Tea and Turkey

Christmas with the Queen

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

When my Canadian climbing partner and I accidentally blew through our expedition funds a week ahead of schedule, we had to decamp from our winter break headquarters deep in the limestone crags of southern Greece and repair to our collegiate lodgings in Birmingham, England.

After enduring a Byzantine two-day train journey we stumbled into our Dickensian domicile just a few strokes before midnight on Christmas Eve bearing 75-pound backpacks and a burlap sack full of purloined oranges to share.

Although we successfully avoided disrupting the slumber of our kindly landlady during our ascent to our shared attic garret, her despotic 12-year-old son caught us red-handed as we tiptoed past his bedroom on the landing.

“Oi!” yelped the impetuous urchin as he accosted us in his Empire Strikes Back pajamas.“Why the bloomin’ sod are you dodgy ponces back already? Mum said you weren’t due till after New Year’s!”

“All that Peloponnesian sunshine made us too happy for our own good,” whispered my partner, gifting him an orange for appeasement. “So, in order to balance out, we needed to calm down in some gloomy, British-made rain.”

“Bollocks,” grumbled the urchin as he aggressively brandished his Christmas fruit. “You’re both desperate and broke! And if you don’t keep your muddy grabbers off my Christmas stocking tonight there’ll be a proper pasting waiting for you at the grub-up tomorrow. My uncle from Wales is a black belt in Taekwondo and he’d be pleased as punch to lamp you square in the goolies.”

We didn’t wake up early enough to watch the urchin desecrate his Christmas stocking, but we were able to make our way downstairs in time to savor the ritualized eccentricities that animate Christmas on the storied isle of Great Britain.

Our adventure commenced in the sitting parlor with generalized ceremonial gift exchanges, kazoo-assisted carol singing and the orderly distribution of tasseled party hats. Inevitably, tea and biscuits were served and a giant tray full of tiny sandwiches was wheeled in.

At some point, a bucket of chilled champagne magnums appeared and somebody fired up an Elvis Christmas album on the turntable. Spontaneous dancing erupted. A tumult of off-color jokes and razor-witted banter ensued.

Once the dinner bell rang, we were herded into a tinsel-bedecked dining room and seated around a lavish banquet table. Candles were lit. Wine glasses were filled. Multiple toasts for world peace were graciously raised by our host.

To honor this sumptuous feast, I inhaled three portions of roast turkey plus generous helpings of Brussels sprouts, pigs in blankets and mince pies—leaving room for the brandy-infused dessert that followed.

I was starting to feel pretty confident in being able to handle everything the Brits had to throw at me, but before being excused from the table to watch Queen Elizabeth II give her annual Christmas speech on the telly, our host directed us to open our Christmas crackers.

Tugging too hard on the opposite end of my climbing partner’s segmented cardboard tube, I went flailing briskly backward amid the mild clap of a decisive explosion.

My left hand wrecked the mashed potato bowl, but a tiny flashlight and plastic whistle key chain were mine for the taking.

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