By Jan Ellen
The snow had stopped, lights in the city twinkled and my Christmas tree had caught fire.
You see, I’d found some old candle holders in a dusty antiques shop somewhere in Streatham then those candles that fitted in them – do you remember, twisted like sticks of old fashioned barley sugar? – were still available online so I got twenty of them. Excited! I really wanted to revive that memory of Christmas past when the tree was all lit up, real glass baubles shining in firelight and piles of presents sitting under the tree, waiting, full of potential. So I lit one.
Just one. Sat back enjoying it, gin and tonic in hand. It was so beautiful.
Until it wasn’t anymore.
Charlie would be furious. He’d explained that he’d carefully, carefully chosen our tree – measured them all, looked at the symmetry, the roots, shaken a few branches and checked the fallout. Then it wouldn’t fit in the lift so he had to carry it up seven flights to our penthouse apartment, go back down for the big wooden box and the peat and the paint. Then he had carefully, carefully, like he did everything, painted the box a beautiful red, wrapped a big green ribbon round it and made me tie a bow – five times until I got it up to Charlie’s exacting standard.
The tree was planted and he manouevred it into a corner, adjusted the position so it looked exactly perfect – no matter I couldn’t get behind it to put on the decorations – and bade me, on the pain of his extreme displeasure, not to move it.
He wanted to put on the decorations himself but was checked on to a flight to the US later and we had our Christmas drinks party almost the instant he arrived back so they had to be left to me. He was not happy but was powerless – a position in which he rarely found himself and which he hated.
So, for the first time in our thirty-five year marriage I was responsible for an important task and hadn’t I seriously screwed it up?
What was I to do about it?
Lots of options were considered. Number one, get a new tree – but he would notice for sure. Number two – wind the tinsel in such a way as to cover the bare area – but he would want to adjust that and then find my secret. Number three, grab some branches off another tree and glue them on. That seemed like the best bet. Failing that, sue for a divorce immediately on the grounds of diminished responsibility. (Or, pay someone to crash the return flight. You’ll be pleased to know I did reject that one as being too extreme a response to my first world problem.)
So I set off to search for a suitable small, cheap tree.
I did put out the fire by the way. Wet tea cloth – well, soaking wet tea cloth and the bow then looked a bit bedraggled but fortunately that hadn’t caught fire too so could be rescued. I hoped.
I grabbed the first tree I found, bought some superglue and now I’m in A&E along with the tree and some nurse is working on separating us. And she’s laughing. I told her the story.
Mistake! It’ll go down in the annals of weird stories along with tales of the strange objects found in parts of the anatomy where they didn’t belong. I don’t see myself as that person – though I’ve no doubt Charlie will.
I left the tree behind.
‘A present. Would you like the candles too?’ That offer was declined.
I’ve cancelled the drinks party and, if I’d had a mother, would have gone home to her. As it is, I’m booked into a travelodge a long way away where I’ll stay throughout Christmas because Charlie’s not going back to the US until the 28th.
I’m not enjoying it but have made a friend of the barman who slips an extra shot of gin in my glass when no-one is looking. He splashes the tonic in rather haphazardly. Nothing ‘carefully, carefully’ about him. A refreshing change. Maybe I’ll never go back.
Moral of the fable – nostalgia costs – beware.
Alternative moral – never marry anyone who does everything carefully, carefully