I wanted to stay there all day, by that fire doing crosswords with him. I’d asked for a large pot of tea. A pot of tea for two? asked the waitress. No, I’d said, for one but with two tea bags in a large pot. A pot of tea for two then, she’d replied. She was having no nonsense. I liked that. And I’m happy to pay for the privilege of a big pot. It’s what I fancied.
We bagged the seats by the fire and I hogged it. Warming myself like a cat, stripping off the layers bit by bit. The automatic door kept letting people in and with them the sharp wind. Biting. I moved closer to the fire, toasting myself some more. Two groups of men came in in plus fours and woolen socks with those little tabs of ribbon along the elasticated rim. Most wore ties over checked Aquascutum style shirts and tweed jackets. The gentry out for a shoot. Bold in their confidence, they weren’t brash, just self-assured. He bristled next to me turning in his chair to glare. I thought of the one shoot I’d attended as a child, something I still deeply regret. It was more of a rough-and-ready affair. We lived in Lancashire then and there wasn’t the landed classes as there obviously is in this part of North Wales. I’d agreed to be a beater, mostly because I fancied the son of one of the organisers and had hoped for a glimpse of him. I was disappointed and further dejected by the mud, the rain and seeing the, what seemed to me, indiscrimate killing of squirrels. Bastards, he said under his breath, I hate them. Bloody farmers. Are they? I asked.
But they weren’t noisy. Not the braying multitude that he’d expected. They ate their, no doubt, hearty breakfasts and left. See that registration number? he said. That’s this years, he said, still seething. The tea was nice though. I felt lifted, ready to write. Ready to think. We returned on our way back, dropping in for a pee. The shop was inundated with Christmas fayre, food and decorations and all sorts of useless stuff. I saw several young girls looking longingly at it all, occasionally stroking something with a finger, or picking something up and holding it for a while. I remember such desire. Waiting for him I shook a snow scene, one of little church scene (I think) and another of a reindeer. I used to love them. They were magical to me.
We talk about sherry on the way home. I can’t remember how it started. I recall the sherry glasses my mother had, beautiful slim vessels, with a heavy tapered base with an air bubble inside. They were brought out every Christmas. Dry sherry anyone? my father would ask. Harvey’s Bristol Cream, for me. Certainly. That was his job, doing the drinks. The maitre’d, the host, the emcee, he was good at that. Always smiling, his face creased up with one, always. Till later, much later, then the smiles stopped. The taste of sherry was the start of Christmas for me. Just a small one for the girls, Chris, Mum would say. Not too much. Sweet, sticky, heady and potent on an empty stomach. Us in all our finery, our best dresses, waiting for Christmas Eve to officially start. Dinner first then presents. The smell of gravy. Mum looking stunning, always. The intoxicating fragrance of her perfume, her lipstick, the jangle of her jewellery, the sway in her hips. Happy for once. Can you help me get the meat out of the oven, Chris? Sure. Did he touch her arm?
A flashing snowflake in the window of a student’s house on Llanbadarn Road. Flashing red, green and blue. I am lifted by it. Thank you.