katewritesandreads

katewritesandreads

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Nine in January

 

I read nine books in January.

 


Snow and the Works on the Northern Line by Ruth Thomas

It’s been too long since Ruth Thomas’ last book, The Home Corner (2013) so I was delighted to see she had a new one out (and also that it was serialised on Radio 4).

She has such a sly wit; you are always on the edge of snorting with laughter. Here she pokes gentle fun at archaeologists, academia, museums and museum shops, and poetry classes. All of which ticked boxes for me.

Her Things to Make and Mend and short stories are also highly recommended.

 


The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Read on Kindle. Like approximately 62,999,999 other people worldwide I watched Bridgerton and loved it. Will get round to reading the novels from which the series is made but in the meantime The Duchess Deal was touted as ‘for fans of Bridgerton’.

Here, the hero looking for a duchess to give him an heir wasn’t  a flawlessly good-looking young man – he’d been shockingly scarred on one side at the Battle of Waterloo and his former fianc√©e had run away screaming; understandably all that has made him reclusive and angry.

Emma is a struggling dressmaker who arrives at his house with the aforementioned fiance√©’s wedding dress for which she has not been paid and finds herself proposed to.

There are scenes later on, when the couple find themselves adrift in the back streets of London, which are reminiscent of Georgette Heyer – always a good thing.

 


10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak

Read on Kindle for book group. Short-listed for the Booker Prize in 2019.

Brothel-worker Tequila Leila’s has 10 minutes and 38 seconds to live. As her life ebbs away she remembers her unhappy, abusive childhood but also delicious, sensuous things – smells and tastes of life in the Middle East. And she remembers her five good friends who are, although she doesn’t know it, trying to find her; we learn more about each of those friends in turn. Lyrically written.

 


 

The Killings at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham

Read on Kindle. I’ve never seen Midsomer Murders but I know it’s the fictional crime capital of England. I read somewhere about the original novels that sparked the series; the article said how well written they were and that they had more depth than in their TV life.

Here, an elderly spinster dies in her own home which hardly seems suspicious but her doughty friend, the wonderfully named Miss Lucy Bellringer, is sure she was murdered. She manages to convince Chief Inspector Barnaby and soon the seamy side of tranquil Badger’s Drift becomes the focus of his attention. Excellent and satisfying …

 


A Place of Safety by Caroline Graham

… so I bought another one. This has a do-gooding ex-vicar giving ‘a place of safety’ to young offenders, some of whom are more reformed/reformable than others.

Barnaby is a great creation. Unlike many fictional policemen, he has a happy home life (his only ‘problem’ is that his wife is a really terrible, salad-burning, cook) and his actor daughter and son-in-law add interest.

 


Apple Island Wife: Slow Living in Tasmania by Fiona Stocker

I have been to Tasmania so I was looking forward to being there again vicariously by reading this account of a young British couple settling in a rural five acres of it and aiming to be self-sufficient, after busy working lives in urban mainland Australia.

I guess I hoped it would have a flavour of The Egg and I, a famous, comical account of two townies trying to live the dream and/or that it would have gorgeous writing like Island Wife, an account of moving to a Hebridean island.

But, compared to these, the telling of what this couple did was banal. They almost could have been anywhere, with wallabies. Some amusing small events are spun out to a numbing degree. There’s no exploring of the island other than their own little corner of it.

‘Apple Island’ makes for a pretty title but the name has not been appropriate for many decades, not since Britain joined the EEC (as it was then), stopped importing apples from Tasmania, causing the collapse of the industry. 

Oh – hang on a minute, maybe…

 


The Last Piece by Imogen Clark

Read on Kindle. When mother and grandmother Cecily suddenly ups and offs to a Greek island on her own for a week her three daughters are aghast, especially uptight Felicity who relies on her for some childcare.

Their dad knows why she’s gone but he’s not telling. And I’m not going to tell you either because that would be a big spoiler. But I can say that we go with Cecily to Greece and for a bit of her history, and also follow the sisters, two of whom are having dramas of their own back home.

 


The Saturday Morning Park Run by Jules Wake

Read on Kindle. Accountant Claire is trying to make partner in a prestigious firm and works round the clock. She has a lovely one-night stand with Armani-suited Ash but then he goes quiet. Visiting the doctor for a cut on her hand that isn’t healing, she finds herself signed off for a month with stress

She plans a few weeks of pottering around the house she’s bought but barely spent time in – but life has other ideas, firstly in the formidable shape of Hilda, an elderly woman in search of a project and a friend, secondly with the daughters of Claire’s wayward sister, and thirdly with a much-changed Ash. Oh, and park running.

Loved the multi-generational aspect of this, a real feel-good read.

 


The Cost of Living by Rachel Ward

This (punny) title kept popping up, waving to get my attention. And I’m very glad it did. It’s a cosy crime (well, the crimes, attacks on women connected to the supermarket, are far from cosy but the gory bits are well off stage).

The amateur sleuth is a bright twenty-year-old supermarket checkout girl called Bea, and her sidekick is the newest member of staff, the gormless-seeming Ant, with whom Bea was at school.

Terrific, and there are two more in the series, also with punny titles, to look forward to.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

My year in books (maybe ... )

 

In school I was 

 


 

People might be surprised by 

 


 

I will never be 

 


 

My life in (full) lockdown was

 


 

My fantasy job is

 


 

At the end of a long day I need 

 


 

I hate 

 


 

I wish I had

 


 

My family reunions are 

 


 

At a party you’d find me with

 


 

I’ve never been to 

 


 

A happy day includes

 


 

The motto I live by

 


 

On my bucket list is

 


 

In my next life I want to have 

 


 

I’ve pinched this idea from a post on Joanne Baird’s terrific blog

She, in turn, was inspired by 746 books

 

How has your book year been?

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 1 January 2021

Eleven in December

 I read eleven books in December.

 


The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser

Thea’s been made redundant, and her husband of twenty years has just left her. Salvation comes when she hears that a great-uncle she barely knew has left her his house in a small Scottish town (possibly based on Wigtown ?) – and a large collection of second-hand books.

Cue her relationship with the artistocratic (but reluctantly so) Edward who owns a second-hand bookshop in the town and has a commitment problem.

So far, so like many a romantic plot description … But Jackie Fraser gets deep into the hearts and souls of Thea and Edward, concentrating on them with no sub-plots to speak of, to show a totally believable relationship. I absolutely loved it.

 


Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith

Dorothy Evelyn Smith is one of those authors who was popular in the 40s and 50s but is now mostly forgotten. Engaging enough, but didn’t inspire me to read more. A pale imitation of Miss Pym.

Alison Penny is forty, single, doesn’t need to work, lives with her family’s old retainer, Ada, who treats her as if she were still a child – and Alison is perfectly happy with that arrangement.

Into her uneventful life comes friendless Miss Plum whom Alison prevents from throwing herself in the pond (or thinks she does) and so finds herself with a guest who outstays her welcome. Miss Plum (her life blighted apparently by her parents thoughtlessly christening her Victoria) eventually departs with the only real beau Alison has ever had but, not to worry, one of Ada’s shepherds pies will make everything all right again.

 


Home by Marilynne Robinson

Home, along with Gilead and Lila, formed a trilogy of award-winning books (which can be read in any order), set in the small town of Gilead in Iowa in the early 1950s. Then Marilynne Robinson, clearly reluctant to say goodbye to her characters, wrote a fourth, Jack, which came out this year. I succumbed to buying a hardback edition as Blackwell’s were offering (lockdown treat) to send out signed copies. But to refresh my memory of the Boughton family I reread Home first because Jack, chronologically, comes before it.

 


Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Jack Boughton is possibly fiction’s most heartbreaking character. He's one of the Rev Boughton’s eight children, and despite being much loved by them, he has not seen his family for years. He’s a bum, a petty thief, a drunk, living in a grotty rooming house in St Louis, just after WW2.

He’s clever, he’s musical, he has charm – there are so many times that things could have worked out well for him but his personality can’t allow that; he takes a wrecking ball to anything good.

But when he falls in love with a beautiful and good schoolteacher, Della, and his feelings are reciprocated, the wrecking ball comes from elsewhere – because Della is black and mixed-race relationships were illegal in Missouri (and other American states) at the time.

Like I said, heartbreaking.

 


Stolen Holiday by Lorna Hill

Needed a break after the intensity of Jack. I know from FB forums that I’m not the only one to have been rereading childhood books over the last few months and I bought a copy of this one through one of these forums. No jacket but that meant it cost £5 and not a ludicrous Marketplace price. Escapism on the wild coast of Northumberland.

 


The World of Elizabeth Goudge by Sylvia Gower

And so to a biography of Elizabeth Goudge who was a mega-selling author, mostly of historical novels, in her day; one of her books Green Dolphin Country was made into an MGM film. She still has fans as the re-publication of this biography proves.

 


Hot Winter Nights by Jill Shalvis

Lucas works for Hunt Investigations doing dangerous stuff; Molly is the office manager but wants to do dangerous stuff too. So when one of her elderly neighbours voices concerns about the owner of a nearby Santaland she decides to dress up as an elf and investigate. Their boss orders Lucas to keep an eye on her …

 

Christmas at Maldington by Anne Stenhouse

A My Weekly Pocket Novel; rightly described on the cover as a ‘great quick read’ and a ‘celebrity drama’. I liked that it was the female character who was the celebrity. Genni Kilpatrick, escaping from her London life which has turned toxic, and hoping for a peaceful time at Maldington House, is asked by local businessman (and stage lighting engineer) Paddy Delford to run the village panto.

Maldington House, in the north of England, was also the setting for A Debt for Rosalie; both available from the DC Thomson shop 0800 904 7260 (UK) or + 44 (0) 1382 575 322 (overseas).

 


The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

I expected Mr House of Games’ first novel to be good and so it proved. Passed Boxing Day afternoon and evening very nicely, thank you.

 


Death at Rainbow Cottage by Jo Allen

The fourth in the DCI Jude Satterthwaite mysteries was another page-turner in this series, set in Cumbria. Jude has a series of apparent random killings on his doorstep – and his personal problems are added to by the arrival of a new boss.

 


A Winter’s Dream by Sophie Claire

A return to the English village of Willowbrook, and to Provence, a delightful combination successfully used in The Forget-me-not Summer and The Christmas Holiday.

This time it’s timid Liberty who is centre stage along with Alex Ricard, the famous, thrill-seeking motorbike champion, who’s in Willowbrook to try to solve a family mystery.

On Liberty’s 30th birthday she resolves to be more open to new opportunities and invitations and to be braver (which includes taking in Alex as a lodger).

As research, author Sophie Claire also embarked on pushing herself out of her comfort zone, climbing a mountain and driving on the ‘other’ side of the road, for example.

 

A good lesson to learn and a positive and uplifting note on which to end this most challenging of years.

Monday, 14 December 2020

Five in November

I read five books in November.

On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming

Read for book group. Non-fiction. In 1929, a little girl, who went on to become Laura Cumming’s mother, was kidnapped from a beach in Lincolnshire and was retrieved, unharmed, a few days later dressed in different clothes. Laura Cummings unravels what led up to that event in this wonderfully written and so well structured book, slowly revealing a community that kept of its secrets right until the end of her quest.

Much enjoyed by all and highly recommended.

 


Venetia by Georgette Heyer

Continuing my extremely enjoyable travels through Heyer-land.

 


The Christmas Swap by Sandy Barker

The Holiday is my favourite Christmas rom-com (thank you, Netflix; just had my first viewing of the season) although not my favourite Christmas film which, unoriginally, is It’s a Wonderful Life (also had first watch of 2020 this weekend).

So, as Sandy Barker’s book was inspired by The Holiday, I was keen to read it. And it was fun, easy to read. Three childhood friends, now on different continents, decided to swap and spend Christmas with one of the other families. It was a little hard to keep track of who was who and came from where but the settings of Colorado, ‘a sleepy village’ in Oxfordshire, and Melbourne were enviable locations to spend the Christmas season, with a handsome man or three about as well of course.

 


A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

I have read all of Tracy Chevalier’s books and have seen her numerous times at the Edinburgh International Book Festival where she is a very engaging speaker. As her many fans know, she gets very involved in a subject and weaves her stories around them – eg quilting, William Blake, growing apple trees.

Set in 1932, A Single Thread is about a group of women who stitch kneelers and cushions for Winchester Cathedral and in particular, Violet.

This is TC’s most up-to-date book chronologically and it’s a period I love to read about, if not one I’d like to have lived in. I thought this had the feel of books I’ve read about that time which were actually written then, so that was brilliant. And I love cathedrals.

As well as finding out about the intricacy and meanings of the stitches (including the use of the swastika before the Nazis adopted it), we also get a lesson in bell ringing.

I read the book in one go – but I admit to feeling a little let down when I’d finished, because I’d have liked a different resolution to one aspect of it.

<Spoiler alert> TC invoked a terrific feeling of menace on a couple of occasions when Violet encountered a man who was violent towards her. Quite frankly, I’d like to have seen her push him off the bell tower … as it was, we found out nothing about him beyond his name and his actions went unpunished.

Perhaps fewer lessons and more story I guess is what I was wanting.

 


Lessons by Jenny Colgan

Read on Kindle. The third book in the ‘Malory Towers for grown-ups series’. I enjoyed the first two and I enjoyed this – BUT I didn’t appreciate the cliffhanging ending when there’s no indication of when (or if) there will be a follow-up.

The tone seemed slightly different in this one, with authorial asides and voiceovers which were sometimes intrusive, but the latter worked wonderfully in Chapter Ten in the Summer Term section. Just saying.

And thank you to the author for introducing me to A E Housman’s poem Shake Hands.

 

Monday, 30 November 2020

Free story/'Christmas Lists'

 

However many lists you make Christmas Day doesn’t always go according to plan, does it?

Read on …

 

 

CHRISTMAS LISTS

Fourteen!

Jess looked at the notebook page she’d headed ‘Guests’, and counted again to make sure.

Mum, Dad, Michael and his new girlfriend, Samantha (wonder what she’s like? – hopefully an improvement on his previous one), Emily (if Emily’s got back together with Rob she would have said?), Auntie Meg and the three cousins.

It was good that Samantha would be joining them as, counting the five of themselves, that came to fourteen. An unlucky number might spoil the day.

But – fourteen! She’d never cooked for so many people before. In fact, she hardly ever cooked from scratch. What were ready-meals and takeaways for if not to make working mums’ lives easier?

But obviously they weren’t an option on Christmas Day. Certainly not for the family who, every twenty-fifth of December, were cooked for by someone who could give Delia a run for her money.

Mum.

She always did Christmas lunch and it was always perfect. Everything hot and ready when it should be. The turkey succulent, the roast potatoes crisp. The best gravy in the world and the creamiest bread sauce. Her own mother’s famous stuffing recipe. Parsnips and sprouts even the children would eat.

This Christmas, though, they’d told Mum that, with her dodgy hips, she had to sit down and be waited on for a change. Jess and her siblings, Emily and Michael, talked it over, and Jess said she would host because she was the oldest – and because she lived in a house whereas the other two lived in flats and Mum wouldn’t get up the stairs. She waved away their offers of help. How hard could it be?

Lists were the answer – using them was how she ran other areas of her life. This notebook had a sparkly cover and she’d designed a label saying ‘Christmas lists’ and stuck it on. It seemed an efficient way to start.

So, the guest list was finalised. Tick.

She paused for a moment to think about how she’d do Christmas her way.

At Mum and Dad’s there was only room for six at the dining table. On Christmas Day, a garden table and chairs were taken indoors for the children and one or two adults. Everyone else ate from trays. Not that Mum sat down much – she was always bobbing about making sure everyone had enough and pressing second helpings on them. And there was usually a child who wandered off to play with presents, or wanted to sit on someone’s knee.

It was a squash and a bit of a muddle but everyone was happy and neither Jess nor Michael or Emily thought that Christmases would ever be any different.

But this one would, and Jess had in mind the rooms you saw in glossy magazines. Her dining table sat eight and she planned to borrow one from neighbours who were spending Christmas away. And she would make the house, as she did every year, look beautifully festive.

She turned to the next page in the notebook.

Decorations. As Jess was a department store window dresser this was very much her comfort zone. A dark-green spruce tree with white and silver baubles. Piles of red-ribbon-wrapped parcels underneath. (Present list in a separate notebook all ticked off since the beginning of November.) Real ivy framing the pictures and mirrors. Fairylights everywhere. As good as done. Tick.

It would be nice to be able to show off her decorating flair. As they all went to Mum and Dad’s every Christmas the others never saw how she transformed her home. At the parents’ house it was always the same – the artificial tree they’d had forever, and paper chains everyone was set to make the minute they arrived. A lovely family tradition of course but hardly glamorous.

She hadn’t decided yet on a look for the tables. Cool, sophisticated Scandinavian perhaps? But there had to be food on them too.

She began a new page headed Christmas Lunch. Sub-headings: Starter, Main, Dessert.

This morning she’d bought a Christmas recipe book and the December issue of a supermarket magazine.

If she was very, very organised everything would be fine.

She opened the book and flicked straight past the turkey section. Mum was too hard an act to follow and she wasn’t even going to try.

No one was vegetarian – unless maybe Michael’s Samantha? She must remember to ask. She had a quick look down the recipe index. Chestnuts and cranberries in puff pastry. That sounded gorgeous. She wrote it down, and immediately crossed it out. Dad scoffed at vegetarian cuisine.

Chicken? Too everyday. Beef? Two of the cousins didn’t eat red meat. Just as well. Beef for fourteen would mean taking out a second mortgage. Ham? She wasn’t very keen on it herself. Goose? One serves four? That was no use. The quail recipe looked scrumptious but she didn’t fancy stuffing one of the little birds never mind fourteen. Salmon? The children wouldn’t eat fish.

Thank goodness Mum made Christmas puds when she was still on her feet, and had given them to her last week. Along with a couple of supermarket cheesecakes that she could pretend were homemade that was dessert sorted. Tick.

Oh, Auntie Meg always brought bottles of red and white, and soft drinks for the children and the drivers. Jess wrote Wine etc on the list. Tick.

 She put the book aside and flicked through the magazine. For a ‘stress-free’ Christmas starter a chef suggested that you ‘simply griddle forty fresh prawns’. What?! If you had staff, maybe, but in a normal family kitchen? Imagine griddling anything while keeping an eye on the oven and worrying if you’d done enough roasties. And who had room in the fridge for forty fresh prawns at that time of year? Anyway, she didn’t have a griddle.

The chef’s other suggestion was beetroot and goat’s cheese tartlets. Jess grimaced at the thought of the mess on the tablecloth when the children spat them out as undoubtedly they would.

She clapped a hand to her forehead. Brainwave! Everyone loved Mum’s lentil soup. There would be a batch in her freezer that could ‘simply’ be heated up on the day. The magazine went into the bin. Tada!

Starter: lentil soup. Tick.

Back to the main course.  Jess opened the recipe book again and cautiously turned to the Traditional Turkey chapter. It began with a frightening countdown to getting everything ready for two o’clock – a timetable beginning at 8 a.m. with every minute accounted for in between.

The pictures of the beautifully set table made her realise with horror that she didn’t have fourteen plates – never mind matching plates – nor enough cutlery. Or chairs.

She gave up. It was time to call in the cavalry.

The house looked as glossy as she had imagined it, and her husband was keeping the children entertained in the front room. Jess waved a piece of paper at Michael and Emily. The turkey and trimmings timetable looked much more manageable now that she’d divided the tasks between the three of them, each person’s highlighted in a different colour.

Along with dishes and a couple of chairs, Emily had brought a homemade trifle – ‘It’s not rocket science, Jess. We can’t have supermarket cheesecakes for Christmas lunch. What were you thinking?’ Emily had been very short-tempered ever since she and Rob broke up, just when she thought he might propose.

Michael’s contribution was two stools, and cutlery he’d bought in a pound shop, which wasn’t exactly what Jess had in mind – but he proved to be a dab hand at peeling vegetables and wrapping bacon around chipolatas. Emily and he had forbidden Jess to ask Mum for lentil soup – Michael said Samantha would bring a starter as her contribution.

Jess dug out hardly used wedding presents. It was rather satisfying whizzing up crumbs in the food processor for the bread sauce and watching them swell up in warm, seasoned milk. She must remember to take out the bay leaf and the cloves. And it was extremely satisfying to tick tasks off that wretched timetable.

At one o’clock came the first ring of the doorbell – the Jingle Bell chimes her husband had insisted on fitting for the children’s amusement. Jess threw off the Santa apron she’d put over her new dress and went to answer it.

Dad, grinning, rang the doorbell again so he could hear the chimes and went back to the car to help Mum out.

As they’d anticipated she wanted to see how they were getting on in the kitchen so Michael stood barring the way. ‘Everything’s under control, Mum! Go and sit down, see the kids.’

Mum laughed and held up a packet. ‘I’ve remembered to bring the strips for the paper chains.’ She hobbled through to the lounge and Jess smiled as she heard the welcome she got from the children.

The doorbell rang again.

A pretty brunette stood there, her arms full of brightly wrapped parcels. ‘Jess? Love the chimes! I’m Samantha. Thank you for asking me.’ She had a lovely friendly smile and Jess took to her immediately.

‘It was such fun choosing presents for the children.’ Samantha thrust the parcels at Jess. ‘I’m longing to meet them. I’ll get the food out of the car.’

This girl was perfect for Michael! He loved playing with his nephews and niece and Jess knew he wanted kids of his own.

She left the front door ajar and took the parcels through with instructions that they weren’t to be opened until their giver was there.

Samantha came back up the path with two trays, each covered with a cloth. ‘Can I give you these? I’ve got something else to bring in.’

Jess carried the trays into the kitchen. One of them had a fresh salty smell – something fishy maybe.

‘Is that Samantha?’ Michael asked.

‘She’ll just be a minute,’ Jess said. The doorbell rang followed by a commotion and a loud bark. ‘What on earth’s that?’

She went into the hall to be confronted by Auntie Meg and her family – and a large dog. One of the cousins held its lead and tried to control it as it leapt up to greet Jess enthusiastically.

‘I’m sorry about Bonzo,’ Auntie Meg apologised. ‘Our next-door-neighbour was taken into hospital last night and asked us to look after him. We didn’t feel we could leave him on his own. He’s very gentle, good with kids. Oh, love your Jingle Bells bell, by the way!’

Jess opened her mouth to reply but Samantha came in and had to be introduced, and then Auntie Meg and the cousins took Bonzo through to the lounge before Jess could suggest he might be put in the utility room. The children’s shouts of glee could be heard at the other end of the street.

In the kitchen Samantha took a griddle pan out of a bag. ‘I didn’t know if you had one,’ she said. ‘I hope you like prawns. I saw a recipe in a magazine – it’s very simple.’

Jess had a sinking feeling she knew what was on the other tray.

Michael was lifting the cloth. ‘I did remember to tell you that Samantha’s vegetarian, didn’t I?’ he said to Jess. ‘Mmm, these look good.’

‘Beetroot and goat’s cheese,’ Samantha said. ‘They just need warmed up a little. Oh – Jess, there was a man at the gate. Sort of lurking. I don’t know if he’s still there.’

‘I’ll go and see,’ Michael said, but Emily had twitched aside the curtain and with a cry she pushed passed her brother and ran out.

Michael took her place by the window. ‘Rob,’ he said. ‘Down on one knee by the looks of it.’ He winked at Samantha. ‘Come and meet Mum and Dad.’

The big table looked more jumble sale than chic Scandinavian – what with the various china patterns, Michael’s bargain cutlery, and an assortment of chairs around it. The smaller table was already in disarray as Samantha’s presents and the paper they’d come in were added to the mix. The youngest child was sitting, not without protest, in the old high chair, her own seat now being required for Rob.

Bonzo’s tail had evidently been wagging against the Christmas tree to the detriment of some of the white and silver baubles. The paper-chain work party had been busy and there were now sticky orange and purple additions to the ivy frames.

Jess swallowed hard. Everyone had commented on the tinny Jingle Bell door chimes but no one had said anything about her decorations. And she’d got a mark on her dress because she’d forgotten to put the Santa apron back on.

She sat down beside Mum, her work in the kitchen done for the moment – Michael and Samantha were in charge of the starters.

‘Lovely to have a real tree,’ Mum said. ‘Hope the needles don’t shed too much.’

On the other side of the table Dad picked up a Scandinavian candleholder. ‘Nice bit of glass, Jess. Get them cheap at work?’

‘Dad! Be careful!’

Too late. The candle toppled out and set fire to Dad’s napkin.

With presence of mind born of years of experience Mum threw her sparkling apple juice over it. ‘There, love. No harm done. Maybe blow the others out to be on the safe side?’

Her beautiful table. It was a wreck and the meal hadn’t even started.

With Michael tooting a fanfare he and Samantha came in carrying four large platters, two for each table.

Samantha sat on Jess’s other side. ‘Michael says you’re a window dresser. That’s why the house looks so stunning,’ she said.

Jess smiled gratefully at her, feeling a little better. Michael better hang on to this girl!

She waited in trepidation for Dad and the children to make tactless comments about the starters. But Dad popped a tartlet in his mouth, nodded and reached for another. Michael showed her middle child how to extract the prawn from the shell – he seemed delighted with the process and, while not eating them himself, insisted on preparing them for others. The eldest one had indeed removed beetroot and goat’s cheese from his mouth to the tablecloth but the littlest was already on her third tartlet. In no time the platters were empty except for prawn shells.

Now it was up to Jess, and Emily, who commandeered Rob to carve the turkey, to serve up the main course. A rummage in the freezer had produced some vegetarian sausages which Jess microwaved for Samantha. Not very Christmassy, but they’d go with the veg and potatoes. That chestnut and cranberry recipe she’d read – hopefully Samantha would be with them next year too and she’d make it for her then.

When she tried the gravy it didn’t taste anything like Mum’s and as she carried the bread sauce through she remembered too late about the bay leaf. And the cloves. The older two children shuddered at the sight of the sprouts. The little one, full of beetroot and goat’s cheese, refused everything, extricated herself from the high chair and went to sit on top of Bonzo.

But all the food was hot and on the table. There was nothing else to do except try to find her appetite.

Mum put her fork down for a moment. ‘It is nice to have all this done for you.’ She raised her voice to be heard above the hubbub. ‘Thank you, my dears.’

Dad stopped eating too. ‘Very tasty. Just as good as your mum’s.’ He held up his ginger beer to make a toast.

Jess raised her glass of wine to him, finally relaxing.

Happy Christmas. Tick

 

© Kate Blackadder

First published in The People’s Friend

I hope you enjoyed Christmas Lists – here's my novel Stella's Christmas Wish, currently 99p.

Happy list-making!