Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The Big Day


A lacklustre Midnight Mass with electric lights turned full on all the time as if health and safety people had been round before the service to ban candles, darkness and any hint of drama. No atmosphere at all – just a lot of people in anoraks packed into pews enjoying a bit of something different after the pubs closed.

I longed for liturgy, candle light, glorious vestments, incense and proper ritual.

It’s the big day and my mother, aged eighty eight, does everything, just as she always has; dips the silver, climbs a ladder to find special crockery, cooks a giant meal with sprouts, carrots, broccoli, parsnips and roast potatoes, pork and turkey. Produces crackers, and special napkins, even squirty cream for Maisie the cat.

I manage to chop the vegetables and do the washing up, but apart from that her kitchen is a hostile foreign land to me.

We only have one guest to help us through the pile of food. Two other people didn’t make it because of the weather. He is an old friend of mine who has advanced prostrate cancer. He was given eighteen months to live about nineteen months ago. Before lunch we had a light hearted and typical cancer survivors conversation on the merits of Omega 3, goji berries and Manuka honey. When we start eating, wearing our paper hats, I couldn’t help wondering which of us will be sitting down to Christmas lunch next year? Even Maisie is old.

Taking up my thought he challenges me by saying he will have a bet with me to see which of us is alive next year, him or me. He seems to find this great fun but I found the whole meal a strain and when he left I felt drained and vaguely out of control, like slowly starting to skid on ice. I wondered if I would be able to keep the lid on my anguish.

Later I slipped next door to thank one of our neighbours for her Xmas present. She was so kind and sweet to me that I dissolved into tears.

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