Monday, 25th December, 2023

[Day 1379]

Last night, I got Meg to bed and then I started on my Christmas Eve vegetable preparation, postponed from earlier in the day. I prepared the sprouts and saved them in a little plastic bag well laced with lemon juice and then broke off to see a repeat of ‘Yes, Minister‘ on BBC4. Towards the end of this, I got a phone call from my University of Winchester friend whose wife has been discharged from hospital but is still quite seriously ill. Despite an army of carers, she still suffered an incident which meant she had to be readmitted only a few days after discharge (I suspect this is not an uncommon occurrence these days) So my friend and I had a long telephone conversation where we offer each other a listening ear, some emotional support and perhaps some practical tips and suggestions as our two spouses seem to parallel each other in some respects. After this, it was case of preparing the parsnips and then to bed for a fairly early night. Meg and I got up at more or less the usual time and got ourselves breakfasted before we received a videocall from my son and his wife in their Christmas hotel but who had themselves overslept. After this, we had four bags of presents to unwrap and, of course, this is always a source of delight and much pleasure. By an extraordinary coincidence, we had just watched the repeat of the cartoon film ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse‘ when one of the first presents that we opened from was from our Eucharistic minister parishioner who had bought us the actual book from which the cartoon is derived. And so we proceed to our Christmas lunch for which many preparations had been made in advance. Apart from the starter, it is not false modesty to indicate that this the worst Christmas lunch that I had ever prepared – and I have cooked lots in my time. I think that I probably prepared too much but by the time we came to eat it, it was certainly overcooked. So the sprouts, par-boiled and then out in the oven were scarcely recognisable, the gravy condensed down to practically nothing and even the rioja proved to be a little less than inspiring. I think probably the worst Christmas meal of all time was one my mother was preparing it whist using a tiny little oven that she deployed on her kitchen table. She handed me a dish which she had just taken out of the oven which burnt all of my fingers on both hands and I cannot remember that we had any Acriflavine on hand at the time. When fingers have been burnt like this, even afer the application of some cold water, the heat (and hurt) seems to build and intensify and this is what happened for the meal in question. The only saving grace to today’s meal is what looked like a huge volume of washing up was actually dispensed with quite swiftly and the judicious use of tinfoil meant that no dishes were left with food that resisted the washing up brush.

This afternoon was a fairly typical Christmas afternoon where we doze in front of the TV, this being ‘Death on the Nile‘ which we must have seen umpteen times before but as a ‘whodunnit’ has all kinds of twists and turns in one of the most incredible of plots. Of course, the author was Agatha Christie who was married to an archaeologist and who used to remark that the most interesting thing about being married to an archaeologist,the older one got, the more interested one’s husband became in one. In the course of her career, Agatha Christie disappeared for several days (or even longer) into a hotel in Harrogate which was actually ‘The Old Swan’ in which I worked regularly from about 1961 to 1965. There was quite a strict stratification structure in the hotel and as well as washing dishes, I also washed silverware (which for odd reason, paid slightly more), then in the still room which serves teas and coffees, then washing glasses for the bar and finally working on the bar itself (whilst actually being underage) I also did a certain amount of portering, particularly when coach loads of American tourists arrived (sometimes as many 4 x. 40 seaters in one night) and the guests required their luggage as soon as possible. One of my duties as a night porter was to vacuum the huge ballroom which had to be done at night as the room was in use during the day but occasionally the management, when our jobs were done, allowed us to curl up on some of the comfortable settees and go to sleep for the rest of the night. Incidentally, in a hotel of this size being of the order of nearly 400 bedrooms, it was inevitable that every so often a guest would die in their hotel bed. We had a well established routine for getting a body out of the hotel so as not to attract attention from guests or passers-by. This was to roll the body up in a carpet and then take the carpet down in the service lift. After all, nobody raises a second glance at two porters handling a carpet between them and this happened about once a year, in my recollection. I quite often worked on Christmas day but the generous management did not pay us ny extra wages but did concede that we might be treated to a glass of sherry. Incidentally, this must have cost the management hardly any expense at all as they imported amontillado sherry by the cask from southern Spain and then bottled it themselves in their own ‘Old Swan’ labelled bottles. Christmas time was always special for us because about two dozen young female trainee waitresses were imported from a catering college in South Yorkshire and to us local lads, this seemed like manna from heavan.