The outcome of a scheme to avoid Christmas Day drudgery.
The world’s teeming with people who discover, quite suddenly, that their friends begin visiting far more often once the house has been augmented by a swimming pool. It happened to me—my partner Margi and I, with the sweat of our brows, built a large salt-water pool in our rear garden. It was actually an upgrade from a tiny concrete garden pool we’d built for the dogs to cool down in—we live in tropical Australia, and cooling down is de rigueur for most of the year. We’d discovered that we were cooling down in the dog-pool, too. Well—our feet were.
Within days of our finishing the swimming pool, visitors began to call, and we entertained families for hours, providing snacks, drinks and towels, often with the visits extending late into the night. It was fun, and usually an opportunity for the two of us to observe and interact with kids, safe in the knowledge that eventually they’d be taken away.
The entertainment theme developed rapidly into one in which a range of events were held at ‘Margi and Dave’s ’cos they’ve got the pool’. Birthday parties, Easter. New Year celebrations.
Even before we’d built our swimming pool, we’d become known for the attention we gave to the traditional Christmas feast. We both enjoy cooking—and putting a little extra effort into a meal to make it memorable. For example a turkey stuffed with an elaborate mix of pistachios, muscatel grapes, crumbs from home-made bread, herbs, wrapped in bacon and cooked outside in a kettle oven.
I was notorious for my Christmas puddings with brandy butter. Indeed, at one stage I’d accepted orders for them and had nine maturing on the top of a cupboard by the end of September.
Of course, the bubble burst.
Late one night a ‘normal’ Christmas Day had just passed for us—all the guests had departed a little after midnight. I was swallowing deep draughts from a very large beer and watching abandoned floating toys meandering around in the pool, propelled by errant night breezes. Wet towels and children’s bathers lay in sad piles. Filled ash trays and a motley assortment of glasses decorated several folding tables while torn festive trimmings hung mournfully from the shrubs. A broken garden chair had been flung to one side. Upstairs, I knew, was a huge array of dishes to wash, and food remnants to be stored. Margi appeared and stood beside me, also bearing a drink.
I turned to her.
“Bugger this. It’s too much like work. I’m not doing it again.”
She eyed me for a moment.
“Yeah. We get caught every time. I’ll be washing other people’s towels for hours tomorrow.”
And so, there and then we laid our plot for the following Christmas. It was devilishly simple, and we stored it away carefully until the Big Day began to loom again.
Being the good-natured pair we are—and enjoying cooking as we do—the plan was to prepare the Christmas feed and—what a master stroke!—to carry the whole lot around to someone else’s house. And, when it suited us, Margi and I could quietly depart the scene, secure in the knowledge we could relax in the quiet and peace of our own home.
It seemed like a good idea.
At the time.
The Magic Day arrived. I first detected a certain frisson of uncertainty—or is the word insanity?—as I drove into the driveway of the Christmas venue. The gardens, almost devoid of plant material, were teeming with screaming, hot-looking kids. The doors to the house were flung open and a large man appeared, bearing a set of carving implements. As I turned from my car, the turkey arranged on a large stainless steel platter balanced in my hands, to my astonishment, he began to carve the bird as I struggled to bear it into the house. So far as I can remember, he never spoke a word to me during this process—he simply walked backwards, carving as I walked forwards. I’ve only a hazy recollection of the way the meal progressed after this, with my most significant memories being that the food went very quickly, the kids were incredibly noisy, and the house was hot as hell.
The gorging was followed by the traditional relatively quiet period as the unusually large meal assaulted around forty digestive tracts. Even most of the kids stopped squabbling for a few minutes. And then, launched into the occasion like a some monstrous curse came the fateful words,
“Yeah. Let’s go round to Margi ’n Dave’s place. They gotta pool.”
We sat and watched, open-mouthed as the entire horde piled into a collection of cars and roared off.
The following day, Margi and I mulled over the subsequent events, dully surveying the scene in our garden. During this exchange of impressions my gaze was drawn inexorably, repeatedly to the filter warning lights on the swimming pool pump assembly. They were flashing messages advising all the combinations of things that were wrong with the system, which I’d serviced two days earlier. Such were the effects of the onslaught by the visitors.
There was, of course the endless swarm of children who fought viciously to be picked up by any male in the pool and thrown in the air, interspersed with children who had been hurt and need more or less attention to their wounds.
One of our garden chairs had been reduced to a pile of torn canvas and plastic by a visitor who does exactly that to one of our garden chairs each Christmas Day. It’s not his fault—he sits in the chair and it collapses under him. Every year.
As we discussed the way things had progressed, I noticed Margi bore a tired, grey look about her. She’d just started the washing machine with its fourth load of towels and bathers. And we were both aware of the pots and pans waiting upstairs—they’d been used to prepare late snacks for the hordes who, having once arrived, were determined to extract every minute of enjoyment from the visit.
Fortunately Margi appeared to have developed a mental block and had no memory at all of rushing upstairs in tears the night before, once the huge family row the visitors developed amongst themselves had moved out into the street to provide entertainment for the neighbours. This may have been because of a quiet conversation she’d had later with the grandmother. The old dear had been deliberately left behind when the warring families left, apparently because something she’d said had provoked the conflict. The memory resurfaced later—Margi can laugh about it. Now.
Even our dogs were irritable. No matter what I said to our visitors, they insisted on feeding the canines all manner of foodstuffs. I’d found it necessary to hide the animals away. And the poor beasts hadn’t thought that was fair at all.
There was one aspect of the evening I’d found appealing—to this day I still entertain myself by thinking it over. Near midnight the turkey-carver was carefully arranging his sleeping youngest daughter on the back seat of his car for the trip home. Abruptly she awoke and threw up all over the seat. I found that very satisfying.
We now have a new strategy for Christmas Day. It involves a high fence and a locked gate. When questioned about our intentions for the season, our answer is, ‘nothing’.
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