Tuesday 20 December 2022

Bah Humbug by Judith Skilleter, mulled wine

Jan’s full name is Janette. Her mum was a great fan of Mel Torme, the best of all the US crooners according to Granny Atkins, and had Jan been a girl she would have been called Melvin. Jan was called Janette after one of Mel Torme’s wives, Janette Scott, who just happened to be the daughter of Thora Hird. Jan finds her name history very boring but is secretly pleased she wasn’t a boy. Jan also finds the fuss and bother over Christmas very boring and it is coming up to that time of year again.

("Here we go again, too much spending on things that are not wanted – or even made well” she grumbled to herself)

Jan is a widow. Ted died a couple of years before Covid and for the last few years of his life they enjoyed Christmas by themselves. They had two married sons who lived away with their families and it was always too much fuss to bring all the presents and Christmas paraphernalia up to Nanny and Granpops house and so the sons and their families did their own thing.

(“They just didn’t really want to come and knew they would have a better time at home, they had moved on from us,” mused Jan, not without bitterness.}

And then Covid came along and Jan had no choice but to enjoy Christmas on her own – and it wasn’t too bad really. In fact she enjoyed doing her own thing, i.e. not getting involved in the Christmas spending bandwagon

She had developed a Christmas day routine. Wake up and let Alan her dachshund out for a pee. He was named after Alan Shearer as her mother had been a Geordie who moved south never to return. Then it was back to bed with a cup of tea and her new novel, her new hardback novel hot off the press. Every year her Christmas present to herself was a new novel, usually detective fiction, which was not opened, not a word read, not a page smelled, until December 25.  She even wrapped it up with bows and labels and put it under the tree before taking it up to bed for the first cuppa of Christmas day. Then she was up and got ready to have a walk with Alan before breakfast. Breakfast, of course included, the new hardback propped up against the fruit bowl with clothes pegs keeping her pages open.

(“I wish Ted would have been here still”  she thought as Ted had been a fan of sporting biographies and it was easy to imagine the two of them propped up in bed with a cuppa and a new book each.)

After breakfast it was a visit to her pal Marge who lived two streets away. Marge had no family, apart from a son who disappeared to the United States twenty-five years ago and she hadn’t heard from him since. Jan had encouraged her to investigate where he was but Marge said no, if he was keen to see his mum he would get in touch and if something had happened to him she didn’t want to know.

(“I don’t know how she can just not find out what, has happened to her son,” thought Jan privately but she said nothing.)

Marge would be ready for her visit with either a mince pie or a piece of Christmas cake and a glass of sweet sherry.

(“I really do not like mince pies, Christmas cake and Christmas pudding and sweet sherry reminds me of pee” thought Jan but she said nothing)

Jan dutifully ate the mince pie and drank the sherry. “Yum” she said, but declined a second mince pie.

Then it was home to lock the doors, make and enjoy her Christmas dinner, this year she was having salmon, with possibly a pesto crust, and new potatoes and delicious Marks and Spencer creamed spinach.

(“Can you become addicted to creamed spinach,” she wondered.)

 All this would be followed by an individual trifle and washed down with a crisp white wine which she would finish in front of the TV before bedtime. Perfect.

But there have been changes. James, her older son, recently un-married  following a bitter divorce, announced that he was coming for Christmas to keep her company.

(“It’s all very well but I don’t need his company,” she said to herself)

“How lovely, I look forward to seeing you” said James’ far from happy mum.

James told Jan that his now ex-wife was taking their two daughters to the Canary Islands, Tenerife, and he wouldn’t be seeing them at Christmas. He had challenged the ex, reminding her that he was their dad but he was then accused of being selfish as they would have much more fun in Tenerife than cold wet England. And anyway he would have them for two whole weeks in February when she went on honeymoon with her new man.

“How lovely for them “said Jan “They’ll have lots of fun” – meaning her granddaughters in Tenerife.

(“What a selfish cow, a total cow. I knew it wouldn’t last,” thought Jan to herself. “And she’ll leave this new man as soon as she has spent his money”)

Then she heard from her younger son, John.

“Mum, we have decided that it was time you enjoyed Christmas with your grandchildren so we are bringing everything and everyone up to you so we can enjoy the festive season together. Aren’t you pleased?”

“What a lovely surprise, of course I am pleased, the more the merrier,” said Jan

(“Bugger,” thought Jan)

They were all to arrive on Christmas Eve and Jan had to seriously rethink her Christmas plans.

She sat with her head in her hands, almost in despair – the shopping list became longer and longer. She would need a turkey and all the trimmings, a ham, (I will buy one instead of cooking it myself), sausage roles and things for snacks and nibbles. A Christmas pudding – which, of course, she hated. (Do they like custard or those fancy sauces?) More wine, a better Christmas tree. (She had a little one that had lights attached, all she had to do was unpack it and plug it in. It was perfect for her but it was not enough for 3 small children, her younger son’s family.) And even bed linen and towels, her old stuff was just not good enough anymore.

And presents. Usually she just sent a cheque to her boys to get their children what they wanted but this year she would have to get presents for under the tree and for them all to open.

Where would they all sleep? She would have to go into the single bedroom and leave the two double bedrooms for her younger son and his three children and poor James would have to make do with the sofa.

(“I must buy a blow up mattress as well and I’ll ask James to bring a sleeping bag,” she thought to herself in an increasing bad temper.)

Oh how she hated the fuss and bother, and expense and excesses for just one day in the year.  How she hated all the Christmas adverts with happy families surrounding heavily laden tables of food. It was all so tasteless and unnecessary asking everyone to buy so much when the world was in turmoil, the prices of everything were going sky high and Putin would probably have nuked us all by Valentines Day. She did feel a bit guilty being so unenthusiastic about the proposed visits of her beloved sons and their delightful children, and her remaining daughter-in-law was OK, unlike the other one. But she rationalised that she could go to see them all at any time, what was so special about this Christmas when everything was so chaotic and the trains would be on strike and as far as she could tell the whole of England would be on strike.

(“Bloody trade unions,” she muttered)

Oh how she wished she had told her sons that they could not come home for Christmas as she had Covid. But then they would probably have said “No matter Mum, no-one takes any notice of Covid anymore and we will all chip in. We are coming anyway”.

(“Bugger” thought Jan)

So Jan set to.  She ordered lots of things, things she might only use or need once, if at all, from Amazon. She spoke to her butcher and ordered ridiculous amounts of meat. A new Christmas tree would soon be waiting in the hallway to be decorated. She would have to buy new decorations as her arthritis would not allow her to get into the loft to find the decorations that had not been used for years. And then there was the supermarket shopping list which was getting longer and longer.

(“Total Bugger,” she said out loud. “They have not offered to contribute and here am I – a pensioner. Bugger, bugger bugger.”)

She decided to move out of her own bedroom ahead of Christmas – one job less to do. Poor Alan had no idea what was going on and didn’t like it one bit so he pooed on the hall floor as his walk had been missed.


And then things changed again. James rang.

“Mum I am so sorry but I won’t be with you for Christmas. I have been invited on a boozy single boy’s trip to, would you believe, Tenerife, and there is no way she can stop me seeing the girls on Xmas day if I am there also. I am so sorry, and I know you will be disappointed but I think this is the best thing to do.

“Yes, I am sad, James,” Jan replied.  “But you are right, you must go and have fun and see your girls. Perhaps we can meet up when you are back”

(“Thank God for that,” thought Jan with great relief}

“Of course, mum” replied her son “We’ll do something special in January.”

The John rang.

“Mum, we can’t come. Arthur has chicken pox and Alfred is likely to get it and then the baby might get it. We will have to stay here for Christmas and look after sick children. I am so sorry because I know you were keen to see us all”

“Of course I was, but never mind, I’ll be OK on my own, the children have to come first and I will see you all when they are better. Perhaps I could come to you?

“Thanks mum for being so brave.”

(“Hip hip hooray,” thought Jan to herself)

After John had rung off, she cancelled all her orders at the butchers; he was an old friend and was very understanding. She cancelled her many Amazon orders, typing “chicken pox” where she had to give a reason for her many cancellations. Thank goodness the Christmas tree and new decorations were still on a list and not littering up the hallway.

If her arthritis would allow it  Jan would have done a little jig, Christmas was going to be wonderful after all, restful and as she liked it, and she would see her family in the new year when all the fuss and bother and mess and expense had gone away - until next year.

About the author

 Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching. Her first children's novel The April Rebellion, has recently been published. Judith is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire 45 years ago and is married with three grandchildren
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