NOTE: This is affectionately written fiction. Any resemblance to royals, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This piece is copyright protected.
Need to know Who’s Who? Check out the first installment of ‘Milla’s Diary.
On our calendar the most dreaded day of the year not related to SWMNBN is the family Christmas lunch. I’m told it used to be much worse–they used to all congregate at Windsor for a traditional family Christmas house party. Thankfully the Mother-in-law and Pip got fed up with Cousin Pushy’s complaining about the dungeon her children’s nanny was housed in and Cousin Whoever’s ranting about how far it was to the loo in the middle of the night and then Aunt Somebody’s lumbago required a two-bar heater and….well, if you’ve ever hosted family you know. You just know.
Dear One’s brother-in-law the Equerry arrived first. He has to. No one else would know what to do if he wasn’t there to sort it all, now would they? He walked from his desk at the office of Naval Underpants Supply or where ever it is he parks his hat these days. He’s been a tad grumpy since TOTH (i.e. his wife) was given an honorary rank above his earned rank. I don’t blame him, but TOTH is both the Mother-in-law and Pip’s favorite child. So, anyhoo, he arrived and found the drinks trolley or whatever he does until we all arrive.
The Press Johnnies were out to try to get photos of the family members no one but Debrett’s knows are relatives. They come in on scooters or in taxis or walk in and get frisked and told the tour is off today. Those sorts. They have to submit a photo 24 hours in advance so they are recognized. Thank heavens we get copies– so very helpful since we only see them at Christmas and Trooping the Colour. The mother-in-law knows every dog and horse belonging to a 6th degree relative but struggles with anyone’s grandchildren but her late sister’s. Her equerry (the real one) reminds her who they are by giving the dog or horse’s name sotto voce. Works like a charm.
So once we were all gathered, we were shown to our table of gifts by order of precedence–weakest links first. Baby1 and Baby2 got a lovely reception. Dear One was very chuffed. Finally the Mother-in-law and Pip entered to a flurry of neck bows and curtsies. Then because absolutely no one gives a fig about the others, the order was given and mayhem ensued as gifts were opened. Quite a few managed
to worm out of coming have other engagements worthy of an excused absence. The boy, poor lad, was away on a very miserable task. At a legitimate friend’s funeral. Granny understood–offered the tank (her limo) but he took himself and a security chap in a Range Rover. Sad when a Range Rover is fuel efficient by comparison.
Pushy managed to get most of her family there. Gossip from the maids (they always know) is that her granddaughter was born after her command. She thinks the child will be the ideal bride for Baby1. Not a chance. They were all perfectly photographed–she makes the chauffeur carry a light meter. As I was getting out of the car I heard one old dear ask if Pushy was Barbara Streisand! Dear One is still giggling. He went over and kissed the old dear, but do the press show it? NO. They replayed a photo of SWMNBN greeting some OAP at Palace event decades before. Typical.
The fun began when Dear One opened his gift from Mummy. Once in a very great while she is spot-on with gift-giving. It was an exact copy of the first lovely German-made tin of watercolors that she and Pip had given Dear One in 1955. He was overcome. Unusually thoughtful. Pip, of course, gave him a new tie from one of [Pip’s] his own regiments. In rayon, early 1960s from the look of it. Dear One, realizing Pip had likely mistakenly done his shopping in the attic, let it go. These things happen with aging.
TOTH, of course, being the favorite, got a diamond Parurue formerly belonging to Queen Charlotte and valued and something close to the Gross Domestic Product of Canada. Her husband got the Navy’s standard Christmas rum ration and standard Senior-most officer gift. Poor chap.
The Boy was given a racehorse (which the Mother-in-law has graciously let stay at the Sandringham stud) valued only slightly less than Sandringham itself. She’s worried. Once she goes will she be the last monarch to race horses? The boy has close to zero interest, but Granny is trying. Yummy got earrings worth about as much her engagement ring and that were made to match it, but made for Yummy herself, not for SWMNBN.
The trouble began when Edith and Randy began comparing gifts. Never good. Both got their noses completely out of joint of the “ridiculous favoritism” (their words) shown the boy. Edith does ride horses, but Randy likely can’t spell horse, so there really was no way they’d have received a racehorse now is there? Edith got a perfectly lovely Smoothie maker from Mummy and a lovely vintage BOAC DC10 pull-toy (the attic again) from Pip, while Randy got a Landseerer from Mummy and a package of vintage Y-fronts from Pip (the attic must have been doing a clearance sale). The boys argued and almost came to blows. “Mummy’s boy!” “Get blowed” and worse were heard. I stepped in. It’s always up to One, isn’t it. I pulled out my phone and googled the value of the Landseerer then the BOAC toy and since the toy was in the original packaging and since Landseerer hasn’t been popular since the Prince Consort’s day, they were dead even. Peace reigned.
At last we queued for lunch. Pushy pointed out that the Boy’s abscense created an opening at the top table. Naturally she felt she, or at least one of her family deserved it. The Mother-in-law looked perplexed. Force of habit she looked to the equerry (the real one) to sort it. He pulled out a note pad and started scribbling names.
“If you would please, Ma’am….” he said, holding out his hastily received hat now holding the names.
The Mother-in-law whispered something to him and he nodded vigorously.
The Mother-in-law pulled out a slip of paper and read it aloud.
“Vice Admiral [the Equerry–the son-in-law one]” was the chosen one’s name.
Edith looked appalled. Eat with the help? They all forget that technically he’s their brother-in-law.
The others grumbled and started to look for their place cards. The mother-in-law was handed a bull horn. A tense exchange while Pip insisted on showing her how to use it. Haza, bless him, grabbed the horn and Granny fed him his lines–which he edited.
“Right you lot! Spongers below #30 to the left. The trolley will be around with your meal. Have your dinner card ready. No card, no meal. This is succession order. Repeat success order. Those of you not in succession order are at the back the table with the oilcloth–repeat the table with the oilcloth for those not in the succession. Have your dinner card ready.”
“The rest of you are in Family order. Those of you above 30, but below 12 are at the table with the cotton cloth and the household canteen china. Numbers 12 and up, plus the winner of the dinner drawing,” he nodded politely to the grinning winner, “… are at the top table with the good stuff. Move out.”
The Mother-in-law thought him such a hoot! They huddled together giggling watching Pushy give the oil cloth a dab with a personal hygiene wipe from her purse. Randy and Edith, forced to eat on mere cotton, looked angry. Meanwhile Pip and Baby 1 had helped themselves to a mountain of mashed potatoes and gravy of the trolley and were making airplane noises, swooping in, scooping some up and feeding each other.
The best was yet to come though. The Mother-in-law is a superb hostess at state dinners. With the family it’s a bit different. Cousin’s G’s wife had lost her dinner card. No she could not get a replacement. A paper plate was found and they were allow to share his meal.
The trolley emerged and the oilcloth table got their cut-price ready meals served on junior staff canteen plates with mineral water. The cottons’ trolley brought around a choice of chicken on pork with 2 veg and bread roll or the vegetarian lasagna–they were meant to have booked but none did, consequently most were unhappy with their choices. The box of wine was brought out and each was given exactly half a glass, no refills if you did not book and pay the fee. Edith and Randy were fit to be tied. Randy’s daughter swilled openly from a flask reading “Keep Calm and Party On.” Edith’s wife swilled from a flask that read “I kissed a frog and got one.” Edith’s
props children said the school dinner ladies served better and got smacked for it by Mummy who quickly apologized to the Mother-in-law for her offspring’s manners.
At the top table we lucky few got free-range organic lamb, mashed fingerling potatoes with pub-style gravy (not sure if had stout in it or was made by Heinz) minted fresh peas (organic of course), white asparagus poached in free-trade, fair labor organic white wine, Artisan granary spelt rolls with first press olive oil (butter for the oldies) a salad of mixed heirloom tomatoes on Tuscan greens with aged balsamic and pomegranate vinaigrette, a choice of exotic artisan cheese and a choice of four wines and six deserts. It’s not like the other’s couldn’t have had this–they just needed to book in advance and pay the difference. Cousin K’s daughter and son-in-law booked for the entire family. Someone in the family learned to read at least.
Yummy, under strict orders to EAT heartily so it doesn’t get in the press that she’s pregnant again or anorexic or worse, having got down an entire asparagus spear, a crumb of artisan Stilton, a bite of lamb and a spoonful of mashed potato to please her son, pronounced herself “stuffed.” She popped a grape from the cheese tray and called it “desert.” Made us all proud. We’d never her seen her hoover up food like that before. Very impressive.
Pushy’s face when handed a cut-brand ice lolly and a sheet of kitchen roll as “afters” was priceless. Haza sent it via Snapchat to the boy and he’s framing it for Dear One for Christmas–it’ll go over the loo of course–all such do. Only place for them. Truly, though, what a hoot! Her in mink and her never-met-uber-pretentious-late-m-i-l’s diamonds (half are paste–they had money troubles a few years back) eating a purple ice lolly. I can die happy. I have truly seen it all. Randy and Edith had to make due to with supermarket trifle–its one of Randy’s favorite things on Earth though so the favoritism thing came up again. Edith’s wife solved it by pulling out a Mars bar and snarling “here.”I was so proud. She’s coming along nicely.
At exactly 3:00 pm the National Anthem was played and all stood. When it ended the Mother-in-law handed Haza the bullhorn for dismissal right after everyone had regained their seats.
“Oilcloth, ‘shun!” He barked like an RSM. Chairs scraped and heels clicked.
“Public transport patrons and cab riders right face, march!”
“Wasteful private car drivers, right face, march.” They did, but a wife forgot her purse and scurried back to disapproving looks. At the door each was handed a souvenier of the day– a new framed photo (plastic) of Pip and the M-i-l and a voucher for 50p off the summer tour.
“Next lot–on your feet cotton!” Same drill only they received silver plated frames on their photos and an entire pound off the tour entry fee.
“Now, the rest of us–at ease.”
Haza had us all laughing imitating Pushy eating her ice lolly and making rude remarks to her husband (who looked like he taken quaaludes before coming).
As he kissed Pip goodbye Dear One shouted into his better ear “Nice try, Papa. I’m not taking another of your regiments. And this one amalgamated with the Lowland Hussars in ’71. Next year shop at a store, not the attic.”
Pip looked at him and said very seriously, “We’ll discuss your maths and Latin scores after dinner.”
Afterward, Dear One, sentimantal thing that he is, kissed his mother and thanked sweetly her for the lovely gift.
“It was in the with the toys they sent round for me to choose from–for the babies. When I saw it I remembered you and Papa painting that Christmas and how Mummy and [her sister] praised your efforts. You’ve always done so nicely at painting.”
The Garter didn’t mean as much. He blubbed all the way over to the Masoleum. They won’t be around much longer. He knows that. Both are desperately trying to pass on their patronages to keep the organizations they’ve represented from going under in many cases. Yummy, soft touch that she is, gained one before lunch. Pip was so pleased. We forget just how old and frail they both really are. Next Christmas could be the first without one or both. I’m glad we had a good giggle today.