How Grandma managed to cook Christmas lunch, with all the trimmings, for so many people I will never know. She only had a standard four ring gas cooker. She did however have some very big pots and pans. Huge great things, with handles on both sides, which could hold enough sprouts for fifteen to twenty people. Cooking started as soon as breakfast was finished and cleared away, No 'al dente' vegetables in those days, much of the preparation having been done the night before.
Uncle this, Auntie that, Great Uncle so and so and all bearing gifts too, the stream of callers continued through the morning until a brief lull for lunch when all those who were staying were summoned back to the dining room by Granddad banging on the dinner gong which was actually a small round tin souvenir from one of their holidays.
Jam-packed, shoulder to shoulder around the table, wooden planks beneath us creaking ominously, we waited for the feast. Sprouts, stuffing, carrots, cabbage, sausages, Gravy, the lot were all piled high in huge, steaming dishes around the table and, as grandma and the some of the other women continued to bring out more and more food, those at the table started to pull the Christmas crackers don the silly paper hats and put on their plastic rings, broach or earrings that they had found inside. With so many people crammed around the table, the grand carving of the turkey would never have been possible so Grandma would cut the meat in the kitchen and bring it out on the plates. ‘Who wants breast?’ she would shout, oblivious to the hilarity that his caused every single year.
Eventually everyone had a plate in front of them and the passing of the veg began; ‘Whose got the potatoes, where’s the sprouts, can I have some gravy please, more tea vicar?’ and the traditional pre-dinner request from Brian; ‘shall we say Grace?’ to which all replied together ‘Grace.’ and started to eat.
A temporary peace reined over the house as all that could be heard was the clinking of cutlery on plates and the occasional compliment to the chef.
Except that was for one year. One year, the veg had been passed, plates were piled high and everyone had just begun to get stuck in when Grandma suddenly exclaimed ‘All my Gawd!’
‘Whatever’s wrong mum?’ My mother asked.
‘We’ve forgotten mum’ she replied, pointing to Great Grandma who was sat at the end of the table waiting patiently with no food or even a plate and looking a little perplexed.
Great Grandma was my grandma’s mother who came to live with Grandma and Granddad when she could no-longer cope on her own. When she was a bit younger, she could hold her own with no trouble and made her point of view known but, as she got older and more than a little deaf she became quiet, too quiet.
Great Grandma sat there in indignant silence as we all guiltily scraped a bit of our own lunch of our plates onto hers.
Dinner done, plates clean and a few appreciative belches from Uncle Brian, followed by the usual chorus of ‘Brian!’ from Grandma and Auntie Sandra, it was time for Christmas pudding and mince pies.
I was never much of fan of Christmas pudding as a child but we always eat it as silver sixpences always seemed to mysteriously turn up buried in only the children’s portions.
Feeling stuffed and content, we would ask to leave the table and go and play with our new toys and the adults would embark on another lengthy debate that would end up in argument again. Once the debate had reached its inevitable climax and Grandma had once more slammed the table, it was time for the washing up and, in our family, it was traditional for the men to do the washing up after Christmas lunch and that meant us boys as well.
After, as the heavy lunch settled in tummies and the wine took its effect on the adults, a brief calm descended across the house. Uncle Brian and Granddad dozed in their chairs, the women talked women talk and dad asked ‘Who bought you that son?’