We didn’t watch the film ‘Zulu’ this Christmas. Instead, we relived it. Not literally, of course. But, as wave after wave of friends and relatives hurled themselves upon our hospitality, continuously probing for shortfalls in our goodwill and our wine supplies, home felt like Rorke’s Drift, the beleaguered army post in the movie.
There were moments when our defences were nearly breached and Christmas goodwill was reduced to the usual petty, family squabbling. The first breach nearly came when my son accused me of ‘an innovative form of parental cruelty’ because I’d bought him a new, Sony wireless speaker even though I know the WIFI in his bedroom hasn’t worked for six months.
‘What is it you Boomers don’t understand? Without WIFI it’s as dead as a Dodo,’ he spits.
‘I understand why he may be feeling under valued?’ says my Wife, in the kitchen, where we have retreated to reorganise my defences.
‘What do you mean undervalued? That speaker is a Which magazine ‘Best Buy’ in the under £25 category. Surely, that counts for something?’
‘Not when you’ve been promising to call Virgin for six months to fix his WIFI and nothing’s actually happened,’ says Wife.
The second wave of attack comes at Christmas lunch, when Mother complains my pommes dauphinoise is as hard as rock because I refused to pat the potatoes dry before cooking them.
‘I told him repeatedly, you can’t cook them damp. But did he listen? No, when it comes to potatoes, he thinks he knows best. I’m Irish, for Christ Sake’s. Potatoes are something, I know a little about.’
Mother looks around the table to see if anyone will join her attack. But our guests can’t tell if she is joking or gone mad. Either way, getting pedantic with your host about how he cooks his potatoes is something they don’t want to get drawn on. The family isn’t breaking ranks on this one, either, even though Mother is right – the pommes dauphinoise is seriously undercooked.
‘They taste cooked to me,’ says my daughter ‘Perhaps it’s your teeth that are the problem, Granny?’
Is this what people mean by Christmas Cheer? The unconditional support you give to those you love even when you know they are wrong and what you’re actually doing is lying? Or is this something more sinister like Omarta, the loyalty of the Mafia? Either way, I make a mental note to donate another £20 to Daughter’s fund-raising for the forthcoming London Marathon.
Mother has been excused watching the Queen’s speech. But she has lost her battle to ban Christmas Crackers because she has heard all the jokes before. My wife insists she needs Christmas crackers if she is going to ‘Get Christmas Done’, which is our Yuletide mantra.
‘It’s not the fact the jokes are awful. Or that we’ve heard them before. The point is that reading out the jokes is a Rite of Passage for children. This is a chance for them to tell a joke publicly in a safe family context and to an appreciative audience. It’s a steppingstone to understanding the power of comedy in an adult, social context.’
It’s not often that Wife talks like she’s reading from a sociology book. But when she does, I listen hard, because normally there’s a lesson for me when she finishes. This time it’s clear to me that Wife has discovered the Missing Link in the early psychological development of every comic in the universe – the Christmas Cracker.
‘Do you think Christmas Crackers account for the comic success of Michael McIntyre?’ I ask.
‘I doubt it, darling. He can hardly be said to understand the power of comedy in an adult context,’ she says.