As I think back to this time last year, we had some lovely plans; drinks with friends on the evening of the 23rd, a family meal at a local restaurant booked for Christmas Eve and then, of course, Christmas Day at home with all the trimmings.
I remember we had quite a few drinks the evening of the 23rd, though unsurprisingly, I remember very little else! Bottles of fizz were popped and drained at record speed and as is often the case with this particular set of friends I drank far, far too much! One of my pet peeves, when spending an evening in company, is if your hosts are painfully slow to top-up your drink, leaving you nursing an empty glass for the best part of an hour, though such a thing could never be said about these particular pals. They are indulgently fastidious and as such, we were downing glasses of Champagne like they were tequila shots and after just an hour of being there, I stood to make my first trip to the ladies that evening and nearly fell over! The evening continued, I undoubtedly talked far too much bollocks and eventually at some point, probably not even quite eleven o’clock we said our goodbyes, wished each other Merry Christmas and set off home.
I remember giving the oven a pre-Christmas clean the next day with a stomach-churning hangover. It was, as it happens, not a great day to pick to do such a thing but in all honesty, I genuinely thought I had gotten away with it. I woke up feeling remarkably fresh, I was up and dressed by eight o’clock and ready to tackle my list of Christmas preparations.
Fast forward a couple of hours and whilst still mid-cooker-clean, that was when the first waves of nausea flooded over me with that acidic tang at the back of my throat, a warning sign that something evil, this way comes. Thankfully, like a trouper, I battled through it and by the time we were due to set off for the restaurant and having availed myself of some extra power pain relief tablets, I had once again made myself presentable and was even feeling quite hungry, though the thought of any wine made me feel quite queasy.
An hour later and I was to be found sat at the table, the first course in and a half litre carafe of wine to myself.
Well you can’t be a wimp about these things, can you?
In the last few weeks, I have endlessly gone back and forth as to how we should spend New Year.
Should we go away? Should we stay at home? Should we do something? Should we do nothing?
In the end, we have plumped for a two-night visit to Bordeaux, we have booked a hotel for the nights of the 30th and 31st, and not much else really. In reality, we will probably end up draining a bottle (or two) of Champagne before heading out for ‘an evening’ which will more than likely consist of just an hour or so of us wandering aimlessly around the City before scurrying back to our hotel room to be in bed long before midnight and watching a few episodes of Downton Abbey (again) and in all honesty I wouldn’t mind one little bit!
So what is the point in going away I hear you ask?
Well, it’s the principle really. Even though we very much are turning into one of those boring couples who prefer not to do anything on a New Years Eve, we are defiant to its onset, we are putting up a courageous fight. We are providing ourselves with the opportunity to do something exciting, even if we ultimately choose not to, which certainly would not be a possibility if we stayed in our hometown of Nothing-Ever-Happens-Here. Does that make any sense? I suppose we are in defiance of getting old. We know it’s happening and in many ways we welcome it but we also like to still think of ourselves as being young and trendy, even if we are somewhat alone in that belief.
Anyway, more about New Year’s Eve in a weeks time. I shall give you the full rundown of our New Years Eve sojourn, probably being awoken at midnight to the sound of a fantastic firework display over the Bordeaux river which, of course, we won’t have witnessed!
For now, we still have the ‘big C’ to be enjoyed/endured (whatever is your persuasion).
This year we have a quiet one. No plans for this evening, no plans for Christmas Eve, the ‘kids’ (two-thirds of whom are now adults) will all be over on Christmas Day and by Boxing Day, the event itself will all be over. It doesn’t seem to last any time at all these days. No sooner have the kids ripped open their presents than they seem to have their noses back in their iPhones which, to me, always smacks of normality again and often far sooner than you would have hoped given all the expense, careful planning and considerable effort and preparation of Christmas. There just doesn’t seem to be any real excitement surrounding Christmas anymore.
I remember back to the Christmas’s of my childhood, back in the seventies.
Weeks and weeks in advance the ‘Christmas food box’ would start to accumulate, little bits that were purchased each week and put by, accompanied by warnings from my Mum of
“Don’t touch that, that’s for Christmas!”
Packs of shortbread, Tins of biscuits, Pickles, Ye Olde Oake Ham, Yule Log, Mince Pies, the obligatory tin of Quality Street (surely no Christmas is complete without it!), I could swear they cost the same in 1977 as they do today, four decades later! Terry’s Chocolate Orange, not one each, one for the whole family to share and arguments as to who would get the bonus bit from the middle.
I remember spending hours pouring over the Toy section of the catalogue with my brother where we would excitedly point to our favourite toys and games and tell each other what we dreamed we could have for Christmas, not that we had any genuine expectancy of getting any of them. We were not greedy or expectant children.
The same advent calendar would come out year after year, where you would open the door and there would be a little festive scene behind it. There were no chocolate advent calendars in my day and even if there were, my Mum would certainly have considered them a waste of money.
My Great Aunt Kath would arrive from France a few days before Christmas Eve and stay with us for the entire duration, normally returning to her work in French air traffic control in Paris in early January. Every possible nook and cranny of her large Renault estate car would be crammed with luggage, presents, strange foods, candied fruits, funny little foil covered cheese cubes, boxes of liqueur chocolates and bottles of wine in every footwell and storage compartment. In fact, in all my childhood years I don’t recall a single Christmas at home that didn’t include Aunt Kath, often to my father’s great annoyance who distinctly gave the impression that my Aunts extended stays were somewhat of a liberty, though I don’t truly believe they were since for many years she actually owned half of our house, not to mention the wealth of goodies that she always brought with her to help us all enjoy Christmas. Anyway, I was the one who had to share a bedroom with her for two weeks and be subjected to her snoring, farting and boiping (basically burping but whenever she did she said ‘boip’) so I didn’t really see what my Dad had to complain about, apart from the daily debates with Aunt Kath as to what we were going to watch on telly. She would sit with the week’s TV schedule and highlight anything that she wanted to watch and I wouldn’t have put it passed my Dad to have deliberately sat through something he absolutely hated if it meant deliberately not watching something Kath had selected. I recall that no sooner had he left the room she would turn the TV over and as soon as he returned he would switch it back and on it would go for almost a full week of primetime television. My Dad would sit and seethe when invariably my brother and I would clammer to watch whatever crap that Aunt Kath wanted to watch and he would have to relent to popular demand. We didn’t do this to curry favour with our old Aunt. We did this because undoubtedly we also would have preferred to watch any old toot than Antiques Roadshow!
We enjoyed a full week of festivities from Christmas Day right round until New Years Day with James Bond films being the highlight of the TV listings, thankfully something that both my Dad and my Aunt Kath agreed on watching together so as a family, we all managed to enjoy the whole thing without the constant battle for supremacy. We had disco’s in our lounge with the flashing Christmas tree lights and that years Christmas compilation taped from the rundown of the Top 40 on the preceding Sunday evening. There would have been a steady stream of visitors, be they family or friends but everyday would be an event of some kind and the giant Christmas Turkey that was so huge it would have had to remain in the cold iron bathtub until it was time to be cooked, would go through its various guises of Roast Dinner on Christmas Day, Cold Turkey Salad on Boxing Day, Turkey, stuffing and pickle sandwiches the following day with any other leftovers, Turkey curry, and finally when it was just a grey carcase with barely anything left on it, it would be turned into Turkey soup with celery, onion, rice and all sorts of other goodies, and this alone would last for several days. I don’t think we ate anything other than turkey or chocolate for an entire week until our New Years Day Roast dinner which was usually a joint of beef, washed down with copious amounts of cheap ‘plonk’ as my father would call it, courtesy of my Aunty Kath. On Christmas Day and New Years Day, my brother and I would be allowed a small glass of wine that had been watered down with our dinner.
On New Year’s Eve, my parents would often have a very rare night out with friends (thinking back when my brother and I were still under ten years of age, my Mum and Dad would have been in their late twenties and early thirties respectively, they were probably gagging for a grown-up night out). My brother and I would spend the evening accompanied by my Aunt Kath watching the New Year celebrations on the telly. We would always stay up until midnight and would celebrate with a fiery liqueur chocolate or a very small glass of Mint Chocolate Liqueur. We would feel awfully grand and grown up, staying up late and drinking alcohol.
Bless my Aunt Kath she probably wished to go to bed long before midnight but for reasons I can not quite remember it was always so delicious to stay up late as a child. Now I can’t wait to get into my bed for nine o’clock.
That was almost four decades ago but the memories are still quite vivid and therefore it seems so sad to see how much more commercial Christmas has become since then when thoughtful gifts seem to have taken a backseat to the latest technology, surely another sign that I am getting wistful in my old age.
For now, I am delighted to have finished the Christmas food shopping, having visited no less than five supermarkets and spent a small fortune, we have a fully stocked fridge for three days at least! I am now currently revamping the Christmas playlist to include our recent purchases of the soundtracks of Singing Detective and Pennies from Heaven, we could never be accused of being very current where music is concerned but at least we can proudly profess to being a Michael Bublé free zone!
And as a final note, I’m sure you will all be delighted for us that we have successfully managed to track down some good quality table crackers and some cheddar cheese.
Wishing you all a wonderful and very Merry Christmas.
The Virtual Recluse
In Loving Memory of Aunty Kath
December 1923 – June 2017