When I got married in 1988, I joined my third family. That was in August, and in about October the subject of Christmas came up. I’d already realised that they did it on a scale I hadn’t yet experienced, so in a moment of self-confident rashness I said “Well, we can have it here, can’t we?” There were expressions ranging from bewildered through delighted to highly relieved. Afterwards, I was consoled. “Well, you weren’t to know...”
It turned out that we were sleeping eight adults and two pre-teens in our just occupied, barely habitable three-bedroom house. That proved easy once modesty, privacy, all that kind of stuff had been sufficiently downgraded – after all, I was used to roughing it. What proved to be harder to cope with was the sheer scale of the thing. Especially the presents.
This family’s approach to present-giving, it seemed, could be summarised as: if you know you need it, or are going to need it – a shirt, a suit, a pair of shoes, an electric toothbrush, anything – in the next twelve months, wrap it up and call it a Christmas present. (I exaggerate, but not much.) This wasn’t in itself a bad idea, and it did add to the general jollity for the first hour or two – everybody likes a pressie, whether their own or someone else’s, don’t they? – but the rule, it also seemed, was that each one had to be opened, inspected and if you were unlucky passed round the whole family to be admired, before the paper on the next one could be touched. Time passed. Slowly. Eventually lunch came to the rescue.
My exact memory of how it went is hazy now, but I’m sure that at some point after the pudding and before the next round of gifts – probably during the coffee and brandies, come to think of it – I had an inspiration.
Twenty eyes lit up.
This story will be concluded in my next post.