Dad always found Christmas a difficult day. But we got through it one way or another…

Once Mum and Dad moved up to Yorkshire, Mr Mandy Sutter and I formed a routine of cooking a turkey at our house and taking it round to their flat to meet up with the sprouts and potatoes. It meant getting up early to put the bird in the oven because Dad has always eaten at midday and wasn’t about to stop now.

But this year, we persuade him to come to ours and negotiate a 12.30 lunch, which gives us half an hour’s lie in.

Mr MS picks Dad up at eleven. He walks slowly up our path clutching a Tesco’s bag full of clanking bottles. First out of the bag  is a Tesco’s orange juice bottle containing a litre of decanted sherry (Dad buys sherry in quantity.) Second comes a bottle of Moet.

‘Oh that’s lovely, Dad,’ I say. I’m not keen on sherry but champers always gets my vote.

I fear a third bottle but the other item in the bag is a hefty three foot adjustable spanner.

‘Thought that might be useful for getting the cork out,’ says Dad. ‘It’ll double as a nut cracker later.’

The saying ‘a sledgehammer to crack a nut,’ comes to mind but I decide not to risk getting off on the wrong foot.

‘Right, we’ll get stuck in, shall we?’ says Dad, unscrewing the cap on the sherry. ‘We should see this off by lunchtime.’

I make my calculations: we have 90 minutes to drink 33cl of sherry each at 18% proof. Twenty years ago I might have managed it but the menopause has put paid to all that. As for Mr MS, he has always been a lightweight, barely able to swallow down one whisky and coke before toppling over.

We brace ourselves. It is pointless saying no because Dad will top your glass up when you’re not looking anyway, in the cheery and firm belief that you will be secretly grateful.

Being in our own home puts us at an advantage though and we’re able to implement a strategy of gentle sipping while in view of Dad then wafting into another room where we can pour the contents of our glasses into the equivalent of the aspidistra. We pull our crackers and put on our Christmas hats.

An hour of steady drinking doesn’t improve Dad’s mood. He dislikes special occasions and has always found Christmas particularly difficult. Back in the day he would refuse to buy presents for Mum and me, then get so embarrassed when receiving his that he’d rush out on Boxing Day and buy the first thing he came across. One year there was nowhere open but a garage, so my present was an emergency windscreen repair kit.

These days he usually solves the dilemma with a large box of Belgian chocolate seashells with a piece of last year’s Christmas wrapping paper sellotaped onto the front.

Today he offers to help prepare the veg. He doesn’t like roast potatoes so I always do a few boiled ones just for him. I give him some Maris Pipers to peel, sadly not from the allotment, although the roasted King Edwards that Mr MS and I will enjoy were dug only yesterday. We will all, however, be eating the meagre handful of Brussels Sprouts that I picked at the same time. They turned into miniature blown cabbages on their central stalk, and with the shredded outer leaves off, they are tiny indeed. But they are home grown and that’s what counts.

Dad, sitting at the kitchen table, explodes suddenly. ‘I can’t do the job with a bloody knife!’ His red paper crown has slipped down over one eye. ‘Where’s that peeler? You know, the one Mum and I gave you in 1974?’ He doesn’t actually say 1974. But he has an astounding memory for everything Mum and he ever gave me.

I freeze in terror before I remember that I do still have the peeler in the kitchen drawer and have had it there for years.

I present it to him proudly. He straightens his crown. Unfortunately though, as he tackles the first Maris Piper, there is more cause for complaint. ‘This peeler is blunt!’

‘Oh?’ I say.

‘What have you done to it?’ he barks.

‘Well, nothing Dad,’ I say. ‘To be honest I hardly ever use it. I prefer…’

‘You must have abused it in some way.’

I can see Mr MS in the other room, creasing up at the thought of peeler abuse.

I’m nettled. I’ve never used the blinking thing, not even once.  I always use knives. OK, so I might lop the odd finger off. Get over it.

‘Look, I’ll do it,’ I say, glancing at the clock. It is now only fifteen minutes till the bird emerges: my veg are getting unco-ordinated.

But Dad won’t give up either knife or the peeler. He proceeds at a snail’s pace, alternating between the two.

It’s 12.25 before I can get hold of the spuds to cut them up small and get them in the pan. I put the sprouts on at the same time, thinking that they will probably be too hard. I am just about to tear my paper hat up in a fury when I realise that none of this really matters. Dad is 93: this could be our last Christmas together. In fact, he goes on to manage 3 more, but I don’t know that yet.

I get the champagne out of the fridge and take it in to Dad with the three foot spanner. ‘Ah,’ says Dad, ‘now you’re talking!’ He untwists the wire off, rips off the foil, closes the jaws of the spanner around the cork and begins to work it gently to and fro.

I smile. If you can’t beat them, join them. I intend to get plastered on champagne, menopause or not.

Drawing by Janis Goodman