Friday, 11 December 2015

It used to be fun

For each of the last 25 years Mrs Jones and I have invited our parents to our home for Christmas dinner. This time we’ve made a momentous decision: it’s not happening!  
Courtesy of Apolonia at
FreeDigitalPhotos.net


It used to be fun. Those hours spent in the kitchen preparing the traditional feast would be rewarded later in the day by a sense of mischief and family togetherness: in the early years, the kids excitedly introducing their grandparents to their favourite gifts from Santa; the grown-ups engaging in alcohol-fuelled banter around the meal table; and poignant reminiscing in the evening about the tales of our own childhoods, stories that still amused despite yearly repetition.

The decline started with the death of my father-in-law a decade ago. We all miss Henry; his whacky comments about ‘the good old days’, delivered in a dialect that only his trusted inner circle could understand, always generated a lively debate, and one couldn’t help but recognise that – despite some of his more extreme pronouncements –  underneath, there lived a kind, generous human being. More recently his widow, Sheila, has succumbed to that terrible, dignity-stripping brain disease called Alzheimer’s, her memory for new events lasting no longer than a few seconds. Although my own parents, both in their mid-80s, are in good physical health, my mother is profoundly deaf and my father is obsessed with his Golden Retriever to such a degree that he feels increasingly uncomfortable about leaving his beloved dog at home alone for longer than a couple of hours.

Typically, while Mrs Jones and I – clad in psychedelically-coloured pinafores and sweating like condemned convicts on death row - slice carrots and baste turkey in the kitchen, in the living room bizarre goings-on are afoot:

 Sheila: ‘Has Ryan (25-year-old grandson) got a girlfriend yet?’

 Mum: ‘Sorry, Sheila, I’m a bit deaf – you’ll have to speak up.’

 Sheila: ‘Has Ryan got himself a girlfriend yet?’

 Mum: (turning to face dad): ‘What’s she saying, Harry?’

 Dad: (stroking his eyebrow while lost in in deep thought about the current wellbeing of his dog)’What was who saying?’
Mum: ‘Sheila has asked me something.’

 Dad: ‘What did you say, Sheila?’

 Sheila: ‘Has Ryan got himself a girlfriend yet?’

 Dad (turning to face mum): ‘She’s asking if our Ryan has got himself a girlfriend yet.’

 Mum (turning back to face Sheila): Oh, yes – he’s got himself a lovely young lady called Faith. They’ve been together for over a year.’

 Sheila: ‘Very good.’

 [SILENCE FOR 15 SECONDS]

 Sheila: ‘Has Ryan got himself a girlfriend yet?’

 
In the aftermath of Christmas 2014, it struck me: no one is enjoying this habitual fa├žade, so why are we subjecting ourselves to it? So this year, at 4.00 pm on the 25th December the family (me, Mrs Jones, our parents and our two 20-something children) will be secreted around a table in the local tavern being served the traditional Christmas dinner, swilled down with copious quantities of fine wine. After two hours, a minibus will collect us and return us all to my home where we will, in turn, select golden-oldie tunes from You-tube and reminisce. At 8.30 pm the minibus will return and take our parents home – much to the relief of our parents, as well as the Golden Retriever – leaving Mrs Jones and I some quality time to devote to our two wonderful offspring and each other.

Sorted!