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The 8 True Days of Christmas
Amy Chan

December 22nd Saturday
Unearth best Bargain of The Year, and the following year. 20 coloured flower lights for £1.49 at Woolies. Go mad, leave shop armed with 4 sets. Bedroom now transformed into tart’s fairy-lit boudoir for the festive season.

Son declares he needs to go to hospital.
‘Cos he can’t walk.
Why not?
He’s hurt his foot.
Fighting with his brother. He kicked him.
Show me.
Presented with one grubby right foot. Minute red mark to be seen on a 50p-size bruise, half-way down outer side. Old favourite injury location. In mother’s esteemed opinion, no major swelling plus the ability to hobble equals no damage done. That old adage about not trying to mend what’s not broken springs to mind.
‘Why not try resting your foot?’
Undeterred, son insists on going to hospital. ‘I can’t walk.’
True. Mind you, he can hop.
‘We can just ask for a pair of crutches and go.’
Seems very concerned about maintaining mobility.
‘We’ll be back by 10.’
‘More like 5 (am).’ in brother’s opinion whose last sojourn at A&E lasted eight hours.
‘Oh, and can we just drop Muki off? And stop off at Macdonald’s on the way? Thanks Mum.’

I have to admit, A&E looking remarkably quiet for a Saturday evening before Xmas. Actually, pretty quiet for any Saturday evening. Try to convince triage nurse that nothing appears to be broken and we may as well go home. However, nurse seems keen to err on the side of caution - must be part of her job description.
Sit back down to wait. What’s on telly? How appropriate, it’s the Xmas episode of Casualty. There’s more action up there than down here. Six out of a dozen bodies in the real A&E lie prone, including son who has now adopted favourite viewing position in front of larger, flat screen set; after drinking hot chocolate that, due to some previous precedent, mother always seems obliged to buy.
Finally seen by jolly, junior doctor. I inform him that I have absolutely no sympathy for battle-injured child. Doc glances at son’s notes which state ‘Kicked brother.’
‘So, did you think your name was Jackie?’
Son cocks eyebrows upwards and then pretends, out of good manners, that doc’s been dead witty.
‘Right, go and have your foot X-rayed.’
Aha, the moment son has been waiting for.
‘Mum, it’s lo-ong…go get the wheelchair.’
‘But darling, you’re getting so proficient at hopping..’
Son gives a look of long-suffering. Why is it his lot to be surrounded by dead wits?
(By the way, a helpful hint from an A&E old timer. Never attempt to push a hospital wheelchair as the damn things are only steerable by pulling.)
We return with two pictures of beloved’s foot. Mother tips son out of the wheelchair into the children’s unit. Doc peruses x-rays for no more than five seconds. Nothing broken, not even a hair-line fracture. The sooner child starts excercising foot, soonest mended. No treatment is required. Son receives a mock cuff on the head from mother.
The Chinese nurse on duty is an expert at kick-boxing. How would son like to learn to do it properly? I firmly interject ‘Er, no. Thank you.’ Family’s already averaging four visits a year. Son makes his last pathetic request. ‘Can I have some crutches?’
Doc says it’s okay by him but nurse and I think it’s quite unnecessary, thereby creating a division of the sexes. Females decide on a compromise to humour the wimpish opposition and nurse goes off to get one crutch. Son looks exasperated and says he can’t use just one. Doc must feel need for male solidarity and digs out a pressie from Santa’s box, apologising that it’s probably a bit young for him and his brother. Two yards beyond hospital doors, wrapping paper is ripped off. Animated version of "A Christmas Carol"- certificate ‘U’.
‘Aww, how nice.’ I say.
Son excercises his eyebrow once again. In the twenty yards between hospital building and parked car, he exaggerates his ineptness at utilising single crutch and insists I return and ask for it’s mate.

Back in the car, mother and son display admirable restraint and refrain from the ‘I-told-you-so’s, in regard to state of foot and brief(ish) time spent in A&E.
Arrive home. Mother’s stomach thinks her throat’s been cut. Brother heard calling, ‘Si, come ‘ere.’ Child espied, through kitchen doorway, hobbling without crutches or major speed impairment from toilet to bedroom. Am suddenly possessed by vivid fantasy of throttling child…
24th Dec 2001
Decide to have a winter spring clean and test out ancient Scottish belief that whatever state one’s affairs (and abode) are in at midnight on last day of the year, will remain the case for the next 52 weeks. Only 7 cleaning days left to go - must make a start.
Boys have decided this year to do their own present purchasing in the sales and so am thankfully spared the frantic wrapping of gifts. This must herald the end of childhood…
25th Dec 2001
Arise and cook a roast dinner for 1 Taoist, 1 Muslim and 2 Haven’t-a-clues. Actually, it’s just as well it’s the oven that does 90% of the cooking, as what took 3 and a quarter hours to cook is demolished in 12 minutes. Oh well, back to the cleaning.

26th Dec 2001
Manage to do traditional today and go for a freeze-your-toes-off walk along the River Lea - or was that supposed to be traditional yesterday, post-lunch? Can never remember the order of these English customs. Anyway, end up in the pub to find brisk trade being conducted within so this must be a trad-today. Thaw out with a couple of G&Ts. Friend hungover and opts for caffeine chased by a shot of Vitamin C. Serves her right.

29th Dec 2001
First ice-hockey match with boys’ new ‘A’ league team. Only one child playing in the match, other child playing at being disaffected teenager. For a change, there’s no Blackwall tunnel pile-up, am totally rhapsodic at reaching Kent in 50 minutes.
To show willing in new club, I agree to be a goal judge for the match. After two seasons of having been a scorer in previous club, this is a doddle. And you get to press red light switch when goal is scored. (Although, in my past observations, nervous, novice GJs are renowned for forgetting ‘cos they’re so busy worrying about what does and what doesn’t constitute a "shot on goal". Or seeing what they can get away with calling a "shot on goal" and thereby grossly inflating the team’s netminder statistics.) Clamber up into what resembles a 7 foot high love-seat for tennis umpires. Could do with a lover up here for body warmth but thought it might be considered early days yet for hockey mum to be making such requests. Initial pace of game is slow. Jack Frost begins to creep off the ice and up the rungs of my love-seat. Am idly swinging leg in order to prevent numbed foot from dropping off. Nearly succeed in beheading half a dozen passers-by during first period. Ho hum.
Ends up a "closely contested", as they always say in match reports, 7-6 win and newest member of team gets ‘Spirit of the Match’ award. Ye-esss!!

30 th Dec 2001
Bitterly cold afternoon down West End. T. and I do National Portrait Gallery, followed by tea and buns in Chinatown, followed by a G&T in the ghost of often frequented, in my glorious pre-mother days, but now, sadly departed Wag Club. In it’s place we have a branch of that horrible shamrock and shillelaghs chain of pubs. Beloved Wag – may you rest in peace.

31st Dec 2001
My dear children do not bother to inform me till yesterday evening that they may be off to a NY’s party in fellow hockey player’s home, obviously assuming that their mother’s too old and sad to have appreciated a bit more forewarning to enable her to make arrangements to go out partying herself. Hmph!
End up in nearby house at mignight, in the company of 9 strange women plus friend, 3 men and various hyped-up offspring, glass of champers in one hand, joint in the other, party popper between my teeth. And mobile phone jammed between my knees, as am determined to send pre-composed NY’s text message to best mate in Scotland at 12, precisely.
So, let’s see, according to the Scots, it’s going to be a surplus of women, not enough men, and screaming kids for the next 52 weeks. Already reminding me of the old year, and the one before that, and the one…No, this is not true. As us Toaists believe, all is impermanence. Life does move on. Screaming kids will now be replaced by grunting adolescents and bobbing eyebrows. Funny though, that drunken urge to make contact with nearest and dearest or current unrequited fancy, (depending on how far gone I am by that point) which inevitably descends upon me just after the bells, (and never succeeding ‘cos all lines of communication are jammed) hasn’t appeared to have altered one iota in 20 years.

1st Jan 2002
Off to friends’ annual New Year’s brunch gathering. There’s nothing like toasted muffins with scrambled eggs, sausages and bacon, washed down with loads of steaming hot coffee, for dealing with hangovers. Keep being approached and asked ‘Are you with St. Mary’s?’ Appears half the church congregation is gathered here.
‘Oh no, ice-hockey actually.’
Become involved in conversation with couple about Agas and archery. Can’t pretend to be at all clued-up on either topic. Ho hum. At half twelve, over hearty traditionalists disassociate themselves from hungover hedonists, or the just plainly not into masochism types. Adopting the guise of the former, albeit with underlying motives, I join in the customary, post-feed, Epping Forest walk. Well, quite frankly, I’ll do anything to escape the clutches of my haven’t-slept, over-tired and over-fractious, and probably by now, warring offspring left behind at home. Who wouldn’t? So heigh-ho, it’s off we go, freeze-your-toes-off time again.
Actually, I’ve never quite fully understood why the English so love to subject themselves to thermometer shattering tortures under the pretext of tradition? After all, it’s not as if red noses become the English rose complexion. And, to all my past accusers of wimpishness, it has now been scientifically proven that any Oriental body (yes, even this one brought up in Glasgow), is genetically more sensitive to the cold than the thick blood of you hardy British. So there. And thankfully, my nose never glows.

It’s all very pretty up in the forest. Hoar-frost blankets the grass and fringes the leaves of the evergreens. At the end of a tree-lined path, we have a breathtaking vista of a pond, completely frozen over and attired in a mantle of lightly dusted snow, all twinkling and glittering sugar-white and tutu-pink in the pale afternoon sunlight. Very large pond, I hasten to add. Squeals and shrieks of utter delight leap forth from the lips of the little ones and soar through the clear air. Alongside strident, parental cries of ‘No Oliver/Alicia, I absolutely forbid you to go anywhere near that ice. Get Back, Right Now! OLIVER!!!…’ Feel almost immorally carefree at not having to grapple with abandoned wellies, stuck in mud, or have to deal with soggy gloves. Or even worse, ultimate horror of horrors, forced to sacrifice one’s own gloves.

Later back in London.
I purchase a fridge magnet just in case those old Scottish adages aren’t infallible. It pictures your 1950s American housewife on her knees, scrubbing the bath, and reads -
"A clean house is a sign of a wasted life."
My sentiments exactly. Do have a happy new year, everyone.

© Amy Chan 2002

Read Part One of Amy Chan's witty 'child raising' novel in-progress here

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