Undisputed head chef, yet loathe to delegate, my mother is crouched on the kitchen floor, frantically rearranging oven shelves in an attempt to find room for both turkey and potatoes. Atop the stove, each ring is occupied by a merrily bubbling pot, filling the air with steam and tantalising smells. My brother stands nearby, knife in hand as he carefully trims and butters a slice of bread, moves to add it to the nearby plate, then changes his mind and eats it instead. On the kitchen table stands an apparently inexhaustible pile of brussel sprouts, before which sits my sister, peeling and trimming as if her life depended on it. Straightening from the oven, my mother flicks a concerned glance from the sprouts to the clock before busying herself with a bag of parsnips.

Through the open door floats the sound of banging and the occasional muttered oath. My father is wrestling a reluctant table flap into place, eventually succeeding and opening a chest of drawers to unearth a holly-patterned table cloth. He pauses to survey his handywork. I enter with hands full of cutlery, before returning a minute later clutching wine glasses. Soon the table is fully laid, the festive scene illuminated by watery winter light from the large dining room window.

Outside, the sun shines sporadically through cloud, casting pools of light that rush across the valley and up the opposite headland. The town of Dartmouth is quiet and seemingly relaxed. The river is empty except for a lone craft puttering slowly past, no cars move on the winding roads and the silence is broken only by an occasional seagull, calling loudly as it swoops low over the rooftops. Day wanes and the windows of the town wink into light, casting shimmering reflections that grow more pronounced as darkness falls completely. Back in the kitchen, the oven timer sounds with a harsh tone and the turkey emerges once more from the oven.

This Christmas Dinner, I grossly over-indulged on…

  • Smoked salmon with buttered bread, lemon and black pepper
  • Roast turkey with roast potatoes, roast parsnips, brussel sprouts with toasted almonds, cranberry sauce, pigs in blankets, gravy, stuffing and bread sauce
  • Christmas pudding with brandy sauce, brandy butter and marzipan balls

Probably the best Christmas Dinner I’ve ever had, with each item cooked to perfection by my Mum. The rest of us strived to do all the chopping, peeling and stirring without getting in the way, leaving her as artistic director of operations, doing all the skillful bits. The food was accompanied by large quantities of alcohol, and left us all sprawled and sated in armchairs and sofas. Right now I feel I may never eat again, but perhaps I’ll have worked up an appetite by next year…