Emma Samms: Christmas casualties
13:42 03 December 2015
Why the A&E department has become a regular fixture in my festive season
As a child, my family Christmases frequently involved the emergency services. This dubious tradition began the year we set the house on fire. It was our first log fire of the year and the cleverly designed ash-removal system in our modern house had been left open, thus sending red-hot embers down a chute onto a pile of dust sheets in the room below.
The Christmas dinner was the one meal a year that my father cooked. At the time, I thought this a superbly generous gesture and one for which my mother must have been enormously grateful. In retrospect, I see it as a galling demonstration of a skill that was withheld the rest of the year requiring my mother to do all the cooking.
So, the first fire of the season had been lit, and my father was in the kitchen busily basting the roast potatoes and really not interested in his children’s increasingly urgent reports that the fire was smoking “quite a bit”. He finally paid attention when the smell of burning house permeated the smell of his roast dinner, at which point the fire brigade was called. Their response was not what we anticipated. Apparently, and disappointingly, the emergency services receive a number of false alarms on Christmas Day, so they took some convincing. By the time they arrived my grandfather had heroically entered the burning basement and extinguished the flames himself, but the firemen reassured us that the fire was well and truly out and then very kindly cleared up the worst of the mess. My father gave them a large bottle of whisky as a thank you (it was Christmas Day, after all) and resumed his cooking.
Our next rendezvous with the emergency services was the very next year. This time it was the A and E department that we shared our Christmas with. My father was proudly carrying his perfectly cooked turkey into the dining room when the carving knife that had been balanced on the side of the platter caught on the doorway. In consideration of our more delicate readers, I won’t go into the gory details, but there was blood and an important digit in need of restoration.
All of this drama has in no way put me off Christmas. These days I relish the times when it’s my turn to host the family Christmas. I’d like to think that my house comes into its own at this time of year, with its 17th century beams and open fires and Dickensian heating and plumbing. To add to its credentials my house has the perfect spot in the hallway for a Christmas tree, a garden with a plentiful supply of holly, ivy and mistletoe, not to mention two dogs to dress up as reindeer.
The most I’ve ever cooked for was 26. It was a full complement of family plus a few friends who for various reasons didn’t have a place to go. It took a herculean effort from my Aga (my only cooking source) because, as anyone who owns an Aga knows, they have a tendency to cool down when overworked. My 1955 Aga’s last gasp of bringing the gravy to the boil took about half an hour. And who has a table which seats 26? I most certainly do not. I called into service every table in the house, including the ping-pong table.
Christmases at my house have proudly upheld the family tradition of a bit of festive drama. One year my sister managed to flood the entire kitchen floor by leaving the tap running full force in the kitchen sink when distracted by an incoming Skype call from her daughter in America. I only tell this story because she knows she is entirely forgiven. In fact anyone offering to do the washing up after a Christmas dinner can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned.
One year it was my turn to pay a visit to the Accident and Emergency Department. Let’s just say that using your bare forearm to catch a well-roasted turkey as it’s falling out of the oven is not a good idea.
I do worry that Christmas might just be a little dull without a disaster or two and that it might be difficult to remember which Christmas it was without ‘The Year of the Flood’ or ‘The Year the House Caught Fire’ as a label. But as it’s my turn to host Christmas this year, I’m hoping it’ll be ‘The Year of the Slightly Overcooked Brussels Sprouts’ or possibly ‘The Year That the Red Wine Hadn’t Been Left to Breathe Quite Long Enough’. Those are the kind of dramas I can happily cope with.
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