With his turkey looking decidedly malnourished, Chris Stewart decides to treats his Spanish neighbours to lamb for Christmas. If he can bring himself around to killing it, of course
Call me grumpy, but I’m not wild about Christmas. The hijacking of what was once, I suppose, a very agreeable pagan and Christian feast by the squalid hordes of Mammon leaves me steeped in misanthropic gloom. I try, if I can, to slide off to some Muslim country for the occasion, or somewhere run by Buddhists, Hindus or Taoists – but the family usually contrives to keep me in its bosom.
So I do what I can to make the best of a bad job; I try a little harder than usual to be kind and good and considerate – and to tell, as much as possible, the truth.
The latter comes naturally to me though, as I’ve never been a natural teller of lies; the simplest divergence from the truth has me hopelessly enmeshed in my own web of falsehood. So I generally find it a lot less problematic simply to tell the truth. There are times, though, when a nicely-turned lie works out better for all concerned.
“How do I look in this?” asked the wife once, in the days before she actually became the wife.
“Great. You look great... ”
“You’re not even looking. Come on, I need to know.”
I glanced up from whatever it was I was engrossed in, to see that she was dressed from head to toe in black, much like a crow.
“You look like a crow... ”
I leave the rest of this ugly scene to your imagination. But it was this episode that made me realise that the man who knows not how to lie is doomed to suffer a lot more of opprobrium and contumely than his more mendacious mates.
For Christmas I decided to kill a lamb, because Otto, the turkey we’d been fattening up for the occasion, was looking like nothing so much as a bag of feathers and wattles and bones, and I didn’t reckon there was enough meat on him to feed the besieging horde who had come to stay.
So I went down to the stable a couple of days before Christmas Eve, and dispatched a lamb. I let it hang for a couple of nights in an orange tree for the humours of the night to bathe it and the sweetness of the tree’s scent to pervade the meat. The feet and the guts and the head I tossed over the barranco for the vultures and the foxes and anyone else who fancied it.
“Daddy?” said my 13-year-old daughter Chloë on Christmas morning.
“Mmm, what is it?” I asked absently.
“You didn’t kill Blackie, did you?”
“Who’s Blackie, and why, pray, should I kill him?”
“You know... the little black lamb, the one I bottle-fed.”
“Aah, that Blackie... er,... no... of course not.”
“Just thought I’d ask,” said Chloë, in what I thought was a rather arch tone.
“God!” I thought to myself. “What sort of a monster would lie like that to his own daughter? And on Christmas Day, too! Still, it’ll probably work out alright; you can’t tell the difference between a black lamb and a white one from the meat.”
I stuffed another bush of rosemary into the oven to blast the lamb with its oily scented smoke. The guests ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ at the delicious aromas that filled the air, and moved in anticipation towards the festive board.
“What on earth is the dog gnawing at under the table?” exclaimed Ana, the wife.
The guests looked. Ana looked. Chloë looked. Chloë looked at me. I looked under the table at what the dog was gnawing. It was unmistakeably the head of the only black lamb in the flock... Blackie.
I’m thinking of Marrakech for Christmas next year; it’s not far from here, and there’s always somebody on hand to do your Christmas lamb.
Main image: Black sheep in a flock (Shutterstock)