Monday, 1 January 2018

A Mother's Christmas in Tooting.

One Christmas was so very much like another in those Tooting years that I always remember it never snowed for any days, not even when I was thirty, or forty, or even when I was fifty. All the Christmases rolled together as one toward that two-laned High Road like pretty litter skidding down the pavement stopping at the ice-edged freezer section at Lidl, where we plunged our hands in to bring out whatever we could find: chips, peas, fish fingers, you name it... In goes the hand to that edge of the holidays, resting on the rim of the chest freezer as we paused to listen to the carol singing down at Balham tube, and out came Turkey Twizzlers and the memories...

First, the present-purchasing ritual that was, for some reason, always a mother's lot so that the voice she heard before sleep was always father's, saying "Oi! Stop pressing those buttons on your laptop. What's with all this Amazon and their evil tax-evading ways?"

"Ah," mother would say, replying the same every year, "if you are so against Amazon then you can jolly well sally forth on the tube to that hell-hole which is Oxford Street before Christmas with its fast-flow of people and lights and irritating music abuzz to the rooftops."

"You what?" said father, and of course he never did go.

So mother pressed the buttons and presents arrived post-haste at the threshold without so much as leaving the house which was like magic to her, except for in the case of her shiny-faced nieces with their colt-like limbs and flowing locks, for them she did venture to Oxford Street to that cathedral that is the top of all the shops, that is, Top Shop, where she bought them two of the most miniest of skirts - and while she was about it also five dresses for herself, yes, five, because fuck it they are the lowest of prices, she said to herself, and anyway this was the year she could also use her ten per cent off student discount, as she said to the sales assistant behind the counter, "I may not look like a student, but really I am one!" 

And the cheery sales assistant replied: "Never too old! Except for my Gran, who has gone back to college also and loves it but says she is so old she can't remember a thing they teach her." 

And mother said in reply... actually I can't remember what she said in reply...

Also, it was always mother who made the trifle every year with its pink and yellow strata, sponge and custard and fruit and custard and sponge and fruit and cream, lying soft white against cold hard bowl edge. She made it every year even though her three lanky lads cried, as they did every time, "but mother, we can't stand trifle!"

And every year it was the same Christmas quiz except for the year when the salt-and-pepper-haired, long-nosed grandfather asked them all, smiling atop his glasses, a lot of mysterious Beatles-related questions, like: name three Beatles songs which are also questions, and, which Beatles track has the longest title, and, which is the very shortest of all?

And then there were annual trips to the silver screen to watch War of the Stars episode 199 which went on an interminable time and turned out - when at last they got to the end of it and were turned out themselves onto the hard and frost-topped pavement - to have been in retrospect and also at the time an unbearable load of old crap, unlike the very best of British Paddington Bear movie they also attended at the most central of flickering Picture Houses, which delivered nothing but smiles and tears and laughter to every single family member no matter how young or old.

And then the Yuletide season was a wrap again, just like those silver and gold wrapped presents lying briefly beneath the tall and standing tree, which were now unwrapped, that same wrapping stuffed into fifteen black bin liners sitting outside the house for a week. And every trifle bowl was licked clean and washed up with Marigold-hands before being stored again in high cupboards; emptied viridescent children's stockings were folded and crammed back into already full blanket chests. Everyone was older and wiser and a tiny bit fatter and determined to lose that extra weight before long, turning down underfloor heating or raking ruby-red coals in the woodburner before climbing upstairs to bed. No words were said to the darkness and then they slept because Christmas was over and they were all slightly pissed and absolutely knackered.

Love E x


P.S. Not a bit like Dylan Thomas.

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