THE last weekend of November marks the anniversary of my mother’s death, and I went to visit her grave on the Sunday, as is customary.
I updated her on current events – she was disappointed by Brexit, the likely removal of Susan Calman from Strictly, and my skinny black jeans, which were inappropriate for a man of my age – and I told her I missed her, and then went on my way.
It has become one of the rituals I undertake on the way towards Christmas. It joins the December 11 Panic, when I realise that, even though I have a very small list of people for whom I buy presents, I still have no idea what to get, and the Elf Anger, when I realise that there are people I mostly respect who actually like watching gurning Will Ferrell gurning in his gurning tights.
And it joins The Moment Of The First Mince Pie. Now, you can buy mince pies all year round, like tomatoes or hot cross buns. I can understand why people would want hot cross buns all year round. Obviously the best bit of a hot cross bun is the flavourless cross on the top of it, so why wouldn’t you want to eat one in September instead of an ordinary teacake?
But why would you want to eat a Mr Kipling mince pie in August? Who is sitting on a beach, slathering on the Factor 374, and thinking, “What I need right now is some jam made out of currants and orange peel inside a pastry case. And could you make sure there’s enough room to park a bus between the lid of the case and the actual filling?”
It was, in fact, my mother who made it clear to me that mince pies can only legitimately be eaten from the first Sunday in Advent, if for no other reason than you have to draw the line somewhere.
The period of the Mince Pie Window is, therefore, from the first Sunday in Advent until whenever you run out of them or are fed up with them, usually about January 2. It makes mince pies special, instead of mere Eccles cakes with airs and graces.
Only, I would venture, an ignorant barbarian or some sort of mincemeat-crazed monster would eat a mince pie outside the Window.
Anyway, I left the cemetery with the mixed feelings that one usually experiences when visiting the grave of a deceased parent: sadness, yes, but partly the strange comforting sense of having spent some time in their company, as it is when you dream about them.
I boarded the bus home and went upstairs. It was raining, and as the bus pulled away I stared out the window at the rows of graves of people who had died long before I was born, and whose mourners had in turn died. I was turning full Goth. I already had the trousers for it.
“Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose…”
I turned away from the window. Three primary-age children were singing songs from what appeared to be their school’s show. Rudolph segued into The Christmas Song, which segued in turn into Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas.
Their grandmother tried to shush them. “Nah, it’s lovely,” I said. They carried on, the rain stopped and the sun came out, which I thought was a little on-the-nose, but you can’t argue with the weather.
My mother would have loved it. I certainly did. Maybe it was time to move onto the Moment of The First Mince Pie. After all, it was the last weekend in November…
I got off the bus into town, and hastened to Britain’s Favourite High Street Baker. I purchased six mince pies and caught the bus home.
My little hands were shaking with excitement as I made a cup of tea and sat down on the sofa. I opened the box and bit into a mince pie. It tasted just like a mince pie. Mum would have been proud.
And then it occurred to me that Christmas Eve is on a Sunday this year. I got a B in my Maths GCSE, so I was able to count backwards…
The first Sunday of Advent this year is the first Sunday in December. I had put a brick through the Mince Pie Window.
Christmas is now ruined. I blame my mother.
Obviously I ate the others. I might be a barbarian, but I am not stupid.