By which euphemism I mean no central heating; uninhabited for several decades bar one old chap in one room; no kitchen; a surreal mis-mash of furniture and a positively Dickensian lighting 'system' of strings of lanterns tacked to the walls of corridors and draughty rooms; ancient banging shutters at the icy windows and the biggest, most brightly-lit Christmas tree we'd ever seen, blazing away in the cavernous hallway.
Over several days, we all piled in in drips and drabs; Edward and I smuggled an electric heater into our room, panicking that
Christmas dinner was cooked on a single gas ring and in a Baby Belling cooker that year. About twenty of us sat down on a mixture of camping chairs and delicate ancient chairs to eat the full works - turkey and sausages in bacon and sprouts and stuffing and Christmas pudding and white sauce. None of the adults had dared brave the cold to wash, so we all wore a pall of plaster dust and grime; we piled on logs and jumpers, lit candles and held torches while we took turns to stuff the stockings and climb carefully up the dark staircase to lay them along the bed piled with higgled-piggeldy, snuffling, snoring filthy babies.
This is probably the last year we'll have christmas at that special house. All the families are moving on and it's just not viable any more. My dad might at last get his dream of a tiny bungalow that's too small for anyone to visit ever. We'll see.
On the 26th, we'll sit in the warm fire-lit rooms in black tie and eat a feast that's been cooked on a range in my mother's kitchen. The lights will all work, though we'll probably turn them off to play Sardines. There was talk of a goose, it was treated with deserved contempt by all the grandchildren; this year, they'll be wearing dinner jackets and silk dresses and be allowed to stay up as late as they like.
I'm the only one still small enough to get into the butler's sink. It's probably time to go.