Yes, it is once again this time of year where I shamelessly plug my festive novel, Secrets and Mince Pies.
It is the story of a family in the four days leading up to Christmas, all of whom have a secret to hide. And there isn’t even any maths in there. Well, not too much any way.
Monday 22nd December
There were few people in the world who annoyed John more than Cliff Richard. Graham Norton was certainly up there, and so too were Richard Madeley and that bloke off the Halifax adverts. But what made Sir Cliff stand out head and shoulders above all the others, was that he had been consistently annoying John for over four decades. There were several reasons for this. There was his hair, his voice, his unnaturally orange skin. There was that video where he was prancing around on roller-skates, and that brown leather jacket he insisted on wearing everywhere. There was his name, which was rather appropriate, thought John, as he wanted to throw himself off one every time he heard one of Cliff’s records. There was the fact he turned down Sue Barker at her peak, and of course who could forget the day God took his revenge on tennis lovers and the whole of mankind in general by making it rain at Wimbledon and allowing good old Cliff to get his hands on a microphone. If only Cliff had gone on his Summer Holidays and stayed there, thought John, the world would be a far better place.
And right now, Cliff was up to his old tricks again. John was trying his very hardest to concentrate. He knew he had to if he was to have any chance of salvaging what was turning out to be a pretty desperate situation. But how could John’s brain be expected to function normally with the sultry sounds of Sir Cliff seeping out of the speakers and invading his ears?
Even for Cliff, thought John, this was a low point. As far as John could tell, he had nicked the words of a well known prayer, combined them with the music to that stupid song everyone sings at New Year, and chucked the word “Millennium” into the title to make it somewhat topical. And as a result he had got to number one, made a shed load of money, snapped up a few more brown leather jackets, and in the process ruined the Christmases of millions of people around the world. John wondered if EMI would be interested in his own musical endeavour – “A Hymn for 2004”: the words of Hail Mary set to the tune of the Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up.
Anyway, enough of that. John had to concentrate. He was in trouble. A few moments ago, Bradley had confidently scooped up all seven of his letters, arranged them neatly on the board, and in response to his father’s bemused face, announced:
“QUASSIN, as in the medical compound obtained from the wood quassia. And that’s on a double word, and it also makes QI, the vital force that in Chinese thought is inherent in all living things, and UP, as in the opposite of down… so it’s eleven points for QI, five for UP as the U is on the double-letter, seventeen doubled is thirty-four for QUASSIN, plus the fifty point bonus for using all seven of my letters, makes… one hundred points. Which moves me onto three hundred and eighteen, and you are on sixty-five. Your go Dad”.
John again looked down at his letters. He had six vowels and an L. He didn’t think his son would accept “AAAOOEL”, even if it was the exact sound he wanted to scream at the top of his voice right now.
Still, thought John, as he carefully placed his A, L and E after his son’s S to pick up a handy four points, if being serenaded by Cliff Richard whilst being comprehensively destroyed at Scrabble by his ten year old son was the only thing worrying him this Christmas, John would have been a very happy man indeed.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
The voice came from out in the hallway, but it managed to creep its way underneath her locked bedroom door like an unwelcome intruder.
“Gemma, can you please get off the phone!”
“One second, babe… yes Mum, just give me five minutes, for God’s sake!”
“You said that an hour ago. Come on love, I need to call your Auntie Lorna”
Gemma pretended not to hear and instead pulled her blanket right up to her chin and started wrapping her long, recently dyed hair around the index finger of her spare hand.
“Sorry about that babe, just the old parentals again. I wish they would just chill out”
“Have you told them yet?”
“Babe, we’ve been on the phone for almost two hours. Don’t you think I would have mentioned something about it if I had told them? Anyway, we agreed we’d tell them together, remember?”
“No, I don’t mean that, I mean have you told them that I am coming for Christmas?”
Gemma’s nose was itching, but her finger was too entwined in her hair for a quick release. She struggled to get it free, and ended up pulling out a few hairs in the process causing a sharp pain to dance across her head and a small tear to appear in her eye.
“Ow!…Yes, I told them this morning”
“What did you say?”
“I said: Mother and Father, the person who is screwing your daughter is coming to stay with us for Christmas, so that he and I can screw right through the festive season and into the New Year. Here are some earplugs, you are sure going to need them”
“And what did you really say?”
Gemma smiled to herself.
“I said: Mum and Dad, would it be okay if my darling boyfriend Matt came to stay with us over Christmas? His parents have gone away on business, all his family are abroad and he has nowhere else to go. He can sleep in the spare room, and he is very good at washing up and making cups of tea”
“The spare room?”
“Yes, but don’t worry, babe. I know where all the creaky floorboards are and how to avoid them. Let’s just say that you are not the first male guest to have stayed over in the spare room”
Matt did not reply, and Gemma immediately regretted what she had said. She had to remember that Matt wasn’t like all the other boys. He was a keeper, and the last thing she wanted to do was to drive him away.
“Anyway, Mum was a bit funny about it at first, and she and Dad asked me to go out of the room for a bit while they discussed it – I think they must have picked up that technique from some TV show, or something – and then about five minutes later they called me back in and said it was okay, so long as we respected The House Rules”.
“So, you’re sure it’s okay?”
“Chill out, babe, it’s totally fine, honest. They’ll love you, just like I do”
Gemma smiled again. Matt wasn’t the first boy she had used the L-word to, but he was certainly the first for whom she meant it.
“And when are we going to tell them about… you know, the other thing?”
Gemma looked out of her window. She could see the road below lit up by the soft orange glow of the street lamps, and above it a world full of stars.
“I don’t know, babe, I don’t know”