The streets are lit up, homes pulsing with light. Bushes twinkle in front gardens while back gardens up and down the country are dark and jealous. If you listen carefully, on this cold winter night before Christmas, you can almost, almost, hear the magical sound of the national grid wheezing.
On opposite sides of town two families are beginning Christmas day.
5.30am Davies Family
The children have been awake since 4.30am, screaming with delight into the dark immunity of Christmas morning. Mr and Mrs Davies are still lying in bed, wrapped up in layers of duvet and denial, bladders full of advocat and regret. Just by the bed a hangover waits patiently to kick them both in the head. Maggie, aged five and a bit, is wearing her new Disney princess dress over pyjamas and has already consumed three large bags of chocolate coins (the symbolism not wasted on Mr Davies). She is well aware that despite being a complete shit all year, somehow she has fooled omniscient Santa AGAIN. As she runs to her parents' bedroom she is, sadly, less aware that she is about to throw up.
5.45am - Wilson Family
Eight year old Peter glares at the satsuma in disappointment, there was one item left at the bottom of his stocking and he had hoped it was a puppy. His sister, Nancy, is singing 'Let it go!' at the top of her voice in appreciation of the Frozen lunch box Santa saw fit to give her. Peter wishes he didn't have to share a bedroom with Nancy, she is four year's old and is to music what Herod was to newborn babies.
6.30am Davies Family
Mr Davies staggers around and peels another satsuma, hoping it might help cover up the smell of chocolate vomit that now pervades throughout the house. Mrs Davies shouts up the stairs 'Darling! The dog has had another accident and the bastard-turkey is still frozen solid!' Mr Davies sighs, squeezing the bridge of his nose, deftly putting satsuma juice in his eye.
7am -Wilson Family
In the kitchen Mrs Wilson gulps down flat Bucks Fizz from her "World's Greatest Mum" mug and glares at her husband's back. He is wearing that jumper again, the red one that doesn't fit him, the one he has worn every Christmas day for the past eight years because he thinks it's "festive". That's not how Mrs Wilson would describe it, she would describe it as "grounds for divorce". Nancy comes running into the kitchen crying
"Pete threw an orange at my head!"
Her brother slinks into the kitchen behind her, face glued to a screen.
"That's not true!" he protests, eyes fixed on the handheld device.
"Nancy? Did he?"
"He did!" screams Nancy.
Mrs Davies snatches the game from her son, he looks up. "What did I tell you Pete?"
"Not to snatch?" suggests Pete.
"Don't throw oranges at your sister's head, you know she doesn't like it!"
"Mum it wasn't even an orange! It was a satsuma!" he snatches the game back and runs out of the room.
Mrs Davies pours some more flat Bucks Fizz into her mug and kisses her sobbing daughter's head. It smells citrusy.
8.30am Davies Family
The good thing, thinks Mrs Davies, as she points the hair dryer at the still-frozen turkey, is that the noise of it disguises her crying. The huge corpse is as hard as marble and so heavy that part of her hopes that this is actually a statue of a turkey and that at some point Ant 'n' Dec will jump out of the wardrobe with a camera crew and say "Hah! Don't worry pet! We'll spit roast that turkey for you! In fact, the turkey, your children and your husband have all just been part of the most elaborate practical joke ever devised! It's all been a prank! You are now a much-loved celebrity and everything will be alright, come this way to your limousine, you don't have to put up with any of them anymore!". Mr Davies walks into the room, "I've just given the dog some immodium, I'm sure she'll be alright. You're smiling dear? Does that mean the turkey is melting?", his face is absurdly hopeful. "Oh, no" she replies "I was just thinking about having a spitroast with Ant and Dec".
10am - Wilson Family
"Dad is this gravy?" enquires Nancy.
Mr Wilson is wearing an apron and has every pot and pan in the household on the kitchen worktop. Mrs Wilson watches him with a curled lip as she arranges the table decoration. She finds the uncharacteristic gratitude shown by the children over this one particular meal, the one meal a year Mr Wilson actually cooks, to be a betrayal of her daily efforts.
"No darling, this is not gravy," Mr Wilson lifts the liquid up to the light and admires it's general murkiness, "this is 'Jus'".
Peter wanders by, eyes fixed on a different handheld game, it bleeps like a heart monitor, "What's the difference Dad?" he asks.
"Well," stammers Mr Wilson doing that serious face that means he doesn't know but will answer anyway "The difference is......."
"About four quid" says Mrs Wilson under her breath.
11am - Davies Family
Mrs Davies takes Maggie's dress from the tumble dryer, it still smells vaguely of chocolate coins and bile. The material is hot to the touch and she briefly considers tumble drying the bastard-turkey. The dog paws at the back door, keen to be let in. She ignores it and walks into the sitting room, her son is transfixed by a handheld game, unmoving except for his frantic pupils and thumbs. Her daughter flits around him, unable to settle on any one thing. She is paralysed with choice, like a moth in Vegas. Mr Davies reaches under the tree and passes Mrs Davies a gift. She unwraps a set of beautiful candles. Maggie looks up and spots her freshly laundered princess dress. Tossing aside her new toys she runs over and starts pulling on the dress while singing Let it Go again. As she skips out of the room she pauses to say "I love Frozen!" Mr Davies watches her go "She should enjoy the turkey then" he murmurs. Mrs Davies smiles. Mr Davies winks at her and gestures to the candles "I've just run a nice hot bath" he whispers. "Good," she says "you can put that bastard-turkey in it".
12pm - Wilson Family
Mrs Wilson looks at the candles she has just unwrapped and tries to disguise her confusion, they are both lovely and unexpected. The label says "Madagascan Vanilla and Rose Petals" so she sniffs them, tentatively at first and then deeper. They smell like cheap ice cream, the kind her mum used to get out on Sundays as a treat. "I hope you like them" says Mr Wilson "It was either those or a chamois leather". Mrs Wilson smiles. Peter is unwrapping a large box, his final present, his shoulders fall as he sees what it is, no effort is made to hide his disappointment. "A board game?" he whines.
1pm - Davies Family
Mr Davies checks his watch again, dreading the imminent sound of the doorbell. The bastard-turkey is in the oven, ghostly white, the spectre at the feast, the elephant in the room. Mr & Mrs Davies studiously ignore it and get on with the Brussel sprouts. The phone rings and Maggie runs to answer it, keen to reel off all the presents she has received to whoever is willing to listen. Eventually she passes the phone to Mrs Davies who listens for a few minutes and then says "Mother, that's fine. Please don't worry about it, just get yourself better okay?" Mr Davies is careful to keep his face neutral. Mrs Davies puts down the phone and walks solemnly back into the kitchen "That was mother, she's not feeling very well and has decided not to come". Mr Davies nods "Oh dear" he says and starts peeling carrots. After a few minutes be begins to whistle. "There's no need to be so smug" says Mrs Davies "I know you don't like her!" Mr Davies puts down the peeler and turns to his wife "I do like her darling" he assures her.
Mrs Davies thinks back a few days to when she asked her husband what they should get her mother for Christmas and he replied "Deported"
2pm - Wilson Family
The table is set and everyone has pulled a cracker, the toys within have been examined and discarded. The jokes within seem to have translation issues. Screens have been confiscated. Vegetables are heaped onto the willing and unwilling alike. The turkey doesn't look too dry but even if it is they have a jug full of "Jus", or as Mr Wilson keeps calling it "The king of the Jus", to help them get it down. An avalanche of roast potatoes remains forgotten on the side. Mr Wilson pours the adults some large glasses of red wine "I got this from our local vineyard dear, it was very reasonable". Mr and Mrs Wilson take a long sip each. Mr Wilson looks a little confused "Christ on a bike" he says "Do you think that's corked?". Mrs Wilson says "It's not corked dear, it's English".
The Christmas pudding is put ceremonially into the microwave. "According to the label this Christmas pudding went out of date in September?" says Mr Wilson examining the packet "But it's basically raisins though? In booze? Booze doesn't go off does it?"
"It might do," says Mrs Wilson, "The dog's been shitting water since we gave her that old Baileys"
3pm - Davies Family
The family sit around the table and look suspiciously at the bastard turkey, as if memorizing it's details to later describe to the authorities. Mrs Davies assures the children that everything will be alright. Mr Davies carves everyone a thin slice and on the count of three everyone takes a tiny bite. After a few chews everyone relaxes as it becomes clear that death will not be instantaneous. "It tastes like plane food" says Maggie. Mr Davies passes her the ketchup.
4pm - Wilson Family
Pete and Nancy are arguing about what to watch on television. Mrs Wilson is in the kitchen doing the washing up, the plates are being scrubbed very hard because the meal was actually very nice and nobody mentioned her table decoration. Mr Wilson has disappeared and is probably loafing somewhere like men do on Christmas day. Suddenly the lights go out. "Mum!" shout the children together.
4pm - Davies Family
Pete and Maggie are arguing over what to play on the games console. Mrs Davies is loading the dishwasher. Mr Davies has disappeared and is probably loafing somewhere like men do on Christmas day. Suddenly the lights go out. "Mum!" shout the children together. Mrs Davies stumbles into the sitting room "NOBODY PANIC!!" she screams "Now think children, do we have anything that will help us see in the dark!"
"Carrots?" shouts Maggie helpfully.
4.15pm - Wilson Family
The candles are lit and the family gather in the sitting room, the fire crackles and snaps but other than that the house is quiet. Outside, the sky is black and clear. "Blackouts are exciting!" whispers Nancy as she snuggles next to Mrs Davies on the sofa. Peter seems content to stare into the fire with his dad. Mr Davies says "If only we had a board game to play...."
4.45pm - Davies Family
The family play 'charades' by candlelight. Mr Davies opens a bottle of local wine he bought because it was on offer. Mrs Davies takes a sip and suggests that it be left open to breath, Mr Davies takes a sip and then pops upstairs to clean his teeth. He can hear the sound of the children's laughter from the upstairs bathroom.
5pm - Wilson Family
Mr Wilson suggests that they go out for a family walk "The dog probably needs it" he says. No one else seems interested, they are getting into their board game and don't want to interrupt it. Mr Wilson takes the dog out on his own.
5.30pm - Davies Family
Mr Davies has convinced the family to go out for a walk "It will do us good to walk off that turkey!" he says brightly. "You can't outrun salmonella dear" whispers Mrs Davies pulling on her boots. As they make their way around the traditional Christmas Walk circuit they see a man and his dog in the park. The dog looks confused, she is squatting over a patch of grass. The man with the dog is laughing.
"Isn't that Mr Wilson and Beyonce?" asks Maggie. "I think it is" says Mr Davies "I'd recognise that awful jumper anywhere"
5.32pm - Mr Wilson & Beyonce
Mr Wilson sees a family walking towards him and tugs on the lead. Beyonce remains in the squatting position with a look of angry confusion, she has never had immodium before.
"Mr Wilson" says Mr Davies.
"Mr Davies" says Mr Wilson.
"Powercut?" asks Mr Davies.
"Powercut" replies Mr Wilson.
He smiles at the rest of the family as they walk past.
5.50pm - Davies Family
The family return to their dark home and relight the candles, they all stay in the same room and talk and laugh and play games. Mrs Davies slips her hand into her husband's and whispers "I noticed that this is the only house in the road that doesn't seem to have any power dear". Mr Davies grips her hand back "Really darling? I hadn't noticed". Mrs Davies kisses her husband on the cheek. "Lucky we had some candles eh?"
6pm - Wilson Family
The Wilson children are still playing a board game when Mr Wilson and Beyonce get back to the house. Mrs Wilson has some water boiling on the stove in the only saucepan that Mr Wilson didn't use for lunch. "It's funny," says Mrs Wilson, "that next door's Christmas lights are still working".
"Yes, that is strange" murmurs Mr Wilson.
"Funny you got me those candles too."
"This very localized blackout will be over by the time Downton Abbey comes on won't it dear?"
"I daresay they would have fixed the problem by then darling" Mr Wilson says.
Mrs Wilson cuddles her husband in the candlelight, her head buried in the Christmas jumper.
It's old and not particularly attractive but it's comfortable and warm.Suggest a correction