A Christmas Story

Oh I know – I disappeared without explanation and you’ve all given up and found nicer websites to hang out at.

I’m sorry. It’s this moving lark – it eats up all your free time and suddenly weeks have passed.

Well. Time for a good old gossipy catch-up I guess. You put the kettle on and I’ll start talking.

As you know we arrived home on 19th December just in time for the last throes of Christmas shopping – here’s my run-down of the holiday season this year:

On the 23rd Steve and I went to my Dads for Christmas dinner with my Little Bro, his girlfriend and her two little girls (aged approx 18 months and 5), where we experienced three solid hours of NOISE. The kids are noisy – and you kind of expect that at Christmas, but Little Bro’s girlfriend also talked absolutely non-stop from the minute she came through the door to the minute she walked out again 3 hours later. She is one of those people (and everyone knows at least one) who will talk endlessly, about whatever enters her head, regardless of what you are saying or doing. She just talks. And keeps talking. And then she talks some more. In the end, I kind of switched off, and vaguely wondered if I was being rude, but since Miss Gob was still talking happily away (no one was really sure who to), I’m guessing it didn’t matter in the slightest.

As usual, I hardly got two words out of my brother before she talked over whatever he was trying to say (and believe me, this is an impressive feat in itself, since he’s no shrinking violet). Dinner was great though – Dad made 9 dinners and then realised there were only 7 of us, so I said I’d bring a few more people next year – and I ate so many After Eights my heartbeat was going like the clappers when I finally went to bed.

Steve disappeared back off to Somerset later that evening and I stayed at Dads and did the last of my Christmas shopping the next morning.

On Christmas day, mum and I drove over to Miss Gob’s flat for another ear-bashing (oh, and Christmas dinner). To be fair she was quite relaxed when we first arrived, and it all looked like it was going to be a lovely day. We did the same last year, and apart from being woken at 7.30am on Boxing Day by a chatty (no surprises there) 4 year old, with a minor hangover (me, not the 4 year old), I had a great time.

Alas, along with Christmas revellers the length and breadth of the country, the stress of it all started to show after a few hours. The baby was irritable and grisly in the afternoon, so Little Bro and Miss Gob went out for a walk to try and get her to fall asleep. After about an hour, only Miss Gob and the mini gobs returned.

She tells us they had called in at Dad’s, who was enjoying a peaceful dinner with his other half, and Little Bro had got to breaking point with the constant chatter. Five minutes later, just as I am about to start the search for him, he returns and says everything is fine. I ask if he wants to go for a walk and a chat, but he doesn’t, so we all carry on eating and watching the telly, and Miss Gob gets steadily drunker and drunker, in a deliberate, I-will-do-whatever-the-hell-I-like, kind of way.

After about half an hour, the neighbour from upstairs comes down to say hello (why was she on her own? I would have invited her round for dinner). She’s a quiet lady who sits herself carefully on the floor, but Miss Gob fails to offer her food, drink or anything… in fact she just has some more gin and then turns the stereo up, which seems to be stuck on rave.fm, and starts waving her fists in the air and making monkey noises along to the music.

Meanwhile, Mum is watching the telly, I’m playing a game with the 5 year old and my brother is looking resigned to how he knows it’s all going to end. Miss Gob is now cheering at no one in particular, telling them to dance and sing along (to what? this music doesn’t have any words), and I think she’s actually convinced herself she is in a nightclub. So to remove myself from the situation I get up and ask if anyone wants a tea or coffee, to which I get no response.

From anyone.

I stand there looking at this room full of people and suddenly wonder if I’m actually dead and imagining the whole thing.

Little Bro is smoking and looking at the table (reminds me of my uncle Eric), baby gob is eating some plastic, mum is still transfixed by the telly (with that racket?), neighbour-lady is just staring strangely into space and Miss Gob is swinging her hips and shouting “Yeah, come on! Woo! Everybody ready!!” (I kid you not).

I go to the kitchen anyway, and realise one person has heard me – the chatty 5 year old seems as disturbed by all this as I am, bless her, so as a reason to stay out of the crazy room, we decide to wash up the dishes. I have trouble locating the washing up liquid (definitely saw it earlier, so I know it’s around somewhere), and am hunting around for it when the neighbour-lady comes in. When I explain why I am rummaging through someone else’s cupboards she looks sympathetic and understanding.

“I just thought I’d wash up,” I say, to which she replies “‘Well, I’ve got some upstairs if you want me to go and get it.”

I blink at her and realise I am going to have to leave right now.

“You want me to do your washing up?!” I ask her in a high pitched voice, horror on my face. What kind of world are these people living in?

She looks slightly offended and says “No, I meant washing up liquid.”

With relief, reality seeps back into the atmosphere, and 20 seconds later, the neighbour-lady finds the bottle of Fairy… in the bathroom. Of course.

Just as we finish up, Miss Gob comes into the kitchen to try and open some wine for neighbour-lady. She waves around the bottle opener and starts talking to me and I realise she is beyond drunk – she’s at that stage (shame on me that I recognise it from painful experience), where most things do not seem to make sense anymore. For example, the correct end of the bottle opener to use to open the bottle. She can only do one thing at a time (and can’t even do that properly), because she has had so much gin, and since talking is her first priority, the wine never gets opened. After 15 minutes or so of rambling, neighbour-lady comes in to tell us she is leaving (surely not!) and we say goodbye in sober sisterhood.

I then have the privilege of listening to Miss Gob for almost an hour, while she cries on my shoulder, laughs, tells me about her emotional problems, her terrible life story, her weird mother, talks in riddles, massively contradicts herself on several occasions (e.g. “I’m not a violent person” and “I could kill, I know I could”), and to my face insults me, insults my family and insults my brother without shame.

At which point, I get upset.

I get upset because it’s my safety valve. I know that the alternative to crying is that I get angry, and I don’t want to do that because a) I have my mum’s and my brother’s respect for me to consider, b) there are children in the house, and c) I am an awful, cold-hearted, emotionless nightmare when I’m truly angry and she’s not really worth the energy required.

My brother and I are, and always have been, extremely close, so my brother gets upset because I’m upset, which upsets me even more. I say to mum that I think we should leave (since I know I can no longer stay in that flat and be polite to the banshee in the kitchen), so we kiss goodbye, bundle ourselves into the car in the dark and quiet night and drive home, leaving my brother to pick up the pieces and put the kids to bed.

But not before catching a glimpse of my brother’s girlfriend sitting on the kitchen counter, her legs on the draining board, her head against a cabinet, fast asleep, mouth wide open and bottle opener in her lap.

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