You may have noticed that this Christmas blog is a bit late. In fact, it’s being written in between Christmas and New Year, that time when people don’t know what day of the week it is. Some poor unfortunate people have to work between Christmas and New Year, but luckily, I’m not one of them.
Before you start to sneer, nobody asked you to take a job that made you work between Christmas and New Year. This is something you should have stipulated when you had that interview with the careers master at school. Mind you, mine was most unhelpful. I never became an internationally acclaimed superstar. Well, not yet.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the point. What follows is a few, and I mean a few, of the rules and laws associated with Christmas. These involve food, drink, relationships and general behaviour.
The first sign of Christmas properly arriving is the purchasing of a Christmas tree. This usually involves accompanying Lady Barton St Mary to a purveyor of slain fir trees, usually piled high in a particularly arctic garden centre or farmyard. Invariably, they are swathed in indestructible nylon sheaths. Lady BSM surveys the aforementioned trees before choosing one that looks appropriate, usually at the back of the pile. It’s my duty to wrestle my way through and extract the selected tree for further inspection. I appear covered in pine needles and blood, whereupon Lady BSM asks me to remove the nylon netting with my bare hands. I duly do this, tearing flesh from my fingers in the process. Lady BSM then gets me to hold the tree upright, occasionally requesting me to pull out branches to ensure symmetry. This investigation takes about 15 minutes, before she rejects it in favour of a better looking sample, also at the back of the pile, whereupon we repeat the procedure. Several times. Eventually, we get some horny handed vendor to re-wrap the tree, who generally gives me dirty looks for unwrapping all the trees.
We then struggle to ram the tree into the car, me doing my best impression of a bleeding hunchback. Once the tree is extracted and erected in The Great Hall, the annual extraction of the Christmas baubles can commence.
However, the past two years have been surprisingly painless, with Lady BSM using a poor Waitrose employee to choose the tree. Last year, I chose the tree. On my own. The fear in both the B&Q tree wrapper and myself was tangible.
Ah, Christmas food. This can start early, with what is known in my family as the ‘Quality Street Stock Market Game.’ As most of you are aware, Christmas in the supermarkets starts in the second week of October, when tubs of sweets (Quality Street, Celebrations, Roses) go on sale. The trick is to know when to buy. Prices usually start at £5, but on certain days, for some inexplicable reason, this can fall to £4 or even £3.50. It’s at this time the wise QS market trader has to strike.
It’s only later when Lady BSM, an advocate of healthy eating, expresses her dismay at finding 17 tubs of colourfully wrapped sweets in the cupboard that one feels the Quality Street Stock Market Game may have been overdone a tad, due to the short timescale for consumption, which is all part of the …
Christmas Food Law
This is a traditional law that I first experienced at home with my mum. During the days leading up to Christmas, the larders, cupboards and fridge would be stacked with tasty treats – cheesey balls, twiglets, marzipan fruits, dates, nuts, cake, chocolate, crisps, etc.
However, you were forbidden from touching it, because all these treats would be FOR CHRISTMAS AND NO YOU CAN’T EAT IT.
Then Christmas Eve would arrive and mum would unload all of it onto the shiny coffee table in the front room.
“Come on,” she would demand, “eat it, eat it all up. IT’S CHRISTMAS…”
Thus followed 2 days of intense debauchery as you tried your best to ingest as much seafood, chocolate, dates and nuts as was humanly possible. By Christmas afternoon, you would be under the shiny coffee table in the front room, full of Christmas food and rum, with half an eye on the awful circus show that was invariably shown at that time of day (see Christmas TV).
This year, I was given the responsibility of collecting the Christmas turkey and buying a ham from the local farmer. I panicked.
“How big does the ham have to be?” I asked Lady BSM, my eyes widening.
She illustrated by holding her hands apart in the manner of an angler showing the size of a fish. I blinked, blinded by the fear of responsibility. She sighed and rolled her big, beautiful blue eyes.
“About one and a half kilos,” she stated, “which is three pounds.”
I made my way to the farm. The farmer’s wife met me in the shed, wiping her hands on a bloodied towel. I collected the turkey and asked for some ham. Duly, she disappeared round the back, where the newly slaughtered carcasses of a hundred turkeys awaited their owners and reappeared with a big ham.
“How much do you want?” she asked, placing the blade of a huge knife half way along the joint of meat. I considered.
“One and a half kilos,” I replied, “about three pounds.”
I indicated that she should give me more than half the ham. She cut it and weighed it. 1.55 kilos. Success. I returned triumphantly to Lady BSM.
She surveyed the ham.
“It’s too small.”
As a youngster, the day would start with a glass of sherry or a cup of tea with a dash of scotch, although this never started until I was 9 years old. My mum also imposed the Christmas food law on drink, which meant that she would present me with my annual bottle of rum on Christmas Eve, saying “Drink it! Drink it! It’s Christmas!”
This may explain my future festive drinking habits. And why I ended up under the shiny coffee table watching a shit circus programme on the telly.
This used to be the staple diet of our family on Christmas evening, when we would all descend on my aunt’s council flat in Colindale to watch ‘The Morecambe and Wise Show’.
For those of you under 40, this TV show was the pinnacle of Christmas TV viewing. More than half the population would watch it.
There would also be a film being shown on TV for the first time. These days, with The Murdoch Death Star, all films have been on the TV at least 123 times.
TV these days involves ‘Come Dancing’ and Dr Who, which was a children’s programme when I was young. On the positive side, you no longer get the awful circus.