Saturday, December 26, 2015

Not a partridge in a pear tree

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo (2014) photograph by Pants
'It's a shower-cap year! I squeal as Niece Pants opens a present from Nana (Ma Pants to you).

Did I really say that out loud? Yes I did, apparently. Ma Pants is nonplussed. She is used to us making fun of her occasionally hilarious stocking fillers. Last time we had a shower-cap year, Sis Pants, Niece Pants and I all received stunning, heavy plastic shower-caps featuring the face of a large mammal. They even had fake-fur-lined ears. Mine's a hippo. I'm still using it - or was. It will be replaced with the infinitely more stylish leopard print from this year's stocking. Ah, the joys of the bathroom en suite. It contains secrets never to be revealed on Instagram.

Ma Pants is prone to giving identical presents to her daughters (aged 61 and 56) and granddaughter, who is now nineteen. Hence we have matching portable miniature lights, beach towels, bags and flip-flops and animal-print fleecy throws with sleeves and pockets. The latter, although extremely weird in concept, has proved rather handy in the bitter Larrikin's End winter. Ma Pants is a sucker for buy-2-get-1-free deals. How convenient that there are three of us. I will admit to being similarly vulnerable, when it comes to films and TV series but I draw the line at shower caps, just supposing it would ever occur to me to buy a shower cap as a present for anyone.

Christmas at House of Pants Snr. is a reasonably relaxed affair. We agreed to keep it low key with minimal presents, as we do every year, with mixed success. We all got what we asked for this year, more or less. One day we will get the hang of timely on-line purchasing. Thanks are due to the yoghurt people who not only got Ma Pants's present here faster than a drone chasing a downhill skier but filled my inbox with endless progress reports on its perilous journey across state boundaries. I'd like also to extend my eternal gratitude to the UK bank where I parked my tax refund all those years ago and from whom I've been requesting a new debit card for at least the last four. Out of the blue you send one! Just in time for me to benefit from the much cheaper UK book prices. Due to some upheaval anxiety idiocy on my part when I set up the account eight years ago, the only access I have had to it recently has been via a cheque book. It isn't a lot of money but, now that I have a new debit card, it will keep me and my family in books we might otherwise deem an unaffordable luxury for a few years.

The under-tree presents contained no shocks. It's in the stockings where danger often lurks. In the past mine has unleashed unusable art supplies, unwearable jewellery, unfathomable novelties and cosmetics including a dubious product called body butter. What am I, a baguette? Happily, I've never said that out loud. The body butter I slid into the darkest corner of the guest bathroom where Ma Pants is never likely to find it. The other things go home with me. Unusable art supplies can sometimes be made to work with a little lateral thinking and the trinkets sometimes breathe new life as an element in an assemblage. And then there was the year I received the 23-piece pedicure kit boasting the claim 'similar to as seen on TV'. Well, I had to lug that all the way home to Larrikin's End where it resides, unopened, in a dark corner of my en-suite bathroom cupboard until I can find an art-related use for it. Nail-clippers is about as sophisticated as it gets around my extremities and I have no desire to alter that state.

Christmas dinner has been a problem in the past as Sis Pants and I are (mostly) vegetarian. Happily, we can flex into pescatarians when necessary. It often is necessary as the vegetarian 'option' at most Australian restaurants is invariably badly cooked penne in insipid tomato sauce with some packet parmesan sprinkled on top if you're lucky. And it costs the same as the rib-eye steak. Yes, I know there is such a thing as a vegetarian restaurant, but I'm reasonably certain there's a by-law prohibiting them in Larrikin Shire. 

Ma Pants can't conceive of a meal containing neither meat nor fish. If I make pizza, it's got to contain at least a couple of anchovies. Like most almost-always-vegetarians, I have a weakness. Mine is not bacon, but its close culinary cousin - smoked salmon. This Christmas we voted to choose a special food each. I chose smoked salmon, and lots of it. Other years we've had swordfish or salmon steaks or barramundi. That entailed me queuing up at six in the morning on Christmas Eve with a lot of people who hadn't been inculcated in the finer points of queuing etiquette. The result was a bad temper and fish that never tasted quite fresh enough when cooked the next day. A cold buffet in an air-conditioned room is easily the best way to eat Christmas dinner in the tropics. 

Christmas can be stress-free provided you do all the planning and preparation beforehand. Every year Ma Pants invites a depression-prone friend for Christmas Dinner. Every year she accepts and then phones at eleven on Christmas Day to say she's not well. We set a place for her and then remove the setting after the call. She phones later in the day to say she's feeling better. It's an event, or rather non-event we simply factor in. Every year Ma Pants and I search the supermarket shelves for cream that can be counted on to succumb to a good whipping. We never remember the name of the brand we got last year or whether or not we were able to whip into a fit state to top the pavlova. I don't care that much as I don't like pavlova. I voted for Christmas pudding - with ice cream. Memo to cream makers - here's an idea from the UK you might take up. There's a market for a product called 'whipping cream', at least in the various houses of Pants.

Every year we forget to put something relatively unimportant out. This year it was the chocolate snowballs. 'Oh no!' exclaims Ma Pants as she discovers the untouched packet in the pantry this morning, 'we forgot the snowballs.' Easily done in a Queensland summer.

And there you have it, a very Pants Christmas.