Saturday, 14 December 2013

'Tis the Season... part 1

Christmas is supposed to be the season of joyfulness, giving, family, festivities, all round good cheer.

And yet, when I was told that the theme for our December duologues would be 'Christmas', an entirely different feeling was evoked.

For several years now Christmas has brought with it an overarching sense of dread.
It's not that the extended family are horrid and the thought of spending another minute with them is just too much to bear. It's not even the hypocrisy of Christmas that greets you when you enter a shopping centre any day after September 1.
I suppose it's the culmination of

  • writing dozens of christmas cards to people you haven't seen in so long or have seen so recently that there is really nothing to say
  • cleaning the house and garden if we're the ones fortunate enough to host Christmas this year. 
  • making the christmas cake and trying not to eat all of the glace cherries before the cake is made
  • buying meaningful presents that people actually want for every member of the family. 
  • deciding upon something a little different to cook for the Christmas day lunch. 
  • deciding where to go for the Christmas eve picnic. 
  • deciding what nibbles to take for Christmas eve
  • making the innumerable desserts that Christmas wouldn't be complete without. 
  • doing some of Granddad's shopping for him

Have I forgotten anything? 

For the past decade my sister and I have tried to take the weight of some of these preparations off the shoulders of our mother as we had time off after school, after uni, after exams ended to write the necessary cards, start the ridiculous amounts of baking.
Unfortunately all this means is that the dread of Christmas has simply spread. Now it falls on my shoulders in addition to my mother's and is unlikely to shift any time soon.

The two years I lived in London were some of the more enjoyable Festive seasons I can remember; family free, hassle free. Just food, alcohol and the ability to do exactly what you want, when you want (provided you were happy not to go anywhere but enjoy what you had around you)

Writing a 10 minute duologue, this is the direction in which I was inextricably pulled; the unutterable delight in the possibility of a Christmas at home but with no family and none of the usual prelude.

Perhaps it is a wild dream...

Tis the Season…

The festive season is rapidly approaching.  Alex and Bernadette (known as Bernie) are siblings in their late 20s, early 30s and are sitting in their parent’s sitting room where the coffee table is covered with beautifully arranged Christmas cards (there are 17 in total). Nearby is an additional few Christmas cards waiting to be added to the pile on the coffee table.  Alex no longer lives at home, but Bernie is either still living there or has returned to the parental nest. Both siblings have spent time living in London, though they weren’t there at the same time.

Bernie is already lounging on the sofa when Alex enters.

Alex                After the family saga that was yesterday, how can you look so happy.

Bernie            I’m organising Christmas this year

Alex                I thought Mum/

Bernie                                   /working through.

Alex                My commiserations then! Where’s the gin?

Bernie            You don’t understand: it’s just you and me and the cat.

Alex                I don’t believe it

Bernie            I know. It’s wonderful news though isn’t it.

Alex                No months of planning! No tears of frustration!

Bernie            No tempers being lost. …

Alex                How did you manage that?

Bernie            part coincidence. Part good timing. I plan to leave it all to the week before. Then have an orgy in the kitchen.

Alex                Typical!  (starts reminiscing) That’s what we did in London. Two of us went shopping in the week before Christmas and stocked up. With the trains shut down we couldn’t go anywhere so the plan was just to hole up with enough food and booze to get us through. On Christmas morning I seasoned the meat and threw the vegies in the oven and was back upstairs in time for the obligatory skype call with the family /back home.

Bernie                                                                                   (Has heard all this before) I know, and you even had your own bar… out on the verandah.  So simple.

Alex                It didn’t make sense to clutter up the fridge. Though, even with the house empty we had too much cider to fit it all in.
            So, a London Christmas in Australia.

Bernie            Something like that. Pity it’s not cold enough.

Alex                Even if we crank up the air con?

Bernie            Come on! We’ve never had air con!

Alex                I forget. Hard to believe I lived without it for so long.
                   You know I never did learn to pack the grog and the leg of lamb into the fridge at the same time.

Bernie            Try a foot long gammon roast as well. And a bowl of eggnog;  the real stuff?  

Alex                (looks confused) Your London Christmas?

Bernie            House full of Canadians. They made the best eggnog. This year we’ll put the egg nog in the freezer and cook the meat a-sap.

Alex                You still planning to do a roast? In the middle of summer?

Bernie            Cold cuts: you always preferred them that way.

Alex                I was hoping you’d do seafood given you’re always moaning about its absence.

Bernie            It just won’t last.

Alex                What you mean to say is the cat was too inclined to help.

Bernie            (acquiesced guiltily) …before I’d even started preparing it.

Alex                You trained her. So roast… lamb?

Bernie            And/Or a ham. (Picturing it all in front of them) …with amazing salads, truffles, an icecream bombe and… maybe a custard or something.

Alex                (incredulous) I thought you said no preparations?

Bernie            I did.

Alex                Okay. This menu, as opposed to what?

Bernie            The usual.

Alex                Oh. So you expect you, me and the cat to eat all of that?

Bernie            Over three or so days.

Alex                And drinks?

Bernie            You’re buying. I drink anything remember, unlike you.

Alex                So Sangria and Beer?

Bernie            I’ll uninvited you.

Alex                What?

Bernie            Anything but Sangria. You know I can’t stomach the stuff.

Alex                since when?

Bernie            since Spain.

Alex                (understanding) Ohh! Want me to get you Pimms instead?

Bernie            I can do that. Gin and Elderflower is also nice if you feel inspired. Oh, and you can invite Adam too if you want.

Alex                You, me, the cat and Adam?

Bernie            Why not. Haven’t you always wanted a cosy Christmas?

Alex                I still don’t understand how you got those numbers.

Bernie            A widespread hatred of organising Christmas… or something like that.

Alex                They can’t all be boycotting Christmas. Particularly given they knew it was your turn.

Bernie            that’s something you’re more likely to do. 
               A widespread hatred of my cooking?

Alex                nice try.

Bernie            They just won’t be around.

Alex                But they can’t all be away.

Bernie            According to my calculations…

Alex                Does that mean no family obligations, period?

Bernie            Sorry, nope. Pop still expects us to make Baci for him and you know that takes all day.

Alex                And that’s not counting the cleaning up afterwards. Rope Julia in. After all he’s her grandfather too.

Bernie            It’s worth a try. No expectations though.

Alex                That’s not too bad: I was expecting him to want us to make biscotti, sienna-cake, shortbread…

Bernie            That too. I said we’d see.

Alex                And Aunty Pat wants someone to do her Christmas shopping for her.

Bernie            Well I did it last year. It’s your turn.

Alex                I don’t have time to buy my own gifts, let alone hers. Please can you do it? In fact, can you just do all of my Christmas shopping for me.

Bernie            I have my own to do.  

Alex                Good, so when you’re doing yours, can you get something from me too.

Bernie            Doing my own shopping is hard enough. I mean, what do you get for people who have everything?

Alex                Well, Dad wants a ferret if that helps.

Bernie            Why?

Alex                Why are you asking me? You know what he’s like.

Bernie            Fine. I’ll get him trousers.

Alex                You’re as batty as him

Bernie            Well, if he wants a ferret, trousers will help him catch one.

Alex                Right!!!
               I’ll pay you?

Bernie            What?

Alex                To do my Christmas shopping. I’ll pay you.

Bernie            How much?

Alex                Your usual hourly rate… at a family discount. Plus expenses.

Bernie            any time limits?

Alex                One day at a time, so I know the speed at which you shop

Bernie            you know the speed at which I shop

Alex                Shopping for yourself is completely different.
            I’ll draft a guideline of gift ideas and maximum expenditure. Anything over is subtracted from your wage.

Bernie            And anything under?

Alex                If the present’s awesome I’ll give you a cut.

Bernie            50/50?

Alex                You’ll cost me a fortune

Bernie            I’m saving you time. Isn’t that the most precious of commodities.

Alex                True.

Bernie            Think of it as my Christmas present to you

Alex                I’m paying for my own Christmas present? You’re hoping! If I’m paying you to shop you still need to get me a Christmas present.

Bernie            You drive a hard bargain. That’s ok. I’ve decided to get you a herb garden

Alex                I don’t cook

Bernie            But you wanted thyme.

Alex                You’re rivalling Dad in the quality of your jokes.

Bernie            Why thankyou.
               Do I have to do it before Christmas or can I wait until the sales?

Alex                Wait until the sales? The boxing day sales?

Bernie            No one’s here. And you can’t open presents before Christmas.

Alex                NO!

Bernie            …would make life a hell of a lot easier.

Alex                (starts playing with the cards on the coffee table, perhaps straightening them up) I still can’t believe they’ll all not be here.

Bernie            I know. Heavenly isn’t it.

Alex                Pop and Anne?

Bernie            He’s planned a cruise around Asia. (one card accidentally falls down) She’s with her family. (Alex knocks another card down)

A                      They’re not planning to join us?

Bernie            No. they’ve organised to go out for lunch and then have coffee at her daughter’s. (Alex causes two more cards fall down)

Alex                Grandma ?

Bernie            Too unwell to leave the nursing home. I promised we’d visit on the 23rd (another card is toppled by Alex)

Alex                I suppose she no longer knows what day it is anyway. Great-Uncle Philip and that lot?

Bernie            They don’t usually come if Pop’s not here. And we’ve both ensured he knows about Pop’s cruise. (Alex topples another two cards)

Alex                Cheeky! Aunty Martha and Uncle Dan?

Bernie            Travelling. (Alex: two more cards fall) Not sure where but it’s been on the cards for ages.

Alex                What do you mean ‘not sure where’

Bernie            Last I heard they were still arguing over where to head once they’d hit Malta.

Alex                Let me guess: Italy versus Greece!

Bernie            …versus Egypt versus Turkey.

Alex                Goodness! Simon?

Bernie            I think he said he was heading down south with friends. He mentioned renting a little house in the middle of nowhere with a view of the bush out one window and the sea out the other.

Alex                (lays a card down) …and he didn’t invite us?

Bernie            And miss out on a family free Christmas?

Alex                Just make sure you get the details of the house out of him.

Bernie            I thought it was the normal one.

Alex                Not with the bush out one window and the sea out the other. Peter and Mary?

Bernie            Her family. They’ve got extended family over from Asia and so will be wandering through the south west. They plan to be away well into the new year. (Alex knocks over another two cards with relish)

Alex                I wonder if they’ll meet up with Simon

Bernie            Not if he has anything to do with it.

Alex                What about Jo, Jamie and Sam?

Bernie            We’ll see them on Christmas Eve and they’re breakfasting with his family and then dining with her other side. (Alex knocks three more cards over)

Alex                (There are only two cards left standing) That only leaves Mum and Dad. Are they visiting Liz for Christmas?

Bernie            Well, kinda, only they arrive a few days after.

Alex                Does that mean they’re here then?

Bernie            They leave Christmas Day at one in the morning or something, so they’re be travelling all day.

Alex                (Alex takes the last two cards off the table and starts to look at them) Wow! I can’t believe our luck.

Bernie            Celebratory drink? I’ve a white wine in the fridge.

Alex                Put the kettle on first. I need to absorb this properly.
            It seems too good to be true.
            Are you sure Mum and Dad leave Christmas morning. I thought it was the 26th.

Bernie            They said they were leaving on Christmas day.

Alex                Well if it’s the 26th they’ll have to be at the airport Christmas day, otherwise…

Bernie            I’m sure Mum said they left on Christmas Day.

Alex                Better check. I’ll ask for the itinerary. (pulls out phone). (Meanwhile, Bernie starts putting the cards back on the coffee table. Two go up) Oi, check your phone as I have a couple of messages from family.

Bernie            I’m not here!

Alex                They’re regarding Christmas

Bernie            Definitely not here!
            Please tell me they’re all confirming plans.

Alex                It’s not looking like it. It sounds as though they’re sounding out other options

Bernie            What do you mean?

Alex                Jamie says her dad is looking to go away for Christmas and so are we planning anything and is there the possibility of them joining us. She’ll confirm later but they’re free for a late lunch.

Bernie            (Three cards go up) Later? Later when?

Alex                Don’t look at me.
            Gin! Someone said something about gin. Where’s the gin. (walks offstage)

Bernie            Usual place. Tonic in the fridge. Make me one.

Alex                When did Aunty Martha and Uncle Dan say they were due back.

Bernie            Can’t hear you

Alex                (walks back on stage) When did Aunty Martha and Uncle Dan say they were due back.

Bernie            Tuesday.

Alex                Before or after Christmas?

Bernie            How would I know. It’s not like I’m the one picking them up from the airport. I’m just going on what they told me.

Alex                Well Christmas is on a Wednesday. So are they back in time on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve?

Bernie            Planes do fly in during the fireworks, right? Maybe they’re actually back a week later, in January

Alex                Sorry, they definitely said December. (Another two cards go back up)

Bernie            Are Peter or Simon likely to how the flight details?

Alex                I doubt it but you can ask.

Bernie            I might just email Uncle Dan and get a copy from him.

Alex                You know, if they were planning to be here they would have asked what we wanted them to bring.

Bernie            True. I just can’t remember if they asked.

Alex                Mary just messaged; she’s having difficulty getting accommodation down south so they’re considering staying in Perth for Christmas. Would we be interested in joining the families and having one big lunch? (the remainder of the cards go up, including the few in the pile on the floor. )

Bernie            Here or there?

Alex                We have the more appropriate patio, particularly if there are 20 odd people.

Bernie            They have air con which will be a godsend if it’s 40 degrees again.

Alex                (wryly) course it will be.

Bernie            well pray for a thunderstorm

Alex                We had that 5 years ago… with the 40 degree weather.

Bernie            Heavenly! I must have missed it.

Alex                (staring at the Christmas cards all neatly back on the coffee table)  So does this mean we’re ending up with a normal Christmas in spite of everything?

Bernie            Looks like it. Just my luck!

Alex                (doing calculations on fingers) I think there’s actually going to be more of us than usual

Bernie            I’m not catering!

Alex                You volunteered.

Bernie            NO! I was volunteered. 

Alex                Maybe Mary will organise the catering.

Bernie            (Just looks at her sibling)

Alex                Here’s hoping?

Bernie            Don’t hold your breath.

Alex                Why is she a bad cook?

Bernie            No. just a bad organiser.

Alex                So, what’s the plan then?

Bernie            Where’s that wine?

Silence reigns

Alex                You know there’s a simple solution. Let’s go away for Christmas. 

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