Nothing like the family to make you feel loved

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CHRISTMAS morning dawned crisp and clear. Brightly wrapped presents nestled under the tree. Snow began to fall.

'Oh Christ,' said mother, as she popped a clementine into the juicer. 'You promised you'd given that up.'

'I have,' said Jake. 'I'm icing the bloody cake.' He wiped his nose, distractedly. 'And if you don't stop nagging, I'm not staying for lunch.' Mother bit her lip.

'Onions making your eyes run, darling?' asked father, breaking off a hunk of panettone and brushing the crumbs on to the kitchen floor. 'Missed breakfast have I?'

'We were waiting for you,' said mother. 'And Britt.' She kicked the crumbs under the fridge, narrowly missing one of the twins.

'Britt?' said father, rearranging his pyjama bottoms. 'I haven't seen her this morning. I think she's homesick.'

'Better comfort her, then, hadn't you?' said mother, stabbing a clementine. Father smiled and trotted upstairs.

AFTER breakfast, the family gathered round the tree. Father lit the candles; the sweet smell of beeswax competed with the heady frankincense pot pourri. A large ginger cat purred in front of the fire.

'Well,' said father, with a twinkle. 'Who's first?'

'You've already done Britt,' said mother, with a hard little smile. 'Why doesn't Jake do the honours?'

Jake didn't hear. He was sitting on the sofa, whispering something to Britt. Having spent 45 minutes on the phone to Sweden, she seemed to have recovered her spirits.

The twins were now screaming with excitement; Jake, who couldn't stand loud noise at the moment, handed out the presents. Father poured himself another Scotch; he was still wearing his pyjamas. 'No point getting dressed, is there,' said mother, grabbing the bottle.

The twins seemed disappointed by a handmade Galt jigsaw. Luckily, Jake had bought them plastic AK47s. 'Don't want Poppy going all girly, do we?' he said.

Mother twisted her matching tea-cosy and tea-towel in her lap.

'A bra?' said Britt, glancing at father. 'You know how it is that I don't wear one.'

'Oh really?' said mother, who had done most of the shopping. 'Well now you've got one. Isn't that lucky?'

THE dining-room table was groaning: chestnut and mushroom Wellington, a small free-range turkey, roast parsnips, pureed carrot, stir-fried Brussel sprouts, homemade cranberry sauce. A Bach sonata drifted through from the living-room. Mince pies lay cooling on a sideboard. At 12.30 precisely, the doorbell rang.

'Great-aunt Agnes,' gasped mother. 'What a surprise. You're supposed to be recovering from your colostomy]'

'Brought the bag with me,' said Great-aunt A, popping a humbug into her mouth. 'Still having trouble with it, mind. Anyway, you're the one that's supposed to be recovering. I'll take over lunch while you lie down. And stay off the Scotch] It doesn't mix with Mogadon.'

An extra place was laid and the family sat down to eat.

'See?' said Britt, arching her back prettily. 'The new bra, it fits just right. But Jakey,' she added, 'sit here on me and help the strap please.'

'Bloody sprouts are raw]' boomed Great-aunt A who had been dissuaded from interfering in the kitchen. The twins squawked happily.

'Seconds anybody?' said mother.

'Oh, I've been filled up,' said Britt, who had toyed with her parsnips before popping peas, one by one, into the mouths of Jake and the twins. Father scowled; he was still wearing his pyjamas.

'What's the matter with you?' shouted Great-aunt A, grabbing the trifle and helping herself straight from the dish. 'Ants in your pants?'

'You could put it that way,' said mother, knocking over the empty bottle of Scotch. Britt excused herself, as she did half-way through every meal. Mother made coffee, which didn't disguise the unpleasant odour that now filled the air.

'Bloody twins are a bit old for nappies, aren't they?' said Great-aunt A. 'Oh you are a wag,' said father. 'Give her a hand, will you, mother?' Unfortunately, the bathroom door was still locked.

DUSK fell. The moon - low, full, magical - cast a silvery light on the holly bush. A robin hopped around the back door. The cat, full of brandy butter, purred contentedly. The twins were sound asleep, a wisp of tinsel caught in their hair. Merry Christmas]

Miles Kington is on holiday.