Isherwood at Christmas

Following the death of his mother, Jim Isherwood spent some Christmas days alone. One diary entry reads: “Got up at 3. Fed the birds. Painted 11 pictures.”
At times like this, he wallowed in his own sad company.
But not all festive days were lonely as Molly Isherwood, his sister-in-law testifies.
She remembers: “When his mother was alive, we’d try to arrange Christmas Day so that all the family would be together. Jim and Mother Lily usually came, but when they did, they turned everything into chaos. The meal would be timed for 3 o’clock. Everything would be ready but they didn’t arrive. They’d no phone so we couldn’t check that they were on their way.
“Then they’d arrive after six, both the worse for drink and sometimes arguing. My job was to try and calm them down. I would achieve this by getting them more drinks. There would be presents to open, but they never seemed over the moon whatever we’d bought for them.
“By the time we sat down for our Christmas meal the air had grown merry and friendly, although I always felt on a knife-edge. Most of the time I felt like an ‘also ran’ because the conversation would between Mother Lily and her two sons. They’d become sentimental talking about Christmases past…and still the drink flowed.
“I remember the room would be very warm as the night wore on and then I’d make some sandwiches. Having arrived late, it was as though they didn’t want to go.
“Oh we’re not going yet” Mother Lily would say. “We’re settled. It’s Christmas. Nothing’s spoiling.’
“Sometimes there’s be a little argument over a silly point, not worth considering really and I would defuse the situation by saying: ‘Well I think Mother Lily’s right.” I always had to know the right thing to say and it helped make for a quieter, happier evening.
“As the day melted into the next, Jim and Mother Lily would start to nod off and I’d start the washing up, being as quiet as possible so as not to wake them.
“Eventually, they would stir into life and say they’d better get going.  After one do, he drove the van along the lane and right across the main road into the hedge. He just reversed and carried on.”