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Friday, December 23, 2005

 

Things I really like… about Christmas

One commenter recently exhorted me to love the tackiness of the festering season and count my blessings. Oh but I do, since every single day of life is bonus time for me. Ten years on from cancer (With a small ‘c’ – caught early.) I’m still breathing, have a wonderful wife, a mad (but happy) dog, two really great stepdaughters who I am immensely proud of being associated with, despite all the teenage spats and whining.

For example; as a family outing recently we went to an evening market in the centre of town. The two girls were walking ahead of us, giggling and messing about like the devoted sisters they really are, Mrs Sticker turned to me with a smile and said proudly. “I made those.”
“They’ll do.” Was my reply. “They will do very well.” I heaved a sigh and thought; ‘God help the boys’. Eldest has steady boyfriend, youngest is on the verge of blossoming into young womanhood (In my capacity as the family ‘guard dog’ I have a large piece of wood ready to ‘persuade’ recalcitrant suitors to leave if need be. I think it will be needed.). Both girls have super personalities (Mostly). They will do very well in life. I love them both very dearly (But for crying out loud don’t tell them – the resultant ego trips would be insufferable.).

We let them off the leash while we pottered around the stalls looking and sampling produce for the Christmas festival table, both dashed around and bought handmade sweets before disappearing into the late night shopping. It was just a nice two hours out in the chill December air, away from the confines of the house.

I noticed one of the stallholders who I had chased off a restriction earlier in the day, even bought some excellent cheese off them. They didn’t recognise me out of uniform. Funny that, all people seem to look at is the Uniform, not me. Just as well sometimes.

That’s another thing I like, my friends and neighbours know who I am and what I do and not only don’t they mind, they actively support me. By actively support, I mean talk to me in public and tell me about the parking cheats whether I’m in or out of uniform. In return, I look after their on-street parking, and watch out for other things as well when I’m passing through. Suspicious people hanging about in the rear alleyways, people in places they ordinarily shouldn’t be, stuff like that. All I have to do is turn up my radio so any potential burglars can hear me coming. They slink off looking for other places to plague, where there isn’t a roaming uniformed presence.

On a more festively specific tack; another thing I really like (Read addicted to.); Mince pies with thin shortcrust pastry. The business of cooking a Christmas lunch; Say a ‘Norfolk Fowl’ (Remove bones from a Goose, Turkey, Chicken, Pheasant, Quail and Pigeon. Stuff Pigeon into boned Quail, Quail into Pheasant, Pheasant into Chicken, and so on; Takes eight hours to prepare for cooking but well worth it if you are entertaining a dozen or more. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall , TV chef, did a ten bird version. I buy cheap frozen birds to keep the cost below £30.), perchance a nice joint of beef or a honey glazed ham for cold on Boxing day after our traditional long morning walk. Maybe some Salmon instead. Potato croquettes, bubble and squeak (Mashed potato and leftover sprouts with lots of pepper – yum.). Properly made Christmas Pudding made 3-6 months in advance, maybe a couple of ‘Experimental’ Sorbets. I cook to relax, and the great part is – you get to eat what you’ve just slogged hours to prepare. Talk about proactive consumption.

Mrs Sticker insisted I do something simple this year as there’s only the four of us. The jury decided on the following; Champagne breakfast (Bucks fizz to start the day) with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on doorsteps of Granary Bread fried in olive oil on one side. Christmas lunch will be organic roast Beef with Yorkshire puds, baked veg and various other trimmings followed by profiteroles and ice cream if there’s room. Not that there will be.

You can tell I’m not a figure watching vegan (Pity the poor unhappy bastards.). To me cooking is pleasure not work. Incidentally, yes I am fully aware that Terry the Turkey or Barry the Bullock was wandering around a week or so before he was ‘cruelly’ slain for our table. In more prosperous years I have chosen a live bird and killed it myself and scrounge ‘organic’ beef whenever I can. If you’re not squeamish, try it; the taste difference between ‘factory’ and ‘free range’ is astounding. Same for fish, fresh mackerel straight off the hook poached in sea water is fabulous, light and refreshing. Nothing like the oily stuff the supermarkets sell.

Late Christmas Eve I’ll be outside, at the top of our street singing carols with some of my like minded neighbours as we usually do. Christmas morning will be spent playing cards as a family in the middle of a mass of wrapping paper and farting around with the ‘fun’ gifts. I’m toying with the idea of teaching the girls to play Poker properly this year so that they can have some fun with the boys instead of otherwise (I believe in equality, but on the grounds of ability – not political dogma.) when they finally leave home for University. The TV is all repeats and trash anyway, so party games will rule our roost until a belt loosening Christmas Lunch, and I will be forbidden to slink off to watch the DVD’s of ‘Sledge Hammer’ series one I have been dropping leaden hints about for weeks (Sod the socks and pullovers – give me mayhem every time.); until after six pm.

So, yes. I still wrinkle my nose up at the tacky, plasticky side of the festering season, but that doesn’t mean I hate the whole festival; just the commercial hype.

Oh yes; and for all you non Christians out there – Happy Solstice.

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Exasperated expatriate expostulations all the way from British Columbia, Canada. As if anyone really cared. Oh, I also watch Icelandic Volcanoes and seismic activity. Don't ask me why.

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