Michael McIntyre says that the moment the last firework has gone off on November 5th, all the women in the UK start to think about Christmas.  They make lists, mental or physical and then they start to put together a plan of action.  This year I came to the lists part late, but there is a constant list running in my mind.  People talk about the ‘build-up to Christmas’, friends complain about the endless round of Christmas parties, I basically countdown to my parents’ arrival for an extended stay.  How many days do I have left to make the flat as presentable as possible?    The truth is it will never pass muster.  There is no situation in which my Dad arrives into the flat and says: 

“Well done, this is perfect, I applaud your good taste and I couldn’t have done it better myself.”

 (The latter was actually said to me by my Dad but it turned out to be a dream,  (I should have realised when naked Alex O’Loughlin offered me a back rub right after)).  Anyway, they arrived on Friday.  I was excited to have them over, after all they hadn’t seen the flat yet, although they had already had all the motion sickness associated with the various skype tours I had taken them on, it isn’t the same as actually being in the house.  My Mum who misses us kids terribly (oh who are we kidding, she misses the grandchildren, we are merely the visiting facilitators) had packed and was by the front door of the Athens flat wagging her tail from mid-November.  She was really excited to come and spend the holidays in what she essentially still calls her home town.  Although Athens is where she currently lives, she still feels more at home in London.  I was looking forward to having them over for the holidays too.  I consider Christmas very much a family affair, and it would feel really weird without my immediate family.  It’s bad enough that my sister K and her husband A took my beautiful nieces G&C and went to Australia for a month.   We all feel lost without them, although it is quieter and all the niknaks are still in one piece.  Still, I worry about Christmas lunch, G aged 3 is usually the one who directs operations from her windsor chair, and who keeps the conversation flowing (loudly) around the table. 

The first problem was that despite having arranged to go and pick them up from the airport, I woke up two days before their arrival unable to walk.  I mean, obviously, I could walk, but not without extreme pain in my hip.  Which in itself was a big pain in the – well you know what I mean.  I was dragging myself around, doing last minute chores like setting up the television in the breakfast nook so that they were not forced to chew without visual accompaniment.  Of course, stupidly, when I ordered the TV, I assumed that the cable that would attach it to the aerial point would be included, but of course, what was I thinking.  I quickly ordered one from amazon.   Now we have a lovely TV which doesn’t work, sitting on the window sill taunting my parents.  I mean, I do try honestly I do, but the world of technology is conspiring against me.  Today the cable arrived.  I thought I would attach it right away and set up the TV.  Of course, when I ordered the cable there was a choice:  1.8 metres or 10 metres.  I didn’t measure it, I just ordered the shorter one, the aerial point is really close to the telly.  I mean we already have so many cables in the room, I certainly didn’t need 10 metres of cable gathering dust like all the other cables.  Well, you guessed it, the cable I got is just under a foot too short.  This means that we still can’t use the telly, and I now have a cable I can’t use, and the next size up is 10m…  Oh well, lots of cables all over the place are the new neat floors I heard.

Back to the limp.  It was really bad, the pain was bad, and the walk made me get the immediate sympathy reaction wherever I went which although I know some people enjoy, I find extremely embarrassing.  And although well-meant, the:

“Oh my goodness, you poor thing – can I help you?” question is not particularly useful. I mean how can they help me?  I am limping, and dragging my left leg behind me, but can I reply with:

“Yes, thank goodness you asked.  I am going to the supermarket, could you carry me to the car?” 

Unfortunately, it was just one of those things, and sitting down and waiting for it to go away wasn’t an option.  So, I just got on with it.  By Friday morning, I felt that we were almost ready for the  arrival.  Their room was ready, all of their things out and ready for them to use.  The kitchen was tidy, the fridge was full of their favourite things, the dinner was cooked and the house decorated and as neat as it was realistically going to get if I’m honest.

I made sure all the light bulbs were working, and the house was warm (for Dad, not for Mum, I knew this was going to be an ongoing issue between them, as it is with me and D).  At 3:30 I got the we’ve landed text and I busied myself checking and re-checking everything, wrapping last minute things and generally fussing unnecessarily.  I tried to channel my (non-existent) yoga Zen so that I could not be defensive.  I recognise that sometimes, when you are expecting criticism, every small comment can be interpreted as such, and I didn’t want to be that girl who shouts and huffs and puffs at her parents (Get a clue Maria, you are in fact their poster girl).

Anyway, at 5:30 they arrived and it was lovely to see them.  We sat down in the front room and had tea and coffee while they cast surreptitious eyes around the room.  Every so often, as we were catching up with my Mum and she was talking about their trip my Dad would say something like

“So you put that there, eh?  Where is the other table that used to be in the corner of the old TV room?”

The standard answer to all of these questions is:

“Yes, Dad, I put it there, the other table is probably in storage.”

This continued on for the whole of the time we were drinking tea, and then finally I stood. 

“Let’s do the tour guys.”

I thought it best to rip off the band aid so to speak.  We were two rooms into the tour when Dad said something that made me react.  I left him in that room and went to find Mum. 

By the evening, we had catalogued everything that wasn’t quite right in the room, the major factor being the temperature.  It was either stifling for Mum or freezing for Dad, if ever there was a couple to advocate separate living space, my parents are it.  Anyway.  I knew it was coming, so I tried to stay calm and breathe through it.

Zen baby, Zen.  Channel the f*cking Zen.  (Seriously guys, the yoga helps…)

On Saturday I limped through brunch for the whole family. As you can imagine, as the John Lewis of cooking (Maria: never knowingly under-catered), it is on a grand scale.  My nephews were gratifyingly hearty of appetite.  We had a lovely day ending with a big game of hide and seek in the flat which was a lot of fun and yielded a surprising amount of places to hide for future reference.  

On Sunday morning over breakfast, my Dad actually made me sit down with a pen and paper while he dictated a list of the problems with the flat, starting with genuine ones  – his towel rail blew a fuse, the bathroom is cold and every time we try to switch it on there is a terrible smell of burning and the circuit shorts out leaving them in the dark.  Totally agree with that one, (although I am extremely pissed off that all this decided to break two days before Christmas and one day after my parents’ arrival when the towel rail has been happily doing its thing since time began.  Honestly, somebody give me a break here you know?).  No problems there, I need to find a guy to fix it.  The other problems I have written down range from the practical to the jaw dropping.  Apparently, there is a problem with the sink, which makes it difficult to use the sink.  I tried to understand what he was saying.  I mean I understand what he wants me to do, but I couldn’t understand why he was the only one who can’t cope with the sink as it is.  Women have a different centre of gravity was the answer I was given, and so find it easier to bend forwards.  Presumably this is also why we load the dishwasher and washing machine and wash the dishes.  It is a nature thing.  I am constantly amazed by the logic. 

So yes.  A list.  A list of things that need to be changed so that the flat can be inhabitable.  Defensively I told him that we have lived here for almost three months very happily albeit with our lower centres of gravity allowing us some comfort, I will concede, but still…  three months is three months and I really felt like we had made progress.

It turns out we hadn’t made any progress at all, as evidenced by the 10 point list of non-negotiable tweaks that I was given this morning. 

The search for an electrician/plumber/handyman prepared to come out and fix things before Christmas commences.  On the plus side, I can now walk normally, which will allow me to dodge the coiled cable on the floor of the breakfast nook.