On Boxing Day, my poor wife looked as if she’d been in a boxing match. She was a mass of bruises and had broken her wrist.
Actually, it’s not quite true to say that she had broken her wrist. I am ashamed to tell you that I broke it for her. Not on purpose, of course.
Michèle and I have been together now for 52 years. Naturally, we have had our ups and downs, and tempers can get frayed at Christmas, but we have never come to blows. It was an accident.
Coming home from the shops on the Sunday before Christmas, each of us carrying bags full of festive supplies (more cheese, more chocs, more sprouts, more wine), we took a shortcut down a side street.
Gyles Brandreth (pictured with wife Michele Brown) said: ‘Michèle and I have been together now for 52 years. Naturally, we have had our ups and downs, and tempers can get frayed at Christmas, but we have never come to blows. It was an accident’
The pavement was narrow and Michèle was leading the way. Where she goes, I follow — but I don’t always look where I’m going. I was gazing up at the sky when the accident happened.
As I started to say, ‘It looks like rain’, I tripped on the root of a tree that was sticking out of the pavement and stumbled forward, skidding on a clump of damp leaves and tumbling on top of my darling wife.
Michèle is 5ft 3in, slim and fit. I’m 5ft 10in and 12 ½ stone. I knocked her flat on her face on the ground. We landed slap-bang on the pavement side by side, in agony, shopping strewn all around us.
I yelped. My wife whimpered. For several minutes, we couldn’t move.
A young couple came around the corner and saw us splayed out on the pavement. ‘Can we help?’ they called, from the middle of the road.
Michèle raised an arm to wave them away. She is very English — she hates to make a fuss.
‘The best news is they gave her a special festive cast: midnight-blue and covered in reindeer and Santas,’ Gyles said
‘We’ve got masks,’ said the young people helpfully. ‘We’re fine,’ croaked Michèle. But we weren’t.
I was shocked and winded, with grazed knees and shins, while Michèle was in real pain, with bloodied arms and legs and a throbbing, swelling left wrist that brought tears to her eyes every time she tried to move it.
Eventually, still dazed and dizzy, we managed to get to our feet. I retrieved our shopping (amazingly, the wine bottles were unbroken) and we stumbled home, where I began to feel better and Michèle began to feel worse.
These days, in a medical emergency, you don’t call the GP, you go online, where the NHS advice was clear: with a suspected broken bone, get to A&E.
We did just that — and the good news is that, Covid-19 notwithstanding, the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital did my wife proud. On the Sunday, she was examined and X-rayed. On the Monday she was back to have her wrist and arm put in plaster.
The best news is they gave her a special festive cast: midnight-blue and covered in reindeer and Santas.
The bad news is that when she got home, she realised I’m all she’s got. Because we’re in Tier 4, we can’t turn to our children for help. It’s just the pair of us here and, let’s face it, in an emergency like this I’ve not got a lot to offer.
Michèle has to spend six weeks in plaster, and it’s alarming how little you can do when you’re suddenly one-handed. You can’t even open your own Christmas presents.
Gyles said: ‘I have been managing the chores but I have struggled with the Christmas cooking. As a rule, I have two signature dishes: beans on toast and fish finger sandwiches
My normal contribution to the happiness of our household is to fill the dishwasher, guard the TV remote, and provide what I like to think of as a witty commentary on our topsy-turvy life and times.
‘No more quips, please,’ bleats Michèle from the sofa. ‘You’ve done enough damage for one Christmas. Can you adjust my sling and then get me some coffee?’
That’s the problem. I can do a passable impression of Noël Coward — but what my convalescing wife needs is Florence Nightingale, Mary Berry and Mrs Hinch all rolled into one. Whereas I’m Michael Crawford in Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em: well-meaning but fundamentally useless.
I have been managing the chores but I have struggled with the Christmas cooking. As a rule, I have two signature dishes: beans on toast and fish finger sandwiches.
Happily, Michèle likes them both but she also likes variety, and, as she can’t resist reminding me: ‘You were the one who knocked me over.’ I know, and I am trying to make up for it.
I did my best for Christmas Day. Scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for breakfast, and salmon en croute and all the trimmings for lunch. (I know that’s two lots of salmon in a row, but we don’t eat meat and I found the en croute thingy in the freezer and there were clear instructions on the side of the box.)
I used the steamer for the sprouts and carrots, threw in some frozen peas and did baked potatoes in the microwave.
For pudding, I served Magnum choc ices. Christmas pud is overrated and invalids like ice cream, don’t they?
I rather ran out of ideas by supper-time, so I did two rounds of cheese and pickle sandwiches, cut up into small squares.
Every meal is a bit of a palaver because Michèle can’t use a knife and fork. Everything she eats has to be cut into little pieces first. Fortunately, I do have plenty of Christmas bubbles in the fridge and in the evening, after a glass or two, my long-suffering wife seemed almost ready to forgive me.
Happily, too, she hasn’t yet consigned me to the spare bedroom. ‘I may need you in the night,’ she says — though not quite in the way she used to.
We are still sharing a bed, but understandably she requires two-thirds of it because she has to have a pillow on her left-hand side so that her arm is raised when she is sleeping.
I am not sleeping much as I cling to my side of the bed. I don’t dare. When she turns over, I run the risk of getting walloped — and it’s a pretty hefty cast, I can tell you.
Poor Michèle! I’ve been a disaster in so many ways. We met at Oxford University in 1968. That summer, I took her out on the river on a punt — and promptly fell in.
On the day we got married in 1973, I dropped the wedding ring as we were exchanging our vows and watched it disappear into the grating in the floor at the register office.
On the day our eldest was born in 1975, Michèle had to drive herself to the hospital because, although I’d had 35 lessons, I hadn’t yet passed my driving test.
I passed a different test this Christmas: I managed to fix an apparatus called a Limbo onto my wife’s left arm. It’s like a large icing piping bag, closed at one end and with a rubber ring fastener at the other. You wear it to keep your cast dry when having a bath.
I am proud to say that I eased my beloved into the tub without mishap and even managed to help her wash her hair. There were a few squawks along the way: ‘Too hot! The conditioner goes on second, you idiot! ’ But all in all, it was a successful operation.
Then came the real challenge: getting her out of the bath.
It was slippery, she was sliding; I wasn’t strong enough to lift her. Eventually, when we had let out all the water and dried the tub with towels, she managed to yank herself out unaided.
She sat on the side of the bath and laughed until the tears ran down her face.
‘And we thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse!’ she said.
‘Bring on 2021.’