TIS THE SEASON TO BE THRIFTY
Christmas with ET* was stressful to put it mildly. The festive season brought him out in such a rash of skinflintery and vegetarian self-righteousness as to make Scrooge appear a right raver.
Matters were made worse when my concerned relatives sent emergency ‘food drops’ of the sort guaranteed to inflame ET’s Inner Socialist. The delivery of boxes crammed with crested delicacies from Fortnum and Mason – definitely my kind of corner shop – not only dented his credentials with the local cloth cap brigade but awakened his darkest suspicions of my affiliation to Toffdom. Not that any pricking of conscience inhibited his family from guzzling said delicacies at the Boxing Day Buffet. (Their shuffling bemusement at the crystallized ginger afforded me some compensation.)
So, like McCarthyism in reverse, the ideological battle lines were drawn. The more I hankered after those “tissued fripperies” or “sweet and silly Christmas things”, the more vehemently did the domestic Witchfinder General deplore my profligacy.
One particularly gruesome holiday, ET went for Kill Or Cure. That was the year he declared that our Christmas Day cuisine would comprise vegetarian spam with baked beans (arctic roll “for afters”) and – wait for it! – bangers ’n mash to follow on Boxing Day (plus another pud of the mum’s-gone-to-Iceland variety – such was the trauma, that I cannot for the life of me recall how we topped the arctic roll). Tiny Tim could not have looked more pitiful than did yours truly at this pronouncement. No bird-with-all-the-trimmings! Not even a bleeding nut roast! Now, I know today’s poncey experimental chefs can work wonders with spam, but ET was no modernist gourmand. He was a man on a mission – to show me the wondrous beauty of Christmas On The Cheap. So it was spam sans frills. Naked Chef eat your heart out!
I suspect I drank rather a lot that year, alcohol being allowed (and duly appreciated for its anaesthetic properties!). In certain states of dull forlornness, I recall myself, paper hat askew, rictus smile firmly in place, endeavouring to chow down after the approved greasy spoon fashion! I couldn’t have been very convincing because ET relented the following year, donned a sinister sky blue mafia suit (plus stacked shoes to prevent me towering over him) and whisked me off to the local hotel for a slap-up Christmas luncheon. Unfortunately, the majority of our fellow diners appeared to be local octogenarians sedately whooping it up with middle-aged offspring. I thought I would die laughing. ET suffered a major sense of humour failure and did not care to be reminded of that year’s “cock-up on the catering front”!
ET’s extirpation of my latent uptown girl tendencies extended to prezzies. I remember one festive unwrapping with particularly painful clarity. I had previously dropped heavy (and increasingly desperate) hints about a (modestly priced) Bodum coffee maker. The Great Reveal, however, produced a stockman coat of the type sported by Richard Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds. Other promisingly-shaped packages disclosed (I kid you not) matching stud collar, belt, detachable hood and boots. Stroking his wispy goatee, my inamorata – the picture of smugness – pronounced that he had previously purchased a quarter length version of the same (he stinted himself to secure me the full-size costume) so that we would have identikit his ‘n’ hers outfits for rambling, orienteering and off-roading – hardly a Few of my Favourite Things. Ruthlessly suppressing my incipient hysteria in the interests of festive harmony, I gave a performance worthy of BAFTA. “Up and at ‘em!” I hurrahed (or words to that effect). While impersonating the female equivalent of Butch Cassidy, inside I was crying tears of rage.
My insincerity did me no favours. The following year I received a tripod camera for outside photography. Step forward Saga’s answer to Bear Grylls!
So, my advice to any other ill-assorted couples out there – come clean…. or at least make sure to keep the receipts!
* ET = My elderly inamorata or Elderly Termagant