Looking out across the rolling Cumbrian hills, Lord Burkey had a sinking feeling: Christmas was going to be the death of him. He’d got to an age where talk of the festive season filled him with a sense of dread, and with the date fast approaching, it seemed to be the only topic of conversation.
“Stuff them,” Lord Burkey said, watching his breath dissipate on the crisp evening air. It felt good to be outside, walking off another large dinner instead of being cooped up inside with the others.
The anticipation of Christmas had been eating away at him for some time – and much to the annoyance of his immediate family, Lord Burkey had been vociferous about his loathing of the animal rituals. He had even considered heading south to warmer climes. But he hated flying.
His thoughts were interrupted by the distinct flash of a Range Rover’s headlights speeding through the gates at the end of the drive. “More visitors,” he grumbled, as the Vogue motored smoothly up to the front of the house.
Lord Burkey groaned inwardly at the sight of the husband’s festive oatmeal and red knitted Missoni cardigan that matched his drinker’s nose, and the wife’s immaculate pair of quilted Jimmy Choo wellington boots, from which dangled a jingling charm. Standing with the groundsman they looked like some sort of Mayfair version of Dorothy, the Lion and the Scarecrow.
He shot them a disdainful look, but not before he heard some snide remarks about his weight. Sure, he had put on a few pounds – but who doesn’t at this time of year?
He blamed the new diet that cook had put him on. He supposed it was meant to help him lose weight, but the evidence pointed to the contrary. He fixed them with an angry stare. They averted their eyes, and awkwardly brought the conversation with the groundsman to an end.
The next morning, as the weak sun crept up over Lake Windermere, Burkey walked the grounds deep in thought. Christmas had been started by a dissident; to stop it would require equally drastic action.
“Death or glory,” he whispered.
Over the next few days he ate absolutely everything cook served. “Where’s your festive spirit?” grumbled the younger members of the family, looking despondently at their meagre portions. “A man of your breeding should behave better.” But Lord Burkey would not be drawn into conversation.
“I’m sacrificing myself for you,” he muttered.
“Stop being a grump,” they implored. “Christmas isn’t that bad.” Only to be met with a torrent of foul language.
Then one morning, Lord Burkey was awoken by the crunch of the groundsman’s footsteps across the gravel, accompanied by the whistling of While Shepherds Watched their Flocks. What happened next was hard to say. Some attested to having heard a knife being sharpened. Others a distinct snapping noise. What was certain, however, was that Burkey had vanished.
“That was excellent, darling,” said Lord Bonnington a week later as he pushed away his plate and loosened his Missoni cardigan.
His wife looked content, her cheeks nicely flushed from the ’92 Château Margaux that had accompanied their Christmas lunch. There was a crackle and pop from one of the logs on the fire in the dining room. Through the condensation on the windowpanes, past the parked Rover, you could almost make out the turkey coops on the edge of the estate, now eerily quiet in the winter mist.