Hilary Fannin: I’ve a nasty feeling about where I might have put the giblets
Although the notion of matching plates, or indeed glasses, finding their way on to my table is about as alien as Donald Trump on an ashram, I’m actually kind of looking forward to the day
Although prescription jollity and a seasonal game of happy families had been too difficult a pill for my parents to swallow, that was an inheritance I should probably try not to pass on to my own children.
My father died 16 years ago, in mid-December. His funeral took place in the village near where I live. Outside the church, a shredding wind whipped up from the sea like a cutlass, shaking the Christmas tree, lit with fat, coloured bulbs, that stood on the small island where the road divides.
We waited outside, stamped out our fags, watched the hearse approach. My father was a humorously irreligious man, but my mother had wanted a church funeral for him; the comfort, I suppose, of tradition, of ritual, a sober hedging of bets.
Inside the church, my brother gave the eulogy.
“My father was not a family man. He would have done anything to avoid Christmas. But this,” he said, gesturing towards the coffin, “is taking things a bit far.”
Fast-forward 16 years, to mid-December 2016. I’m sitting on a plastic chair waiting for the results of an X-ray on my foot. I’d stumbled and tripped over a mat on arrival at an outdoor pizza restaurant; my own giddy fault. It hurt at the time, but it was a bring-your-own-bottle night and the company was entirely diverting and the cold was anaesthetising, so I decided to forget about it.
Two weeks later, however, I was still hobbling around the supermarket under the seasonal effluvium, gnarled and ratty like a broken, badly Bostiked virgin in someone else’s crib.
“Oh, I wish it could be Christmas every day,” belted the sound system as I limped towards the woman in the wilting elf hat and the latex gloves, gamely taking the turkey orders. (The gawping birds looked like a suitable readymade receptacle in which to stuff that particular glam-rock band and their permalooped Yuletide oeuvre.) It occurred to me then, waiting in line, eye to eye with a ham hock, that surviving Christmas was going to necessitate standing on my own two feet.
I quite like waiting rooms. I like the dog-eared magazines scattered around, a distraction from the phrase “possible fractured metatarsal” that was rolling around my head like a renegade bauble. There were publications there that I wouldn’t buy myself in a million tinselled years. “Pregnant by my dead husband’s mother’s lover!” “Flesh-eating bugs ate my breasts, including two pierced nipples!” “Miracle baby swallowed my implants!” “Shock as Judy Grinagain pierces her nipples and masticates a Pomeranian!”
They proved a paltry diversion. It occurred to me that if I ended up on crutches, I could avoid great swathes of Christmas. No crawling into the eaves to find the haphazardly stored Christmas decorations. No driving to the airport to net my guests from among the throngs of returning emigres on Christmas Eve. No journeying under the sink for the turkey baster and emerging with three left-hand rubber gloves instead. I felt strangely disappointed.
My name was called. No apparent fracture, just ligament damage. Nothing to write home about. No excuses. No more mewling around the supermarket with my fingers in my ears, blaming seasonal ennui on a broken bird-thin bone. I was free to be festive.
I’ve never been a Christmassy person. Among the things I inherited from my late father – a couple of unpaid electricity bills, a hat he wore when he sailed to the Arctic – was an indifference to the festive season. But after years of lying in lukewarm baths while my own fairy lights flickered limply and the goosebumped turkey shivered in the morgue of the fridge, I figured out that although prescription jollity and a seasonal game of happy families had been too difficult a pill for my parents to swallow, that was an inheritance I should probably try not to pass on to my own children.
Over the years I’ve learned to haul myself out of the bath and get stuck into the bread sauce, and although I draw the line at putting reindeer horns on my dirty car, I’m not exactly Scrooge-like. Sure, I still don’t have enough chairs for the 10 people who will be sitting (or kneeling) around the two mismatched tables that will be pushed together in my kitchen on Christmas Day. And although I can’t find the turkey thermometer, and I’ve a nasty feeling about where I might have put the giblets, and the notion of matching plates, or indeed glasses of similar height or circumference, finding their way on to my table is about as alien as Donald Trump on an ashram, I’m actually kind of looking forward to the day.
If only to see that I don’t poison anyone.