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.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
tvMark Wright and Bianca Miller fight for Lord Sugar's investment
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
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

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

    £7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

    Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick