I’ve spent the evening wrapping presents, listening to the choir of St Martins in the Field singing Christmas carols and drinking mulled wine.
Generally getting in the mood and beginning to feel that frisson of excitement that all children recognise as Christmas gets closer.
When I was a child Christmas was always exciting, not only because of the presents and the tree, and the staying up late and all the fun that surrounds the holiday…but because of the antics of my family. Somewhere along the line one ours would manage, with a moment of ineptitude or tactlessness or simple unadulterated gormlessness, to turn the sublime to the ridiculous.
My first clear memory of Christmas is horrifying and had the potential to ruin all of the succeeding ones had I not been so gullible. I think I was four years old, and a normal inquisitive child. My parents had taken pains to hide all of the presents away so that prying eyes wouldn’t spoil any surprises, and had stayed up late on Christmas eve to wrap them. I’d gone to bed very excited after leaving Santa (and Rudolf) a glass of sherry and a mince pie each.
Unfortunately “Santa” and “Rudolph” must have worked up quite a thirst wrapping all of the presents and they’d fallen asleep in the living room amongst yards of paper and ribbon.
When I woke up it was dark and quiet in the house. I was watchless but it was definitely early in the morning (in fact it was 4 am), and I was even more excited than when I went to bed. I crept out of my room, down the stairs and joy on joy, there was a crack of light under the living room door, so my parents must be up already, Santa had been and yippee!!! I opened the door to a child’s vision of Dante’s inferno, my parents slumped on the living room floor amongst a mound of presents which they had apparently been ripping open in a frenzy before suddenly being struck by some righteous festive narcolepsy. And they were toys, they were MY presents, how could they!!!
It took quite a while to calm me down, and very well done to my Dad, in a befuddled state for spinning the yarn of Santa’s sleigh crashing in the garden and spilling my presents and them volunteering to re-wrap them so that he wouldn’t be delayed…
On a different occasion we’d sat at least a dozen people around the table, waiting expectantly for Christmas dinner. I should say that my mum was an amazing woman. We always had extra people for Christmas, they weren’t by any means all family, quite often people I didn’t know, especially children. It was only later in life that I learned that they were people that she knew of, or worked for my father who might not be enjoying Christmas as well as we were that she had invited, very humbly, to come and “make” our Christmas day. She was 4 feet 10, beautiful, and mild mannered. And on this particular Christmas day slightly flustered and stretched by cooking for so many people. My father was a jolly, gregarious dipsomaniac who would have given Oliver Reed a headache.
We sat around the table expectantly, a little shyly, because my Dad was the battery off which everything ran. We could hear them talking and crashing about in the kitchen, just noises at first but then the conversation as their voices rose:
“Not like that Jean”
“Just put the plates out Harold”
“Your doing it wrong”
“I’m doing it as well as I can”
“Look, it’s falling apart”
“Harold, do something else!!”
“Look, let me show you…”
“Oh you bloody do it then” this from my mother, a swear word!! Followed by a sodden thump.
My father appeared at the door, to address the concerned throng. He had a big grease mark across his forehead and crackling in his eyebrows. “Pork’s off” he said.
Actually the pork was “on” and very delicious too, even if it was a little crumbly.
Old Pa Deed had a knack for acquiring things too. Somehow, if somebody said that they’d really like a particular thing, then my father would “know a man” who had one, or could find one. Which is why we had one of the first television sets that anyone had seen. And we had it for Christmas.
But we didn’t have an ariel. In fact never realised that we needed one. So I sat with the friends that I had invited watching hour after hour of static believing that it was Lapland, it was snowing, but we might catch a glimpse of Santa or Rudolph’s red nose if we concentrated. He was a lying sod too.
One year we had a dartboard in the kitchen, and then later a smell of gas, which my father traced to a pinhole in the kitchen wall where a dart had missed the board and pierced a gas pipe….he found it by dint of tracing his lighter across the wall. We all went to bed that night with a two foot flame jetting out of kitchen wall.
I remember sitting down to Christmas dinner around a full size billiard table that my father had “rescued” and persuaded his friends to help him bring into the house. I seem to remember also my grandmother laughing so hard at something that her teeth fell into the centre pocket.
And one priceless occasion when we lived in Scotland, when Lord and Lady Ferguson (who were my Fathers employers at the time) stopped by on Boxing Day. They’d brought us a goose. A live one, and the gilly was busy trying manfully to unload it from the back of the Land Rover without losing fingers or an eye, so they popped in for a cup tea. We had the most badly trained Golden Retriever in the world. This maniacal hound had been banished from the kennels, in fact left to his own devices the game keeper would have happily shot it, but my mother would have none of it, so we inherited the mutt instead. It was clinically stupid and one of it’s less endearing traits was uncontrollable and indiscriminate randiness every time it ate something.
My father opened the door of the parlour for the Fergussons, to be greeted by the sight of my 3 year old brother being vigorously humped by the dog on the carpet, while my Gran sat asleep and unconcerned in the armchair in the corner.
I think they would have taken the goose back, if they could.