Quirkey With All The Trimmings

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Peter was a vegetarian. Well he still is. He is still alive and as far as I know he hasn’t changed. What’s more Peter is a confirmed vegetarian and was then. An atheist says ‘I’m telling you, this whole God thing is a myth’. This endures generally until God, jesus or similar present themselves in visible if not tangible form. Oddly enough this is usually at altitude, on a mountin or raised ground, with a good deal of cloud around. This obtains whether Greek, Roman, Christian, Jewish or Islamic. There is something about altitude.

Under these circumstances, your average atheist will say ‘did you all see that’ and if, say, 11 others attest ‘oh yes we saw it/him/them all right’ then the atheist will say ‘I guess I got it wrong then’. The confirmed atheist will say ‘it’s a trick of the light or the thin air or those mushrooms we had for breakfast. That was definitely not god’.

So Peter was a confirmed vegetarian. If an already cooked suckling pig complete with paper frills on its feet and an apple in its mouth had dropped from the sky in front of him on Clapham Common, Peter would not have exclaimed ‘oh well, now it’s here, I may as well eat it’.

Peter had become a default member of our family Christmas group. He was a nearly in law. Also at Christmas was a horde. A multitude. ‘distressed’ girls and their children - no word of father. Often Spanish for some reason and I think vaguely connected to the hospital our mother worked in [it was never explained], a Benedictine monk Father Alan [my dad’s best friend – dad was an atheist by the way] sculptors, musicians, the homeless, my French assistant from school [that’s another story], old aunties who lived with us, all our irish cousins and on and on.

My mother cooked the Christmas dinner.She cooked it in a way that only a girl who lived in the south American rain forest until she was 17, then in a hostel in London with a canteen, as a trainee nurse, then 5 years in India before crash landing in Tottenham could cook. Edmonton market was a haven of familiarity to mum. Colourful cheap clothing and elaborate scarves and jewellery, cheap very smelly lavender soap, cheap cuts of meat – scrag end of lamb, shoulder of mutton, belly pork [very much looked down on in 1950s England but now of course uber-cool in Hoxton] and best of all, the west indian fruit and veg mum had grown up on: yam, plantin, chick peas and the rest. Everything cooked with Cayenne. Everything. To us it was normal. To everyone else it was bizarre but tasty.

The Christmas turkey was organised [strangled by my grandmother if she happened to be around] and the question of Peter was duly addressed.

Mother was exotic, inclusive, imaginative, quite odd, compassionate to the nth degree. Accordingly, she spent the late evening hand-preparing … er … what can I call it? a replica? A facsimily? A pretend turkey? Not exactly. A quirkey! That’s it. perfect in every detail. Colour, skin texture, even a parson’s nose and the legs with little paper frills. All made from entirely vegetable ingredients, meticulously diced, mixed, painted, glazed to fool even a poulterer from more than two metres distance.

On Christmas day the quirkey was processed [pronounce like caressed, emphasis on second syllable] with some ceremony to the dining table and placed directly in front of Peter. strangely enough, although Peter wore odd socks, seemed to care little about his personal appearance and worked as a musician and circus entertainer, he did always look a little self-conscious in a paper crown and very very awkward to be the subject of this ritual. Everyone cheered the quirkey and looked on eagerly as poor Pete obligingly dug in.

All this wandered back into my mind this week. my mother died twenty years ago. Peter lives in Ireland and Christmas with family and friends has changed little. But there is no quirkey at the table. I can take a step back now and think about how guileless and unselfconscious mum was … but I can’t help think back now with my toes curled up in my shoes.

‘Here you go mate. We all know you think killing living creatures, setting fire to them and eating them is barbaric, unnecessary and repulsive. It’s very good of you to join our feast and we know you wouldn’t want to feel left out so we’ve made you a pretend bird to attack with a knife and fork and eat, while we do the same.

Merry Christmas everybody.

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