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 faƧade, 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!