Mr Young and I are country mice, on our way to be capital city mice today. Privately, so near to Christmas, I can’t help thinking this is likely to be Death by Oxford Street; a few swift blows to the kidneys by designer-clad elbows and then trampled on by Jimmy Choos once I’m down.
However, I am selflessly accompanying him on this trip because Mr Young is going to watch Arsenal play Everton. Robbie, Lucy’s boyfriend, has got him a ticket. There is a little bit of delicate football etiquette involved though, as Mr Young is fiercely loyal to Arsenal and Robbie is equally devoted to Everton.
My solution was that they should sit on opposite sides of the pitch, and just wave politely to each other when no one’s looking, but it seems they are both going to sit on the Arsenal side and Robbie will just have to grit his teeth when/if Arsenal score. And, I suppose, when/if Everton score too. Otherwise, so I’m told, he might get a severe telling-off by the surrounding Arsenal fans. By means of a punch in the face.
What a self-sacrificing boy he is.
Oxford Street is hell. It’s not even purgatory. It’s just hell. I feel like telling all the grim-faced shoppers queuing up for their Chloe bags in Selfridges that we are going through a recession, but they would just hit me over the head with their giant bottles of Kim Kardashian perfume.
Why am I even here? I think I had some vague memory about jolly, laughing crowds and Christmas lights. But nowadays, the combined Mecca of Selfridges/Topshop/Primark just calls to single-minded pilgrims with credit cards, intent on purchasing something, anything, with a designer label.
Am I being over-critical? Well, yes. Of course I am. But another of my multitude of middle names is Hyperbole, so just ignore all of the above and take it from me that Oxford Street was, well, busy.
I meet up with Lucy and we escape to our hotel lounge to have a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc. The bar staff are the stars of a Hungarian sit-com about a witless trio who open their own wine bar. At least, that’s the only reason we can think of for the odd looks they give us when we ask for drinks, and then peanuts…(peanuts? they ask in amazement, as if we’d asked for a bowl of dragon’s teeth dipped in asbestos).
There are no peanuts they say, twenty minutes later, when they finally reappear with, it has to be said, some smugness. Apparently, though, we can have olives, which they suggest with some pride, as if they’d spent the last twenty minutes conferring about what might possibly be a suitable accompaniment to glasses of white wine and then, by a stroke of Hungarian genius, invented the notion of olives.
But in order to provide the olives, it seems that they must first plant their own olive tree, then watch it grow to maturity before harvesting the fruit. At least that’s what Lucy and I decide, when we’ve nearly finished our second glass.
Fortunately, Mr Young and Robbie arrive and distract us from our irritable speculations. I forget who won the match. I should be interested, I know, but I’m just not. I am a rubbish wife sometimes.
We haven't warned them about the comedy trio behind the bar.
“Can we have a beer, please?” asks Mr Young innocently as one of them rushes past, no doubt on his way to prune the olive tree.
“Beer?” he says in amazement, giving the other two an incredulous shrug. “Beer?”
And so on. I could over-egg this particular Hungarian pudding (Maglyarakas, for example. It’s a rich version of bread and butter pudding, apparently quite a delicacy over in central Europe) but I don’t have the energy. Crowds and a lack of snacks have worn me out.
The Hungarian bar staff apparently also double as breakfast waiters. Mr Young and I wait ten minutes to be served, but anticipating the inevitably amazed, “Coffee? You want coffee?” is too much for me, so we go next door to an Italian cafe and have bacon and eggs and cappucinos. For half the price.
I know there are many famous and talented Hungarians; Bartók, Liszt, Houdini and Zsa Zsa Gabor. I’ve googled them. There’s lots more, too, but I can’t find the right accents on my laptop to be able to write their names properly.
But bar staffing doesn’t seem to be among their strong points. This isn’t xenophobia (although it’s nice to be able to use a word that begins with an ‘x’ that’s actually pronounced as a ‘z’). It’s just a fact based on admittedly very, very limited experience. Unless, of course, they were actually acting in a Hungarian sit-com based in London, in which case they were very, very impressive.
I’ve been doing press-ups lately. Well, I haven’t really. I’ve been doing girl press ups which are the ones where you put your knees on the floor and then push up with your hands. It’s quite staggering how much easier it is this way. I had no idea my shins weighed so much.
I’m doing these because I’m trying to get rid of those bits of skin that flop about whenever I raise my arms above a 45˚ angle. These are very inconvenient, because it means I can’t point properly at anything when I’m wearing a sleeveless dress without these fleshy flaps swaying in a distractingly unattractive way.
And, of course, in the usual way of Sod’s Law, the minute I put on a sleeveless dress, the vicinity becomes crammed full of things worth pointing at.
Where these unwanted accessories came from, I really don’t know. I’m sure my arms used to be quite firm. Either they must have been full of fat, or full of muscle, and I don’t think it was the latter because I would have looked like a pumped-up Madonna.
So it must have been fat, although where has that fat gone? It’s hasn’t crept down to my forearms, so it must have worked its way up to my jowels. That’s the only explanation I can think of.
Hence the press-ups. I shall fill these floppy hanglettes of skin with muscle and go for the Madonna look.
(Obviously minus the rest of her body, face, talent, hair or money.)
Mr Young and go to Asda to stock up for our Christmas drinks party. We have been hosting this for the past few years for our neighbours; I’m so fed up with shouting Hello! across the street and saying those things that feebly trail off like We really must get together soon…
So a Mulled Wine’n’Mince Pie (the ‘n’ was sarcastic, by the way. I am not a fan of ‘n’s. What wrong with a good old fashioned And? I might start a campaign. Stand Up For And. Catchy) party is held Chez Young (the chez is also sarcastic. I’m in an sarcastic mood. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing wrong with a bit of sarcasm. I’m obviously in a peevish mood as well as an sarcastic one. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing wrong with a bit of ranting that extends a parenthesis. Good old parentheses, that’s what I say. They always get short shrift, and they deserve so much more. The Bob Cratchits of the grammatical Christmas Carol) every year.
Naturally, as we always do, Mr Young and I are seduced by all the amazing things to be found in Asda and spend most of our budget on quite unnecessary items. Mr Young finds a box of 75 assorted chicken pieces.
“Look at that,” he marvels. “75! In one box!”
There is a picture of a pile of golden breadcrumbed chicken lumps on the front. Mr Young fondles the box lovingly. He has a special weakness for golden food.
“We could have that for supper,” he says.
“What? 75 pieces of chicken? The two of us? Don’t be ridiculous,” I say.
“I was only joking,” he says. Wistfully.
We are getting ready for our party. Mr Young vacuums Archie and the sofa. We have our usual argument about where to put the kitchen table. I want to leave it where it is, but Mr Young thinks we should put it in the bay window. I tell him that’s a ridiculous idea.
When I come back into the kitchen after doing something busy and important (I can’t remember what it was, but I’m sure it must have been busy and important), the table is positioned in the bay window.
“What do you think?” he asks hopefully.
“That looks ridiculous,” I say. Because it does. “Look, no one can possibly reach the plates at the far end.” So we compromise and move it to the side. Where it ends up going every year.
Mr Young makes a vat of his famous mulled wine. Well, it’s not actually his. It’s Jamie Oliver’s, with a few alterations. But it’s very good. This year, he makes it well ahead of time, because last year it still wasn’t ready half an hour after the guests started arriving and I had to offer them Diet Coke or water, which didn’t seem to be suitably festive, even with a mince pie.
This year, everyone arrives late, so that Mr Young and I have already sampled a quite a few glasses of his famous mulled wine and I have had to slap his hand away from the Pringles bowl fifteen times.
There are a great many people in our kitchen by five o’clock and the noise level is tremendous. As usual, no one is taking advantage of the acres of floor space we’ve created by moving the table to the side. Instead, there is a huge crowd congregating around the oven and the vat of Mr Young’s famous mulled wine.
Every time the door bell goes, I have to put down my own glass and greet the newcomers, which means that by the end of the evening I have twenty-five glasses of three-quarters drunk mulled wine scattered about the house and no idea of how much I’ve actually drunk.
Everyone seems to enjoy themselves a great deal.
So not all crowds are monstrous, it seems. Some of them are quite nice.
Especially when they bring bottles in festive bags.
I cough all night and wake up with a tight chest. (Sadly, it’s just a congested chest and not an enhanced bosom.)
Mr Young is away, and so I phone him to tell him I’m poorly and probably won’t have done the huge pile of ironing I was planning to do today.
“I’m so sorry to disappoint you,” I say pathetically.
“Darling, you couldn’t disappoint me if you tried,” he says.
“Oh, I think I could,” I say. “If I really, really tried.”
I do love a challenge.
It’s made me feel better already.