DJ Taylor: The Huntley family would not dream of contriving excuses to stop Auntie Carol visiting


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No one can quite remember the precise nature of Auntie Carol's connection to the Huntley family. It is thought that she may be a cousin of Mr Huntley's uncle by marriage, now dead.

At any rate, she has been coming to the Huntley household in Cambridgeshire for Christmas these past 30 years, always arriving on Christmas Eve, always leaving the day after Boxing Day, always driving herself in a dilapidated Hillman Husky dating from the first Wilson premiership and nearly always radiating festive cheer of a kind rarely seen outside film adaptations of A Christmas Carol.

In the old days she used to bring vaguely unsuitable gifts for the children, but the younger Huntleys are all grown up, and their whims un-guessable, so Auntie Carol now confines herself to communal benefactions – bits of provender bought at Fortnum & Mason and obscure drinks from a bygone social round. The bottles of Warninks Advocaat and the flagons of Blue Nun with their shiny labels lie untouched in the drinks cabinet until the following Christmas, when they are sometimes brought out again by mistake to the manifest embarrassment of everyone except the donor.

Nearer 80 than 70 now, hair dyed to a far-from-discreet shade of auburn, nicotine-stained forefinger held permanently aloft to emphasise some conversational point, Auntie Carol is, by her own admission, the life and soul of any party going, keen on paper games, charades and what she calls "right old knees-ups", in which the Huntleys are compelled, out of courtesy to their guest, to join. This rather manic extroversion is assumed to be a natural consequence of the somewhat isolated life she is thought to lead in her service flat in Kensington Church Street, west London.

Casual visitors to the house rarely fail to be charmed by Carol, while acknowledging that her enthusiasm for Trivial Pursuit is balanced by a complete lack of the general knowledge necessary to play it. There is also her habit of venturing downstairs in the small hours to pick at the turkey and knocking over household ornaments en route. The Huntleys are polite people, and would not dream of contriving excuses to stop her coming. In any case, where else could she go? "At least Carol seemed to enjoy herself," Mr Huntley invariably remarks to his wife as the Husky judders off down the drive. The question of his own enjoyment hangs unanswered in the air between them.