The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 8

One thing I hate about christmas – and there are many – are christmas dinners.

This requires some context, as technically, it isn’t the dinner itself, but who I eat it with that gives rise to some uncharitable thoughts.

Now this one, although it originated in my childhood, has become so much a part of my psyche that it applies not only to christmas dinner but to any meal, where an elderly person I hardly know, eats in front of me.

Every Christmas, from when I was old enough to be aware of such things and up until she didn’t, my great aunt Dora would come to stay with us for the duration and boy, did it feel like we were under duress. She was about as child-friendly as a scorpion and just as venomous. Me and my brother hated her visiting, it gave us another reason to hate christmas. I doubt that my father had much time for her and to make matters worse, I now know that my mum wasn’t overly fond of her either.  But we were all she had in England and – in your best Eastenders growl – ‘she was family’

Anyway Dora wore dentures and was not only not the best at applying them securely, but was seemingly unconcerned when they wriggled free either. This resulted in her being a messy eater and because of this that me and brother would try to sit in the seat next to where she would always sit for dinner well in advance of any meal. Even if just before the meal you were bursting to go to the toilet, you’d try and style it out until the meal had started and then go. I can’t begin to describe the lengths me and my brother went to not to face her at meals, but also to try and make sure the other one did.

Anyway one Christmas dinner – well in my recollection it is – for some reason I was facing her. Naturally my brother was solicitous with the gravy, asking her if she wanted more, as indeed I would’ve been had the roles been reversed. I was sat directly opposite her and had to pretend that her eating doesn’t now make me think of Mr. Creosote, but then was just disgusting. Mums cooking was bad enough as it was, without her adding to the chaos.

It was only then that I became aware of the facial hair on her chin, I must’ve blocked out that particular horror, but at the point I remember noticing was the point some the gravy escaped her mouth and began slowly snaking around her hairs, like an especially languid snake. It was as never ending as it was revolting. Meals with her at the table had been bad enough before, but now they were infinitely worse, the waiting, the dread, always waiting, never quite sure if this was the one. Meals now became like a culinary Russian roulette.

Thankfully, she died soon after that.

I know that may sound  harsh and a other more condemnatory epithets, but honestly, when I was ten the only feeling I had at hearing of her death was one of relief that I wouldn’t have to watch her eat.

My mum now lives in a sheltered housing complex, and the managers wife cooks a christmas dinner, which by all accounts is rather great, and to which she always invites me. However, whilst the prospect of watching one elderly person messily eat was bad enough, the thought of sitting amidst hordes of elderly strangers eating is hardly appetising.