AIDA AUSTIN: “It’s not like you’re going over the top in the Somme”

I MEAN, seriously? What’s it all about? First there’s the shopping.

Shopping, shopping, shopping. And you think to yourself, it’s not so bad, I mean it’s only shopping, after all. I mean, we’re not talking down the mines here.

Then there’s more shopping. And a bit more. And just when you’re thinking, at last that’s the end of the shopping there’s more shopping, which will be the last bit of shopping until the next bit of shopping, which is when you start to think going down the mines has got to be easier than doing all this shopping.

And then there’s the tree, which is only a matter of getting it, lugging it and sticking it into a bucket. I mean it’s not like you’re going over the top in the Somme. It’s fine, the tree.

Especially in the old days when all four kids would look up at me like I was a complete find, and take it in turns to hang a bauble on it, with bated breath.

And it’s still fine, the getting, lugging and sticking. Even now, when the kids are bigger than me, and they’re so busy eating all the mince pies you stuck in the freezer for when Granny comes, to notice the tree’s gone up, and their mother is standing there going “ah, look, at those lovely little stars you made in national school,” all by herself, to an empty room. I mean it’s not the Somme, even if you’re standing there so covered in lametta and baubles and those lovely little stars that you wonder why you bothered getting a Christmas tree at all, when you could just stand in a bucket and be one yourself.

And then there’s the cooking. Cooking, cooking, cooking. And you think to yourself, it’s only cooking. I mean it’s not as if your life depends on it.

And then there’s more cooking, because your son wakes up at noon on Christmas Eve — when you’ve cooked yourself to a standstill — and wanders into the kitchen saying, “Hmmm. I’m a bit peckish. You know what? I quite fancy a fry for breakfast.” And then before you can say “fuck Nigella in her saucy cardi,” you’re at the cooking again because your daughters come into the sitting room at 3 — after they’ve eaten all the Chocolate Malteser Cake you hid in a tin on top of the dessert for when Mary calls — and say “what’s for dinner?”

And you look in the fridge to find a lone pork chop and half a tomato at the back. Because what with all the cooking, you’ve forgotten about the basics.

And then there’s the Christmas Day phone calls. And the phone calls are lovely, don’t get me wrong, even when your sister puts her 3-year-old on the line just when you’re pulling the turkey out of the oven and about to plate up, and all you can hear is her heavy breathing because she’s got the mouthpiece stuck up her nose and it’s hard to talk to a 3-year-old mute when the turkey’s getting cold, and the big vein in your head is just about to pop.

And then there’s that one moment when you look at your children, all three home from different parts of the world, and your youngest just glad to have them all back and not be knocking around in a big old house with a set of ageing parents.

And you think, there’s nothing like the joy of seeing them all just padding around the house in knackered old hoodies.

And you think to yourself: all four, all home, all smiles. And you couldn’t be happier, even if you spent your whole life trying. And that’s what it’s all about.


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