Merry Christ­mas

Can any­one save Mum’s metic­u­lously planned Christ­mas from dis­as­ter?

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - HELLO! -

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.

THE END

Alyson Hilbourne, 2018

Sprouts and gravy are cooked on the camp­ing

stove…

Did you spot the hid­den mes­sage in the story? Merry Christ­mas from all of us at Woman’s Weekly!

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