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Torfaen Tales

Christmas with my Sister

I don‘t really know why, but I usually end up spending Christmas day with my sister Brenda.

I usually turn up around midday. Brenda will no doubt still be in bed. She will at least have risen at some stage to throw the turkey into the oven, hence the warm, savoury aroma. I can only hope that it hasn’t already burned to a crisp.

This year my sister’s son and his wife are bringing their dog with them. I’m not sure this is a good idea, but Brenda says they can’t bear to leave him at home alone all day. I just don’t know what Brenda’s cat will make of a big black dog.

Mother will of course be with us on Christmas Day. She is not keen on the dog. He is much too big and boisterous for her liking. She ended up in tears last time she visited Gareth and Bron because the dog barked at her. Still, the dog should prove useful if Brenda’s turkey is overcooked or any other part of the dinner is unfit for human consumption (as is often the case) - he eats absolutely anything.

I know that when we arrive the lounge/dining room will be in a mess. Brenda’s lot don’t tend to put a room straight before retiring at night. There will no doubt be an ash tray piled high with butts, and cups and glasses, maybe a few empty beer cans, on the coffee table. The room is overstuffed with too much furniture. One chair from the three piece suite resides next to the dining table as there’s no room for it down the other end, and that means you can’t pull the dining table out properly. Any decorations that have been put up will no doubt be falling down to some extent, and the Christmas tree is likely to have developed a tilt a la Leaning Tower of Pisa. The ironing board will be in the middle of the room, and there is likely to be a quantity of clothing cluttering the sofa.

The kitchen - don’t go there! The sink will be full of cold, greasy water and the remains of the night before’s dinner dishes. The floor is always sticky with God knows what. This is not a house where you can safely walk about barefoot or in socks. The benches are always cluttered with … clutter, mostly food related. One of the kitchen curtains got stuck in the toaster some years back, and the yellow voile is brown and crispy on one end. And the fridge … I think I’ll buy it a condemned sticker for a Christmas present.

Perhaps we should invite Kim and Aggie to visit for Christmas? Ah, but no. Brenda’s son Gareth will roll up his sleeves and pitch in with gusto after having tutted for a bit. He’s a good son. And he will shame me and Bron into joining him.

By the time we’ve got the place, well, these two rooms at least, looking reasonable, perhaps there will be signs of human life stirring. Bren yawning in her grubby dressing gown, hair every which way, muttering that she should have put the potatoes on to roast half an hour ago. Mother, looking bewildered, having forgotten that it’s Christmas. Brenda’s younger son, Rhys, and the lodger, Owen, both with hangovers threatening to haemorrhage from their eyeballs, coming downstairs to slump on the sofa and deconstruct events from the night before in some local hostelry. They will no doubt decide that they need a hair of the dog and crack open a couple of cans of lager. Our brother, Rhodri, arriving, cursing that he couldn’t find anywhere to park. Well what does he expect on Christmas Day when everyone has family visiting?

Once the vegetables are cooking we will get down to the serious business of present opening, which clutters the room even more. By this time Gareth has given up trying to keep any sort of order. Mother, in her bewildered state of dementia, wondering why she’s got all these presents. No point in trying to explain again that it’s Christmas or who has given her the pink jumper.

Open a couple of bottles of wine, for dinner is ready. The Queen’s Speech on in the background, everyone munching happily. Then, dishes done and a good grumble about the state of Brenda‘s kitchen, time for a rest and a cup of tea before some silly games. Indigestion from Christmas pudding that has settled like a rock in my over-full stomach. Perhaps a couple of neighbours will drop by and join in our games. There always seems to be a jolly crowd. Later, turkey sandwiches and salad, and a helping of the trifle I have made. Watch some corny movie on TV, have a little doze. Then, around midnight, we’ll bundle up in our coats and depart on the long trek home. Rhodri cursing that he’ll have to come back tomorrow to pick up his car. Begs the question why he brought it in the first place. We all pick our way down the steep hill, treacherous with a frosting of ice. Last year it snowed as we walked home - magical, but even more slippery. Then at the bottom we go our separate ways.

Last year Brenda went away for Christmas, and we had the festive meal at my home. It wasn’t the same. Rhodri had a terrible dose of ‘flu and couldn’t eat much of his dinner. He fell asleep on the sofa for a couple of hours afterwards. Mother panicked ‘cos she couldn’t manage to open the toilet door. We wondered why she was up there so long. She was stressed out and in a mood after that. No, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without our dinner at my sister‘s home.

By Karenne Griffin

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