Ellie looked around her little flat for the umpteenth time this morning and let out a sigh. Apart from Aled Jones on the radio and the hum of her dying computer all was quiet, at least for now. Outside things were still wearing a blanket of snow under the wintry sun low in the clear blue sky so it was only a matter of time before the silence would be replaced by enthusiastic snowballers.
It hadn’t always been like this of course. Back when she’d been a kid it was a lot different, Christmas really was something to look forward to. Those had been happy times in a world much smaller and less commercialised, times when computers were room sized things used by banks not pocket sized super phones. She smiled to herself at the image of her brother and his annual demand for dolls — well Action Man ® was a doll, a macho thing but a doll nonetheless!
And there were only three TV channels so pretty much the whole country sat through Chitty Bang Bang every year and watched the Morecambe & Wise Christmas Special. Yes, a much more innocent time. Of course in hindsight we tend to ignore the less pleasant things and as a child very often miss them at the time. Like the year Gramps spent Christmas in intensive care after an aneurysm, the olds made sure the kids had a good time even if they were worried sick.
Then there was Christmas dinner. Mum would start it on Christmas Eve and all morning Christmas Day the smell of sprouts; hot fat and sherry would pervade the house. It was usually dished up about one o’clock on a table groaning under the strain of the extra load — jugs of gravy, bowls of cranberry sauce, the homemade centrepiece, crackers of course and the dinner.
Yes the dinner, a monster affair on special big plates dominated the day. The aforementioned sprouts of course were essential alongside peas and carrots; a mountain of mashed potato thumped by Ellie into submission would be joined by several roast taters. We shouldn’t forget the meat, turkey of course with a couple of slices of roast pork; sometimes the addition of bacon wrapped chipolatas but always a pile of stuffing and flooded with gravy.
The pulling of crackers, the treat of a glass of Blue Nun even for the kids, all accompanied by the strains of bagpipes wailing from the radiogram made the main course an extended affair. And no Christmas was complete without a steaming bowl of Christmas pud served with either cream or brandy sauce.
Ellie let out another sigh, yep they were innocent times, today couldn’t be more different. Today. It was partly her own fault, she had been invited to spend it with her brother but in the past that had always been a slightly strained affair — plus of course she would have to get there and back on a day without public transport. Then of course she usually got collared in the kitchen so rather than a guest she always felt she was used as free help.
Of course most of her friends had their own families and those that didn’t lived at least a hundred miles away, ‘come round after Christmas’ wasn’t an invite for the day itself or even for a meal. So now she was sat here contemplating her navel, listening to the drivel on Radio 2 and trying to keep warm in front of the electric fire.
Surveying the room once again her eyes took in the handful of cards on the bookshelf, at one time there would have been dozens, workmates, customers, even the neighbours. This year though there wasn’t even one from her daughter or for that matter her brother.
The lack of a card from Jilly was the one that hurt most; it wasn’t as if there had been a falling out or anything like that. They’d spoken once since last Christmas and exchanged a handful of texts even. She’d sent birthday and Christmas cards and prezzies out but since the girl had moved to London with her boyfriend things had steadily declined to this new low. What was more upsetting was that the other parent was treated so differently despite a feud between the pair. Still there was no point in dwelling on it, that way leads to places she didn’t want to visit again anytime soon.
She fussed with her dress and contemplated finding a jumper. The dress wasn’t exactly the warmest thing in the wardrobe, a thigh-skimming affair in rayon with a black plaid design. She had compromised on some woollen tights even if she had slipped some heels on top. The idea was to try and make it feel more Christmassy, maybe jeans and a jumper would’ve been more practical!
The clock ticked closer to noon, she’d been sat for over two hours doing nothing much, waiting for a call maybe, but waiting in vain. There hadn’t even been presents to open, which was nearly as depressing as the lack of cards. There had been a couple, a bottle of wine from one friend and the annual pen and diary from work, well she wasn’t entirely forgotten.
Not that she had of course, the wine was exchanged for gifts for each of her friend’s offspring, even if they were elder teens. There was a parcel across at her brothers and she’d posted a box off to Jilly too. But her little flat was bereft of ripped paper and packing materials. No this year the only presents were pretty much stuff she’d treated herself to, ‘in the name of’ Christmas, it wasn’t the same but they had given a little joy.
With yet another sigh her thoughts turned to food, she’d have to start on that soon if she was to eat before teatime. Not one of Mum’s feasts of course but she’d decide to make an effort with the food much like her dress. Sat in the fridge were the makings of a traditional lunch, sliced turkey, pre prepared veg and all the trimmings. It wasn’t quite the same as cooking it from scratch but a lot more practical for a single diner, a few minutes with the microwave, kettle for gravy, warm the plate up in the oven with the roasts et voila.
Her mobile beeped to itself announcing incoming mail. Her excitement at the sound was totally disproportionate to the contents, ‘Happy Christmas, thanks for the parcel, Jilly’. Well maybe it wasn’t an actual phone call but she wasn’t totally forgotten by her offspring. Ellie thought back a few years to when Jilly was small, Christmas then had been a happier affair with three generations celebrating together. They were Decembers spent in search of such rarities as green Bmx bikes, Rainbow Ponies and Care Bears ®, the hunt for the stuff on Santa’s list an excitement in itself. Yes they were happy times.
The supply of sighs seemed never ending as another accompanied the stereo.
|The kitchen thermometer was reading under 10 °c when she finally reached it, still it would warm up with the cooking, at least a bit. With a shiver she located all of the ingredients and set about getting the highlight of the day started. There was always something you forget, today it was defrosting the ‘pigs’*, at least the microwave could look after that.
Despite the ‘prepared’ food it was still heading towards two o’clock before Ellie sat down to her repast. It was a bit cold in the flat still for the wine so that was replaced by a mug of Glá¼hwein** that had been in Lidl in the run up to Christmas; otherwise it looked everything Christmas dinner should. She wasn’t used to eating such a mountain of food but with Marry Banilow in the background the food was attacked with some gusto.
|And there was still so much of Christmas left — not that she’d be doing much, her full stomach ensured that. But there was no one to stop her doing anything, pop the computer on, watch a DVD, play with her dolls even, the choice was all hers. Yes it would have been nice to have been with Jilly, a present or two would have cheered her up but none of that was essential, they didn’t ‘make’ Christmas, you do and for Ellie being herself today was enough.
Tomorrow her brother was coming over to visit and she’d be back at work Monday so this loneliest holiday would be over soon enough. The worst thing about that was that by morning Ellie would be gone, she’d be back sometime, maybe Easter.
‘I wonder what they’d all say if they saw me sat here now, they’d probably all have kittens!’
Arthur shook his head and allowed himself a grin, so this is Christmas, roll on New Year, maybe Ellie will be back next week!
* Pigs or pigs in blankets are sausages wrapped in bacon
** Mulled wine to a German recipe
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