AS I SEE IT
“How did you get over the Christmas?” is an odd question, as though the occasion was a steeplechase hurdle that had to be jumped. It can be a bit mad at this time of year, with all that buying and cooking and eating, giving rise to festive memories often concerning food. Some funny things have happened to me on the way to Christmas.
Recipes by celebrity chefs or top cookery writers get pride of place in newspaper features pages in the run up to the big day, none more traditional than the one for Christmas pudding. The day after the article appeared, the switchboard operator sounded the alarm, the Irish Independent’s phone lines were ringing off the hook about the recipe and there was a commotion at the reception desk about same. I was dispatched to find the cause, an enraged woman, with a pudding bowl in hand, was giving out at the top of her voice.
Dear reader you have guessed, there was a misprint in the list of ingredients, instead of two ounces of suet, it read two pounds. Experienced pudding makers had been ringing to warn us about the boob but not this pudding maker, she had put in all two pounds of suet. “Merry Christmas, how frigging are you!” she yelled and emptied the whole greasy contents of her bowl out on the front desk. As a curious crowd gathered, a generous refund, for a new pudding, followed smartly.
As a student at art college in London holidays were for earning money towards the next term. The offer of a job in a scenic country pub came up; great, I thought imagining myself pulling festive pints for the locals. The George & Dragon, looked idyllic when a classmate and I arrived but the publican, an ex-naval gent known as the Commander, cross-examined us about our cooking experience. I admitted that I liked cooking.
It transpired that the village ladies who normally cooked for the pub’s restaurant took a break to cook for their own families. There were 60 guests expected for Christmas dinner. I got the short straw to do a share of the catering, if it hadn’t been for the pheasants on the menu, it wouldn’t have been so bad. They were extremely well hung and we had to pluck them on Christmas Eve.
Several of us student plucked away, helped by spot of whiskey, as you do, to get over the pong. Afterwards I tripped on the stairs, as you would, and ended up cooking on one foot.
There were minor incidents that are part of the Christmas madness, Grandpa setting his paper hat on fire, the cat attempting to climb the Christmas tree, (what are trees for after all if you are a cat?) And there was the time Granny got tired and emotional (all that cooking) and chucked the plum pudding in the fire creating a spectacular blue blaze.
Other nationalities’ Christmas fare can come as a bit of a shock. In former East Germany my daughter planned a Christmas Eve bath only to find the carp, destined for Christmas dinner, swimming about in the tub. Or there was Christmas dinner in Italy featuring a whole roasted baby lamb, looking upsettingly like the woolly creatures I remember gambolling in springtime among the gorse edged drumlins of Co. Down. Didn’t stop me eating it though.
There was the festive bash for a business in Belfast, complete with a buffet feast with roast, suckling pig as the piece de resistance. After the drinks and speeches there was a rush for the buffet table followed by a confused pause. The caterers had neglected to leave any cutlery including a carving knife. The guy with the Swiss army knife was the man of the meal.
Things that are both funny and happy happen at Christmas too. Widowed and alone on the eve of Christmas Eve with advance preparations done for the friends invited for the feast, I wondered what to do. Why not head into town for a taste of Christmas spirit? After arguing with myself, I headed for a well- known hotel.
The place was jammed and as I was about to leave a seat became free at a table with a couple of girls. When they left I was joined by an interesting academic just recovering from immunisation jabs for an upcoming trip abroad. We started talking and we have been talking together ever since.