It has been a difficult Christmas. In fact, the last eight weeks have been extremely challenging, after recent business traumas. So I was looking forward to Christmas dinner.
I insisted on cooking (I normally do at my parents-in-law, but this time at home) and we invited seven special guests. The guest with the longest journey arrived on the 22nd of December. The lovely Mam flew all the way from Bangkok to join us. She lies fast asleep on the sofa across from the TV as I type this.
Earlier this year Mam worked with Varinder for four weeks on a pet food project with low income households in Bangkok. They got on so well that Varinder pleaded with her to come and spend Christmas and New Year with us.
I find Mam to be extremely funny and diplomatic. I have tried to cook her my version of Thai food and even though I knew it had gone disastrously wrong — too much salt — she tasted my concoction, nodded her polite approval and claimed that it tasted delicious.
Tomorrow, Varinder will drive her to a local Thai supermarket so she can choose her own ingredients and cook for us later in the week.
My mum arrived on the 21st of December and left directly after Christmas dinner to be with my sister up in Leeds. She mispronounced Mam's name by constantly calling her Maam at every opportunity. Mam, in turn, referred to my mum as Ma'am (in courteous American style).
It is all very confusing and I kept meaning to get around to asking Mam to refer to my mum as, Jaleh, her name, but I never did. Mum had mentally locked herself on to referring to Mam as Maam and I knew she was beyond help. Occasionally, and this was the most irritating part, I even heard my mum calling her name and pronouncing it “Mum”.
To cap it all my mum kept asking Mam if she was good at cooking Chinese food. We reminded her repeatedly that Mam is from Thailand and an excellent THAI cook. It was pointless: “Cheshmaash ke cheeniye, deegeh cheh farghi meekoneh — cheeni yaa taailandy?”
I had to force my clenched fist into my mouth and breath out through my nose to calm myself.
Our wonderful close friends Sam (the economist) and Arosha (the eye specialist) also came on Christmas day. Sam can cheer up a terminally depressed Canary in a cage with his humour and laughter. I was counting on him to keep me entertained while I slaved over the stove. Instead, he had been collared by my mum in the lounge. She wanted to know all about how was Sri Lanka different than India (Sam and Arosha are both proud Sri Lankans).
I strained to listen in case she said anything to embarrass me. You see, I still suffer sudden twitches from the time she left a message on my answer phone which I played unknowingly in front of a now ex-girlfriend. The first part was in Farsi and the second part in English (with a strong Farsi accent) — I had no time to switch the machine off: “Pedar Sag ye zang be man bezan. Panj rooze az to cheezi nashneedam. If you don't call me tonight I vill come to your house and cut your cock off.”
I explained to my ex that the police were trying to trace these calls and that whoever the caller was would soon be arrested. She was not convinced and stopped seeing me soon afterwards.
So, I spent most of Christmas day alone, sober and sweating in the kitchen. When time came to eat, I lifted the beautifully browned turkey out of the oven and carved a slice from its breast. As I cut deeper with each slice I realised that the bird was still only half cooked. Red, still uncooked, turkey juice was going everywhere and Arosha the doctor pointed out that it was so undercooked that a kiss of life would revive it.
I had to agree. Fortunately there was enough cooked breast to feed the carnivores. The rest of the carcass was returned to the oven for a further 40 minutes at 190 degrees. Varinder had pasta which I had prepared at the same time and one of our guests, who has a phobia of birds including cooked ones, ate lamb — which I had prepared as well.
By the time we sat down to eat I looked and felt exhausted, had lost my appetite and still had to sit through the entire meal listening to my mum calling Mam, Mum or Maam and all this interwoven with the Queen's speech in the background.
Dessert was Iranian. We ate bakhlava, noon Napeleoni and zoolbia bamieh with tea from our samavar. Heaven. I soon fell asleep on the sofa to the Maam-Mum lullaby. When I opened my eyes again the others had fallen asleep, including Varinder. I seized the opportunity to have more bamieh and noon Napeleoni.
A few days have passed since Christmas (it is the 28th today) and a colleague, Nick, from work came by to say hello. He took one look at me and said, “Siamack, mate, what have you done to yourself — look at your gut — you're going to kill yourself!”
Varinder gave me one of her “you fat f**k” looks and I braced myself for what was to follow after Nick left:
“Will you ever lose weight? Do you want to lose weight? What about our future kids? What if you die young and I'm left all alone with three kids to raise?” (who said anything about three kids?!)
There is nothing I can say to any of the above but let her work it out of her system. Lord knows I want to be slim again. Lord knows I want to say “no” to sugar. Lord even knows that I want to grow to a ripe old age.
The low carbohydrate diet worked and I did lose two stones, but then I gave in to my beloved rice and bread. I am back to where I started — seventeen and a half stones. There is another attempted weight loss still in the planning stage (involving a prescription drug procured by another medical friend — not Arosha) I will keep you informed.
Finally, my Christmas presents. My most gorgeous Varinder and her wonderful cousin (the dentist) have ordered a Nintendo Game Cube for me. It won't even be in the UK til March but most people who know me are suggesting that I will become addicted and will never wash or work again.
For me Christmas presents also include those intangibles, which I have collected over the past twelve months and am taking into the new year. The most important of these are lessons learnt from my father-in-law. In the past few months we have been thrust together in a business capacity. I had no idea up to that time who he really was, other than Varinder's dad, or what he was like.
He took my hand and walked me safely and soothingly through the business equivalent of a minefield — literally, one wrong step, word or action and we would have sunk without trace. Granted, he may have done it for his daughter more than for me, but I still learnt valuable life lessons. A paragraph here will not do this experience/lesson justice. One day I will write all about it — even though he has asked not to be referred in my stories. It would be a gift worth sharing.