Mother Christmas bombed. She – that is, I – lost half the stocking presents. There I was, yesterday evening, searching all possible stash-points for a white plastic bag of about 8 DVD's and coming up empty-handed.
Alex and I stayed up late on Christmas Eve watching Day of the Jackal, and midnight had struck by the time that he and I went down to bed, leaving Sophia still chatting on MSN.
“Don't be too late,” I warned, wondering how late I would have to stay up to outlast her – and deciding to set the alarm clock for 3 a.m.
Best Beloved was already in Dreamland when I went down, but, just as I dropped off, two messages buzzed on his phone. Jerked fully awake, I realised that the house was quiet and thought the time right for my nocturnal deposits.
Zenon and Leo sleep on twin beds that they have pushed together. Puppy-like they sprawl across each other on one or both beds – or down the gap between – indistinguishable lumps of oblivious childhood. I checked the contents of each pillowcase and left the appropriate one on each bed. Alex was also out for the count. But I saw a light under Sophia's door, so I opened it without caution. There she sat, wrapped in scarf and puffy jacket, busily texting. “Yes, Mum?” her smile was beatific. “The red dressing gown's ok, but you know you really should get a beard...” “I saw a light uder your door,” I mumbled. “And just wanted to check that you're ok...” I deposited her sack just outside the door, knowing that Mother Christmas would never be able to climb the narrow ladder to her loft bed, anyway.
At 3.47, squeals and the tearing of paper woke us from sound slumber. I heard Best Beloved's voice down the corridor: “Keep the volume down or Mother Christmas will come back and take everything away again!” Silence ensued until 7.45.
We had to be up by eight, anyway. Ha, my in-laws' Vietnamese helper works for me on her days off and, anxious to score another stash of Euros, was coming to do some cleaning, and I had to get the 8 kilo turkey ready for the oven and start the rest of the food. I had done some the night before, but the lion's share waited.
I went to see the Little Ones. “Mum, I got an 'L' and Leo a 'Z'” Zenon said referring to some pretty carved initials complete with a Lion and a Zebra. “Really?” I murmured, remembering the indistinguishable dark-headed little-boy shapes in the beds last night, and realizing that if the pillowcases had been swapped, Leo would get the complicated geodesic dome kit and a Dragon book that he couldn't read, and Zenon would end up with the more babyish Dinosaur Cook Book and a Gruffalo story. “Maybe your stockings got mixed up. Why don't you swap?”
“Oh no, I want the 'L' so that I can remember Leo when I grow up!”
Alex and Sophia joined us upstairs in the kitchen, Alex in a black Iron Maiden hoodie that Mother Christmas had managed to find somewhere. After Best Beloved decapitated the turkey and I stuffed it with marscapone, garlic, lemon and herbs, seasoned it, tented it in tinfoil, and stuck it in the oven for its three and a half hour soujourn, we did the gift exchanging under the tree.
My haul included some nice sheepskin slippers, a set of super speakers for my PC “So that you can compete with AC-DC” smirked Best Beloved, and some much needed tea towels as well as a voucher for a facial.
The rest of the morning passed in a blurr of peeling potatoes, picking and prepping the beets, carrots, and broccoli, basting the turkey, and putting everything in the oven or on the stove top and the same time. Others took care of the table, and I quickly made a batch of mince pies just in case my First-Attempt-at-a-Christmas-Pudding turned out to be a Total Disaster.
Best Beloved's parents arrived as I was putting the finishing touches to lunch: Alex helped me get the starter – smoked salmon on herb pancakes with sour cream and caper dressing – onto the table, and the meal began.
It was all tasty, everyone – the grown-ups, anyway (Little Ones and Sophia disappeared with “Ugh, I don't like turkey!” and we let them go) enjoyed everything, and the pudding was, if not a hit, a sensation.
“Is that the thing that's been sitting on the shelf in the corner of the larder for the last three months?” asked Best Beloved.
“Three months?” echoed his mother. “Like that?” I explained as best I could in Greek the making of the pud. Doubtful looks were exchanged among the Cypriot contingent, but my in-laws are game for most things that their sons throw them, and if one of their daughters-in-law was going to serve mouse-bait, no-one would accuse them of chickening out.
“Now,” I continued. “We have to pour brandy or something over it and set it alight. I remember my parents doing this when I was small, but I've never actually done it.” The doubtful looks increased and accelerated but a lighter was produced.
“Alex, get the fire extinguisher and stand by,” directed Best Beloved.
It wasn't bad. Gamely my in-laws finished their portions. “Interesting!” they said and “Powerful!” “I'm not sure if I like it, Manamou,” said Best Beloved. “But it's certainly potent...”
And that was Christmas lunch. My in-laws don't linger. They stayed and chatted a little longer, Ha and I cleaned up, Best Beloved went off to sleep (Cypriot male post-prandial prerogative) and everyone else settled down to play with their new toys.
Later, Best Beloved called me over to him on the back verandah. He pointed to the north: “What was the weather forecast the other day?”
“They did say snow,” I replied, following his gaze to the distant mountains.
“It must be as low as Platres,” I said. “They've got a White Christmas up there!”