Some time this year, I’m going to wear silk and live in a house with a rich person whose name begins with M, and be treated like a lady. The plums say so.
This is what I love most about Christmas – going home, being with people who feed me and playing games that remind me of being a little girl.
In our house, we play the stones game, a form of divination. Any pip, pit or stoned fruit will do. It is eaten stewed (with custard) and you have to try not to choke on the stones, which are collected on the rim of your pudding bowl. If your bowl has no rim, this is cause for comment and outrage.
Once your stones are collected, you count them according to the lists. There are five, and each defines segments of your life and when they will happen.
Lady, baby, gypsy, queen.
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief.
House, parlour, pigsty, petty.
Silk, satin, muslin, rags.
This year, next year, sometime, never.
With thirteen plum stones, I go: house, parlour, pigsty, petty, house, parlour, pigsty, petty, house, parlour, pigsty, petty, house.
And so on. So I will be a lady, live with a rich man (or woman), and we will live in a house, and wear silk, this year.
And finally, I have 13 stones, so my companion’s name will begin with the 13th letter of the alphabet: M. Maybe my M will be my little cat, Moppet. He certainly lives the life of the idle rich, and he is silky.
We do this every time we eat stewed fruit, so as we recline, full and sleepy, sipping wine, we will hear murmurs around the table: lady, baby, gypsy…
‘Thief, never!’ someone will call, relieved. The children relieved to not be a thief, the adults relieved that, for a moment, they can be silly.
It is the archaic background language of our home, as familiar as custard steam, or the clanking pans of my mother who does not want me in her kitchen when she is busy, or the warmed wine bottle of my father who will twist as he pours, or strong, acidic tea and the smell of toast and bitter marmalade in the mornings, or the gentle creak of a rocking chair and rustle of a broadsheet, or the “Right!” of a man rising and the pather of slippers on carpet, or shoes on stone tiles.
This is the land of whistling kettles and chiming clocks. Log fires and warm blankets. People turning pages. Murmurs of so and so’s daughter getting married. Watching the news before bed. Low voices and elders snoozing on cushions. People taking out each other’s plates. Everyone knowing who likes blue cheese on chunky white bread for supper. Everyone knowing who cut the bread wonky. Everyone kissing each other goodnight.
I am home.