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Angels on horseback and other animals

“Bugger the turkey. Just don’t forget the prunes,” he said.

I might have known. Over the years this family’s taste in Christmas treats has become steadily more eccentric. They don’t like Christmas pudding or brandy butter, but they like those orange twiggy chocolates. Egg-nog is out, but mulled wine is in. Brussels sprouts are yukky (I quite like them myself) but roasted parsnips are yummy. Carrots are boring, peas are rabbit poo (so juvenile), but cabbage is scrumptious. Toothpaste apparently doesn’t have to be used during the festive season because you can just have After Eights for breakfast. (Told you so.)

And as for the turkey, well no-one cares about him at all. As long as there are chipolatas and cranberry sauce, we can eat boiled chicken for all they care. They’re even pretty indifferent about mince pies. Crackers of course are obligatory, and all deccies - including nearly 1,000 fairy lights and three Christmas trees... but most of the rest of it leaves them cold.

But there is one thing they all agree on. One thing that is an Absolute Must: angels on horseback (prunes wrapped in streaky bacon and grilled for 10 minutes). So I’ve been dutifully stocking up on dried prunes and toothpicks (for keeping the angels nicely dressed in their bacon coats), and luckily prunes have been on promo in the local InterMarche.

But talking of angels, I met one last week. No, really. I stupidly ran the car out of petrol grinding to spluttering halt on a blind corner in the middle of nowhere, at midnight, in sloshing rain.

The man who stopped was sweet. He muttered a bit, inspected the car, managed by some miracle to get it started (was there an emergency fuel tank or something?)... anyway, he got the car going and I managed to drive it very slowly through the downpour to the nearest petrol station with my rescuer following behind to make sure I didn’t break down again.

He even waited while I fumbled about searching for my credit card. It’s fine, I waved at him, shoving the plastic into the machine - and he drove off waving back.

But it wasn’t. The machine not only didn’t like my card on the grounds that it isn’t French, but it refused to let go of it, thus jamming the machine and effectively taking me hostage for the night - I daren’t walk away leaving my card half in and half out of the machine.

The rain sloshed, I swore, the car sulked and finally I remembered my gardening pen-knife, lurking in my coat pocket. Within seconds I’d managed to lever my card out of the machine. Which was good. In the process however, I’d stabbed the wretched thing through the microchip, effectively killing it forever. Which was bad.

So there I was, shivering in the rain with a sulky Passat, no petrol, no mobile phone, and a dead credit card. Things were not looking good. By then it way past midnight, and I really wasn’t sure what to do next. There is hardly any traffic on the roads at night up in these here mountains, and I was beginning to wonder if I’d have to sleep in the car, when a familiar-looking Renault drew up and my rescuer got out.

“I didn’t think that machine would take a foreign card,” he said. “So I went home and got my credit card. Have you got any cash?”

I gave him the money, and he filled the car with petrol. Then he stood there in the rain to check that the car would actually start.

And if you’re wondering about hidden motives or agendas... no, he didn’t ask for my name, phone number or anything. He just rescued me - twice in one night - and buggered off.

And when I related this whole story the next morning at breakfast, my daughter just looked at me and said, “He must have been an angel.”

Well, he wasn’t wearing a white frock, silver wings or a halo; he looked quite human in fact. But I’ll be thinking about him while I’m fiddling about with prunes, toothpicks and bits of bacon this Christmas, because she was right.

I met an angel.

Next column will be uploaded around 15 December.

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