Saturday, 29 December 2012


It all comes down to one word: expectation. Every person has a different expectation about how Xmas will be - what will occur - as if all that effort and wrapping and peeling and choosing and shopping and roasting and wearing will all add up to produce a day of perfection.

Rarely, if ever does that happen. So the expectation level is a 10 and the reality is about... a 2. Possibly a 3 while everyone is stuffing their faces.

I felt shattered by the time we filled the car, bathed the bairns and strapped everyone in for the 3 hour drive to York. My expectations were that everyone would scoop up the kids and I would be left languish on the sofa, eating an entire box of chocs watching Gone with The Wind and lusting after Rhett Butler. Husband expected sleep. Lots of it. Relaxation and the hope of not having to speak to anyone for most of the festive period. I'm not sure what my Mum expected - something resembling one of those made for TV movies - filled with cracker popping and static smiles. My Uncle, a generous kind man who invited us all at the behest of my Aunt - but really didn't want us all rattling around his house for 5 days - muttered grumpily and watched me like a hawk - was I in the fridge again? Minding my children? Attacking the cheese board?

It started off pretty well - carols at York Minster - what could be more festive? The choir were incredible, but I froze my ass off - and they didn't do 'Silent Night' and for me, that is like a party without Rhianna tunes - what's the point? That night - in spite of the pointed looks and orders to be home before eleven lest I be the hungover CM of Xmases past - Husband and I headed out to meet my cousin and his lovely fiancee. They bought me too many old fashioneds and that mixed with mulled and red wine - made me far from sober. I reverted to my teenage trick of trying to focus intently on whoever spoke to me. MUST PRETEND TO BE SOBER. Must remember I am a parent with Santa duties to fulfil. I proceeded to lay out the Santa booty like it was Harrods' window display - in case anyone saw through my faked sobriety. Then I fell into a slumber.

Until 3am when Sproglet wondered if Santa had been.

And again at 5am. Same question.

And then at 7:15. Within 10 minutes my display was ruined and the presents all unwrapped. And so began the lengthy wait for the lunch. Where we all drink bucks fizz and feel guilty for not doing more in the kitchen but being told everything is under control when we offer. So we sit nervously sipping the fizz, wondering if we are doing the right thing - or are we not being helpful enough - while the rugrats whizz around on a sugar high wanting some gawdawful present built and making a racket. The joys of Xmas!

Eventually you eat so much you think you will never eat again, and then somehow 'fit in' dessert - both of them. Then collapse on the sofa like you've competed in some physical event - to watch whatever everyone else wants to watch - thereby missing all the programmes that you'd wanted to watch. I watched my Aunt slave in the kitchen, only to complain that she thought the sprouts were mushy and the turkey too dry (when isn't it?) and it all seemed so much incredible effort, for ten minutes of wolfing... Uncle was annoyed the crackers had been opened by all the kids - and blamed me. I simmered, knowing my cousin had allowed her kids to pull them all apart in five minutes. And that is what Xmas is really all about isn't it? Someone simmering, someone guilty, someone angry, someone resentful - while we all smile and say 'pass the cranberry.'

Then there is the gift frenzy - all 'just what I needed' and then asking later for the receipt. Never sure anyone really likes anything you got them. 11 years ago Husband, in York for our first Xmas together - it snowed as well - bought me Agent Provocateur underwear. This year? Slippers. I know. Thank god I got a Sarah Waters book and I slunk away to immerse myself in it, toblerone in my other hand - whenever I could.

That evening we played waking kids dominos - one would go down, another would cry - they would all wake - then sleep then one would wake and then cry and they all would wake and repeat all evening. I drank too much port and threw myself into the cheese board with such force that it appeared as if I hadn't eaten for weeks - let alone shoved a huge Xmas dinner down my gullet not 4 hours before. We played some games - Husband being Australian was ridiculously competitive and was pissed off not to get 'Hannibal Lecter' as the name stuck on his forehead. My Mother spent the night trying to work out who she was and was furious to discover that her character wasn't Disney -"well what else could it be??" she snarled - and she was in fact Kermit the Frog. I got some obscure cricketer so gave up even asking questions. Bah humbug indeed.

Then, after you have got through 24 hours in the house with all your family - everyone slowly hating Xmas more - you get another day of it! Hurrah!!! Boxing day. We escaped into York - we didn't know what we were going to do, but we needed to get out. In the rain. Who cares what we do - let's just stand in the rain and be happy we aren't in the house couped up any longer.

Best bit of Xmas - bar the cheese boards obvs - was driving to Newcastle to see my old school buddies and their families. 20 of us - 11 adults and 9 kids all hanging out for the day. School buddy H is a foodie and the spread she laid on was filled with stewed figs and pate, thick creamy trifles, french onion soup, honey roasted hams - all home made. It was chaos - Rugrats everywhere - mostly undressed - snatched chats about life and plans for our 40th celebrations - news of a pregnancy (congrats C!) and attempts to talk above the din. Back to York again and we escaped to the cinema - Skyfall. Now, I'm sorry - but what was that third act all about? Grown ups Home Alone?? And a nod to Hannibal himself in the second act. It was like they had sat down and said 'Bond.. right  beautiful exotic woman who is dangerous - tick. Man eaten by shark - no let's do dragon lizard thing instead - tick. Gadgets - we'll tone those down eh? New bond - great! Big opening scene - tick. Martini scene - tick. Obligatory towel shot of bond - tick. Smart quips in terribly British accent - tick. Who cares for exciting plot or twists - nope, we'll just tick all the boxes and go all Culkin instead. What a load of cobblers...

Now we are home. Delighted to be here. I don't want to look at another chocolate. I hate the very touch of wrapping paper. All that expense for tat you don't need instead of things that you do - like a mattress for Sproglet's new cabin bed... I sound all bah humbug don't I? Apologies - it just all feels like so much effort, so much expense - for nothing really.

Next year we are staying local. Out for Xmas dinner at our favourite gastropub. Limited gifts.  Maybe buying goats for Oxfam and stuff like that. Simplicity. Minimal effort, minimal stress. And a cracking cheeseboard of course.

Seasons greetings y'all.


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