Can anyone save Mum’s meticulously planned Christmas from disaster?
Mum stuffs the turkey in the oven and slams the door. It’s so big, it barely fits.
It is our turn to host the family Christmas. Mum feels she has to prove herself to my aunts, who both married bankers, while Dad is a lowly car salesman.
Mum has been at it for weeks. Vast stocks of food and drink have been bought and she’s made a cake and even mince pies. Fairy lights have been tacked along the beams that cross the ceilings of our new house, and a huge wreath adorns the front door.
Even the Christmas tree is so heavy with ornaments that its limbs are in danger of snapping. We’re all jumpy.
Auntie Janice, her husband and their son Frankie pull up in their Jaguar.
‘Show-off motor,’ Dad says. ‘Behave!’ snaps Mum. Auntie Alison and Uncle Peter pull in behind. Both families come in laden with suitcases and gifts.
‘Red or white?’ Dad offers after coats are taken and air kisses exchanged. It’s their visit to our new country home.
‘Difficult place to find,’ Uncle Peter says. ‘Sat nav took us all round the fields.’
‘Should’ve bought a real car, then,’ Dad mutters, envious. ‘Behave!’ Mum hisses. ‘Really love the beams,’ Auntie Alison says. ‘So authentic.’ She makes ‘authentic’ sound like something nasty she’s stepped in. Mum clenches her fists.
Everyone settles in the living room with drinks and canapés.
‘Yikes!’ Mum squawks as the tree lights flicker and the fairy lights fade out, casting the room into gloom.
Dad hurries off to check the fuse box. ‘Power cut,’ he announces. ‘What are we going to do?’ Mum panics. ‘The turkey!’
Dad shrugs and goes round with the wine again.
‘Should be on soon,’ Mum says, squeezing her hands together nervously. ‘It hasn’t happened before.’
Frankie is playing games on his phone, oblivious to the crisis. The adults sit round uncomfortably, making polite conversation, but the atmosphere is chilly.
‘Come on. Answer!’ Dad rings the electricity company; Mum wrings her hands. ‘The turkey,’ she moans. The electric company tells Dad they have engineers working on it, but they can’t promise when the power will be restored.
‘Hmmm. This wouldn’t happen in Surbiton,’ Auntie Janice gloats.
‘Nor in Fincham,’ Auntie Alison is quick to add. ‘You shouldn’t have moved to the back of beyond, Maggie.’
‘Red or white?’ Dad offers another round of drinks.
‘I don’t think we’re going to get lunch today,’ Uncle Peter says, his expression suggesting that Mum has planned this.
Mum goes out to the kitchen. Uncle Peter’s right, of course: the bird gleams palely from behind the glass.
‘So, do you guys have a barbecue?’ Frankie says, and Dad frowns. ‘We could cut the turkey up and barbecue it?’ Dad and Frankie go out to the garden and pull the barbecue from the shed. Then they set about lighting it.
Ten minutes later, the deckchairs are out and Mum’s put tealights in jam jars and stood them round the patio. Blankets are pulled off beds and everyone sits round the blazing barbecue. Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody blasts out of the portable speaker, filling the garden with festive sound.
Meanwhile, Frankie butchers the turkey and puts it on the grill, along with sausages, bacon and slices of potato. Sprouts and gravy are cooked on the camping stove. Dad keeps the glasses topped up.
By now, we’re drooling with hunger. Eventually, the turkey is cooked, tasting of the barbecue sauce Frankie used liberally. The potatoes are a little charred and the sprouts are hard, but it doesn’t matter.
‘Delicious,’ Mum declares, resting her knife and fork as if she’s sitting in a posh restaurant. ‘Good job, Frankie.’
The meal is rounded off indoors with warming liqueur chocolates and large brandies.
Auntie Janice is wearing a paper crown jauntily over one eye. She’s helping herself to the chocolates, snapping off the ends and slurping the booze before chucking away the cases. Her husband snores in his chair. Dad and Uncle Peter are racing the plastic cars they got from their crackers.
‘Of course, for off-road you need…’ he tells Uncle Peter, never letting the chance of a sale go by.
Mum and Auntie Alison have their arms around each other and are crooning, Do They Know It’s Christmas?
‘So, a toast,’ Uncle Peter says, raising his brandy glass.
The adults fumble for their drinks and Auntie Janice holds up a liqueur chocolate. ‘To barbecued turkey!’
I see Mum relax. Her turn is over and it’s been a Christmas to remember.
Alyson Hilbourne, 2018
Sprouts and gravy are cooked on the camping
Did you spot the hidden message in the story? Merry Christmas from all of us at Woman’s Weekly!