Mildew Mansions was what a friend christened the family home when I was a teenager. He helpfully painted the fridge green to follow through with the mildew theme, something which did not endear him to my mother. You will gather, dear reader, that she still lives in the family home, which is a rather oddly rambling house, fashioned from a labourer's cottage core, which has all but disappeared under the ravages of several families with no taste and one with no money (mine).
We arrived around midday for the traditional cold buffet, clutching our contribution, a beautiful pasta salad made by my son. I usually make the pasta salad, but I was feeling a bit rough this morning and didn't want to risk preparing food for the consumption of others. It was probably a hangover, as I did have a couple of glasses of Asti yesterday.
My sister Sam and Nige, her husband had stayed overnight, along with my sister Amanda, her children Lucy and Peter and Lucy's boyfriend Ryan, forever known as Byron in our family because my mother constantly forgot his name when he and Lucy were first together. A couple of bat-eared bushbaby creatures which they tell me are dogs, but I do not believe them, completes the family.
My brother Adrian had already arrived. His wife Gerry is unfortunately ill and has been vomiting frequently since Tuesday, and so decided not to come to lunch. Good call. Vomiting lunch guests are rarely welcome - I hope you feel better soon! My brother Mike was already there, although his partner Mel and partner's son Barney didn't join us until later. Amanda's daughter Holly and her boyfriend phoned from the other side of town to say they were lost. I heard Amanda say "stop saying house names to me, they don't help at all!" Holly arrived and then eventually my sister Lisa arrived with husband Valerio and children: twins Alex and James, aged nine, and Becky, aged 14.
Conversation during the day frequently returned to the subject of Lucy's breasts, which may seem extremely odd until you know that she has recently had a breast enlargement operation at the age of 22. Although I think those sort of decisions are personal, and nobody's business but your own, there was a surreal element to the freedom with which family members would prod and poke her breasts, and invite others to do so... rather the way pregnant women suddenly find themselves public property for complete strangers to feel their stomachs, a woman who has had a breast enlargement operation apparently has to put up with people constantly wanting to compare the feel of natural breasts with the enhanced ones.
At one point her grandmother encouraged her to show her aunt her scars, in full view of two startled uncles and her sister's boyfriend, but although she is extremely proud of the result from her operation, and hasn't had to buy a drink since it happened, even Lucy seemed to baulk at the general flaunting of her figure to all and sundry and so she didn't reveal more than a bra strap.
As is traditional, lunch was very late while we waited for Mike to fetch Mel and Barney, and then we all fell upon the cold turkey and ham, which was augmented with relishes, salads and aforesaid pasta salad.
The pudding course was even later, with my mother's famed alcoholic bread and butter pudding, and some experimental dishes such as mars bar cheesecake, which I didn't fancy.
Once all the food was cleared away, the traditional present giving took place. For the last few years we have tried various systems for present giving. We had a secret santa for the adults and everyone bought presents for all the children for a while. Then we went to a system where the adults did a secret santa, and the teenagers too, and only the children under 10 got a present from everyone. But - surprise - teenagers don't seem to be very good at buying presents for each other, so they mostly put ten quid in a card. Then they grumped about only getting a note in a card for Christmas....
So this year we decided each family would buy for everyone, spending £3 per person. This was interpreted widely, with some people making foodie presents... my brother Adrian gave some chilli vodka or ginger vodka, my brother Mike had made home-made biltong, and a variety of biscuits, my sister Sam had made fudge and chocolate truffles and packaged them beautifully with cellophane and candy cane decorations.
There was a general crackling of paper as people tore the wrappings off their presents, and then a party popper fight broke out for a while. The twins received a number of foam bullet guns and disc-throwing guns for Christmas, and rallied with a number of supporters, bursting downstairs to rake the assembled family with a combination of plastic disks and bullets, empty party poppers and glowsticks.
The men in the family gathered in the kitchen to discuss special recipes for biscuits, while everyone else gradually sagged and fell asleep. My sister and son joined the cat in the bedroom and had a chat. She told me I must be proud of him, and I am, I am proud of all my children.
We left with bags and boxes bulging with presents, and came home in Sam's car, exhausted. It's the same weird feeling every year... weeks of anticipation, then over in a flash.