Chapter Twenty Three

SOPHIE

I was looking forward to Christmas for the first time in ages although I did feel a bit overwhelmed by the responsibility of being charge of sending cards and buying presents.  Christmas had been a bit of a damp squib ever since Dad and Tracey got together.  Before that  Mum always made a big thing of it;  took us out to the carol service on Christmas Eve; made us wonderful stockings and cooked a big Christmas lunch for the four of us and Aunt Susan, Uncle James and my cousins, Nicola and Alisa.  But since then Tracey and Dad have gone abroad each year and although I’ve been at Mum’s it hasn’t been the same.  I’ve felt like an outsider as it’s all about Derek, her new partner, and his family – his mum and dad, his daughter and his sister.  Craig came one year which made it better but then chose to go to Jacqui’s family as he said it was more fun.

As regards cards and presents Tim told me not bother but I just said, “ya, boo, humbug.”  He hasn’t been any help at all regarding what to buy which was extra difficult for his family.  I said I’d take champagne, wine and port but since neither of his parents drink that’s not of much use to them so I’m going to take flowers and chocolates as well.  I thought I’d take Stanley a 1000-piece jigsaw, Jock a good malt whisky and Teresa a nice pregnancy outfit.  I think I’ll get Tim a new iPhone as his current phone is out of the ark.  Mum said she’d send me a list of all the addresses of people I ought to send cards to.  I was going to have really nice cards printed with our names in so I didn’t have to write these in but Tim was adamant this was a naff idea, pretentious and impersonal.  I can see where he was coming from but I didn’t like his suggestion of sending out cards bought from 38 degrees, an internet political pressure group.  I got them from the Red Cross charity shop instead.

I wanted to put up decorations in our home but Tim said that would be a waste of time since we were going to be away on Christmas Day.  We were invited to Craig’s on Christmas Eve but Tim  worked until quite late and only one of us was able to drink because we had then to drive to North Wales and be before 22:00.  We did manage a couple of hours at Craig’s and it was cool that Mum was there as otherwise I wouldn’t have seen her at all over the festive season.

I fell asleep on the journey to Wales as I’d had a few glasses of bubbly and Tim said I’d been snoring loudly which had helped to keep him awake on the drive.  Jock was playing Christmas songs when we walked in and it was a lovely late evening atmosphere.  Trish plied us with mulled wine and I fell asleep on the sofa.  Next thing I knew was Tim moving me so he could make up our bed.  Jock and Trish had been given the room we normally slept in and we were on a bed settee in the lounge.  My darling husband had brought in all our luggage from the car, including the presents and a strange pillowcase.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Aha, you’ll have to wait till morning,” he replied knowingly.  I guessed then that Mum had done me a stocking, bless her.  We all went for a brisk walk after a breakfast of porridge and toast.  I was dressed for the occasion with a flat Andy Capp hat, Barbour waxed coat and walking boots.  None of these items had been worn before I met Tim and I had asked Teresa to take a picture of me on my phone so I could put it on Facebook and amuse Tracey and Sarah.  The weather was a bit iffy but it wasn’t actually raining.  It was wet and muddy underfoot and I appreciated my boots ability to cope although it was sad to see them so muddy.  We had a hot drink when we got back into the nice warm house.  Wendy and Teresa started preparing the lunch and Jock opened a bottle of bubbly.  It was good that although it was a dry household no one seemed to mind those of us who did enjoy a drink having one or two.  Tim and Stanley went upstairs to prepare games for the afternoon leaving me with Jock and John.  I thought I’d prefer the company of the ladies and went over to help.  Teresa was making pigs in blankets so I took over after she showed me what to do.  I didn’t like the feel of the cold greasy meats but I did enjoy being part of the ladies group and was quite pleased with how well I managed.  Maybe I’d try to learn to cook.  Tim said there was nothing to it, especially if you followed a recipe.

Tim and his brother looked pleased with themselves when they came back downstairs.  They’d prepared a game for us to play before lunch.  I was told to pull an envelope out of a stack that had apparently been shuffled like a pack of cards.  Then I had to shut my eyes while someone took out a fixit note out and stuck it on my forehead.  Everyone had to do the same.  We had to find out who we were and who we were partnered with by asking questions that could only have a yes or no answer.  Unfortunately they hadn’t quite thought it through and we found out too easily.  I was Elvis and Jock was Presley.  Then there was channel and tunnel, washing-up and liquid so when my first question, “am I a singer?” was answered in the affirmative I knew I had to be Elvis because I could see Jock’s note.

By the time lunch was served I was a bit tipsy.  It was quite a squash round the rectangular table with me squeezed between Tim and Jock.  I wasn’t happy about this as I’d already been made to feel uncomfortable by the vibes coming from Jock and it wasn’t long before I felt his hand on my thigh.  I pinched the loose skin on the top of his hand hard so he didn’t repeat his approach.  Four of us had steak while John and Wendy and Stanley had a nut roast.  Pudding was Christmas pud with brandy sauce for the non vegans and fruit for John and Wendy.  I was amazed that the vegans seemed to enjoy their food as much as we did and the non-drinkers seemed to behave just as stupidly as those of us who were by now quite drunk.

The men did the clearing and washing up and Stanley made us our various teas and coffees.  I’d never heard of nettle tea before!  Then it was at last time for present opening.  We’d been given specific instructions about this a few weeks ago.  Our names had been put in a hat and each of us was required to buy just one present for the person pulled out.  Stanley handed them out.  My present had been bought by Stanley and was a deluxe scrabble set.  I had bought for Wendy and had chosen a lovely hat, scarf and glove set.  I’d also bought Tim a new iPhone which he was was very pleased with.

Will had another game after this, called the sofa game.  Everyone’s name went into a hat and we took it in turns pick out a name.  I was John.  The women sat on one sofa and the men on the other (their sofa included a chair).  There was another empty chair on the women’s side.  I went first calling out Wendy.  Jock obviously had chosen Wendy’s name so he got up and went to the vacant chair, leaving a vacant space where he’d been sitting.  This space was on Tim’s left so he got a go, calling out Sophie.  Teresa got up and sat in this space.  The object of the game was to remember everyone’s party names and try to move the people in your team onto the opposition’s sofa.  It was a cool game for a party.

The telly went on after that and I dozed off.  I’d had a lovely Christmas Day.

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