We have a side board in our hall. I had wanted one in my homes for years and years because there was one in my house when I was small. My childhood Aladdin’s Cave.
It was one of those old-fashioned ones of dark wood that took two adults with the sweat lashing off them to shift. I think it once had a mirror, but that was long gone by the time I arrived on the scene. It had a middle where bottles of drink sat and on each side were two cupboards. I would hide in the cupboards in the summer trying to make people worry about where I was. I always got bored and came out before anyone noticed my absence.
But those games were not possible in the Autumn and Winter. From the start of October, the “treats” started to build up inside the cupboards. It is where the Christmas cake was stored, with its weekly feeding from the brandy bottle that sat proudly in the middle. The cake would be joined by the two pudding bowls, smelling of dark fruits, spices and more brandy. And every week extra delights would go in.
It would start with a jar of pickled onions and the annual jar of mayonnaise, us being a salad cream family. Then the packets of cream crackers and Tuc biscuits. And then the biscuits. A big USA tin. Then a couple of weeks later in would come the chocolates and lastly the Turkish delight. Maybe it all sounds mundane now but then it was the height of extravagance.
They would be full before the Christmas tree was bought. Always with the cake sitting on top of everything so it could be gently taken in and out. I would sit on my honkers with the door open looking at it all every week in the hours between getting home from school and eating dinner. I would smell everything that could be smelled. I think the brandy in the cake must have evaporated with the regular little openings of the tin foil at the side so I could breathe it in.
The middle bit for the drink got fuller too. The lonely bottle of whiskey that normally sat in the big space would be joined by the brandy very early on. Then a couple of bottles of Blue Nun and Black Tower would make an appearance. A few cute bottles of Babycham nestled beside the four bottles of Porter. And the Christmas minerals would be built up too. We never even asked could we have some. We knew it was untouchable despite the big day being months away. It was an exercise in planning, restraint and expectation. And the funny thing is I don’t remember the eating and drinking of it all nearly as much as the glorious anticipation.
My sideboard doesn’t have cupboards, just open spaces to put the bottles of drink into and big bowls of reasonably regularly updated pot pourri. It is filled with unopened bottles only to be opened on “special occasions”. And when I polish it I feel that little girl and her expectation come to visit, reminding me of a joy that can come through a rejection of instant indulgence and the value of active appreciation of what we have and will have.