Sunday 16 December 2018

Alternative Christmas

by Janet Howson

Two Cobras

It seemed a good idea at the time. I knew we would not be arriving back from New Zealand until the morning of Christmas Eve with the almost certainty of jet lag, a case full of clothes needing to be washed and piles of Christmas cards to be opened and arrayed around the room. I resolved not to put up a tree and had, previous to the holiday, just displayed the minimum of Christmas decorations that appeared annually. So, the thought of cooking a turkey with all the trimmings appalled me and probably would have ruined my time in New Zealand. I told myself I did it year after year, for my family, my mother, my brother his children and ‘the dog’. I was due a rest.
I congratulated myself on my decision as we arrived back in the UK to be met by snow piled on top of our car that we had left in a friend’s drive who lived conveniently close to the station. The house was of arctic temperature and I spent the night wrapped in my dressing gown in bed unable to sleep both because of the time difference and my freezing feet, hands and nose. Thank goodness I did not have to tackle all the cooking and preparations the following day.
The alarm went off and I extracted myself from my cocoon and got up to find the central heating had not come on. I groaned. Better check the thermostat before going into a wild panic. I put on my slipper boots and descended the stairs. The thermostat was on but on checking the timer I realised we had not altered it from the holiday setting which did not include an early start. I sighed a breath of relief and reset it. Problem one solved.
Problem two soon raised its head. I had forgotten in my state of exhaustion last night, to take the bread and milk out of the freezer. The bread could be toasted in its frozen state but I wasn’t too sure about milk. Oh well, toast, marmalade and green tea.
I knew that Catherine and Christopher would not be arriving until midday, if that. Neither of them are known to be particularly punctual. My brother would arrive at the same time with our mother and his children would meet us at the venue at 1pm. That all seemed quite simple.
I decided not to wake my husband who, going by the snoring, had slept soundly. Instead I tackled the opening of the cards as I drank my tea, sorting them into size as to where I would position them in my lounge. This done I picked up my e mails that had grown to mammoth proportions, reviewed my face book and checked the photos of our holiday had all been successfully posted. I then took all the washing out of the suitcases we had discarded at the bottom of the stairs and put it into the machine. It wouldn’t all fit in so I made a ceremonious pile in the kitchen to be put on later.
Problem three soon became evident as I attempted to have a power shower which always revived me and woke me up. The water continued to run cold. I had reset the heating but not the water. Silently cursing myself I reset it and counted in my head when it would be ready for me to use. I would use the time to unpack the rest of the case and sort out the various Christmas presents I had bought in New Zealand.
I was sorting out the presents into piles in the front room when I heard the torrential rain. Wonderful, I thought, all we need with four of the guests driving miles. The remaining snow will turn into mush and because it was so cold, it may end up as treacherous black ice. I just had to hope they all drove carefully and that there was no accident on the notorious M25 that would hold them all up.
The noise of the rain woke my husband who appeared, weary eyed complaining of feeling a headache coming on. I administered a paracetamol, explained about the shower and lack of milk and then finished off unpacking completely.
An hour later we were showered, dressed and waiting for my brother and mother to arrive. It seemed an age before the doorbell went and I answered it to let in my brother pulling two suitcases and my mother clutching a Sainsbury’s Christmas cake with a box of crackers balanced precariously on the top. My brother had to revisit the car three times to bring in the presents, the alcohol (his contribution to Christmas) and last and not least ‘the dog’.
I explained that Christopher and Catherine were still to arrive, but shouldn’t be long and as by cue my mobile burst into action and I discovered a text from Catherine saying they had left late and to go ahead without them and they would get there a.s.a.p. My brother then chipped in with the fact that his children had texted him separately saying they couldn’t make it as the car had failed its MOT and couldn’t be driven and of course there were no trains on Christmas day.
So reduced to the four of us and ‘the dog’ who was in a state of constant movement, his tail wagging furiously and slobbering slightly, we decided to position all the presents under the tree to be opened later when we were all together and make our way out to the restaurant and hopefully the other two would arrive shortly. My husband asked me for the hundredth time if I was sure I had checked dogs were allowed and I reassured him I had. We took the Christmas Crackers with us as I had been told that none would be provided. “Strange,” my mother had remarked, “no crackers in a restaurant at Christmas?” I told her all would be clear when we got there.
We parked easily as most of the population were ensconced in their houses or pubs in walking distance. It was very cold and we all had wrapped up in thick coats and scarves. It looked very much as if rain or snow or worse was about to happen, so umbrellas were at the ready.
On entering the restaurant the first thing that hit us was the absence of any other bookings. One table at the end of the room had been set up with a crisp white cloth, cutlery and napkins. No Christmas decorations at all. It had been set up for eight people. I realised I should have phoned ahead to cancel two places. Our coats were taken and we led to the table and a lot of fuss was made as two settings were removed. ‘The dog’ was ensconced under the table and secured to a leg with his lead. I immediately regretted allowing my coat to have been taken as the cold hit me. My husband said I was making a fuss as it was perfectly warm enough and he was fine in a short -sleeved shirt. My mother backed me up and my brother said it was a bit chilly so out voted my husband enquired if the heating could be turned on to be told they could not do that as it had not been working for a week but they would bring in a blow heater.
Settled in with the blow heater, warming our feet but not a lot else, we looked at the menu, which was fairly limited, my mother asked if she could have a children’s menu and they said were there children coming and she said no it was for her as she didn’t eat as much as she did due to indigestion and her false teeth plate having a crack in it. “We only allow children our children’s menu,” the waiter replied. My mother sniffed disapprovingly probably making a mental note not to tip him. ‘The dog’ was being placated with biscuits that my brother was feeding him but the waiters were eyeing him suspiciously and giving the table a wide birth.
After twenty minutes my husband said we should order and Catherine and Christopher would have to order when they arrived. We ordered two cobras a gin and tonic with ice and lemon and the same with no gin, “It gives me reflux,” my mother informed us all, and a bowl of water for ‘the dog’. We then put in our order for food and sat back contemplating whether we ought to wait for the other two before pulling the crackers. It all seemed very quiet and the only other people we saw were a couple who entered and left quickly having collected a take away. I asked if we could have some music on but they said their player had broken down on Christmas Eve but one of the staff did a very good Ed Sheeren impression and was willing to sing but we declined the offer as none of us could remember him doing any Christmas songs.
The food arrived and still no sign of Catherine and Christopher despite various texts and calls on my part. The table looked particularly sad with two places missing, no Christmas decorations and ‘the dog’ had already pulled down the tinsel that I had thought to bring at the last minute to put round the edge of the table.
The food wasn’t particularly hot and mum didn’t like hers and was still sulking at the refusal of a child’s meal. The waiters hovered, whipping away any empty dish obviously intent on getting us to leave as quickly as possible so they could enjoy the rest of Christmas day at home. Then suddenly ‘the dog’ lurched forward still tied to a table leg, in obvious pursuit of something not obvious to any of us. The table toppled over with my brother attempting a rugby tackle on ‘the dog’ whose progress had been hampered by the trailing table. Mum screamed for help, my husband was too shocked to move and I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or take a photo on my phone for facebook. The result was a writhing heap of man, dog half empty dishes, glasses and the remains of the crackers. The waiters rushed forward to assist and between all of them the table was righted, ‘the dog’ and mum calmed and my husband regained his power of speech. He apologised profusely and my brother offered to pay for any damage.
Things moved very quickly. The bill was brought with undue haste and it was paid with undue haste and our coats were extracted from the hooks and helped on, then offered a dubious looking mint from a none too clean glass jar. Mum took three due to her indigestion, saving two for later. ‘The dog’ was dragged out completely oblivious of the disgrace he had brought on the family, no amount of tail wagging and doleful eyes could win us round.
The children were at home when we arrived back. Dispirited and glad to be home we recounted our experience. Both of them thought it was highly amusing ruing the fact they had missed it all.
Catherine wiped away the tears of laughter. “Well, what can you expect mum if you book up an Indian restaurant on Christmas day.”
Needless to say they did not open the following year and we had Christmas at home as usual.

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