George Ho Ho Ho Cheyne: Glasgow, Xmas 2021
As domestic goddesses go, my mum was up there with the best of them. No task too big, no task too small.
And like a lot of women of her generation, Christmas seemed to bring out her A game as she wrestled with a heavy workload, complicated logistics and four largely unhelpful sons.
Nothing could faze her.
So there are 16 people coming for Christmas dinner now? No problem, I’ll cook some more. Grandma won’t leave her house until after the Queen’s Speech? That’s okay, I can work round that. There’s no present for cousin Alan? Leave it with me, I’ll find something. We’ve run out of mixers for the drinks? Don’t worry, I’ve got a stash in the cupboard. There’s a worldwide shortage of Brussel sprouts? No sweat, I’ll traipse round the shops till I find some.
My stress levels would be sky-high if I’d to cook Christmas dinner for six people, never mind 16.
But there was always a sense of calmness and order in my mum’s kitchen – despite the crazy schedule of the big day and the equipment she was using.
Remember, this was 50 years ago…no fan-assisted ovens or giant fridge-freezers back then.
She was, in part, aided and abetted by my dad – hopeless romantic that he was – and his choice of Christmas presents.
I seem to remember a Kenwood Chef mixer, a Sodastream set, a hostess trolley and a microwave oven being handed over on Christmas mornings.
In fairness, there was a fair amount of collusion with my mum about the gifts she wanted – and these gadgets were game-changers in our house.
As revealed in the Host of Christmas Past (Part One), my mum used to knock up a Christmas cake, home-made mince pies and a giant Christmas pudding in the build-up to the big day.
I always volunteered to help out with stirring the mixture because I had the ulterior motive of getting to scoop up any leftovers in the large ceramic bowl. The stirring was done with a wooden spoon and some proper elbow grease – until the Kenwood Chef mixer arrived.
What a difference. I may have lost the chance of a budding career as a power lifter as my biceps didn’t develop much after that, but at least I still got to lick the bowl.
A selection of fizzy drinks at your fingertips. What’s not to like when you’re a kid?
Before the machine arrived in our kitchen, we had to rely on the Alpine lorry coming round on a Friday with our bottles of skoosh. But when they were gone, they were gone – usually within a day or two.
The Sodastream offered up a constant supply of cola, orange, lemonade, limeade and whatever other syrup concentrates we got in. It was a serious upgrade on the soda syphon which basically dispensed soda water and nothing else.
However, no matter how desperate my brothers and I were, we never went near the cherry flavour. That was an acquired taste best left to the adults.
This was a must-have in the Seventies for any family sitting down to a Christmas dinner for 16 people.
After scrambling about for more chairs and an extra table to stick on the end of ours, the attention swung round to how to cater for so many guests without the food going cold.
The answer, of course, was a hostess trolley. My mum was able to cook half the veg and keep it warm in the trolley’s Pyrex compartments and then do the other half just before dinner was served.
A cunning plan, no doubt, but it didn’t help me much. I was sat at the end of the bottom table and the roast parsnips ran out before they got to me because my aunt forgot to take the other batch out the trolley. Why couldn’t she have forgotten the sprouts instead?
This arrived in our house in time for the 1979 festive season and was one of the early models.
I do remember when it came out the box on Christmas Day that the last word I’d use to describe it was micro…this was a metal beast.
My mum had decided to christen the microwave by cooking the Christmas pudding in it and wandered off to read up on the instructions after we’d finished the main course.
After a while, she joined the rest of us at the table for the traditional quiz when…kaboom!
There had been some sort of explosion in the kitchen so we all rushed through to see a thick pall of smoke, the door of the microwave hanging open and the charred remains of the Christmas pudding smouldering inside.
Turns out my mum, being new to this microwave cooking lark, thought it must have been a mistake when the printed instructions for the pudding said: “Cook on high for 4 minutes.”
This, after all, was an era when you steamed a Christmas pud for anything up to eight hours so she decided it must be a misprint and put it on for 40 minutes.
Oops. But being a domestic goddess she recovered the situation in true Blue Peter style by producing another pudding she’d made earlier – just in case!
Mind you, there were still bits of burnt currants and candied peel finding their way down from the artex ceiling months later…