Monday, December 23, 2002

"A Christmas Tale"

Isn’t Christmas lovely? It’s that time of year when families get together, united in love and understanding, to get outrageously drunk and blow each other up. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

We always used to go to my Grandad’s for Christmas. He lived in Basildon, a horrible concrete mess on the other side of London where Cockneys go when they’ve had enough of the East End. My dad’s brother and his family also lived there, so you could always guarantee a full house and a pretty lively Christmas.

Grandad was a pretty practical chap. He had a garden to die for, and won horticultural awards all over the place. He also made his own wine, and his spare bedroom was alway filled with huge demijohns (look it up) bubbling away with his latest brew. The peapod wine was his speciality, and had a variety of uses as a paintstripper, patent cure-all and weapon of mass destruction.

Scene: Grandad, Gran, five of us in our family, four of Uncle Dave’s mob, one over-excited dog, all in a kitchen-diner the size of a postage stamp. If one of us wanted to get up, at least four others had to move. If the dog wanted to get up, we all had to go out into the garden. So Grandad opened the front parlour, a room that hadn’t seen human life since 1963 apart from the comings and goings of his gardening trophies and enormous stock of homemade booze.

Ah, but it was Christmas! Gifts were exchanged. My cousin Andy gave his dad a marvellously fat Cuban cigar. Quite where an eight-year-old kid got it from is another matter, but in those days you could send your bairns off to the cornershop for twenty Bensons and a bottle of vodka without the shopkeep even batting an eyelid, but there you go.

What Uncle Dave didn’t know was that Andy had also been to a joke shop on the seafront at Southend, and his cheroot was positively brimming with exploding cigarette ends. Before the day was out, there would be hell to pay.

A quick aside - Andy is the most accident-prone person I have ever met. He was always falling down stairs, off ladders, out of trees or over the handle-bars of his Raleigh Chopper. He had a season ticket for the local Casualty department, who’d always wave him off home with a shout of “See you next week”. He once caught his Johnson in his zip on the beach at Southend and spent the rest of the day having it frozen by hospital staff who could barely stifle their laughs. When he got married, the car broke down on the way to the church, so he arrived on the back of a tractor, with the heap of junk towed behind. He is, of course, a most excellent individual.

The Christmas dinner came and went, Gran catering for the assembled masses like she’d done it for her entire life. Grandad let us kids have one thimble-sized glass of his homemade paint-stripper, and we all toasted the Queen, family, friends and the downfall of the Bay City Rollers. And that was enough for most.

But not me. As the rest of the family snoozed in a post-dinner stupor, I sneaked into the front parlour and helped myself to another glass. And another. And another. Before long, my ten-year-old head was spinning round like a spinny-round-and-round thing, and I was feeling more than a little queasy. It was round about then that my body decided it wished to part company with Christmas dinner.

Page 374 of The Thoughts of Chairman Mao says “You can’t hold back puke”, and how right he was. In panic, a darted around looking for somewhere to spew. The room was filled with Grandad’s best furniture and an impressive looking carpet which was his war-loot from North Africa. If I chundered on that I would be dead meat. Only one thing for it. The Laindon and District Horticultural Society Challenge Trophy. It brimmed. And by God, I felt better.

Holding the cup above my head like a drunken seventies footballer (which wasn’t too far from the truth), I staggered up the stairs and flushed the diced carrots down the bog. I would have got away with it too, if, in my drunken state, I had remembered clean the thing out.

I arrived back downstairs just as Uncle Dave lit up his Chistmas cigar. Laying back in his easy chair, he inhaled deeply, drawing in the sweet aroma of the Cuban tobacco, puffing out smoke rings to the general amusement of the massed throng of the Scary family. In the minutes before the Queen’s Speech and the afternoon’s Bond movie, it was a most tranquil moment. As a matter of fact, even Andy had forgotten about the timebomb waiting to go off.


There was a flash, and Dave was thrown halfway up the wall behind his easy chair with shock as an entire packet of expolosive cigarette ends went nuclear.

Gran screamed “It’s the blitz!”, realised the Anderson shelter had been dug up thirty years previously, and hid under the kitchen table with the dog. Grandad dashed off for his war-loot gas mask and German bayonet. The rest of us collpased in fits of laughter at poor old Dave.

OK, OK so it's Groucho Marx
Uncle Dave: An artist's impression

The cigar looked like he’d just walked into a door as part of some Groucho Marx film stunt. A pathetic smoke ring curled up from the end, a wisp of tobacco clung to his nose. He was livid.

“Right, who's been playing silly buggers?" he scowled, scanning juvenile faces for guilt.

There was only one thing for it. We shopped Andy to him. It was a fair cop, and Unlce Dave eventually managed to see the funny side as a second non-exploding cheroot was produced.

After all the excitement Grandad decided that we deserved some more home-made wine to calm the nerves. I politely refused, finding a nice warm corner to curl up and die.

Two days later, with my hangover still raging, they found the dried up huey in the gardening trophy. Whoops.

Let Uncle Dave be the bringer of the moral to this tale: “Oh yes, it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.”

Unfortunately for me, I still had both my eyes, it’s just that they were hugely blood-shot and refused to look in the same direction for weeks. Kids! Just say “No” to paintstripper!

"Ho. Ho. Ho. Ho. Ho. Ho. Ho-tiddly-Ho."

That's it, this duck is away for a Christmas break with Mrs Scary and the Scaryducklings. And just to show that this is the season of goodwill, I've even got a present for my arch-nemesis Moderately Evil Penguin. Have a Merry Christmas now, y'hear?

Christmas Fish - top hummus by SAMSONITE from
"A fish is for life, not just for Christmas"

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