No, this is NOT an ode to the Wham! song, it's a Christmas story submitted by Dan Hart to get you in the mood for the holidays. Enjoy!
I was woken up at four thirty in the morning by a gleefully shrieking six year old. I wasn't even aware that there was a four thirty in the morning, until the drumstick bounced off my cranium and I was deafened by squeals of 'Preeeeeeeseeeeeeeeeeents!'
I growled at my little sister through clenched teeth, telling her that if she didn't get back to bed, no, not in a minute, right now, I'd call Santa Claus back here and all of her 'preeeeeeeseeeeeeeeeeents' would be burning in a bin by breakfast.
As dictated by Sod's law, I couldn't sleep after that, despite her positively statueseque display of feigned sleep. Resisting the urge to grab my lighter and make good on my sleepy threats, I hauled myself out of bed and went downstairs to make coffee. I opened the door to the kitchen and was promptly kicked in the crotch by a sixty-pound ball of grinning teeth and flapping tongue.
The dog was in high spirits that bordered on the psychotic. You know how heat rises? Well, apparently Christmas spirit sinks, and my family's collective anticipation and excitement seemed to have permeated its way through the floorboards, into the kitchen, and straight into our bloody labrador.
Once Gleam had been subdued with a couple of biscuits and a carefully-administered sleeper hold, I injected myself with caffeine and collapsed into the lounge, ready for the steady bleed of yawning relatives from upstairs.
Creaking floorboards signified that Mum was awake, so I pressed the plunger of the cafetiere and switched on the toaster. She came in and wished me a tired merry Christmas - the boys had obviously kept her awake until the early hours - and right on cue, twin thudding noises sounded above our heads. Oh god, they were up. I counted silently to myself.
Three. Two. One.
With a sound like frozen sausages dropping into a cardboard box, Andy fell down the stairs, collided with the wall at the bottom, and started wailing. I sipped my coffee, faintly impressed. He'd done that last year, too. And the year before.
Mum picked him up, patched him up, and mercifully, shut him up. His twin arrived on the scene, crowing with raucous delight at the imprint of the textured wallpaper on Andy's forehead as only an eleven-year-old can do. That didn't seem fair, so I dangled a dog biscuit over Felix's shoulder. Gleam's paws thumped into my brother's back, propelling him face-first into the patio door. I crowed with raucous delight at the imprint of the door handle on his forehead.
Mia had sidled unnoticed into the room - presumably after checking the pile of presents for scorch-marks. She spotted Felix's creditable (if unintentional) impersonation of Justin Bieber walking into a plate-glass door, and started giggling like a helium-infused banshee. The twins charged at her, sending her running for the lounge with a squeal, the dog in hot pursuit.
The whirlwind of kids and canines was hardly a silent one, and over the next few minutes the rest of the household (extended for the holiday season) joined us. We exchanged 'Merry Christmases', made several rounds of toast, dodged the kids still rampaging around the lounge and ensconced ourselves in armchairs and sofas.
As we started to exchange Christmas cards, Mum jabbed the remote at the stereo - before the music had even kicked in, the kids were singing in a discordant choir. A few beats behind them, the old CD joined in, and I couldn't help but smile. Perhaps it was a happy smile, at the innate Christmassy-ness of it all. Perhaps it was a relieved smile, that the kids had finally stopped squawking at each other. More likely it was a mixture of the two.
With the traditional mixtape blaring, things seemed a lot more festive. Dad set his cup down, and began his usual Christmas ritual - assigning us jobs for the day. The pointlessness of this endeavour speaks for itself: our roles are the same every year. He and Mum cook; grandparents monopolise the three-piece suite, comparing pills and playing I'm-more-ill-than-you; my uncle manages the alcohol stockpile; and I make sure the kids don't annoy anyone to the extent that it endangers their lives.
We let Dad talk, though. You don't argue with tradition, do you?
I nodded away, pretending to listen, and noticed that Mia's foot was dangling over the arm of her chair, absently jigging up and down. I pointed this fact out to Gleam, who was flat on his back with his head in my lap, and grinned as he rolled upright and licked her sole, causing her to shriek and drop her orange juice on his head.
I hosed down the dog's head and the surrounding carpet while the kids got showered up and dressed ñ we'd been lucky enough to have an actual snowfall this year, and if I didn't take them out to play, I'd never hear the end of it. With any luck one of them would be led away by a magical snowman, and my life would be a little quieter.
A quick shower, a quick shave, and I walked out of the front door with the air of a man walking down the Green Mile. Sure enough, three identically grinning maniacs in hats and scarves immediately popped up from behind the car, snowballs cocked and loaded. They fired, the effort commendable; the result disappointing. Granted, Felix's projectile came a lot closer than the other two, but it still missed me by a country mile.
I dropped to my knees, swiftly gathered three snowballs of my own, and went on the attack.
Mia was running parallel to our garden fence, presenting a perfect target but I just couldn't bring myself to shoot an unarmed six-year-old. I turned on the twins, and their eyes widened as they scrabbled to find a suitable hiding place. One dived behind a hedge, the other began desperately climbing a lamp-post. Thinking was never Felix's strong suit. I commenced pelting, catching Andy a perfect blow to the face as he popped to see where the hell I'd got to.
I spotted a tiny shadow creeping up behind me, pivoted, and dumped a loose shower of powder on Mia's head. It wasn't really a fair match-up, I reflected; three kids are rarely much competition for one adolescent. So I left them to it for a few minutes and went inside to see if Uncle Gaz could be tempted to join the fray.
He couldn't, as it turned out. He was preoccupied with the mysterious fact that there only seemed to be half the amount of alcohol in the fridge as there had been that morning. Perhaps if he weren't so drunk, he might have seen where the rest of it had gone.
Christmas dinner put a halt to the Snoer War, and after negotiating a ceasefire with three damp children, I led them inside, pausing only to let them throw the final snowballs they were obviously hiding behind their backs. The meals was delicious as ever. My parents are fantastic cooks, but for God's sake, don't tell them I said that and when we were finished, I volunteered to wash up. Mostly because I knew that the kids wouldn't be allowed within ten feet of our best china.
I scrubbed while Gleam kindly protected my feet from stray slivers of turkey or roast potato (they can be very violent) and when the kitchen was spotless again, it was time to open preeeeeeeseeeeeeeeeeents.
It's difficult to describe the present-opening session in as much detail as the rest of the day. One present-opening session is very much the like the next. The blur of happy voices, frantic hands, flying wrapping paper and grateful hugs is something I consider universally relatable. A few details come back to me, though Felix's new radio-controlled helicopter knocking the little plastic angel off the top of the tree, much to Gleam's interest; Mia's eyes widening so much at the sight of her new Barbie swimming pool playset that I thought they were going to fall out; Grandpa, sneezing his dentures right into his glass of port; Gleam, vomiting a little plastic halo into Barbie's new swimming pool. You know. The usual.
As a family, we don't really go in for the stereotypical falling-asleep-in-front-of-White-Christmas scenario; we never have. No offence if this is your Christmas tradition, but it just seems like watching television on such a special occasion is a bit of a waste. Unless you're over the age of seventy, obviously, in which case you rarely have a choice when you fall asleep, or what you fall asleep in front of.
This year was no different, and after the presents (and hugs) had all been exchanged, we were arrayed at random around the lounge and the adjoining dining room, doing our own things in companionable semi-silence. The twins were sprawled on the floor, using their new RC helicopters to knock as many paper party hats over as many of their wearers' eyes as possible, and Mia was sat between my sleeping grandmothers on the sofa. Under her enthusiastic guidance, Barbie was doing a pretty good job of mountaineering over the oblivious geriatrics. Mum was curled in an armchair, absorbed in her new Jean M. Auel novel.
Dad was caressing his new power drill, shooting smiles at various appliances and pieces of furniture as he tried to decide what he should 'fix' first. Gleam sat at the foot of the Christmas tree, eyes fixed on its reinstated angelic centrepiece, busily assuring her that he wouldn't try and eat her this time, honest, and would she like to come down and hang out for a while?
Me, I was sitting at the dining room table, making steady progress through a present of my own. Opposite me, Granddad was likewise drinking his way through a Christmas gift, eyes trying to get a lock on my poker face as he debated whether to fold or call.
It might not sound particularly exciting, I admit. But these simple activities, though many of them wouldn't have seemed out of place on any other day, gave us an immense sense of togetherness and festive well-being. Now that I think about it, actually, I was probably a little unfair earlier in my judgment of sleeping in front of the box on Christmas Day. Mundane activities, enjoyed alongside friends and family after turkey, presents and snowball fights, can feel just as Christmassy as carolling by moonlight, or riding a one-horse open sleigh.
By the time I was out of Jägermeister and Granddad out of money, Dad decided it was time we continued the traditional punishment of our digestive systems, and slipped off to the kitchen to knock up a few hundred turkey sandwiches. I joined him, using my University training to whip up cocktails for the grown-ups, and virgin cocktails for the kids ñ it was only lemonade with blue curacao in it, but they weren't to know that.
After dinner (technically during dinner; we had to move her sandwich before her face landed on it) Nan decided it was time for a nap. The rest of us upped sticks and relocated to the dining room, where a veritable mound of board games grinned at us from the corner. It was getting on for time now. Mia was finding it increasingly hard to resist her yawns, and I was finding it increasingly hard to resist throwing peanuts into her gaping mouth.
We played a couple of rounds of Cranium (her favourite) and then watched the twins howl with laughter at the plasticine genitalia they'd surreptitiously constructed under the table. The kids were packed off to bed once Mia's yawns started to infect the two boys, and the game changed to Pictionary instead. A clear family favourite, this. Mostly because my granddad can't draw for toffee, and has a penchant for reading the wrong entry on the card ñ so consequently will often draw something completely unrelated to the game.
This year was no exception. After a minute or so of frantic sketching, during which he actually managed to generate a pretty passable horse, he spent ninety straight seconds drawing agitated circles around it and gesturing to its feet. His irritation reached a head as the hourglass ran dry, and was not improved when I pointed out that 'horseshoe' is not an action, suggested that he try again, and this time, draw the right entry.
I paid for my cheek later that night, when Mum and the grandmothers had gone to bed, and the cards came out once more. Granddad took back, penny for penny, the money I'd liberated from him at Poker that afternoon, as well as a fiver of Dad's money. Easy come, easy go.
It had gone three in the morning before the other two finally decided to call it a night. I stayed up for another hour on my laptop, checking Skype, instant messenger and various online games, visiting my friends around the world to wish them a Merry Christmas. And as I shut down the laptop, turned off the light and smiled around at the room, bathed in the glow of the Christmas tree. I reflected that it had been a rather merry Christmas indeed.