The festive season is a time for jollity and whimsical human interactions rather than blogging, so there has been a little gap since I last put finger to laptop.
England has been in lockdown for a couple of glorious weeks, concentrating on the constant cycle of drinks parties. There are endless mountains of turkey and ham sandwiches, champagne for breakfast, sherry at lunchtime, and inappropriate amounts of chocolate all day – Christmas is a splendidly sybaritic time.
After the bouncy rancour of falling over in every salubrious bar in London, Christmas Eve is the start of a period of hunkering down in the warmth. The pace of life is slower and one’s food and wine intake is more akin to that of Gérard Depardieu. I can usually be found sleeping by an afternoon fire sweating in glutinous felicity.
Though the festive period is an ideal opportunity to attempt all seven deadly sins, it is also a moment for gratifying hours with family and ancient pals.
Like all decent bachelors, I return to the family home, arriving in a flurry of bluster which is quickly transformed into a stationary sofa impasse. The only strenuous activity comes from looking for a refill from the sideboard or walking that ever energised Jack Russel.
My family tradition dictates a roast gammon on Christmas Eve and a turkey on the big day; the ensuing days are spend working our way through the kilos of cold cuts and boiled up bones.
On Christmas evening, after a couple of drinks parties we stagger home to put the big bird to bed…a fighting weight of 7.5 kilos meets a fitting end in the Aga, woozily placed in the lower oven at midnight. This is the only way for a turkey to be cooked – long and slow.
A friend of mine often lays a post dinner party breakfast with alka-seltzers and never is that pick me up more needed than on Christmas morning. However a hangover is easy to shake off, with the promise of shiny presents and a stupendous breakfast. We neatly nibbled on eggs Benedict (using homemade muffins, hollandaise, and the previous night’s gammon) washed down with a couple of bottles of Pommery – absolutely splendid. By the way, if you haven’t made your own muffins on an Aga you must.
Christmas Day confronted us with an attempt to break some sort of world record food and drink binge, ably aided by a cousin and an uncle. I am not sure who’s bright idea it was to follow a trifle with cheese, nor port after whisky then returning back onto scotch….like the rest of English middle class we rolled towards the idiot box after 7 o’clock and struck a slovenly pose on the sofa. I succumbed to two temptations; joining the the modern world to watch Frozen and making myself a gargantuan Christmas sandwich.
Boxing Day for many is when the sales begin. For us, the less fair species, it centres on sport. Like a young John Inverdale I ensconce myself in every rivalry possible. Footy is the background all day dance, plugging a gentle rhythm to the day. The cricketers of the Southern Hemisphere footnote the day, though sadly the English stayed in Blighty this year. The showpiece of the day is of course the King George VI, at 3 o’clock, from Kempton.
I would love to be at Kempton on the 26th, but because the bally train company refuse to put on carriages to Kenmpton, and no one should be at the races without a hip flask or in a car after one, I visit the day after. The King George was incidentally won stunningly by the wonderful galloping Silviniaco Conti.
After being holed up indoors I approached racing the next day with extreme vigour. Crisp gin clear skies met me when I left the house, which were quickly replaced at Kempton by a wind so cold that it felt like the gusts had come had come from the Steppes, the Antarctic, and the Baltic met in the middle and converged on Kempton Park.
Being a Saturday there was a charming atmosphere, with many a full house of families present – talking of families, my father managed to bag three winners. He looked stunned at the first, pleasantly surprised at the second, and gloated gleefully at his, penniless son, when his third skipped past the post.
Suddenly Christmas finishes and the Turkey carcass begins to lose his shoddy outfit of thinning meat. The reality of life kicks in and we look into the mirror and realise through sullied eyes that I am not Dame Elizabeth Taylor and life is not all tea cakes at noon and martinis for breakfast.
There is however a glimmer of gold in the sifter’s pan – New Year’s evening, a final target for a naughty boy’s year. I find it to be an evening so debauched and grim I usually shudder at its inclusion on the calendar – an evening for non professional drinkers and expensive cues. This year I decided to join friends in Brighton for a highly Rabelaisian weekend, which involved swimming in black tie, gin, but thankfully not the sea! Away from the swarming masses it was a definite success.
The New Year now has its cold grip on us, many of my chums are sadly joining the grim bandwagon of “dry-Jan” and attacking the gym. I am not. I may dip my toe into the pool a bit more, but still keeping my lips dipped in the whisky glass.
A new year after a fine vintage before – keep that bloody flag flying!!