What is wrong with this picture?
“Jo, Jo, Santa’s been…” Belated gasp of delight and shock from me. Meanwhile, it takes several seconds to connect the kids’ excitement with the laborious task the night before interspersed with my completely off the mark critique on Strictly Come Dancing – incidently, I’m not wrong, the judge’s comments are rigged.
So, Santa hadn’t actually been. It was me all along – ho ho ho!
On my last weekend in the UK I decided to hold an early Christmas party for our families. It seemed like a good idea at the time, then later that day, not so much. And there were times when I had to ask myself whether I came up with the idea simply to ensure I got a good stash of presents before going away – a serious case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ syndrome? Or worse, the spoilt child, always raring to get out? But surely not, I am an independent 33 year old woman.
“Oh yes, I met her yesterday. Too many piercings for my liking and I don’t think I got to see them all…” My dad, christmas hat askew, between sips of Old Speckled Hen, reflecting on meeting my brother’s new girlfriend. He grinned and pursed his lips, savouring the discomfort he’d served. Everyone else – my mum, Mark’s mum, the children, my brother – bore silent witness.
To be able to declare (finally) that I felt I had walked into a scene from the Royle Family was the only way I could diffuse the situation or at least the spiral in my own mind and the gaping chasm of my upbringing yawning across the table and consuming my boyfriend, but mainly his mum.
And after that, a change of subject: “Oh, Mum and Dad, I don’t think I told you Mark’s got a new job now.” Rumblings of partially articulated congratulations, expressed through pork and apple sauce or gurgled through wine; apart from my dad’s contribution:
“Oh well done Mark. That’s a change.” He lets the cryptic statement hang. “I always used to get the sack at Christmas.”
Cold days of discomfort and anxious murmurs filled me. Cold cars and long drives. Visits to relatives and friends of my parents at Christmas, me and my brother small, only just entertained in one strange living room or another while around us swirled the words that became my apparitions: redundancy, mortgage, savings…REPOSSESSION.
But it was only for a second I stopped, let them in again. I was too busy. I expressed my horror and turned and told Jess to get on with her dinner. When I turned back my dad was dissecting one or another celebrity from Strictly, her assets weren’t in the right place apparenty.
And that’s it really, my dad broke into song on ocassion – loud song about dustmen. Discomfort wriggled across everybody’s face, all but the kids’, my brother text his girlfriend until he got harrangued by Jess into being a human climbing frame, my mum failed to hear stuff, we played games and I got lots of presents…
…for which I am extremely grateful.
But finally, Mark suggested I should not miss out my parent’s post-dining malaise. Before they put their coats on 10 minutes before the taxi arrived for fear that it may turn into a pumpkin should they be only one second late, they sat planted in Mark’s leather sofa and from there they bemoaned the son without ambition or a pension, the daughter, leaving the country, without a home. My dad’s response to this stress: “do I have time for another beer?”
It has taken me a long time to get to where I could make the decision to go away. And in part, that is because it was a decision that would not get everybody’s blessing, especially the people who bought me up. But, it’s nearly time to go and actually, I think they are proud. And it was a good idea.