Christmas, as I'm sure you are all aware, is nearly upon us once more. And, although it appears every year at the same time, for me, it's as if by magic. It always takes me by surprise. I'm never organised. For months it seems to be ages away, too soon to do anything about it, too soon to get excited. Then pa-dah... it's here and I have done nothing to prepare. This year is no exception in all but one respect: I'm not tearing my hair out.
Why? Because my pretensions to perfection have been expunged by not only surviving, but actually enjoying, the unrelenting chaos of last Christmas. My two sisters, our three husbands, three children, brother and me all rented a house in Norfolk. I was voted chief cook, though my two sisters both had their cooking roles: one made the first course, the other, pudding. The men all had their tasks too, from wood gathering to drinks making. The kids decorated the tree and the cake and found berry heavy branches to line windowsills and mantelpieces.
On Christmas morning the kitchen was heaving with people all vying for space. I had a goose and a duck to roast, as well as spuds and stuffing balls, and needed space and extreme heat, not to mention quite some oven time, to do them all justice. The main cooker was an Aga, though there was another. We had spent the weekend trying to get the Aga hot enough but by the time I needed to put the birds in it was still at a temperature safe enough for a baby to kip in. It would take a week for butter to melt in the blasted thing. Plans were changed, I'd have to use the other oven, it was quite small but I could do the spuds and stuffing once the birds came out. No problem. Someone poured me a glass of wine while stuff got shifted and the temperature turned up to full blast. Half an hour later the oven was ready but the goose, or at least the only roasting tin that could accommodate the damn thing, wouldn't, just would not, fit inside. I began to sense the imminent departure of my sanity. Cupboards were disembowelled in search of a vessel that would suit both oven and bird, nothing was found. Someone postulated the notion of a fire pit in the garden, children kept out of the way. But there's always a simple solution and this one came because we started the search for a rental house too late to get something big enough to accommodate us all. My sister Elsa and her husband Ron were sleeping in a 'granny flat' at the end of the garden. This had a kitchen of its own in which there was an oven. Someone rushed off with the key and bird, to check for a fit and fit it did. Problem solved, and although lunch was late by a good hour and a half it was still Christmas, still celebratory, no less delicious. We all tucked in and it has to be said, had a bloody good time.
In previous years I have had a vision of Christmas which I now realise was ridiculously uncompromising. Lunch must consist of this and must be served at this time. Present opening must take place at this time and blah, blah, blah... Thanks to last year's fandango my vision of the perfect Christmas consists of things going wrong but everyone pulling together and enjoying it all the same. Food and drink got consumed at odd hours, crumbs and wrapping paper littered the floors, cups and plates could be seen on any flat (ish) surface. People were there to be bumped into, books to be tripped over, the pub to escape to. It was great.
So this year I'm not worried that I haven't got round to buying a single gift, or ordering the goose, or making mince pies, or hunting down organic vacuum packed chestnuts. I have a cake and half a bottle of rum and the Co-op does quite a good chicken and there's only going to be the three of us, and, and, and...
Anyway, there's still over a week to go. Any interesting, scary, hairy or particularly jolly Christmas tales to tell? Please share.