A fond repost.
Twas the week before Christmas.
Which means one thing above all others at Shrewsday Mansions: the man of the house gets to indulge his primeval urge to make fire.
In civilised twentieth century speech, this translates as the Shrewsday Lantern Party.
It goes like this. I cook a vast amount of food, including a turkey. We make the house look respectable.
But when the time for the party arrives, Mr Sociable disappears into the garden, lights his chimenea and a plethora of coloured lanterns, and issues a stream of imperious requests through the back door. He demands string which is no longer in the drawer, and newspaper which has been put at the bottom of the recycling bin; and he huddles round the fire in the manner of his stone age ancestors.
While I, who have fallen into the recycling bin head first trying to reach the newspaper, attempt to extricate myself before the guests arrive.
There was an added dimension to the party this year: four inches of crisp white snow. The garden has eschewed its general damp disgruntled midwinter air, and shrugged on an evening dress of pristine, glistening glamour. The chimenea sported a white hat when we arrived this afternoon to light it; the bird table had developed its own monolith.
What a splendid backdrop it would be for the pre-ordered lanterns, sitting concertinaed in a jiffy bag on the side, waiting for their three hours of fame.
It is fortunate I have garrulous relatives and a voluble stream of conversation myself, because if we were depending on Phil for his usual debonair sparkle it would be a flat social occasion indeed. I fear it would be one of those stare-into-your-teacup-and-pray-someone-says-something gatherings.
Because Phil was in the garden, in love. The lifelong romance between himself and the dancing flames means that when a fire is lit, there is only ever really room for the two of them, he and that light-footed atomic pas-de-trois between carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
The first ring on the doorbell heralded my nieces the Princesses, who were brandishing letters from Santa. It is a token of the level of organisation in my sister’s family that Santa actually writes back, politely mentioning the fact that the littlest princess has learnt to ride without stabilisers this year, and the eldest princess has distinguished herself at school.
Each letter was triumphantly read, and very quickly it became apparent a third cannonball had joined the fray. Alasdair has not got a letter from Santa. If he did, it is possible he would feed it to Macaulay or flush it down a convenient, adjacent toilet. He hurtled around everyone’s feet, a hectic meta-level where time travels at twice the speed of ours, at shoulder height.
The lanterns were lit, and the lights turned off, and we gawped appreciatively. Our little Cinderella garden almost gave a little curtsey. Phil looked suitably gratified.
It was a lovely party. At the end, the guests pottered off out of the garden gate, and we turned to go inside. And Felix declared, with trademark seven-year-old enthusiasm: “That was just the best Lantern Party ever.”
Twas the week before Christmas: and all round the house, the lanterns were flickering, not one was doused. The children retired to their bedroom with yawns: and Macaulay the dog ate the last of the prawns.