This time five years ago, I was sitting watching my mother die in hospital. Now it’s not usually something I dwell on. I’m not maudlin or morbid about it because, let’s be honest, that wouldn’t help me and it most certainly wouldn’t help her. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even have thought about it much had Adrian not wandered into my office from time to time, caught me staring into space and said, ‘You’re thinking about your mum, aren’t you?’ And I demurred for the first few times (because actually I wasn’t) but by the time he’d asked me for the sixth or seventh time, I did start thinking about her…and then (because the mind naturally trip-traps from one dead parent to another) about my father (the second one). And Adrian said, 'It was five years ago, you know, since your mum died,' and I said, 'Crikey, time flies huh?' And then I got to thinking about how I used to love Christmas and now…well...
It’s not that I actively dislike it. I mean, on a personal level there’s nothing much to dislike. I don’t get involved in the whole consumer spendfest, I don’t cook and I don’t eat much more or different than usual. It’s a few days off from sitting at my desk trying to drum up work. I don't do the Norad tracks Santa or float Christmas lists up the chimney or read The Night Before Christmas and leave out mince pies and sherry for Santa any more because, well, James wouldn't really appreciate it. It’s a chance to slob by the fire and watch sloppy movies. And…well, that’s quite nice.
But I guess it is a time when, if I do let myself think about it, I miss my parents and the wider family get-togethers. I sort of miss the rituals which, let’s be frank, pretty well all revolved around booze. My father was one of those people who never felt comfortable unless the drinks cabinet had at least three bottles each of the ‘major’ spirits (gin, whiskey (Scotch and Irish, blends and single malts), brandy (cognac, Armagnac, Metaxa, Calvados), vodka, rum (dark and light) and tequila plus one each of every other drink anyone was ever likely to want. His major paranoia was that someone might pitch up for a drink and ask for some obscure Lithuanian liqueur or heathen hybrid like Cinzano and that he wouldn’t have it. Needless to say, this never happened.
So, we’d start with Buck’s Fizz for breakfast. And then slide into Brandy Alexanders (the family nakesake drink) for elevenses. Pre-lunch, it was champagne cocktails and then a battalion of whites and reds during lunch. Port with the pudding of course. Mid-afternoon he’d rustle up liqueur coffees and then, if anyone was still conscious by tea-time, he’d be waving another port bottle or saying hopefully, ‘Sambuca? Tia Maria? Benedictine? Or shall I open another bottle of something?’
It was a far call from my childhood when the booze was generally home-made (my mother made fruit wine from the plum tree in the garden and my dad brewed his own beer). And Aunty Molly would bring a bottle of gin and someone else would summon up a bottle of advocat and I’d be allowed a Snowball (does anyone still drink those?). J And the decorations were hand-made (not in an etsy way but because we couldn’t afford to buy them) and presents were things like bath-cubes (remember them?) or a magazine or a hand-embroidered hanky. I used to make Christmas presents each year – knitting mittens or pot-holders or ties, stitching pin-cushions or wallets out of felt. I did, I really did.
Anyhow. I dunno. This is getting maudlin and I’m becoming a bit Scrooge-ish. Maybe this year I’ll invoke the spirit of Christmas past and raid what’s left of the drink cupboard (unfortunately we’re down to the dregs – those Lithuanian liqueurs and dusty bottles of Cinzano). But who cares? I’ll salute my mother (still happily ensconced between Knob Creek and the Gordon’s), raise my glass to the Viking (ignoring his eye-rolls at my lack of preparedness and the cavalier way I sloshed back all the vintage oddities from the seventies - Goldenheart, anyone?) and quietly slide into a sottish slumber by mid-morning. Anyone gonna join me? Cheers!