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'Twas the frozen turkey fright before Christmas


Frances Burscough

Frances Burscough

Frances Burscough

It's Boxing Day and at last you can relax after weeks of frantic preparation and pressure. Now is the time to take stock of the season and to think back at how well everything went. Or not. For me, coping with Christmas as a single mum has been a monumental learning curve with lots of pitfalls along the way. As the old song goes, “at first I was afraid; I was petrified ... ” at the prospect of having to do the whole thing on my own.

But now, at last, I feel like I’ve got my family Yuletide festivities down to a fine art. To many, the thought of having Christmas dinner alone with just your kids and no extended family there to join in might sound sad or even miserable.

But in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. Now that the boys are both adults, it has evolved from being a single-handed nightmare to becoming an absolute pleasure among my two greatest friends.

The major advantage of doing it by yourself (without a husband, partner or in-laws to entertain) is that you can make up your own rules and invent a few traditions, too. For example, Christmas dinner in our house takes all day, because (very sensibly, I think) we stagger it.

So, instead of sitting down to eat at 2pm and then completely gorging ourselves on five courses for three solid hours until we look and feel like busted sofas, we start at midday and have a glass of buck’s fizz and a seafood starter then leave the table for a couple of hours while the turkey is cooking. The boys usually go off to play a new game on the Xbox, or to watch a movie, while I get all the components done for the main course. Then we re-set the table — putting out the Christmas crackers this time — and eventually when it’s all co-ordinated and everything is ready, I serve the traditional turkey with all the trimmings.

Then we have another break because, frankly, everyone is completely stuffed by this stage. One of the boys will build a lovely turf fire in the hearth and light the candles on the mantelpiece, while the other does the latest batch of washing up. Then we all sit back and relax for another few hours and watch some of the festive Christmas specials on the telly.

 The good old Christmas pud, mince pies and all the assorted sweet treats are saved until tea time and then, later, if we have enough room, we’ll put out a cheeseboard with grapes, dates and a nice bottle of port to graze on for supper.

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Ok, it’s not conventional doing it that way, but it works wonderfully well for us. As much as I used to love the old-fashioned Christmases at home in England, with twenty-odd family members all sitting together, celebrating in unison, our small scaled-down version is totally relaxed, pleasurable and stress-free. I don’t feel like I have to impress anyone or to be a domestic goddess. And no-one will worry, care or complain if I take a few culinary shortcuts à la Bisto, Paxo and Aunt Bessie, which I certainly wouldn’t dare do if there were a mother-in-law on the scene!

I mentioned earlier that it wasn’t always so stress-free, and to illustrate this I’ll tell you about the one Christmas disaster that has since gone into the annals of Burscough family history. It was the one where the dogs got the turkey.

Nine years ago, my mum had just died. My sister Marie, who was also recently separated from her husband and had two kids of her own, was struggling to cope and admitted to me that she couldn’t face “doing Christmas”. So I invited them all, lock stock and barrel, over to stay with us here in Northern Ireland.

They were due to arrive a couple of days before Christmas, so I got all the shopping done well in advance including a huge frozen turkey. This was far too big to fit in the fridge, so I placed it in a bucket to defrost slowly in the garage, along with all the trimmings, then locked the door.

When they arrived there was the usual hysteria and pandemonium that ensues when four young cousins and three small dogs collide. ‘Chasies’ followed by ‘hide and seek’ followed by ‘tag’ were all going on outside while Marie and I had a glass of mulled wine in the kitchen and mulled over everything that had happened.

The next day as I was looking out of the window I noticed a single solitary sprout sitting in the middle of the garden. Closer inspection revealed a baby carrot and a trail of spat-out peas ... leading from the wide-open garage door.

Yes the kids had left it open, the dogs had got inside and, basically, feasted royally on chipolatas wrapped in bacon, sausage meat stuffing and (most tragically) the turkey, which was now shredded of its skin with assorted canine bite marks pitting its flesh.

Forensic analysis didn’t uncover who the ring-leader was, but Bailey the bichon frisee did look sheepish for the remaining days of Christmas. Thank goodness for the corner Spar shop, which had one last remaining turkey in its freezer. This time the door was bolted.