Hilary Fannin: I’m grateful that I’ve dodged the bullets for another year

The sight of big, naked, depilated turkeys sitting up on the countertop like ghostly jurors makes me feel kind of crushed, but, shag it, all in all I’m grateful

‘Christmas: love it or loathe it, we pretty much know that if we have the wherewithal, it’s incumbent on us to step up to the mark and get on with it at the first tinkle of Jingle Bells.’ Photograph: Thinkstock

‘Christmas: love it or loathe it, we pretty much know that if we have the wherewithal, it’s incumbent on us to step up to the mark and get on with it at the first tinkle of Jingle Bells.’ Photograph: Thinkstock

 

So, it’s happening. Christmas is about to crash down, like a sad drunk into a decorative bay tree.

If we’re lucky and fate has left us off the naughty list this year, if we’re not ill or homeless or dispossessed, we’re likely to be looking at another mild and potentially pleasant Yuletide: pine needles in our socks, crocuses pushing through the frosted earth, cats snoozing in front of Father Ted re-runs.

By now we fiftysomethings know Christmas like the back of our wrinkling hands. We know its twinkling eyes and its boozer’s nose, its alarming habit of catapulting old pain to the surface, its wanton singing and weeping and staggering around under the mistletoe in lino-piercing high heels with its mascara running down its face. And, love it or loathe it, we pretty much know that if we have the wherewithal, it’s incumbent on us to step up to the mark and get on with it at the first tinkle of Jingle Bells.

I count myself among the lucky ones, being well-versed in the gentle art of scratching my tinsel-sprinkled scalp and working out how to fit another garland of luminous sausages into the greenish interior of the overcrowded refrigerator. I’m a dab hand at traversing icy suburban streets, dragging a non-shedding tree behind me and vaguely wondering how best to ignite frostbitten sprouts and excite flaccid parsnips. I’m one of the lucky ones whose concerns, maybe like yours, have the familiar ring of remembered songs.

What sugar-free balm should we offer overtired toddlers who’ve just scribbled all over their ugly dollies? How best do we neutralise a hormonal pre-teen who has just realised that a fistful of Match Attax cards and the Christmas money his granny gave him can’t buy Taylor Swift? What’s the most spiteful cure for a hungover spouse? And what in the name of God are you going to buy for your giddy mother-in-law? Child’s play, that stuff: a walk in the park.

An acquaintance of mine, an easygoing chap prone to mismatched socks and driving well within the speed limit, and his wife, who is entirely more frosted and angular, received an unusual Christmas gift request from his mother-in-law. No longer satisfied with a bar of lavender-scented soap, a Johnny Mathis CD and a set of handmade coasters (oh, what clever use of old jam-jar lids), she asked the couple for donations to her plastic-surgery fund.

We were standing at the supermarket counter, he and I, watching the tattooed forearm of the paper-hatted butcher slap a pork belly on to his block and raise the chopping knife.

 

Grotesque caricatures

Jerry Hall says that women look like grotesque caricatures of themselves after plastic surgery,” I told him. “She says they don’t fool anyone. She says women who go under the knife look like pathetic, insecure creatures. Unless you’re in Hollywood, that is, where it’s an industry staple and you won’t get as much as a voiceover of an animated turtle unless you’ve had your chin stapled to your eyebrows.”

“My mother-in-law lives in Raheny,” he said, looking glumly at a tray of pimpled chicken thighs. “She only went to Florida the once. Do you have any idea how much a rhytidectomy can set you back?”

I didn’t, but I left the supermarket cheered up by the thought of the cussed old woman, still lively enough to annoy her children with her vanity.

I’m looking forward to Christmas this year. Don’t get me wrong: you won’t find me festooning my home with rubber snowmen, and, believe me, I’d rather bathe in turkey giblets than attempt to make marzipan icing, let alone spend three weeks assembling the ingredients for a Christmas pudding. Also, the sight of big, naked, depilated turkeys sitting up on the countertop like ghostly jurors makes me feel kind of crushed – but, you know, shag it, all in all I’m grateful. Grateful that I dodged the bullets for another year, grateful that when fate was handing out the short straws, I pulled a long one.

Over the course of two days this week, I attended a memorial service for an old friend and, the following day, went to the funeral of another. Both were pulled from their lives far too soon. Both had plenty of living yet to do, and both left such tender sorrow in their wake.

I’ll be toasting absent friends this year, and enjoying the gift of arbitrary good fortune, no matter that it’s wrapped up in leftover tinsel, no matter that grief waits quietly beyond the door.

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