It’s Xmas. Again. Didn’t we just have one? Jan went to work early today. Stuff to catch up on, she said, ‘before Xmas’! I’m still in bed, clobbered by this thought.

    Mayhem and Meander, in varying states of school uniformery, heard it too. They are bouncing on my feet, listing gifts they feel are their due. They may as well be speaking in the lost language of Cheesefork for all the sense it makes to me. Meander needs an Intergalactic Powertron Surge Thumper, otherwise her short life will be in extremis. For his part, Mayhem would accept the full range of Crepuscular Dolls, minus Twaddlenutter whom he thinks a ‘poseur’ and a ‘try-hard’.

    I weakly admire that the boy prefers the dolls and the girl, agents of annihilation. They shake their heads in unison, disturbingly redolent of the open-gobbed clown heads sideshow alley game. They sigh, and swapping sentence for sentence as only twins can, lecture me on my obsolete take on gender politics, ostentatiously quoting Friedan, Greer and curiously, Jane Austen, although they agree to remain agnostic on Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Again, I am undone by eight-year-olds.

    I promise to erupt from under my doona should they not leave my bedroom immediately. Works every time.

    ‘Tis the season

    As we drive to school, I am vaguely aware that there is some ante-upping being negotiated in the back seat. Still the phraseology evades me: a Crisis Management Hover Angel, a Beached Twuss Blender, four Grumpstruck Levels [but not the blue one], Aches IV and The Endgame.

    As I chew over the difficulties of ‘Santa’ sourcing a Tri-Sided Pope Splasher, my peripheral vision begins to take in the glitz and twinkly of early adopters of Xmasglam. I alert my beneficiaries to the full-tack house bling barnacled to the exteriors of five bed, five bath, future slums. I point out lavish fake-lawn displays of exotic fauna, up to their airborne hooves in unseasonal drifts of plastic snow. I remind them that when the sun goes down, these aberrations will beam blinding light of such wattage as to test the integrity of all of the creaky power stations rotting in the Latrobe Valley, and therefore their environmental inheritance.

    I drop them, slightly rattled, at the school gate with a cheery, ‘merry Xmas one and all’ and get served up ‘easy with the sarcastic cultural bias, dad’ in return.

    To be jolly

    That evening, Jan is unsympathetic. The Xmas ritual, she tells me, was a burden shouldered by her alone for all those years [only eight, actually] when my Important Job kept me closer to a bar than the bosom of the family. I fuss guiltily about not so quickly dismissing the importance of bar time for networking, and how I couldn’t have reached the giddy heights of success I had achieved without it.

    She, in turn, hoped that I remember that sentence while enduring all the late nights she has planned to bang into the fence, the gate, the front door, the hat rack, the bookcase, the kitchen table, bench and chairs while unburdening her body of redundant clothing on her way to a well-earned, profoundly-networked coma at my side. Snoring optional. As I taught her.

    OK, I get it. I need to front up to this once-revered custom and breathe fresh air into its crumby leavings. But I wonder out loud if I am the right man to champion this curious meal of diminished seminal Christian orthodoxy, basted in narrow self-interest, roasted in fundamental market economics, served up to a ratty array of unwanted guests who have little in common but some shared genetics, under the pretext of ‘Doing It For The Kiddies’. Do I have The Right Attitude?

    Jan said: ‘Shut up, you wanker.’

    It was plain. The whole sorry event needed a rebrand. But what? I needed help.

    Fah la la la la

    Steven Maurice Belt was bent forward and poking at some of his piles of the ‘good stuff’ that comprised his motley Bazaar ‘It could be here!’. His fist gripped an iridescent pole that dangled wires from a transformer at its base. It was connected to four skateboards strapped together with ‘Police and Fireman’ braces and weighed down by eighteen car batteries. The mantra from his closed lips sounded like: ‘yigonnadieyaratbastids, yigonnadieyaratbastids, yigonnadieyaratbastids’. His big face was colonised by welder’s goggles. A piece of twine around his waist secured the long tails of five incinerated rat carcasses.

    It’s best not to surprise Belty when he is pursuing one of his ‘solutions’. I proved this by doing just that. Belty turned quickly, his black glass eyes reflected my sudden understanding of the enormity of what I had done. But it was too late. Belty loosed a trigger secreted in his mitt and 200 volts of lightning danced around my feet. The ragged cuff of my tired Levis caught and burned two inches off the left leg before Belty could splash a vat of reeking sludge water over my lower half and extinguish the blaze. The instant blister that ringed my ankle hurt.

    ‘Don’t ever do that again, Mandible*’, he said. No, I won’t.

    Over a sherbert or two, Belty and I ran around the avenues of Xmas. There was one awkward cul-de-sac when Belty admitted to never having much truck with ‘that birth of the Christ child nonsense’ as he was a Hondak. An ancient atheistic Malay cult of pacificism and niceness, Hondakians were renowned for helping themselves to the valuables of the rich in the name of ‘equal rights’. Briefly, I wondered just where all the ‘stuff’ in Belty’s yard had come from.

    La la la la

    The religious aspect aside, Belty agreed that the taint of commercialism had rendered the whole fiasco meaningless. Combining simmering family resentments and alcohol in a confined space was, he thought, ‘just asking for it’. But, while that was evidence enough to signal its immediate execution, there remained one redeeming feature.

    ‘Pud,’ he said, salivating.

    I don’t know if it was the fourth mug of Belty’s yuletide spirit, or if the image of a tumescent pud, fat with fruit and dripping in brandy was a genuine ecstatic vision, but I was in. This was its new Unique Selling Proposition. This was how I would position it in the family marketplace and allow us all the keys to the greedhouse, as it had always been, and as it will ever be.

    Let them eat pud

    ‘Henceforth it will be known as Pud Day,’ I gushed to Meander and Mayhem after prising the girl-child away from a stump speech entitled ‘The perils of allowing an old bearded stranger into your home at night’ that she was inflicting on a listless group of classmates her brother had cornered in the playground.

    ‘Pud Day’, they tested in unison. ‘Will there still be presents?’

    ‘Yes. And more food, and drinks for grown-ups, and treats for kids, and Gran will tell her special stories, again, and Uncle Rob will remind us about his talents, and your cousin Nance will detail our failings as a society, and there will be hats and crackers, and Mrs Pratt will bring a plate of stale shortbread. Uncle Rob will win the cricket and Aunty Marge will remind mum of that thing she did ten years ago. But most of all there will be The Pud, which we will burn, then eat too much of and everyone will fall asleep,’ I told them.

    They then deployed that telepathy thing they do. I could see the winks and tics and small nods reflected in the rear view mirror. It took seconds. ‘Pud Day it is,’ they agreed, happily.


    *Not my name.

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