It began with a stocking and the wind, blowing across the South Downs like a cold typhoon, shattering the silence and causing our nine-year-old son to jump into our bed, terrified that his insomnia had wrecked his chances of a chimney-Christmas.
Fears allayed, he slept, then awoke to ravage the contents of expensive gifts made cheaply in China. Then, a task was set. Go downstairs and put the (electric) kettle on, son. You can charge up your iPod, you can turn on our Christmas tree lights… you can boil a kettle.
Job done, he returned. Thirty minutes later, my wife goes downstairs… then screaming and panic. “OUT, OUT, OUT, everybody OUT! This place is going to blow!”.
I came down to the kitchen on fire, grabbed the dog’s blanket, finally put out the fire as the electric kettle fizzled under the tap and its melted plastic congealed on the cooker. Yes, my son had filled the kettle, turned on the hob and placed the electric kettle on the hob. A. Chip. Off. The. Old. Block. Innit.
My wife’s somewhat strange reaction (“the place is going to blow” etc), I put down to too many viewings of Homeland, but our narrow escape was forgotten as we went for the Christmas walk, promising to replace the batteries in the smoke alarm that were taken out during one of those ‘cooking’ experiences.
So, the Christmas Walk. Along swollen Sussex rivers and overburdened weirs, no Christmas Day swim this year. Ahead, the black Labrador frolicked, rushing through the bogs, happy as a dog in marsh, as Larry, as a pig in shit.
The ground, the earth in our element-watch, was sodden and dangerous. My son walked ahead, I told him to take care (you know what happened with the kettle), so I took over, striding as a patriarch but looking like John Cleese in his Ministry of Silly Walks.
Next moment, no earth, only water up to my neck and my beloved Cordings covert coat (bought after watching Lock, Stock) drenched in running water. Back on relatively dry land, my hand rushed to my mobile, it was wet but OK, the wallet still there, the rest cold-wet.
Laughter from my wife and son, a nagging fear from quicksand memories in Egypt that brought rictus and filled Wellington boots and a cold walk home through the rain.
Rounded elements. Wind, then fire, then earth and water. A hot bath, some pages from The Alexandria Quartet by Laurence Durrell, then a slow Christams lunch at a pub where the car was left and the stomach strained.
Then home to the TV and the ‘proper’ presents. The lighting of the hearth, the glow of lazy TV and piles of discarded polystyrene and knotted ribbons.
Outside it was cold, inside there was a kitchen without a kettle, but somewhere a memory cached for the future that this was a most excellent Christmas Day.