These pages are a collection of stories from the Writer's Group at Box Hill U3A.
That makes four in a row, y'know. Four. Every one of them spoilt. You just wouldn't believe it could happen. It's real Guinness Book of Records stuff.
This year was the last gasp. It was all over by Boxing night and I was out sitting on the porch. I wouldn't have thought it possible. Not another Christmas cock-up.
Last year was bad enough.. I'll never forgive him. The glass was crystal. One of the set. A wedding present from my boss, Mr Phillips. He was the manager where I worked at the time. A lovely man, a widower. Always nice to us girls, very friendly he was. Later on he married Rita, one of the clerks. What is it they say, "Gentlemen prefer blondes." Mr Phillips certainly preferred Rita. And she was certainly blonde, thanks to Napro. They called the baby Jeremy. A bit upmarket if you ask me. But that was all a long time ago and I just knew I had no hope of replacing that glass.
He said he was sorry. It was an accident. Gross carelessness if you ask me.
I washed the remaining glasses and put them in the crystal cabinet like I always do. They looked terrible. I tried to re-arrange them so I wouldn't notice the space but, some-how the space leapt out at me. Then I hit upon the idea of moving the glasses down a shelf, and moving my teaspoon collection up, and if I fanned the teaspoons out it might disguise the fact that my set of glasses was incomplete.
It sort of worked. And my afternoon tea set on the lower shelves, still complete thank goodness, drew the eye away from the glasses. Whoever heard of a set of five glasses. I decided that next year he could have a tooth glass even if it did spoil the Christmas table. As it happened, he didn't even need a tooth glass.
The year before last, it was the pudding. I know we decided early on in our marriage that I would see to everything in the house and he would see to the outside. But the wash-house is outside. The copper is outside. Fire is man's work and usually they delight in lighting fires and burning stuff and controlling the elements.
I wasn't asking a lot. All he had to do was light the fire under the copper and keep it going and check that there was enough water in the copper. Child's play.
The fire brigade was very quick off the mark. Only one wall of the wash-house was destroyed. They even fished the pudding out of the copper for me.
My white basin, the one which had belonged to mother was now a crazed brown affair. I shuddered to think what the contents were like. "Can't hang about love," one of them said. "We've got to get back to the station for our pudding. Happy Christmas."
Well, they may be hot shots at putting out fires but they didn't get my vote for sensitivity.
We didn't speak until Australia Day. By then he'd finished rebuilding the laundry and had installed a gas copper.
- - -Then there year the year before that. His mother was still with us. You have to do the right thing, whether you want to or not. A nursing home would've been the shot. But we couldn't afford it. In any case she would've refused to go. The things I did for that woman. Waited on her hand and foot. Well it was better than having her under my feet.
She was a tiny little thing with a voice that penetrated like a power drill. An appetite a navvy would've been proud of. And Christmas was her favourite time of the year, both foodwise and appetite-wise. Not present-wise though. "I'm only a pensioner." she'd whine. Well what did she think we were, eccentric millionaires.
He always bought her a box of chocolates, one of those large flat boxes all ribbons and flowers. And she always gushed,
"You're so good to your old Mum. You know what she likes." And clasping the cheap chocolates in her old claws she'd scuttle to her room and that'd be the last we'd see of her, for an hour, or even longer. Certainly the last we ever saw of the chocolates.
Well, this particular year I was getting ready to serve up. I prefer to do it all myself. I know where I am. Everyone except Grandmother was at table so I sent him off to get her. After all, she was his mother.
The big white dinner plates were warm and spread out on the kitchen table. I put slices of pork and ham on each plate. I know it was overkill pig-wise but his brother had brought along the ham so it had to appear. Then I doled out the stuffing, roast potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, parsnips, onions, green peas and beans, reflecting as I did so that she would probably ask for cauliflower. Then I popped a roasted chicken leg on each plate, just to set off a really festive look.
The last touch was the gravy. I'm very proud of my gravy. In fact I'm known for it and that's no idle boast. I'd poured some over every drumstick when he came back into the kitchen.
"Let me help you." he said. To this day I don't know what got into him. He'd not been any help to me for thirty-two years. "No. I'll do it. You go in."
But no. He picked up a plate and balanced it on his left arm, put another plate in his left hand and picked up a third plate with his right hand and dropped the lot.
Now my gravy is quite a heavy brew yet remarkably it splattered the ceiling. The meat and vegetables hit the floor where they made a sort of relief map. And shards of my white dinner plates stood out like snow-capped peaks. At that moment his mother walked in and whined,
"Where's my dinner?"
I couldn't stop myself. I shouted.
"You're standing in it." She looked down and whether it was shock or something else I'll never know, but suddenly, she was sitting in it.
Only two of my plates were broken and as she passed on in the following year I was really only one plate short for our next festive occasion.
It's always such a drag between Christmas and New Year. I've been sitting on the porch a lot. People are kind. Well-meaning I suppose. They've brought flowers. There aren't many cards. Well the post is always a bit hay-wire at this time of year isn't it?
It would have cost more to bury him this week. I really didn't want to have him hanging about but in the long run, it was cheaper to wait. After all, I'm only a pensioner.
His cousin Henry won't be welcome in my home after the funeral's over. My neighbour, Mavis Prendergast, a very enthusiastic sportswoman, told me that Henry was spreading it all around the bowling club. She said, that he said, "The old boy died in his dinner he did, face down in her fantastic, bloody gravy."
Well. That wasn't such a bad way to go. Was it?