Christmas Charades: Why was Daddy so pleased to see Sue?: At this time of year, people play funny games. We put on an act and go through the motions, but behind the scenes, things may not always be as they seem .

I LIKED Sue, this new 'old friend' of my mother's, although I had met her only once. She was quite a lot younger than my mother and very funny. She would come out with expressions, sort of catch phrases, which we had never heard. She had an infectious, throaty laugh and drank and smoked a lot.

I was delighted when my parents announced she was coming for Christmas. As an unsophisticated 14-year-old, I thought she would add to the festive air about the place. I felt such excitement before she arrived: this funny lady who was going to make Christmas such a riot.

It had only been a few weeks earlier that my mother had phoned from my grandmother's to say that she had met an old school friend and was bringing her home for the weekend.

It never occurred to me that it was a little short of amazing that she had run into Sue in the remote part of Norfolk where my grandmother lived. Nor that she was able to drop everything to come 100-odd miles out of her way at a moment's notice.

Even when they arrived and seemed a little vague about what they had done together as children, no alarm bells rang. Life was straightforward. Most of all, I had no reason to doubt what my parents told me.

On Christmas Eve, I went to Paddington station with my father to meet Sue and felt very grown up to be going with him, instead of with my mother. He seemed excited and jolly - I did wonder why, considering that he hardly knew her. I was slightly anxious that the conversation between them in the car going home might be stilted.

When Sue arrived on the platform, they kissed briefly. There was an air of familiarity between them; I noticed it but almost immediately put it out of my mind. I just wanted to get back to start our family Christmas.

And, for me, it was a lovely one - probably, the last really innocent Christmas I had. If Sue was the centre of attention, then as a guest that was only right. If my mother seemed at times overwrought, who could be surprised with all those mouths to feed? What other reason did she have for snapping at my grandfather when he urged her to go the pub for a Christmas drink with my father and Sue?

Over Christmas lunch, it emerged that Sue was getting over an unhappy relationship; she had decided she couldn't marry her boyfriend because she didn't love him. How brave she was to turn down marriage, I remember thinking, especially as she was getting quite old, almost 30. How lucky she had such a nice family with whom to spend Christmas.

Then, as everyone was laughing and joking, Sue took the rather ancient silver saltcellar and shook it over her food. The top flew off and the contents landed on her turkey. Her food was ruined and everyone was aghast. There was silence; the mood changed instantly. I couldn't understand why my mother seemed quite so upset. It was only much later that she told me why the incident nearly brought her, emotionally, to her knees. She was sure Sue must have thought her distress was deliberate. The delicate edifice of civilised deceit looked like crumbling. Later that day I heard Sue crying in the bathroom. My mother went in to see what was wrong. When she came out, she said Sue was upset about her boyfriend. Recalling the lunchtime conversation, I was puzzled but decided that, like most things with grown-ups, it was terribly complicated. Years later, I discovered that Sue was in tears because my father was watching television and ignoring her.

It was this as much as the other poignant memories of that Christmas that are most vivid now - catching the odd expression in my mother's eyes as I lay on the floor, my head in Sue's lap as she talked and stroked my hair; the silence when I asked if Sue could come next year and my younger sister's inexplicable dislike of her. She had seen and heard things I had missed, and never fell for the tissue of lies.

The idea of introducing Sue to my sister and me had been my mother's. She had known about the affair almost as soon as it had begun because my father had told her. But they carried on living together for two years while the affair went on.

Finally, my mother realised that he wouldn't end the affair and would probably leave. She was still in love with my father but thought that we should meet his mistress so that when he left we would already know Sue and would feel less alienated from him. After I was told the truth of that Christmas, I thought my mother had behaved heroically, even angelically.

Now I am not so sure. I feel the charade disabled my anger at my parents' separation. I couldn't be angry with my mother; nor with my father because I was terrified of driving him away. Worst of all, I couldn't be angry with Sue because, by the time I knew the truth, I liked her. My anger was turned inwards and led to years of periodic depression.

Now, 15 years on, I still recall that happy Christmas, before my innocence was lost, before my father left for good. Three years later we all got together again - my father and Sue, now my stepmother, and my mother and her new husband. But this time it was my turn to play Christmas charades.

The author wishes to remain anonymous.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

    SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

    Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

    £85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

    Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

    £55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor