a fine set of whiskers



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"I'm dreaming of a white christmas"

december 24 2016

Few things say Christmas to me as much as those first few bars of “ White Christmas” - and if it’s a public performance with accompanying falling snow (real or fake) I guarantee the first festive tears of the season too.
But they are happy tears born out of nostalgic memories, which is so much part of what Christmas is about – in fact the words of the song actually say it don’t they ? -  “Just like the ones I used to know”.
It’s the memory of singing those great Irving Berlin songs over the years - often with my musical-adoring Granny who used to trill and clap her hands along in the most elegant kind of way.  And also even more memorably a performance of “Sisters” with my devoted sister (of course!) at the end of term Christmas show 1977 where I was indeed wearing her shirt!
I’ve had the great fortune in life to be brought up in Derbyshire, where we have had more than our fair share of wonderful white Christmases over the years. In fact I was born in to one in December 1963, which I think might explain my childlike excitement to this day at the mere hint of snow- well that and the fact that school was almost inevitably closed at even the threat of heavy snow.
For me, the Christmases that “I used to know” are remarkably similar to the one that I’m about to share over the next few days with my family in Derbyshire. The warm glow of a candle will welcome our arrival as we pull on to the drive at my parents’ house, and the kitchen will smell mouth wateringly of the turkey gently roasting in the oven. Tea and home-made chocolate covered shortbread will be produced almost instantaneously and the first family quiz is also a home –made affair. It requires identifying which kind of biscuit you have, is it a beheaded angel or an especially unlucky limbless polar bear?!- To howls of protest from the cook (my mum) and hysterical laughter from everyone else.
We eat salmon and seafood on Christmas Eve often accompanied by the first glass of fizz and most years we then join the local community and the exceptional Heage Band to sing favourite carols around the Christmas Tree in the market square. To avoid the unhealthy risk of being too charitable at this time of year, we critically assess how well we are aging compared to our contemporaries- although in truth the candle light and Christmas spirit flatters everyone.
Its then home to cocktails, which is my allotted task. One of the all-time favourites at Christmas is the “Winter Warmer” justifiably named as it’s a potent potion of ginger wine, sloe gin, cointreau and cranberry juice- guaranteed to raise the temperature and spirits a few more degrees! This year I’ll also be testing the “Winter Welly”, a recipe borrowed from the lovely Wellington Inn in Yorkshire which has gin, grand marnier soaked oranges, tonic and a rosemary stirrer- it looks really festive and works just as well with vodka.
As there are no little ones, (except of the furry kind) Christmas morning is relatively leisurely with Christmas stockings and presents before the grand turkey carve. My task is to pour the sherry for the carver and to be the official taster- no-one loves cold turkey more than me and I’m sure that no-one carves a turkey better than my Dad, it’s a work of art!
Weather permitting we put on our boots to work up an appetite for lunch, passing children wobbling on new bikes and pushing sparkly new prams and without fail meeting an inquisitive robin or two along the way. The Derbyshire countryside is always beautiful, but after snowfall on a crisp, cold day with blue sky and sunshine, there really is nowhere better.
Every year my mum asks if we would like to eat something different, and the answer is always no- there is no better meal than turkey and all the trimmings, stealing bacon rolls off the plates of the slower eaters and lots and lots and lots of Brussels sprouts- deliciously and comfortingly the same.
Then its home-made crackers with personalised (stolen) jokes, this year’s selection will remain secret until Christmas day but to give you a hint of the “standard” of previous years
My sister the French teacher:
“I’d like to say thank you to my French teacher who helped me understand the word beaucoup– it means a lot!”
My teenage niece:
“When I die I want my remains to go to my iPod, my iphone and my laptop... I want to be left to my own devices."
I’ll spare you the rest!
We hear a lot about losing the true spirit of Christmas these days that it’s become too commercial etc but I’m not so sure that’s not just a marketing wheeze to make us feel bad and buy even more. The true spirit of Christmas isn’t about piles of presents and spending loads of money, for me, just as Ebenezer Scrooge’s nephew in a Christmas Carol says:
“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
And just like Ebenezer I hope that I can honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all year.
“May your days be merry and bright and may all your Christmases be white”
Happy Christmas!