So, somebody I know went and opened their stupid mouth and said the word… croquembouche. To her students. Why? Why, in the name of Father Christmas and Tinker Bell would some idiot do such a thing? I suspect gluttony for Christmas punishment. Tis the season to be greedy after all, and why should punishment be left out? No points for guessing who the big-mouthed buffoon might be. I blame the Hairy Bikers for planting the idea in my head in the first place.
So it’s back to practicing my slinky choux moves and cunning creme pat manoeuvres. Which I can pretty much get down with. The fact that I’ve lately taken to sugar work and caramel-making, like a plump duck to a simmering vat of lard, should make the whole caramel glue requirement less daunting.
But, you know, choux pastry’s a tad tricky, easy to get wrong. So you prepare yourself carefully, gird yourself about, like a gunslinger twitching his holsters, with premeasured ingredients. You memorize the step by step method, til you can sing it backwards to the tune of Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. You have your pastry-bag and pre-heated oven at the ready. You leave nothing to chance.
What you really don’t need is your local supermarket slipping rotten eggs into your half-dozen. Seriously. Bad enough that here in Vietnam they staple the eggy bastards into their plastic carton, making egg extraction an ongoing battle of wills: elf vs. egg carton. But this is the second time I’ve stumbled on a stink-bomb. Had to bin my first batch of pastry after cracking a stinking, Satan’s spawn sucker right into my golden choux goodness. Maybe the Evil Chickens are out for revenge.
Have also continued to bedeck my boudoir with twinkly sparkly things, although I have come to the sad realisation that there really isn’t any more room on my tiddly tree, so may be forced to call a halt to ornament production.
Regarding other matters creative, I have a shameful secret. Since my first lonely Christmas in China, this bookworm has been neglecting her usual improving diet of high-brow literature to consume Christmassy, mistletoe-strewn chick-lit for the duration of the festive season. Alas, some of it is just awful: badly written, clichéd, with implausible, cardboard characters and predictable plotlines. I read it anyway. So this year, in the wake of my attempt at Halloween horror, I thought to myself, I wonder if I can do better? But that’s for you to decide. Here’s the first instalment.
Part One: Sexy Moose Touches Down in St Moritz
Wanted: Holiday Au Pair
Au Pair required for the holiday season. Full time, 20 Dec – 6 Jan. Influential businessman requires discreet and caring Au Pair for 2 children, ages 9 and 13. Duties to include accompanying children on activities and excursions and meal preparation. Fluent English and valid driver’s license essential, skiing/snowboarding experience an advantage. Live-in, all flights and connections paid for. Salary negotiable. Apply through Agency address below.
‘It’s just the thing for you, No-Cash Scroogy-Pants!’
‘Isn’t that a bit of a contradiction in terms?’
‘Nope,’ Caroline shot back. ‘At least Scrooge had an excuse. All that cash made him sour. You’re strapped, and still a complete Grinch-Monster.’ She stabbed her forefinger at the iPad screen again. ‘Go on, apply! I can’t take you moping around in your ratty so-called pyjamas another second. More importantly, nor can your bank balance.’
‘Oi, what’s with the so-called??’ Imogen said, looking down at her worn long-sleeve moose T and boxers. The hole in the shoulder seam wasn’t that big, and she only had to hike the boxers’ frayed elastic up when she was actually on her feet, which was a position she’d been painstakingly avoiding for the last few weeks. ‘There’s nothing wrong with my pyjamas! Seen me through thick and thin, have these!’
‘Yeah, it shows,’ Caroline snorted. ‘Emphasis on the thin,’ she added, with a pointed glance at Imogen’s chest area, where, it’s true, a little more was on show through the worn fabric than the designer had probably originally intended.
‘It’s a sexy moose. With added nipples. What’s so wrong with that?’
Trust Caroline to confront her head-on, Imogen thought. Everyone else had been tiptoeing around her, handling her with the proverbial kid-gloves. There’d been so much kid-glove-action recently, Imogen was starting to worry for the local goat population. Not that London actually hosted its own population of goats, that she’d noticed… then again, maybe that was her fault too.
‘What’s wrong with that? You even have to ask? If you have to ask, sugarbabes, there’s a whole lot more wrong here than a couple of peeping nips.’
Imogen slumped back on the sofa, hugging a patchwork cushion to the offending bits of her and the moose’s anatomy.
‘One,’ Caroline started counting off on her fingers. Bets were off that she’d have worked up a PowerPoint presentation on the theme, if she hadn’t felt that the walking crisis that was her closest friend needed more urgent attention than your average IT solutions allowed. ‘You need money, fast. Anyone that can afford to splurge on flying in holiday help is gonna be paying a decent size packet. Two: you need to get out of the house, and out of those damn pyjamas, somewhere safe. Right?’
Not even Caroline was up to actually putting a name to the unholy terror that had turned Imogen into a paranoid hermit.
‘And three, sorry to be blunt, but you don’t exactly have recent qualifications pouring out your ears, and there really aren’t that many job opportunities flying around this time of year, yes? Reindeer, yes. Jobs, no. So. Give. It. A. Try.’ She scooped her iPad off the coffee table, and plopped it in Imogen’s lap. ‘Like, now. What have you got to lose?’
A question Imogen was still asking herself as the chauffeur who’d collected her at Chambery Airport rolled up outside the chalet in St Moritz where she would be living and working for the next two and a half weeks.
Old stone, wooden timbering, inglenooks and log fires, a spa and jacuzzi and state of the art kitchen with views out over the snow-globe town glittering in one direction, soaring peaks in the other.
She had the sprawling chalet to herself until the evening, when her employer would arrive, though the bombardment of instructions that had pelted in her inbox meant she had plenty to do before she so much as laid eyes on her employer and his mini-me’s, a.
But that was hours away. She’d get the chores out of the way, the dinner wafting its scent through the billion and one rooms, and then, and then… a luxury chalet on this scale merited some serious exploration. Had to make sure everything was up to par for her fussy, hither-to faceless, money-no-object employer, didn’t she?