Julie Myerson column

The tree is up - or it was. But Jonathan adjusts the base one last time and the whole thing crashes down ("Christ-Julie-quick-bloodyhell- Julie!"). I catch it calmly, return it to the vertical position.

"Why did you let go?"

"You told me to."

"Is that straight?"

"I can't tell this close up."

"Well, get back then!"

"If I get back, I'll let go." Kids in fuzzy dressing-gowns and slipper socks swarm around our feet.

"Back, maggots, back!" Their father shoves the small bodies across the varnished floor.

"Don't kick my children."

"I'm not kicking, I'm moving them with my feet."

"When can we start putting things on?" moans Jacob, punching the sofa (and then Chloe) with his fist.

"OK, be patient," I try to stall them. "We've got a bit of a problem here."

It's the problem we have every year. Isn't Christmas all about repetition? The tree stump always fits in the red metal tripod but won't ground itself.

"We could just decorate it down there and then put it up," suggests Jacob, who wants - at any cost - to be the one to hang the striped zebras on the tree (having hoarded them up under a cushion which he's now guarding).

Playing for time, I get out The Snow Scene. Some of the pieces - eight reindeer, eight gnomes, each with a different instrument, plaster houses, robins, a compact mirror for a lake, rosy-cheeked Father Christmas on a sledge - have been with me all my life. Even the smell of the felt and sparkle and old plastic brings the Christmases flooding back.

A long time ago, we lived in a house in the centre of Nottingham and the church bells at the end of our road weren't real ones but a record, and at Christmas they put carols on. Sometimes the record got stuck - "Oh come all ye - oh come all ye - oh come all ..." This would go on for some time. My mother had recently remarried, which meant our family was really two families joined together. She conscientiously poured all her energy into a Christmas Day that would unite all sides.

Sometimes this meant Christmas lunch for up to 20 people - most of them elderly - and it had to be over by 3 o'clock so "people" could "catch" the Queen. Squashed up along our long refectory table were grannies and great aunts and aunts, sisters, stepbrothers and - when he was allowed - our grandfather, who never came without Jesus in tow.

Our step-great aunt, Glenda, had taught at the Derbyshire school where DH Lawrence's lover had worked. Glenda's sister, Mary, our step-granny, had worked at Boots as a young girl and married a man who bossed her. In widowhood she herself became fierce and bossy ("Making up for lost time," her sister called it). She liked to fall asleep with a sherry glass - "Sherry? Ooh, what a treat, I don't know if I should" - in her large, arthritic hand.

"Please look after the grannies," beseeched our mother. Our real Granny - Hungarian, plump and brown as a baked apple, adorable - wore fur-lined, zip-fronted boots and liked to talk about the price of brussels. Our stepfather's sister, Auntie Jean, out of the local mental hospital for the day, was extremely fat and wore a skirt with red London buses on it, made from an old kitchen curtain. Jean could sit for hours watching cartoons on TV and had an adoring crush on our mother.

A typical conversation: "Is that blue you're wearing, Maritza? I do love it."

"Do you, Jean?" - our mother always addressed her with great respect - "Well, thank you. I got it at Debenham's actually, in the sale."

"I love it, you look like a princess - you are attractive, you know."

"Jean," (little laugh) "that's very kind."

But a few minutes later, our mother would offer Jean the bread sauce and she would jab a finger into the air and say aggressively, "Do I know you? Have we met before?"

"It's me, Jean, it's Maritza."

"Oh. I thought it was you. Is that blue you're wearing?"

We children didn't like Jean because she was ugly. She had great purply, crackly burns on her legs where she'd pulled her chair up too close to the gas fire, and her grey hair was specked with dandruff, and she smelled of pee. Our mother always went out of her way to give her glamorous Christmas presents. Once she gave her some Estee Lauder perfume and Jean wept with surprise and pleasure.

Sometimes Grandfather (surrounded at Christmas, he thought, by potential converts) tried to tell Jean about Jesus. "Have you heard the Good News about Jesus?"

"Jesus who? Do I know him? Is he here?"

"Jesus Christ! He's alive and He's here!"

"Oh good, we could do with some more men - I don't know whose this party is, but have you noticed it's all women?"

Well, 10 years later that stepfather was no longer in our lives and Auntie Glenda got pneumonia and died and - years later, apparently - so did our step-granny. I don't know what happened to Jean. Sometimes, when a family that was never really yours disperses, you don't know what to think - all those Christmases.

The Snow Scene's still here. We lay it out on a roll of cotton wool, with inverted tea cups as hills. Auntie Jean always remarked on the Angel with her dolly lashes and little round "O" of a mouth. "That Angel's nearly as old as me," I say when Raphael kisses her. Jonathan snorts.

The tree - now successfully balanced and threaded with fairy lights - stares down soberly at us, about to be draped in sentiment.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

    Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

    Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

    £70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions