Christmas? Things can only get better…

17 January 2003 by
Christmas? Things can only get better…

The Christmas parties have started. What more can I say?

Our first was a group of pensioners. They came in, sat down on our "hard wooden chairs", and scanned the Christmas menu, grumbling "I only wanted a snack - I'm having a Christmas meal tomorrow."

So they proceeded to order half-portions off our usual menu and moaned because they thought nine potatoes each didn't seem a lot. They pulled all the crackers on the tables, put on the hats and partied the way only old people can.

This is what Christmas has become - moaners always come out at this time of year. But it does get better. For the first couple of weeks of December most people are walking around panic-stricken because they've got so much to do, then there are the smug people who have done everything by August.

But suddenly something happens. There's a feeling of festive spirit affecting everyone like a dose of the flu, and people become happy. They don't complain as much, and they smile at you when you take their order. They even speak to you like a human. And sometimes when the air is especially thick with festive spirit, they leave big tips.

You really notice the difference. One day the restaurant is busy and stressed, John Lee Hooker on the stereo. The next day, Frank Sinatra is singing to anyone who'll listen and everyone is chilled, but still busy. It's sort of calm. It's hard to explain, but I'm sure you know what I mean.

It's been a long shift tonight. I'm up to my eyes in Christmas cakes. We make and decorate them to order and so far it's been a busy two months.

Tonight I've been working on the small ones with a cute little figure on the top. It started as a teddy with a little hat but now it looks more like a polar Ewok with little eyes that follow you around the room. I got so freaked tonight I couldn't turn my back on them. Like I say, it's been a long day.

It's my birthday in another few days, and I'll be 34. I feel so old. I somehow can't imagine myself working in the kitchen over a hot stove in 10 years' time, although I know I will be. It just feels like I should be leaving it for some little hot shot to get on with. I might, when I find one.

Christmas. It does make you think, especially if you have a birthday in December. And you ask yourself a lot of questions. Will it snow? Will the roads get blocked? Will I get what I want for Christmas? Have I ordered enough turkey? (Notice, not one stuffing joke).

Merry Christmas and a very prosperous New Year. Now I don't have to send anyone Christmas cards, right?

HELEN CUTTS is chef-proprietor of the Greenhouse restaurant in Warkworth, Northumberland

Next diary from Helen Cutts: 6 February

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