We (the cost centres plus Mrs AC) flew up to Scotland on the Sunday before Christmas to stay with my mother for 5 days. Along the way we'd stopped in the supermarket to pick up some booze (my twitter poll said I'd not bought enough) and within 5 minutes of arriving I wish we'd stayed at home. No amount of normality is enough for my mother to not treat the most uninteresting act as if she's been on a quest for the holy grail. She went to the supermarket on Sunday, Monday and again on Tuesday - before panicking that the shops were shut on Christmas Day itself and she'd arranged a delivery on Monday evening as well. Then she popped to the shops on Thursday. How in bejesus does she manage in normal life? Or maybe I just need more booze.
So anyway. On Monday we went to the local town to get away for a few hours - it's like being in the walking dead. I live in London so I'm used to crowds, albeit that I hate them, so I'm more than used to large groups of people meandering pointlessly but her local town is something else. Dozens of people not looking where they are going did nothing to infuse me with the Christmas spirit - I've got very pointy elbows and a bizarrely low tolerance level so a few of the locals were sporting some bruises. The highlight of the day was one cost centre wanting to buy his Nanna a present - I'd told him to buy a DVD or something small, maybe costing £5 ($8) or so as the adults don't really expect much in terms of presents. He declared he had no money (his mother probably x-rays him on the way out the house to ensure he's not carrying anything of value and she's not out of pocket) so he asked Mrs AC to borrow £20. Mrs AC then tells me that she has only got dollars and no pounds so asks me for £100. In economics we call this the money multiplier effect (it's a way that the banking system effectively creates money in an economy) but for the life of me I can't work out who is trying to con who the most.
On Christmas Eve my brother plus family arrived - individually they are usually tolerable but as a family I call them the Flintstones, because they generally leave a trail of chaos in their wake. My brother is the most disorganised person on the planet so I'm actually surprised when he turns up on the expected day but he's usually left everyone in a foul mood by being late for a flight and not having pre-booked a car or accommodation. Or when he's sorted himself out he's not told anyone of the plans so is surprised that no one knows what is going on. But this time he's actually got his act together and they are staying in the same cottage that we'd stayed in over the summer (about 100 yards from my mother's house) whilst we were
Along with my brother and his wife (my brother is 12 years older than me and his wife is 6 years older than him so I'm actually closer to his kids than I am to them) were his 2 grown up children and their girlfriends. I've only met the older nephew's GF a couple of times but I've never met the younger one's before. Mrs AC has only met the older nephew and hasn't met anyone else, apart from my mother, before. The older nephew's GF has one topic of conversation - herself. Which is probably why I, and the rest of the family, don't particularly like her. She is hot though - which is probably why nephew 1 is infatuated by her. I don't have it in me to tell him that hotness will fade and his infatuation will be replaced by annoyance and contempt. Unless she's filthy, in which case he's infatuated for a good reason.
The younger nephew's GF is lovely and Mrs AC chatted for hours with her as if they were old friends. Nephew 1's GF hated this - and proceeded to make thinly barbed comments to them both during the 3 days we all spent together. The highlight being on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) when she handed nephew 2's GF a beer and pointed out the health warning of the dangers of drinking whilst pregnant, but the warning was worded "there's even a danger of girls getting fat if they drink too much". None of the girls are overweight or pregnant but Mrs AC told me she'd have taken a swing for her had she said the same to her. She then managed to piss off Mrs AC by telling her that she was an expert on New York because she'd been there 4 times and questioned what Mrs AC could possibly know about the city - when Mrs AC replied she'd lived there for the best part of 30 years it shut her up. For a bit anyway. I'd stopped listening by then and was really just waiting for the violence to start. My money would have been on Mrs AC - I've got 6 inches and 50 pounds on her but she'd probably kick my head in if we came to blows. I'm a lover not a fighter!!
So to Christmas Day - I was doing the cooking but I had no idea how many for. My younger brother had been invited plus one of my mother's friends. My younger brother can be a stroppy sod and told us he'd decide on the day - fine. But he lives 20 minutes away plus he doesn't have a car so he's expecting to be picked up then dropped home - this then precludes someone from drinking which is very selfish (he's rebuffed the idea of staying overnight or even of taking one of the cars and us arranging to pick it up the next day) but given I'm cooking I'm not letting it get to me.
At 7am on Christmas Day we woke up to the sound of wrapping paper rustling - the cost centres had been given strict instructions not to open presents before we were all up so I was more than prepared to give them a shouting at. But it wasn't them - it was nutcase mother who was up and shaking presents to try to decipher their contents. Once she'd been admonished the kids were up and my mother reverted to her usual activity of buggering about - spending an inordinate amount of time banging around whilst achieving exactly nothing. It took her 2 hours to empty her dishwasher - the only rational explanation is that it's a cross between Dr Who's tardis and the wardrobe from Narnia leading to some sort of infinite crockery paradox necessitating such a long time to put everything away. This went on for what seemed like an eternity so when she took the dog out with the kids I thought I'd gone deaf, such was the peace and quiet.
My mother's friend (she's in her 80s but is far more sensible than my mother) had been told we'd eat at 2pm - she turned up at 1.55pm. Now this is very Scottish, rather than rude. If I'd invited friends in London with the same timings they'd probably arrive at midday, have some drinks and a chat ahead of eating but it's a different world up in Scotland. Every single time I've ever cooked with people coming over they've always arrived 5 minutes before the allotted time then departed before the plates have been cleared away.
Mrs AC had one job whilst I cooked - keep my mother out of the kitchen. My mother is usually as loud as thunder but somehow becomes ninja like when I'm in the kitchen so I'm wary of turning round whilst carrying a pan of hot water or fat and spilling it all over her. Or of carrying a sharp knife and accidentally stabbing her, multiple times. Again and again, over and over just because she's in the way. Mrs AC failed - which gave me the excuse to drink. Luckily I was closest to the fridge and managed a few beers before the flintstones arrived. So I've just about kept my sanity whilst I've been cooking - and I mean just.
Now there's one thing you need to know about my brother's wife - she's not British (albeit she's lived in the U.K. since the early 90s). When she came to the U.K. for the 1st time she said something that is the daftest thing ever said when we sat down to Sunday lunch - what is bread sauce made of? Have a guess, seriously, ask your dog because he'll know the answer to this. We laughed our arses off at this and she's constantly reminded of this whenever it's served.
So as the dishes are being passed around the table Mrs AC is looking a bit suspiciously at a few of the offerings - there's a side dish called skirlie which is beef fat plus oatmeal which isn't everyone's cup of tea so I told her to ignore it but when she came to the bread sauce she uttered those immortal words - what's bread sauce made of? The entire table erupts in laughter and my brother says "welcome to the family sweetheart" whilst we go over the story of his wife saying the same sentence nearly 30 years previously. His wife thinks I've put her up to this but it's totally on her this time.
So Christmas day passed and I managed not to kill anyone and we arranged to eat the leftovers on Boxing Day - it's a holiday in the U.K. originally where the gentry would give presents and leftovers (in boxes, hence the name) to their servants. There's also a full football program on so after my mother went to the shops (fuck knows what for as the fridge was full and it's less than 2 days since her last visit) we all sat down to watch the football and have some beers.
Well the guys did - those without a Y chromosome were in a different room exchanging thinly veiled insults. We did what guys do best - ignore the nonsense and drink a few beers. Even the kids got wind of the idiocy when my oldest cost centre told me he was glad he didn't have a sister - he didn't say he was glad to have a brother but it's effectively the same thing when a pre teenage boy tells you that.
One last episode of batshit insanity ensued on the Friday - this time courtesy of one of my mother's friends. As we were loading the car up for the drive to the airport her friend arrived and handed me a Christmas present - a bottle of something which was wrapped. I thanked her for it and stuffed it into a bag so it wouldn't get broken on the journey. I'd completely forgotten about it until Saturday morning when we were unpacking and I gave it to Mrs AC to open and told her we'd share it after we watched the football later that evening. She opened it and declared it wasn't what I thought it was - I'd just assumed it was a bottle of wine. It wasn't. It was bright fucking blue. It was a bottle of an alcopop called WKD - the sort of thing you drink when you're a teenager and want to spend the evening vomiting foul coloured slime all over your friends' shoes when you're about 15 and don't like the taste of alcohol yet. Why in fuck's name she thought I'd want or even enjoy this I have no idea. That didn't stop us from opening it though - after we'd been out to the pub on Saturday to watch football we decided it's still booze after all. It's vile. It's sickly sweet and is probably only any good if it's used as de-icer, except that the alcohol content is only 4% so it would probably freeze quicker than water anyway. We tried it with vodka and it made it slightly better. Then we had the vodka straight up just to get the sickly sweetness out of our mouths and that was much better. So thanks for the blue stuff anyway. I'm going to put a positive spin on it and hope that my mum's friend thinks I'm still 15. I probably would have drunk it then if I'd got my hands on it - just that now, as an adult with quite a few years of drinking practice under my belt I need a lot more than one bottle to get the job done.
But now it's Sunday morning and we've got NFL all evening - Mrs AC is eager to not see her beloved Giants get steamrolled by the potentially playoff bound Eagles and we're both staying up late for the 1.30am kick off of the 49ers against the seahawks. Come on the 49ers - Mrs AC has promised to cheer them on even if it's one step closer to her owing me a trip to the Super Bowl if they make it all the way.
My travel plans are up in the air at the moment but we're heading down to Devon on Tuesday to spend 2 days with friends for New Year's then heading back to NY with Mrs AC on the 5th. I'll be in NY for at least a week but after that I haven't got confirmed plans yet.
Next time - my new drinking challenge. A new beers resolution!