It was something the three of us always made very clear early on in our relationships with boys: there was absolutely no room for negotiation and if they didn’t like it then tuff, it was over. We’d happily listen to their music, follow their football team, drink with their mates, watch telly with their gran or visit their dotty relatives. We’d cook meals for them, even go on holiday with them, move in with them, have kids with them, and in some cases marry them but we would never, EVER spend Christmas day round at “theirs”. Sounds a bit selfish I suppose but that was the way it was. No-one else’s Christmas could possibly be as perfect as Christmas at OUR house… well, that’s not quite true… there was probably some room for improvement in the catering department… the turkey being a touch frozen, the Vienetta a touch warm. The decorations were pretty chaotic…the music a little cheesy… my dad’s cocktails a bit too creative - making charades a tad disorderly and Dingbats quite unruly.
And so it was that my two sisters and my little bother (now 38) have always spent Christmas together. After we were orphaned the venue moved from our family home ‘Old Orchard’ (a 1960s house without an orchard) in South London to Lordship Park in Hackney. Of course it’s different: I have never been able to master my mother’s nonchalant approach to entertaining. Vienetta is replaced by a towering baked Alaska complete with artificial fir trees and a down-hill skier figurine searched out on the internet. The decorations are urns full of hydrangea heads from the garden, hundreds of candles and absolutely no tinsel.
I always let the boys decorate the tree though: and then rearrange their haphazard efforts once they’d gone to bed. My brother has taken over the cocktails and we sip sophisticated Caipirinhas with Cachaca and lime instead of a trolley load of lurid liqueurs brought back from Amsterdam – the legacy of my dad’s days at KLM. The one thing that hasn’t changed is all four of us siblings are together with our partners and children and we have a right ball.
But not this year. Right now my sister Nicky is on a plane to Australia. Not because Andy, her boyfriend of thirty years, has lured her away with the promise of cuddly Koalas and white sandy beaches. It would take more than that to get her to miss a family Christmas. His sister Lisa lives in Melbourne. She came to visit in the summer but Nicky was worried – Lisa seemed unwell and on her return to Oz she became increasingly sick and was diagnosed with cancer. It was advanced and the doctors said she had very little time left. Nicky and Andy hurredly made plans to fly out to be with her and her children: hoping to grasp a few, last, sun-filled days in her company, have a few drinks, a few laughs, a few tears, but just as Nicky was getting on the plane at Heathrow last night they heard the news that she had died. All very sad.