Friday, 22 December 2006

Full house

Dig says it's Christmas. We look at the calendar and plan. Today's priority is to tidy things up. And then put up the Christmas decorations. The Hat is coming to tea. The Hat has time management issues. She says she's coming at 3.30. I pencil her in for 6pm. Which leaves all day to put the boxes we brought down from Northumberland yesterday, one on top of another, and call it a fashionable storage solution.

I'm starting to unload bits from the car and stack them up in the hall, when Pastry appears. She's moving out today, she says. We laugh, because we're moving in, of sorts, and we're meeting in the middle. Pastry's been alright, and I like her. She lives upstairs, and has tolerated our screaming, running up and down the stairs, and our theatrical 'Shushing' outside Mr Pod's door. She's had children, and they've all grown up and gone, so she knows what it's like. And she's been very warm about our home education, even though she teaches in a school. She reckons home ed is A Good Thing, and she's interested in the art projects the children have been doing. She looks a bit sad that the children are putting up the decorations. It rather looks like they're celebrating the fact that she's going.

Dig probably has a different view. Last night, he slips out of our home flat to the office flat. Only thing was, it's 1am and he was completely naked. He worries about things, like email, and books, and papers, and goes to check up on them at odd hours. When he comes out of the office, he locks the office door behind him, standing in the hall in the dark. Then the light goes on. Pastry's coming downstairs with boxes to pile up, ready for the off. Now anyone coming down the stairs can see into the hall, where Dig is standing, locked out of one flat, and too far to cross to the other flat without being seen. Dig unlocks the office door fast and spends the next half hour hiding, naked, in the dark and cold of his unheated office, peering through the keyhole for his chance to slip back into home flat. If he makes a sound, Pastry will think he's spying on her, which he is. God forbid she'll call the police. We often seem to have the police. I blame next door.

By 6pm Pastry's trying to lever open the double doors that serve as our big front doors so she can get the sofa out, which is stuck at an odd angle. We rarely open out the double doors and normally just open one to get in and out. Opening the other is a pain; the parting gift of Git upstairs when he vacated his flat was to put the front door handles on the wrong way round, so they turn counter-intuitively. Pastry's huffing and puffing there, with the help of a man with a van and a couple of teenagers lolling at the gate, when The Hat arrives to squeeze past it all and straight into our kitchen, shouting 'Cooee!'. This causes mayhem. The kids have been negotiating for two hours about who's going to answer when she buzzes at the front door. I've been warning them there won't be a front door, there'll be a sofa, and it doesn't have a buzzer, but it doesn't make any difference. The Hat has to go out again, crouch under the sofa and buzz at the open door so the kids can worm their way through the removals to not open anything. It seems to make them happy and keeps everyone quiet.

The children have decorated the tree in their room. The Hat makes all the right noises and says how beautiful it is. It is a complete mess. They've decorated it with crayons and bits of string. I have to persuade them to use the baubles. At least this year I've secretly thrown away the shuttlecocks they used to decorate it with last year.

Amazingly, we've done some cooking for The Hat this afternoon. We started off making filo baskets filled with fruit, and Dig was sent off to the co-op with Squirrel to buy the pastry. I didn't know he'd bought frozen until Squirrel gets it out the freezer. It takes three hours to defrost. We have 40 minutes. With a quick change of plan we make a cake with Shark's love-heart cake tin and pile the cooked fruit on that. The Hat makes all the right noises. She's welcome anytime.

By evening, the sofa's gone, with all Pastry's belongings, to a van outside. The Hat has gone too, and given the kids advent calenders. I lie about the numbers, and say it's the sort of calender that covers Christmas and New Year, so we open Window 1, and everyone's happy.

We get a phone call late on from Aunty Dee, saying that she and Uncle Eff stayed up all night clearing his attic floor, and she got Brake, who lives on the moors, to come down with his trailer to take all the stuff she'd dragged out of our pile to Morpeth. Brake's aged 86, is colour blind, and paints all his furniture orange. She's slightly regretful that he couldn't take the stone garden seat. I pour an extra drink for this. Uncle Eff and Dee have had nine months to plan and have left it all to the last nine hours. So it's been a more successful day than most, and we can even tick the first box, The Decorations, on Dig's plan to have a happy family Christmas.

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