Thursday 8 December 2011

A SWEET TOOTH AT CHRISTMAS – a Slice of Paradise

                                              Julie- Ann Corrigan
                                                    sweet sherry

As Halloween, Bonfire Night, and finally November fades into recent history, there is nothing that reminds me more of the passage of time than the onset of Christmas preparations.
    More than looking in the mirror, passing birthdays and children growing outrageously tall; the beginnings of Christmas rudely reminds me of the changes all our lives are subtly undergoing.
    I remember a time when the Festive Season meant dressing up, going out to parties and opening unexpected, luxury presents on Christmas morning.
    I got away with any festive preparations until I was well into my thirties.  Even after having a child of my own we would still pack up the car on Christmas Eve and zoom up to my old home.
 Dropping bags and gear on my mum’s kitchen floor I marvelled at her baking skills.  The house smelled of freshly baked mince pies and her famous Paradise Slice.  Of vanilla essence from the homemade custard she only made at Christmas.
    One thing you have to understand about my mum was her obsessive interest in all things sweet.  The turkey and trimming came a poor second to the massive selection of cakes displayed yearly, on the sideboard in the dining room.  My husband said once that he could feel his cholesterol rising by smelling the air.  I told him not to be paranoid.  My mum looked all right on it didn’t she?  Although sometimes I did wonder how she kept her size eight figure.
    Time passes though.
    The year finally came when it became difficult to spend Christmas in my childhood home.  Mum and Dad couldn’t quite manage the whole Christmas thing.  Our daughter was getting older and it was becoming increasingly difficult to persuade her that Santa knew where we were located on Christmas morning. 
    So there I was – inviting my whole sweet-toothed family to ours for Christmas.
    I had finally grown up.
    I was doing the festive season.

My brother called to make sure I would be carrying on in the family tradition and be making ’Mums Paradise Slice.’  I didn’t know you liked it,’ I said.  I know, but its part of Christmas isn’t it?  he replied.  A bead of sweat trickled down my forehead anticipating what else might be ‘part of Christmas.’  To be as good as my mum was a lot to ask.  It felt like a gargantuan undertaking.
    How could I possibly live up to everyone’s expectations – including my own?
    I decided to be organised.  I would start early.  I adored my mum and I wanted her to have all the best cake and trifle she could possibly eat. I wanted to take over the Olympic flame of Christmas efficiently.  I wanted her and Dad to be proud.   Maybe I would try something different, perhaps Delia’s famous chocolate bread pudding?  A banana and chocolate trifle?  My imagination ran away with itself.
My husband re-named me the Tesco Terminator as I trawled the supermarket aisles like the fictional cyborg character.  I scanned the products and prices as efficiently as Arnie had scanned for human warmth and movement. He told to calm down.  Chill out, I think was his phrase as I passed by the chilled aisle like an automaton. 
  My mum called constantly, telling me not to go to too much trouble.  My brother heard on the family grapevine I was worried about ‘doing’ Christmas. Did I want to cancel?  ‘No’ I shouted into the phone, ‘I can manage.’
    December unfolded.  Invitations dropped through the door with the same consistency as the bills would do in January.  I was a party girl by nature and having a house, child, husband and a Christmas to prepare for was not about to stop me enjoying myself.  I wanted to be super-woman and do everything. 
    My freezer was full.  I made the trifle and pud in advance.  But by Christmas Eve the fridge bulged like a supermarket shelf.  I had to ask my neighbours (who always spent Christmas in a local bistro), if I could use their fridge to store the last of my efforts, including the most impressive chocolate and banana trifle.  While I was round there, I put the turkey in their fridge too.
    As we wrapped the last of Santa’s presents, I couldn’t ignore the dreaded feeling in my throat any longer.  I told myself off for finishing the last of the mulled wine; my head was thumping.
    Christmas had begun and I was steadily beginning to feel worse as my sore throat threatened to turn into something more sinister, but I didn’t care.  I was supremely organised – everyone kept telling me so.

Santa’s visit was prolific.  Toys and people engulfed our house.  I knew I had flu, but kept it to myself.  I only needed to get through the day.  After the usual early Christmas breakfast (four-thirty apparently is okay on Christmas morning), I went to get my neighbours key to retrieve various cakes, trifles and the turkey. 
    It wasn’t where I thought I’d had left it.  It was nowhere to be found.  My daughter was left to her own devices as the whole family searched for the key. 
It had vanished as spectacularly as Santa had done. 
All day it was missing.
The trauma of having a turkey-free Christmas though, seemed to cure my sore throat. 

So we had no turkey, no trifle, and no pudding.   My daughter thought it was a hoot eating chips on Jesus’s birthday.  My mum discovered a love of jaffa cakes, my husband admitted he’d never liked trifle anyway and my dad, well my dad only chuckled at his daughter who he proclaimed loudly, would never truly grow up. 
    It was I believe, the best Christmas ever.
    I think I will though, if you don’t mind, put off growing up for a little while yet.  Next year we’re back at Mum and Dads for Christmas.  Mum can clearly cope better than me – hopefully for some years to come.  Together with our daughter, we have already e-mailed Santa well in advance with our plans and location for next Christmas.
    By the way, the key was nestling snugly in my dressing gown pocket and the neighbours loved the trifle.

Julie-Ann writes short stories and articles. She has had short stories published in collections  and one of her recent articles was published in Beat Magazine (see her interview with Laura Wilkinson here: )
She has recently completed her first novel and is now working on her second.

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