Time was when Christmas Day was my absolute bestest day of the year. Awake at 1 a.m. to “see if he’d been”, allowed to open one present before being persuaded back to bed, the latest Waddingtons board game to learn, team races up and down the hall with a balloon between your knees, cheating at “flip the kipper” against Uncle Len by kneeling on his kipper while he dealt with the ash dropping from the end of his Manikin, and, invariably, tears of over-excitement before bedtime. But then I reached fifty and they said, “Don’t you think you might be getting just a bit, you know, old for Twister? You’ll pay for that with your hips later in life…”
I have my big brother, John, to thank for helping me put off the ageing process over the festive period. Having married and started a family – and later, a hobby farm — up in Northumberland while I was still learning the Morse code and flags and capitals of the world from my Schoolboy’s Pocket Book, his Christmases comprised an uncomfortable combination of over-eating and fiercely competitive balloon tennis in which I was happy to play my role as slightly eccentric uncle, with flashing bow tie at dinnertime, athletic rendering of charades and seemingly never-ending retrieval of silver threepences from my portion of Christmas pudding.
You or I might buy a turkey, or a goose, or a large lump of poultry flavoured tofu, in December but John had acquired one year half a dozen peacocks – but not to eat, you understand. Carrying out a stock check round the farm after the usual huge festive dinner on Christmas Day, and just as it started to go dark (soon after noon that close to the Arctic Circle), he reported back to a slumped and moribund family that the peacocks had gone walkabout, or an aerial equivalent, and needed to be lured back to the relative security of the farm before night fell. The men of the house – funny how traditional roles come into play when it’s warm inside – lumbered out into the gloom. My abiding memory of the next hour is of Uncle Al – my sister-in-law’s South African brother-in-law from Canada (got that?) – perched high up a horse chestnut tree still wearing the paper hat from his cracker, glass of brandy in one hand and with cigar clamped between his teeth, defying gravity to lean way out towards the next tree along and prod at a recalcitrant peacock with a pole. It beats post-prandial Monopoly.
We had always been a family that “bigged up” the whole Santa Claus thing (children, look away now) – partly for our daughter’s benefit, mainly for mine — but on Uncle John’s farm we could run riot. Not only did Rudolph leave teeth marks in the carrots overnight for inspection on Christmas morning, but he and the rest of the gang had conveniently left distinctive reindeer poo in the yard and sleigh tracks in the snow still lying on the outhouse roofs. So well did this experience reinforce the traditional Santa story over the years that we felt obliged to break the awful truth to Blogdaughter just before she went off to university. I was relating this little story at a New Year’s Eve party that year and was asked by a complete stranger why I had found it appropriate to lie to my offspring, especially at the time of year when I should have been celebrating the virgin birth.
It was a sad night in the Blog household when we sat down and “talked turkey” about Father Christmas. Next year we plan to cover the tooth fairy…
Blogfamily Christmases these days tend to be on the calmer side. With all living relatives safely ensconced at the far end of the country, and with just the three of us in Sussex (and, by her own admission, Mrs. Blog not coming from a tradition of games players), team games don’t really happen – unless freestyle grappling for the remote control counts. Last Christmas Day, Mrs. Blog outfought Blogdaughter, best of three, so she and I sprawled in front of the Downton Abbey Xmas special (here’s hoping Mr Bates chokes on a wishbone this year) while Blogdaughter took herself off to update her Facebook status to “Neglected”.
Blog Manor on Christmas Eve after the downstairs staff have put in a shift. I don’t think we’ll see too many intruders coming down that chimney…
The absence of visiting relatives does not of course solve all festive conundrums, and I spend far too long each year deliberating upon life’s twelve seasonal mysteries:
- Who should our cards be to and from? At what stage does Blogdaughter get dropped from our “sign off” – and, in similar vein, should I be addressing to X, Partner and Family? Does that skilfully include all recently acquired in-laws, “significant others”, grandchildren, etc or merely suggest that I’ve mislaid the names of their two sons? If my card is to a work colleague, or a former one, especially a female one, should I address it just to her, or, to avoid coming across a bit “fruity”, should I add in both my partner and hers, even though they will never, ever meet? After how many years of retirement is it alright to add an “x”?
- I was always close to my niece and nephew in Northumberland and would invariably buy them something at Christmas. Now they are both grown-up with families of their own and I see less of them, should I be trying to cater for them all present-wise, and, if so, how? I think I’ll ignore the kids and send vouchers or mail order some crates of alcohol to the grown-ups who probably need it.
- When is it ok to stop sending cards to people you have no plans to see again, ever? Each year I delete a few from last year’s list and hope they will do the same, but hold a few cards in reserve, just in case. And each year their cards arrive but just late enough that I have to use a tell-tale, incriminating, first class stamp to reciprocate.
- Is it alright to enjoy carol singing if you’re not religious? Should one adopt a knowing, ironic expression while belting out “Hark the Herald Angels”, as one might if singing “Land of Hope and Glory” and waving a tiny flag at a Proms in the Park kind of event?
- Is it ever acceptable to send a card to or from a family pet, with or without a pretend paw print? Actually, I think I already know the answer to this one.
- Is it appropriate to send a gift card to a friend or relative informing them that your present to them this year is the gift of a goat, or a length of water pipe, to an African village? On reflection, I think I know the answer to this one too: your friend would have preferred a nice scarf or sweater from M&S (with the receipt) from you and you should have used your own cash, not their present, to salve your conscience.
- How early do you need to be up on Christmas Day to have two breakfasts – bacon rolls covered in ketchup, and scrambled eggs/smoked salmon – and still do justice to the “big one” in mid-afternoon? And is there such a thing as too many pigs in blankets?
Pigs in blankets, just waiting to be turned into:
8. Is it true that dessert goes into a different part of your stomach, thus making it reasonable to go for trifle even if you’re already completely stuffed? (Christmas pudding or Christmas cake on the other hand just gives you wind.)
9. When did The Great Escape and Zulu evolve into Love Actually and Elf?
10. Is Christmas the best time of year to listen to the King’s Singers? Not now, not ever. These are not choir boys, for goodness’ sake, they’re grown men and should know better.
The male answer to Bananarama — fine with the sound turned off
11. Is it sensible to store the turkey in the microwave for a few days to keep it away from family pets if there’s no room in the fridge? Clue: no. This blog speaks from experience.
12. Does your granny always tell you that the old songs are the best? (Noddy Holder, 1973) I place in evidence the following:
Dub a dub a dum dum
Dub a dub a dum
Dub a dum dum dub a dub
Dub a dub a dum (Jona Lewie, “Stop the Cavalry”, 1980)
Take it from me, you just don’t get Christmas lyrics as good as that these days.
Well, we’re off now to a pre-Christmas meal with chums at a Lewes restaurant. I look forward to reading out my cracker joke with suitable gusto, I will fail miserably to inflate my long, suggestively shaped balloon, and I will hope that the organiser has a note of what I ordered. I LOVE CHRISTMAS! And the sooner Blogdaughter furnishes us with grandchildren, the sooner I can get into the loft and dig out my old Boggle, Totopoly and Buccaneer.
This blog leaves you with the immortal, seasonal words of Tiny Tim Cratchit (The Muppet Christmas Carol), “God Bless Us, Every One”.
One of Dickens’ best loved characters, Kermit the Frog, with Tiny Tim