It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Sort of. Although we’re not even in December I am starting to feel a frisson of excitement about Christmas. I have already tuned the car radio to Heart Christmas, I’ve clocked the epic amounts of Stollen in the shops, which I’m trying not to accidentally put in the shopping trolley, and I’ve already lit my Now That’s What I Call The Smell of Christmas Yankee Candle. I am scratching the surface of yuletide preparations.
Today’s trip to Boston (currently enjoying almost cultlike status due to Rob Lowe filming in town and seen carrying a tray of pork products) kicked off the wave of nostalgia. It has been a while since I’ve been home; maybe a couple of months. But in that time my Nan has had new teeth, new ears (or at least new hearing aids) and a pesky benign tumour in her saliva gland which has caused a bit of concern. She’s 97 on the 7th of the Dec and the gift-finder option of Not On The High Street doesn’t cater for someone of her stature. Today she looked frail. Today she looked her age (although she was still made-up, obvs). As a way of cheering her up, we talked about the plans for Christmas. We will be going over for Christmas Day and Boxing Day this year. Mum is over the moon. The option of travelling to Peterborough wasn’t on the cards and she’s pleased that we’re spending time together and not ‘belting off’ as she put it.
We’ve agreed that we’ll bring the crackers (red or gold colour scheme, please) and I’ve said to Dad we’ll also bring the booze. Mum has already cracked on with preparations and the freezer is heaving with nearly 200 mince pies, made to the family recipe. As Mum says, ‘It’s good to have them on standby in case anyone drops by. Nothing better than a warm mince pie’. All bus routes have been diverted to the two bedroom bungalow in Boston should anyone get peckish from now until Jan 2nd.
It’s been quite a few years now since we lost Gang, Nan’s husband. The memory of him still lives on. I used to love the smell of his big fat cigars and his Grecian 2000. His singing and his ability to mix me a luscious snowball with way too much Advocaat for a 10-year-old to sip on from their drinks cabinet, which was quite the thing in those times. I always used to sneak a few maraschino cherries out when no one was looking. Different times.
Christmas Day lunch was always served at 1pm and the collection of mismatched chairs always made me smile. The grown-ups got the normal chairs and the kids got what was available. I remember my older brother practically pivoting on a stool at the table, wrestling a pig in a blanket onto his fork whilst I was at eyeball level to my plate, arms outstretched over my head trying to nail some turkey on a fork, like some sort of Krypton Factor Challenge. Food was always served from the hostess trolley. A device which is still in circulation somewhere within the family.
Old traditions have been replaced with new ones but some still remain. We always have a game of Estimation, where my husband is convinced we change the rules every year. A trifle big enough to feed a small holding comes out around 7pm, just as the Rennie’s are kicking in. The trifle has one layer of jam sponge at the bottom, barely holding its shape due to the sherry infusion and there’s always a layer of strawberry Table Cream (made with evaporated milk, never blancmange) and then there’s Dad’s lethal gin and tonics (see Mother’s Day). So, although Nan might not be as sprightly as she once was I hope that she’ll always know how happy my Christmas’ of old were.