A Christmas Bessie, Then and Now…
“So here it is, Merry Xmas
Everybody's having fun
Look to the future now
It's only just begun…” Slade
Whilst the good folks of Linlithgow prepare for Santa’s arrival on the other side of the world, we in the Far East (Hong Kong, not Caithness) prepare for the Winter Solstice.
In my wife’s hierarchy of festivals it ranks ahead of the Lunar New Year. This is the most important family gathering of the year.
There is however one rule that is dominant even over Mrs Hu: The priority of the male child over the female.
So, blessed are we, with two daughters and two sons-in-law that it is the families of the latter that get to host them on the Winter Solstice itself. And so it comes to pass that we shall hold our celebration one day early.
Mrs Hu’s festivities begin early with a trip to the wet market.
My first visit to a wet market with the memsahib was many moons ago. Fresh produce here is essential. The fish is chosen whilst it is still in the land of the living, and the choy sum is wrapped with soil around its roots. Behind the hawker’s table stand baskets of clucking chickens.
My introduction to this place was memorable. After inspecting several hens Mrs Hu selected the one I’d immediately named Bessie. And while I expected to return later to find Bessie pretty much ‘oven ready,’ alas the events that followed were more Hammer Horror than home cooking. The hawker hoisted Bessie by the legs and with a swift and well-practiced sweeping motion shuffled her off this mortal coil.
As the blood drained into a drainage tray behind the hawker I wondered whether this could ever happen in Waitrose.
I do recall in days of yore, before I had flown East, walking past the celebrated purveyor of fish, fowl and game Macfisheries. The pheasants hung from the hooks, along side the odd glassy-eyed hare, and the fish glistened in the sun. But I never saw the coup de grace, except on a Sunday when dad mowed the lawn.
Today’s festive shopping now complete, joy unbounded awaits as a day in the kitchen beckons.
Now I am unable to reveal more of what goes on behind the closed doors as I am persona non grata in the mess. In fact I am not even allowed near the cheese grata. This all stems from my first ever offer to help prepare the food. ‘You’ll cut yourself,’ said the memsahib.
‘Rubbish,’ I countered, almost simultaneously slicing off the tip of my finger.
I remain unclear who produced the greater flow of blood, Bessie or me. Sadly for the chicken, several rounds of Elastoplast and lint would not have helped.
A few years on Mrs Hu mused that maybe, just maybe, I had done this deliberately to ensure I was excused kitchen duties until death do us part.
Heaven forfend that any such thing should cross my mind.
Now as we are newly minted grandparents the offspring will this year not come to us. We will go to them.
And that is where I come in.
For, dear reader, I have to drive the whole banquet across Hong Kong in peak rush hour traffic without spilling sauce or gravy.
Have you ever tried stuffing a Porsche full of Chinese food? Neither have I. Frankly, I am contemplating offering to switch places with Bessie.
One thing is certain however; after the expletives have been deleted and the food safely delivered we shall all sit down (if there are enough chairs) and enjoy a feast that would make Henry VIII blush.
Grandma will dote on her grandchild, the sons-in-law will pay homage to one of Bessie’s descendants and a fair amount of damage will be done to some of the best beef in Hong Kong.
We even have a bottle of Bolly to wash it all down.
Apart from the transportation lark this is a tradition that shall never die. As the famous film Dinner for One says:
James: ‘The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?’
Miss Sophie: ‘The same procedure as every year, James!’
Lest you think we skimp on Christmas, let me reassure you that come Christmas day we shall all retreat to my club.
There we shall enjoy a Christmas lunch buffet that will surpass anything that the Mandarin Oriental can offer.
It starts always with lobster and ends with stomach-ache.
Father Christmas will wander around and have his picture taken with children from 1 month to 90-odd years old.
And none of us has to do anything.
Last year the club kitchen cranked into action at 2am to be ready for us to arrive shortly after noon. And then at six in the evening I will drive down again and collect our evening repast, also cooked by the Club and fit for a King (other genders are available).
We recognize fully that we are privileged and blessed to be able to enjoy life in this way. Many are not so fortunate. For them the festive season is not merry.
Hong Kong is home to some of the wealthiest folk on the planet and to some of the poorest. Sadly it usually turns a blind eye to the latter.
Whether you celebrate Winter Solstice, Christmas, another festival or none, the Hu family wishes you all a very happy 2019 and may prosperity be shared more widely in the coming year.