Midweek Money: The Trader - I wouldn't recommend mango with the sprouts

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The Independent Culture
CHESTNUTS ROASTING on an open fire, Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" on the gramophone, smiling friends and family coming round to wish us good cheer - no, our Christmases aren't like that either. Perhaps you can only have them like that in black and white. Anyway, this year I can guarantee it'll be more like a Bruce Willis film, with snipers and shouting and the occasional explosion. The reason? We're spending the weekend with Uncle Edward and Aunt Julia.

Uncle Edward is my father's big brother, who took early retirement from a small firm of solicitors about two years ago and has been driving everyone insane ever since. He still believes there's such a thing as a "steady job", for heaven's sake, and will no doubt lecture me on the subject over the festive spell, shortly before I decide to go for a very long stomp across the fields.

But Uncle E isn't the real problem; Aunt J is. To her, Christmas is a once-a-year chance to show off to the rest of us. Unlike my mother - who decided long ago that if God had meant her to spend her life in the kitchen He wouldn't have given us microwave ovens and chilled ready meals - Aunt J does everything herself. That means she'll have made the stuffing, the pastry and the filling for the mince pies, the pudding and all of the cake. She'll have agonised over which bird to have, which type of smoked salmon, which vegetables. In short, she'll have worn herself to a frazzle, but in a very smug way.

As my father says, it wouldn't be so bad if she could actually cook. To be fair, what he means is that she tries too hard, so everything would be perfect if it weren't for that one extra ingredient: cherries in the mincemeat; lemon vodka in the pork and chestnut stuffing; and, one unforgettable year, mango with the Brussels sprouts. It means you can never quite relax and think, "Oooh yummy, roast potatoes."

Of course, it's always a bit of a struggle to get hold of your plate of booby-trapped food in the first place, as Aunt J has no intention of handing it over until you've realised in detail exactly how much work went into the preparation. "I always find that the best thing..." starts up Aunt J, and I switch off. My mother's eyes glaze over as if she's calculating how soon she can claim to have a migraine, though if Aunt J carries on like this she'll have one for real soon enough.

"I expect you're used to lots of fancy restaurants in London," Aunt J always continues. "But I always think there's nothing quite like home cooking." I look at the plateful in front of me and realise that she's right about this, at least.

As you can imagine, all this less-than-gleeful anticipation of Christmas Day has rather dented my festive spirit. Not that it wasn't fragile to begin with. There was the horror of waking up after the team lunch with a man's watch on the bedside table, and it was only when my boyfriend Olivier rang to say he'd lost his that I calmed down. All the same, I still can't remember anything of the ride home except that Jaap climbed into the taxi after me - and people get up to all sorts of things in taxis. I can't exactly ask him about it, either.

And then we're sitting around the office when Rory asks Jaap why he's not wearing his new watch, and Jaap says he can't find it anywhere. "I was wearing it at the team lunch, but after that I can't remember having it." My heart stops. Olivier has lost his watch and so has Jaap. So the one on my bedside table - whose is it?