From the UK
written and performed by Jimmy Hogg
directed by Paul Hutcheson
movement director Kate Nankervis
Venue #13- School of Contemporary Dancers
211 Bannatyne Ave
***** “Dickens would love this guy.”- Orlando Sentinel
“…some of this award-winning performer’s best work”- Orlando Weekly
FIGGY PUDDING is the latest solo show from Fringe veteran Jimmy Hogg.
The “master of the tangent,” returns with tales of Christmastime;
Santaphobia, Trivial Pursuit, mountains of food, and drunken parents
trying to play Charades. Jimmy Hogg guides us through a family
Christmas in Plymouth, UK with this heart-warming, hilarious
“He’s got a wickedly rapid, sometimes bitterly sharp, delivery.” CBC Manitoba
Jimmy Hogg is a writer, comedian and storyteller who has made his name
on the Fringe circuit over the last decade with his fast-paced,
physical, tangental style. He won Patron’s Pick in Winnipeg 2008 for
Like A Virgin and enjoyed great success with Curriculum Vitae in 2011.
Comparisons to Eddie Izzard, Rik Mayall and John Oliver are frequent
if not always accurate or merited.
“Hogg is uproariously funny… a wonderful storyteller.”- theatreinlondon.ca
He has numerous awards and merits including: BEST OF FRINGE- Toronto
(2008, 2009), San Francisco (2006), Boulder (2006, 2008), Minnesota
(2006, 2007, 2008), Cincinnati (2009); OUTSTANDING COMEDY AWARD Ottawa
“Hogg is irresistibly charming, enthusiastic and adorable- a gifted
physical performer.”- nytheatre.com
For the REAL fans, the transcript of the play is available below.
Christmas music. Enter. Dad, hungover, begins to make himself a rum and milk. We meet Mum in the kitchen, she’s prepping dinner, smoking and drinking sherry from a coffee cup. Kylee sits playing with Ken and Barbie, she makes them kiss. Danny is brooding, reading and listening to his walkman. Music fades out…
I’ve always thought it demonstrates a certain maturity and rationality to be wary of an old, fat, bearded, bespectacled bloke who magically flies around at night breaking into peoples houses. To be fearful of such an individual belies a certain wisdom as far as I’m concerned. But my Mother never understood this, even though it was directly from her that my fear of Santa- my Santaphobia, if you will- originally stemmed.
I should probably explain- it wasn’t until I first visited North America about fourteen years ago that I learned that you guys left out milk and cookies for Father Christmas- see, we always left out a homemade mince pie and a glass of sweet sherry and so I naturally assumed that Father Christmas, as well as having type two diabetes from all the mince pies, had some serious issues with booze. I’d seen what sherry had done to the Glaswegian tramps who slept outside Bretonside bus station yelling incomprehensibly at the dirty pigeons and empty crisp packets that drifted by and so of course I was scared of this freakishly benevolent, alcoholic maniac.
I was a bit of handful when I was younger, I was hyper, I was manic, I was erratic. These days I’m sure they would medicate me, they’d prescribe something- but that wasn’t an option when I was a kid and so my Mum was constantly exhausted trying to control me. She was always devising new methods, conjuring up stories, inventing and perpetuating superstitions in the hope that there was a chance that something would stick with me and corral my manic, erratic behaviour.
Mum: “If you keep picking your nose your brain’s going to cave in and then you’ll be a thickie, sat dribbling in the corner- a proper dunce like that lad at school Colin Cox…”
When Stephen Proctor, the vicar’s son revealed that his Dad was thirty-nine, Colin Cox- not wanting to be outdone- said that his Dad was thirty-ten. He was a moron and he looked like one with his inch-thick glasses and permanent bubble of snot that expanded rapidly as he sighed, looking like the white of a fried-egg, violently frothing in hot oil. And my Mum said that if I kept biting my finger nails then I would get gangrene and my fingers would fall off- which actually I thought would be kind of cool because I longed to be an Arctic explorer and a missing digit or two seemed a necessary qualification; she said that after finishing my boiled egg and soldiers that if I turned my egg upside down so that I could crack the other side it, thus pretending I was eating a whole new boiled egg- which, but the way, is the most fun you can have with a hollowed out egg shell- then I would contract Japanese Encephalitis. Which was only scary insofar as it was foreign sounding, which in turn, conversely, made it seem like something that happened to other people, like earthquakes, drought and famine. Y’know, they seem really, really bad but just aren’t the sort of things that seem to happen in Devonshire.
And she came up with this fella called The Sandman- a derivation, I presume, of the guy from the song ‘Mr. Sandman’ who sprinkles people with a kind of magic dust that gives them lovely dreams – only this guy was some kind of hardened, chain-smoking, whiskey drinking Private Investigator who would follow me around for my entire life and then report back to my Mum if I’d been naughty.
Nothing really worked until Christmas Eve night, when I got into bed and I’d start thinking, whilst lying there- duvet pulled over my head, sweating, trying to control my breathing, pretending to be asleep, because I knew- having now been convinced by my Mum- that if Father Christmas found out I was awake he would go mental, he would lose his shit, he would be apoplectic with rage and go storming out of the house taking all my presents with him- and the thought of having no presents- especially when my brother and sister would obviously be getting them- was devastating.
I’d hear the bedroom door creak open- I don’t know how it works over here, but in the U.K. Father Christmas comes right into your room, he doesn’t just come into your house, he comes into your bedroom, no wonder I was terrified of the man- and even though I was buried under my duvet and even though my eyes were clamped shut, I could feel a shaft of light come in from the landing. Then I’d hear Father Christmas stuffing me and my brother’s stockings with presents- just a few small things, the real presents would be under the tree downstairs, in the front room. And I would stop breathing and become stock still like the crocodile I’d seen at Paignton Zoo that my Dad was convinced wasn’t real because it never moved, but I’d seen it blink once, because I’d stood there looking at it for nearly an hour while everyone else went off to watch the lions being fed, which is basically just a dead, supermarket quality chicken being thrown into their cage whereupon the male bullies the female and takes it, but then she gets one right after anyway, so it’s just a big waste of time- and everyone thought I was a lying about the crocodile blinking because I’d habitually and somewhat automatically lied about everything- I’d lied about seeing the poison arrow frog- in the same zoo- actually stun and then eat a cockroach and I’d lied about having a purple belt in Tae Kwon Doe and I’d lied about having seen The Fly with Jeff Goldblum and when asked what my favourite bit was I just said I liked the bit where he turned into the fly- and I’d lied about that time I’d poohed in the school swimming pool and they had to evacuate it and have a sanitation crew come in and drain it and clean it and there were three days without any swimming, which was everyone’s favourite thing and it was all my fault because I didn’t want to ask the teacher- Mrs Weeks- if I could go to the toilet because then she would belittle me for not going beforehand- as though I can control these things, I’m a child- I pooh when I wanna pooh and sometimes I don’t have much notice on when that’s going to be- and so I pooped in the pool and swam away from it and Melissa Atwater, who had the best hand-writing in school, perfectly braided hair and a huge collection of erasers that filled three pencil cases which she would arrange on her desk to show off her collateral- the one that looked like a strawberry smelled so much like a strawberry that you could almost forgive Colin Cox for actually eating it one day- anyway- she- Melissa Atwater, spotted the foreign object bobbing along towards her- it was a floater- and screamed a scream worthy of a soon to be dead blonde teenager in a horror film… But I didn’t lie about the crocodile blinking, I’d seen it with my own eyes- and it seemed to take an age for the stockings- which were just football socks, really- to get stuffed with presents, until… finally… I’d feel the footsteps move away, the door would creak again, I’d hear the gentle clap of the loose floorboard on the landing and I knew that he’d gone. But I didn’t move because The Sandman was probably watching me from an unmarked car parked outside- eating cheeseburgers, smoking cigarettes and counting the missed calls from his disgruntled ex-wife- I remained petrified until first light broke though the gap in the Superman curtains and then I’d begin to breathe, knowing that it was morning.
So I’d wake my brother up and we’d go through our stockings- our socks- and unwrap the small toy plane or car or soldier and eat the chocolate coins almost immediately, pausing only to improvise a game with myself where I was a king who was rewarding myself for slaying an ogre, a dragon, a rival from school- with gold- made of chocolate- chocolate gold- which is the best kind of gold there is- which I would then eat in the style of cookie monster. Then I’d unwrap the three or four satsumas and painstakingly segment them all and remove all the pith before systematically consuming each piece. Then we’d unwrap the nuts in their shells- our parents actually wrapped individual nuts, either to keep us busy in the morning or because we really were asNOT POOR poor as I thought we were. We’d crack them open by lifting up the chest of drawers and dropping it on them and then picking out the edible pieces of nut from the shards of shell.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the YouTube video of the Dad who lets his two little kids have an early Christmas present. The boy, who is about five years old is elated to unwrap a banana, “It’s a banana Daddy, it’s my banana.” And the little girl who is only three, excitedly opens an onion and says, “It’s my pumpkin-onion, it’s my present, it’s my present Daddy.” Aside from being adorable and hilarious, that video reminded me that when I was a little kid, I was excited to unwrap an orange or a brazil nut, because it was a present, it was my present and the whole ritual of receiving a present was in and of itself a pleasing and exciting event. It’s only when I got older that I cared about the contents and perceived value of a gift.
In 1985, I was nine years old, all I wanted for Christmas was a He-Man action figure- from the cartoon, He-Man and The Masters of the Universe. I just wanted He-Man… and Castle Grayskull- which was the mystical lair where He-man resided and was the source of his power… and I wanted some of his allies- like Stratus, Man-At-Arms or Mekaneck, who had a telescopic neck, which could extend really, quite far and was useful for looking over walls and hedgerows and other such things that were higher than a person which one might need to look over in some sort of spying capacity… and of course I wanted Ram-Man, a comical, unbright, tubby little fella who could batter down doors with his head. I think in the cartoon he had a speech impediment, like a punch drunk heavyweight, undoubtedly caused by repeated trauma to the brain. At the end of any episode where he’d actually rammed something he would explain to those of us watching that you shouldn’t do this yourself because it was dangerous. But that never really stopped me charging people with my head in the playground, which had the added bonus of making the other kids think I was mental and therefore they were less likely to want to pick a fight with me. The only drawback being that Anthony Rowe- who actually was mental- thought I also wanted to pretend to be a triceratops with him and he’d try and stick the thorns from rose bushes on my nose so that we could chase girls around, but I wasn’t interested in such sophisticated methods of courtship… LIST COMES FIRST> SWITHCH THESE PARA”S
On a piece of paper entitled, ‘Jimmy’s Christmas List’ I carefully and precisely detailed what I wanted, double and triple checking the eighteen digit reference numbers in the catalogue- because that’s where we picked our toys from- if it wasn’t in the catalogue, then it wasn’t available to us, it didn’t exist. This was one of the only ways that working class families could afford to buy their kids all the things they wanted, because you paid off the catalogue account in weekly instalments. Year round my parents were incredibly frugal- lights were switched off immediately and their necessity questioned when turned on at all; the heating was only turned on for the few hours after dinner, before bed, when we huddled around the television for warmth rather than entertainment; all three of us kids shared the same bath water which our Dad would hop into afterwards (Once I did a little pooh in the bath- it was kind of my thing, I realise now- the aquapoop- and my Mum just scooped it out with a plastic cup and we caried on with bath time- there was no way we could afford to waste the hot water, money was tight). But when it came to Christmas, they went mental and spoiled us rotten. Underneath the Christmas tree there would be a sea of presents stretching out across the living room carpet. It wasn’t until I got a little bit older that I realised they’d be paying off Christmas until long after the summer holidays were over.
It’s Christmas morning we’re sat on the floor and my Mum’s handing out presents to us all…
Mum: “Here’s one for Kylee from Granny and Grandad… This is for Daniel from Mum and Dad… This one’s for James from Aunty Margret and Uncle Malcolm. Here Dave this is for you, from me… ”
Dad: “For me? What’s this then? (He opens his gift) Fuckin’ hell- sorry, sorry Ginny, sorry kids- but that’s bloody brilliant that is… Yeah it’s a horsey Kylee, but not just any horsey, that’s the greatest racehorse of all time- Red Rum- won the Grand National three times and runner-up twice- I nearly missed you being born Jimmy cos of this horse- I won a tenner that year though, which was a lot of money back in those days. Here you go Virginia, this is for you, you won’t like it, but the receipts in the bag, you can take it back… fifty quid that lot was, top of the range, made in Belgium, real silk…”
My little sister’s tearing wrapping off shiny pink things- dolls, Care Bears, unicorns, My Little Ponies- I couldn’t be less interested if I’d rigorously rehearsed and perfected my disinterestedness. I open my He-Man figure who is every bit as cool as I thought he’d be and I also have Whiplash who is a kind of lizard-crocodile man who’s never been in any of the cartoons and is actually a bad guy, but he has a cool spear like weapon and a large tail which can thwack people when he swivels his hips… It’s a little bit sexy too. Thankfully I have Mekaneck, who is every bit as awesome as a chap with a telescopic neck can be- and when I say awesome I don’t mean awesome like your friends guacamole…
“Seriously Ainsley, I love your guac, it’s so awesome!” “Oh my God thanks Katie, your guac is awesome too!” “It’s so surreal that we both brought guac to the party, right!” “Like, yeah, like and like awesome guac too!”
Jimmy: “Listen, ladies, sorry to interrupt, but guacamole can only be awesome if it’s the size of a building or something that would actually inspire awe!”
“Who are you?” “Yeah, and what are you doing at our party?” “Yeah, what are you doing here?” “Yeah, we didn’t invite anyone else.” “Yeah, cos otherwise, like it would take, like, way too long to establish who everyone is.” “Yeah, and you can only do like two voices anyway.” “Yeah, you’re like so lazy.” “Yeah, like, we have like, the exact same voice.” “Yeah, there’s basically no difference, it’s so lame.” “Are you Australian?” “You sound like Hugh Jackman….”
My brother, has gotten a Skeletor figure- He-Man’s nemesis as well as two of his henchmen- Jitsu- who is an Arabian looking fella with one large gold hand that can do a deadly karate chop and he has Trap Jaw who is a cyborg whose jaw can crush anything. The battles we are going to have are going to be epic. And not in the way people use epic now… Your hangover is not ‘epic’, Homer’s Odyssey is epic, Lord of the Rings, the vast expanse of the Sahara- and it’s not surreal that you both brought guacamole to a party- if anything, it’s a reasonably predictable coincidence, it’s happenstance at best, it is not surreal- the work of Salvador Dali is surreal, perhaps some of the films of David Lynch in some ways, yes- or if you go home and open the fridge and Tuesday comes out- that is surreal.
My Mum hands me a large box, I don’t stop to read the tag, I just tear off the wrapping paper with a mixture of ferocity and glee, much the same way as I have opened every present so far, but with a little more vim and vigour. This is my main present, this is the big one, this is Castle Grayskull, this is He-Man’s lair… wait… no… this is something different… It’s not Castle Grayskull, it’s not a castle at all, it’s some kind of fortress… it’s called Fortress of Fangs, it’s from an entirely different franchise… It’s nothing to do with He-man, it’s not even made by Mattel, I’ve never even heard of it, it’s too small for He-Man and Whiplash to fit in, let alone Mekaneck with is useless, fucking telescopic neck.
Mum: “Sorry son, Father Christmas was out of Castle Grayskulls.”
And in that moment, I know there is no Father Christmas. I just know that we’re a poor family and that Castle Grayskull was simply too expensive and so I tell the first good lie of my life and I say, “It’s okay Mum, I love it, I love Fortress of Fangs, it’s great!”
One year I got a Casio keyboard for Christmas, I was thirteen or fourteen. I wanted to be the keyboard player in the band- they always seemed the most relaxed and content and their job didn’t seem all that technically difficult- just pressing a few buttons and dancing around- that seemed like something I could do pretty well. The same year my brother got a seven piece drum kit- no cymbals- my Dad, who, in a rare rush of blood to the head, had taken on the responsibility of buying my brother’s present- didn’t know that the cymbals were sold separately- he got the stands for the cymbals, but not the things you actually smash.
The Casio had its own drum-kit- six, red, cushioned pads that you tapped and prodded- and it could unconvincingly mimic dozens of other instruments- the french horn, the violin, the oboe. It had a setting, as perhaps all keyboards did then, which was the demo mode. You simply pressed a button and it played a full tune complete with synth drums, strings and horns that demonstrated the programable potential of the keyboard. I’d stand behind it, demo cranked, pretending I was playing the song myself and my parents would calmly acknowledge how quickly I was picking it up, each certain it was a trait inherited from their side of the family that had passed them by or skipped a generation.
Given that they were convinced it was actually me playing the keyboard, I felt that their level of excitement was somewhat muted- I was clearly a prodigy of some kind, or at least I thought that’s what they should think. In fact, all I had learned was the first few notes of Silent Night. Not the chords, just the individual notes themselves. (Singing) G A G E, G A G E, D D B, C C G, A A C, B A G, A G E etc… Meanwhile my brother just played the opening of We Will Rock You by Queen over and over again because it was the only part of any song that either of us knew that didn’t require cymbals.
We Will Rock You plays.
My parents like to drink. It’s cultural. It’s English. It’s what we do. Drink and colonize things. And explain that soccer is football and football is American football… everyday. Christmas drinking is special though and for my Dad it starts first thing in the morning…
Dad: “Rum and milk, sorts you out son, settles your stomach, it’s what the old sea-dogs drink on board ship the night after a big session.”
Half past nine.
Dad: “Right, time for a Bloody Mary… Worcester sauce, Tabasco… nice and spicy… I was on board this aircraft carrier, bloody great thing and this fucking great Yank Marine, built like a brick shithouse, he’d say, ‘Hey man, drink this,’ and you didn’t want to say no to these guys when you’re on their ship- others didn’t like it but I quite liked it…”
‘Other’s didn’t like it but I quite liked it,’ is a version of thing he likes to say about himself, showing that he’s adventurous and can mix it up with all kinds of people. Which he isn’t and he can’t, but he genuinely thinks he is and that he can.
Dad:“Nice glass of champers, I don’t really like it if I’m honest, but it’s Christmas, so you have to drink some bubbly, it’s what you do innit?”
Half past ten, he’d open up a can of ale.
Dad: “Must be alright to have a beer now cos the pubs would be open in half an hour anyway ,wouldn’t they? And besides it’s Christmas and Christmas is special.”
Christmas is special- the specialness and uniqueness of which can be invoked if anyone is eating something that perhaps they shouldn’t, drinking more than they probably should, or feeling somehow attacked, slighted, judged or picked on in any way. “It’s Christmas, come on, leave me alone, I’m enjoying myself.”
Dad: “I feel great after that beer, that’s pepped me up, that’s sorted me out, that’s just the ticket that… I’ll have another one, I think. It’s only 3.7% this stuff, that way you can drink them all day. Once I had three pints of Old Speckled Hen- that’s mental stuff that is- 5.2%. I didn’t even know what day it was, I went doolally, ended up pissing in the bin. So I just stick to this stuff until dinner time.”
Throughout the day and indeed, even after dinner, snacks and nibbles abound. A license is given to all and sundry to eat whatever they want whenever they want to eat it, because, like I said, it’s Christmas and Christmas is special. Snacks include but are not limited to: brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts- all in their shells- satsumas- the obligatory Christmas orange, Quality Street chocolates, Cadbury’s Roses, a tin of posh chocolate biscuits, all butter Scottish shortbread, After Eight mints, Ferrero Roche- a dozen large bags of posh crisps almost all exclusively purchased from Marks and Spencer’s- prawn shells, salt and vinegar chipsticks, a thick-cut pub crisp of sorts, a classic cheese and onion flavour, some kind of curry or tandoori thing, a bag of plain for my Mum, some scampi flavoured fries, bacon fries, Twiglets- which are Marmite covered twigs of crunchy wholewheat flour, obviously there’s pork scratchings- probably a couple of different types- the large airy extra crunchy ones similar to the Mexican chicharrones and then the classic, very salty, filling-destroying pig snack with the lump of greasy fat attached and the occasional hog-hair, just for character and authenticity. Then there are dry roasted, salted and honey roasted peanuts, jumbo salted cashews- of which my Dad will continually quote the price and miniature pork pies which my Mum will, quite rightly state, are much better up North. My Mum will also have made sausage rolls, minced pies, cheese scones (which my Dad pronounces ‘scones’ cos he wants to be posh) as well as Norwich rolls- which is cheese and mustard rolled up in white bread like a Swiss roll, then brushed with butter and baked in the oven until golden.
Then there are the more esoteric snacks, specifically, specific things, particularly particular to my parents house. Homemade pickled eggs that have been in a jar, in a cupboard under the stairs for years and which you have to eat outside because they’re impossible to be around unless you’re the one eating them; there’s sliced white onion in malt vinegar- just that, white onion in vinegar- like the youngest, laziest attempt at a pickled onion- not borne out of an inability to actually pickle alliums but from My Dad’s desire to simply consume onions simply dressed in Sarson’s malt vinegar which you pick out from their brown, acidic bath with your fingers and slurp back. There are cubes of cheese, piled high in a wooden bowl, just two or three pounds of extra mature cheddar sat sweating on the table- all day.
Dad: “Alright, it’s nearly three, Queen’s speech, everybody keep it down, be quiet, shut your trap… there she is, there’s my boss… she looks great doesn’t she? Looks like my Mum… Okay, where’s the rum, I’ve got to toast the Queen? You know the young kids on board ship couldn’t handle their rum ration, they used to hand it off to me and Jock, we’d get rat-arsed- could still do our jobs though. Jock was a laugh- him and Taff stole a taxi in Singapore and the locals chased us with machetes- it was him who convinced me to get your Mum’s name tattooed on my back-”
Mum: “Which they spelled wrong, you daft bugger! Virginia with two N’s! You look like a right Nanna on the beach!”
With dinner there is wine. They only started drinking wine when they lived in Portugal in the mid-seventies. Apparently before then my Mum didn’t really drink, but as she later told me, “You were conceived on vino tinto, you were- it was so cheap in Portugal- cheaper than water, y’know- it was silly not to drink it.” Which is precisely the sort of logic they regularly employ- logic with an absence of itself.
Usually wine is from a box, but-
Dad: “It’s Christmas and because Christmas is special I have carefully selected a range of exclusive vintages from all over the world. Here, taste that.” It tastes vaguely of Ocean Spray Cranberry Cocktail, my Nana’s Saturday night perfume that she bought in Marseille in 1957 from an Algerian sailor called ‘Pepe’ and barrel-aged, unfiltered gnats piss.
Me: “Yeah, not bad, Dad.”
Dad: “Yeah, it’s Bulgarian that- you see, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have good wine- your brother’s an idiot, the money he spends- more money than sense- no-one can tell the difference between wines anyway, it’s all just a big swizz to take money from idiots. Can’t drink the red stuff anymore though, it doesn’t like- I like it- but it gives me a funny head.”
“Yeah, I think that’s a hangover, Dad.”
“No, no, I don’t get hangovers- I don’t get them, cos I know what I’m doing. I just drink Pee-no Grig-ee-oh now and I’m fine.”
“You mean Pinot Grigio?”
“I don’t fucking speak Italian, do I? I’m just saying it the English way. Pee-no Grig-ee-oh. How’d you say it?”
“Yeah that just sound pretentious that, everyone would think I was a right wanker if I started speaking like that. I don’t ask for fromage when I’m in a cheese shop do I?”
Dinner is swift, perfunctory, pretty standard- crackers are pulled, hats are worn, jokes are told. There’s wine and cranberry sauce and oodles of gravy. There’s a Christmas Pudding dramatically set on fire with brandy which everyone is too full to eat, but they eat it anyway. The chef is congratulated, the table is cleared and then the table is set for Trivial Pursuit. Because what better time to play a quiz game to which no one knows any of the answers than when everyone is solidly drunk.
The greatest game of Trivial Pursuit happened in 1991 when we’d divided into two teams- my Mum and I versus my Dad, my brother and my sister. My Mum doesn’t like to read the questions because her eyesight is not the greatest and she never used to like wearing her glasses- unless she was in the cinema when she’d wait for the lights to go down before putting them on and whip them off the second the end credits started to roll so that no-one in the cinema would see her in them and judge her. It wasn’t until she had a medical in her mid-fifties that she actually started wearing glasses habitually. The doctor had asked her to start off by reading the second line on the chart, but she had no idea where the actual chart he was referring to was. The doctor remarked that he was amazed that she had made her way to the clinic without falling down a manhole or walking into a lamppost… But she loves to roll the dice for her team, she thinks her will alone can force an outcome. She’ll ask what number we need and then fix it in her mind, blowing on the dice for luck. When she hits the number needed she is filled with a childlike glee because she knows she has helped her team.
And we’re deep into the game, drinking, laughing and snacking on Norwich rolls and raw onion in vinegar and cubes of cheddar and lumps of salty, hairy pig fat and making fun of our parents for being thickies. My brother and I have affectionately dubbed them ‘The Thickie Twins,’ because now we’re teenagers we know all the answers and have had our suspicions confirmed that our parents know nothing. And my Mum picks up the dice and asks what we need and I tell her and then she rolls and we look to see what she’s gotten and we all crack up laughing- but my Mum’s not in on the joke and asks what happened, “What did we get?” and my brother, between breaths, manages to squeak out the words, “You rolled the cheese Mum, you just rolled two cubes of cheese.” We double over, we can’t breathe, my My Mum is kicking her legs in the air giggling, my Dad is face down on the table choking on raw onion, I’m on the floor flailing around and the cats have fled into the kitchen, terrified…
As if Trivial Pursuit didn’t provide enough excitement, afterwards, we play Charades- when everyone has exhausted what little mental acumen they had to begin with. Each player writes down four or five films or songs or television shows and then folds up their pieces of paper and then they go in a bowl and we take in turns doing them. There are no teams, there is no scoring, it’s just for the fun of it. If you pull out the clue you wrote you can put it back and if someone pulls out the clue you wrote you have to keep quiet and let everyone else guess.
My parents have very different approaches and attitudes towards games. My Mum just enjoys being a part of it, of course she likes to win, but more than that she’d rather everyone had a good time. My Dad wants to win at all costs and if he doesn’t win then the game is somehow flawed or rigged. Case in point, he’d pick up a clue and start…
Film… Two words… First word.
[He stands staring, thinking, takes the piece of paper from his back pocket looks at it] I’ve never even heard of this one.
No talking Dave!
[He thinks some more.] It’s impossible this one, no one could do this.
What does it sound like?
[Thinks, wiggles his ear.]
It doesn’t sound like anything.
Shut up you.
Try the syllables.
How do you do that?
On your arm.
At this point my Dad starts to trace out the letters on his arm, while we laugh and explain that that’s not how you do the syllables thing, but he doesn’t entirely understand and then just tells us the answer claiming that nobody could ever do that. But when he gets an easier one this is how it plays out. I’ll be him and you can all be my family- by which I mean that you have to guess, okay?
Film… One word… First word…
Yes, well done Hogg! It’s easy this game! That’s why I made chief in the navy! Let’s have a whiskey for the winner! Virginia pour me a whiskey and make it a fucking big one!
Get it yourself you fat bugger!
I feel pretty trim actually.
Oh, yeah, with all the real ale you drink.
They say it’s good to have a few drinks for you nowadays, it’s those wankers who worry about everything that die, I’m not going anywhere, I’m gonna live to a hundred me.
Not if I can help it.
My Mum always threatens to kill my Dad. Usually she threatens to throttle the life out of him, or slit his throat while he’s sleeping, or stab him in the heart with a bread knife. My Dad always welcomes the threats, saying that he’ll be glad when someone puts an end to it all.
There was a period in my life when I was about fifteen or sixteen when she started to refer to my Dad as ‘dickface’. I don’t know where she got it from. For some reason it used to bug me- I mean, my parents have always slung words at each other and it’s generally harmless and meaningless. Heckling, banter, sarcasm and doing whatever you can to undermine the position of someone else makes up the very fabric of our familial structure. But ‘dickface’ used to bother me. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I asked her to stop saying it, especially if my girlfriend was around. Inevitably it would come out though, she couldn’t stop herself, and then, suddenly remembering she’d say, “Sorry James, I know you don’t like it when I say that.” and I’d say, “It’s okay, Mum,” and she’d say, “He is though, your Dad, a dickface… aren’t you dickface?”
My Mum absolutely loves playing charades, she’d always wanted to be an actor or a dancer but had given up on it when she was fifteen and had to get a job in a garment factory, so charades serves as a great creative outlet for her. She’s generally pretty good at it, but obviously, what with all the drinking that happens at Christmas the level of comprehension and communication can vary. We were playing one year and my Mum had decided to do the whole thing, which for those of you who don’t know is where instead of acting out each word or part of the word you attempt to do the whole thing. This is usually only attempted if it’s a one word thing like Superman, or as a last ditch attempt because nothing else has worked or because of an undue confidence that one can successfully communicate the words written on the piece of paper with ones mime skills.
So my Mum starts doing ‘the whole thing’ and she’s just dancing around and she’s this little old lady, with this light in her eyes and she’s clearly enjoying herself immensely and we’re heckling her- we all heckle one another-
My sister says, “Spazzy! Spazzy mojo!”
My Dad says, “Fuckin’ hell, it’s not Dirty Dancing is it, I’ve had enough of that for this year!”
My brother says, “Is it, drunk slag goes to the disco after having had a bottle of sherry before dinner?”
I join in, “Thicky goes to the disco!”
She waves our answers away giggling- the heckling doesn’t bother her, but she stops and thinks for a bit and then berates us for not being able to get it, but we’re completely baffled, because all she’s doing is dancing around like a little old lady. And she thinks a bit longer about what to do, about how she can approach this and then just resumes dancing around, only with more vigour as if the previous lack of it somehow hindered our getting the clue.
My sister says, “Dopey the dwarf on the dance floor!”
My Dad says, “This could be fucking anything this could- wait there, is it The A-Team?”
My brother says, “Inebriated woman’s last turn before being sent off to an institution for the criminally insane.”
And I say, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Dream Team, Rain Man, I Am Sam, Forest Gump…”
Eventually we give up, it’s just impossible and she tells us the answer is The Rolling Stones… Apparently she was dancing around like Mick Jagger- she was just doing a Mick Jagger impression- and of course, as if to demonstrate to us how blind we are she resumes her dancing.
Rolling Stones song plays.
Once the games are over, we play the waiting game, waiting for our parents to become exhausted enough that they will go to bed and we can watch tele. My Dad’s always first to bed, but he’ll be first up the next day doing the dishes and deliberately crashing about the kitchen in the hope that someone wakes up and will hang out with him so he doesn’t have to be alone with his hangover. Which he doesn’t get by the way. He has never claimed, or rather, never admitted to having had a hangover in his life. He’s also never drank a glass of water. Ever. At any point. It’s just not something he does. Tea, yes- a small glass of orange juice on the weekend, certainly- but water, never. It’s one of those things I tell people and they think I’m lying or exaggerating, but, like the crocodile in the zoo that I saw blink, it’s true.
I haven’t been home for Christmas in years- it’s just not worked out that way. But I always call and see who won Trivial Pursuit and if my Dad’s gotten any better at Charades, which he hasn’t. They’re Grandparents now- my Mum is called Nana- which is what we called her Mum and my Dad is called Grandad chocolate- which is because he bribes, manipulates and buys the silence from his Grandchildren with sweets…
I told my family I was writing a show about Christmas and they were very excited and all had different things to add, different ideas they wanted to contribute to this show. And from all the different suggestions there were two things that everyone said I should do…
Mum: “Tell them the story of when I rolled the cheese, I don’t mind, they’ll think it’s funny.”
Dad: “Yeah, tell them the cheese story, that’s funny. If I was going to write a show, I’d make it funny. But don’t tell them how much I drink, that’s just fucking depressing.”
Mum: “Yeah and no-one would believe you anyway.”