Thursday 10 December 2015

Christmas Grog: Some Survivors

So it's all well and good for PK to spend his days inwardly debating the pros and cons of which shape of decanter would best suit the fine Bordeaux he's going to serve up at his charming, thoughtful, adults-only Christmas Dinner, peopled by wine conoisseurs, former members of the Diplomatic Corps, academics, senior police officers, Anglican clergymen, newspaper proprietors, Members of the Privy Council, international financiers, UN dignitaries and all the other inhabitants of the fiction factory inside his head, but the rest of us have to live in that land of broken dreams and dishonoured promises known as the real world.

Which for me means spending nearly all of Christmas on the M4 motorway, dragging the family from my Ma's house (junction 15) to my Pa-in-Law's house (at the absolute fag-end of the M4, where it gives up entirely and becomes the A477) in a welter of recriminations and mislaid Christmas gifts. Given that my Ma has no properly functioning oven and some highly contingent hotplates, the main job will be to get some kind of edible turkey on the table before the Queen starts her speech. Which means, I guess, cooking the thing back here in London and rushing it on Christmas morning smoking and steaming like a newly-crashed meteor down to Gloucestershire, while at the same time conjuring some sprouts from nowhere and possibly microwaving the pudding, if the microwave still works. Equally, we may just have to cook the whole meal on my Ma's toaster.

In this context, wine is so far from the centre of my thoughts that it might as well not exist. Some things are known: my Ma likes white wine, Blossom Hill for preference, but her new regime of pills might not allow her to drink anything stronger than cocoa; the wife likes an vanishingly narrow range of sparkling whites, probably a Cremant de Limoux if we have any choice, but that's it; the boys drink anything, as do I, so we can make the most of the stuff still lying around from last Christmas, plus any petrol-station reds picked up beforehand; my Pa-in-Law (when we get down to his place on Boxing Day) is wedded to all wines which are Primitivo-based and have a massively high alcohol content; while his partner is a brand-label white enthusiast, whatever the meal, lamb, wild boar, buffalo, it's all good. She, fortunately, is a handy cook and has a modern kitchen too, so the food is no longer a worry once we have butched it out as far as the Welsh wasteland that is our ultima thule. All I then have to do is smuggle something red at 13% or less into the house and keep it by my side throughout The Alamo (BBC2) and Stars In Their Eyes Celebrity Special (ITV1), so that by December 28th, I might be able to look forward to the rest of my life again.

Have we ever managed a PK fantasy-style grownups' Christmas? I don't think so, not even in that protean decade between the end of studenthood and the time when I started a family of my own. My Ma has always been a resentful and haphazard cook (bless her), blaming her ineptitude on having grown up in a household with servants, while my Pa didn't know one end of a wine bottle from the other and didn't terribly care either. If we got through Christmas Day without searing indigestion or a crippling headache, it was a result. Later on, when it came to hosting Christmas ourselves, us, the younger generation, it was just one smouldering crisis after another followed by a huge amount of washing-up. As a consequence, when Nigella Lawson talks about there being so much food to celebrate at Christmas, it makes me want to cack.

What then must we do? Treat the drink as an analgesic, principally, but with seasonal overtones. The Russians, I feel, would understand, both the nature of the suffering and its remedy: the situation we find ourselves in is absurd and inescapable; we must therefore be courageously nihilistic in our response. The snows lie deep around Yasnaya Polyana, but deeper yet in the car park of the Leigh Delamere motorway services.


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