly the best one for a few years. We think it was our sixth visit to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford en extended famille and this year’s Cinderella was just the right mix of traditional story and format, Guildford panto regular features, and good quality singing and dancing. And pump-action water pistols. (We would have asked for our money back if the Twelve Days of Christmas custard-pie and water fest had been missing, but I made sure to seat myself well away from the aisle – a definite benefit of repeat attendances)
  • A veritable farmyard of pigs in blankets. Apparently Daughter J had eaten 35 pigs in blankets on her last shift before Christmas. This was a worry, as I only had 42 in the freezer, but as she pointed out, that was still sufficient for each of the other Christmas diners to have at least one.
  • Homemade Christmas pudding – another advance worry, as we had forgotten to eat the ‘test’ one so had no idea whether this might be a dismal failure. At the last minute, after over an hour of steaming, Mr J stuffed a coin into the pudding for one of us to find, only for it to pop out as soon as I cut the first slice. I needn’t have fretted; it was every bit as good as a Waitrose one and had only taken 10 hours or so to produce.
  • A perfectly decent lunch! There was to be no grilling of things that should have been roasted (a past faux pas), nor annihilation-grade boiling of sprouts,
    A surplus sprout
    nor leaving of vital elements of the meal in the microwave to be discovered on Boxing Day. Somehow everything fell into place just fine. Not the best result from a blog-posting point of view – ahem, must try harder next year.
  • The Boxing Day walk. This year, it was decided we should visit an ornate chapel in deepest Surrey and then drive to Leith Hill for a brisk walk up to the Tower where a lovely little café would reward us with cake (as if we didn’t have enough of the sweet stuff at home). The chapel was closed. The Tower café was closed. Rellies now suing under the Trades Description Act (does that still exist? apparently so, at least in part).
    A clear lack of cake here
    I see no cake!!!
    We pointed out that the ‘walk’ part of the deal had been achieved as planned – but somehow this was not enough. Until we provided cake at home, at which point all was forgiven (we think). 

Daughter J has been back at work for days now. Her brother is safely ensconced in The Maldives, also working (so he says). I’m already half-way through the washing of bed-linen and we are confident that all surplus calories will have been consumed before the final stroke of midnight on NYE.

All of the above pales into insignificance however on hearing that Mr J’s longest-standing friend, whose mother served alongside Mr J’s own mother in Suffolk’s National Childbirth Trust when their boys were tiny together, died unexpectedly two days before Christmas. The news didn’t reach us until our guests were leaving. To say this is a shock doesn’t begin to cover it. 

As a result of this dreadful information, the highlights of our Christmas do not feel guilty or hollow now, but richer and more gratefully recorded.

RIP Oliver.




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