The 4th of the 7 Christmas colyooms I'm posting this week oozes us into that alcohol-stained area known as ‘Christmas Past’, back when nobody had ever heard of burning bondholders, but somehow (I blame Dumbo!) we managed to burn the banker's lawn...
Although old enough to know better, we were a bunch of friends clinging collectively to a mischievous hedonism, a desire to have just two too many, because we could, and then someone found a bottle of Tequila, and we did that too, d’ya know the kind o’way?
The Croaker’s dad was some kind of bigwig at Lloyd’s Bank, and his friend had a timeshare cottage down in Somerset. So we decided we'd all go off to do Christmas in a Merchant Banker’s holiday home in the picturesque village of Porlock.
Oh, and we were very, very lucky, or so everyone told us.
Far from being the biscuit tin picture Tudor oak-beamed thatch of our dreams, the ‘cottage’ turned out to be a crushingly unremarkable house, at the end of a suburban-style cul-de-sac.
Well, dwaaarling, to be dreadfully honest, it was simply awful. Bland. Pure 100% unadulterated boring dull and taste-free, decorated throughout in white this, grey wall-to-wall that, nothing of note, character, history or colour.
But boy, had we been warned! Daddy’s little gal drummed into us that his place was to be respected. Nothing was going to happen to this place, okay? Rilly, because one just doesn’t go around damaging other people’s homes, okay yah? And the garden too, okay, yah? Daddy loves his lawn, okay? Super!
She handed us the keys. Young, loaded with disposable income, drink and doubtless, in those days, a wide range of potent and nefarious ‘recreationals’, we headed off to the West Country.
Christmas morning arrives, and domestic bliss descends on the ‘cottage’.
Everyone, except for Lucy, is draped over chairs, sofas and each other. Every eye is trained on the TV screen, where Dumbo’s mother is locked up in a cage. They think she’s a mad dangerous animal. We know, of course, that she is nothing but a pure sweetheart of a beast, and our emotions are gently twitching, peaking and troughing, sailing blissfully on the waters of mass mind-altering consumption.
Little Dumbo is losing his mum. He puts his trunk through the bars of the cage, which if I recall correctly was on a train, and Mummy Dumbo and little Dumbo link trunks.
Lucy’s smiling face appears around the door.
"Er guys - the kitchen’s on fire."
I asked her later why she said it so calmly. She explained that in her shock, she incorrectly assumed we would react like responsible adult human beings, so she decided it best not to create unnecessary panic.
As it was, we were so far gone in the cerebrals we completely ignored her, as one.
"Poor lickel nellyphant gonna loose his mumma. That’s so sad!"
"Yeh - but it’ll be alright in the-"
"No...er...guys, the KITCHEN is on FIRE!"
"No, really? Be with you in a tick, love! Luce, chill, we just wanna watch this!"
Confronted with such overwhelmingly abject apathy, Lucy finally lost it.
"Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire in the kitchen! Turn off the bloody video you morons, there’s a FIRE IN THE KITCHEN!"
I heard a distant Rasta voice emerge from under a cushion, bravely offering in a whispering song
“...there’s a fire in my kitchen, what am I gonna do!”
By the time we actually got off our arses and made it into the kitchen, Lucy had rushed upstairs and was, rather superbly, dunking bath towels in water. Flames were licking out of the oven, smoke billowing all over the place. It was dramatic and confusing, our feeble heads no longer lolling on oceans of calm, instead now tossed about on stormy seas of impending disaster.
We felt collectively unsure about opening the oven door.
Didn’t opening doors make fires get worse?
Maybe if we all stood at odd angles, and chewed our cuticles frantically for a few more minutes, maybe it might go away.
Anyway, the fire didn’t look structurally threatening. Not yet.
Still, it was pretty exciting, and we generally ooo-ed, errr-ed, yelled ‘Don’t Panic Captain Mainwaring’, and giggled like infants eating cake-mix behind Mummy’s back.
Lucy appeared with soaking towels, opened the oven door, and threw a towel over the flames in the roasting tin.
Gone. Wow, fire gone bye-byes! We all stood and stared, while Lucy tried to come to terms with saving the day.
Suddenly, for absolutely no apparent reason whatsoever, Neil was spurred into action.
"Got to get that pan out of there!” he said, and before any of us could stop him, he picked up the other towel, and lifted the smouldering disaster of a dinner out of the oven, yelling
“Open the front door!"
Like a man possessed, he stormed out into the garden, and carefully lowered the smoking dish down onto the velvet turf.
We all looked at it, and we 'knew’, as it says in the Bible. We knew that it was not good.
Never mind the smoke-stained kitchen. Black can be made white again. We could clean the fire damage, no problem.
But right now, somebody had to go and move that dish. As soon as possible. Pronto. Like, er, yesterday, dude...
It was, as it had to be, Neil who went back to the scene of his crime. Once more, as neighbour’s net curtains twitched all around, in true British Bourgeois fashion, we stood and giggled as Neil bent over the now-cooled tray.
As he lifted it, so he also lifted a clump of verdant bliss the size of - well, the exact size and shape of a large roasting tin.
"Daddy loves his lawn!" offered some bright spark.
"Drink!" Lucy was inspired. “Drink! We need drink, lads! It’s Christmas Day! We need a drink!"
This time we all heard her, and I have to admit, from that moment on I can’t remember anything - not a wall-cleaning, oven-scrubbing moment, but a fine time was had by all, and that, my patient readers, is what I wish for you.
May this season of Christmas, Diwhali and Hanukkah bring you, and your families, Shalom peace.