Ah, Christmas. Season of goodwill and all that. There’s nothing I like better than spending a week stuffing my face with chocolate tree decorations and playing charades with my extended family . . . the fun we have! Oh no, hang on, there is something I like better – sticking red-hot crochet needles in my eyes then coating myself in Bisto and playing with next door’s hungry Pitbull.
I am not anti-Christmas; it’s just that my aunties make it a living hell. Not content with making their husbands’ daily existence less enjoyable than that of a death-row prisoner, they insist on trampling all over our festivities with their wide-fit beige Marks & Spencer slip-ons. And then they demand a lift home.
The only smidge of a silver lining is the fact that I am usually able to get a year’s worth of comedy ideas out of one day of eggnog-fuelled misery.
The day usually starts nicely – I wake up in the family home with my boyfriend, mum, brother and sister. We sit about in our new dressing gowns watching Clint, our lizard, chasing his Christmas locusts around. We then eat a selection box each followed by a tub of cheesy footballs. Standard stuff. The problems start when my auntie Jackie rings from her new mobile – she buys one every Christmas from the Price Drop TV shopping channel – to say that she and my uncle Andy are standing outside their house in their coats waiting for one of us to pick them up. Why? Nobody’s invited them. They do this every year – invite themselves.
Eventually, one of caves in and heads for the car. Aunty Jackie and Uncle Andy only live ten minutes away, but they refuse to walk. Upon arrival they spend forty-five minutes criticising the tree, half an hour telling my mother that the cat looks anorexic (it’s enormous) and twenty minutes asking my brother whether he is ‘a gay’. They then turn the volume up on the TV and park in front of Noel’s Christmas Presents where they take it in turns to sneer at the quality of Noel’s gifts.
Next, my auntie Norma turns up. She used to turn up with my uncle John, but he died (voluntarily, we think) so she’s on her own now. Auntie Norma will splash out on a cab, but usually at the expense of decent Christmas presents. Last year I got a Morrisons Savers hot water bottle cover (£3 according to the price tag). She demanded brushed cotton sheets in return to the tune of 80 quid. I know you don’t give to receive, but come on . . . she bought my mum a four-pack of baked beans, for God’s sake!
Once they arrive there is usually a nasty stand-off in the kitchen. The aunties think that the turkey should be cooked for a minimum of 24 hours in a scorching oven, and that the veg should be boiled for at least three hours. My sister and I think this a little excessive so have taken to hiding the vegetables from them. This year we will be storing the sprouts in the cat’s bed, and concealing the spuds in the toilet cistern. These measures are extreme, but necessary. Last year Auntie Norma found the carrots in the loft insulation and put them on to boil a full four hours ahead of time. She still complained that they were ‘too crunchy’. Much as we try to get my mother to step in and put her foot down re the food preparation, she hasn’t cooked a meal since 1984, preferring to live on a diet of jelly tots and cream crackers, so she prefers to stay impartial.
Of course, once the meal has been fully cremated, the aunties and uncle take their places at the dinner table leaving us to serve. Now I’m not sure why they do this, but instead of waiting for all of the serving dishes to emerge from the kitchen so we can all eat together, they dish up whatever comes through next and eat it straightaway. That’s right; they’ll dish up some stuffing, eat it, then dish up some turkey and eat that. In effect, they’re having a ten-course meal, usually with a pool of gravy for afters (the gravy’s always the last out). They’ve always done this, it’s like they can’t wait the five minutes it takes for everybody to sit down, serve themselves and start together. We all hate them for this, but we are too polite to say anything. Last year, over dinner, Auntie Norma announced that she was leaving all of her money to her new best friend, Alice. Alice is a seventy-six year-old cardigan-obsessed lesbian with steel-wool hair and scary teeth, so none of us argued with the decision – I wasn’t expecting anything anyway.
Pretty much as soon as we sit down and pierce a roast potato with our forks, the aunties are demanding to be driven home. They don’t want to miss the Christmas soaps, so they need to be driven home several hours beforehand just in case. When we mutter about perhaps being allowed to finish our dinner, they usually tell us that they’ll ‘wait in the car’. Nothing gets your appetite going like the thought of a car full of angry, freezing pensioners, so inevitably we cut our meal short and drive them home.
This happens every single year. We are too polite for our own good.
I have to say though, my impression of Auntie Norma scaling the loft ladders in her onesie kept us entertained for weeks.