There comes a point in the run-up to Christmas when one doubts one’s hold on events.
So many little juggling balls in the air, and only two hands to propel them; one needs to be the perfect jongleur. It would be such a shame, would it not, to drop Christmas?
This morning was Big Al and The Princess’s morning. My four-year old nephew and his sisters fell incendiarily through the door right on time.
Al announced he was hungry.
Oh, jolly good, I thought thankfully: that’ll kill a couple of minutes. He sat down and devoured a bowl of sweet cereal of doubtful nutritional value. Then he asked for toast and I crossed off five more minutes of blissful gainful employment for this, my beloved tornado of a nephew.
So there I was with a houseful of children, and several other juggling balls in the air.
The main one being the ongoing saga of Philip Shrewsday’s Very Important Victorian Christmas Pudding Project.
Phil wants to make a real Victorian christmas pudding: in the iron garden stove. It takes six hours to boil, in a muslin square.
The initial fervour had settled into a grim resolve: we knew we must find muslin with which to wrap the pudding, and wood with which to cook the pudding for six hours, and sumptuous ingredients which cost the earth.
Meanwhile, another pressing juggling ball was in the air: the need to entertain the hordes.
There were children haring about and Al was reintroducing himself to our senile old cat, with characteristically less than noble intent. The children were talking about making milkshake, a recipe for chaos; and the animals were looking sheepish in the face of a full-on frontal adoration session by Al.
So: Phil proposed a little light child labour.
Why didn’t we all tumble into the forest with lots of big bags and collect wood for the fire needed to cook the pudding?
We took a vote: trek to the sweetie shop past a grade A playground, or go wood collecting. The latter won by a landslide. A wellington boot corralling session later, we were in the forest. Children could be seen staggering around with huge bags of firewood, albeit soggy. They were delighted.
But they could not carry the wood forever. And after 40 minutes walking, Al was very tired indeed, and a bit muddy after a fall, and riding along on my shoulders, so I was no help to anyone. Phil must bear the burden of all that wood.
And then the dog went AWOL.
We had made the mistake of wandering past the pheasant field without tethering him. Macaulay adores the pheasant field. Lots of huge squawking foolish birds who can only just hoist themselves into the air.
He got into the field and the world went away, and there we were, five children, two adults and the equivalent of a large tree in carrier bags, dogless.
Phil and the wood waited: the rest of us trogged home for hot chocolate.
Jacket potatoes and fillings for dinner. The dog, now present once more, helped.
Al declared that this was not a very nice dinner at all: and I informed him that if he did not eat said horrible dinner, not only would there be no pudding, but Al would not be able to go upstairs at all.
Upstairs is where the great toys are. The dinner disappeared in a trice. Al’s parents arrived and our numbers shrank from seven to four.
Al’s mum suggested cannily that all her children’s old comfort blankets are made from muslin. We were one step nearer the pudding.
A trip to Ascot later, all the ingredients were procured. We stood at pudding DEFCON 2.
We had tea, bath, and telly time in our bedroom which forms the hub of our evenings.
As we sat watching some festive programme or other, Phil walked in wafting the grand scent of brandy around. He held a large mixing bowl.
“Now that,” he announced to his wife and two delighted children, “is Christmas.”
Inside was all the dried fruit needed for the pudding, steeped in brandy, cinnamon, nutmeg and spice.
Everyone had a sniff. The children sniffed obediently and then protested noisily that it smelt horrible: but when I took a waft I had to admit that he was, indeed, holding Christmas.
And the kids were rolling around laughing and protesting, and I was trying to say how good it smelt, and Phil was stirring jovially, supplying a flamboyant commentary.
And then he dropped it.
Pounds of fabulous fruit, soaking in brandy, due to plump up during the night all shot out of the bowl onto the floor.
Whereupon, sympathetically, the entire family burst out laughing.
Because of course, like the perfect jongleur, Daddy had dropped Christmas.