I did a book launch. In that book launch I wrote and read out a whole new chapter so that people who had already read my novel, “Sophie’s Throughway”, had something new and those who hadn’t got a taste and essence of the book with out any spoilers. It’s like a bridge between the current and the sequel. Here it is for you, my readers.
I know, I’m like the gift that keeps on giving. You’re welcome.
I’d decided. This year Christmas was going to be perfect if it bloody killed me. A traditional Dickensian, happy family Christmas without the “Bah Humbug”. No Scrooges, no fighting and no smart arses. I was going to make the whole place twinkle with magic and nobody was going to spoil it. Despite the dysfunctional characters that would be sat around my Christmas table, I was sure that I could pull it off and maybe, just maybe fill them with the holy spirit. And if that didn’t work the other spirits would be close enough at hand to numb the pain.
I’ d taken the week before Christmas off since I was now my own boss and I’d managed to get every freelance article I’d been asked to write out to various publications. Most of them had been about dallying around in cotton frocks and flip flops or sangria recipes and outdoor tapas. The magazine industry was always six months in advance and trying to be all summery about life when the boiler was half cocked and I was having to wear fingerless gloves in order to type, had been an arduous task. But now all that was put to bed and I was ready with my Jamie Oliver cook book, several packs of butter, an array of herbs and a nice glass of ruby Port. I took a well deserved sip as I leant back on the kitchen counter and stared out of the window into the garden. The light was dissipating fast and turning into that beautiful purple hue that highlighted the naked tree branches as though they’d been painted onto the sky. For a moment I was transported into a stunning Hockney painting until I heard the front door slam violently behind me.
“Is there any dinner?” Brendon demanded as he marched into the kitchen dropping his kit bag and coat in his wake.
“Not yet, I’m preparing Christmas food, I”ll make something later.”
“What’s this shit?” He poked at the jelly that was cooling in the saucepan with the wooden spoon.
“Leave it alone. It’s got cinnamon sticks in and if you break them it will taste horrible!” I snapped, snatching the spoon from his hand. “It’s homemade cranberry sauce.”
“Looks vile.” He gave it a look of disdain as he wandered through to the pantry in search of something instantly edible.
“Oh, By the way, do you know where my Christmas CD is?” I’d been meaning to ask him for the last week as I hadn’t been able to find it.
“Somewhere in the garden or next door,” he said.
“I lobbed it out of my bedroom window. I told you if you didn’t stop playing it that I’d chuck it. I gave you three warnings.” He winked at me as he used my own threats against me.
“You are bloody outrageous! How dare you. You will buy me another one this weekend or you’re not having any of your Christmas presents!”
“Whatever Fam,” he laughed. “Stop pretending you’re a Christian when you’re really an atheist. If you believed in God you’d go to church every week and not just sing poofy choir boy songs in December. You’re a hypocrite.”
The Taylor’s fine ruby Port wasn’t working fast enough so I gulped down what was remaining in my glass and slammed it down on the tiled worktop. The crystal glass gave out a chirpy tring as if to mock me further. I gave Brendon a “Mommy dearest” look and went outside to see if I could retrieve my Westminster Abbey Choir. And there, under the brittle pear tree the Christmas disc lay, split in half and a far cry from joyful and triumphant.
Despite everyone trying to hamper me on my week off, I’d managed to get everything done and stood in my pyjamas on Christmas morning at 7 am putting my buttered turkey into the oven. I was absolutely knackered. It didn’t help that my oven door was mirrored and I couldn’t tell the difference between my face reflecting back at me and the pale, pimpled bird cooking behind the door. I decided to have a walk around the house before I got ready, just to make sure everything was in place before my Mother and Karl arrived. The Christmas tree looked a sorry sight and I already had the urge to take it down. It hadn’t helped not having Karl around anymore as he’d been the one that used to put the sprigs in the right holes and when I’d tried to do it with Bryony it had ended up bigger at the top than the bottom.
“Oh well, it looks like one of those upside down trees!” I said. “Let’s be different this year”
“ARRR NO! It looks STUPID and I hate it. It’s got to be perfect!” She had stomped out of the room in disgust and I’d made a mental note to get her checked out for OCD. This family was starting to waver on the irritating side of quirky.
All the Christmas crackers had gone as Brendon had wanted to get all the presents from inside straight away. I should have known. Every time I gave him an advent calendar at the beginning of the month it got eaten within the first hour along with all the chocolate figures on the tree and the bags of coins. The tree ends bore the remnants of gold thread and tiny scraps of red tin foil where Santa had been snatched before he’d even had chance to swing with the baubles. Apart from that, everything was looking OK and I decided to go and get ready before the guests arrived. Karl would arrive on time and my Mother would be late.
I chose to wear my Christmas jumper and get into the spirit of things. I met Bryony on the landing as I left my bedroom. We hugged and wished each other a Happy Christmas. We decided to knock on Brendon’ s door and wake him up. He was already sat up in bed watching YouTube videos and half way through a selection box.
Karl was due at 10 am and arrived at precisely 4 minutes to. He slipped me a few hundred quid towards the kids presents and went to make himself a cup of tea. I noted he was wearing a trendy fitted shirt, designer jeans and new aftershave. Must be something to do with the dancing doll, I thought. I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot by being snippy when there was plenty of time for that. Besides, I was intent on this day being fabulous. We all sat down to open presents which we did in turn. Well, that’s how it was supposed to go but Brendon always wanted to fool around with whatever he’d just opened which slowed the process to glacier scale. He then wanted to analyse whatever Bryony had got and mess about with that too which is exactly what happened with her next present.
“Oh thank you!” she enthused with a big smile on her face as she took out the much wanted hair twirler.
“What’s that? What does it do? Let me have a go!” Brendon pushed.
“WAIT!”, She snapped as she plugged it into the socket and turned it on. Taking a piece of her hair, she placed it in the twirler which sucked it up, spat it out and revealed a pretty ringlet.
Brendon’s eyes lit up like fairy lights and he snatched it from her hand taking a giant piece of her hair in the other and tried to repeat the process; it all went horribly wrong.
“OH MY GOD GET IT OUT…IT’S HURTING!” screamed Bryony.
“What the fuck…” Brendon pulled at the contraption that refused to take leave like a Venus Flytrap, yanking his sisters head back so hard that she cracked it on the chest of drawers and started to cry.
“PULL THE BLOODY PLUG!”, I yelled. The smell of burning hair quickly overpowered the aroma of roasting parsnips and I made a run for it across the lounge sending the Ferrero Rocher chocolates scooting in the dogs direction who started to scoff them in haste, gilt crinkled paper and all.
It took me over an hour to rip Bryony’s hair from the twirling machine which meant the pigs in blankets and Yorkshire puddings were going to have to wait until Boxing Day.
My Mother arrived in a tardy flurry just as dinner was being plated up insistent that the roads were terribly busy for a Christmas day. We sat around the table, sans paper hats and festive cheer trying to make polite conversation through gritted teeth. I watched, sweating into my Christmas jumper as I tried to take it all in: A tear stained daughter with a chunk of hair missing, an ex husband who looked as happy as Bad Santa, my Mother constantly looking at her watch despite being able to tell the time and a son who had upped and left halfway through dinner stating that “Family get togethers were always a fucked up nightmare.” I wondered if I was the only person on the planet who was envious of the ‘lonely Man on the Moon’ in the current John Lewis advert.
Shortly after dinner, the Queens speech and a Kipling’s mince pie Bryony said she was going for a nap because she had a headache. Karl jumped on the band wagon and said he wanted some time out on his computer game and a bit of a kip thereafter and took himself off to the spare room. Brendon was already an hour and a half into his virtual worlds and would most likely stay there until the early hours of Boxing day. Left with just me and an abundance of dirty dishes my Mother made a bid for freedom blaming her irritable bowel and needing to settle before the Downton Christmas special.
“Well Ho, Ho Ho,” I said out loud to myself as I stood amongst the debris in the kitchen. I spied the half bottle of port hiding behind the olive oil next to the hob. I took it as a sign from God and went to get it. Not even bothering to get a glass I took a slug out of it and threw the cork over my shoulder. I wasn’t going to be needing that. I wandered towards the living room and could hear the DFS BIGGEST SALE EVER advert blaring from the telly. I walked into the lounge just in time to see the dog throwing up the Ferrero Rocher chocolates all over the gift cards that had been opened and left on the carpet.
I went back out to the kitchen to fetch some cleaning materials before I lost the will to live and heard the whooshing sound of an email arriving on my mobile. I wondered who the hell would want to be sending me an email on Christmas day. Probably Pizza Hut with a Boxing day, 50% offer on a Turkey, stuffed crust special. I opened my phone and stared at the email for a good ten seconds before opening it. Time seemed to stop for a moment and I did’t know what to do or how to feel. I touched the screen next to the little blue dot of ‘The Voice’s’ e mail and began to read:
Merry Christmas, English person. I’ve started another game with you if you’d care to play…. Forgive me?