ELL reporters: our festive season highs and lows

Pic: Tomas Jivanda

Eastlondonlines reporters recount their memorable moments from the festive period: 

A cloud descends. Christmas cracker hats perched limply on our heads, we sit around the table, desperately thinking of something to say. The annual post-Christmas-dinner argument has just wrapped up and we are all trying to deal with the aftermath.

At one end of the table, my aunt’s face is a dangerous shade of beetroot as she fiddles irritably with her watch. In the other corner, my brother-in-law huffily pretends to write a message on his phone.

Nobody can remember how the topic of positive discrimination in the workplace came up. Who introduces that to the conversation, anyway?

Christmas is the one time of the year when it’s acceptable, nay expected, to slip your brain into neutral, get a little tipsy and fall asleep in front of the TV. Debate of any kind is un-Christmassy behaviour, unless it centres on who’s getting the last slice of pudding.

Regardless of our individual views on the best way to redress the deep-seated gender imbalance at the heart of society, we are united in formulating a way out of this thought-provoking nightmare.

My mother attempts a cracker joke. Tumbleweed. My uncle half-heartedly comments that the evening had set in very early today. Poor effort. It’s time to bring out the big guns.

“Shall I open the Ferrero Rocher?” I venture. My aunt’s complexion returns to a comfortable ruddy. My brother-in-law pretends to send the imaginary message and puts down his phone. “Lovely, I’ll put on the tea,” says my sister, standing up from the table as pockets of conversation begin to re-bloom.

Christmas is saved, our minds happily unchallenged again beneath suddenly more colourful paper crowns.

The best way to spend New Years Eve is in bed, alone and asleep; everything else is just anti-climax.

Everyone knows that NYE is like an advert for Lynx deodorant, full of promises of the impossible. A new year, a new beginning, a new you.

But every Christmas, somewhere between the Morecambe and Wise repeat and the Best of Ronnie Barker show, I let myself get excited by New Year’s Eve. Somehow I get the idea that the best way to shake off Christmas and all its wholesome trimmings is to get blind drunk with some pals while watching a short set of disappointing fireworks.

Moving on to a new calendar suddenly seems like the most significant thing I could possibly do. But not this year.

This year I looked back and realised that all my NYE’s had been anti-climax’s of cataclysmic proportions: At 17 I failed to get served in hundreds of Dublin pubs. At 18, I sat in a dowdy Moroccan hotel trying to avoid the seediest hash-seller in Northern Africa, or as his badge said, “Hotel Manager”. At 19, 20 and 21 I stood at the banks of the Thames for hours feeling cold, damp and increasingly drunk while falling into arguments with an angry (now-ex) girlfriend. Year on year, I failed to learn my lesson.

This time I made a special effort to play it safe and be pre-emptively miserable. At midday I was sitting in a pub with a friend, drinking beer and playing Risk. To keep things calm I played cautiously, barely breaking out of Australia. Drunk people around the table suggested I make a move to take over the board. They wanted excitement, boldness and risk taking but all I could give was cautious self-preserving dice play. We went home long before midnight feeling tired, bored and satisfied.

Back at my block of flats a drunk middle-aged man was pissing out of the building and onto the doorstep. I never saw such a wretched sight; his right arm barely held himself up against the wall while his left arm struggled to hold his trousers off the floor. At this point I learned why paralytic is a metaphor for drunk. He looked disappointed and miserable, he was clearly a man who had planned a great night out.

Feeling smug, we stepped over the pool of urine and went to bed, happy in the knowledge that like a master Risk player, we had conquered the NYE anticlimax.

I think I’ve cracked my dad’s innate aversion to receiving presents: livestock. Chickens to be precise, two of them. At lease I hoped so: You try getting a refund on a five-pound lump of egg-laying flesh and feathers. I’m pretty sure Farmer John doesn’t do refunds.

It was the chickens or a jumper. Seeing as my dad works from home, with a large garden and little company besides a dog named Tony, it was a clear-cut decision. And, unlike the George Foreman Lean Mean Grilling Machine from last year, the all-in-one gym system from the year before, or indeed the jumper, I was pretty sure a humanitarian impulse would prevent him from returning them.

He didn’t get it at first. Unwrapping a box full of hay on Christmas morning, he looked perplexed. "Go on dad, rummage around." He did and pulled out two supermarket eggs, tactfully covered in dirt from the front garden.

After a back-and-forth redolent of that most famous of philosophical conundrums (“Eggs?”, “Chickens!”, “Eggs?”, “Chickens!”) came the inevitable: “But who’s going to f**king look after them?”

“You f**king are!”

Two days later, with dad grumbling in the back, we drive through the rain to Farmer John’s. From the flocks of Rhode Island Reds, Marans Cross, Barred Plymouth, Neras, Speckledys, and Black Stars, we picked two Light Sussex. “Lovely birds, and great layers,” according to John himself.

Back home and pecking at the lawn, dad stands with his hands on his hips, looking more befuddled than perplexed. “I suppose we should give them a name,” he says and my brothers and me smile at one another.

With Tikka, Korma, and Sweet and Sour swiftly dismissed, the task falls to youngest brother. After years of embarrassing dog walks, I thought he’d been stripped of this honour. Apparently not, and dad and Tony will now be kept company by Adele and Beyonce. With names like that, there’s no way he’ll be getting a refund.

It’s a new year which means its time for my father to unleash a new money making scheme. A friend has an empty shop and is looking for something to fill it with. My dad decides that a cheap clothes shop is just what Rochester needs.

This is a regular occurrence. Some of his less successful outings include importing portable beach ovens from China and a yet to be realised pizza place in a garage. There have been some successes: a fried chicken shop in Snodland and a bar in Estonia.

One day he arrives home with a pile of ladies trousers. Apparently designed and manufactured in Italy, they are the latest style that’s yet to reach England. Bought at a “knock-down sample price” he is feeling pretty happy with himself. He says repeatedly “you reckon we could sell these for ten, fifteen quid? Its a recession, people want cheap clothes.”

I don’t say much. They are made of thick material but are not quite jeans. They look like they should be high waisted but they’re not quite high enough. They then have five metal buttons - the kind that are normally hidden - running down the outside of the crotch.

Alesha, my sister is less tactful. “They are hideous, just because people have less money it doesn’t mean that they don’t care about what they look like”, she says. He looks disappointed but still tries to get her to try them on. She refuses.

A few days pass and the pile of green, red, black, blue and brown trousers lie neglected in the corner of our living room. Harriet, my girlfriend then comes over one evening. The trousers are instantly remembered and my dad asks her if she would like a new pair of jeans. To his delight, she politely agrees.

Our suspicions are confirmed. They look terrible. Harriet politely says something about them not fitting right. My dad accepts this but doesn’t want to give up. He asks Harriet to take a pair to her mother to see if she likes them. The next day we loop around the M25 from Kent to Croydon, a red pair in tow.

They now sit at the back of my car boot. He hasn’t asked about them yet.

The scheme hasn’t quite made it passed the development stage but whilst the the shop remains empty there’s still time for more unfashionable items to be brought home. Unless, he makes it into a cut price household store that is...

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