How did I mourn my mother? With Pet Shop Boys on the radio and plaster dust in my hair

There were no carols, no tree, no goose – but the Christmas I spent decorating my flat gave me the gift of peace

It was on a plank suspended between stepladders over a three-storey stairwell that I finally knew for sure that I was a grownup. I was slimed with wallpaper paste, grizzled with plaster dust, and 28 years old. Pet Shop Boys belted out of the radio and for the first time in my life I was free to spend Christmas doing exactly what I wanted – which was to make a home of the perversely vertical flat my husband and I had bought a year earlier.

I felt almost trippily alive – recklessly so, given the peril our first clumsy steps into home decoration involved. If we wanted to hang 12ft strips of wallpaper from a plank on top of two ladders, there was nobody to stop us. We were in it together, answerable only to ourselves. But for all that we remember it as one of our happiest times, the curious thing about the Christmas of 1987 is that, while we know Pet Shop Boys had the No 1 single, neither of us can remember a thing about what we ate or drank. It probably involved pizza and Indian takeaways, but all I can recall is the smell of sugar soap.

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