– which I’ll skip through briefly as there’s a whole year I still can’t bear to revisit. Christmas 1969 we all were really ill with Hong Kong flu. We tried to celebrate Christmas but we were all too ill. I can’t think why we felt it would cheer us to cook the usual Christmas dinner, but it went uneaten. A couple of weeks later, I carried the turkey and ham down to the Broad (a good couple of hundred yards, I had to do it twice, why on earth didn’t I use a wheelbarrow?) and chucked in the bad meat. We had an obscure feeling it would be too disgusting to ask the binmen to take away. We’d been unable to face dissecting and freezing the meat.
This would all be one of those “oh blimey, d’you remember?” occasions for cheerful reminiscence if it hadn’t been for the fact that, a month later, my father had a heart attack and died. Undoubtedly, the flu had been a strain on his heart. None of us was better by then. I’m not being peculiar in saying that the year only got worse after that. Repeatedly. When the Queen spoke of her “annus horribilis”, I’m afraid I thought “pah, you don’t know what horribilis is”.
Anyway, please let us not dwell on this any more – I’m only putting things in context, not wanting to depress you or me. The next Christmas, we decided to break with tradition, not because we couldn’t bear to do things in the old way any more, but because it meant we didn’t have to slog our way through a 20lb turkey for weeks – though doing different was probably a good thing too. We had beef instead, far more delicious, and had it at lunchtime. My mother mentioned (she really was quite a saint, I didn’t know she hated having to cook – and wash up – Christmas dinner in the evening) that it would be rather nicer to eat at lunchtime like most normal people did.
The thing is, ever since, I’ve felt free to dump a tradition if there isn’t a reason we want to keep it. It didn’t stop us forming our own of course, when the Sage and I had our own family, but nearly all of those have gone now. We used to spend the whole of December preparing, not in a frenzy of buying but in a very calm and happy way. I think that deserves its own post actually, because it was lovely. I wonder how much of it El and Al remember.
I’ll skip on a few years, to Christmas 1973. The Sage and I had been married since May, and Weeza was to be born the next April. I volunteered to cook Christmas dinner for the two of us, my mother and Wink. I can’t remember if Miss Fitt came too – probably, she was alone, aged 90 by then and was normally invited for Christmas.
The Sage, when I married him, lived in a large, 3-storeyed terraced house in Lowestoft, not on the seafront but only a couple of hundred yards from the beach. It was one of those houses that went back a long way and the kitchen was a long room with a scullery behind. The Sage had put in fairly basic units and a small second-hand electric cooker.
I decided to cook a goose. I was a pretty confident cook – my mother had always been a hospitable party-giver and food was pretty well the be-all and end-all of life. I made a Christmas pudding and cake as well, I think. I ordered the goose and went and bought a new roasting tin to put it in. I worked out my timings and prepared the vegetables. I pre-heated the oven and put the goose, pricked to let the fat run and on a wire rack so it wouldn’t sit in the fat, in its tin.
Which wouldn’t fit in the oven. Hmm.
Was I downhearted? Well, no, actually. I was quite resourceful when I was 20, remarkably enough. I cut two big sheets of aluminium foil, made a tray the size of the oven floor and an inch or so deep to catch the fat and put the goose on the rack. Halfway through cooking, I carefully folded down a corner to drain off some of the fat into a bowl, and all worked very well.
The Sage did the washing up. He was splendid.
I can’t remember what we gave each other for Christmas.