23 July

Let sleeping fish lie

It was the year my daughter Hannah was four and it was Christmas afternoon. Two year old Jeremy was having his afternoon nap and the rest of the crowd were adults who were stuffed to the gills with turkey and pudding and fancying the idea of naps themselves. But Hannah was full of (jelly) beans and insisted we play games.

“What did you have in mind?” my mother asked cautiously.

“Dead fish,” Hannah replied.

Here’s how you play dead fish: one person is the game controller and everyone else lies down and tries to stay still. The controller watches for movement and the first person found wriggling loses and becomes the next game controller.

This is quite a hard game for four year olds but it’s super easy for weary, replete adults so we all lay down on the lawn in the sunshine and Hannah prowled around us, vigilantly alert to the slightest perturbations. She had a great time… and so did we. In fact, my father won three straight rounds without even moving in the intervals (although I did hear a small snore escape him at one point).

Dead fish: one of the few games that appeals equally to pre-schoolers and grandparents on Christmas afternoon.

2016-07-23
Gone fishing.

 

Christmas Day 1970: When things were nearly ready to roll, I wanted to snap everyone at the dinner table so I asked Dad if I could put film in my camera and he said yes. In fact, he thought it was such a good idea that he got out his own camera, set the timer and photographed us all poised to feast. (He even managed to get Auntie Betty out of the kitchen while the turkey was resting, which was impressive work.)[1]

[1] Turkeys may rest, but Auntie Betty never did.

22 July

Harvey Wallbanger trifle

One day when I was in my twenties, I was sitting around the kitchen table with my family and we were talking about how much we all liked trifle and wondering why we practically never had it, and we realised it was because we never had stale cake.

Now, having stale cake is an excellent reason for making a trifle, but not having stale cake is not a good reason for not making trifle and it was my brother Matthew who first rose to the challenge. He bought an orange cake and found Galliano in his liqueur cabinet and realised that if he added orange segments, custard and orange jelly, he would have a Harvey Wallbanger trifle. So he invited us round to his place for a barbecue and we were all so impressed with his dessert that we decided to have a trifle competition.

My sister Wendy’s entry (at a lunch a few weeks later) was a cherry berry surprise trifle with cinnamon cake, raspberry vodka and lashings of strawberries and blueberries.[1] I made black forest trifle a few weeks after that (see 24 June) and I can’t even remember who wore the laurels but I promise you that, when you have a trifle competition, everybody wins.

So if you’re looking for an interesting trifle, try Matthew’s Harvey Wallbanger concoction, or adopt your favourite cocktail.[2]

22 jul 2016.jpg
You may trifle with it.

Christmas Day 1970: It was Nanna herself who filled crystal bowls of lollies and nuts and placed them along the table. These were considered an absolute essential of both the table decoration and the feast. My favourite sweets were called fruit bon bons and they were rectangular prisms of coloured toffee[3] filled with sweet goo in a variety of fruit flavours. They were neatly folded into paper wrappers with delicate pictures of blackcurrants or cherries or oranges and I haven’t seen them since.[4]

[1] The surprise was that there were no cherries.

[2] And possibly adapt the name too: Matthew’s current speciality is a mixture of Irish cream liqueur and butterscotch schnapps which he calls “special cowboys” when he’s in polite company.

[3] They had a tendency to crack into sharp edges that would lacerate your tongue, making them an unusual fusion of hedonism and masochism.

[4] They may have been a casualty of the Great Confectionary Company Amalgamations of the eighties and nineties. Or maybe OH&S outlawed them (because of their tongue-shredding tendencies).

21 July

First past the post

Closing dates for Christmas sea mail can be sooner than you expect. You’ll have to send parcels to Europe in the beginning of September to take advantage of cheap postage and you may need to be popping presents in the post in early August if you’re mailing them to Africa or South America. So if you have loved ones on different continents, look up the sea mail closing dates today and schedule appropriate timeslots for buying, wrapping and posting parcels to catch the boat. (Or send them eBooks and apps and digital music and avoid parcels entirely.)[1]

21 jul 2016.jpg
Whatever could it be?

Christmas Day 1970: Everyone was put to work to prepare for the feast. Mum and Auntie Betty stirred gravy and made sure that the pudding never went off the boil, and Nanna directed everyone else. Uncle Bill sharpened the carving knife and limbered himself up to dismember the turkey. The other men extended the dining table to its full length and rustled up every chair in the house. Bronwyn and Brian were in charge of setting the table with Nanna’s enormous lace tablecloth and Caroline was given the responsibility of getting out the good plates.

Auntie Pat brought in a selection of December flowers from the garden and created a stunning low arrangement for the centre of the table with Linda acting as her assistant and trying to absorb the whole history of floristry in a single lesson.[2] Peter, Michelle and I made the punch and Nanna gave Wendy a stack of crackers and asked her to put one at each place. The crackers were so pretty that Wendy did the task three times over, trying different colour combinations and cracker angles until she was sure her arrangement couldn’t be bettered. (Don’t expect efficiency from six-year-olds.)[3]

[1] But that’s not an option if you’re wedded to giving everyone handmade pom-pom hats.

[2] Linda’s ambition was to be a country lady like her mother and she could already make chutney to a high standard but Auntie Betty’s idea of a beautiful home included plastic flowers and too many doilies and so Linda turned to Auntie Pat for style tips.

[3] That’s one of two reasons that we don’t send them down the mines anymore: because they’re not very good at the work.

20 July

Songs of ice and snow

The following list of alleged Christmas songs are actually all about winter and not about Christmas at all – they’re just snömys and I eschew them. (Well, I eschew most of them but I do have a mighty fine recording of “Sleigh Ride” that I can’t resist and it is not possible not to sing “Jingle Bells” at least once in the festive season.)

  • “Frosty the Snowman”
  • “Jingle Bells”
  • “Sleigh Ride”
  • “Winter Wonderland”
  • “Let It Snow”

These carols are also free of religious symbolism and hence suitable for people of any faith[1] (provided they don’t mind snömys).

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

I would have liked paper invitations for Jeremy’s birthday but he has convinced me that it’s simply not done any more and that a Facebook event is the answer – even for his grandmother, who is pretty good with technology for an eighty-year-old. (She’s pretty good at removing herself from dull conversations for an eighty-year-old too: she can stop a bore mid-sentence, dismiss him with a few graceful words and walk off to more interesting people in under a minute.)[2]

[1] Maybe not sun-worshippers, like my nephew-in-law Chris. (He’s the lying-on-the-beach-kind, not the ancient Egyptian kind.)

[2] I wish I’d asked her to teach me her secrets before I divorced her son.

19 July

Born on Christmas Day

Babies who are born very close to Christmas Day often find that their birthdays are overshadowed. Some people just give them one present and even if they double the budget, that can still feel as if you didn’t get a birthday present at all. It’s hard to get invitees to show up to your party if it’s on the 24th or 26th of December.[1] Even when they do, they often don’t feel like indulging yet again and who wants someone saying “More dessert?” disparagingly when offered birthday cake?

So do be kind to people with December birthdays: give them a separate present, attend their festivities and put as much oomph into it as you’d give to a September baby.

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Birthday cards and Christmas cards slug it out on the mantelpieces.

Jeremy and I went down to Buenos Nachos and booked the back room for his birthday. Jeremy is happy with their standard set menu and is feeling proud of himself for having negotiated sombreros for all. But I’ll do the birthday cake.

[1] My cousin Brian loved the two years he spent working in Thailand because, as a Christmas Eve baby, it was the first time he’d ever had 100% attendance at his birthday dinner. (He framed a fancy copy of the guest list and put it up in his office where it has mystified his staff ever since.)

18 July

Das Christkind

Martin Luther was the guy who kick-started the Protestant Reformation when he protested about the Catholic Church selling indulgences (ie “get out of purgatory” cards), translated the bible from Latin into the language of the people (German) and formed his own church (the Lutheran Church). He didn’t like St Nicholas so he had a blond, angelic incarnation of the baby Jesus bring children presents instead and this Christkind comes on Christmas Eve (not St Nicholas Eve), sometimes ringing a bell on his way out to let the family know when the presents are ready under the tree.

This one is best for people who believe in Jesus… and it probably helps to be under ten too.

If one biblical gift-bringer isn’t enough for you, you could line up with the Spanish on El Dia de los Reyes – the day of the kings (Epiphany – 6 January). If children leave their shoes out the night before, the three kings leave presents in them (or lumps of coal for bad children.)[1] Again, this is best suited to people who like Jesus.

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The Baby Jesus says it with presents.

 

[1] What is it about coal that makes people think it the worst possible present that could be given? I can think of a lot of things that are nastier. I know coal is dirty but that’s not usually an issue for small children.

17 July

Get cracking

You’ve got everything ready for your crackers – trinkets, haloes, jokes and construction materials – so build them today and put them away in your Christmas box and that will be one more thing ready to roll in December.

It’s simple if you’re organised:[1]

  • Cut the tubes to size. Use one per persona, and it’s a good idea to make a spare.
  • Cut the paper to size. You’ll need ten centimetre overhang at each end of the tube.
  • You’ve got everything ready for your crackers – trinkets, haloes, jokes and construction materials – so build them today and put them away in your Christmas box and that will be one more thing ready to roll in December.It’s simple if you’re organised:[1]
    • Cut the paper to size. You’ll need ten centimetre overhang at each end of the tube.
    • Cut the tubes to size. Use one per person, and it’s a good idea to make a spare.
    • Put a snap, joke, trinket and halo in each tube.[2]
    • Roll the paper round the tube and fasten with rubber bands. Don’t pull too hard: it’s easy to rip the paper at this point and it simply doesn’t need to be tight.
    • Perhaps you’re tying ribbons around the ends? Perhaps you’re putting decorations on the tubes?
    • Put them in a box and stow them safely away. And write where you’ve put them in your Christmas notes.[3]
    17 jul 2016.jpg
    Off to a cracking start.

    Jeremy has been talking to his father. “He’s sorry he can’t make my birthday party,” he said, “and he offered to pay if you’ll do the organising so I said I’d like to go to Buenos Nachos and he thought that was a good idea.”

    (I’m already looking forward to the quesadillas but I’m not so keen on the idea of two dozen students downing copious margaritas.)

    [1] Most things are (with the possible exception of children’s parties).

    [2] My cousin Linda once added peppermints but found that they exploded like shotgun pellets if the crackers were cracked too vigorously.

     

    [3] You’ll be miffed if you don’t find them until Easter.

  • Put a snap, joke, trinket and halo in each tube.[2]
  • Roll the paper round the tube and fasten with rubber bands. Don’t pull too hard: it’s easy to rip the paper at this point and it simply doesn’t need to be tight.
  • Perhaps you’re tying ribbons around the ends? Perhaps you’re putting decorations on the tubes?
  • Put them in a box and stow them safely away. And write where you’ve put them in your Christmas notes.[3]

 

Off to a cracking start.

Jeremy has been talking to his father. “He’s sorry he can’t make my birthday party,” he said, “and he offered to pay if you’ll do the organising so I said I’d like to go to Buenos Nachos and he thought that was a good idea.”

(I’m already looking forward to the quesadillas but I’m not so keen on the idea of two dozen students downing copious margaritas.)

[1] Most things are (with the possible exception of children’s parties).

[2] My cousin Linda once added peppermints but found that they exploded like shotgun pellets if the crackers were cracked too vigorously.

 

[3] You’ll be miffed if you don’t find them until Easter.