Christmas A – Z… “P”

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Is for…

PANTO: Old hat, I know, but I love a good panto, me. Well that’s not strictly true, because it depends on the company I’m keeping while watching them, but give me a couple of excited kids who are completely caught up in the whole thing and I love a good panto, me. Which is a pity, because good pantos these days seem few and far between.

A good panto needs a beautiful woman as the leading man, a couple of old poofs as ugly women, and another beautiful woman for the beautiful woman playing the leading man’s role to fall in love with. An odd combination I’m sure you’ll agree, but a winning one that had until recently stood the test of time.

mother gooseNow, though, pantos are often not pantos at all but “shows”, and second rate shows at that! They still do “the business” – be it the laundry scene with wishy-washy or the kitchen scene with Widow Twankey – and hisses and boos and behind yous etc, but this often seems more a case of the cast going through the motions than putting their hearts and souls into it.

My favourite panto memories are of taking my son Ben to Canterbury to watch Dave Lee in his special Happy Holiday charity matinees. I’m not generally a fan of divisive “disability days”, because all disabled people should be able to access all shows at all times and feel included, but Dave Lee’s pantos were an exception to the rule because they got it RIGHT. Loads of non-disabled siblings involved too, but the whole thing done in a way that put parents of children who might not respond to the outing in entirely the manner prescribed at ease. It was hugely liberating to enjoy a show in the knowledge that if Ben or one of his friends couldn’t cope and kicked off the other parents would understand and accept rather than tutting and muttering under their breath. It was also great to see disabled children on stage not being patronised or otherwise differentiated for beyond any immediate needs arising from their disability.

dave leeAs well as Dave’s brilliant handling of “the business” (I’ll be honest and say he was never the best of Dames, being not quite camp enough to pull it off, but that aside his comedy timing and ad-libbing were second to none) I also remember with huge fondness watching Toyah play the evil queen. A baddie with a very pronounced lithp giving it the ol’ ‘Oh no it ithent / oh yeth it ith’ routine is a joy to behold!

Dave Lee died in 2012 and his Happy Holidays charity folded the year after. Thanks for the memories, Dave – greatly appreciated.

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PIGS: Warning – the following post contains graphic references to the consumption of pigs and to other forms of omnivorous gluttony. Vegans and vegetarians may want to skip to “Pudding”…

Those who keep the Jewish faith don’t celebrate Christmas and don’t eat pigs. I know this is mostly to do with the Jesus and nativity aspects of the season, but often wonder if the pig thing is a big part of it too, because as far as my own family’s celebrations go Porkers and Christmas go hand in glove.

They say the only part of a porker you can’t eat is its oink, but I suspect those catering a Christmas dinner (along with many hotdog manufacturers, who seem to have a very “Waste Not Want Not” attitude to ingredient assemblage) could well make good use of the oink too. Squeezed – or perhaps squeaked – in somewhere between the stuffing and the pigs in blankets (pork wrapped in bacon, for heaven’s sake!), I think the oink would make up for in character what it lacked in bulk, adding a subtle authenticity and earthy charm to the dining experience as a whole.

In my house the pigfest starts at breakfast with a good old-fashioned fry[1]. Given the festival of gluttony that unfolds throughout the rest of the day this may seem like overkill, but in childhood we only got one shot at a cooked breakfast per year and this was not an opportunity we could afford to miss, even if it took up valuable Quality Street room. A couple of rashers of sliced pig and several links of ground pig later and Christmas would be off to a fine start. Oink!

Come dinnertime the turkey took centre stage, but as I’m sure you’ll admit your gobbler’s a dry old bastard (or bustard?), and without the pigs in blankets and sausage meat and chestnut stuffing would prove almost impossible to get down. And then, of course, there’s the little cross of rashers high on Mr Turkey’s back that helped with the basting process, and even the sprouts these days are likely to get an extra turn in the frying pan with a healthy handful of bacon lardons or chorizo cubes for good measure. Oink!

flying pig clearAnd then there’s teatime. Whether traditional ham and pickles or an antipasto platter, the porker will be out in force. If you’re really lucky there will be sausage rolls and a nice Melton Mowbray or Gala pie giving it large with the mustard too, and maybe even a classic bacon-topped quiche. Oink!

Supper. No I can’t, honestly, I’m stuffed. Oh alright then, perhaps just a small sandwich. Turkey and ham. And if there were any pigs in blankets left from lunchtime maybe… … Oink indeed.

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PTSD: Some Christmas comedowns are harder than others…

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Pudding, Christmas: Also known as “plum pudding”, “figgy pudding”, and “the duff of doom”, the Christmas pud is a cannonball of boiled suet and mixed peels and fruits. It is traditionally served with lashings of cream, brandy butter, rum-infused white sauce, and good ol’ custard between the main course and the wafer thin mint and coffee (Irish on request) course. Liberally fed with brandy in the weeks approaching Christmas and doused with even more of the stuff before being set on fire at the table, the duff of death potentially has an alcohol content greater than its mass. It is, in this regard, the alcohol equivalent of a black hole, and many have fallen victim to its pull betwixt dining room and sofa. Bon appétit.

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[1] A poshnob friend of mine advises that scrambled eggs and smoked salmon are the order of the day at her Christmas breakfast table. I have two things to say to that: ‘Humbug’ and ‘Bollocks.’ I dislike salmon intensely, both for its wishy-washy flavour and for its recently acquired pretention. Truth is, the truly posh historically detested the stuff and, after catching it in their private streams in their Scottish/Irish country piles for SPORT, would give the catch away to their impoverished beaters and keepers in lieu of a living wage. And the beaters and keepers hated the bloody stuff too! Clever marketing has seen salmon become a Christmas staple for many – it sells by the bucket-load  at farmer’s markets in the Tunbridge Wells ‘Village’ area, I have no doubt – but as far as I’m concerned you can stick it where the sun doth never shine. Now a nice brown trout, if you’ll excuse the pun, is a different kettle of fish altogether…   

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