Mr Quatro turned redder and redder in the face as he continued to cough. He pointed frantically to his back. We all looked to his wife. Mrs Quatro paused, then moved closer to her husband and patted him forcefully on the back. The second whack dislodged the mini scotch egg which a still spluttering Mr Quatro coughed into his monogrammed Christmas napkin.
Health scare over, Mum and me were soon feeling the heat in the kitchen rather than the draught in the living room as we cooked our traditional Christmas dinner. As per the Festive Bubble protocol only one other person at a time was allowed into the kitchen. Susie organised a queuing system in the living room as we adapted an old saying. ‘If you can’t stand the cold get into the kitchen’ became our mantra for the afternoon.
After the traditional gravy panic, Christmas dinner was served at 4pm with guests seated at a safe social distance. Mum worked out there was enough room to safely set the posh dining table for five. To maintain space, a place was also set at the kitchen table for my dad. A special cracker protocol had to be negotiated to reassure him his supply of comedy material for the coming year would be unaffected by the socially distant seating plan. After negotiations stretching late into the night, the following text was agreed just before the no deal deadline:
- crackers can be pulled but all cracker pulling must be done solo
- jokes can be read aloud but a face covering must be worn when delivering the gag
- the door between rooms can be kept open so jokes read out at the posh dining table could be heard in the kitchen
The meal went so well it may have spawned a couple of new family traditions. Serving Scotch Egg with the turkey and seating my dad in the kitchen could become regular features of Christmas future.
As dictated by more established tradition, coffee and chocolate was taken in the living room and we split into teams for an after dinner board game. Mrs Quatro opted for the Scottish Rugby edition from the wide range of Taxi! Board Games available. Her impressive knowledge of Scottish Rugby earned a lot of tips to win her team the game.
Another Christmas tradition was fulfilled when there there was a minor family fall out on our side over who scored the winning try in Scotland’s 1990 Grand Slam win over England. True, I shouldn’t have blurted out Tony Hadley without consulting my team but, To Cut a Long Story Short, there was no need for my dad to get so Highly Strung.
My dad’s Tony temper tantrum was only the start of the evening’s emotional excitement. His huff deepened when Rod Stewart’s Merry Christmas Baby album which had been streaming on repeat throughout the day was usurped as our Christmas night soundtrack by Gold: The Best of Spandau Ballet. Tony Hadley may not have scored a Grand Slam winning try but he could certainly belt out a power ballad.
With Tony blasting out the ballads in the background and post-dinner drowsiness kicking in, it felt like a good time to waken everybody up by exchanging presents. I felt a little apprehensive giving my first Christmas present to Susie in front of both sets of parents but I was confident my low risk jewellery would avoid any ‘Thanks, you really shouldn’t have’ awkwardness. Little did I know that a series of serendipitous moments involving a Ferrero Rocher, a coffee table and Tony Hadley would synchronise to create a farcical finale fit for the Christmas special of a dire sitcom.
The final scene of our Coronavirus Christmas started innocuously with me taking the last piece of gold wrapped chocolate and hazelnut confectionery from its packet before rising from the sofa to unhook the more scruffily wrapped present hanging from a branch on the Christmas tree. Like a wise man maintaining a safe social distance in a pandemic, I edged carefully around the coffee table bearing gifts of gold – my last Ferrero Rocher and an item of jewellery specifically chosen to avoid any emotional turmoil. As I approached Susie, my knee banged hard against the corner of the table causing me to stumble. The golden ball of confectionery slipped from the grasp of my slightly numbed fingers and rolled under the sofa where Susie had settled into one of the thermal sleeping bags for warmth. Fate then intervened with a flourish.
I waited for Susie to extricate her hands from inside the sleeping bag, handed to her the carefully chosen, carelessly wrapped gift of jewellery and got down on one knee to look for the Ferrero Rocher which had rolled under the sofa.
At this point Fate’s master plan fell perfectly into place. In split-second synchronicity the gift wrapping fell apart and Susie opened the box to reveal a gold ring, my dad cranked up the volume on the stereo as Tony Hadley reached the first chorus of ‘Gold (gold), Always believe in your soul’, and I said in reference to my search for the lost last Ferrero Rocher: “Will you help me?”
The reply from Susie was unexpected and unexpectedly joyous: “Yes! I will marry you!”