48 Cliff Road, Cowes, IOW, PO31 8BN, England and

Uncle George always gets grumpy at Christmas. Grumpier than usual, I mean. He calls it crass commercialism and says he disapproves on principle.

Gaye and I rather doubt this. After all, he's not noticeably anticrass-commercialism the rest of the year. We think he just gets fed up.

With the Christmas shopping season starting somewhere round the middle of August and preparations for the festivities taking up most of the winter term you can see why it's enough to drive anyone as brainy as Uncle George up the proverbial wall.

Last Christmas he was worse than ever. His latest invention — an ultrasonic washing machine — was going badly. Something to do with inadequate temperature control. By mid-December he was strung up higher than the VLF antenna behind the house was before Gaye tried digging under it for truffles.

Every muzak carol brought a snarl and every knock on the door set him gibbering about 'gentlemen from Porlock', which actually I didn't quite understand until Gaye explained it to me.

He absolutely refused to waste time doing his Christmas cards (they made us write ours at school). 'Look at the Chinese!' he said. 'No stupid cards for them!'

Just in time, I stopped Gaye from jabbering on about how the Nestorian Christians went to China in the seventh century and have probably been sending goodness knows how many millions of Christmas cards ever since. 'Leave them till the New Year,' I suggested.

'And don't think I'm going to be bothered with a turkey this year,' groused Uncle George (Gaye says I ought to stick a health warning in here but, honestly, grouse is just what he did do). 'It's too much hassle,' he said. 'You can have cold ham and like it.'

'I'll cook the turkey for you, Uncle,' offered Gaye.

'And I'll make the Christmas pudding,' I said.

Christmas pudding is easy. You just throw it in the microwave. Funny. In the old days it took hours. They used to mix it in a huge bowl with sixpences and other junk.

Anyhow, if there's one thing Uncle George does enjoy about Christmas it's stuffing himself with turkey and mince pies and Christmas pud until he busts.

He stopped pulling his beard and grunted in the mollified tone of a pig digging for truffles under the VLF antenna. 'Well, all right then. But no crackers. You and Gaye set off far too many bangs as it is.'

This was hardly fair. The only two explosions of any significance that summer were both entirely down to Gaye. Nothing to do with me at all. Still, I wasn't too unhappy about the cracker ban. I'd been trying to make my own using nitrogen tri-iodide and they hadn't turned out too well. Either they went phut! in a cloud of violet smoke or else they exploded the moment you picked them up.

'We'll make the best Christmas dinner you've ever tasted,' promised Gaye.

'Well, all right,' said Uncle George again, and turned back to the prototype of his ultrasonic washing machine, which he was attempting to install in the kitchen.

He should have known better than to trust Gaye with anything as important as a turkey dinner. And so should I. Uncle George may be her resident uncle, but I'm her twin brother.

- - -

Christmas morning dawned, as it usually does, in the pitch blackness of five a.m., with Gaye jumping up and down on my bed sticking an enormous book about creepy crawlies under my nose.

Sometimes I wish she'd grow up. I mean she must have been out of bed and at the presents the moment Uncle George stopped pretending to be Father Christmas. She's always been like that. Once, when we were small, she was so quick off the mark that Uncle George tripped over her trying to get out of the room.

'Just look at this! It's got pictures of over one hundred kinds of spider and twenty-three kinds of cockroaches. Isn't it super?'

I don't know about you, but I can easily think of over one hundred and twenty-three better ways of waking up on Christmas day than being set upon in bed by a monster bug. I yelled and hit back, dumping Gaye and the bug book onto the floor. 'Help! Get it off me! Help!'

I struggled into wakefulness. 'I mean, get off me, you maniac! You could have frightened me to death.'

Gaye said I was getting as grumpy as Uncle George, but I said she ought to go and jump on Uncle George instead if she wanted to see real grumpy.

I was in shock the rest of the morning. That must be it. That's why I didn't pay enough attention to what Gaye was doing with the Christmas turkey.

In church, I actually sang that carol (you know how it goes), 'While shepherds washed their socks at night, All seated round the tub,' without even realising it, and only came to my senses when Gaye burst into a fit of giggles beside me. Fortunately I hadn't been singing very loudly, and the congregation never pays much attention to what it's singing anyway.

Uncle George sort of noticed. He frowned, the way he does when he knows there's something wrong with his calculations but can't quite put his finger on it. He too seemed somewhat distrait, 92% of his mind, freshwater-iceberg-like, in another continuum.

In 'The Angel Gabriel from heaven came,' I could have sworn he came out with a 'most highly-flavoured gravy', which even I didn't do. Perhaps he was worrying about his Christmas dinner.

And if he wasn't he should have been.

- - -

Back from church we dashed into the kitchen, while Uncle George wandered out into the garden with his pipe and pretended to smoke it.

Gaye grabbed an apron from behind the door and stuck her head through the hole you stick your head through. 'Help me get the turkey out of the oven!' she ordered, twisting the big red knob to the position marked SOUND OFF.

'Gaye, you idiot, that's not the oven! It's Uncle's new washing machine!'

Gaye looked bewildered. 'But … but … it's always been the oven.' She eyeballed the kitchen as if she'd never seen it before. 'There's the oven, now! How on earth did it get over there?'

'Uncle moved it, of course!'

She harumphed. 'Well, he should have told me, then!'

'If you'd kept your stupid eyes open he wouldn't have had to tell you,' I retorted. 'You are a clot!'

This wasn't getting the dinner ready. I pushed the button that opened the washing machine door. There sat the turkey, pale and gently steaming.

'It looks done,' said Gaye hopefully.

I pinched off a bit of breast. 'Not a chance. It's still pink.'

'It's hot anyway,' she said. 'We could still eat it.'

I shook my head. 'Not unless you want to die in agony.'

'It'll take for ever in the oven.' Gaye nibbled a bit of the meat. 'I'm starving already.'

I shrugged. 'There's the cold ham, I suppose. We could leave the turkey for tea time.'

'Uncle George will be furious.' Gaye bent over the washing machine. 'Look, I only had this thing on low, and the turkey almost got cooked anyhow.'

'I don't see why it did anything at all. It's a washing machine!'

'It's like a microwave, that's why,' she said. 'I bet if we turned it up high we'd have ultrasonic turkey in a jiffy.'

She shut the washing machine door and twisted the red knob as far as it would go. 'Nothing's happening.'

'You have to push the START button,' I pointed out. 'But I don't really think we ought to ...'

Gaye stabbed the button and the world exploded.

When my head stopped bouncing off the floor and the ringing in my ears subsided I decided that most of the world was still there. Obviously, Gaye had blown up the washing machine. It was only to be expected.

As my eyes came back into focus, I could see her sitting in a daze at the far side of the kitchen with the remains of the turkey in her lap. The air was filled with the most marvellous smell. The washing machine appeared to be intact. More or less.

So Uncle George got his turkey dinner after all. It was very strange. The skin was barely cooked but in the very centre of the bird (or where the centre had been before it blasted itself apart) it was charred black.

Uncle George insisted that what had happened was utterly impossible. 'There's no way the machine can put out that much energy. The design's fool-proof.'

'You should have made it Gaye-proof,' I said.

'Micro-fusion,' he muttered. 'It's the only answer. Somehow your sister managed to set off a miniature hydrogen bomb inside that poor dumb turkey.

'Surely that's impossible?'

'To Gaye, nothing is impossible. Matthew 19 v 26.'

- - -

Since then, the ultrasonic washing machine's been on the back burner — you can't sell washing machines that go off like an atom bomb every time somebody mistakes them for the oven.

As for Gaye, she claims to have gone off turkey lately — and she isn't too keen on washing, either. Too dangerous, she says.

Uncle George is more interested in the prospects for microfusion. He says Gaye may have stumbled upon the energy source of the 21st century, which has to be an insult to all civilised scientists.

For the last few months he's been trying to reproduce Gaye's effect in the lab, so far without noticeable success. He believes that fusion conditions might have arisen during the collapse of ultrasonically-produced cavitation bubbles in the aqueous phase.

Me, I think the secret's in the turkey.


© Paul Birch, 20th Dec. 1995.