Bring Up The Bodies. December 2013.

Dear Rowley,

You’ll be relieved to hear that come Christmas Day, prohibition was repealed at the Sherwood family home so knees were rouged, stockings rolled down and a good time was had by all. We had a house full of dogs – always a joy – and I can’t say I’ve enjoyed a Christmas lunch as much in years. It was the kind of succulent feast that makes one want to beam like an extra in an amateur dramatic performance of A Christmas Carol and say ‘God bless you guv’nor and Tiny Tim n’all’.

The only person who could have made it a better day was my remarkable grandmother Hilda Sherwood who is never far from my thoughts or heart. If my grandmother had ever appeared on Mastermind her specialised subject would be the perfect Sunday Roast dinner. Nan could have written sonnets to a baked potato slathered in butter and we once spent a good hour on the telephone going through the entire family of crustacea on the telephone giving crab, lobster, winkles and oysters our blessing or curse.

I do miss that World War II grandparent generation not least because their passing puts mine one step closer to the cemetery. Speaking of grave ends, don’t you adore the snaps of parents’ home village Beeley on the Chatsworth estate? I woke up on Boxing Day to find the entire village and valley shrouded in mist and iced with frost. Now, I’ve long held the opinion that Beeley is a horror movie waiting to happen. Even in daylight walking alone in the graveyard of St Anne’s Church you can almost hear the tap, tap, tap of Jack the Ripper’s lace-up brogue boots.

Apparently people move to the country because they crave the peace and quiet. I’m afraid to say silence frightens the f****** life out of me. Don’t know about you but I need the comforting wail of a cop car’s siren and a blood-curdling drunken shriek at three in the morning to help rock me off to the land of nod. At least in London you know there’s probably a psychopath or two lurking somewhere outside your front door. In the country the suspicion that there could be anything out there in the silence an darkness is the stuff of Hammer Horror.

Anyway, back to Boxing Day. To quote Evelyn Waugh’s Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited, today I will mostly be sip, sip, sipping like a dowager on a G&T that never runs dry and watching musicals: The King & I, High Society, Meet Me In St Louis and The Wizard of Oz. I do think it’s your duty come Christmas to make audience participation mandatory for every musical on television. Not sure parents’ sitting room is big enough for the Deborah Kerr ‘Shall We Dance?’ number mind…

Sometimes you have to make your own entertainment. Actually we do have to make our own entertainment after the death of my Grandmother Gandy a little while past. Nan Gandy was the family’s quiz master. A favourite every Christmas was the faces game. Nan would butcher the Christmas copy of the Radio Times and stick ten faces on ten cards and the teams had to guess who. The juxtapositions would have my glamorous Auntie Lynda and I (a ruthless team) in shreds.

On any given card you could have Christine Keeler, Robert Mugabe, Penelope (pronounced Pen-E-Lope) Keith, President Nixon or Pat Coombs. She’d occasionally bowl us a fast one such as Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia. Occasionally Nan Gandy would get the wrong name for the face – mistaking Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands for Gracie Fields for example – but if the name was on the card she was as firm as the Rock of Gibraltar.

I was going to write that we didn’t truly appreciate how wonderful the old family Christmases were at the time but I don’t think that’s true. I happened to be at my brother’s gaff in Bakewell on Sunday where Nan Sherwood used to live. She and I were entirely contented in each other’s company and I truly appreciated every  second spent with her in her apartment. I still have some of the notes she’d leave when latchkey grandchild arrived and she was out. My favourite is ‘I’ll call you from the club’ as in bridge rather than night.

Oh darling, High Society has just come on the telly box. Do you think any movie that’s been made in the past decade could even touch the cast of High Society? We’ve got Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, Celeste Holm and Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong as the Greek Chorus. Grace’s wardrobe has got to be Edith Head’s finest hour and the millionaires’ row seaside palaces and chateaux of Newport, Rhode Island are to die. And the Cole Porter score! Well, Did You Evah!’

Wasn’t Grace Kelly divinely beautiful? I’ve always been a Marilyn Monroe man but Grace is sublime. As a mannequin she is a beauty but as a comedienne Grace Kelly is one of the most talented actresses in the history of the movies. Monaco’s gain was Hollywood’s loss. And as a double act Sinatra and Celeste are hard to beat. I only wish they’d made more movies together.

Anyway, just tucking into the second G&T of the afternoon and doing my scales in preparation for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. That’s the song darling not the gameshow. Happy Boxing Day.