Chapter 2: Last Christmas
It was Christmas and the usual hubbub of over sugar saturated children and pathologically anxious parents. Cass was at home with her parents, older sister, husband and two girls. Sarah, her mother was doing the usual martyr kitchenzilla. Sarah hated cooking. She was a 1980’s feminist, where the idea of domestic drudgery should have been replaced with a microwave and other poorer less ambitious women providing these services, but unfortunately she had the 1950’s guilt of matriarchs everywhere. She shooed everyone out of the kitchen with a maniacal glint of a woman possessed by Nigella Lawson. Perhaps Cass should have brought some coke with her. Her mum could do with something to take the edge off. Why her mother felt that it was necessary for the past two years to cook a Christmas Pudding from scratch was a mystery? She must have worked like a demon between episodes of Strictly. Peter, Cass’ father was tucking into his second Sherry at 11 am and softly baiting Mama bear with a stick. “Shouldn’t the duck gone on by now?” “Really Sarah shouldn’t it rest?”
“Fuck off Peter!”
Cass’ sister Pen wailed “Mum, the kids!”
Cass sighed thinking, after the year when Sarah hit Peter with the lamp he gave her, you would have thought he learnt. “Here Mum have some bubbles.”
“Can I do anything?” placated Cass.
“No, it is all under control.” Sarah retorted so sharply that it was almost as if Cass had insulted her. Cass had learnt to back off. Grabbing a bottle she retreated into the domestic bliss of her older sister Pen.
Molly, her oldest niece had just had a meltdown because Santa had not given her the exact Bratz doll she had specified. Cass could not understand why Penny had given Molly a doll, which looked like a street walker, but she did not have children. Cass did not know that Penny had provided the least slutty doll in line with Molly’s requirements. Having had a small girl child, Pen was sure that the corporate world was run by paedophiles. The emotional blackmail to buy g strings and crop tops for an six year old was unbelievable. Molly had a friend who’s mother thought it appropriate for her daughter to wear a pink sparkly tee shirt with a Play Bunny insignia on it. She was fighting an up hill battle and she chose her battles well.
Sergey, Penny’s husband did not really understand her fears. He was a post Soviet era Russian. He loved women. He thought that this was all to do with wanting to be fashionable. Women’s things. He did not know that Pen’s lack of self confidence all stemmed from realising at 5 that she was not thin and blonde, like the Barbie doll she was playing with. Sergey loved Pen. He thought that she was beautiful, curvy and dark. He got fed up with the stick insects and their neurosis. His brother Vassily had married a beautiful stick insect called Anastasia. Sergey found her boring. She was nightmarishly controlled about food, pleasure and life. He was sure that Anastasia had never once smiled just incase it would give her wrinkles.
They all sat down around two hours late for lunch, praising Sarah’s monumental efforts and Peter’s sage culinary advice for the food, for which they were about to receive. Molly sat primly at the table, as her little sister, Edith, only one, proceeded to redecorate the dinning room with blended up duck with red wine jus. Cass thought thank god for the Russian influence in these kid’s lives, otherwise they would be painfully Middle England. Cass, with a mixture of pride and jealousy, watched as Molly switched between Russian and English. Edith lovingly smeared some mashed broccoli on Cass’ jeans. She loved her family.
“So Serg, what about Mr Putin?” Peter enquired, like Serg was the Russian Federation Foreign Minister.
“What about him?” Serg responded amused with an untraceable accent, which Peter liked. Peter thought his son in law was a character from an Ian Fleming book. Why he wanted his oldest daughter to be married to a Soviet Era assassin is something he could not quite explain to himself, let alone anyone else.
Serg was 10 when the Wall had come down and 12 when the Soviet Union broke up. His parents, being high enough apparatchiks to have influence but not enough to be a problem, sent him immediately to a minor English public school to become versed in English and Capitalism. All Serg could actually remember about the old system was a cartoon about a Gremlin like creature looking for a friend.
He had met Cass’ sister at University, while she was learning languages French and Russian. He was studying something useful, like engineering. They met at a meeting for people who wanted to practice Russian and those who wanted to tutor for extra credit and extra cash. Ten years on they had two children and loved each other to distraction. Sergey landed an evil executives job in a big oil company. He had the skills but deep down he knew he got the job because of his mother and father’s influence in the old country. They were not oligarchs but they were not far off.
Sergey’s job meant that Pen had the luxury to be a stay at home mum, much to her mother’s despair. Sarah repeatedly berated her oldest daughter for not learning the lessons of the past and wasting her education. Sometimes she even implied that Pen was lazy.
Sarah just did not want to admit that her venom was a result of guilt she felt for working away so much and having her girls raised by someone else. Both Sarah’s children were both extremely proud of their mother. Pen just wanted to do something different with her kids, because she had missed Sarah dreadfully when she was a child.
Cass could not understand why it bothered her mother that much. Surely the idea of feminism was the freedom of choice. Cass did not buy into capitalist run feminism. Cass thought that both men and women should have the same opportunities to choose. Cass just wished her mother would see that Pen’s life was not sitting on her bottom eating chocolates and watching soaps. Pen did everything herself. She did not pay people to help her and she got very little help from Sergey because of the hours he had to work and the commute. Cass thought Pen was pretty amazing, mainly for not going mad with the isolation. Children seemed a lot harder to deal with than adults. But Pen thought that her girls were the most amazing thing in the world and loved every moment with them.
“Well he is going mad isn’t he?” Peter stated bluntly.
“For sure, but there is genuine feeling among Russians that Western influence has undermined Russia’s strength and independence. I don’t think so but there are people who think Putin is the only one standing up to old enemy. He appears strong in face of adversity. Russians love this stuff.” Sergey really retorted.
“But Russia has some of the best brains in the world! This is Orwellian nonsense,” now Peter was putting on his best Paxman impression.
“Yes but the Intelligentsia is terrified because they will be branded unpatriotic if they speak out against him. Business is terrified. Putin likes to take what does not belong to him under the guise it is better for the People this way,” Penny interjected.
“He sounds like Stalin,” Sarah added finishing the dregs of her wine, and getting up to clear the table. Cass and Penny got up to help to. Why the men did not get up, Cass could not understand. Were they obliviously rude or just lazy?
Sergey agreed, “Pretty much. In fact he is known to admire Stalin greatly.”
Pen interrupted the dinner table politics. “Cass, Sergey’s mother is in London for the New Year. Do you want to come with us to her dinner party?”
Cass said instinctively, ”Yes!” Free Caviar and good champagne in Chelsea, was a lot better than disappointing £15 cocktails and nachos in Hoxton, again.
Cass loved Sergey’s mother, Ivana. She had understated glamour. She was tiny and curvy but with the poise of a ballerina and blue eyes like a Siberian Tiger. Nothing got past her and that is why Cass liked her so much.
“Oh Vassily and Anastasia will be there” Sergey interjected.
“Mmmm. It will be nice to see Vassily” Cass thinking back to the last time she met Anastasia. Anastasia heavily inferred that Cass was on the shelf and no matter what Cass had done in her life, Anastasia was so much better than Cass. This attack was all because Vassily found one of Cass’ jokes funny. One night, when particularly lubricated together just before Pen and Sergey’s wedding, Ivana tipsily admitted “ It is no wonder Anastasia has not got squint.” Cass was not too sure what it meant but she was pretty sure that in Russian it meant something bad.
“It is okay, Mother hates her too and you three can get all catty,” smirked Sergey wickedly
“Sergey!” Pen scolded.
“What! It is true! Women love being horrid to one another,” laughed Sergey, leaning back and sipping his wine.
“Not so, not one bit. I think women are wonderful,” Pen countered shaking her head, infuriated at her husband.
“That is rubbish, my sweet. You are competitive with all other mothers in the groups you go to and they are competitive with you. You are friends with some of them, but you certainly do not have sisterhood with all women,” Sergey said with wonderful Russian nonchalance.
“You are talking utter nonsense,” Penny was getting irritated. Sarah was slowly simmering in the background.
Peter thought privately, “He is brave, but stupid.”
Cass thought, “Mum and Pen have been out of the game too long or have blinkers on.”
Sergey then went on to illustrate his argument, “In my office, I have been in recruitment discussions where my woman boss vetoes every woman candidate for promotion, if she believe that the candidate is more intelligent than her. If we don’t follow her opinion, she becomes extremely angry and petulant, until she gets her own way. Women are much more vindictive than men when they feel insecure.”
Sarah’s hackles finally sprang up, “At least we don’t beat each other to death when we feel insecure. Men cause a lot more problems than women. If there were more women in power the world would be a safer, less risky place. We certainly would not have had the Banking Crisis.”
“But darling, I think that Sergey’s point is that women will never rule the world until they start being nicer to one another,” interjected Peter winking at Sarah. “I know a lot of men have no problem with dominant women. “
“Its true Mum. In my office we have quite a few female partners, who only promote men. It is the Queen Bee syndrome,” Cass stated and to finally wind her mother up further, “Maggie Thatcher never had another woman in her cabinet.”
Sarah erupted, “Do not even mention that woman around my dinner table”
“More wine?” placated Cass.
“Indeed,” deflating rapidly back to a normal Sarah size.