The Dabbler’s 2010 Christmas Compendium – Part II

Merry Christmas from all at The Dabbler! Here’s Part II of our special Christmas Compendium….subtitled ‘A Toast to Absent Friends: Excess and Remembrance’


Susan Muncey (of ShopCurious) – ‘Vulgarity, excess and curiously coloured drinks’

Please note: this is about Christmas style (rather than substance).

My ideal Christmas includes baroque church music, the smell of freshly cut pine and wood smoke, crisp snow underfoot and tastefully twinkling white lights. Occasionally, God arranges the appropriate weather at least. The reality is that Christmas has become a time for vulgarity and excess.

To me, Christmas means curiously coloured drinks. Like Advocaat: The drink for pregnant men. Advocaat is a traditional liqueur from Holland made with egg yolks, brandy, sugar and vanilla. Apparently, Warninks Advocaat has been made in Holland since 1616 and is described as being full bodied and sweet, “with a creamy texture and aromas of vanilla. Almost like boozy custard.”

I was first introduced to underage drinking at Christmas by our next door neighbour, Mr Morris. On Christmas morning, a handful of guests would be ushered into a bauble bedecked room, where he proudly presented the hallowed array of bottles from which we may partake. Of course, my choice was a pre-determined option – that customary alcoholic tipple of childhood, the Snowball.

The ceremonial celebratory cup was always a half pint, traditional dimpled glass beer jug. Inside were probably nine parts of something fizzy (like soda water or lemonade) to one part banana coloured, frangipani scented and peculiarly viscous, velvety liquid. Unusually large bubbles foamed from the top of the glass, and popped on my nose as I bent my head over the slowly erupting froth. There were always two, sometimes three, sugar-slicky cocktail cherries perched on a green plastic stick at the side of the glass – precious fruits, to be scoffed down indulgently, before guzzling up the contents.

In later teenage years I was introduced to the distinctive, Day-glo delights of crème de menthe, cherry brandy and blue curacao. Only at Christmas…


Jassy Davis (of Gin and Crumpets) – The Davis Family Three Meat Roast

To me, the sound of Christmas isn’t bells jingling, crackers snapping or corks popping, it’s the whining roar of the electric carving knife my parents were given as a wedding present making its way through the roast turkey, ham and beef. Because we always have all three meats at Christmas.

I suppose my mum did it initially because there used to be 14 of us for Christmas Day lunch and our oven couldn’t hold the kind of monster turkey that would feed that many. Even as our numbers diminished over the years, the three meat tradition continued.

On Christmas Eve the ham is boiled, glazed and roasted, then stored well away from the cat’s reach. On Christmas Day the beef is cooked and rested while the turkey is basted. And for an hour from midday, the snaggle-toothed twin blades of the electric carving knife grind into action. Of course, it takes so long to carve all three that everything is stone cold by the time it gets to the table. But there is hot gravy in buckets and cauliflower cheese, so who cares?

This year, I’m cooking Christmas dinner and although the logistics are a nightmare and I know I’ll be in a tearful red-faced sweat by 2 o’clock, the beef, ham and turkey will all be on the table. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them.


Gaw – 155 Cranes?

Worried about over-indulgence? Wonder whether it’s really what a traditional Christmas is all about: stuffing poultry and then stuffing yourself? Well, worry ye not. However much you pile on your plate you won’t compete with this English king:

For his Christmas dinner, 1251, Henry III had 430 red deer, 200 fallow deer, 200 roedeer, 200 wild swine, 1300 hares, 450 rabbits, 2100 partridges, 290 pheasants, 395 swans, 155 cranes, 400 tame pigs, 70 pork brawns, 7000 hens, 120 peafowl, 80 salmon, and lampreys without number.

OK, no doubt he had family, friends and vassals around – but the indulgence remains pretty impressive (and don’t forget this is just the meat). And then there are the logistics of cooking it all…

(From Oliver Rackham’s The History of the Countryside).


Brit – Postprandial terrors

I make it that there are three levels of Christmas Pleasures. At the very top rank – Primary Christmas Goods, if you like – are such things as decent company, In the Bleak Midwinter and brandy butter. Secondary Goods include pigs-in-blankets, eye-watering pickled onions and A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector; while at the Tertiary level we have smoked salmon breakfasts, the bumper Radio Times and mulled wine.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Christmas dinner is at the top of the pile, for one thing. But a boozy, stomach-busting Christmas dinner – preceded by beer and champagne, accompanied by claret and seen off with brandy – comes at a terrible cost. That cost is the postprandial sofa-bound late-afternoon slumber from which you will wake, utterly confused, at 6pm with a strong sense of momento mori and a nameless dread in your soul. This is when Christmas really bites back.

I wrote a poem about it once. You can read it here if you like.


Malty – ‘reunion, reflection and remembrance’

As the years roll by we at first accumulate names, family and friends, we never lose the names, unlike the people to whom they are attached. Christmas for us is a time of reunion, our tribe are all over the shop and also a time for reflection. A remembrance of those no longer with us, family who have been there regardless, the mountaineering companions sadly mostly young, dear friends who have given our lives colour.

We had gained a pair of widows, one each, a mother and a mother in-law, nothing unusual except for their lives which had been tough and character building and a pair of characters they were, Emma and Catherine, Mrs Bouquet and Mrs Bouquet. For a decade, as widows the pair graced our Christmas table and piano and the sherry bottle and the brandy and the washing up, it was that kept ’em going junior declared as he topped up their glasses once more. Collected by yours truly Christmas morning, always sitting in the back, and never using Christian names, Mrs….., yes Mrs…. hilarious, the conversation when becoming surreal quelled only by an increase in speed, hurtling along the Northumbrian byways like a Shearings bus trip with silent passengers.

For those long gone, a spared thought, some smiles, a tear or two and a raised glass, for them and all of us, Merry Xmas everyone and above all, may you enjoy many more.

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5 thoughts on “The Dabbler’s 2010 Christmas Compendium – Part II

    Hey Skipper
    January 4, 2011 at 21:00

    Brilliant poem, Brit; among the best I have ever read.

    This line struck me:

    And there is no snow – English Christmases aren’t white.

    Malty, as ever, a joy to read.

  2. Gaw
    January 4, 2011 at 21:15

    As I’d read it before and praised it I didn’t bother pointing out what a brilliant poem Brit’s is. I should have. It’s a joy to read but very moving, and has one of the most natural, unforced and effective rhymes I’ve ever come across (for the avoidance of doubt, despite it reading easy, this is very difficult to pull off). If you agree you might want to bung a few quid to the Lifeboat people (the JustGiving button is on the same page).

    Hey Skipper
    January 4, 2011 at 23:30

    Good idea — I did so when Brit first published it.

    January 5, 2011 at 15:48

    absolutely brilliant poem Brit – truthfully one of the best poems I’ve read anywhere, and all the more memento mori for the fact that its been and gone now and all I have to show for it is a beer belly and a hefty credit card bill

    January 5, 2011 at 16:44

    Thanks chaps – gratifying comments.

    I can hardly remember writing it but I do recall it was a bloody headache acheiving the obviousness of the rhymes, like doing a cryptic crossword. Free verse is a comparative doddle, looks cooler and what’s more gets taken seriously as Art; it really isn’t fair on the rhymers.

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