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Monday, 13 December 2010

Crackers at Christmas

I originally wrote this whilst I was on what is alliteratively known as a ‘Turkey and Tinsel’ break.  This was not intentional.  We booked this weekend as a base for visiting some friends, only to find that Christmas had broken out all around us.  Apparently, this type of break starts at the beginning of November and continues up to and including the real thing.  This format can be a bit disconcerting.  Friday, for instance, was designated as Christmas Eve, Saturday was Christmas Day and, in a fit of time compression that would delight British Industry, Sunday is New Year’s Eve.  This rather conveniently disposes of the seasonal festivities in one fell swoop but I should think the staff will be about at screaming pitch come the festive season proper.

All of this made me think of Christmas Past, when things were nowhere near as well organised.  An example of this was when we kept The New Talbot Hotel in Anglesey Road in the mid-1960s.  We had been invited to Christmas Dinner at my aunt and uncle’s.  Dad insisted on providing the turkey for this feast, which was something of a concern because Dad disliked doing anything in a conventional manner.  If he bought anything, it was always through ‘someone who knows someone’ who could get it cheaper, bigger or faster (or all three).  This sort of arrangement tended to lead to considerable uncertainty, which was not conducive to the peace of mind of my aunt and uncle, who were great ones for doing things properly.  Thus the scene was set for potential disaster.

As the days before Christmas gradually diminished, my aunt made repeated requests to know what size of bird to expect, but was always fobbed off by Dad (who probably didn’t know the answer himself).  Christmas Eve arrived and, as good as his word, Dad delivered a fresh turkey, albeit rather late in the day.  However, in a fit of generosity (probably brought on by the fact that Christmas Eve was Dad’s birthday, which he did like to celebrate) he had bought something that resembled a small ostrich.  My aunt had a relatively small kitchen and there really wasn’t enough room in there for her and this bird.  The problem was compounded on Christmas Morning, when, having prepared this avian monster for the oven (a not inconsiderable feat) it became apparent that it would not fit into the oven.  Only savage butchery reduced the beast to portions that could realistically be prised in.  Even then, the sheer size of the fowl led to the generation of so much fat that the kitchen looked like the morning after a riot in a chip shop.  The whole thing took much longer to cook than normal and the eventual result, despite my aunt’s acknowledged culinary skills, was not up to her high standards.  She was left quivering on the edge of either murdering my Dad or having a nervous breakdown, whichever was the easier.  Typically, Dad couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and was somewhat miffed not to be the hero of the hour.

Another occasion when things didn’t go particularly well was Christmas, 1973.  This was my first Christmas with a girlfriend in evidence (I was something of a late starter).  We were not spending Christmas Day together, so she had given me a present to open on the day.  I was a bit wary of opening this at home as Mum didn’t exactly approve of my girlfriend.  Come the day and, after diplomatically opening the presents from my parents and my sister, I eagerly set about unwrapping my girlfriend’s gift. 

It was a jumper.  It was a very colourful jumper.  In fact, it looked how I imagine a migraine might feel.  Better still, it was figure hugging.  This would have been fine, had I possessed a figure worth hugging.  Unfortunately, my physique over the years has transformed from painfully emaciated to borderline obese without ever passing through any of the more appealing stages in between.  At this time, I was in the former category.  To complete the effect, the sleeves were too short for my arms, leaving 6 inches or so of thin wrist and forearm fetchingly peeping out.  Mum and my sister fell about laughing when I tried it on, leaving me cringing with embarrassment but absolutely adamant that I loved it.

On Boxing Day, sporting my new jumper under my favourite PVC imitation leather jacket (the 1970s were not a good time for fashion) I met my girlfriend.  When I took my jacket off, she too fell about laughing.  It wasn’t a long-lasting relationship.

Merry Christmas everyone – may your turkey always fit your oven.

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at Amazon UK and Amazon USA.  This story features in the new bumper collection now released as a Kindle edition - "Crutches for Ducks"