It’s Christmas again. And it won’t be anything like last Christmas.
I am nursing a bleeding cheek and a bruised eyebrow having sat on the sofa next to Wendy while she is getting to grips with the latest family diversion - the new Wii. I am happily enjoying a modest second glass of something bubbly, watching the others play a game of virtual baseball. All of a sudden Wendy’s arm flies back in my direction, the handset she is clutching escapes her grasp and hits me square on the left temple causing my right cheek to collide violently with a champagne flute I was already manoeuvring towards my mouth.
The real tragedy of course, is that the Veuve Clicquot is now all down my front.
The day had started unusually with Oliver tumbling into the room at ten past six with two mugs of tea and a torch. The tea was his part of the bargain of us getting up when he did. But the torch? ‘Well I couldn’t find the light switches and it’s still very dark’, he explained.
Luckily he is easily persuaded to go back to bed and we all eventually wake up at a very respectable 9.30.
My mum, Nanny to the children, has come to stay. We had warned her that we wouldn’t be down much before nine and she had very stoically said she would occupy herself until we surfaced. Oliver reports back that she is, in fact still snoring. She maintains that when he took her in her tea she was on the lavatory. We all decide it’s a clear case of mistaken bodily functions and move on.
Santa has been and eaten the mince pies that the children left out, Rudolph has had half of the apple and the milk is gone. This is a relief as we’d forgotten to arrange this consumption before going to bed but it turns out that Nanny had been peckish first thing and on her way to the kitchen had discovered how thoughtful we had been in leaving her something to stave off the thirst and hunger while she waited for us to surface.
The fire lit, and everyone in their place, present opening begins. Emily shrieks with delight at a High School Musical something or other. Nanny asks where we get such things. We remind her that is Santa’s department. She looks blankly into her own stocking. Later she grumbles because someone has bought her a hairdryer. ‘I didn’t want all these attachments. Look at my hair, what do I want a volumiser for?’
‘Well you don’t have to use the bits, do you?’
‘Waste of money.’
Nanny absents herself for the lavatory and returns complaining about the children weeing on the toilet seat. She seems not to relate this indiscretion to her own involuntary releases of wind and, we all feel, rather more easily controlled belching between mouthfuls of Christmas dinner.
‘Any more sprouts? She asks. ‘No’ comes the chorused family response. Luckily she is now too infirm to reach the kitchen for further investigation. After lunch we allocate her a downstairs bedroom so she can relieve herself a) without having to walk so far b) so she does not have to suffer the inconvenience of mopping up the results of a ten year old’s inability to aim accurately in all the excitement of his new Wii and c) because frankly we’ve already had enough of her complaining about the distance to the lavatory and the frequency with which she has to go since she was put on a new regime of water tablets by the doctor which seem strong enough to drain the Nile.
‘Have another sherry mother.’
‘Do you think I should?’
‘Do you feel alright?’
‘Fabulous – dry or medium?’
‘We haven’t got sweet.’
‘Oh, I’ll have a Bailey's then please, but just a small one.’ As I go to the bar she calls after me: ‘Don’t water it down with too much ice.’
And so the day goes on in much the same way as Christmases for years gone by… except that:
Having got over the years of children’s noisy battery operated toys, we are now serenaded to the constant pulsating hum of Nanny’s massage cushion whose vibrations are reverberating through the wooden floor convincing us that a delivery lorry must be coming down the drive.
There is, of course, the trial of installing the Wii and, on top of that, having managed to replace the obligatory Christmas phone calls with much less excruciating text messages, Wendy has now jeopordised the chance of being left alone on Christmas day by investing in a webcam and a Skype account which brings with it it’s own set of technological problems.
Eventually, we get Aunty in Devon at the other end, who, because she had a webcam before everyone else in the family, is an expert – even though she can’t work out much else.
It’s a pretty good picture, with the top of Aunty’s scalp just visible in the bottom left hand corner of our screen. And there’s a bonus. Great Aunty is there too, having had to stay a little longer than usual after lunch because of a bilious attack brought on by a heady mix of Brussels, chicken livers and quality street toffee selection, the soft centres apparently not agreeing with her. But no matter, this has given her the perfect opportunity to say thank you for the lovely chocolates we sent her, although obviously she’ll be saving them for the New Year.
But she doesn’t get much of a chance for thanks as Aunty can’t see us.
‘I can’t get your picture.’
‘Well we can see you, so happy Christmas.’
‘There’s no need to shout Wendy, just speak normally’, I suggest.
‘But I can’t see you. We’re not getting a picture.’
‘Yes, but can you hear us, we’re all here’.
‘Stop shouting Wendy.’
At this point five of us are flicking our gaze demonically between the pictures of Aunty and Great Aunty on the screen, the hideous spectre of our own five faces jockeying for position in a box the size of a tom tom and the camera itself, wondering who or what we should be looking at whilst at the same time holding a natural conversation.
‘I can hear you but we can’t see you.’ Then Aunty, who, you will remember is the tecno wizard in these matters says: ‘We’ll only be able to see you when you take the cover off the camera.’
‘Thank you for the lovely chocolates Wendy, they really are…’
‘Aunty do be quiet they can’t hear us’
‘Yes we can hear you, you just can’t see us.’ Wendy is still shouting and starts fiddling with the camera to see if there is a cover.
And from the other end: ‘We’ll try again tomorrow,’ declares Aunty, ‘Thank you for those wonderful choc…’ and the screen goes blank just as Nanny makes it to the computer from the other end of the house. Unsure of why she was disturbed in the first place to look at a blank screen, she demands a Bailey's refill before making the return journey.
It is soon after this unsuccessful dalliance with technology that we unwrap the Wii, and the rest is history.
No, somehow I don’t think this Christmas is going to be anything like that. It’s just the four of us now plus the cat, the dog, a new puppy and some fond memories of our last Christmas with our last parent.
Pass the sprouts please mum...