Prize turkey

house, a mouldy Away in a mangy wash hubby mat­tress for a bed, Dawn’s head... Stu laid down his sneaky

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Hubby, his big erec­tion and a shock in the shed!

Care­fully, I heaved the turkey on the ta­ble, ready for my hus­band, Stu­art, to carve. But he pulled a face that con­trasted with the red pa­per crown on his head.

‘We’re sorry for eat­ing you, turkey,’ he in­toned, solemnly bran­dish­ing the carv­ing knife. ‘But your life wasn’t in vain – we’ll savour ev­ery mouth­ful.’

The kids laughed – he made the same speech ev­ery Christ­mas. It was one of our fes­tive tra­di­tions, along with Stu­art read­ing the cracker jokes and me al­ways com­ing last at Scrab­ble.

It was 25 De­cem­ber 2004 and, as usual, I was rel­ish­ing the fes­tive sea­son. This was proper fam­ily time for me, Stu­art, 44, and our kids – Kate*, 17, Lind­say*, 15, Christo­pher, 10, and So­phie*, eight.

Stu­art Eg­gle­son and me had got to­gether back in 1990, when I was just 21, though I’d turned him down at first... He was my friend’s next-door neigh­bour, al­ways invit­ing him­self round for a lager when I vis­ited. Nice-enough look­ing, with his bright blue eyes and straw­berry blond hair…

But I’d only split from my hus­band two months ear­lier, and had my hands full with a baby and a tod­dler. Any­way, with him be­ing

6ft 8in and me 4ft 6in, we’d be a right odd cou­ple!

So, we’d be­come mates in­stead. As we lis­tened to Ali­son Moyet on my friend’s record player, he told me about his hobby – CB ra­dios – and his life in the south of Eng­land be­fore he’d moved up north.

He was from Read­ing, which, to a girl who’d rarely left Lin­colnshire, sounded ex­otic!

One night, af­ter a few vodka-and-co­las, we ended up snog­ging. ‘I hope I won’t get stub­ble rash from your mous­tache,’

I gig­gled af­ter­wards. ‘Let’s try again to find out,’ he cheered, pulling me to­wards him for round two. That was that.

I in­tro­duced Stu­art to Kate and Lind­say and he was great with them. So, when he in­vited us to move into his house, I was thrilled.

I worked as a cleaner and Stu­art, a lam­i­na­tor, built fair­ground rides out of fi­bre glass. Money was too tight for win­ing and din­ing, but sex is free and we en­joyed plenty of that.

Our son, Christo­pher, came along, then our daugh­ter, So­phie. Stu­art was al­ways propos­ing and I was al­ways say­ing no.

But then, in 1996, I changed my mind – maybe it would be nice to be Mrs Eg­gle­son af­ter all.

We did it with a low-key cer­e­mony at Lin­coln Reg­is­ter Of­fice – then, next day, a bless­ing in church.

When I walked down the aisle in my big meringue of a dress, Stu­art grinned, ‘You look beau­ti­ful.’ Our first dance was The Time

Of My Life from Dirty Danc­ing…

But it was Christ­mas that was re­ally our time.

Dec­o­rat­ing the house at the end of Novem­ber was a group ef­fort, with pa­per chains, tin­sel and stream­ers hang­ing from the walls and a mas­sive ar­ti­fi­cial tree in the mid­dle of the front room.

On Christ­mas Eve, I cooked the turkey – then the kids woke us at dawn. ‘Santa’s been,’ they’d scream, lug­ging their bulging pil­low cases into our bed­room.

Af­ter­wards, I’d peel the veg­eta­bles while Stu­art watched Dis­ney DVDS with them – then we’d sit down at 1pm for our grand Christ­mas lunch.

The af­ter­noon was a round of games be­fore tea – sausage rolls and sand­wiches, fol­lowed by Black For­est gateau in­stead of Christ­mas cake.

Then, af­ter the kids were in bed, Stu­art and I snug­gled on the sofa and snogged.

We didn’t need a mistle­toe as an ex­cuse!

When we’d been mar­ried for two years, Stu­art was of­fered a job in Hol­land.

‘Let’s go for it,’ we agreed. A new life in a for­eign coun­try– it all felt so glam­orous!

We set­tled into Dutch life eas­ily, learn­ing the lan­guage and en­joy­ing our three-storey house.

I worked as a cleaner at the train sta­tion, and at week­ends we went cy­cling and to dis­cos.

One day, I was rushed to hos­pi­tal – slammed by stom­ach pain while dec­o­rat­ing my daugh­ter’s bed­room. I’d reached up to paint the top of the wall and felt some­thing pop in­side me, like a bal­loon. Ter­ri­fy­ing...

Doc­tors sus­pected ap­pen­dici­tis – then, af­ter scans, di­ag­nosed me with ovar­ian cysts, one of which had burst. If I hadn’t

The only n’ we erec­tio

‘ go­ing had on at our house!

He was al­ways fid­dling with knobs

got to hos­pi­tal quickly, they said, I could have de­vel­oped peri­toni­tis and died.

Over the com­ing weeks, I was in and out of hos­pi­tal, hav­ing key­hole surgery to re­move some of the cysts. But there were so many that the doc­tors said my best op­tion was a hys­terec­tomy. ‘I’m go­ing home to Eng­land,’ I told Stu­art. I wanted to be near my mum.

‘I’ll fol­low on when my con­tract ends,’ he agreed.

Me and the kids moved in with Mum. When Stu­art re­turned three months later, the coun­cil found us a big semide­tached house to rent. I had a hys­terec­tomy, but it was only a par­tial suc­cess. I’d de­vel­oped endometriosis, doc­tors ex­plained, which meant tis­sue that should have grown in­side my ovary was grow­ing out­side and stick­ing to other or­gans. The re­sult was that I was in con­stant pain. ‘I’ll look af­ter you,’ Stu­art said, tak­ing a fac­tory job and, when he was home, cook­ing the fam­ily meals.

I tried to put on a brave face – there’s no cure for endometriosis, so I had to man­age it with med­i­ca­tion – and learned to cope. There was just one is­sue.

Sex. It felt as if a carv­ing knife was be­ing driven into me ev­ery time we did it, and there was no putting a brave face on that... ‘Ow!’ I screamed. Af­ter­wards, my stom­ach would swell up as if I was nine months preg­nant and I’d be bedrid­den for 48 hours.

At first, Stu­art was sym­pa­thetic. But, as the months wore on, he grew im­pa­tient.

‘The doc­tors must be able to fix it,’ he grum­bled.

But I’d spo­ken to my GP and he didn’t have any ad­vice.

A dis­tance grew be­tween me and Stu­art – far greater than the 2ft in height that sep­a­rated us.

I re­alised that our once-bang­ing sex life had made us close not just phys­i­cally but emo­tion­ally, too.

With­out it, we drifted and, in­stead of chat­ting to me, Stu­art turned to the com­pany of strangers in CB Ra­dio Land.

‘Ped­dler here!’ he’d say, twist­ing di­als on the ra­dio. ‘Any­one there? Over and out!’

‘Can we watch The X-files,

Dad?’ the kids asked. It was his favourite, and they used to spend hours watch­ing it on DVD...

‘I just need to try a dif­fer­ent band width,’ he’d mut­ter to him­self, ig­nor­ing them.

It was an­noy­ing – none of us could watch TV in the front room be­cause he was al­ways in there, fid­dling with knobs. Still, given I wasn’t fid­dling with his, could I re­ally be­grudge him his hobby?

So, ‘Why don’t you set up your ra­dio in the wash house?’ I sug­gested to Stu­art.

The wash house was an out­build­ing, only 5ft by 7ft, joined to the house by a long, cold, brick pas­sage, lead­ing from a door in the kitchen. Stu­art moved his ra­dio out there. Then he lugged an old sin­gle bed in.

Soon, he was sleep­ing most nights in the wash house. He even moved his tooth­brush to the out­side loo!

‘Come to bed, Stu­art,’ I’d say. I missed the warmth of his body, next to me at night in our big, comfy dou­ble bed.

‘I can’t put up with your snor­ing,’ he’d scoff.

I was hurt...

Come win­ter, I was sure he’d re­turn to the house.

It was freez­ing!

But he solved that prob­lem by buy­ing an oil-filled ra­di­a­tor.

‘It’s cosy in the wash house now,’ he told me proudly.

‘Can I have a look?’ I asked. He al­ways kept the door locked – even our dogs, Ozzie and Ben, the Jack Rus­sells, and Marvin the grey­hound, weren’t wel­come. I’d tried to peer in the win­dow from the gar­den, but I was too short!

‘No, it’s my pri­vate space

– my ra­dio room,’ he said.

I’d seen him buy­ing more CB equip­ment and squir­relling it away in there. It must have looked like Mis­sion Con­trol at NASA.

And, Hous­ton, we def­i­nitely had a prob­lem!

Still, I hoped Christ­mas – our spe­cial time – would fix things. But, when I asked Stu­art to help dec­o­rate the tree, he shrugged and said he was too busy.

And so much for Silent Night – as I bunged the turkey in the oven on Christ­mas Eve, I heard him shout­ing, drunk, in his ra­dio room to his CB ra­dio friends across the land.

‘Ped­dler here!’

He didn’t ap­pear Christ­mas morn­ing to open presents with the kids – prob­a­bly hung-over.

I felt like cry­ing but I car­ried on as nor­mal, peel­ing sprouts and lay­ing the ta­ble with crack­ers.

Fi­nally, at 1pm, as I heaped mashed potato on to plates,

I said to Christo­pher, ‘Knock on the door of the wash house and tell your dad din­ner’s ready.’

Then I put bow ties and antlers on the dogs – that nor­mally made Stu­art chuckle – and plonked our favourite Christ­mas Hits Of The

80s CD into the stereo. Hope­fully,

this would re­mind him of all he was miss­ing, locked away in his wash­room…

‘Happy Christ­mas!’ we all cheered when Stu­art ap­peared.

‘Is it?’ he grunted, sit­ting down and stuff­ing a sprout in his mouth.

‘Let’s pull our crack­ers,’ the kids chimed.

‘OK,’ Stu­art huffed. But, like a child, he re­fused to wear a pa­per crown or read out the jokes.

Then, he shov­elled his din­ner down and stood up to leave.

‘Thank you, Dawn,’ he said stiffly, be­fore tak­ing his leave.

As Last Christ­mas by Wham! played, I fought back tears.

Tell me, baby – do you recog­nise

me? George sang.

I was sur­prised Stu­art had recog­nised me – we saw so lit­tle of him!

‘Dad’s just hav­ing a dif­fi­cult time,’ I told the kids. ‘He’ll be back to nor­mal soon. Let’s play Scrab­ble.’

But, while Stu­art didn’t have time for us, he had plenty of other fes­tive visi­tors. I’d open the front door to find a stranger ask­ing for him, clutch­ing a six-pack of cider.

Pride stopped me quizzing them on how they knew Stu, so I’d lead them to the wash house and knocked on the door.

‘Thanks, Dawn,’ Stu­art al­ways said, ush­er­ing his vis­i­tor in, slam­ming the door in my face. I was like his but­ler! Bump­ing into him in the kitchen, I’d ask who the friend had been.

‘Some­one I know through CB,’ he al­ways snapped in re­sponse.

Months turned into years, and Stu­art stayed in the wash house. He raised a 30ft ra­dio an­tenna in the gar­den and joked to me, ‘What do you think of my erec­tion?’

It wasn’t funny. It seemed to rep­re­sent ev­ery­thing we’d lost.

My Stu­art was a Christ­mas cracker back in the day

We just weren’t on the same wave­length any more Stu­art was tuned into his own lit­tle world

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